Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters: Bad Boys for Life, Dolittle, Underwater, Like a Boss, 1917, The Grudge, Spies in Disguise, Little Women, Uncut Gems, Cats, Bombshell, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Black Christmas, Jumanji: The Next Level, Marriage Story, Knives Out

Coming Soon: The Gentlemen, The Turning, Gretel and Hansel, The Rhythm Section, Birds of Prey, The Lodge, Fantasy Island, Sonic the Hedgehog, Emma, Call of the Wild, The Invisible Man, Onward, The Way Back 

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: Good  

★★½ : Eh

★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better  

★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?  

: Hope You Have A Good Date  

½: Little To No Redeeming Value

No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices

Bad Boys for Life                                                     by James Eagan                                              ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for bad boys for life imagesImage: "Let's talk Bad Boys 4!"

 So is this what it takes to save your franchise and actually make something good? Just don't let Michael Bay direct? It worked with the "Transformers", and now here. It's too jarring to not be a coincidence if you ask me.  

 "Bad Boys for Life" follows Miami Police Department officers, "Mike Lowrey" (Will Smith) and "Marcus Burnett" (Martin Lawrence), with Marcus considering retirement, much to Mike's dismay. However, Mike ends up gunned down by an assassin, "Armando" (Jacob Scipio), the son of a vengeful drug lord, "Isabel Aretas" (Kate del Castillo), in a revenge plot that leaves many bodies in the process. After months in the hospital, Mike is back and ready to catch the attempted killer, only to discover that Marcus has retired and the stressed out "Captain Howard" (Joe Pantoliano), doesn't want Mike on the case. The villains have no intention of stopping anytime soon, and after tragedy strikes, Mike and Marcus end up working together for one last time, teaming up with Mike's new love interest, "Rita" (Paola Núñez), and her new generation team of cocky young people, "AMMO", consisting of "Kelly" (Vanessa Hudgens), "Rafe" (Charles Melton), and "Dorn" (Alexander Ludwig). As they get closer to solving the case, Mike and Marcus discover a few unexpected secrets, connecting everything in the process. 

 The third entry in the "Bad Boys" series, with the previous two films both being directed by Michael Bay, "Bad Boys for Life" is this time directed by Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi ad Bilall Fallah doing their first American film. While I never took the time to see the first two (Mostly because anyone who knows me personally understands that I will never go out of my way to see a Michael Bay film, let alone two.), this one seems to stand on its own just fine. The film takes its time to establish itself, with the tone balancing over the top action and masculinity fueled comedy, except this time, it's not annoying. In fact, it's shockingly endearing and quite enjoyable. The film is stylish and filled with bloody violence, mixed with lots of explosions, but done well and certainly originally. The film also doesn't so much avoid clichés. It instead has a good time toying with them, such as the obligatory slow motion under shot of our heroes stepping out of a car being interrupted by the door slamming into a fire hydrant. 

 The comedy works best due to the undeniable comradery between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. They work well off of each other, bouncing hilarious comments at each other's expense and at the situations they find themselves in. They're also humanized by their relationship, which serves as the heart of the film. Joe Pantoliano is a lot of fun, while some of the supporting cast members, like Vanessa Hudgens and an awkwardly funny Alexander Ludwig (Playing a tech nerd, who just so happens to be totally ripped). Kate de Castillo and Jacob Scipio are mostly plot devices, but do solid jobs at being villainous. Most of the other characters are secondary compared Smith and Lawrence, who can carry the film on their chemistry alone. 

 While things start to get a little overboard (As you would expect) towards the last act, and it might be a bit bit longer than necessary, "Bad Boys for Life" succeeds at providing crazy and stylish action, with laughs, violence, and machismo in a way that lesser buddy action films (Or these days, I should say most buddy action films) seem to butcher. It's possibly a bit on the dumb side, though smart enough to know what works. Sometimes all you need is the right people involved, the right person NOT involved, and a couple of charismatic actors to inject new life into an old franchise. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence And Unconventional Policing Methods.     

Dolittle                  by James Eagan                 ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Dr. Dolittle tries to make sense of his own movie.  

 It's in my expert opinion that what we have here isn't just really a bad movie. It's more like a sad one. It's the chopped up remains of a well intentioned, but misguided cinematic disaster of massive proportions. Audiences will be confused, critics will only live to decimate and ridicule, and everybody involved will just go home really depressed, due to not only will it fail, it will fail in a way that nobody will allow them to forget any time soon. That's probably the worst part about all of this. It didn't need to be this way, and yet, it's not so much surprising that it is. It's just....how did this go so wrong in the worst way possible? 

 "Dolittle" follows eccentric scientist and veterinarian, "Doctor John Dolittle" (Robert Downey Jr.), who has the ability to speak to animals. Previously a famed doctor, known throughout all of England, Dolittle has become a recluse after the death of his wife, closing himself off from the world with his colorful collection of animal companions. "Queen Victoria" (Jessie Buckley) has fallen gravely ill, sending her assistant, "Rose" (Carmel Laniado), to force Dolittle to find a way of saving her. Dolittle, deducing that only a rare and mystical fruit from a fabled island can save the queen, he embarks on an epic journey at sea with his friends. Dolittle's kooky crew consists of a wise parrot, "Polly" (Voiced by Emma Thompson), a worried gorilla, "Chee-Chee" (Voiced by Rami Malek), an Octavia Spencer duck, "Dab-Dab" (Voiced by Octavia Spencer), a bickering polar bear and ostrich, "Yoshi" (Voiced by John Cena) and "Plimpton" (Voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a feisty squirrel, "Kevin" (Voiced by Craig Robinson), and a plucky kid, "Tommy Stubbins" (Harry Collett), who self-appoints himself as Dolittle's apprentice. The crew faces many obstacles, such as Dolittle's nefarious rival, "Dr. Blair Mudfly" (Michael Sheen), acting on orders of the Queen's traitorous courtier, "Lord Badgley" (Jim Broadbent), who plot to stop Dolittle from completing his quest.  

 Directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana", "Gold"), or perhaps I should say "Partially directed by" instead, "Dolittle" has suffered from an identity crisis, in part thanks for countless reshoots from other directors such as Chris McKay ("The LEGO Batman Movie") and Jonathan Liebesman ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"). It doesn't help that the screenplay, co-credited to Gaghan, really doesn't seem to have the slightest clue who the audience for the film is. Everything feels misguided, and it all results in an explosion of uninspired storytelling, a lack of focus, unpleasant weirdness, and some of the worst editing I've ever seen in a theatrically released movie. It's baffling how this mangled corpse of a family film has been poorly stitched together and tossed into the January dumping ground in an attempt to salvage anything of value. The story's pace moves like a snail, while never letting up in the constant babbling of the many characters and the introduction of various plotlines going on at once. There is so much that happens over the course of what should of felt like a brisk hour and forty minutes, such as a scheme to kill the Queen, Dolittle's grief over his lost wife, Tommy popping up to contribute nothing, the animal characters who appear and disappear when the plot requires, and a whole side quest involving Dolittle's resentful father in law, "Rassouli" (Played by Antonio Banderas), that takes up the entire second act. I haven't even mentioned the part with the dragon (Voiced by Frances de la Tour), who Dolittle gives a colonoscopy to, resulting in a fart in his face. The film keeps going and never slows down, and yet, it feels so long at the same time. 

  The almost random, though still bland and derivative script just brings down all of the talented actors and actresses that have somehow found their way into the movie. (It's a lot like last month's "Cats", though slightly less ugly.) Robert Downey Jr., who is also listed as an Executive Producer, is trying his best to remain dignified. Sadly his accent is contentiously shifting, and while he still finds a way to retain some charm, his performance mostly requires a good amount of mugging. Harry Collett doesn't really do anything by the end, except add an extra few minutes of runtime, the recently Oscar nominated Antonio Banderas is left with an embarrassingly written part, and Jim Broadbent is wasted, having been given three scenes despite being the actual main villain of the film. Michael Sheen at least gets to play over the top evil, which is something he's exceptionally skilled at. The large ensemble voice cast do sound like they're having some enjoyment, such as Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland (as "Jip", a glasses wearing dog), Selena Gomez (as "Betsy", a giraffe), Mario Cotillard (as "Tutu", a french fox), Jason Mantzoukas (as "James", a dragonfly, who just randomly enters the story halfway through). Most of them don't get much of a role, and some feel criminally underused, such as Ralph Fiennes (as "Barry", a violent, but depressed tiger). The more enjoyable voices being Emma Thompson, who will always be welcome no matter what she's in, and both John Cena and Kumail Nanjiani, delivering the closest to what this film has to offer when it comes to actual humor. The CGI effects at times look alright, but mostly don't end up meshing well with the live-action setting. This leads to some awkward and offputting shots and camera angles that you can tell are destined to be mocked for years to come. (The film's prologue, which is made up of a artistically stylish form of animation, only proves that the film would of been better off fully animated)      

 With conflicting tones, weak humor (Most of which is made up of goofy modern jokes, flatulence and antics), and zero originality, "Dolittle" is the kind of filmmakig travesty that you expect at this moment of the year. It's just that this one in particular hits a new low in a depressing fashion. It's one thing for a film just not to work on its own. It's another thing for it to have never stood a chance in the first place. My diagnosis? Dead On Arrival. January 16th. 7:00 P.M. Poor Tony Stark. 1 Star. Rated PG For Rude Jokes, Fart And Poop, And The Unforgivable Sight Of A Gorilla Kicking A Tiger In The Balls.   

Underwater                                                               by James Eagan                                             ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for underwater 2020 movieImage: Kristen Stewart stars in "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots:The Movie". Finally. 

 I think it's time that more movies start acknowledging a fact of life that everyone seems forget. The ocean is a terrifying place, and man was never meant to go there. It's dark and scary, there are some creepy beasts that want to eat you. And, not to mention, T.J. Miller. See? Terrifying.    

 "Underwater" follows the surviving crew of a large drilling corporation after an underwater earthquake cripples the entire station. The remaining crew members include the very capable engineer, "Norah Price" (Kristen Stewart), the captain, "Lucien" (Vincent Cassel), the funny guy, "Paul Abel" (T.J. Miller), the nice girl, "Emily Haversham" (Jessica Henwick), the nice guy, "Liam Smith" (John Gallagher Jr.), and the other guy, "Rodrigo Nagenda" (Mamoudou Athoe). With the station beyond repair, the survivors don their anime-esque diving suits to journey out onto the ocean floor to locate the control base and find a way to make contact with the surface. However, along the way, they find themselves being mercilessly hunted down by monstrous creatures of the sea, whose only mission is to rip the crew members to shreds. Norah and the rest of the crew must find a way to survive, eventually discovering more about what led to this deadly situation in the first place. 

 Directed by William Eubank (Known for more low budget films such as "Love" and "The Signal") with a larger scale and bigger ambitions than before, "Underwater" as you can tell by the plot, is essentially a rip-off of "Alien", except at the bottom of the ocean instead of space. It's funny how Hollywood refuses to avoid the formula that film originally had given us, and nearly completely following through with the most derivative of Sci-Fi Horror plotlines to the letter. You know where it all goes, who lives and dies, and there are sequences that could be seen as carbon copies of other work. The film does at least succeed at having an undemanding, yet oddly exciting watch, that occasionally is quite scary. Eubank takes things at a steady pace, allowing for the underwater atmosphere and tense dark lighting to create a sense of anxiety and dread to make up for the very predictable story. It's a beautifully creepy looking film, with some impressive visual effects. The creatures are especially cool looking, being give some mystery to their monstrous appearance, while also allowing just enough of a glimpse at them to unexpectedly terrify the audience. The film gives in to the urge to rely on jump scares, but they can on occasion be effective and the creatures unique design lends itself to a good enough scare. 

 The characters are tropes of the genre, yet the cast is game enough to make up for it, mostly thanks to Kristen Stewart. Having proven herself to be a great actress time and time again no matter the quality of the film she's in (The days of "Twilight" ended a long time ago people. Let it go already!), Stewart is a badass lead and carries the film in compelling fashion. Vincent Cassel is excellent, despite being obviously overqualified for this kind of material. There are solid performances from Jessica Henwick (Who plays scared witless very well), John Gallagher Jr. (Who is generally good no matter what), and even T.J. Miller, getting a couple admittedly funny lines. (Though his appearance in the film considering recent developments about his personal life makes things a little awkward) Meanwhile, Mamoudou Athie shows up to do well, the most obvious thing his character would be required to do. 

  Nothing original and aside from a minor (And pretty fun) twist, "Underwater" offers very few surprises. What we do get is well made, visually pleasing, and at times, successfully scary. It's the kind of horror that doesn't match the films it tries to emulate, though it fares better than those who fail on a more miserable level. It's nothing, pardon the pun, deep (The attempt at an environmental message aside), but something simple enough to enjoy on a rainy day.. It's the most you could ask for right now. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Aquatic Atrocities, And Lots Of Kristen Stewart Fanservice. Lots Of It. 

Like a Boss            by James Eagan                ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for like a boss movieImage "So we want a raise....And new agents."

 After a major film achievement like "1917" serving as reminder of how great a year 2019 was for film, moving back onto the rest of the infamous "January Dumping Ground" feels more uninviting than ever. Guess there has to be balance in the universe somehow, right?   

 "Like a Boss" follows longtime best friends, "Mia" (Tiffany Haddish) and "Mel" (Rose Byrne), owners of a well liked, but mostly failing beauty company. Mia is the more brash and open one, while Mel is more careful and tries to keep everything from falling apart. Once they realize that they're thousands of dollars in debt, the besties find hope when a big time cosmetics tycoon, "Claire Luna" (Salma Hayek), offers to buy a share of their company. Little do Mia and Mel know though, Claire schemes to steal the company from under them by pitting the two of them against each other. Mia and Mel must address each other's differences and other contrivances to save both their company and their friendship. 

 Directed by Miguel Arteta (Who has gone from lower scale, less mainstream films like "Chuck & Buck" and "Beatriz at Dinner" to um, whatever "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" was), "Like a Boss" is the kind of comedy that seems to have the idea that if it just spouts out whatever kind of vulgarity, lowbrow joke it can, it will automatically be funny. What we get is an unfocused mess that seems to be stuck trying to pad out a surprisingly short runtime. The movie just seems to stop dead for certain overlong jokes, minor characters riffing, or random shenanigans to distract from how thin the screenplay is. 

 While their characters act in needlessly moronic or selfish fashion whenever the point in the script seems to say so, Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne do at least make up for it with their actually pretty solid chemistry. I buy their almost sisterly relationship, and while you're not laughing at the humor on display, they are still a joy to watch. Salma Hayek is over the top, but she is having a lot of fun, and some of it does occasionally rub off on you. (Plus her accent is always wonderful to me.) There are way too many side characters in the film, from Jennifer Coolidge (as "Sydney", an employee of Mia and Mel, who keeps talking about her vagina), Karan "Dopinder" Soni (as "Josh", Claire's wormy henchman), Jacob Latimore (as Mia's enthusiastic lover), along with Ari Graynor, Natasha Rothwell, and Jessica St. Clair (as a trio of Mia and Mel's friends, who serve no purpose whatsoever). The only standout would be Billy Porter (as "Barrett", another employee, who Mia and Mel are forced to fire), who gets an amusing moment or two. 

 There's nothing wrong with some good comedy to carry how weakly put together plot, even when it's a little immature and bawdy, but "Like a Boss", just feels lost and confused. It's almost as if the filmmakers themselves were uncomfortable with themselves as the film tries its best to push things down a dirtier direction. Saying "F*ck" all the time though, doesn't necessarily guarantee laughs. The film avoids a few predictable narrative pratfalls (No romantic subplot, and the temporary friendship breakup is resolved halfway realistically), but it almost just helps prove that the film is struggling to get to feature length. Not the worst you could do right now. However, you're better off just seeing all of the Oscar hopefuls instead. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Language, Rude Humor, And Various Gentile Based Jokes

1917                   by James Eagan             ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for 1917 movieImage: Yeah, how about we try to avoid this again if possible.

 2020 may be underway (And popping out the usual January crap), but I'm still finding time to check out 2019's leftover Oscar hopefuls, and one of them just won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Drama. Like with "Roma", which I was only able to see after I prepared my "Best of the Year" list, I'm going to need to make some last second adjustments. This is what happens when you save one of your most captivating theater experiences for last.  

 "1917" follows a pair of young British soldiers during a heated and drawn out battle in World War I. "William Schofield" (George MacKay) and "Tom Blake" (Dean-Charles Chapman) are called forward by their superior, "General Erinmore" (Colin Firth), for a mission requiring the two of them to hand-deliver a message to "Colonel Mackenzie" (Benedict Cumberbatch). The message says that the planned attack on the German forces the following morning will only result in a complete massacre of Mackenzie's men, including Blake's brother, "Joseph" (Richard Madden). To prevent the heavy casualties in time, Schofield and Blake must trek the body riddled, trap filled warzone, while avoiding enemy forces and other hardships along the way.     

 Directed by Sam Mendes ("Road to Perdition", "American Beauty", along with the previous two "James Bond" entries, "Skyfall" and "Spectre"), "1917" is an immersive experiment unlike anything I've seen before in a film, and not to mention, it's something I never even thought would ever exist. With acclaimed cinematographer, Roger Deakins ("The Shawshank Redemption", "Fargo", "Blade Runner 2049", "Sicario", and that's just naming a few of them), Mendes tells an authentic, heart-wrenchingly nightmarish, and heroically inspiring story through a series of very long takes to give the appearance of one continuous shot. This means you experience everything just as our main characters experience them, allowing you to feel the urgency of the situation, almost as if you were right there in the action with them.  

 Yet, it's not gimmicky about it at all. Our main characters are never not on screen, and we see everything from their perspective. It's both engrossing and a little disorienting, which only adds to the experience. It's a stylish idea that's nothing short of brilliant, and something that nobody will ever be able to replicate. However, none of it would work if it weren't for the story behind it all. "1917" isn't just an action film, and in fact, there are only a handful of major setpieces. It's actually a closely human drama, with the screenplay by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, allowing for the film to take moments to settle down and let our characters interact with either each other, the people they meet along their journey, or just the destructive, grim world around them. 

 George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give two of this year's most underappreciated performances. Balancing out anxiety, humor, and a very human sense of heroism, coming from desperation and fear, which is something you never see enough of in protagonists. It makes them more relatable and compelling certainly, and realistic in the face of wartime terror. There are also sporadic, but excellent appearances from other terrific actors, such as Colin Firth, an enjoyably cynical Andrew Scott, a perfectly cast Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch, getting one of the film's most memorable scenes. 

 More terrifying than any horror movie, while also more heartracing than any action movie, "1917" culminates in one final, edge of your seat sequence that will become legendary. It's the kind of great film that sticks with you after its done, and while you are in awe of the spectacle, you're just as moved by the story and characters. You'll leave the film in silence, taking what you've seen with you, and never forgetting it. War is still Hell. 4 Stars. Rated R For War Violence And The Unexpected, Tragic Deaths That Follow.

The Grudge             by James Eagan            ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: It's 2020. We don't judge someones preferences.

 Here's how little I actually know about horror movies, I always thought "The Ring" and "The Grudge" were the same thing. Come on, I can't be the only one. Both are based on Japanese films, with scary looking girls with long hair, and only decreased more and more in quality the longer they went on. It's easy to mix them up.  

 A reboot of the 2004 Americanized remake of the 2002 Japanese film, "Ju-On" (This movie is essentially the "Frankenstein" of movies), "The Grudge" follows the recently widowed, "Detective Muldoon" (Andrea Riseborough), as she's partnered up with "Detective Goodman" (Demián Bichir). they investigate a mysterious and brutal death related to a previous case involving a supposedly cursed house, where a demonic spirit was brought over from Tokyo like a virus by a mother, "Fiona Landers" (Tara Westwood). The incident resulted in the gruesome murder-suicide of her entire family. Muldoon goes to investigate further, only to find herself cursed by the grotesque and vengeful spirit intending on driving her to madness. Throughout the film, we are shown flashbacks involving others who have been cursed by the house through the years. The interconnected stories include a married couple, "Peter" (John Cho) and "Nina" (Bett Gilpin), who are expecting a baby, along with a woman, "Lorna Moody" (Jacki Weaver), arriving at the house to lend assist an elderly man, "William Matheson" (Frankie Faison), and his seemingly dementia stricken wife, "Faith" (Lin Shaye), who is in reality seeing the ghost of a little girl. There's also some involvement from Goodman's previous partner, "Wilson" (William Sadler), whose investigation of the house years earlier have made him insane. Muldoon soon realizes that her life is now in danger, and she must find a way to stop the spirit's curse for good.   

 Time to start off 2020 like we start off every previous year, with a bad horror movie that's just going to maybe make back its budget the first week just before fading away into nothingness. Produced by Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead"), "The Grudge" does nothing to separate itself from the average scary demon story (Which should frustrate fans of the series), and does little to explain itself, leaving one who doesn't know about the series confused (Which should frustrate just about everyone else). Director and writer, Nicolas Pesce (who is known for very unique sounding horror films I've never heard of, such as "The Eyes of My Mother" and "Piercing"), seems to have an eye for something halfway decent. The film has a creepy look and appears to be attempting to let some real atmosphere sink in. These little moments are too far and in between, and mostly end up being subverted by a cheap jump scare immediately afterwards. It doesn't help that they're all scares that you've seen before, whether it be in better movies or just more memorable ones.

  A lack of originality and heavy amounts of predictability end up becoming the film's final downfall, ad turn it into something blandly forgettable, except this time in the worst way possible simply because of all the talent that seems to have ruthlessly dragged into the film. Great, versatile actors such as Andrea Riseborough and Demián Bichir are left to do what they can with the flavorless screenplay. The other non-linear storylines, while an apparent staple of this franchise, end up having little to do with each other, and all result in obvious outcomes. John Cho and Betty Gilpin have the best story, mostly just because the actors bring out enough emotional range to make it somewhat work. Lin Shaye plays strange very well, while Jacki Weaver seems to be here to make attempts at humor and William Sadler's storyline exists simply to deliver exposition. 

 Normally with something like "The Grudge", I'd chalk the film up to being just a lifeless, forgettable, cardboard cutout of a basic horror movie......And then the ending happened. You've seen any of the TV spots? You've seen the ending. No rhyme or reason for it to end this way, except because of a lack of imagination. It's a January released horror movie that belongs exactly where it is. We can only go up for here. 1 Star. Rated R For Grisly Images, Jump Scares, And Uncreative Twists.  

Spies in Disguise                                                       by James Eagan                                        ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for spies in disguiseImage: He should'n't have tweeted his whereabouts. 

 It's a sad tale what's become of poor "Blue Sky Studios". After finding major success with the original "Ice Age", during Disney's minor rut of financial misses, the studio never really has found much further success, neither at the box office or critically since, with the exception of the much underappreciated "The Peanuts Movie". After the mass buyout of "20th Century Fox", the studio is now a subsidiary of Disney, and still can't quite strike box office gold the way others can. It sucks because with "Spies in Disguise", they've given us easily one of their better, and much more clever films yet. 

 "Spies in Disguise" follows renowned, yet very overconfident American secret agent, "Lance Sterling" (Will Smith), who is known for his legendary showdowns, spectacular getaways, and a knack for causing a bit more trouble than necessary. After tracking down an arms dealer, "Kimura" (Masi Oka), Sterling seemingly prevents suitcase containing an experimental and deadly drone from winding up in the metallic hand of a cybernetically enhanced terrorist, "Killian" (Ben Mendelsohn), despite having issues with some of new gadgets (Such as a glitter bomb that shows holograms of cute kittens to distract the enemy). Sterling meets the young man responsible, "Walter Beckett" (Tom Holland), a nerdy, pacifist tech genius, who Sterling has fired immediately. When presenting the suitcase to his superior, "Joy Jenkins" (Reba McEntire), Sterling realizes that the drone is not in there. Turns out Killian, disguised as Sterling, is using the drone to frame him, resulting in Sterling having to go on the run from security forces agent, "Marcy" (Rashida Jones). With nowhere else to turn to, Sterling goes to Walter for help in finding a new disguise, accidentally ingesting Walter's latest experiment, a liquid that transforms Sterling into a pigeon. Now Walter and Pigeon Sterling must avoid Marcy's agents, while tracking down Killian before he unleashes an army of killer drones to slaughter the entire agency.      

 A pretty odd, and out there premise aside, "Spies in Disguise" gets quite a lot of mileage out of the weirdness, and provides families with a gorgeous, fast paced, and action packed comedy that unfortunately won't amount to much. Directed by Troy Quane and Nick Bruno, the film is Blue Sky at its finest, utilizing the studio's eye for blending a variety of stunning colors, fluid animation, and exceptional storyboarding. The film's animation looks especially great during the elaborately set up action sequences, which are explosive, yet still cartoonishly funny. The humor is also on point, with the animators allowing for a lot of hilarious physical comedy, which is heavily used for the film's funniest characters, "Lovey", "Fanboy", and the messed up "Crazy Eyes", a trio of pigeons who forcefully bond with Pigeon Sterling. There is actually a smart screenplay, written by Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor, which has charm to spare and a good heart. The film even takes a little time to focus on deeper themes, such as trying to find more peaceful solutions rather than violence and avoiding casualties. It's of course handled in a kid friendly, and not particularly realistic manner (It's a cartoon. What do you expect?) But it's something to think about, and the film thankfully does remember there is a legitimate and capable threat to face, with deadly consequences if our heroes fail. (Also, I kind of get the idea this film is trying to say something about drone warfare. It's subtle, but I feel it's there.)  

 The expressive character design perfectly match their voice actors, while remembering to exaggerate many features to prevent any signs of uncanny valley. They actually add to the charm of the film. Will Smith is a riot, showing off his trademark personality and charisma, working well off of an equally likable Tom Holland, who is yet to give a bad performance. Ben Mendelsohn,aka Hollywood's new go-to bad buy, is a surprisingly scary and intense villain, with a James Bond-esque backstory and a sense of menace that's rare in a family movie. There are fun voice performances from Rashida Jones, Masi Oka, along with Karen Gillan and DJ Khaled (as "Eyes" and "Ears", Marcy's tech department). Meanwhile, Reba McEntire is mostly just here because it's always a delight to hear her voice, and there's a brief, heartfelt part from Rachel Brosnahan (as Water's deceased officer mother).      

 Goofy, yet in an endearing way, "Spies in Disguise" is the kind of surprise holiday treat that comes out of nowhere, and has enough for everyone in the family to enjoy. It's just a lot of fun, that doesn't talk down to the kids, offers plenty of laughs and excitement, and still finds a way to charm the parents too. Blue Sky might being falling on rough times as of late (And it's hard to tell how much movies like this will pay off), but this makes for one of the first times the studio truly tried to branch out from safe, though mostly generic, and go for something a bit more unique. Not to mention, I learned more about Pigeons than I ever thought I would. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Spy Action, Dark Moments, And Questions About Pigeon Anatomy. 

Little Women                                                            by James Eagan                                            ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage:Technically, they're medium sized women.

 In 2017, actress/filmmaker Greta Gerwig, gave us one of that year's best films, "Lady Bird", which if you looked at it from a distance, was just another coming of age story that could be argued that we've seen plenty of times before. The miracle of that film was how fresh she made it all seem. Whether it be her direction, eye for great characters and dialogue, and a certain quirky charm, she turned something that's been done many times, and gave us something that felt new, becoming something more iconic as time went on. So it shouldn't be shocking that she could direct something that's been made seven times, and make it both better and more relevant than ever.  

 Based on the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott, "Little Women" opens with "Jo March" (Saoirse Ronan), attempting to publish a novel she's been working on. Between flashing back and forth between time, the film follows the lives of the "March" sisters, including Jo, Amy" (Florence Pugh), "Meg" (Emma Watson), and "Beth" (Eliza Scanlen), during the Civil War and after it. While their father (Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting, the sisters live with their mother, "Marmee" (Laura Dern) through the changing times. We mostly follow Jo, who has dreams of being a writer, known for her adventurous and rebellious spirit, while Meg wants to have a family, Amy yearns to become an artist, and shy Beth wants to become a musician. The sisters, especially Jo, bond with their neighbor, "Laurie" (Timothée Chalamet) and his wealthy grandfather (Chris Cooper), during this time. After years away, Jo eventually must return home when Beth gets sick, with everyone also facing future, more mature challenges of life. Honestly, you should all know this story by now to a certain degree. 

 From various adaptations, and whether or not you've seen any of them (Let alone read the original novel), "Little Women" is based on classic source material that's become an influence on feminist based media. It's an iconic story for young women, no matter their age, and and it takes a certain skill to keep something like that fresh. It's amazing how Greta Gerwig, who serves as both writer and director, has perfected the original story, and retold in a way today's audiences can gravitate towards it. The film is modernized, but not in the same way as last year's "Little Women" adaptation from "PureFlix", which just took the story and set in during the current time without much reason or even a sense of understanding what it really wanted to do with it. I mean that the film finds a way to convey its timely themes without compromising them, and using them to connect to the current demographic. It's done through a good sense of humor, applicable drama, and a natural charm. Gerwig's direction keeps the flashing back and forth storyline from getting jumbled, keeping the film focused on its well defined characters, who all go through a sense of full development throughout the film. Every emotional and powerful moment in the lives of these characters benefit from the non-linear story. Whether it be moments of happiness, sadness, or uncertainty, it's easy to find yourself attached to everyone's storyline. Not to mention the smart screenplay, which helps everyone feel so alive and real, such as when the film balances out something serious with something more humorous. The tone doesn't shift. It instead feels more natural this way. 

 The wonderful cast each have their role, and even with some mostly being secondary, there is a love and attachment you have to them as well. (Greta Gerwig really has an eye for character, as shown in "Lady Bird", which would take time out of the film's main story to instead focus on a supporting character, no matter how minor of importance.) Saoirse Ronan, on her way to another possible Oscar nomination, is empowered and commanding, yet has a certain fragile uncertainty that young girls can find relatable. Florence Pugh, having been on a role lately with "Fighting With My Family", "Midsommar", and an upcoming role in next year's "Black Widow", finds herself with the most complex of the sisters. An attentions seeker, who has a mature arc of her own, Pugh gets the funniest and most insightful moments of dialogue. Emma Watson is graceful, and flawlessly cast, while Eliza Scanlen is especially wonderful. The film wouldn't of worked without the impeccable sisterly chemistry between these actresses. There are more great performances from Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Bob Odenkirk, a hilarious Tracy Letts (as "Mr. Dashwood", a sourpuss publisher, who challenges Jo's writing), James Norton (as "John Brooke", Meg's penniless love interest), and a likable Louis Garrel (as "Friedrich Bhaer", a professor friend of Jo, who may also have a thing for her). Not to mention some memorable supporting work from Chris Cooper, having some very subtle, though very poignant moments, and Meryl Streep (as "Aunt March", the wealthiest member of the family, who is lets just say, too brutally honest about everything.)

  The beautiful and appealing production ad costume design in "Little Women" is Oscar worthy, as well as Gerwig's ability to portray the film's aesthetic to go with the time period. It's all so authentic, and visually stunning without overstating itself. Themes of female empowerment and how society views their place in the world is shown with humor and heart, while retelling an old tale to new generation. It's a credit to the source material that it can still be pertinent despite so many adaptations. It's also credit to the talent behind and in front of the camera to make sure it's all done right. Some people, mostly dudes honestly, have been wondering why so many critics and audiences have been gravitating to a movie like this, let along the fact I'm also giving it such high praise. ("But wait. You didn't even give "Star Wars" this much acclaim?" they'll say.) It's not meant to be a gamechanger in the traditional sense. It's just what you want from a great movie, with a classic, enduring story, with characters (And actors) that you love, and themes of maturity being told with a blend of heartbreak, joy, and hope. That's the power of a good story, that just so happens to be told by one Hell of a good narrator. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Upsetting Moments Of Realism, But IS Perfectly Suitable For The Whole Family. 

Uncut Gems                                                                 by James Eagan                                        ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for uncut gemsImage: Golden Furby Award winner Adam Sandler 

 Everyone knows that there are a few actors that I dread seeing new movies from, and it's a biased thing that I should not hold against them. Especially when those actors end up showing me how good they can actually be. Comedian Adam Sandler and I have never seen eye to eye (I could list off a few "Happy Madison" films.....but then I would end up listing off more than three quarters of them.), and I can admit that even his supposed good movies, I'm not even that big a fan of. In a year that's consisted of actors returning to form or stepping out of their comfort zones, and in return getting high praise and award recognition, it's fitting that even the guy who only eight years ago played his own twin sister in a high pitched voice that still sends shivers down my spine, get his chance to prove himself at long last. 

 Taking place in 2012, "Uncut Gems" follows "Howard Ratner" (Adam Sandler), a Jewish Jeweler with a strong gambling addiction. Howard's constant bets and poor decisions have resulted in him owing many loan sharks all across New York, including his own brother in law, "Arno" (Eric Bogosian). While balancing out a failing marriage with his estranged wife, "Dinah" (Idina Menzel) and his relationship with his mistress/employee, "Julia" (Julia Fox), Howard runs a small jewelry story, where he awaits the arrival of an uncut colorful opal. Howard plans to auction off the opal for millions, assuring Arno's hired henchmen, "Phil" (Keith Williams Richards) and "Nico" (Tommy Kominik), that this will pay off his debts. When one of Howard's employees, "Demany" (Lakeith Stanfield), brings in basketball great, "Kevin Garnett" (Played by uh, basketball great Kevin Garnett), Garnett takes an instant interest in the opal. Believing he has some kind of connection to the opal, Garnett asks to borrow the opal for the night of his upcoming game for good luck, loaning Howard his championship ring in the meantime. However on the following day, Garnett doesn't end up returning the opal, and with the day of the auction nearing, Howard's life is thrown out of wack. Howard goes on a series of really moronic misadventures to get back the opal before his many debts catch up to him.       

 Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie ("Good Time"), "Uncut Gems" is a twisted look into horrible people making terrible decision because they're all so freakin stupid, and it's a sleazy, thrilling, and darkly hilarious good time. The Safdie Brothers, having already proven themselves to have an eye for grimy, shady cinematography before, allow a slightly bigger scope and story expand on their style. The cinematography is colorfully blinding and disorienting, matching the imbecilic and perplexed attitude of many of the characters. Nearly everyone in the film is either an unpleasant person, obnoxiously brainless, or even both, which for any other film, would make the movie unbearable to watch. Thankfully the screenplay by the Safdie Brothers and Ronald Bronstein (All having previously worked together on "Good Time"), is sharp witted enough to realize this and somehow finds a way to make the unappealing immensely entertaining in the most vile way possible. The dialogue is a mile a minute, with characters constantly talking over each other and raising voices to add to the intentionally all over the place story. It's an extra layer of bewilderment, which can be a bit off-putting to some, but gets some moments of humor and even quite a bit of suspense.  

 I have never expected to see Adam Sandler be this great before. Aside from being aggressively charismatic and scummy, he also gives probably one of his funniest performances too. From that slimy grin, exaggerated mannerisms, and clear mental instability, Sandler is a special kind of electric, forcefully glueing your eyes to the screen. He's remarkable and I really hope he sticks to roles like this in the future. The great cast of characters are also not limited to Idina Menzel, an excellent Julia Fox, a boisterous Lakeith Stanfield (Is he just really good in everything he's in?), Eric Bogosian, an unhinged Keith Williams Richards, Judd Hirsch (as "Gooey", Howard's father in law), and a fantastic Kevin Garnett, who really gets some of the film's best moments. 

 Contemptible and chaotic, "Uncut Gems" might be too much madness for some, and I can maybe see why. (All of the constant bickering and yelling over each other, while intentionally frustrating, might turn people off.) It's all also hard not to be enthralled by it all. Sandler is just too wonderful not to enjoy, and even while his character is both absurdly brainless and greedily disgusting, you kind of start to see the world through his eyes in a way by the end. A screwed up film about a total screw up, made by some original filmmakers that offers a mesmerizingly bizarre experience. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Casually Fired F-Bombs, Sexual Content, And So Much Sleaze.  

Cats                        by James Eagan                  ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for cats movieImage: "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." 

 I think everyone is collectively asking the same question, which for some odd reason nobody involved with this film even thought of asking. Why? 

 Based on the popular and very strange stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Which was also based on a collection of stories by T. S. Elliot), "Cats" is set in a world where all cats have human faces, detailed human bodies, yet are still the size of regular cats in the alley streets of London. A white cat, "Victoria" (Francesca Hayward) meets a tribe of cats, known as the "Jellicles", who are gathering for a special ball run by their patriarch, "Old Deuteronomy" (Judi Dench). At the ball, a competition is held where Deuteronomy will select the "Jellicle Choice", meaning that selected cat will be able to ascend to a higher place of existence to be reborn into a new, better life. All of the cats are coming to participate, including Jellicle leader, "Munkustrap" (Robbie Fairchild), the magical "Mr. Mistoffelees" (Laurie Davidson), the lazy "Jennyanydots" (Rebel Wilson), the milk obsessed and horny, "Rum Tum Tugger" (Jason Derulo), the fat overeater, "Bustopher Jones" (James Corden), and the cast aside, "Grizabella" (Jennifer Hudson). Meanwhile, teleporting master criminal, "Macavity" (Idris Elba) plans to win the competition through nefarious means and begins to cheat his way to the top. 

 What kind of misguided, tone deaf, twisted mind allowed this entire production to find its way to the big screen? With "Cats", everything is so wrong and so much worse than you could possibly imagine. Directed and co-written by Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech", "Les Misérables", "The Danish Girl"), the film's reason for existence, let alone questionable execution, is going to become one of those infamous Hollywood conspiracies that will haunt audiences for years to come. (The terrifying images on display certainly won't help.) The idea of giving the musical the theatrical treatment isn't necessarily a bad one, though I've never quite understood the source material myself. But whoever thought this was the way to go is likely on his way to losing his job as of right now. What could of worked as a possibly stylish animated film has instead been turned into a live-action, CGI hybrid, with the feline characters being given very human like bodies along with the faces of the actors playing them. It's the "Uncanny Valley" on steroids, with any impressive moments of visual flair being destroyed by an unappealing design. The fur doesn't look fully rendered and the heavy use of green screen only helps the bad effects pop off the screen, almost literally. (Say what you will about "The Lion King", but the effects both looked good, and were at least, you know, finished) Despite this, it's also sickeningly detailed in some areas, such as with almost naked human bodies these cats are given. The faces most of the time look like they don't belong, with a wobbly and tacked on feeling. It gives vibes of the sun baby from "Teletubbies", yet even that looks better than this. 

 Hooper's shaky direction style just gets in the way of what could of been solid dance choreography, which appeared to be elaborate and thought out. His screenplay, which was also written with Lee Hall ("War Horse", "Rocketman"), which poorly structures in the musical's well known songs, along with some of the worst attempts at humor in any movie this year. (Puns! Puns! PUNS!) These thin characterizations and lack of an actual story do a disservice to the music, which even then, almost feels out of place itself despite the fact it's a damn musical based on another musical. It's surprisingly boring in pacing and even when things get weird, sometimes on a disgusting level (There's a sequence involving mice with children's faces that is far more unsettling than any recent horror movie), there's no magic or charm to most of the musical numbers. They almost feel like obligations, despite being the main focus at the same time.

 The crappy, distracting effects work only holds back performances from newcomers who you can tell have some kind of potential. Francesca Hayward, an accomplished and acclaimed dancer and ballerina, appears to be trying her best, along with Laurie Davidson and Robbie Fairchild. They at least look more at home than most of the other actors who found themselves roped into this travesty. Skilled performers like Dame Judi Dench, Ray Winstone (as "Growltiger", Macavity's henchmen), and Sir Ian McKellen (as "Gus the Theater Cat", who sadly can't sing no matter how much he tries) are wasted to a degree that one feels the need to call for legal consequences, while others such as Rebel Wilson and James Corden are needlessly annoying, relying on lazy pratfalls and fat jokes. Idris Elba is over the top and by the end, completely pointless to the story, while the worst of the ensemble being Jason Derulo, who ruthlessly mugs at the camera in a disturbingly rapey fashion.

 Jennifer Hudson, despite being forced to endure the horrible hybrid of CGI, at least delivers on singing the musical's most memorable song, "Memory". The character's part in the story sucks and the film's attempts at trying to possibly get her an Oscar nomination falls hilariously flat, but nobody can deny she can belt out a song in a powerful and emotional way. The closest the film comes to anything lively involves an insane sequence with Taylor Swift (as "Bombalurina", Macavity's seductive feline fatale). It's an awkward (And uncomfortable) sequence that you could argue has no place in what's meant to be a family movie, but the bonkers sequence is easily the most fun out of all the others. Unlike the other lackluster musical numbers, this one at least showed some imagination and Swift looks to be having a lot of fun. Though sadly, she ends up vanishing completely from the film almost immediately after her number ends, and never appears again. 

 You can tell a lot of work went into the production design and you could normally find appreciation with that. If only "Cats" wasn't so damn ugly. Words like grotesque, repulsive, malformed, aren't enough to describe how hard it is to look at the film. It was pretty much a disaster from the start, and yet I can't even describe it as a so bad, it's good, kind of film because of how uninteresting it ends up being. Even with all of the nonsensical, random, drug induced images on display, it's not fun at all. It just drags on the floor like a pair of saggy cat balls. Gross and uninviting, yet lazy and too long for its own good. This didn't need to happen. Nobody wanted it to happen. And yet, it happened. Now we are forced to exist in the same world with it. Again I ask, Why? ½ Star. Rated PG Despite Loads Of Scary, Sexual, And Uncomfortable Images That No Human Should See, Let Alone Any Children. 

Bombshell                                                                  by James Eagan                                  ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for bombshell movieImage: Waiting to hear back about their possible Oscar nominations.  

 Should I get into personal politic thoughts on the subject surrounding this film? The fact that I'm both reviewing it and doing it in a positive manner is already enough for one to click off of my site. Lets just instead talk about what people by this point already know. "Fox News" has always been aimed at conservatives. It's common knowledge and it's better to just embrace it. It's the way of the world. Now I have a question to ask, politics aside. How in the living Hell did nobody see any of this coming? A news station with women on air in short skirts, hidden layers of college-like male dominance and mockery, and other little sexually charged details that when they all collided in spectacular fashion, and apparently nobody saw it coming that they guy running it was complete, sexually vile hog of a man! And with that, more people just clicked off of my site, didn't they?  

 Based on an event that happened only a couple years ago and has been completely forgotten by some for possibly biased reasons, "Bombshell" tells the story of the infamous and overdue scandal at the center of "Fox News". The film focuses three women who play their part in the downfall of the channel's founder, chairman, and CEO, "Roger Ailes" (John Lithgow). This includes "Megyn Kelly" (Charlize Theron), who becomes a main focus after soon to be president, "Donald Trump" mocks her on live televsion (And you know, made a period joke. Weird how that's something that happened.), "Gretchen Carlson" (Nicole Kidman), having set out to take down Ailes after years of sexual harassment and ridicule, and an overachieving intern, "Kayla Pospisil" (Margot Robbie), a fabricated character representing what a powerful man in charge will believe he can get away with, especially when it comes to women trying to make a career. 

 Directed by Jay Roach (The "Austin Powers" movies, "The Campaign", "Trumbo") with a screenplay by Charles Randolph (Academy Award winning co-writer of "The Big Short"), "Bombshell" tells a recent and relevant story that should logically remind people how we should hold a higher standard to the media we listen to. Not to mention the movie's themes of allowed sexism and justified harassment, which people still either ignore or in some cases, respond with a "Come on. It's what guys do." It's uncomfortable to say the least, and while the film has no intentions of getting too deep into its own subject than needed to justify its crowdpleaser status. Roach provides a quick paced, smoothly directed dramatization into how everything began with simple rumors and dark secrets, while also providing insight into how the mentality behind "Fox News" worked. Granted, none of it is exactly new or unheard of, though it's all fair game, and even helps convey how unsurprising such a scandal would happen in this kind of environment. 

 The screenplay has to balance out biting, often humorous satire with some hard hitting and emotionally stinging drama. It doesn't always quite work, as the tones don't always mesh, but the large ensemble (Especially our main trio of actresses) bring their A game. Charlize Theron, through some slight make-up enhancements, looks and sounds like as if she was a clone of the real Megyn Kelly. She perfectly captures her mannerisms and finds understanding within her complex actions. Nicole Kidman gets the least complicated role of the three, but is nonetheless captivating. Then there's Margot Robbie, who plays the naive part well, and does a wonderful job when her character arc takes a darker turn later in the film. John Lithgow is great at playing paranoid and antagonistic, while Kate McKinnon (as "Jess", a friend Kayla makes at the station, who is also a closeted lesbian/Hilary Clinton supporter), gives us another look into what might be going on behind the cameras. Others in the recognizable (And occasionally, somewhat distracting) cast includes Allison Janney (as "Susan Estrich", Ailes' legal counsel), Mark Duplass (as "Douglas Brunt", Megyn's husband), Connie Britton (as Ailes' wife), and a brief, but excellent appearance from Malcolm McDowell (as "Rupert Murdoch", the head of Fox). There are also plenty of extra cameos and surprises I can't spoil.

 Never quite taking things far enough, whether to keep it simplified or an attempt to avert more controversy, "Bombshell" is still not without importance. The film shows how people, even women, can condone sexual harassment, at least until you find yourself affected in some way. Undeniable sexism in the workplace, and to a degree in our culture, is something that one shouldn't ignore. Even if the film plays it all a little too safe, the point isn't without a sharp edge. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Creepy Fat Men.         

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker                    by James Eagan                                        ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Rey, ready to face the upcoming discourse this movie's existence will inventively lead to.  

 Over forty years ago, filmmaker George Lucas created a fictional universe unlike any other that chased the way we looked at movies. "Star Wars" began as an original trilogy that many grew up on (Including myself) and morphed some of us into the geeks we are today. Years later, he created a prequel trilogy, which was met with.....less than enthusiasm. While not without their detractors, being the Star Wars obsesser I am, I still have an affection for those films as well, along with the larger expanded universe of shows and comics that would follow. When Lucas sold the rights to "Disney", everyone cheered at first, a new canon was formed with more tie-ins and larger scale stories than ever, along with the critically acclaimed first two entries in the sequel trilogy. At first the fanbase remained united when J.J. Abrams' "The Force Awakens" was released, but when Rian Johnson gave us "The Last Jedi", which despite being the best Star Wars movie since "The Empire Strikes Back", caused thousands of voices to cry out in anguish and disgust. Then everything went to Sith. Fans turned their backs on the values of the originals, with some even turning a little racist in the process, while also sending death threats, creating hilariously absurd petitions, and just plain going out of their way to attack actors and filmmakers online. It's not just the vocal minority of hate filled nerds that have complaints, but every day fans, who while I don't agree with their complaints, I understand it to a degree. You wanted these new movies to be the continuing adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia (Although I guess they want her to appear at a lesser extent), but the films had other plans in mind. Instead, it's about the legacy that is being left behind, and not just the legacy of the original trilogy, but nine films that culminate in one epic story that will never be forgotten. The fanbase is in a state of disarray and shows no signs of being fixed, all I can ask for is that everyone just shut the Hell up and let me enjoy some Star Wars! Let me just be a dork in peace, thank you.   

 Set a year after the events of "The Last Jedi", "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker" opens with the conflict between the heroic "Resistance", and the villainious "First Order", taking an unexpected turn. It turns out the former ruler of the previous Galactic Empire and the dark lord of the Sith, "Emperor Palpatine" (Ian McDiarmid) is alive and not so well, and he's manipulating everything just like he's done for two trilogies before this one. The Supreme Leader of the First Order, "Kylo Ren/Ben Solo" (Adam Driver), having taken the position after knocking off his old master, "Snoke" (Previously played by Andy Serkis), discovers Palpatine on a mysterious planet, with a plan to conquer the galaxy once again like he did decades earlier. Their sights are set on the last Jedi, "Rey" (Daisy Ridley), powerful apprentice of the recently deceased "Luke Skywalker" (Mark Hamill). A new armada of evil is ready to annihilate the Resistance once and for all, and the Resistance, led by the beloved former princess/the widowed mother of Kylo Ren, "Leia Organa" (Carrie Fisher, appearing through archival footage), is more than a little outgunned, having not gathered near enough support in the upcoming final battle.

 Rey, along with her friends, former stormtrooper, "Finn" (John Boyega), Resistance pilot, "Poe Dameron" (Oscar Isaac), kind-hearted Wookiee, "Chewbacca" (Joonas Suotamo, replacing the late, great Peter Mayhew), nervous droid, "C-3PO" (Anthony Daniels), and Poe's cute little ball-like droid, "BB-8", set out on a quest across the galaxy to find a way to finally end the First Order, and all remnants of the previous empire. Our heroes must follow a trail to ancient Sith artifacts that will lead to where Palpatine is hiding, while avoiding Kylo Ren and his soldiers, "The Knights of Ren" along the way. As they dig deeper into the past and the dark side of the Force, Rey starts to discover more about herself and her powers than she at first realized, as well as her role to play in Palpatine's endgame.    

 The ninth and final episode in the "Skywalker Saga", while also serving as a definitive end to everything Star Wars as a whole, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" had a lot of live up to and a nearly impossible task to accomplish. With J. J. Abrams (Director of "The Force Awakens"), returns to finish what he originally started, while also serving as a co-writer. What we get might be the biggest Star Wars film yet, while also the busiest and most complicated one. There is a lot going on, with little time to explain it all, and the story starts out as a series of mini-quests that lead to an exhilarating grand finale. What we get is something worthy of the franchise and serves as a bittersweet, emotional, and even rousing ending to a long running franchise that many, including myself, have held so dear. It also ends up being not just the weakest in this sequel trilogy, but one of the weaker Star Wars movies overall. 

  The movie really just jumps right into the premise without much setup, and while the action gets going quickly, for a series known also for world-building and strong character development, it feels a bit on the choppy side. There's just a little too much thrown in too early in which while fun, don't exactly make it easy to follow, especially to casual moviegoers. Even when the film is clunky, Abrams is still too skilled a director to let it fall apart as things do come together, keep a tight pace, and his eye for stunning visual flair is on full display here. The cinematography and imagery shown is incredible and ranks up with many of the memorable images this series has become known for, along with the right blend of much appreciated practical effects and flawless CGI. He also knows how to create very clever and unique action set-pieces, such as an exciting chase in the desert, a mind blowing lightsaber battle between two separate locations, and a grudge match with the Knights of Ren towards the end of the film. Not to mention one can never give enough praise to master composer, John Williams, who has been with this franchise since the very beginning, providing a music score that swells when needed, but also knows when to settle down for something more intimate.     

 Our ensemble cast of characters, both old and new, are a staple of what's made this series work and also led to the success of its new resurgence in popularity. Daisy Ridley is an endearing lead with a character story arc that makes her a true heroine for the new generation. Adam Driver is an equally compelling villain, with his own storyline that leads to a very fitting and captivating place. It also helps that the two of them have some damn good chemistry together, making for a struggle between both light and dark that rivals the one between Luke and Vader from the original trilogy. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac remain likable heroes, with their own arcs to wrap up in a fulfilling fashion. There are returning characters, such as Joonas Suotamo (Mayhew's perfect successor), a scene-stealing Anthony Daniels getting a chance to shine, Lupita Nyong'o (as "Maz Kanata", former space pirate turned friend to the Resistance), the delightfully smarmy Domhnall Gleeson (as "General Hux", Kylo Ren's sniveling second in command), along with returning lovable droids, "R2-D2" (Jimmy Vee) and "BB-8". Sadly it seems like poor Kelly Marie Tran (as "Rose Tico", a Resistance hero spending time on the sidelines), appears to have been pushed out of the way due to the hate filled demands of a vile part of the fanbase. (More on that later.)

There are some great new additions as well, like Keri Russell (as "Zorrii Bliss", a mask wearing former friend to Poe), Naomi Ackie (as "Jannah", another former stormtrooper turned ally), and Richard E. Grant (as "Allegiant General Pryde", an even more ruthless First Order general), who was born to play a Star Wars villain. Some other memorable additions would be a cone headed droid named "D-O" (Made to sell toys and do it well) and a hilarious little droidsmith creature, "Baby Frik". Our legacy actors return in small doses, but are more than welcome. What they do with Carrie Fisher, with footage from deleted scenes being interjected into scenes with other actors, feels somewhat odd at first, but ends up seamlessly finding a place in the film and gives our rebel princess a fitting tribute. Mark Hamill appears briefly to shw off what a great actor he is, and Billy Dee Williams (as "Lando Calrissian", a con artist turned rebel hero, and the smoothest guy in the galaxy) returns to charm the Hell out of the entire audience. Ian McDiarmid, whose return to the series doesn't always mesh, still chews up the scenery with villainous glee and reminds us why he's one of cinema's best baddies. 

 There is a lot to love with "The Rise of Skywalker", and that's what makes my biggest issues with it all the more frustrating. "The Last Jedi" was divisive to the point where it stop being fun talking about it anymore, with many of the creative decisions Rian Johnson made, such as offing the thought to be big bad, "Snoke", giving an unexpected reveal to Rey's parentage, and refusing to remotely follow the formula fans were expecting from this new trilogy in favor of challenging our perceptions of the saga as a whole. It seems that was the route that "Lucasfilm" was originally going to take this series until the fans reacted in immature and dangerously cruel fashion. It seems that Abrams decided to backtrack on much of what was established in the last film in favor of a more obvious and safe approach. While the new twists and reveals on their own aren't anything bad exactly (And one is particularly horrifying), but after what we got in the previous film, it feels so much lesser and pandering. In a way, it all feels like they just gave in to the hate and gave them what they wanted at the expense of storytelling and trying to go for something more. It's kind of cowardly for what began as something so game-changing and capable of such risk instead choosing to give us something really predictable and risk-free. (Not to mention just plain sloppy.) It's the equivalent of jiggling keys in front of a bratty child. Though those keys are very shiny and go with a totally awesome car, that man baby instead needs a spanking. 

 My glaring and exhausting complaints aside, when the film gets it right, it does so in tearjerking fashion. There are so many memorable moments, as well as a finale for the ages that piles on the fanservice and even delves deeper into the lore of the saga than any of the other movies. (The many cameos and easter eggs alone warrant a second viewing.) "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker" is a flawed, yet still ultimately satisfying conclusion to a saga close to my heart, even if it sadly decides to reward a fanbase that doesn't deserve it. In the end, people will never be happy and the film sadly settled for good when it could of been great. It's still nothing to get too bent out of shape over though. For someone like myself who still had everything he owns from this forty year old epic, including movies, books, comics, and cartoons, arranged in chronological order and ready to be viewed again when the time comes, I still left a very happy child in the body of an adult. Much like the heroes, classic or otherwise, I will take what I've learned from these movies and pass them on to the future Jedi to come. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Violence, Scary Images, And Sithy Behavior. 

Black Christmas                                                     by James Eagan                                            ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for black christmas 2019Image: "I'm going to scare the crap out of the housekeeper!"

 Oh boy! YouTube critics are going to hate this one. I can see the titles now about "Forcing politics and feminism!", "Too much wokeness!", or "This movie hates men!". If you're really getting that bent out of shape over that, considering all the other flaws this movie has, there's something wrong with you. 

 "Black Christmas" takes place near Christmas at "Hawthorne College", where student, "Riley" (Imogen Poots), is celebrating with her sorority sisters, "Kris" (Aleyse Shannon), "Marty" (Lily Donoghue), "Jesse" (Brittany O'Grady), and "Helena" (Madeleine Adams). There is a lot of controversy surrounding the college, most of which centered around the college's deceased founder and loads of toxic masculinity. Riley is also distressed due to getting reminders of being raped by a male student and having nobody believe her. When Helena vanishes after a party, Riley begins to suspect something more nefarious is going on. As things get stranger, such as a series of ominous messages being sent to her and her friends, the girls must fight for their lives as some masked killers arrive to hunt them down and slaughter them all for some sort of bizarre ritual. 

 A loose remake (Apparently very loose actually) of the 1974 horror film of the same name, "Black Christmas" is directed and co-written by Sophia Takal (Known for independent films that I haven't heard of, but film hipsters definitely know them), who seems to have some higher aspirations other than some typical slasher flick. The movie has some deeper and relevant themes of college based sexism, the sanctioning of rape, and the male dominated culture that people seem to refuse to let go. It's very unsubtle and over the top about it all, but considering that many people (Some even in positions of power) seem to either ignore the existence of such things or just don't care and are completely okay with it, you kind of have to shove it down our throats. The downside to all of this is that the movie itself is not very well directed or written, with the satirical edge getting lost in an uneven script and sloppy execution. 

 Imogen Poots is one of those actresses who still finds a way to remind us how excellent she can be even when the material isn't all that great, while Aleyse Shannon does a good job playing that activist type who doesn't exactly know when to tone it down a little. Lots of the cast doesn't actually end up doing much aside from become casualties or cartoonish villains. Caleb Eberhardt (as "Landon", a dorky love interest to Riley) does a fine enough job, while Cary Elwes (as "Professor Gelson", a controversial college professor) is obviously evil, but appears to be relishing every moment he's on screen. 

 "Black Christmas" feels choppy and edited down to a PG-13 rating, lacking the kind of sense of humor that say something like "Get Out" to get its point across, though you do get the idea that was the intention. A lot of aspects don't quite add up and the film is definitely lacking scares. (Not to mention, what did this movie have to do with Christmas anyway? Now if Santa was a deranged, sexist killer...) It's a shame since the movie has its moments and some good insight to deliver on, which no matter how overly crazy or in your face, are things that we really have to stop ignoring whether it be ignorance or something a bit more discriminatory. (What does the saying "Forced Diversity" actually mean? How does one force that?) There's something there, but the movie just isn't well made enough to make it all work. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Ritualistic Killings And Toxic Masculinity Taken To A Murderous Degree.     

Jumanji: The Next Level                                     by James Eagan                                                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for jumanji the next level movie images

Image: The cast of the new "Fast & Furious" film.  

 2017's "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" was a nice and unexpected surprise, considering all of the hate the movie was getting before it came out. A sort of sequel/reboot to the 1995 film, "Jumanji" (Which is nowhere near as good as any of you remember.), the movie was seen as a cheap cashgrab trying to lure people in with nostalgia and attempts at relevance. What we got was something much funnier, more clever, and even somewhat more in depth than it really had to be. 

 "Jumanji: The Next Level" once again follows a group of friends, "Spencer" (Alex Wolff), "Martha" (Morgan Turner), "Fridge" (Ser'Darius Blain), and "Bethany" (Madison Iseman), who previously had a life changing experience while trapped in the video game world of "Jumanji" a year prior. Now they've grown apart, but plan to meet back up, only for Spencer not to show up. Martha, Fridge, and Bethany go to Spencer's house, only to find Spencer's cranky grandfather, "Eddie" (Danny DeVito), and his estranged buddy, "Milo" (Danny Glover). While searching for Spencer, the friends stumble upon the rebuilt Jumanji game, and like before, end up getting sucked back inside. However, the game is glitching badly. Martha returns to her avatar from before, "Ruby Roundhouse" (Karen Gillan), but this time, Fridge's avatar is the much less capable, "Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon" (Jack Black), and Eddie and Milo end up being given the avatars of "Smolder Bravestone" (Dwayne Johnson) and "Franklin "Mouse" Finbar" (Kevin Hart). (Bethany appears to have been excluded.) While searching for the still missing Spencer, our heroes are given a new task to track down a magical stone belonging to the game's new baddie, "Jurgen the Brutal" (Rory McCann) to win the game and return home, so long as they can survive the game's many new changes in the process. 

 With returning director/writer, Jake Kasdan ("Bad Teacher", "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle"), "Jumanji: The Next Level" is a sequel (Not necessarily a threequel since both movies have nothing to do with the 1995 film) that decides to focus on what people loved about the first film, but thankfully, doesn't exactly rehash itself. Sure the movie isn't without a call back or two (And the more I think about it, the plot really is a lot like the first one despite some tweaks). However, the movie also ups the ante with its scope, offers plenty of charm and laughs, and most surprisingly, gets unexpectedly heartfelt, which was also something the first movie did. It's also nice to see family oriented movies that still offer up a much more oriented edge without going overboard. The film is very clever with its elaborate video game inspired setpieces, such as a chase in the desert with an army of violent ostriches or a crazy broken bridge jumping sequence. The film also gets a little kookier with its avatar switch ups, which lets a few of the actors cut even more loose than they were already able to do in the first film. 

 The returning cast is as likable as ever, and are all clearly having a ball. Dwayne Johnson, doing a ridiculous Danny DeVito impression, is hilarious, along with Kevin Hart, once again playing well off of Johnson. The lovable Karen Gillan really gets more of the focus this time, while Jack Black dominates the film, getting some of the biggest laughs and showing off a committed comedic brilliance. (He goes through a few amusingly strange changes throughout the movie.) The rest of the main cast is great, with the delightful Awkwafina (as "Ming Fleetfoot", a thief avatar that joins the group later in the movie), along with more returning actors like Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Madison Iseman, Ser'Darius Blain, Colin Hanks (as "Alex", a friend the kids met in the first movie), and Nick Jonas (as "Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonough", Alex's in-game avatar). The plot is predictable and not much in some aspects, especially when it comes to Rory McCann, who is just here to be the big boss towards the end. 

 While short on story, "Jumanji: The Next Level" has plenty to offer when it comes to humor and heart, giving the family a fun diversion before we reach the end of the year (And before "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" takes over the box office next week.) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Jokes, Video Game Death, And Horseplay. 

Marriage Story                                                        by James Eagan                                          ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for marriage story movieImage: Divorce story.

 I feel at ease enough to admit to everyone that I have personally never been involved in an actually serious relationship. Nothing that led to the possible future of me spending the rest of my life with someone anyway. Not knowing any of the emotions that come with such a relationship, I need to ask.......Is this what heartbreak feels like? Because this hurts to watch. Like a lot. 

 "Marriage Story" follows a separated couple, attempting to do their divorce as simply as possible. "Charlie" (Adam Driver) is a successful New York theater director, while "Nicole" (Scarlett Johansson) is a former movie actress, who regularly stars in many of Charlie's plays. The couple wants to avoid any conflict, mostly because of their young son, "Henry" (Azhy Robertson). However, despite at first agreeing to not include any lawyers in the divorce process, Nicole is convinced to hire one, "Nora Fanshaw" (Laura Dern), who urges Nicole to ask for more, such as wanting to move Henry from New York to Los Angeles. Charlie's refusal to do so leads to him hiring his own lawyer, "Bert Spitz" (Alan Alda), though he's still convinced the situation won't escalate any further. Sadly, things are going to get much uglier as the couple's case heads to court. 

 Both directed and written by Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha", "While We're Young"), "Marriage Story" is yet another Netflix released film, (Like "Klaus", "The Irishman", and "Dolemite Is My Name"), that has more of a place in theaters than many lesser films, for no other reason than the film's ability to stir up more powerful emotion than any other movie this year. It's very simple sounding and deceptively staged. The movie is presented in a slightly whimsical light, with Bambach's direction portraying itself as a little quirky despite the emotional turmoil at the center of the story. The screenplay also finds humor in the situation, offering some unexpected laughs whether it be how quickly things can escalate or how outrageously (And needlessly) complicated the divorce process can be, especially when courts and lawyers get involved. Not to mention, the film's absolute joy when explaining the bizarre awkwardness that comes with everyday life. (Such as people saying things at the wrong moments, little accidents, and our refusal to accept change despite the fact that it's going to happen whether we want it or not.) It's insightful and smart about the subject, while also giving its characters, especially the leads, time for the audience to understand their motivations and resonate with their decisions. No matter how bad things get, nobody is necessarily the bad guy here. Both Nicole and Charlie are overall decent people, with their own share of personal issues and flaws, but also likability and reason to win the case. Much like their lawyers, they can go out of their way make sure that happens, and they maybe even say and do things one shouldn't say to a loved one, yet you understand how they would come to making those choices. 

 If nothing else, "Marriage Story" is a showcase for how well actors can convey emotions that any everyday person has ever felt, and bring them to screen in a way that connects on a level of inner humanity that's so difficult to do. Scarlett Johansson, having broken my heart already with "Avengers: Endgame" and "Jojo Rabbit", is ferociously strong. She brings out a emotional gutpunch of a performance that rapidly rockets further as the conflict increases. Adam Driver brings a wonderful sense of humor (His confused reactions to the entire situation never fails to get a laugh), and a discreet aura of tragedy. The two also have such excellent chemistry with one another that you're wishing the two would just kiss and make up, despite knowing that the spark that was there before is clearly gone. Laura Dern is a scene-stealer as the kind of lawyer who only has eyes for victory no matter what. (She also gets a brilliant monologue about society's ideal vision of a flawed woman compared to a flawed man with a biblical comparison that's impossible to unhear.) Alan Alda, Ray Liotta (as "Jay Marotta", a second, more dirt seeking lawyer that Charlie turns to), Azhy Robertson, Wallace Shawn (as a member of Charlie's theater crew), and a hilarious Julie Hagerty (as "Sandra", Nicole's mother, who still adores Charlie), all shine in their supporting roles. 

 The film also features the most uncomfortable, unpleasant scene in any other film this year, which is something that I can see people talking about for years to come. (I can also see this scene as something that any cinephile will use as a reference to demonstrate how good actors can be.) It's an argument between two good people at their most vulnerable, which results in back handed comments that slowly grow into rage fueled rants and words that hurts more than any sharp object ever could. In a year that featured Joaquin Phoenix stabbing a guy repeatedly with a pair of scissors, a killer demon clown eating children, and violent Swedish rituals, I haven't felt more in pain watching this moment. (It was to the point I closed my eyes a couple times.) It's an incredible moment and human despair unlike anything I've ever seen in a movie before. "Marriage Story" is bittersweet and funny, while realistically portrayed, but not exactly in a cynical manner. It just shows things for how they are, finding humor and hope in mist of all the conflict. Marriage looks hard and draining, but the film also shows the beauty that can be found within it. It proves that regardless of where it all leads, maybe the love that was there is worth it. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And The Harsh Things People Say In The Heat Of The Moment. Extra Points To The Sight And Sound Of Adam Driver Singing. Never Knew I Needed That In My Life. 

Playmobil: The Movie                                           by James Eagan                                                   ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Of course we'e ripping off The LEGO Movie."

 I'm back from vacation everyone! Disney World was exhausting, but in the best way possible. (Shame I never got to ride "Rise of the Resistance", but "Galaxy's Edge" was still incredible. And I made a lightsaber!) Now I'm refreshed and ready to get back to work. It would be fitting enough if I was just returning in to simply review a movie that didn't even make $1 Million at the box office, it also happens to be the worst animated movie since "The Emoji Movie"......Can't believe I'm saying this.....God, I miss Florida.  

 Starting off confusingly due to the trailer being incredibly (And if you ask me, almost illegally) misleading, "Playmobil: The Movie" opens in live-action with "Marla Brenner" (Anya Taylor-Joy), being forced to give up her dreams of adventure to take care of her brother, "Charlie" (Gabriel Bateman), after the death of their parents. Charlie seems more upset about his sister turning into a cynical adult that doesn't play with him though, and runs off to a toy museum, where a grandly designed "Playmobil" exhibit is on display. Marla and Charlie are suddenly transported into little Playmobil figures and thrust into the Playmobil world, with Charlie taking the form of a viking and Marla just looking generic. Charlie then ends up captured by some pirates working for the big bad, "Emperor Maximus" (Adam Lambert), who is collecting all of the strong warriors to force them to fight for his amusement in a gladiator arena. Marla, teaming up with a goofy food truck driver, "Del" (Jim Gaffigan), set out to rescue her brother from Maximus and return to the real world.  

  You know those crappy bargain bin animated movies that are nothing more than rip-offs of much better and more successful films, that also find ways to confuse poor old people into thinking it's that one movie their kids like? That's "Playmobil: The Movie", which is based off of those building toys that kids got because parents thought "LEGO" was too expensive. A lazily constructed, poor conceived, and perplexing waste of time that clearly has nothing for adults, but also ends up offering even less for kids. The movie is actually a musical, which I had no idea about until the first moment characters broke into song, and I realized the entire film was already dead. Directed by longtime Disney animator turned first time director, Lino DiSalvo, the movie doesn't have anything truly going for it other than being the lesser version of "The LEGO Movie", and frustratingly refuses to make an identity of its own. From the unnecessary live action sequence, to the terrible songs, which are hastily written and add so very little except to pad out the already too long runtime. (An hour and forty minutes. This was an hour and forty minutes!) The animation also, while not exactly the worst you'll find, is unremarkable and really feels even more offputting because of how uninterested the direction is. Nothing stands out, the musical numbers are basic, and the film never seems to try to do anything with its animation. I know it's nothing special, but it wouldn't of hurt to at least attempt to add some kind of flair. For something that features a lot of random things just happening because the movie can't seem to shut the hell up or sit down for five damn minutes Unlike the "LEGO" movies, which can go for crazy and elaborate without feeling out of place, this movie clearly has no idea what to do with its dull product.   

 Thank God for the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy for doing what she can to salvage what little the screenplay provides. She's got charm to spare, while poor Jim Gaffigan tries his best to give a laugh or two, despite the movie not offering him a single funny line. Gabriel Bateman is annoying and comes across as more selfish than the screenwriters intended. Adam Lambert doesn't do much as a villain other than be smarmy, and his entire evil scheme ends up not actually making any relative sense. The movie gives nothing for the other voices to do, which includes Kenan Thomspon (as "Bloodbones", a pirate captive of Maximus), Wendi McLendon-Covey (as "Glinara", a gender swapped Jabba the Hutt), and Meghan Trainor (as a Fairy Godmother, who....actually, I'm having trouble remembering what her purpose was here. She just sort of pops up for a song and vanishes.) The closest thing to an amusing character would be Daniel Radcliffe (as "Rex Dasher", an elaborate secret agent, who the trailers went out of the way to show off as the main character despite only having less than ten minutes of screentime). He at least sounds like he's having fun and once he's gone from the movie, he's sorely missed. 

 If the "LEGO" movies are a representation of what creativity and inspiration a child can find with a cool toy, then "Playmobil: The Movie" is what happens when an incredibly stupid and uninspired one is forced to make due with what he's got. The movie has no humor, a severe lack of creativity, a rather confused message (Not sure what it's trying to say exactly. What did this little adventure teach?), and worst of all, a level of boredom that feels like the the constant prods of a sharp object. It's the kind of movie that only reinforces how corporately vile some modern films can be. (Though anyone still complaining about the amount of Marvel films still have no right to complain until they are forced to watch this on a twenty four hour loop.) It really is back to work with ones like this. ½ Star. Rated PG For Constant Noise, Jumpiness, And The Millions Of Dollars That Could Of Gone To Something Good. 

The Irishman                                                              by James Eagan                                       ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the irishman movieImage: "So Al, we really need to talk about "Jack and Jill"?" "How about we talk about "Little Fockers" instead, Robert?" 

 I may be spending some time off from reviewing films this week for the most part due to my week long vacation to Disney World (Kind of hard to find time to review movies while enjoying all that Disney goodness), but thankfully, a certain acclaimed, influential member of Hollywood royalty has a new film that will help me fill my review quota nicely. Released through Netflix (Still making up for the recent loss of many fan favorite shows and movies), we have a three and a half hour epic crime drama that I watched over the course of a car ride, that left me staring at a blank screen for a good while before I finally began to gather my thoughts. Honestly, I'm still trying to gather them while I type this up. 

 Inspired by True Events and based on the book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt (The book also shares the name with the film's alternative title), "The Irishman" tells the long and later tragic tale of truck driver, "Frank Sheeran" (Robert De Niro), who starts out delivering meat before becoming a delivery man for the Italian Philadelphia crime families. A chance meeting with Italian-American mafioso, "Russell Bufalino" (Joe Pesci) results in Frank becoming much deeper involved in the criminal underworld. As time goes along, Frank also ends up befriending the leader behind the "International Brotherhood of Teamsters" (Big time labor union for those who don't know), "Jimmy Hoffa" (Al Pacino). Throughout the film, we see these three's involvement in history (Such as the election of President Kennedy), as well as many mob dealings, whackings, political corruption, and the eventual consequences of them.

 After spending some time in jail for bribery, fraud, and jury tampering (It all comes with the mobster territory after all), Hoffa returns in hopes of getting back all of the power he's previously lost. Sadly, the crime families don't like the fact that Hoffa can't seem to help himself from starting unnecessary sh*t, such as disrespecting people that no halfway intelligent person would even consider disrespecting. Despite Frank and Russell's attempts at calming things down, Hoffa turns out to be a little too much to handle and the mafia higher ups want something done about. Well, better yet, they want Frank to do something about. This leads to a mysterious disappearance that left everyone scratching their heads for years to come.  

 Directed by the one and only Martin Scorsese ("Taxi Driver", "Goodfellas", "Casino", "Gangs of New York", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Silence", "Hugo", "Raging Bull". Too many films to count actually. I never realized how big his filmography was till now.), "The Irishman" isn't one of those action heavy gangster flicks. Those looking for that will be very disappointed. What the film really happens to be is a very comprehensive and intricate study into the dark depths of the mob and what is lost the longer one is a part of it. Things start off suitably twisted as the film somewhat has a sense of humor about itself, especially when it comes to how our characters treat killing and threatening people as every day things that come with the job. However, the further the film progresses, you see how a man's start of darkness can escalate and lead to very damning consequences, leaving metaphorical scars and decimated senses of humanity that can never be recovered. It's actually very quiet, slow paced, and instead of just outright explaining things in the direct moment, the film lingers on them and leaves it up to the audience to decipher on their own. 

 Scorsese, having made a career out of films like this and was obviously inspired by ones that came before, creates something that doesn't see the need to go for the extravagant. It's the film's quietness that makes the story so effective, along with the many and nearly excessive details to add to the realism. When I mentioned the slow pace, I didn't mean that as a bad thing. For a film that has so much story to tell and many real life connections that play a part in where everything eventually culminates. (Think of it as if Forest Gump were a gangster movie.) For something so long, you don't feel the length in the slightest, because of how tightly woven everything is and how very much fascinated you are by what you're seeing. It's helped by the occasionally funny, slightly nihilistic, and by the end, bitterly insightful, screenplay by Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List", "Gangs of New York"). There also needs to be recognition and praise given to cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto ("Brokeback Mountain", along with some Scorsese films like "Silence"), and film editor/longtime Scorsese collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker. As for the film's use of visual effects, which rely on de-aging effects for a few actors (De Niro especially) during the many flashbacks and flashforwards in time, they are the kind of thing that could go horribly wrong and ruin everything that the film has set out to do. Luckily, they blend in seamlessly to the point where I started to forget what was groundbreaking CGI, really good make-up, or just how the actors today actually look. It's very understated and after a while, you don't even notice it anymore. 

 In a year that's been a return to form for many actors, we get some of the best performances in years from a trio of actors that have shaped what others aspire to one day become. Robert De Niro is very nuanced and restrained, with a character who tells a whole life story with a simple expression. Joe Pesci, having taken an eighteen year retirement, returns with a brilliantly calm, though threatening in an everyday businessman sort of way. It's clear that he cares for some of the people around him, but has no qualms allowing for violent acts to happen around him before carrying on with his life like nothing happened. Al Pacino, who has become a little more on the jokey side lately in the eyes of many critics, reminds everyone what kind of a powerhouse he can truly be. He devours the scenery with his mouth wide open, while taking his sweet time when finishing the meal and savoring it like the pro he is. The recognizable ensemble is made up of big and small parts, with some terrific performances coming out of everyone nonetheless, from Ray Romano (as "Bill Bufalino", Russell's cousin and Frank's lawyer), Stephan Graham (as "Tony Pro", who Hoffa has an antagonistic relationship with more than anyone), Harvey Keitel (as "Angelo Bruno", boss of the Philadelphia crime family), Jesse Plemons (as "Chuckie". Hoffa's adoptive son), Louis Cancelmi (as "Sally Bugs", a mob enforcer), and Anna Paquin (as "Peggy", Frank's daughter, who rarely says a word, especially around Frank), in a part that might seem oddly detached, but makes a strange amount of sense once you get to the end. (I get the idea it's all meant to be intentional.)

 The most challenging and patiently thought provoking film to come out this year. (Maybe the last ten years actually.) "The Irishman" not getting a major theatrical release feels like a total shame. The runtime, while long, never feels that way, and the cinematic artistry in front of and behind the camera is what we go to the movies for in the first place. It just doesn't feel right that my viewing of the film was on my little phone in the backseat of a car. Scorsese proves once more to be filmmaker of unmatched quality, with the ability to inspire future fimmakers, while just plain making an immensely investing movie in the process. (While I disagree with you very much when it comes to Marvel films. I did after all give "Avengers: Endgame" the same rating I'm about to give this movie.) 4 Stars. Rated R For Mobster Language, Quick Moments Of Heavy Violence, And Fishy Conversation.   

Klaus             by James Eagan            ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

 Image result for klaus movie

Image: "Wait! "Arctic Dogs" got a nationwide theatrical release and we didn't?" 

 Thanksgiving is said and done. We're all fat, regret everything we said in a drunken rage at the dinner table to the rest of the family, and some of us are currently on their way to Disney World at the moment. ("Galaxy's Edge", here I come!) December is about to be here and you guys officially have my permission to celebrate Christmas finally. See? It wasn't that hard. All you had to do was wait four weeks before you started shoving commercials, promoting products, and playing Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" till you find yourself humming it at random like a brainwashed zombie. Let's celebrate with an early surprise Christmas gift that the whole family should enjoy.   

 "Klaus" follows spoiled rich twerp, "Jesper" (Jason Schwartzman), who is forced to attend his father's postal academy. After slacking off and intentionally failing at the academy in an attempt to get out of working, it's arranged for Jesper to become a postman for a little town on an island far away in the Artcic called "Smeerensburg". Given the task to deliver 6,000 letters in a year, Jesper arrives in Smeerensburg to discover that the town is a rundown, miserable mini-warzone, where the "Ellingboe" and "Krum" families have been feuding for centuries for reasons that even they don't remember. (They even have a bell in the middle of town to ring when it's time for an afternoon battle.) Jesper begins to fear that he will be stuck in this town forever, but finds hope when he comes across a reclusive and quiet toymaker, "Klaus" (J. K. Simmons).

 A series of events results in a toy being delivered to a child, giving Jesper the idea for kids to send him letters for Klaus asking for similar gifts. Klaus later delivers the gifts along with Jesper, providing him with a means of possibly getting out of his current predicament. The two spark a movement as the townspeople begin to react to the acts of kindness, much to the dismay of the villainous, hate-filled family leaders, "Mrs. Krum" (Joan Cusack) and "Mr. Ellingboe" (Will Sasso). Though initially assisting Klaus with his present deliveries for selfish reasons, Jesper soon also finds himself changing for the better. Thus leading a Christmas legend that every man, woman, and child knows.  

 A Netflix exclusive animated film that quite frankly should of been available for families to see on the big screen for many reasons (Though the incredible animation should be plenty reason enough), "Klaus" is the directorial debut of longtime Spanish animator and designer, Sergio Pablos (Who has done work on many films such as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "Treasure Planet", and even created the "Despicable Me" franchise). The film is a holiday themed, sweet-natured, and shockingly funny treat with much to offer for family members of all ages. After a spending a long time trying to come to fruition and having been passed up many times, the film is created through the use of stylized and shaded animation, that is also meant to give off the feeling of traditional (And sadly, now rarely seen) hand-drawn style. It's a gorgeously artful film, with the background looking like a classic Christmas painting or something you would see in an old Children's book. It's also especially stunning when it comes to how the characters move and react, with each movement giving off a vibrant motion and adding a sense of personality to every character. Not to mention, the humor also works very well, with some clever explanations for how certain aspects of how the "Santa Clause" myth came to be and loads of good comedy that will even have the parents laughing possibly even more than the kids. I do like how the film isn't afraid to get even a little darkly comedic at times, especially with how cartoonishly violent the townspeople at first appear. (The recurring gag of a creepy little girl impaling a snowman with a carrot had be bursting out with laughter every time.)      

 A perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman finds charm in what begins as a very brattish, though still thoroughly entertaining, lead character, with a realistic path of development that doesn't feel forced. J. K. Simmons gives a very somber, subdued, yet very heartfelt vocal performance that doesn't actually spell everything out and leaves much to interpretation. A deliciously vile Joan Cusack and a buffoonish Will Sasso make for great baddies. Meanwhile, we get some excellent supporting work from Rashida Jones (as "Alva", a cynical schoolteacher, who spends her time now as a fishmonger) and Norm Macdonald (as "Mogens", a snarky boatman, who pops up every once in a while for no other reason than to mess with Jesper). 

 "Klaus" is unavoidably predictable, though with a very strong message of what goodwill means and requires, you don't find yourself minding too much. It's something that everyone needs a little reminder of, particularly around the holiday season. With spellbinding visuals, big laughs, and a sincerely heartfelt (And slightly bittersweet) resolution, I see the makings of a possible family favorite. Looks like Netflix does have a couple things over Disney+ at the moment. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Some Goofy Humor, Cartoon Violence, And For Getting Me Into The Christmas Spirit Against My Will. 

Knives Out                                                                    by James Eagan                                       ★★★★ OUt OF ★★★★

Image result for knives out movieImage: Daniel Craig deduces how the Oscars will find a way not to nominate him for Best Actor.  

 The murder mystery genre (or "Whodunit" if you will), was once the biggest and most sought out genre in film back in the day. In fact, I grew up with many of those films, such as "The Big Sleep" and"The Maltese Falcon" (One of my personal favorites), and of course, gotten much inspiration from those renowned mystery novels from Agatha Christie or anything involving "Sherlock Holmes". It's a classic genre that just sort vanished for the most part, with many new takes either putting new spins on it, or only being somewhat inspired by the classics. (The Guy Ritchie "Sherlock Holmes" films are fun and all, but they're very loose in adaptation.) What we need today is an old fashioned take on the genre, with love and affection for the classics, but with some modernization thrown in and a brilliant mind to put it all together. God bless you Rian Johnson for giving me an early Christmas present.  

 "Knives Out" starts with wealthy crime novelist, "Harlan Thrombey" (Christopher Plummer), celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday with the rest of his almost as wealthy family. Then suddenly the following morning, Harlan is found dead with his throat slit, being labeled as a suicide. While local law enforcement officers, "Elliot" (Lakeith Stanfield) and "Wagner" (Noah Segan), seem to be accepting of this ruling, Southern private eye detective, "Benoit Blanc" (Daniel Craig), believes that something more nefarious is afoot. Blanc begins questioning Thrombey's dysfunctional (Very dysfunctional) family, which includes eldest daughter, "Linda" (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband "Richard" (Don Johnson) and "Black Sheep" son, "Ransom" (Chris Evans), youngest son "Walt" (Michael Shannon), his wife "Donna" (Riki Lindhome) and teenage internet Nazi son, "Jacob" (Jaeden Martell), and air-headed daughter in law, "Joni" (Toni Collette) and activist daughter, "Meg" (Katherine Langford). Blanc also turns his attention to Harlan's timid caretaker, "Marta" (Ana de Armas), who Harlan had a very close and friendly relationship with. As Blanc digs further into the family, he discovers just how f*cked up they all are, uncovering a tangled web of a mystery that is nothing close to what anyone expected.   

 Directed, produced, and written by the guy who made me realize just how horrible my fellow "Star Wars" fans are, Rian Johnson ("Looper", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"), "Knives Out" is the kind of film that knows how to do things in a style reminiscent of the old, yet while embracing some classic ingredients, throw in the best kind of modernized filmmaking to concoct a feast of a mystery. It also ends up becoming one of this year's absolute best. With quirky direction and sharp screenplay (I know it's a pun, but it's the most fitting word to use right now), Johnson puts together an exhilarating, elaborate puzzle, while incorporating humor and some relevant insight. There's also this enjoyable level of uncomfortableness throughout the film, which plays out like a very exaggerated, but occasionally all too real, family gathering. It can range from friendly, though maybe a little passive aggressive, then shift into shouting matches over politics and the secrets that the family is clearly harboring. The humor comes from the satirical tone, which also plays around with the mystery tropes that we all know and love, and even turns a few of them on their heads. 

 Much like the overall mystery itself, nothing in the film is at all what it first appears. The fantastic ensemble is headlined by the underappreciated Daniel Craig, who gets to show off more of his comedic chops like he did in 2017's "Logan Lucky". With his suitably silly, though still very authentic sounding accent, Craig is a hilarious riot portraying a memorable detective that could rival enough some of cinema's best. While Craig at first appears front and center, the real star would be the great Ana de Armas ("Blade Runner 2049"), who fills out the film's emotional center in a true career making role. Together, they make for an amazing duo, that I could watch all day. The rest of the ensemble all bring their A-Game. From a delightfully smarmy Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, an especially terrific Michael Shannon, Toni Collette (Who gets some of the best lines), Katherine Langford, a especially vile Jaeden Martell, and the most brief, but wonderfully welcome presence of Christopher Plummer. Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan provide some extra humor, while there are a couple extra familiar faces that make appearances in small parts.   

 Unpredictable, and charmingly off-kilter, "Knives Out" is full of laughs and unexpected heart that turns what we at first see as a simple murder mystery, eventually evolve into one of this year's biggest crowdpleaders. It's a great time at the movies that embraces a sadly forgotten genre with nostalgic glee, without relying on clichés. It instead relies on smarts, wit, and some surprise depth, which only a true artful master of his craft can provide. Mr. Johnson, Youdunit! 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, Intention To Murder, And Truth Telling Vomit.  

21 Bridges           by James Eagan              ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for 21 bridges movieImage: "NYPD Forever!"

 Whether or not you think the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has gotten too big for its own good and superhero fatigue is only around the corner (Pfft. They've been saying that for years now.), one thing everyone can agree on is that some of the major actors, no matter how acclaimed and loved, just seem to have trouble finding good work outside of it.  

 "21 Bridges" follows NYPD detective, "Andre Davis" (Chadwick Boseman), who after the death of his cop father, became known as the one who relentlessly tracks down and kills cop killers. (Though he isn't really a fan of that fact.) When two low level criminals, "Michael Trujillo" (Stephan James) and his more ruthless partner, "Ray Jackson" (Taylor Kitsch) make off with a large amount of uncut heroin, it results in the deaths of over a dozen cops in the process. "Captain Matt McKenna" (J. K. Simmons) calls in Davis, along with narcotics detective, "Frankie Burns" (Sienna Miller), to hunt down the cop killers. To prevent Michael and Ray from escaping Manhattan, Davis arranges for all twenty one bridges on the island to be shut down, with the entire city now on lockdown for the next few hours. As the night progresses, it becomes apparent that it was either dumb luck that resulted in Michael and Ray showing up when they did, or something that may of been arranged. Davis is determined to discover the truth as the hunt continues, learning things are not at all what they seem. 

 Directed by Brian Kirk (Known mostly for television projects, such as "Game Of Thrones"), and produced by Joe and Anthony Russo (The guys who gave us a little movie called "Avengers: Endgame". Maybe you've heard of it?), "21 Bridges" begins with a lot of potential. The cinematography, which coveys the grand scope of the film, is impressive, and the film isn't without some thrilling setpieces. The film's faults lie with the derivative and implausible storyline, which doesn't mask the obvious twists and turns. The screenplay, by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan ("World War Z", "Deepwater Horizon"), also doesn't give much room for character development for most, and sadly doesn't get anywhere deep enough as it should. Sometimes the movie has a few insightful things to say, but it becomes apparent what it all means and where it's going fairly early on. The slick direction and brisk pacing, which go well with a sweeping score by Henry Jackson and Alex Belcher, still unfortunately take too long to get the plot points that you are just waiting for to happen. 

 Chadwick Boseman, always reliably excellent, is a great action lead , who just so happens to be a great enough actor to give more to the role than what's written. Stephan James is compelling, along with a quietly menacing, yet complex Taylor Kitsch, who shows to be a fantastic physical and expressive actor. The stellar ensemble also includes the very welcome J. K. Simmons, Sienna Miller (Though her role in everything becomes way too clear and it doesn't quite work), Alexander Siddig (as "Adi", a sophisticated fixer, who assists Michael and Ray), and a very underused Keith David (as "Chief Spencer", who plays a relatively big part early on, but just sort of vanishes later). 

 "21 Bridges" offers some visual flair, exciting action, and I do appreciate the film's attempts at portraying very relative themes of corruption and what is required of police officers. (Not to mention on how despite how difficult things may be, they still must remain accountable for their action and hold a higher standard for the law.) The film just loses it's way later in the last act, especially during the difficult to believe climax. (It's almost like a video game boss battle.) An entertaining action thriller for the most part, though it feels like a missed opportunity for something better and more powerful. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And New Yorker Accents.