In Theaters: Good Boys, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Kitchen, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Farewell, The Lion King, Crawl, Stuber, Midsommar, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Toy Story 4
Coming Soon: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, 47 Meters Down Again!, Angel Has Fallen, Ready Or Not, Don't Let Go, It: Chapter 2, The Goldfinch, Hustlers, Ad Astra, Rambo: Last Blood, Abominable
★★★½: Very 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
Image: So how many time-outs is drug dealing worth?
Cringe, that's what this movie represents. An hour and a half of profane, cartoonishly silly, unfiltered cringe. It's the kind of movie that, if you're not ready or willing to accept that, then it's best to pretend it doesn't exist. I for one, love me some good old fashioned cringe. So I'm right at home.
Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, "Good Boys" follows a trio of foul mouthed, but overall pretty good kids, "Max" (Jacob Tremblay), "Thor" (Brady Noon), and "Lucas" (Keith L. Williams), or as they liked to be referred to as, "The Bean Bag Boys". Max is madly in love with a girl he's never even talked to, "Brixlee" (Millie Davis), Thor wants so desperately to be seen as cool that he would rather hide his talent for singing, and Lucas, who is unable to lie properly, discovers that his parents (Lil Rel Howery and Retta) are getting divorced. The boys are invited to a so called "Kissing Party", but have little to no clue what kissing actually is. So they "borrow" a drone from Max's dad (Will Forte), and use it to attempt to spy on their neighbors, "Hannah" (Molly Gordon) and "Lily" (Midori Francis), but end up losing it to them in the process. Through a series of ridiculous events, the boys wind up with drugs, having to avoid the pursuing girls, and set out to get a new drone before Max's dad gets home. The boys risk serious grounding as they skip school, steal beer, run through incoming traffic, and engaging in violent spats with college guys, all in hopes of securing the drone and going to the party.
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky (Who has co-written several episodes of "The Office", such as the now infamous "Scott's Tots". That explains a lot actually.), "Good Boys" doesn't give a f*ck about what offends you and what shouldn't be poked fun of, despite the heavy presence of children. The screenplay, also written be Stupnitsky and his frequent collaborator, Lee Eisenberg, doesn't hold back on the crudeness in the slightest. While it at times can feel a bit too much, it's made up for with an uncontainable amount of laughs, which just keep coming without rest. Despite the profane nature, the film is played out like a light hearted, kiddie comedy, with the best moments of comedy coming from the boys' inability to truly understand what exactly is going on around them and at times, what they're even saying. (They swear, talk about sex, and arm themselves with dildos, yet don't have a clue as to what any of it actually is.) As for a plot, it's more of a random assortment of misadventures that end up culminating on a single theme, but that works to the film's advantage. It's funny because of how all over the place it is, and the situation, while over the top, is shown through a seemingly innocent and childlike point of view.
Jacob Tremblay (Still think he deserved an Oscar nomination for "Room"), Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams have wonderfully chemistry and pitch perfect comedic timing. They're game for whatever silly situation, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the audience feel. Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are a lot of fun, while a lot of laughs come from the supporting cast in their small roles, like Will Forte, Lil Rel Howery, Sam Richardson (as an officer, who is too exhausted to deal with the boys' nonsense), and Stephen Merchant (as a creepy card collector). People mostly appear sporadically, keeping the focus on our leads, who remain likable, despite their actions.
Basically the same premise as the slightly more superior, "Booksmart" (And you know, a million other movies about young people going on raunchy misadventures), "Good Boys" offers just as much heart as it does laughs. It ends up going down a much deeper, somewhat bittersweet route, with a conclusion that might actually find you getting more emotional than expected. (It actually got to me!) Maybe a little too indulgent when it comes to the novelty of tweens swearing, the movie is laugh out loud hilarious, thoroughly uncomfortable, and by the end, oddly adorable. It's the kind of fun we all wish we could of had when we were kids......Minus the drugs and sex toys. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For........Do You Even Need Me To Say Why By This Point?
Image: Every reaction to the "Cats" trailer in one image.
So what it took was "Detective Pikachu" and both "Angry Birds" movies to find a way to overcome the dreaded video game movie curse. To have just one is a miracle, but to have two solid ones in the same year, my mind is having trouble processing it. Maybe if "Sonic the Hedgehog" hadn't been delayed, it too could of joined in the fun and avoid the curse.......But probably not.
Based on the delightfully time wasting mobile game, "The Angry Birds Movie 2" picks up where the first movie left off, with the citizens of "Bird Island" still in an endless prank war with the destructive pigs of "Piggy Island". Local hero/former loner, "Red" (Jason Sudeikis), along with his friends, the speedy "Chuck" (Josh Gad) and the explosively simple minded, "Bomb" (Danny McBride), are tasked with defending the island from the pig leader, "Leonard" (Bill Hader). However, Leonard discovers a third island known as "Eagle Island", where the insane ruler, "Zeta" (Leslie Jones), is threatening to destroy both islands with giant ice cannonballs, resulting in Leonard asking for a truce. Red, fearing that he may lose all of the admiration he's made, doesn't want to believe it, but sees that saving his friends from Zeta should keep his status as the hero of the island. Creating a team of goofballs, which includes Chuck, Bomb, Chuck's smart sister, "Silver" (Rachel Bloom), Leonard's texting assistant, "Courtney" (Awkwafina), Leonard's tech guy, "Garry" (Sterling K. Brown), and the not so mighty, "Mighty Eagle" (Peter Dinklage), Red and Leonard must put aside their differences for the greater good to save their homes from Zeta's madness.
Distributed by Sony Pictures Animation (Who just won an Oscar with last year's "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"), "The Angry Birds Movie 2" continues the first film's blend of wacky freneticism and mile a minute humor, and does so with enthusiastic and wondrous glee. Directed by Thurop Van Orman (Creator of "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack"), the animation is the ultimate selling point. It's crazy and occasionally too much, but also insanely creative and generates plenty of laughs for both the kids and their parents. (Actually, there are quite a few jokes that seem specifically aimed directly at the parents.) The laughs are unrelenting at times and the expressiveness of the animation makes for a thoroughly entertaining, if not physically exhausting experience.
Where the lovely animation is delightful enough as it is, the hodge podge of voices is actually pretty incredible, especially when you end up spending most of the credits finding out who's who. Jason Sudeikis is perfectly cast once again, while Josh Gad and Danny McBride make for lovable supporting characters. Rachel Bloom is a great addition, while Leslie Jones and Bill Hader are both total riots. There's also a lot of fun with Awkwafina, an unrecognizable Sterling K. Brown, Tiffany Haddish (as "Debbie", Zeta's second in command), Eugenio Derbez (as "Glenn", Zeta's abused head scientist), and the scene stealing Peter Dinklage. There are also a decent amount of surprises throughout, with some actors and celebrities just popping up just so they can say they were in the movie. There ends up being a mini-subplot involving a trio of baby birds going on their own adventure to save some endangered eggs, which doesn't actually have much to do with the main story, but still gets a few laughs to justify its existence. (It's unnecessary, yet too amusing to cut out.)
The plot may be nonsensical and at times the film can rely a little too much on crudeness (Though there is a scene involving a poorly tailored disguise and a urinal that ends up becoming one of the most uncomfortably hilarious moments in any movie this year), "The Angry Birds Movie 2" is a good video game movie that also ends up being just a good comedy for the family. Compared to most animated films this year, it doesn't get too deep or emotional, but to be honest, it doesn't have to. Nothing wrong with a movie just going for laughs and weirdness, while at least being visually pleasing at the same time. Not bad for something based on a game that was just about throwing agitated fowl at overweight swine. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Plenty Of Jokes That The Kids Won't (Or At Least Shouldn't) Understand.
Image: If only he had a heart.
You may not of read the book series, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark", written by Alvin Schwartz, but you sure as Hell remember the infamously nightmarish illustrations by Stephen Gammell. Those images are pure terror presented in page form. This series may of been aimed at kids, but it certainly didn't hold back. Kids like to be scared just as much as the rest of us. If anything, maybe we should let the kids join in the fun early. Let them enjoy a little terror every once in a while.
Produced by Guillermo del Toro (Who also gets a story credit as well.), "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" takes place in a small town during 1968. "Stella Nicholls" (Zoe Colleti) is a teenage, aspiring writer living with her father, "Roy" (Dean Norris). On Halloween night, Stella, along with her buddies "Chuck" (Austin Zajur) and "Auggie" (Gabriel Rush), prank local bully, "Tommy" (Austin Abrams), who takes the joke poorly and chases after them. After meeting a drifter, "Ramón" (Michael Garza), the group hides in an old, supposedly haunted house, where Stella discovers a book of scary stories belonging to a deceased woman named "Sarah Bellows" (Kathleen Pollard). Stella decides to take the book with her, unknowingly unleashing a deadly curse where the book begins to write itself. The stories that appear in the book each focus on Stella and one of her friends, releasing a horrifying monstrosity with every intention to kill them. Now Stella must find a way to end the curse before everyone she knows becomes a victim in their own scary story.
Think "Goosebumps", except with more casualties and genuinely unnerving monsters, "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" is the definition of good old fashioned terror that just so happens to be aimed at a young audience. Directed by André Øvredal ("Trollhunter"), the film embraces classic horror elements and themes, complete with the occasional use of practical effects, subtle attention to little details and foreshadowing, and a creepy atmosphere which makes the terrifying payoffs even better. While the story goes for the more simplistic approach, it ends up mostly working to the film's benefit, especially with the setting. (Øvredal actually beautifully captures the look and feel of the time period.) The fact that it is also aimed at older kids makes it the perfect way to get them into riskier horror films. It's a rare occasion where the PG-13 rating is most fitting. However, it's not exactly tame, with the film having quite a few moments that should unsettle and disturb.
Zoe Colleti is a wonderfully nerdy lead, handling herself well carrying the film. Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, and Gabriel Rush are likable enough to make up for the fact that they are basically just playing certain character types (Love interest, funny guy, geeky guy). Dean Norris is just a side character, but is allowed to have some good emotional moments, while Austin Abrams plays the stereotypical bully that also gets to take part in one of the film's most horrifying moments. (That scarecrow sequence pushes the PG-13 rating quite a bit.) The monsters and stories themselves, while used sparingly and loosely, do still leave an impact. We get a grotesque zombified monster searching for its lost toe (Played by horror icon, Javier Botet in amazing makeup), a contorting, mishmash of limbs known as the "Jangly Man", and then a pale, blob like woman that really unsettled me more than I'd like to admit.
While not exactly bringing anything new to the horror genre (And probably didn't need to take an extra couple minutes to set up a sequel), "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" instead just does a skillful job giving classic era-esque scares to a younger audience, and even possibly terrifying the older crowd while it's at it. It's a quick, creepy tale that is sure both send a chill down the spines of both fans of the books and newcomers alike. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Toe Gobbling, Straw Vomiting, And Something That Will Keep Anyone With Arachnophobia Up At Night.
Image: Married to the Mob.
Allow me to help you save about six to twelve bucks. Did you see last year's "Widows? Even better, have you seen any basic crime, mobster, or drug dealer movie of any kind? Then you've likely seen a better version of "The Kitchen".
Based on comic miniseries from "DC Vertigo" (May it rest in peace), "The Kitchen" takes place during the late 70s in "Hell's Kitchen". Three women, "Kathy" (Melissa McCarthy), "Ruby" (Tiffany Haddish), and "Claire" (Elizabeth Moss) are forced to deal with the imprisonment of their respective Irish mobster husbands, "Jimmy" (Brian d'Arcy James), "Kevin" (James Badge Dale), and "Rob" (Jeremy Bobb). Mob boss/Ruby's mother in law, "Helen" (Margo Martindale) arranges for the wives to be taken care of, though the money given is not near enough to live off of. So Kathy, Ruby, and Claire, along with help from violent hitman, "Gabriel" (Domhnall Gleeson), decide to take over Hell's Kitchen and run the mob their way. Of course things turn out to be a little more complicated than expected and quite a few people are going to be, "Sleeping with the Fishes" as they say, by the end of it all.
Both written and directed by first time director, Andrea Berloff (who co-wrote "Straight Outta Compton"), "The Kitchen" has the makings of a pretty cool crime drama, with an excellent ensemble cast and a beautiful 70s aesthetic. Sadly, what we get is the most bare bones of every generic gangster movie, following every predictable beat and speeding through them at a fast, unrelenting pace. You can tell Berloff isn't quite used to the director's chair yet, when plot points and characters aren't given enough time to sink in, and the tone is all over the place. The humor is injected at the wrong moments, and a lot of serious moments end up coming across as more humorous.
Melissa McCarthy is trying her absolute best, and she does elevate the material as much as she can. Tiffany Haddish ends up feeling the most out of place out of everyone, while Elizabeth Moss gets the best character arc and probably gives the best performance. (Though it's as predictable as everything else.) Domhnall Gleeson is pretty fun, though he ends up out of focus for most of the film. Other actors like Brian d'Arcy James, James Badge Dale, Bill Camp (as "Alfonso Coretti", boss of the Italian crime family), and Common (as an FBI agent, who gets a seemingly interesting reveal before vanishing entirely.), are doing what they can despite the script's failings. Also, poor Margo Martindale. You're a great actress, and this movie did you wrong.
Oddly cartoonish, uneven, and feels a lot longer than it actually is, "The Kitchen" has maybe a moment or two where you can see what possibly could of been. However, the film's lack of originality and failure to professionally execute it make it feel too amateurish to be seen in a theater. Not to mention, the film's attempts at having a strong, female empowered message feels a little disconcerting, considering all of our lead characters are corrupt, vile, unlikable killers. It's a mess of mobster clichés that you've seen done better many, many times before. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Ridiculous Accents.
Image: "I'm just driving him around until he gets his license back."
So can the phrase "Dog-Sploitation", finally be a thing? Not saying that it's always a bad thing, but we really need a term to describe this movies by this point.
Based on the book of the same name by Garth Stein, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" tells the story of a dog named "Enzo" (Whose thoughts are voiced by Kevin Costner), who is under the belief that when he dies, he's be reincarnated as a human. The film follows Enzo's life as he's adopted by "Danny" (Milo Ventimiglia), a race car driver, that inspires Enzo's love of the sport. Eventually Danny marries a woman, "Eve" (Amanda Seyfried), leading to the birth of a daughter, "Zoe" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Enzo witnesses the many wonderful moments of life, as well as several moments of sadness and confusion. When tragedy strikes (As it always does), Enzo's life changes drastically as he tries to understand the world around him, and how he can play his part in it.
Much like the movie itself, lets get through this one nice and quick, but competently and effectively. Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week with Marilyn"), "The Art of Racing in the Rain" follows the crowd-pleasing, life affirming, talking dog movie playbook to the letter. No detail and cliché is left unchecked, sentimentality and melodrama embody every frame, and if you are somehow surprised on how it all ends, you've clearly never watched a movie (Or read a book....or had any concept of typical storytelling) in your entire life. However, when I say that this is by far the best of the bunch, I say that not just because the emotional impact is actually fairly effectively done, but also because humans feel like actual humans this time. (For the most part anyways.) Curtis is a slick director, and the film looks lovely, with the screenplay by Mark Bomback ("War for the Planet of the Apes") injecting humor and genuine insight to go with the film's necessity to appeal to genre tropes. They're not avoided so much as they are just well utulized.
Probably the film's saving grace, as well as the main focus, is Enzo himself. The dog is cute and easy to get emotionally attached to. Kevin Costner's voice is rather perfect for the part, making him into a very smart and loyal dog, who just wants to understand the human world better. He's honestly terrific, with his voice matching Enzo's expressive eyes and effectively carries most of the movie. Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfriend have excellent chemistry, and their relationship is portrayed realistically, as both are very understanding of each other's issues and react to them in a way that people would naturally react. It's where the film's heart is, and even when the inevitable tragedy shows up, it's well handled. At least until the focus shifts to Eve's parents (Played by Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan), who commandeer the story away in the second half. These characters end up becoming so needlessly despicable and damn near heartless that it take away a bit from how strongly the film started. It's hard to get mad at it considering it's par for the course with these kinds of movies, but it's more distracting when there are actually some good aspects to the movie.
"The Art of Racing in the Rain" offers some good humor and of course plenty of heart to go with the predictable story. When the film isn't bogged down by forced conflict and actually allows the natural emotions to ring true, it's hard not to find yourself a little misty eyed. For dog lovers, they'll eat it up no matter how unnecessarily melodramatic it gets. As a film, you wish it could of avoided such things a little more, but you can't get mad at something for appealing to its audience and at least doing a capable job of it. It's a form of art. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Adult Content, Sadness, And The Obligatory Guest Appearance Of Cancer.
Image: Boots is adorable when he's not throwing his poo.
In a year overwhelmed by strange and surreal film ideas, such as Deadpool voicing Pikachu, a guy completely shattering the space time continuum with music from the Beatles, and....whatever in God's name "Cats" is supposed to be, this movie doesn't really seem that out of place anymore.
Based on the family favorite Nick Jr. series, "Dora the Explorer", "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" follows the now teenage explorer, "Dora" (Isabela Moner), with it turning out that most of her previous animated adventures were basically just her imagination running wild. When her parents, "Cole" (Michael Peña) and "Elena" (Eva Longoria) set out to search for the fabled Inca city, "Parapata" (aka The Lost City of Gold), Dora is sent to live in the city with her cousin, "Diego" (Jeff Wahlberg). Diego has become quite the cynic during his high school years, and Dora's overly upbeat personality isn't helping. While on a school trip, Dora, Diego, along with mean girl, "Sammy" (Madeleine Madden) and nerdy guy, "Randy" (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped by a mercenary, "Powell" (Temuera Morrison), who wants Dora to lead him to her parents and the lost city. They end up rescued by "Alejandro" (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of Dora's parents, who offers to help her find the city of gold before the villains do. Dora, reunited with her boot wearing monkey sidekick, "Boots" (Voiced by Danny Trejo), leads her poorly put together group on a quest into the deep jungle, while Powell and his henchmen, which includes a certain kleptomaniac fox, "Swiper" (Voiced by Benicio del Toro), are hot on their trail.
"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is one of those films that makes you really curious to see just what went on in the minds of every studio executive who formulated the idea of this movie in the first place. It's an even bigger shock to see how surprisingly charming the final product ends up being. Directed by James Bobin ("The Muppets", "Alice Through the Looking Glass"), with a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller ("Neighbors", "Storks") and Matthew Robinson ("Monster Trucks"), what we have is more of a strange, but affectionate parody of the long running, educational children's show than a direct adaptation. The film seems geared to the older kids with nostalgic memories of the series, and while the film is certainly goofy, there is a certain charm to it. The humor works better early on, when the film pokes fun at some of the sillier moments from the show (There is a great gag involving Dora speaking to the camera, despite there being nobody there.). The laughs do sadly become a bit less frequent as the movie goes along, but remains endearing in a sort of surreal way. It helps that the film, despite a fairly by the numbers storyline, embraces the weird. There are cartoonish antics that come out of nowhere without explanation (Is nobody gonna question the talking fox?), and a few bizarre little sequences, such as one scene where the characters hallucinate themselves as animated characters.
The kooky charm mostly resonates from Isabela Moner, who has got to be the most energetic young actress I've ever seen. She's just as odd as everything else, but completely lovable and comically capable. Not to mention, she proves that she has an incredible amount of range as an actress. (She played a completely different character in last year's "Sicario: Day of the Soldado") Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, and Madeleine Madden are all fine despite mostly just playing character types. Eugenio Derbez feels a bit unnecessary at first, though ends up getting a more enjoyable role in the film during the last act. Eva Longoria and Michael Peña are fun in their limited roles, while Temuera Morrison gets nothing to do other than scowl and look evil. The CGI effects are subpar, though it actually works to the film's benefit, especially when it comes to Boots and Swiper (Although, the latter sadly doesn't actually appear much.). They're very expressively animated enough to make them fun to watch, and get some of the film's funniest moments. (The payoff with Danny Trejo was unexpectedly hilarious.)
Formulaic in plotting and not without a few groaner jokes, "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is more amusing and likable than it has any right to be. It's all silly kid stuff, but actually fairly smart in execution and not to mention, charmingly weird. It's certainly something the kids will get more of a kick out of than the parents. (It's no "Toy Story 4") However, both the film's and the lead character's cute and offbeat personality are rather hard to resist. We're in 2019, we have a live-action "Dora the Explorer" movie, and it's actually good. What a strange time we live in. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Occasional Not So Kid Friendly Jokes.
Image: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, arguing over who had the better giant monster movie.
Evolution is a major aspect of the film industry, especially in long running franchises. The "Marvel Cinematic Universe" became more than just a superhero franchise. "Mission: Impossible" has gone from a simple television adaptation to a major critical and financial success. "Jurassic Park" has gone from family oriented creature feature to....something. (Was that little girl a raptor hybrid?) Then there's "The Fast & the Furious", which went from a nonsensical street racing live-action cartoon to a nonsensical spy/heist/slightly superhero-eque live-action cartoon. And the world is a better place because of it.
"Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" takes a detour from the family of characters that we've gotten to know in the "Fast & Furious" series. This time we instead focus on federal agent, "Luke Hobbs" (Dwayne Johnson) and former assassin, "Deckard Shaw" (Jason Statham), who has gone from villain to kind of good guy. (Sure he killed the Asian guy, but he did save Dom's baby. So he's an okay dude now.) Hobbs and Shaw are called in to work together when Shaw's sister, "Hattie" (Vanessa Kirby) is framed for stealing a deadly virus, cutely named "Snowflake". In reality, Hattie was forced to inject herself with the virus while on the run from genetically enhanced, self proclaimed "Black Superman", "Brixton" (Idris Elba). Brixton is part of a global spanning, evil organization that wants to get their hands on the virus to cause some end of the world sh*t. Tasked to protect Hattie and find a way to safely extract the virus from her, Hobbs and Shaw are going to need to stop bickering for five minutes to save the world from imminent destruction.
A spinoff of a series that's been known to decimate the laws of physics and gravity on a casual basis, "Hobbs & Shaw" ups the ante in the over the top department. Directed by David Leitch ("John Wick", "Atomic Blonde", "Deadpool"), the franchise dips its toe into science-fiction territory (Or more like jabs its foot in there.), but does so with a self aware sense of humor and dedication to going full blown crazy in gleeful fashion. Leitch has proven himself as a slick, stylish director, and knows how to make gonzo action look good. With solid special effects, some stuntwork, and a whole lot of destruction, this has some of the most memorable setpieces in the series. From a chase down a tall building, an explosive battle throughout an abandoned factory, and a finale that essentially becomes the game barrel of monkeys except with several cars and a helicopter, it may not make logical sense, but it's pretty damn cool. The script by Chris Morgan (Who has been with the series from the start) and Drew Pearce ("Hotel Artemis", "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation), doesn't exactly have any intention for focusing on plot. Luckily, they provide plenty of good humor, with quips and jabs being delivered by the film's incredibly charismatic leads.
Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (Who were so good together in the last two films that this spinoff was inevitable), have actually been my favorite characters in this franchise. Their back and forth, as well as their ability to deliver cheesy one-liners, bring a certain overly macho personality to the film, that's utterly delightful. You just love seeing them, and it's clear how much they get along in real life that it really brings the whole film together. However, the film also gives time to the supporting cast. Vanessa Kirby is a badass addition to the series' long roster of characters, and holds her own against the leads in expert fashion. Idris Elba can play a good, menacing baddie in his sleep, and looks to be having a lot of fun. We get fun appearances from Cliff Curtis (as "Jonah", Hobbs' mechanic brother), Eiza González (as "Madame M", an old ally to Shaw), and Eddie Marsan (as the scientist responsible for "Snowflake"). Not to mention it's always welcome to see Helen Mirren (Returning as Shaw's criminal mother. What a family this series has created.) There are also a few unexpected, and surprisingly hilarious extended cameos that I will not spoil for anyone.
Looking for logic and cohesive story? "Hobbs & Shaw" won't exactly provide what you're looking for. While a bit longer than necessary, it does continue the franchise's trend of making up for narrative and intellectual shortcomings with a great sense of humor, oddly likable characters, and a commitment to truly insane and original action. The movie does also have a certain heart to it that at least shows that there is some kind of point to all of this. It's dumb muscle that knows it's dumb muscle, and embraces itself with the biggest, happiest grin you'll ever see. You know, I can see them going into space next time. It feels strangely natural. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Fragile Masculinity.
Image:Wait....Is this "Starsky and Hutch"?
Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained", "Inglorious Basterds", "Kill Bill" Vol. 1 and 2) is the definition of a director having no equal. Sure some directors try their best to imitate his signature style and knack for providing complex, character driven dialogue. However, Tarantino's work, whether you're a fan or not, is something entirely his own. Take his ninth film for example. There is no way anybody else could possibly make a film quite like this. Ohhhhh boy, this was something.
How to describe this plot? Lets make it as basic as possible. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" takes place in Las Angelas during 1969, after the "Golden Age of Hollywood". The film follows insecure actor, "Rick Dalton" (Leonardo DiCaprio) and longtime stunt double/best buddy, "Cliff Booth" (Brad Pitt). After a meeting with his agent, "Marvin Schwarzs" (Al Pacino), Rick begins to see that his career is starting to take a nosedive, though Cliff assures him that his career is far from over. Rick gets a major role on a new, cowboy TV series that will hopefully lead to newfound success, while Cliff serves as his driver and voice of reason (Despite the fact that there is a rumor that Cliff might have killed his own wife). While our two protagonists set out to better their careers, Rick's actress neighbor, "Sharon Tate" (Margot Robbie), is soon to become a possible target of the "Manson Family", and their murderous plans. It sounds simple, but none of this is quite what you expect.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a surreal, comedic, and often, very loving look back into old Hollywood. Tarantino is clearly in heaven with the setting and late 60's aestetic. There are so many great lines and dialogues between characters, filled with his usual sense of humor and occasionally thought provoking themes. It's all on full display on usual, but this time, the violence is almost nowhere to be found. There are less moments that will likely offend, and most shockingly, something is just kind of heartwarming about the film. (That's right. Quentin Tarantino made a heartwarming movie!) One of the reasons is because it's obvious that Tarantino is absolutely obsessed with the time period, the look, and the way Hollywood was at the time.
The almost whimsical world of old Hollywood is captured beautifully, and the cinematography is some of the best I've seen from the director. The way he weaves a web of seemingly unconnected storylines together simply through his direction is nothing short of brilliant. It's also where the film might lose some people. The film is almost plot free to a certain degree. There's a basic main story going on, but as usual with Quentin Tarantino's work, the film stops dead in its tracks to focus on something else. This one especially does that, and I would even say that the point of moments like this end up being intentionally kind of pointless. At over two hours and forty minutes, it might get a little grating for some, and I'll admit that even being a big fan of Tarantino's work, I'm not quite sure how I feel about where all this ends up going.
The casting here is a dream come true. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together at last on the big screen. It's what many have been wanting to see, and the movie delivers. First, DiCaprio is hilarious and complex. He gives a very layered performance that's equally funny and actually a little bittersweet as an actor struggling with his fading career. Brad Pitt is quietly cool, with small moments sprinkled throughout that add a little mystery to his character. (We never actually do find out is the rumors about him are true or not.) Their chemistry together is movie magic, and come Oscar time, I would consider just making up an award for best duo, simply to give both of these great actors the appreciation they deserve. We have a large ensemble of actors, ranging from bit parts to um, slightly less bit parts. It includes a delightful Al Pacino, Bruce Dern (as "George Spahn", the owner of Spahn Ranch, who has let the "Manson Family" stay at his ranch), Austin Butler, Margaret Qualley, and Dakota Fanning (as members of the "Manson Family"), Kurt Russell (as "Randy", a stunt coordinator), a scarily uncanny Mike Moh (as "Bruce Lee"), and a few more surprises. Not to mention a terrific scene stealing part from newcomer Julia Butters (as a young method actress that Rick has a philosophical conversation with. Won't reveal who she's supposed to be.) Then we have Margot Robbie and her role in the film that might be somewhat of a turning point for most audiences. I can't really get into what the issue with her role might be, but I can say she's perfectly cast. She wonderfully serves as a sweet, cute, and some sense of hopefulness that I wouldn't expect from a Tarantino film. It just doesn't go where you would expect, and what one might perceive as artistic and brilliant, someone would just call sloppy and disjointed.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is incredibly smart, fascinatingly detailed, and an immense amount of fun, especially for cinephiles, with extensive knowledge of this classic era. Then Tarantino does what I can only describe as the equivalent of cinematic trolling. The ending of this movie is completely insane, nonsensical, and will turn this into one of the year's most divisive films. It's also where some of the most memorable moments happen. I'm puzzled by this finale, though also astounded and mesmerized by it. Regardless of how you feel about it, there is no way you could of seen it coming. It's both the least and most Quentin Tarantino-like movie he's made yet. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Language, Violence, And Those Late 60s/Early 70s Clothing Styles That Hipsters Still Think Are Cool.
Image: "Here, try some Chinese food."
There needs to be balance in the world. Yeah, I love me those big budget blockbusters and all the good major mainstream releases deserve more credit than they're generally given. But where would we be without the little independent film? Working at a theater that shows these low budget movies has given me the opportunity I never would have had otherwise. They obviously won't make the big bucks the other films will. You never know when one of those little movies might just come in and earn a shot at possible award consideration. It's the reason why I started reviewing movies in the first place. Well, that, plus my future interview with Jennifer Lawrence.
Based on what's described in the film as "An Actual Lie", "The Farewell" follows young Chinese-American woman, "Billi" (Awkwafina) and her close relationship with her loving grandmother, nicknamed "Nai Nai" (Zhao Shuzhen). Billi has had a rather complicated relationship with her parents, "Haiyan" (Tzi Ma) and "Jian" (Diana Lin), ever since they chose to move to America, leaving Nai Nai behind. However, the family gets news that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and keeping with Chinese traditions, the family will not allow Nai Nai to find out. Using a wedding between Billi's cousin, "Hao Hao" (Chen Han) and his soon be be bride, "Aiko" (Aoi Mizuhara) as an excuse to visit Nai Nai, the whole family must go out of their way to make sure Nai Nai doesn't learn about her own illness, despite the fact that the knowledge is emotionally destroying them.
Directed by Lulu Wang (Mostly known for short films and music videos), "The Farewell" is a very quiet, simple film that has aspects of a screwball comedy, except with very dark subject matter and a realistic approach to the situation. It's directed in a semi-quirky, rather surreal manner, which is meant to make you just as uncomfortable as the characters. A lot of the humor comes from that discomfort, which to be honest, is exactly what families would feel during such a forced gathering, especially considering the real reason behind it. The film also really gets into different cultural traditions, and presenting them in a fair way that doesn't in the end, quite show one as completely wrong. You are left with the reasoning behind keeping such dire news a secret, especially when it's been something that many people have been doing for generations. However, it's obvious to see why one would question it, and constantly be at odds with the decision. The screenplay, which was also written by Wang, is smart enough to know how to present these themes, and finds the humor it it all. (A sequence during a wedding reception makes for some of the film's best uses of combing both drama and comedy.) The tone is perfectly balanced together, and should serve as an example to other filmmakers on how to do this right.
Awkwafina (Who has become quite the scene stealer in a comedic sense as of late, such as in last year's "Crazy Rich Asians"), gives a very moving, and unexpectedly reserved performance that I believe deserves some serious recognition. It would be so easy to overplay a role like this, except she instead chooses to keep the character subdued. She gets to deliver a great quip every now and then, but it's the hidden sadness behind those moments that make her performance stronger. Zhao Shuzhen (In her first acting performance) is wonderfully nurturing and humorously oblivious to her family's secret. (The tender moments between her and Awkwafina are the most heartfelt.) Other cast members include Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jiang Yongbo (as "Haibin", Billi's uncle), and Lu Hong (as "Little Nai Nai", Nai Nai's younger sister, who has been taking care of her), and they're all excellent together.
Heartbreakingly hilarious, or hilariously heartbreaking, "The Farewell" is the most human movie you'll see in 2019. It may not be the biggest movie out there, but it doesn't have to be to pack a powerful punch. Full of charm and thought provoking themes, the film's straightforward and soft approach are what make it so strong. Not all crowd pleasers have to be as great and big as "Avengers: Endgame". 4 Stars. Rated PG For Human Subject Matter And More Subtitles Than Your Average Moviegoer Might Be Used To.
Image: "One day, all of this will be your's Kimba....er, I mean, Simba."
This is a weird time at Disney. Known for changing the game with animation, and producing some of the most original and beloved instant classics that basically shaped all of our childhoods. Now they're just remaking them, and not really doing anything all that different with them. ("The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella" aside.) With that said, what we do get is just as noticeably flawed as the other remakes, except with something that might just still influence filmmaking for years to come. In its own way of course. Disney can do what it damn well pleases.
A "Live-Action" (Or is at least meant to give the appearance of it being live-action) remake of the 1994 masterpiece that everybody knows, "The Lion King" once again takes place in Africa, where the animal kingdom lives in harmony in the "Pride Lands". The much loved king, "Mufasa" (James Earl Jones, returning from the original) and his queen, "Sarabi" (Alfre Woodard), have just given birth to the next king, "Simba" (Played as a child by JD McCrary, and as an adult by Donald Glover). Mufasa's resentful brother, "Scar" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not happy that his chance at the throne has slipped away, and plots to kill Mufasa. Simba yearns to become a great king like his father, though doesn't quite understand how big of a responsibility that will end up being. After Mufasa rescues Simba and his friend, "Nala" (Played as a child by Shahadi Wright Joseph, then as a adult by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) from some deadly hyenas, Scar decides to finally put his evil plan into motion.
A tragedy happens (I mean, everyone should know what it is. But we'll avoid them for those few who don't know.), and Simba is forced out of the Pride Lands, leaving Scar to take over and do what he pleases. Simba is found by worry-free pair, skittish meerkat, "Timon" (Billy Eichner) and always flatulent warthog, "Pumbaa" (Seth Rogen), who take Simba in and raise him to eat grubs. But when Nala eventually reunites with Simba, he must now remember who he is and return home to save his home from Scar's tyranny.
With Jon Favreau returning to the director's chair after hitting it out of the ball park financially and critically with "The Jungle Book", "The Lion King" appears at first sight to be the most corporate of cash grabs.....and it is. It's clear that these movies are gold at the box office right now, and it's probably the easiest of concepts to come up with. This movie's existence is no different. Everything the light touches is fueled by pure, corporate greed, and there is no escaping that. However, Favreau is too good of a director and he's given enough free reign to make this big budget experiment a reality. What we end up getting is nothing short of incredible. The visual effects on display here are going to put all future films to shame. Every frame looks real, from the animals themselves, to the backgrounds, which is all completely photo-realistically animated. Everything its rendered in flawless CGI, which is incredibly and lovingly detailed down to the smallest spec of fur.
The visual effects look amazing, and perhaps a little too amazing. It's all almost too real to the point that it's hard for the mind to both comprehend and connect with it. It's most distracting because certain characters can't provide a certain level of expressiveness that we've become accustomed to with Disney animation. (Granted, when it's advertised as making them as realistic as possible, it shouldn't be too surprising.) Not to mention the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson mostly copies and pastes dialogue from the original, while only occasionally adding something new. It's not bad writing at all, but it's just something you've seen before. Like many of the remakes, they're just lesser versions of classics that we all recognize. It's when Jon Favreau decides to let the visuals tell the story and it leads to the film's most inspired moments. Whether it be letting the world speak for itself, or focusing on the admittedly expressive eyes of the animals (Which are at times just enough), that's when the film is most moving.
To make up for what we perceive as a lack of emotion behind the characters, we have a terrific ensemble voice cast. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover, is an excellent casting choice, and makes for a compelling lead. (Also credit to JD McCrary for delivering on the film's most emotional scene.) To hear Beyoncé's voice coming out of a majestic lion makes for a mesmerizing experience (It just seems fitting for some reason.), while the wonderful James Earl Jones returns to play his iconic character because it would of been physically impossible to recast him. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a quieter, darker element to an already menacing villain, and even gives him a sense of desperation that makes him much more dangerous than in the original animated movie. The same goes for the hyenas, which are voiced by Florence Kasumba (as "Shenzi", the leader of the pack), along with the more comical Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre (as "Kamari" and "Azizi", replacing "Banzai" and "Ed" from the original.) Some of the most perfect casting choices include Alfre Woodard (Who is given a bigger role in this version), John Kani (as "Rafiki", a shaman mandrill), and a delightful John Oliver (as "Zazu", the king's majordomo.). They're all good in the film, and bring to life creatures that can't emote the way that we as an audience would normally see in an animated film. But then we have the hilarious duo of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who not just steal the show, but they completely enliven the second half of the film all on their own. Their voices are matched up with the natural personalities of their characters, and are a quintessential example of great comic relief to balance out the drama.
The original "The Lion King" has some of the most memorable songs in entire Disney lineup. Once again written by Elton John and Tim Rice, with a little help from Beyoncé, the songs still sound amazing. (Who out there doesn't want to hear Donald Glover and Beyoncé' singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"?) The best musical moments being "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and of course, "Hakuna Matata", while others like the villain song, "Be Prepared", are either shortened or simply skimmed through. The score itself by Hans Zimmer (Who also did the score for the original and won the Oscar for it.), is once again beautiful and epic.
"The Lion King" is essentially a moment for moment remake, with little added to truly separate itself from its already perfect source material. (And I'm not just saying that because the original was the first movie I ever saw in theaters.) It's a cash grab to be sure, but not one I would call lazy. (The hard work is all on display.) For what it lacks in originality, the film makes up for in stunning visual splendor and a commitment to every detail, making something that could be a real game changer. Jon Favreau's skillful direction (And the scene stealing antics of Timon and Pumbaa) are what add to incredible effects on display. It truly is unlike anything you've ever seen before, and there are moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout. A masterpiece of visuals, but nothing much different from the original classic it's based on (And even then, it's nowhere on par with it.). Still, I'd be lying if I told you not to see it on the biggest screen possible. Lets hope with what Disney has accomplished here, flaws and all, will be used towards something even greater in the future.... Be prepared.3 Stars. Rated PG For Animalistic Violence And Meerkat/Warthog Lovers.
Image: Where's Florida Man when you need him?
To be perfectly honest, I'm just glad it's not another shark attack movie. We have so many of those these days, and I think we give the other terrifying, man eating creatures of the world their time in the spotlight. Alligators, bears, your cat when it realizes you're edible, everyone deserves a shot at stardom.
"Crawl" follows "Haley Keller" (Kaya Scodelario), a young swimmer, who learns that her estranged father, "Dave" (Barry Pepper), is nowhere to be found when a dangerous, category 5 level hurricane hits Florida. Haley decides to head over to his old house to find him, along with his loyal dog, "Sugar". Haley investigates down into the crawl space under the house, where she discovers her wounded father, as well as a couple of killer alligators, with every intention of devouring anything that moves. When the weather starts to get worse and the water starts to rise, Haley must work together with Dave to find a way to safety before they either drown or become gator grub. That's the most straight forward plotline I've seen in a while.
"Crawl" has easily got to be the best movie to not be screened for critics. That's usually saved for the worst of films (And mostly anything from Tyler Perry.). The film isn't exactly something that sets out to change the game when it comes to survival horror genre in any way. It just does a solid job of providing a claustrophobic, anxiety filled, and fairly creepy creature feature. Directed by Alexandre Aja ("The Hills Have Eyes", "Piranha 3D"......Admittedly, not the most quality of filmographies), he knows how to utulize dark, cramped spaces, which makes for some solid scares and the suitably disturbing violence that comes from meeting an terrifying, agony filled fate from a hungry gator. (Although, it's still somehow notably less violent that "Stuber".) The setup is quick and to the point, and the plotting doesn't deviate from the designated route that's expected. It's just capably made, and at least injects a little new life into what can be seen as a tired idea.
It also helps that Kaya Scodelario (The "Maze Runner" series) has proven herself to be a compelling actress, and she gives it her all, elevating the seemingly by the number material. She has a relatable character arc and becomes increasingly badass as the movie goes on. Barry Pepper gives a pretty heartfelt performance, and Sugar is too adorably scruffy not to love. As for the killer reptiles themselves, they are fairly scary despite the mostly unconvincing CGI work. (There are times you can tell that they're just not there.) The film makes excellent use of their bone chilling hisses and monstrous roars. Other characters, who are mostly unnamed, are just here to be chomped. Luckily, the film mostly remains focused on the father-daughter relationship, which is surprisingly well done and sweet.
"Crawl" isn't anything all that original, and for the most part, is just a short, spine tingling survival movie. It's effectively creepy, well acted, and you'll find yourself shockingly more invested in its main characters than expected. It knows what kind of film it wants to be, but also knows how to liven things up with good scares and a certain sense of fun that this genre has really been missing lately. A nice summer surprise, though not exactly a positive traveling ad for anyone to visit Florida anytime soon. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Images And Ravenous Reptiles.
Image: Kumail Nanjiani speaking with what appears to be an empty seat.
This movie is definitely going to send the wrong idea. No ride from "Uber" is going to be this exciting or eventful. However, there is a good chance it will be just as vulgar and possibly as gratuitously violent.
"Stuber" follows ninny Uber driver, "Stu" (Kumail Nanjiani), who sadly has gotten stuck with the ridiculous nickname, "Stuber". Stu pines away from longtime friend, "Becca" (Betty Gilpin), but is too cowardly to do anything about it. Meanwhile, gruff, physically massive cop, "Victor Manning" (Dave Bautista), having recently lost his partner, "Sarah" (a Karen Gillan cameo) while chasing down violent drug trafficker, "Teijo" (Iko Uwais), has become obsessed with avenging her death. However, it's at the expense of bonding with his daughter, "Nicole" (Natalie Morales). After getting some laser eye surgery, Vic is left unable to follow an important lead on fining Teijo on his own, so he ends up essentially kidnapping poor Stu and making him his driver while attempting to solve the case. Stu finds himself trapped in Vic's emotionally draining and body riddled world of chaos, while bettering themselves as people in the process.
Directed by Michael Dowse (Who hasn't directed anything I've ever heard of), "Stuber" is a hilarious idea, that has the potential for great comedy. What we end up getting is a predictable, bloody mess that can't seem to overcome an uneven tone (Good lord is this gory!), though still offers quite a few moments of inspiration. It fact, it's almost saved by how occasionally laugh out loud it truly is. Despite the over the top and shockingly vicious nature of the film, we're still given a fairly fun ride that at least makes up for it's shortcomings with a fast pace and the comic timing of our lead actors.
It only mostly works as well as it does because of the chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. Nanjiani, who is a better actor than he probably even realizes (Remember "The Big Sick"?), is already well adapt with delivering quick quips and funny reactions to absurdity. Dave Bautista (A scene stealer in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies), is wonderfully chaotic, and even is allowed to display moments of humanity at times. When they're together, it's hard not to get a decent amount of chuckles out of them. Others like Betty Gilpin and Mira Sorvino (as "Captain McHenry", Victor's boss) aren't given much of a role, while Iko Uwais is just here to play the most generic of villains.
A few good laughs is really all you can ask for with a comedy, which is what "Stuber" for the most part provides. It's sadly not enough to make up messy plotting, and a lack of commitment to what's possible with its premise. The amount of violence in the film kind of takes away some of the enjoyment, yet it's some of those moments that provide the funniest stuff. It's more than amusing to say the least, but I can't see myself telling anyone to go out of their way to see it. 2 ½ Stars. (A lesser critic would of made a ride sharing pun of sorts right about now. But not this critic!) Rated R For Heads Exploding, Bloody Violence, And An Obligatory Genital Shot.
Image: Another man is condemned to death by Snu Snu.
For the longest time, the horror genre was something I generally dismissed. However, in recent years, it's gone through a sort of renaissance, where directors use it to develop new kinds of terror from unconventional places. Whether it be Jordan Peele ("Us", "Get Out"), scaring people with political satire, or Ari Aster ("Hereditary"), traumatizing you for life with unthinkable themes of dread, they've just gotten much smarter. It's about hiding the frightening thoughts behind seemingly unconnected premises. Where "Hereditary" gave the appearance of a family drama, this one might be the greatest breakup movie of our time.
"Midsommar" follows a distressed young college student "Dani Ardor" (Florence Pugh), who has just suffered a horrible tragedy when her sister kills both of their parents as well as herself. Dani's plight comes across as more of an annoyance to her jerkass boyfriend, "Christian" (Jack Reynor), who is secretly looking for a way out of the relationship. Dani and Christian are invited by Christian's Swedish friend, "Pelle" (Vilhelm Blomgren), to go on a trip to Sweden, where his ancestral commune will be performing a traditional, midsummer celebration that is only taken part in every ninety years. The trip also includes Christian's other friends, "Josh" (William Jackson Harper) and "Mark" (Will Poulter). The group arrives and end up taking part in the celebration, where it quickly becomes apparent that things are going get a little weird. First, everyone takes some drugs, the people act abnormally happy and take part in awkward traditions, and then.....people start throwing themselves off of cliffs. It only gets more bonkers from there.
Once again serving as both writer and director, Ari Aster, still fresh of the success of last year's "Hereditary" (A movie that literally gave me nightmares.), "Midsommar" plays out like a demented fairy tale that unlike his previous film, appears to have a very twisted sense of humor about itself. You could almost label as more of a dark comedy than as a straight up horror flick, though you're not exactly laughing at it. It's more because what's happening is so outrageously deranged, and the reasons as to why it's happening, it's clear that Aster is trying to screw with his audience in more ways than one. His direction is oddly playful, even when we are subjected to nightmarish imagery. (None of it is quite as disturbing as the now infamous decapitation in "Hereditary", but there is still likely a chance you won't be forgetting this anytime soon.) The film is gorgeously shot, leaving you to question what's real and what's simply imagination. (I'm going to assume that this is what drugs must feel like.)
Florence Pugh (Who just recently showed off her star making potential earlier this year in "Fighting with My Family"), is more than a revelation in her role. Compelling throughout, Pugh goes through a wide variety of unexplainable emotions that she conveys brilliantly. (Her expressions alone draw you into her character.) Jack Reynor (Someone I generally find rather annoying) gets to play a complete dick of a character, who at least this time, is intentionally written as such. Vilhelm Blomgren is a special kind of creepy (And you never really do quite figure out what's going on inside his head) and Will Poulter provides great comic relief. William Jackson Harper is good, though out of everyone, his role feels the least important.
Skillfully constructed and darkly humorous, "Midsommar" doesn't always deliver on its payoffs, but it remains anything but predictable. Themes of toxic relationships and severe anxiety are sure to resonate, and it's nothing short of genius how Ari Aster is able to blend them into a world of brightly colored dread seamlessly. The film offers an unexpected amount of delight, and you'll find yourself oddly grinning maliciously once we reach the film's batsh*t climax. You may need to take a long shower afterwards, but it's the most fun you'll have watching something you feel like you probably shouldn't be watching. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For......You Don't Want Know.
Image: "It's perfectly safe. I'm only three for four when it comes to dropping people."
After "Avengers: Endgame", you would think that would be well, the end. We had literally the biggest movie of all time, fan favorite characters had their story arcs come to an end, and the scale of what we witnessed can never possibly be repeated. Yet, that was apparently the end to this third phase in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". We had one last second epilogue to set up what's to come in the future. A new era begins now, and comic book dorks like me could never be happier.
(Note: If you somehow haven't seen "Avengers: Endgame", this might be considered a little spoiler-ish.) "Spider-Man: Far From Home" opens after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" and the second "Snap" (Now known as the "Blip"), which brought back everyone previously thought to be dead. People are adjusting to the new world, and everyone's favorite webslinger, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland) still hasn't gotten over the death of his mentor, "Tony Stark/Iron Man" (Previously portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.). With that said, people are trying to get back to their lives, and Peter is going on a school trip to Europe. However, Tony's former bodyguard, "Happy Hogan" (Jon Favreau) insists that Peter stop avoiding phone calls from eye patch wearing agent, "Nick Fury" (Samuel L. Jackson), who wants Spider-Man for an important superhero related mission. Peter is more preoccupied trying to ask out his crush, "MJ" (Zendaya), and wants some much needed time off.
Sadly, Peter can't even leave New York without trouble following him, with the trip being hi-jacked by Fury after an attack from a group of destructive, dimension traveling entities, known as the "Elementals". Peter must team up with another dimensional traveler, "Quentin Beck/Mysterio" (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of magic, who may be the world's next big superhero. Peter must balance his social life, along with his new responsibilities, while assisting Mysterio in defeating the chaotic villains. Peter also discovers that not everything is as it seems as he works his way to becoming a worthy successor to the fallen Iron Man.
After the epicness and heartbreak of "Endgame", Marvel's twenty-third entry into the MCU, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" is exactly what we need right now, and ends this phase of the biggest film universe of all time on a exciting and endearing note. A light hearted, high school based romantic comedy, that also just so happens to be a superhero movie. Directed once again by Jon Watts, the movie delivers a certain youthful innocence and a great sense of humor to go with the superheroics. You still get jaw dropping special effects and exhilarating action setpieces, but also are given loads of big laughs and some of the most relatable character interactions you'll find in the MCU. (It kind of rivals other more "Reality" based films as well in that department.) The scale is smaller and the tone is lighter, though the film isn't afraid to get darker, especially in the second half.
Tom Holland is still the perfect embodiment of who I expect Spider-Man to be. Awkward and lovable, and the right amount of nerdy to go along with his genuine niceness. Zendaya is a delight once more, getting a bigger role this time, and having flawless chemistry with Holland. Their relationship is just plain adorable, and you just love seeing them together. Samuel L. Jackson (Great as usual) and Cobie Smulders (as "Maria Hill", Fury's assistant at S.H.I.E.L.D.), provide excellent foils to Peter's attempts to go about his normal teen life, despite all of the insanity going on around him. A lot of the humor comes from supporting memorable characters, such as Jacob Batalon (as "Ned", Peter's best friend), Tony Revolori (as "Flash", Peter's narcissistic rival), Angourie Rice (as "Betty", Ned's new girlfriend), along with Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove (as Peter's unqualified teachers, who have no business teaching anybody.) There is also a fun ongoing plotline with Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei (as "May", Peter's very attractive aunt), revolving around Peter trying to figure out if they're dating or not. Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal is amazingly cast, and completely steals the show in a way I probably shouldn't get into. To all the longtime fans of "Mysterio" (With me being one of them), they get this character so right, leading to the film's craziest moments.
Anyone with knowledge of the characters can likely easily figure out where some of the plot points in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" are going, though the way they play out are certainly clever and unexpected. The film doesn't quite measure up to the previous film (Not to mention, last year's surprise critical hit, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", really raised the bar to a near unreachable level), what we get is still a spectacular amount of fun. In fact, it's some of the most fun the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to offer yet. The heart is in the right place, and the twists and reveals lead to a mesmerizing finale. (Not to mention a last second surprise mid-credits scene that completely changes the game.) The Avengers as we know them may be gone for now, but their legacy is in the right hands. It goes to show that Marvel still has a few tricks up their sleeves, and we can only wait in anticipation for where it all goes next. Bring on the next twenty-three movies please! 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Destructive Action, Hormonal Teenagers, The Peter-Tingle, And Fake News.
Image: "I just had the strangest dream. You were in Game of Thrones."
We have right here, what could possibly be the most psychedelic movie of 2019. Should of figured that a movie that heavily involved the music of "The Beatles", would probably be pretty on the trippy side.
"Yesterday" follows struggling singer-songwriter, "Jack Malik" (Himesh Patel). Jack's only real support comes from his manager/childhood friend, "Ellie" (Lily James), and he's on the verge of just giving up. While riding a bike home late at night, all power goes out around the world for twelve seconds, resulting in Jack being hit by a bus. Jack wakes up in the hospital, mostly fine, but soon notices something major is off about the world. Apparently, "The Beatles" (You know the Beatles right? One of the greatest bands in the world? Responsible for some of the most beloved songs of all time? Those guys?), never existed. Jack decides to do the most human thing possible with this revelation, and proceeds to pass off the many songs from the Beatles as his own. This leads to Jack becoming an instant star. Fame of course starts to get the better of Jack as he's taken away from his old life, as well as Ellie, who has secretly been in love with him ever since they were kids.
Directed by Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire", "127 Hours", "Steve Jobs"), showing a remarkable amount of range with his filmography, "Yesterday" already has a brilliant premise. The film raises a lot of questions in a humorous and surreal manner. It's the suitably weird approach Boyle takes that adds to the fun. The film benefits from a peculiar, dreamlike style, with quirky images and good old fashioned British cheekiness, which is fitting considering all the Beatles music. (The movie also hilariously never actually explains what's going on. It just happens. Kind of refreshing actually.) The screenplay by Richard Curtis ("Love Actually", "About Time"), is thoroughly charming and genuinely sweet, though it does eventually devolve from something insightful and ambitious to something a bit more by the numbers. The film is more interested in being a romantic comedy, which to its credit, it does a solid job of it. Yeah, with how much the premise has to offer and how well the film does with it when it takes the time to do so, it's somewhat disappointing. Luckily, the film remains consistently funny throughout (And even tosses in the occasional big belly laugh that catches you off guard.), and offers a heartfelt, albeit slightly manipulative, story to make it better.
Himesh Patel (Who also does a solid job singing as well), is charming and relatable. His actions are human, and his reactions to the absurdity of the world around him are completely priceless. Lily James is as cute as she always is, and she has excellent chemistry with Patel. Kate McKinnon (as "Debra Hammer", Jack's new manager, who doesn't remotely try to hide how scummy she is) is her usual weird self. Some of the supporting cast, which include Joel Fry (as "Rocky", Jack's moronic friend), along with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal (as Jack's parents, who really don't have much interest in Jack's music) provide plenty of laughs. Also, I had no idea Ed Sheeran (Who plays himself), was so funny. He looks like he's having a blast, and gets a few memorable moments.
"Yesterday" is a fitting tribute to the Beatles and what they represented to the world. The film doesn't go far enough with its idea and every romantic comedy trope makes an appearance in some shape or form. (All the classics, from forced conflict to predictable outcomes. The works.) It's still in capable hands, and the chemistry and lovability of the leads, make it worth while. Sweet, strange, and maybe a little kooky, it's what you think of when you think of the Beatles. The songs are all used well, and you get good humor to elevate a standard crowdpleaser, that thankfully, know its audience. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For British Cheekiness And Yellow Submarines.
Image: Can somebody just kill this doll already?
They literally just materialized this out of nowhere. Producer James Wan's "Conjuring" universe began with two excellent horror movies, then have mostly left their spin-offs to focus on the more generic stuff. The big one being "Annabelle", who began as one of the creepiest parts of the original film, but has been one for two when it comes to her own movies. (First one sucked. The second was perfectly fine.) This new one, which was only announced a couple months ago, luckily decides to make up for predictability with something that I always felt made the main "Conjuring" movies stronger. Actual heart. (You know, to go with the traumatizing terror.)
"Annabelle Comes Home" opens just as real life paranormal investigators, "Ed and Lorraine Warren" (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) obtaining the creepy doll, "Annabelle", who can be used as a conduit to attract other spirits and demonic entities (Mostly evil.....Actually almost entirely evil.). It's obvious that there is an evil presence connected to this doll, which is unlike anything the Warrens have ever faced before, which leads to them making sure Annabelle is locked up away from their other ghostly objects in their home. Cut to three years later, The Warrens' daughter, "Judy" (Mckenna Grace), is uneasy about what her parents do, and is looked down upon at school because of it. Judy's only real friend is her babysitter, "Mary Ellen" (Madison Iseman), who is taking care of Judy while the Warrens are away. When Mary Ellen's best friend, "Daniela" (Katie Sarife) invites herself into the Warrens' home, she wanders into Lorraine's room of evil artifacts, where her dumb self ends up letting Annabelle free. Without a means of escape, Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela must work together and face their own personal fears as Annabelle unleashes whatever demonic spirit decides to join the party.
Directed by first timer (And longtime writer of this series), Gary Dauberman, "Annabelle Comes Home" feels like the most necessary and relevant of the spin-offs. Dauberman has a lot of fun showcasing the Warren case files, with all kinds of creative and scary creatures that each pop up during quick, elaborate set pieces like one of those amusement park haunted houses. (Except if it had the ability to murder you.) The film's 70s setting adds to the atmosphere, and the movie takes its time setting up scares, tricking the audience, and messing with their heads. (There's a surreal scene with what I can only assume is a possessed TV that's a special kind of creepy.) Nothing exactly new or surprising here, just some old fashioned scare tactics that thankfully don't try to rely too much on jump scares. (They're still there obviously, though they are used much less this time.)
The film also realizes that to make an effective ghost/demonic possession story, you need to have something to latch on to. Our characters are all actually well defined and likable. Mckenna Grace ("Gifted") is a wonderful young actress, and actually makes a few smart decisions of her own throughout the film. Madison Iseman ("Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle") is very endearing, and while Katie Sarife's character doesn't make the best of decisions, there ends up being a reason behind it and makes for one of the most complicated characters. There's a subplot involving Mary Ellen's love interest, "Bob" (Played by Michael Cimino), that doesn't amount to much, but does offer some comic relief. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are only in a handful of scenes, but they're wonderful as usual. Meanwhile, the movie finally gets across what Annabelle is capable of, and what she does exactly. (She acts as the ringleader to all the killer demons and ghosts, masterminding the entire situation.) It helps you remember why everyone was so freaked out by her when they saw her in the original "Conjuring" in the first place.
Like all the other spin-offs, "Annabelle Comes Home" is basic in its story, and the seemingly limited budget makes somewhat more apparent this time (For how good the practical effects are, the CGI is lacking). However, it's the heart behind it that makes it more effective. You get some chills and might even jump a few times. You also get characters to root for, and some touching themes of death and faith, that are surprisingly strong. While still not on part with "The Conjuring", it's easily the best of these standalone films. A solid, spooky thrill ride. 3 Stars. Rated R For Demented Dollies And Ghastly Ghouls.
Image: She's Russian into trouble.
Another day, another pretty assassin movie. Sometimes movies give you so little to talk about don't they?
"Anna" follows the young woman sharing the same name as the title, "Anna" (Sasha Luss). Having suffered a rough, abusive life, Anna is recruited by KGB agent, "Alexander Tchenkov" (Luke Evans) to become an assassin. Anna is promised by Tchenkov (Who has the hots for her) and his superior, "Olga" (Helen Mirren) that when five years pass, that she will be allowed to leave and live as a free woman, which is something Anna has dreamed of her entire life. Posing as a model in Paris, Anna carries out her missions, no matter how degrading and violent. This eventually attracts the attention of CIA agent, "Leonard Miller" (Cillian Murphy), leading to Anna being forced to work for both government agents in hopes of finally finding a way out of this life.
Written and directed by Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "Léon: The Professional"), "Anna" sounds exactly like every other model turned assassin film you've ever heard of, and it is. However, Besson decides to make it much more frustrating and needlessly complicated in a likely attempt to cover up that fact. He still knows how to choreograph a good fight scene (A sequence in a diner is easily the highlight, though most of it was already shown in the trailer.), but the story is predictable right down to the several twists, and is muddled in the constant jumping around with the film's timeline. (It opens with a flashback before jumping forward five years, before moving back three, and back again.) When you figure out everything that's going to happen, it grows increasingly tedious when the movie takes its sweet time getting to the obvious point. It doesn't help that the tone suddenly shifts from very serious to surprisingly goofy and comedic part way through, which destroys the pacing completely.
The issues with the film have nothing to do with Sasha Luss, who you can tell has potential as an actress. She already has a compelling look to her, and her character's complex shifts throughout the movie. You do care for her, despite the film's inconsistent screenplay. Cillian Murphy is very charismatic in his part, and Helen Mirren adds some of her usual brand of much needed class to the film. Meanwhile, Luke Evans is pretty underutilized. Others characters appear to have mini-subplots, but most of them don't end up amounting to much.
Having been in production for years, "Anna" is generic, forgettable, and maybe a little creepy (Luc Besson does have a few sexual assault accusations against him. Kind of makes all of the sexual content and male gaze in the movie more unsettling.) The movie builds to a silly finale that seems to have the idea that it's more clever than it actually is. (We've seen this before. You're not doing anything new here.) Just another lackluster, assassin thriller that takes up theater space for a week or two before going away. Hey, I got over four paragraphs out of it. Nice! 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Stylized Violence And Sexuality.
Image: Woody and Buzz's worst nightmare.
This truly was one terrifying tale about inanimate playthings. We left the theater disturbed, with thoughts of our meaningless existences, where our journeys eventually take us, and what life truly means. Not to mention that horrifying dummies. God, "Toy Story 4" was terrifying. Also, "Child's Play" was pretty creepy.
"Child's Play" opens with tech company, "Kaslan Industries" releasing their new, high doll, "Buddi", which can serve as a smart-home appliance, as well as a supposed "Best Friend" for the kids. (Granted, the damn thing is ugly as sin. So this was a bad idea from the start.) One defective doll ends up in the hands of single mother, "Karen" (Aubrey Plaza), who gives it to her hearing impaired son, "Andy" (Gabriel Bateman). Having trouble making new friends, Andy ends up taking a liking to the doll, nicknamed "Chucky" (Voiced by Mark Hamill). A strange friendship develops between Andy and Chucky, though it slowly becomes apparent that something just isn't right. Chucky starts to display signs of jealously, confusion, and well, homicidal tendencies, resulting in Andy attempting to distance himself from the doll. Chucky isn't going to have any of that, and becomes determined to keep Andy as his best friend through any means necessary. Even if that means hacking up people with a knife in a delightfully grisly fashion.
A remake/reboot of 1988 film with Brad Dourif as the voice of the killer doll, "Child's Play" has little to do with the original aside from the name and basic premise. (The less we address the controversy involving the dick-ish attitude of the studio to the original creators, the better.) It's less traditional horror, and more of a dark, slasher comedy, and for all of the silliness that comes with the franchise, what we get is exactly the amount of demented fun we could ask for. Taking out the supernatural element and replacing it with technology, the film is still just as preposterous and goofy as ever. However, that's kind of the point of it all and where the enjoyment comes from. The film is also committed to a certain over the top goriness that you don't really see in horror films these days. It's not torture porn. It's meant to be damn near gleeful, taking a sort of cartoonish and even childlike pleasure in the violence, much like how our main villain handles it. Most of the time you're laughing at how absurd it all is. Director Lars Klevberg really captures that, directing the film almost as if it were aimed at a family audience. (Except with people getting their faces ripped off by lawnmowers.)
Aubrey Plaza, known for portraying weird and wild characters, wonderfully plays against type as a mother. (Though she does get to keep her trademark snark.) Gabriel Bateman makes for one of the elements that are stronger here and the original, portraying a kid completely scared out of his mind very well. (Lets face it. In the original, that little kid was pretty weak.) Brian Tyree Henry (as "Detective Mike", Andy's cop neighbor, who investigates the murders Chucky is committing) is great as always, and just brings more gravitas to the film. Meanwhile, Mark Hamill, wisely deciding not to imitate Brad Dourif's classic portrayal, makes one completely his own. He's somewhat more sympathetic at first, starting out like childlike and innocent, then slowly developing into the murderous psycho we all know and love. Other characters mostly fill the background, and most of the victims are unlikable dicks who have it coming.
While never particularly scary (Though plenty creepy), "Child's Play" succeeds with a pitch black sense of humor, and a giddy appreciation for the macabre. It makes for an intentionally ridiculous, bloody blast, that might be even more fun than the original. (Be honest. The original, while a delight, is pretty dated stuff.) None of it really makes much sense and things do get a little bit rushed once we reach the finale. Still, it's clever, playful, and endearingly sadistic. Just like Chucky! Bless his ugly little heart. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Brutal Slashing And Stabbings, And Creative Watermelon Designs.
Image: And the toys plummet from the sky.....The end.
Maybe they should have left "Toy Story" alone. The franchise ended on a perfect note. So, maybe, Pixar decided to continue with the one of the few things that can bring people together in this divisive world. We really should learn to stop questioning them by this point, shouldn't we?
"Toy Story 4" picks up some time after the last film's supposed happily ever after. Now our beloved toys, which are led by ragdoll cowboy, "Woody" (Tom Hanks), now belong to "Bonnie" (Madeleine McGraw) after being passed down by their previous owner, "Andy". Everything seems wonderful for Andy's old toys, including "Buzz Lightyear" (Tim Allen), "Jessie" (Joan Cusack), etc. However, Woody has sadly been going through a bit of a rut, where Bonnie doesn't seem to have much interest in playing with Woody as she does with the other toys. Regardless, Woody is loyal to a fault, and will do anything he can to ensure Bonnie's happiness. One her first day of kindergarten, a nervous Bonnie decides to make a new friend to cope. That isn't a metaphor by the way, Bonnie creates life in the form of googly eyes and pipe cleaners attached to a spork, named "Forky" (Tony Hale).
Forky as it turns out, is one suicidal spork, whose only purpose is to end up in the trash, and Woody has to go out of his way to keep Forky safe for Bonnie. When Bonnie takes all of the toys for a RV road trip with her family, Forky ends up flying out the window, and Woody leaves the others to track him down. With the two of them ending up in an old antique shop, Woody is reunited with his old love, "Bo Peep" (Annie Potts), who now spends her time being ownerless and saving other lost toys from harm. When Forky is kidnapped by damaged doll, "Gabby Gabby" (Christina Hendricks), who wants to rip out Woody's voice box to fix her broken one, Woody sets out on a mission to save Forky, with some help from Bo, tiny pocket cop, "Giggle McDimples" (Ally Maki), literally attached stuffed animals, "Duck and Bunny" (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and daredevil toy/Canada's Greatest Stuntman, "Duke Caboom" (Keanu Reeves).
Pixar changed the game with animation with the original "Toy Story" (A franchise that is twenty years old by this point), then continued with the equally (If not even more) wonderful "Toy Story 2", and then seemingly concluded the series with "Toy Story 3" (Which as we all remember, brought all of us claiming to be adults to tears). Yet, they had the gall to not only continue, but also keep the already perfect quality of the series in tact in a way that nobody could of ever expect. With that said, the film is not quite what you would expect. Pixar's animation has reached levels that were previously thought impossible. Every frame and character is exceptional detailed and beautiful, showing how far the studio has come from the original, which was already groundbreaking at the time. Every piece of fluff, fabric, and plastic looks authentic, and blends together in a way that's yeah, pleasing to look at, but also instills a certain identity that only Pixar can provide.
Directed by Josh Cooley (Who has worked as a storyboarder and writer on several Pixar films), "Toy Story 4" is brilliantly compacted into a brisk hour and forty minutes, with plenty of time given for intimate character moments, a deep emotional core, and most welcome of all, some of the funniest moments of any film to come out this year. The screenplay by Stephany Folsom and longtime Pixar collaborator, Andrew Stanton, is gut busting in how funny it is. Thanks to well timed slapstick and some fantastic, mile a minute dialogue between characters. Not to mention just how memorable they are, though maybe a few get sidelined for obvious reasons (Whether it be the fact that some actors have passed over twenty years, or what the film in the end decides to focus more closely on.)
Tom Hanks is as wonderful as ever. First off, his character has received some of the best character development in film (Animation or otherwise), having gone from a jealous jerk to someone willing to sacrifice his own happiness for someone else, despite his better judgement. This really is Hanks' movie, with his character's story taking an unexpected turn that may feel a bit off at first, but the more I think about it, it seems fitting. The excellent Annie Potts gets her biggest role in this series, with her character also having changed over time in a natural way. Tim Allen is a blast once again, while our massive returning supporting cast all give it their all. This includes Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn (as "Rex", the panicky dino), Pixar's good luck charm John Ratzenberger (as "Ham", the sarcastic pyggbank), Blake Clark (as "Slinky", the loyal slinky dog), Timothy Dalton (as "Mr. Pricklepants", the pretentious stuffed hedgehog), Jeff Garlin (as "Buttercup", the stuffed unicorn with a dark sense of humor), Bonnie Hunt (as "Dolly", who tries to keep Bonnie's toys from freaking out), the late, great Don Rickles and Estelle Harris (as "Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head", married potato people), and the always hilarious Kristen Schaal (as "Trixie", the dinosaur gifted with Kristen Schaal's voice). Some are sidelined more than maybe wanted, but you do get why, and thankfully, they all still leave an impression.
The film makes up for the lack of screentime for a few classic characters with some fitting new additions, who are destined to become instant favorites. Tony Hale is marvelously (and relatably) bewildered by his existence. He's lovable, and is an absolute riot. Christina Hendricks' cute voice perfectly matches her antagonist's look, whose story arc develops past the concept of what would seem like just another villain. Keegan Michael-Key, and Jordan Peele provide most of the film's laughs, with a running gag that just gets more and more hysterical the further it goes. Ally Maki is a blast, while Keanu Reeves (Who is currently going through an intimate romance with today's moviegoers) sounds like he's having the absolute time of his life.
"Toy Story 4" continues this franchise's trend of getting an emotional rise out of its audience, and managing to draw a few tears from every age. (Though people my age, having grown up with these toys, will probably find themselves even more broken up than expected.) Themes of existence, the inevitability of life, and finding (And also accepting) your purpose, are not something you would expect a film about talking toys to deal with. (It's not as overtly dark as the last film, but the questions raised will likely keep both the kids and adults up at night.) While thoughtful, heartwarming, and filled with great humor throughout, it can still seem like we're getting an unnecessary (Albeit still terrific) fourth entry in an already perfect trilogy. Then it all becomes apparent by the end what the point is and how important it is. (Might be a little controversial though. Time will tell on that one.) Either way, it results in the unexpected fourth adventure with our favorite pieces of plastic and fluff that we didn't even know we needed. Kids. Parents. Adults who awkwardly come into the theater alone. Everyone leaves happy, and like every movie in this series, comes out a little more mature every time. 4 Stars. Rated G. (Though There Is Plenty Of Nightmare Inducing Imagery Involving Ventriloquist Dummies. When Are Those Not Scary?)