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Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, Scream 5, The 355, Don't Look Up, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Matrix Resurrections, Sing 2, The King's Man, Nightmare Alley, Spider-Man: No Way Home, West Side Story, Tick, Tick... Boom!, House of Gucci, Encanto, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Coming Soon:  Moonfall, Jackass Forever, Death on the Nile, Marry Me, Uncharted, Ambulance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Batman, Turning Red, Downton Abbey 2, Operation Fortune, The Lost City, Morbius (Maybe...)

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

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania                                                                             by James Eagan                                                                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I bet he'd taste great with garlic!"

It's a little odd considering the top notch animation, crew of well known voices, and the fact that in recent years, the Oscar winning studio, "Sony Pictures Animation", this film would have definitely felt out of place in a theater. There's a real straight to video vibe with this one, and since I never really was a fan of the franchise in the first place, it feels fitting that it should end this way.

The fourth addition to the series, "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" once again follows the residents of the titular hotel, run by the once human fearing "Dracula" (Brian Hull, replacing Adam Sandler). Dracula is considering that it's time to retire with his former monster hunting wife, "Ericka Van Helsing" (Kathryn Hahn), thus leaving the hotel to his daughter, "Mavis" (Selena Gomez) and her human husband, "Johnny" (Andy Samberg). However, Johnny is still sporadically annoying, and Dracula can't go through with it, lying to Johnny about some kind of ancient real estate law that will prevent Drac from giving the hotel away to a human. Knowing how much Mavis wants this, Johnny turns to Ericka's really old, partially steampunk mad scientist great-grandfather, "Professor Abraham Van Helsing" (Jim Gaffigan), who provides Johnny with a crystal that can turn a human into a monster and vice versa. Johnny turns into a green, dragon-esque creature, and through the power of shenanigans, Dracula ends up being turned human (Complete with a gut, balding hair, and all those other attributes that make us miserable). 

With the crystal cracked, Professor Van Helsing sends Dracula and Johnny off on a journey into South America to search for a new one to change themselves back. Meanwhile though, Dracula's whole gang of the usual celebrity voice actors have also been turned human, such as the werewolf "Wayne" (Steve Buscemi) becoming a hairy man, the invisible man "Griffin" (David Spade) being revealed to be totally nude all the time, the mummy "Murray" (Keegan-Michael Key) becoming just an old man, the Frankenstein-esque monster "Frank" (Brad Abrell, replacing Kevin James) becoming um, some dude, and the gelatinous blob, "Blobby" becoming, well, gelatin. When Mavis and Ericka find out about the chaos, they bring everyone along to catch up to Dracula and Johnny, who is slowly starting to mutate further into something even more monstrous.  

Directed by Derek Drymon (Known for his work on "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Adventure Time") and Jennifer Kluska (Known for "DC Super Hero Girls"), replacing Genndy Tartakovsky (Who is given a screenwriting credit), "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" brings the series to a close, and a rather bland, unnecessary one at that. Originally meant to be released in theaters last year, before the pandemic convinced the filmmakers to instead release it via Amazon Prime, the franchise has never been particularly much when it comes to its plots, though this one in particular feels as if they're grasping at straws. Aside from the runtime not even reaching an hour and a half, we get a very generic, at times uneventful storyline, that's mostly an excuse for a few silly gags and the typically sporadic animation. The animation is as to be expected, very energized, delightful to look at, and you can just tell that the animators themselves are just plain having a good time with how wildly exaggerated their characters can look or act. It's an earnest film when it comes to how it looks, though feels more subpar considering Sony's far superior work with "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse" and "The Mitchells vs. the Machines". The uninspired screenplay is where the film falls flat, with a handful of chuckles, but loads of groaners and little originality. Out of all the films in the franchise, this one feels the most kid oriented. With that said though, that makes the film just kind of boring. (It's certainly not as annoying as "Hotel Transylvania 2")

Brian Hull brings more personality to the role than Adam Sandler ever did, who most of the time was just doing a silly voice without ever actually saying anything funny. Hull at least gives a little extra life to what's just supposed to be a caricature of the Dracula accent. Some voices, such as Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, Selena Gomez, and David Spade standout, while others like Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, and Molly Shannon (as "Wanda", Wayne's still pregnant wife) are all woefully underused. (Four times in a row you guys did nothing with Molly Shannon. Shame on you!) Andy Samberg is fine, but the character has continuously gotten less and less welcome as time as gone on, leaving one to wonder what exactly is his point for being here. (I also try my best to not think about the fact that Johnny has successfully impregnated anything!) The movie randomly stops dead for a moment to showcase a random, more detailed monster character for ten seconds (Voiced by somebody called "Ninja". Don't know who that is and don't care). Also, no Mel Brooks this time. So that's another reason for this movie not needing to exist. 

"Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" isn't the worst in the series, but it's the least interesting by far. For undemanding kids, it's an amusing, completely harmless bit of cartoonish chaos. For adults, it's something to leave on in the background to keep the peace. Normally I would have been more frustrated by this, especially if I'd seen it in theaters, though there's not enough memorability to the movie to leave that kind of impression. It won't hurt anyone, yet it won't exactly transform into something of value. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Jokes And Lots Of Butts. These Hotel Transylvania Movies Love Their Butts.    

Scream                                          by James Eagan                                   ★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: Hey, why the long face?

Do you like scary movies? Or do you at least have a tolerance for them? Then maybe the "Scream" franchise could be for you. Created by the late Wes Craven, if you're an obsessive horror fan, or even if you're really not, the films have used humor and a satirical edge, pointing out the various tropes of the genre, while also giving slasher fans exactly what they ask for. While controversial in terms of quality to some, the original and the sequels have had something to say about what comes with the typical horror, slasher flick. However, you are left wondering exactly what could be brought to the table. What exactly could "Scream" even talk about after already deconstructing so much? Not to mention when others have already started to do the same? Let's just say that blade is still pretty damn sharp. 

The fifth entry in the series, simply titled "Scream" (Because all major franchises do that eventually. The movie even points that one out), the film opens like all the previous films in the franchise has before it, with a girl being left home by herself, this time named "Tara Carpenter" (Jenna Ortega), answering a phone call from the murderous, raspy voiced "Ghostface" (Voiced once again by Roger L. Jackson), before a brutal attacking. Things turn out a little differently this time (No spoilers here. It's better to be surprised with this one), as Tara's older sister, "Sam" (Melissa Barrera), returns to the town of "Woodsboro", with her boyfriend, "Richie" (Jack Quaid). It turns out though that this new Ghostface (Or Ghostfaces, considering that there are usually two of them), is targeting those in some way related to those involved with the events of previous "Stab" film (The in-universe movie franchise that was inspired by all the previous Woodsboro killings), including Tara's group of friends, including her friend, "Amber" (Mikey Madison), movie expert "Mindy Meeks-Martin" (Jasmin Savoy Brown), her brother "Chad" (Mason Gooding) and his girlfriend "Liv" (Sonia Ben Ammar), and "Wes" (Dylan Minnette), the son of the now sheriff "Judy Hicks" (Marley Shelton). 

Desperate and with nowhere else to turn, Sam reaches out to someone with a little familiarity with this situation, "Dewey Riley" (David Arquette), who has fallen on hard times after his divorce from reporter "Gale Weathers" (Courtney Cox). Dewey is at first reluctant to help, though knows the game, the rules that follow, and that these murders aren't going to stop. Dewey assists Sam in trying to find out who the sicko is behind the grisliness this time. With everyone being a suspect and nobody to really trust, the original final girl herself, "Sidney Prescott" (Neve Campbell), enters the picture, as the typical horror tropes end up turned upside down, leading to the possibility of the new killer's dream to reigniting the bloody franchise becoming a reality. 

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not") and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busik (Who have both collaborated with Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett before), "Scream" (Not "5CREAM". Hey, I totally would have let it slide if they really went for that) may be one of the best advertised films I've seen in a while, where the trailers and TV spots have done so much misdirecting and intentional false advertising, that you really aren't prepared for what this film truly is. Yet, while it all may seem a little different in execution this time around, the usual ingredients for what makes this franchise work and how it's been able to survive this long (Over twenty five years. Now that's really something). The film is the first since Wes Craven's passing (And the film is lovingly dedicated to him), Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett honor what he brought to the series, continuing and exploring more of the possibilities that it has to offer, while also putting their own special, very relevant spin on the usual slice and dice routine. I wouldn't say that the film is particularly scary, but it's got style, mood, and loads of suspense, with a, pardon the easy pun here, razor sharp screenplay, which continues to toy with the tropes that we've grown accustomed to when it comes to slasher films (Not to mention poking fun at the difference between old school horror and the modern day, more "elevated" ones). The film has a lot to say and it takes its time to say it, but once everything is revealed, the filmmakers are hilariously unsubtle about it and it's quite brilliant.  

Without spoiling too much here, the focus isn't on the original core three main characters from previous films. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and particularly David Arquette, are all terrific and very much welcome back, but they're more along the lines of supporting players this time. Our new cast of characters are pretty memorable, stand out on their own, and each have a part to play, though some more than others. Melissa Barrera, who carries a good chunk of the film, is outstanding, along with an equally wonderful Jenna Ortega. The two of them also have a handful of moments that are almost too well done for a movie like this. Jack Quaid gets some of the funniest lines, while Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnitte, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Mikey Madison, are all archetypes in a way, though all come into their own. A real standout would be Jasmin Savoy Brown, who gets an amazing monologue explaining what exactly is a sequel, that's also a reboot, though still a direct continuation and reinvention at the same time (Seriously, finally! I literally had no idea how to explain that to people until now). Ghostface (And Roger L. Jackson's demented voicework), remains an at times chilling presence, who still despite his effectiveness at killing people, can't help falling over himself or running into things, like you'd expect a random, not particularly skilled person would be. I will admit that the reveal of who really is the big bad isn't exactly difficult to figure out, but the motivations are truly something that I wish I'd thought of before going into the movie, and boy, is it something that's bound to resonate in a suitably controversial fashion (Being a major "Star Wars" fan, this certainly felt necessary to talk about. We'll leave it at that). It's really smart stuff, and gives the film series an unexpected reason to exist (And possibly even continue further). 

Funny as Hell, maliciously meta, brutally violent, and despite all the vicious stabbings, "Scream" always thankfully retains a certain level of heart to go with all the buckets of blood. It's quick-witted in its execution, well directed, and provides a certain level of nostalgia for the fans, while also doing what a good um, sequel/reboot/thingy, should do. Even the film's occasional predictable beats feel necessary, and regardless, there are still so many clever surprises, especially in the rather epic final twenty minutes. I like the franchise quite a bit, though I wasn't expecting to have as such a good time with this one. It catches you off guard, similar to how the original did for people in the 90s, and personally, I think this might be the best entry yet. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence, Bad Behavior, Satirical Stabbings, And The Worst That Nerdy Fandom Has To Offer.     

The 355                                              by James Eagan                                        ★ ½ out of ★★★★         

Image: " Double 00-Wowsers!"

So let me get this straight. We have ourselves a slick, decently budgeted action-thriller, with a handful of awesome women, from differentiating nationalities, offering some nice diversity and empowerment to deviate from your average action flick. Not to mention they're all really, really attractive? Sounds like a win for literally everyone here. If only decent direction and screenwriting found a way into that concoction..... 

"The 355" opens with tough and rebellious CIA agent, "Mason "Mace" Browne" (Jessica Chastain), as she and her partner/on and off again love interest, "Nick Fowler" (Sebastian Stan), track down a rogue DNI agent, "Luis Rojas" (Édgar Ramírez), who has in his possession a computer chip of sorts that allows the user to hack into any system and cause of end of the world havoc. Of course all kinds of terrorists, wannabe dictators, and supervillains, such as our big bad whose name I can't remember (Jason Flemyng), and to make matters worse, other agencies are also searching for the chip, leading to a botched mission, with Nick being taken out and Mace losing track of a German BND agent, "Marie Schmidt" (Diane Kruger). With new orders to take matters into her own hands, Mace partners up with her friend, MI6 agent, "Khadijah" (Lupita Nyong'o), to find the chip before it ends up in villainous hands, while Marie does that same by rescuing Colombian MSS psychiatrist, "Graciela" (Penélope Cruz), who now might be the only one who can find out where the chip is. Mace, Khadijah, Marie, and Graciela soon find themselves with a common enemy and a common mission, forced to all work together for the greater good, while a mysterious fifth agent, "Lin Mi Sheng" (Fan Bignbing), with her own agenda, soon entering the fray. 

Directed by Simon Kinberg (Known for writing most of the "X-Men" franchise, though sadly directed one of their lesser entries, "Dark Phoenix"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck (Who has a story credit for....."Catwoman"....ohhhhh), "The 355" has some good ingredients, that could make for a nice January diversion. Sadly, everything feels trapped in the kind of movie that one is used to seeing at this point in the year. Generic. Forgettable. Lackluster. All of these words are what come to mind. There is very little that's actually special about the film, from the shaky cam styled action, along with the very plain and plodding direction. The film's look is also inconsistent. Sometimes it's solid enough, with flashy sets and smooth costume design, though at other times, it definitely feels like something you'd see on Fox or ABC. There is a certain made for television like quality to the film, right down to the predictable origin story of sorts, which also seems more interested in establishing its premise, without actually getting to the point until the last act. 

These actresses are all much better than this material, though they still remain professional regardless of the script's shortcomings. Jessica "Still My Number One Crush" Chastain has the potential to be a kick-ass action star, but between this and 2020's also pretty lame "Ava", you desperately want to find something worthy of her talents. Diane Kruger is the most questionable of the group, supposedly being the hothead who doesn't play well with others, but more comes across as grossly incompetent. Lupita Nyong'o and Penélope Cruz have the most character of the main cast, with Cruz especially giving a performance too good for this movie. Fan Bingbing comes in very late into the narrative and her storyline doesn't add hardly anything at all (I feel that there was a much easier way to go about this, and you instead chose the most contrived path). Jason Flemyng is almost nonexistent as a villain, Édgar Ramírez is seemingly important until he's not, and Sebastian Stan is well....Do I really need to tell anyone what he's doing here? There is a convoluted mess of a plot here, that tries to have some humor in odd places, gets a little too bleak in others, and still suffers from the most stupid of action movie clichés. There is a moment where the villains let the heroines walk away for no reason despite having them at gunpoint, and yet, are still shocked that they return to annihilate them all during the climax. It's a bit of a baffling corner this movie writes itself into and it's almost commendable how it jumps right into plot holes without question.

Predictable from start to finish, "The 355" is such a disappointment considering what they could have had here if only the filmmakers had an inkling of originality. Lame, cookie cutter dialogue, with bland characters, and overly safe violence (I get you're PG-13, but come on. No gunshot is THAT clean). It's more dull and unremarkable than anything, though loses some extra points due to the cobbled together, rushed wrap up that seems to want to set up a franchise of sorts. Sadly, nothing about the film is interesting enough to warrant any sequels, leaving the film to fill up a release slot until we get to something bigger and better in the later year. Start 2022 off with something woefully mediocre, and it only raises expectations for what's to come. If the pandemic allows for it, of course. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Suggestive Content, Very Attractive, Badass Women Being Attractive and Badass, And A Plot Reveal I Saw Coming Months Ago. Again, Who Were They Trying To Fool With That One? 

Don't Look Up                                         by James Eagan                       ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: It's the end of the world as they know it. And they feel fine. 

Let's end 2021 wallowing in our own self-pity, questioning where exactly we all went wrong, and dreading our inevitable demises. I do that every day, but now there's a movie to perfectly encompass that unhealthy sense of cynicism. 

"Don't Look Up" opens with Michigan State astronomers, "Kate Dibiasky" (Jennifer Lawrence) and "Randall Mindy" (Leonardo DiCaprio), discovering a large comet, that will impact Earth in six months, causing a cataclysmic amount of damage, thus destroying all life as we know it. Along with the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, "Teddy Oglethorpe" (Rob Morgan), Randall and Kate go to the White House to deliver this incredibly important discovery to the president, "Jane Orlean" (Meryl Streep). Afters lots of waiting, delays, and getting charged for free snacks by an air force general (Paul Guilfoyle) for some reason, the scientists are finally able to present their findings to President Orlean and her buffoonish son/Chief of Staff, "Jason" (Jonah Hill), who basically just shrug it all off because they have more important things to worry about (Elections, political controversies, and it's just too boring). Out of desperation, Kate and Randall leak their findings to the press, going on cheesy daytime talk show, hosted by the never remotely serious "Brie Evantee" (Cate Blanchett) and "Jack Bremmer" (Tyler Perry), which actually makes things worse. Nobody is taking the end of the world seriously, leaving Kate and Randall dumbfounded, with time running out. After President Orlean finally decides to give attention to the comet (Mostly because she has to direct attention away from a sex scandal), things not so surprisingly don't actually get any better, with Randall becoming a celebrity and losing sight of the mission, Kate's frustration with human incompetence getting to her, while humanity continues to make one Hell of an argument that we really do need to be destroyed. It's for the greater good. 

Written and directed by Adam McKay ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy", "Step Brothers", "The Big Short", "Vice"), "Don't Look Up" has certainly riled up a lot of people, and it's not hard to see why. Of course those on the right are going to shun it as propaganda, especially since it's a thinly disguised allegory for climate change (And probably Covid too). People on the left too though seem to have had a bad reaction to it, saying that it's too preachy, smarmy, and is basically telling us what we all should already know. (There's also those people in the middle saying "Both sides are to blame, and I don't like to get political", as if they're above it all. I'm assuming they're mad too) This movie is basically aimed directly as those cynical, emotionally off, self-hating weirdos, who think that we've completely screwed ourselves beyond repair and that we're beyond saving, doomed to face a terrible, but thoroughly fitting demise. So yeah, of course I really liked it. The film feels like Adam McKay venting, targeting everything and everyone, from political parties, celeb culture, technological obsession, the bureaucratic process, the media game, and basically anything that makes us the complete morons that we are today. (Which is everything) None of this is anything particularly new and yeah, we always complain about it. However, if we all know about these issues and how they continue to affect us as a society, then why is it still an issue? Why have we not learned anything? 

The cast is pretty massive, packed with loads of familiar faces, with some even just appearing for glorified though still very welcome cameos. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly neurotic, and delivers possibly one of the greatest meltdowns in movie history. Jennifer Lawrence, who I've noticed I haven't seen in a while (And I missed dearly), works well with DiCaprio, but later ventures off into her own fitting character arc. An easy to detest Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and a wonderfully unusual Mark Rylance (as "Peter Isherwell", an eccentric tech billionaire, with plans to mine the comet for rare minerals), make for perfect antagonists, while it adds in the likes of a sweet natured Rob Morgan, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Melanie Lynskey (as "June", Randall's wife), Timothée Chalamet (as "Yule", a shoplifter that Kate takes a liking to, mostly due to the incoming apocalypse), Ron Perlman (as "Colonel Drask", a former colonel, known for questionable thoughts that are simply waved off as "Being from a different time"), and Ariana Grande (as "Riley Bina", a pop star, whose relationship status seems to have everyone's attention more than the comet). There's also quite a few fun cameos, as you would expect. 

Briskly paced and unrelenting, "Don't Look Up" is meant to ruffle up some feathers, and will accomplish so no matter what. It's certainly not for everyone, with the bleak outlook on how a situation such as this would go about, feeling mean spirited and as if it's only preaching to the choir. With that said though, the choir isn't exactly blameless in all of this either. There's nobody left to look down on if we all have had some kind of role to play. And, most importantly, it's just funny. Funny in a thoroughly upsetting sort of way for sure. Absurd in the right places, tragically desolate, and in your face with just how unsubtle Adam McKay has decided to be. Could I just be too pessimistic? Perhaps. Then again though, ask me that again come next election. I feel that this movie might age well, in the worst ways possible, for all the wrong reasons. Prove me otherwise. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Malevolent Memes, Psychotic Breakdowns, And Hardcore Old People Nudity. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth                      by James Eagan                          ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Let's just give him another Oscar nomination and get it over with.

When it comes to William Shakespeare, you can consider adapting his work these days to while be a sort of "Been there, done that" situation, but at least it's a guaranteed actors paradise. It takes a special talent to get this right, and for people to take it seriously, feeling the immense power that the source material itself is known for. So yeah, one half of the Coen Brothers, and some of the best actors working today probably have this covered. 

Based on the play by Shakespeare (On the off chance that you're not remotely educated), "The Tragedy of Macbeth" tells the story of the once noble Scottish lord, turned future tyrant, "Lord Macbeth" (Denzel Washington), the Thane of Glamis, as he along with his fellow lord, "Banquo" (Bertie Carvel), come across three witches (Kathryn Hunter), or "Weird Sisters". They claim that there will be good tidings in Macbeth's future, such as a new title and most importantly of all, that he will become king. After Macbeth is awarded the title of Thane of Cawdor, his ambitions start to grow. The same can be said for his wife, "Lady Macbeth" (Frances McDormand), who convinces her husband to take matters into his own hands to ensure that he becomes king. That means offing poor "King Duncan" (Brendan Glesson), allowing for Macbeth to manipulate his way into power. Of course though, he just can't stop there. Soon the Macbeths find themselves doing whatever it takes to seize total power, falling further and further into madness, while those who oppose them, such as the noble "Macduff" (Corey Hawkins), seek to end their reign of terror.

Written and directed by Joel Coen ("Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "True Grit", and many others), "The Tragedy of Macbeth" frames itself as a cinematic stage production, retaining the budget that normally comes with an "A24" film, though feeling like a grand, haunting spectacle that can only be experienced on the big, silver screen. Presented in black and white, with a more simple set design and a 4:3 aspect ratio, the film is crisp, dark and dreary, feeling like a lucid nightmare of sorts. It seems Joel Coen wants to go against certain previous adaptations (No grand battles. No need for a more modernized setting.), and return to the source material's more simplified roots. The film is almost like a horror movie, where there is this constant sense of unease or dread, making you feel as if you too might be going a little mad just like our main characters. It embraces the story's twisted tone, filling it with imagery that will enchant, entice, and just plain bewilder its audience. Sometimes all at once, and it's damn near magical (In an unnerving sort of way). 

One of the main selling points are the performances, and everyone shows up to bring their all, proving that great dialogue can stand the test of time, especially when it's delivered through spectacularly epic monologues. Denzel Washington looks like he's been waiting for a moment like this, and just tears into what he's given without mercy. It's the kind of performance that this kind of work calls for, commanding that you pay attention to every nuance, every movement, and every expression, as all it plays a part in the role. Frances McDormand is of course as brilliant as you'd expect her to be, relishing this very much demanding role and having a good time doing so. There is a collection of fantastic performances all around, from Alex Hassell (as "Ross", a messenger for Macbeth, with his own motivations), Harry Melling (as "Malcolm", the heir to Duncan's throne), Bertie Carvel, Moses Ingram (as "Lady Macduff", who gets a quiet, soon to be tragic scene), an entertainingly peculiar Stephen Root (as a drunkard, though still eccentrically eloquent porter), and a fascinatingly twisted (Sometimes literally) Kathryn Hunter. A major scene-stealer ends up being Corey Hawkins, who I always appreciated as an actor, but I really had no idea had this kind of screen power. 

"The Tragedy of Macbeth" tells a story that you've either read at some point in high school, have seen it adapted in some way, or even just seen parodied, the film has its own distinct way of conveying that classic tale. A visual masterpiece for sure, featuring spellbinding performances and a subtle sense of brutality. It feels like this was what was envisioned within William Shakespeare's head when he first wrote the play. A feverish, unrelentingly unearthly descent into derangement. It's beautiful, terrifying, and gives one the same captivating experience of the most prestigious theater sound stage, except you know, in the grandest of cinemas. 4 Stars. Rated R For Shocking Violence, Human Thesauruses, And Crazy Contortion. 

The Matrix Resurrections                           by James Eagan                        ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So, in this reality, are there any transmissible viruses we should know about?" 

After all these years, I had never actually seen any of the "Matrix" movies until a little over a month ago. Maybe that's a good thing, because after going on a binge of the franchise, I got to look at them with fresh eyes. I never saw the brilliance that others did with the original (Though there were always hints of something special), and never understood the hate for the sequels considering that they had some of the same flaws as the first. Overall to me, they were big, bombastic, occasionally smart, rather silly, and exceptionally fun blockbusters, and it shouldn't be too surprising that this newest and shiniest entry is exactly that. Flaws and all. 

Years after the original "Matrix" trilogy, "The Matrix Resurrections" opens with the One, "Neo"....or in this case, "Thomas Anderson" (Keanu Reeves), is living a rather humdrum life as a famous game designer, years after the release of his cutting edge "Matrix" video game series. Mr. Anderson has been going through a stressful time, plagued by strange images of a past he's sure he's lived, dealing with his snarky business partner, "Smith" (Jonathan Groff), pining for a woman that he's never met named "Trinity", I mean, "Tiffany" (Carrie--Anne Moss), seeing a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), and taking loads of blue pills to keep himself in line. Mr. Anderson is then confronted by the white rabbit tattoo wearing "Bugs" (Jessica Henwick) and a new "Morpheus" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who explain that he's once again living a lie inside this much more deadly form of The Matrix, with the war with the Machines having become much more complicated in recent years. Mr. Anderson, once again becoming Neo, has to unite the resistance against a much more powerful threat, while hoping to be reunited with Trinity. Weird how relatively short that plot description is compared to how complicated it later gets. That's how you know it's a "Matrix" movie. 

Directed by the returning Lana Wachowski, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon, "The Matrix Resurrections" doesn't waste time with those philosophical questions meant to both enlighten and intentionally befuddle. It's as frustrating and preposterous as ever, and yet, boy is it the stuff that movie theaters are made of. The movie retains the insanely imaginative and excessively choreographed action that you've come to expect, and these wild sequences are like elaborate, violent dances, always happening in the most unconventional of places. There are also some captivating ideas that show signs of the franchise growing and leaving itself open for more, such as some slight meta-commentary on the franchise itself, along with an evolutionary state for the machines and the programs within the Matrix (Such as zombie-like bots that are randomly activated to tear apart anyone in sight). The dialogue though, as usual, can be a bit too much at times. Sure there's some humor sprinkled in there (And it works more than it doesn't), but it's so overwritten in parts that it can become hard to follow. A good portion of the second act is when the film gets the most confusing, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was straight up lost in parts. However, none of that is at all shocking considering all the previous films would do that to, and regardless, I still wanted to go along for the ride. 

Keanu Reeves really brings his A-Game here, saying so much with a simple expression, and just proving how great an actor he can be in the right role. This movie also features some of the best chemistry between him and an equally excellent Carrie-Anne Moss, which was a relationship I could never fully get into before until now. They don't even share too many scenes together, though you can see the sparks between the characters and how comfortable the two actors are. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is solid, though doesn't quite reach the same level of gravitas that Laurence Fishburne was able to achieve, while Jessica Henwick is a great new addition to the cast of characters. While it's hard to top Hugo Weaving's scene-stealing performance, Jonathan Groff is still a delight and doesn't waste any time hogging the spotlight, while Neil Patrick Harris looks like he's having a damn good time smarming it up. There are quite a few other returning actors and characters, such as Jade Pinkett Smith (as "Niobe", who has now become a general for the human resistance) in old woman makeup, though some work better than others. Um, who exactly was clamoring for the return of Lambert Wilson (as "The Merovingian", who has become a deranged hobo since the last film for some reason)? Of course there are things that don't add up, no matter how hard the film tries to claim that they do. Still though, that's kind of part of the charm of these movies.

"The Matrix Resurrections" has exhilarating action, some memorable characters, and more than a few rather though provoking themes, along with the typical mumbo jumbo and silliness that comes with it. It's like watching a really cool video game, where the logistics aren't what's really important, but rather the insane, admittedly convoluted road that was taken to get there. It's got nothing on more successful, more mature blockbusters (Seen "Spider-Man: No Way Home" again already? Well, you should!), but it's got the kind of popcorn thrills that one wouldn't mind experiencing again. So long as you take the right pill, that is. 3 Stars. Rated R For Violence And Language, Though It's Pretty Tame By R Rating Standards. Like An Edgy PG-13.           

Sing 2                                                  by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Pigs can stay for Christmas dinner....The rest of you can go. 

Maybe it's the holiday spirit finding its way into my body, or I could just be in a really good mood lately. I'm going to level with everyone and admit that this movie isn't anything particularly special, original, and it sure as heck has nothing on some of this year's far superior animated films. I know this. You know this. Even the filmmakers know this. We all know what this is. It just sets out to be something simple and fun for every age, and yeah, I had some. In fact, I had a lot of it. 

"Sing 2" follows up with the characters from the first one, with showman koala, "Buster Moon" (Matthew McConaughey), having his colorful crew, consisting of singing mother pig, "Rosita" (Reese Witherspoon), teenage pianist gorilla, "Johnny" (Taron Egerton), shy singing elephant, "Meena" (Tori Kelly), and the overly excitable pig, "Gunter" (Nick Kroll), putting on a show at their local theater to impress snooty dog talent scout "Suki" (Chelsea Peretti). Suki however, thinks that Buster's show is cute for the kids, but overall bland and therefore bad (Is this meta commentary? This feels like meta commentary of some kind). Luckily, Buster is a determined little koala, who brings his crew, along with punk rock porcupine, "Ash" (Scarlett Johansson) and Buster's senile iguana assistant, "Miss Crawly" (Garth Jennings), to travel to  "Redshore City" (Think Vegas for animals), where they perform for wolf entertainment mogul/possible mobster, "Jimmy Crystal" (Bobby Cannavale), who only shows interest when Gunter suggests a wildly imaginative space-opera musical, featuring songs by the world famous lion, "Clay Calloway" (Bono), who vanished from the public eye, living in solitude after the death of his wife. Buster, in a moment of desperation, lies to Crystal by saying that he can actually get Calloway to be a part of the show. Crystal gives Buster and his crew everything they need to get the show running, though assures Buster that if he fails to live up to expectations that he'll throw him off the roof (Something Crystal may or may not mean literally). 

Of course the show goes wildly wrong instantly. Rosita is too scared to perform the show's biggest stunt, leading to her role being replaced by Crystal's spoiled daughter, "Porsha" (Halsey), who sure can sing, but sure can't act. Johnny is intimidated by his nightmarish monkey dance instructor, "Klaus Kickenklober" (Adam Buxton), so instead searching for dance lessons from local lynx street dancer, "Nooshy" (Letitia Wright). Meena faces some stage fright having to share a romantic number with ego-centric singing yak, "Darius" (Eric André), though she has formed a crush on another local elephant, "Alfonso" (Pharrell). Not to mention Gunter hasn't even figured out how the show is even supposed to end despite production already starting. Hardest of all is Buster tracking down and finding a way to convince Claw Calloway, who has sunk into depression, to come out of retirement, with Ash possibly being the only one who can convince him. With the show (And Buster's life) on the line, our heroes are once more left to pull everything together at the last minute in hopes of furthering their dreams. 

Written and directed by Garth Jennings (Returning from the first film), and from "Illumination" (The ones with the "Minions", in case you somehow forgot), "Sing 2" isn't too much different from the first film. It's a safe, by the numbers story, with stock characters, pop songs used whenever the plot demanded, and few surprises. The first film was certainly a good time (And yeah, it obviously made a decent amount of money), but nothing that I could see too many people clamoring for a continuation of. It worked for what it was and not much else, and for something that lacks many surprises, the biggest ends up being just how much of a blast this one is. It's not exactly grand or anything all that unique, though that's not the point. Much like its lead characters, it gets by on a charming sense of optimism and child-like wonder, which no matter how much I tried to resist, brought a smile to my face. The animation is bouncy, full of colors, and only gets more showstopping as the film progresses. There are a few delightful song choices (And some "U2" thrown in there, so that's an automatic recommendation), and it leads to some admittedly solid musical sequences, especially towards the end. The big finale is a joy to watch, to the point that I'd actually see a show like this being a massive success. What the film really needs to get right is the heart and humor, and it's very sweet natured. With that said, most of all, it's actually very funny. There's a lot of well timed jokes and slapstick, which should get a reaction out of both the kids and the adults. 

These aren't the deepest of characters, though they are too dang likable, even when some of them feel like obligated returns. An unrecognizable and wonderfully optimistic Matthew McConaughey leads a rather inspired ensemble, which also includes solid voicework from Reese Witherspoon, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, and Letitia Wright. Some standouts include Nick Kroll, Halsey, a hilarious Eric André, an uncredited (And bizarrely amusing) Spike Jonze (as "Jerry", Crystal's coat toady), and actually Garth Jenning's Miss Crawly (Who gets some of the film's biggest laughs). Bobby Cannavale makes for an amusing and rather frightening villain (Whose vicious nature kind of caught me off guard), and the subplot between Scarlett Johansson and a terrific Bono is very heartwarming. In fact, the emotion is a lot more real than a movie like this would normally allow for. 

Making for one of Illumination's more memorable films, "Sing 2" isn't complicated, doesn't offer much unpredictability, and is certainly nothing compared to say, Disney's "Encanto". Again though, none of this is news to anyone. The movie isn't going for awards season. It's going for the heart, setting out to make the family laugh, and offer an imaginative form of entertainment. Lighthearted amusement all around, and it made even the cynical film critic in me wanna join in the merrymaking. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Goofy Humor, Literal Eye Popping Visuals, And Attempted Homicide.....That's Actually Not A Joke. 

The King's Man                                  by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Yes, this really is based on a true story. Sort of. Very Loosely based."

I really have to ask. Is Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass", "X-Men: First Class", "Kingsman: The Secret Service", along with its sequel "The Golden Circle") doing okay? I'm honestly a little worried. He may be a bit nutty.

Serving as a prequel to the "Kingsman" franchise, "The King's Man" follows respectable gentleman, "Orlando Oxford" (Ralph Fiennes), who after the death of his wife, has become determined to protect his son, "Conrad" (Harris Dickinson), at all costs, mostly by keeping him out of current political affairs that have begun to take deadly turns. As a favor to a friend, the renowned British officer, "Herbert Kitchener" (Charles Dance), Orlando and Conrad visit Austria to investigate some suspicious activity, where they witness the assassination of "Archduke Franza Ferdinand" at the hands of "Gavrilo Princip" (Joel Basman). It turns out that Princip is part of a flock of dastardly villains working behind the scenes, including German advisor, "Erik Jan Hanussen" (Daniel Brühl), exotic dancer and spy, "Mata Hari" (Valerie Pachner), and the exceedingly vicious/always horny, "Grigori Rasputin" (Rhys Ifans). 

The baddies are led by a vile, crass, and always shrouded in shadow mastermind referred to as "The Shepherd", who plots to manipulate world leaders/feuding cousins, "King George" (Tom Hollander), "Kaiser Wilhelm" (Tom Hollander again), and "Tsar Nicholas" (Tom Hollander once more), into a great world war, that will decimate anyone caught in the crossfire. Conrad wishes to fight for his country, but Orlando offers a more refined alternative. Orlando brings his son into his own little behind the scenes organization, which includes his skilled butler, "Shola" (Djimon Hounsou), and highly intelligent nanny, "Polly" (Gemma Arterton), who will work in secret to prevent the world from falling into chaos. With their distinguished fighting prowess, eyes for espionage, and always remembering to retain their manners, this group will combat the nefarious villains, save the world from destruction, and become the tailor shop hidden, well dressed heroes that we know them to be today. 

Directed once again by Matthew Vaughn (Who also co-wrote the film with Karl Gajdusek) and based on the comic "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, "The King's Man" could possibly be one of the most baffling movies I've seen all year. The film forgoes some of the traditional aspects of the franchise, such as the goofy James Bond-esque gadgetry, the comical storylines, and almost all of the humor, in favor of a legit and rather dark war epic......that still features over the top supervillains, quirky dialogue, and loads of horrifically bloody violence. It's a jarring mix of ideas and themes that feel out of place compared to where the series' roots began. What's even more perplexing is that with everything considered, it's all shockingly well done for the most part. It's a beautifully directed film, where at times the drama does kind of hit hard and the action is as you would expect, gloriously stylized and even a little mesmerizing. (The franchise has always been known for crazy, constantly moving action setpieces) There's a delightfully unhinged battle against a dancing Rasputin, along with a admittedly frightening, down and dirty war scene involving the front lines in the trenches. All of this is so well directed and even a little captivating. It's also really confusing, especially when the film will cut back to the maniacal machinations going on behind the war or some silly exposition. The film is still plenty goofy, yet the film takes itself about 85% seriously, and while I can see how that's meant to be the joke, I can also see how one could look at the film as just violent, inconsistent trash. 

I feel that this film, unlike the first two, doesn't quite have as many characters that stand out as much as they should. Ralph Fiennes is an exception, and he's still brilliant in the film. Sophisticated, charming, and brutally badass when the time comes, Fiennes is perfectly cast and shows that he's not only a great actor, but one Hell of an action star as well. Our other heroes are less memorable. Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Arterton are all very good in the film, though most of the time don't stand out all that much (The latter two especially). The heroes feel bland by comparison to the villains, which is something this franchise has always excelled at (Think James Bond villains, except on crack). Rhys Ifans is a deranged, scenery chewing joy (And he looks like he's just relishing every minute of it), Daniel Brühl is underutulized though he sneers his way through the film with gusto, and Tom Hollander's Wilhelm is amusingly buffoonish. (It's also a lot of fun to see how such cartoonish supervillains are manipulating world history to suit their needs) It's not too difficult to figure out who our true big bad is (Especially when you look at the full cast), but he still makes for a great, cackingly weird baddie and it's quite a sight to see this actor getting to go completely off the rails. 

A befuddling mix of "1917", with "G.I. Joe", with a bit of "Austin Powers", "The King's Man" is a mess, though a wildly entertaining one. It's a film that I can't really completely figure out who I could possibly recommend it to. Maybe to some of the more hardcore fans of the franchise, although those who prefer the off-kilter humor could be left disappointed. Not to mention those who aren't already fans are probably going to be thoroughly detested by this. I'm not sure how much of this actually works, yet it's certainly got that madcap sense of fun that we're accustomed to. It's different, and I gotta give Matthew Vaughn credit for committing to it, even if he may have lost his marbles in the process. (Also, stick around for one of the most inexplicably peculiar post credits scene put to film) 3 Stars. Rated R For Proper Foul Language, Proper Gruesome Violence, And Proper Manners. 

Nightmare Alley                                    by James Eagan                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "No....We just can't compete with Spider Man....I know it."

It's funny how in "Spider-Man: No Way Home", Peter Parker goes out of his way to avoid having to kill people, when he went and brutally murdered every other movie playing in theaters right now. I know that none of this is exactly surprising but seeing those box office numbers was still pretty shocking (Poor "West Side Story"). Granted, when your new release choices are epic Spider-Man crossover versus seeing Bradley Cooper screw a lot of people (Literally and metaphorically), it's already a given. Still though, nothing else even made double digits this week. Barely $3 million? Yikes! 

Based on the book by William Lindsay Gresham (Which was previously adapted back in 1947), "Nightmare Alley" follows a drifter, "Stanton Carlisle" (Bradley Cooper), referred to as "Stan", who takes a job as a carny at a shady carnival, run by charismatic con man, "Clement Hoately" (Willem Dafoe). Stan works with Hoately to capture poor, homeless guys to force into performing as a geek (Not that kind of geek), learns the art of the psychic clairvoyance act from the drunkard "Pete" (David Strathairn) while fooling around with his wife, "Zeena" (Toni Collette), and trying to get with shy performer, "Molly" (Rooney Mara), who he later marries. Years later after learning all he needs to learn from Pete, Stan becomes a successful psychic act, performing for the rich and conning the Hell out of them. Stan becomes infatuated with seductive psychologist, "Lilith Ritter" (Cate Blanchett), working with her to pull fast ones over the elite. However, when Stan becomes involved with the powerful, though questionable "Ezra Grindle" (Richard Jenkins), he finds himself digging himself deeper and deeper into his own grave. 

Directed (And co-written with Kim Morgan) by Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth", "Hellboy", "The Shape of Water"), "Nightmare Alley" is dark and twisted, just as a love letter to old fashioned film noir should be. It's really quite cool to see this style of thriller  again, considering how few and far between they are these days (And not to mention, the closest in recent memory was early this year's thoroughly meh "Reminiscence"). Now there's a part of me after seeing this movie that fairly understands why we really don't see stuff like this anymore, but it's not to say that there isn't plenty to appreciate. One thing being how much you can tell Guillermo del Toro is in love with every beautifully crafted frame. It's a stunning looking movie, with impeccable set design and a certain moody atmosphere that del Toro excels at. It's visually striking, like a colorfully twisted children's book, except with more sleaze and violence. The movie does however feel a little too enamored with itself when it comes to the look, because the slow pace makes the two and a half hour runtime take quite a bit longer than it should (Been a lot of those lately). Some of this feels that way because of how the story is told (With the main plot not coming into play into about halfway through) and a whole lot of details that the film stops to focus on. It's all fascinating and not without its captivating moments, but there are times when you kind of want to pause it and get back to it later. 

Bradley Cooper is suitably slimy, toeing the line between complicated villain protagonist to just straight up full blown villain. He does an excellent job seeming like he could be decent, before something more immoral starts to seep out. Cate Blanchett is all kinds of dastardly and well, preposterously hot too at the same time. (You can just tell she is having a great time) Richard Jenkins and Rooney Mara are both fantastic, while the film limits the roles of others like Toni Colette, Ron Perlman (as "Bruno", a strongman who watches over Molly), David Strathairn, and a wonderfully nasty Willem Dafoe, along with a few other recognizable faces. However, everyone is brilliant in the film, even when the characters feel as if they're missing a little extra bit of development. Some of that may just be the story structure, but you do feel it especially the more you think about it. 

"Nightmare Alley" does lose some of its luster upon further meditation. Sometimes the screenplay and the tone don't gel the way it should, and it's hard to tell if that's just the genre being something dated or just the film itself just being a little disjointed. There is plenty to appreciate regardless. It's still a tense, very well acted thriller, that offers quite a few demented surprises especially once we reach the rather grisly last act. It's the kind of macabre that Guillermo del Toro relishes and only he can bring to the screen for the right audience. Even when that audience is you know, busy at "Spider-Man" right now. You can feel the morbid love, and that's what matters. 3 Stars. Rated R For Dark Adult Content, Heavy Subject Matter, And For Taking The Term "Knocking Someone's Block Off" To A Gory New Level. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home                                                                                          by James Eagan                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "There are Trolls down there, spoiling every detail about my new film....These monsters must be stopped!"

Let's all take a moment to appreciate where we are right now, how we got here, and just comprehend what exactly is happening right now. First of all, a lot of us (Me especially) didn't even think this movie could possibly exist. Up until a few months ago, aside from the onslaughts of rumors and supposedly leaked information, which we all can't exactly take completely seriously half the time anyways, we had nothing to go on. Now we're finally here, and what we the fans are about to witness, this almost doesn't feel real. I'm going to need to leave a lot out of this review, because unlike "Variety", I know how to chill the f*ck out. All I can truly reveal to you guys is that this is the "Spider-Man" movie you've always dreamed of. Seriously, it's not going to get much better than this. 

Following the events of 2019's "Spider-Man: Far From Home", "Spider-Man: No Way Home" opens seconds after with the amazing friendly neighborhood, teenage web-slinger, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland), getting his identity exposed (Along with being framed for murder and terrorism) by the deceased supervillain, "Mysterio" (Previously played by Jake Gyllenhaal). His name and face has been blasted all over New York City and the rest of the world courtesy of the "Daily Bugle", run by the Spider-Man hating "J. Jonah Jameson" (J. K. Simmons). Getting out of the murder accusations aren't so difficult. The bigger issue is that Peter has come to realize that not only has his outing destroyed his life, but also those around him, such as his aunt, "May" (Marisa Tomei), his best friend/guy in the chair, "Ned Leeds" (Jacob Batalon), and his girlfriend, "Michelle Jones-Watson" (Zendaya), or "MJ" for short. To make matters worse, Peter's controversy has dashed his, Ned's, and MJ's chances for college. Out of desperation, Peter turns to the only person he knows that might possibly be able to fix everything, the powerful wizard "Dr. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange may not be able to change what's happened (No more Time Stone after all. See "Avengers: Endgame" for details), but he offers a solution, the use his magic to rewrite the memories of everyone in the world so that they forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Although Strange's partner/the current Sorcerer Supreme, "Wong" (A quick, but welcome Benedict Wong cameo), warns about the possible consequences. 

Sadly, Peter doesn't consider what extra details he wants to add in until the spell until partway through, resulting in a little magical mishap. Everything at first appears normal, until Peter is randomly attacked by an unknown (But familiar to us), mechanical tentacled assailant, "Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus" (Alfred Molina, reprising the role from "Spider-Man 2"). Turns out the ruined spell brought in a collection of Spider-Man villains from other universes, such as the electrically charged "Max Dillon/Electro" (Jamie Foxx, returning from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"), the reptilian "Curt Connors/Lizard" (Rhys Ifans, from "The Amazing Spider-Man"), the living sandstorm criminal "Flint Marko/Sandman" (Thomas Haden Church, from "Spider-Man 3"), and most deadly of all, the maniacal "Norman Osborn/Green Goblin" (Willem Dafoe, returning from the original 2002 "Spider-Man"). The mere existence of these mulitversal baddies has put all of reality into severe jeopardy, and Doctor Strange has instructed Peter, who brings along Ned and MJ, to track them down and capture them, while he looks for a way to send them back to their respective universes. However, when he soon discovers what dark fates await these villains, Peter cant find himself able to go through it and look for an alternative way of saving the multiverse. This not only puts him at odds with Doctor Strange, yet also causes Peter to face the fateful consequences and sacrifices that come with being a hero.   

Directed once again by Jon Watts, along with returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers ("The LEGO Batman Movie", "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), "Spider-Man: No Way Home" feels like the culmination in not just the trilogy set in the still growing and glowing "Marvel Cinematic Universe", but also the culmination in decades of superhero/comic book filmmaking. Similar to 2018's animated masterpiece "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse", there are loads of fan service, references, and multiversal madness. All of which could be a complete narrative disaster, leaving the uninitiated lost in all the chaos. It could also easily become excessive and overly reliant on appeasing the fanbase at the expense of itself. I'm happy to report that none of that happens. With great direction and skillful writing, the film keeps its focus, never getting lost in the wild whirlpool of cinematic callbacks. In fact, the film stands on its own as a conclusion to this trilogy, along with a hint at the infinite possibilities to come. 

Like the first two films, Watts retains the film's low stakes and small scale setting, but that's only at first. The screenplay is still loaded with that Marvel charm and humor, which makes the characters so endearing and likable, feeling light and breezy for only the first act. The film slowly starts to unravel something a bit heavier about its lead character and what he's meant to stand for, heading into completely brand new territory with a compelling and mature look into a more complicated moral dilemma. The film gets more serious as the tone gets darker. In some ways, this may be the darkest of the "Spider-Man" films, due to how the filmmakers compliment what's come before it and tweaks it in unique ways. It also addresses a different look into the complications of a secret identity, seeing how at some point, it more becomes a source of ridicule for propaganda based media, those who just want to use it for their own benefit, and as usual, something that people just lose interest in due to how unremarkable it all now seems (One of the things I love best about the MCU is how real they've made everything feel, complete with how the world no longer seems too fazed by superhero antics). This all leads to a lot of good laughs as expected, but also some truly heartwrenching (And surprisingly all too real) drama. It feels like this is the first of the live-action "Spider-Man" movies to fully grasp the more of the tragedy that comes with this character than ever before, and it feels that everything from the previous films was actually leading up to this all along. 

The film also looks spectacular, though again, when it comes to Marvel, it's hard to even praise that anymore since we're so used to it by now. It's a lot of grand scale effects at work here, which look lively. Where the film's visuals truly excel though are when it comes to the elaborate action sequences, which throw everything than can possibly be thrown in. There's an especially jaw dropping sequence involving Peter and Strange's tussle within the trippy, Inception-esque Mirror Dimension, which in IMAX, completely blows your mind. I can't even get into some of the more insane moments once we reach the third act, which even then, never forgets how human the film's characters are and in the end, that's what sells the film's heart. All the action and fan service is great and all, and yet, if the characters aren't strong enough, this entire ordeal would have felt false. 

Tom Holland IS Spider-Man to me as of right now. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful iterations that have come before him (Also counting the instant classic PS4 game). However, I feel that he's at this point fully encompassed everything that I've always loved about the titular spider guy. He's funny and full of quips, smart yet so naive and prone to silly mistakes, and so kind-natured almost to a fault. Holland also has amazing chemistry with everyone around him, especially Zendaya (Which yeah, you could tell they are dating in real life even if they hadn't said anything), who is quite adorable, charming, and contributes more than most superhero love interests. Benedict Cumberbatch damn near steals a good chunk of the film, being a great foil to our hero and even reminding the audience about his character's mostly unseen vulnerability. There are some excellent (And still very important) supporting roles for Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, and Jon Favreau (as "Happy Hogan", who still has the hots for Aunt May), who are all characters that you just like seeing and continuously wish to follow. There are quite a few villains and the film has to juggle some screentime between them, though somehow is able to give them their own definitive role without making the rest of the story feel like a mess. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church get the least important roles (Though are both plenty of fun regardless), while Jamie Foxx gets to add a lot more personality to the once divisive baddie, and Alfred Molina once again reminds us why his incarnation of the character is so remembered. Willem Dafoe is once again totally brilliant, taking full command of the scenery, and even adding in a little extra depth than what we've previously seen before (Also, it's nice that the filmmakers realized that he's much scarier without that mask on. Much, much scarier!). It's also very cathartic to have J. K. Simmons back, because he just makes everything better. 

There is so much about "Spider-Man: No Way Home" to get into, and so much that I can't tell you. It would be the ultimate disservice to let you know any more. The film is exactly the kind of cinematic fun that packed movie theaters are made for, and regardless of that, it knows that it's going to have to have something a little more if it's going to stand out or justify its existence. It goes to much more mature places, feeling like the conclusion to the ultimate coming of age story, that's full of heart, humor, and something a little darker. The film has everything that we love most about Spider-Man himself, such as the silly wit, the heroics, and the tragedy, which hits you a lot harder than you would expect. (I swear, I heard grown men sniffling in this auditorium!) Spectacular. Sensational. Superior. Amazing. Pretty much all of the words that would best describe it. One of the Spider's best. One of Marvel's best. It's one of the best movies of the year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Web-Slinging Action, With Great Power Comes Great Depression, And The Pain It Will Cause Your Face To Suffer From All Of The Excessive Smiling. Trust Me. You'll Be Doing That A Lot.   

West Side Story                                 by James Eagan                               ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Now we settle this....Through the power of dance!"

We're going through a sort of Musical Renaissance right now, where my top personal ten movies of the year (At least for right now. Still got a few weeks left in 2021) has quite a few musicals duking it out for a spot on there. They now have no choice but to all get behind this one. Look guys. It's Spielberg, doing a classic story, with the ultimate crew of talented people, and the title for the "Best Movie of 2021" may have just been coveted. (Disclaimer: If something else just so happens to pop up before the year ends to take that spot, this portion of the review should be considered in need of an update. But I probably won't come back and change it because I'm lazy.)  

Based on the 1957 musical created by the late Arthur Laurents, the late Leonard Bernstein, the late Jerome Robbins, and the recently taken from us Stephen Sondheim (As well as the 1961 adaptation directed by both Robbins and Robert Wise), "West Side Story" is set in 1950s New York City, right in the middle of a gang war between "The Jets" (Who are made up of the white working class) and "The Sharks" (Who are made up of struggling Puerto Ricans). The leader of the Jets, "Riff" (Mike Faist), has a distrust of his changing neighborhood, while the leader of the Sharks, "Bernardo" (David Alvarez), sees nothing but racism everywhere he goes, with their feud starting to further escalate. While at a dance, where the Jets plan to challenge the Sharks to a rumble (Big fight to determine who gets complete control of the territory, despite the fact that it's destined to be bulldozed over for the rich and elite), Bernardo's sister, "María" (Rachel Zegler), takes an instant liking to the recently released from prison (But really wanting to start fresh and avoid any kind of conflict) "Tony" (Ansel Elgort). It's love at first sight, but the couple's feelings for give the rival gangs yet another excuse for the upcoming rumble. All the hatred, bigotry, and fear threatens to tear everything apart, with Tony and María caught directly in the middle, and if you know the story (Or if you just know "Romeo & Juliet"), this is going to be an inspiring, happy, crowdpleasing tale that's totally going to end well......Yeah......Happily ever after.....Right?......R-Right?

Directed by freakin Steven Spielberg (You know the guy. I don't need to list that filmography), with a screenplay by Tony Kushner ("Lincoln"), "West Side Story" shouldn't work, or at least, shouldn't necessarily be anything special. I may have never gotten around to seeing the 1961 film (And obviously I've never seen any rendition of the musical), but it's a story that everybody knows in some capacity. It's also one that's so beloved by many critics and audiences. You're left wondering what the point is, and pretty early on, Spielberg lets you know that he has a new vision to bring to the screen, even if you know where it's all going. The film is a brilliant contrast between light and dark, being joyful, colorful, and whimsically romantic, before stepping into more grim, dirty, and woefully tragic territory. It's like the harsh reality of the world just pops up to ruthlessly shiv what first appears as a cheerful romance. It's a credit too to the source material, which is so relevant (And probably always will be) and hits so hard, where you are left frustrated at how moronic many of the characters are acting, and yet, you can totally see this entire ordeal happening. (In ways, it probably already has) The screenplay handles it so well, and knows how to lull you into a state of bliss so that you're unprepared for when the sh*t goes down. Thankfully, the film isn't all gloom and doom. It's no surprise that Spielberg you know, can direct a film beautifully and quite possibly get himself another Oscar nomination out of it. Somehow though, I'm still blown away by what he does here. It's so grand and epic, yet small scaled and even a little claustrophobic. You're left in awe of the musical and dance numbers, in which each and every single one is memorable, and you can see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them. (They're all great, though the wonderfully toe-tapping "America" and the ultra powerful "A Boy Like That" really are something magical)

The film also gathers a rather unconventional ensemble, filled with standouts both big and small. We should probably address the Elgort in the room first though. Taking out the more real life questionable activities that he may or may not have done (He probably did though. That tends to be the case usually), Ansel Elgort is still good in the film, though could be seen as the weakest link. He does a solid job regardless and some of it is because he's likely the least interesting of the characters. It's mostly because everyone else is just too amazing by comparison. Ariana DeBose is commanding in her role, enveloping the screen with her natural onscreen strength. David Alvarez and Mike Faist (Both of which could have so easily have gone wrong, or could be brought down to simple, one dimensional villains), are wonderfully complex and even with their antagonistic flaws, there is something that you like about them. You see why people gravitate towards them, and at least understand how they have found themselves almost intentionally trapped in a deadly situation, but never quite grasping the severity of it until it's too late. Some excellent supporting parts from Corey Stoll (as "Lieutenant Schrank", and his terrifying head of hair), Josh Andrés Rivera (as "Chino", María's would be love interest), and a returning Rita Moreno (as "Valentina", Tony's boss and wise, mentoring figure), just steals the spotlight as she rightfully should. Some actors and actresses appear in small capacities, yet leave their mark. However, the real star of the film is newcomer Rachel Zegler (In her first ever film appearance and who also just so happened to have played María once before at in a school production at the Bergen Performing Arts Center). Zegler is a real life Disney princess, flawlessly radiant, and thoroughly captivating. Whether she's singing, dancing, or otherwise, you can't take your eyes off of her whenever she's onscreen. I can't stress enough how magnetic Zegler really is, to the point where she actually brought me to tears. Actual tears. (Yeah, I'm man enough to admit it!)

"West Side Story" could quite possibly be one of the best musicals that I've seen in theater. It's glorious filmed, with lively songs and dance numbers, a tremendous cast worthy of award appreciation (Rachel Zegler just broke my heart. Completely shattered it), and timeless themes of significance that I really wish people today would take to heart. You can feel the passion that went into this, and you become enthralled by it. It mixes the old, with the new, without ever feeling the need to alienate anyone. (And not to mention, at over two and a half hours, you never feel it) A spellbinding experience that may have been seen before, but stands as its own masterpiece. Spielberg hits it out of the park, and afterwards, you feel ashamed for ever really doubting him. It's gonna be a real challenge to top this one. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Gang Violence, Doomed Romances, Menacing Snapping Of The Fingers, And Corey Stoll's Hair. (I Can't Be The Only One Terrified. That Man Must Always Be Bald!) 

Tick, Tick... Boom!                              by James Eagan                              ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'll order the Oscar nomination, please!"

I'm a little late on this one, considering it's been on Netflix for almost a month now. It would almost seem unnecessary to do a review of it by this point. However, whenever I give a film my highest rating, I just gotta full duty to make sure these films get the acknowledgement that all great films are in dire need of. I would be a bad critic if I didn't bug you annoyingly to see a movie that you would likely just ignore without me. Fear not! I'm here for you! Ok, that was a little theatrical, but it fits the film.

Based on the semi-autobiographical stage musical of the same name by the late Jonathan Larson, "Tick, Tick... Boom!" follows "Jonathan Larson" (Andrew Gardfield) himself, who at this point is a struggling aspiring writer, who has been working on his passion project, an epic musical rock opera called "Superbia", for longer than he had ever wished to. With his thirtieth birthday coming up (And all the existential dread that comes with it), Jonathan tries to balance out his commitment to making his dream a reality, along with his diner job, his relationship with his soon to be leaving girlfriend, "Susan" (Alexandra Shipp), his more successful best friend, "Michael" (Robin de Jesús), and the fear that he may in fact be working hard for nothing. Tasked to come up with one more winning musical number for his upcoming workshop, suggested by his idol, "Stephen Sondheim" (Bradley Whitford), Jonathan's efforts at keeping his life in check become more and more jaded, especially with his growing anxiety (Described in the form of a constant ticking sound) further threatening to bring everything crashing down. 

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Seriously, can that man like settle down and rest? No normal, sane person can constantly be this busy!), "Tick, Tick,... Boom!" continues 2021's trend of having some great musicals, that Lin-Manuel Miranda has diabolically unleashed on now both the Broadway and theater-going public. Miranda shows that he has a rather unique way of direction, which gives off the sensation that one would see in a Broadway musical, such as brief intercut narrations sequences and gorgeously put together musical numbers that actual rival earlier this year's "In The Heights" (Something I already gave immense praise for). These are some glorious showstoppers, that range from delightful and funny to powerful and emotional. There's a lot of pain in the film, and it's the kind that hits any aspiring writer where it hurts. The film doesn't hold back in how draining the creative process can be, and how it just doesn't always seem that it's even going anywhere. The screenplay by Steven Levenson ("Dear Evan Hansen". Obviously, this is the superior film right here), juggles a sense of humor, along with tense, very real themes that are handled respectfully. It leads to a few moments that pull at your heart, without being too overly saturated in sentimentality. 

Andrew Garfield shows to be one of those multi-talented actors, with so much more range than I think people give him credit for. He gives the real life subject a soul, to go with the eventual tragedy. We see the brilliance and the joy that accompanied him, along with the flaws for good measure. Still though, even when he makes mistakes, you can see the reasoning behind it and deep down, you do wonder how often you've probably done the same whether it be for your career or just for a personal dream. I also had no idea he could sing. (Spider-Man can sing. Who knew?) Robin de Jesús is also wonderful (And dear God, he gets one of the most heart-wrenching numbers), along with an excellent Alexandra Shipp and a phenomenal Vanessa Hudgens (as "Karessa", one of the performers in Jonathan's play). The film also stuffs in loads of cameos and Easter Eggs that you theater buffs are probably going to lose your minds over, along with a small, but memorable appearance from Bradley Whitford. 

 "Tick, Tick,... Boom!" is a whimsical, fun, musical extravaganza that's equally toe-tapping but also all too real. It shows the wonder and beauty that comes out of the creative struggle, along with the heartbreak and just plain misery that happens to accompany it. It feels like a genuine tribute to the real life Jonathan Larson, and it erupts off the screen beautifully, even though I watched it on Netflix on my pretty mediocre sized TV. Inspiring to anyone still yearning to make their passion a reality, and even more so for those theater nerds, who I bet were moved more than anyone else. To those just curious, please don't overlook this film like so many other possibly great artists already have been. It's worthy of your time. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Harsh Reality, Headache Inducing Stress, And A Late Quarter Life Crisis.

House of Gucci                                       by James Eagan                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wassa' Matta' For me!!! Wassa Matta for you!!!"

This Thanksgiving week has been a bit of a rough one. Nothing bad's happened and in fact, it was all around pretty nice (After 2020, just being able to see people around the holidays feels like a novelty now). I've also had a lot of working to do, school stuff, exams, essays, loads of movies to see at late times, and the urge to pass out, so I'm kind of having to just dump all of these movie reviews at once. (And I'm not even going to get into all the other award hopefuls that none of you are going to see without me repeatedly pestering you about) Busy guy right here, but I let myself get distracted, even if I have to toss in a few reviews all at once. 

Inspired-ish by true events, "House of Gucci" follows "Patrizia Reggiani" (Lady Gaga), as she meets and falls in love with "Maurizio Gucci" (Adam Driver), the heir to the immensely wealthy luxury fashion house, which is called as you would expect, "Gucci". Maurizio's father, "Rodolfo Gucci" (Jeremy Irons), doesn't approve of his son's intent to marry Patrizia, cutting him off from all financial ties. Patrizia and Maurizio are married, have a baby, and form relationships with others in the Gucci family, such as Maurizio's uncle, "Aldo" (Al Pacino) and the buffoonish "Paolo" (Jared Leto). After some time, Rodolfo starts to fall in health, and makes amends with Maurizio before his death, leaving his estate to his son, along with his role as a major stockholder in the Gucci business. Patrizia's ambitions start to grow, integrating her own ideas into the family business, which Maurizio complies to, though they soon find themselves at a disagreement with Aldo. Through some skillful manipulation and Paolo's stupidity, Patrizia and Maurizio are able to push Aldo out, eventually though, causing more friction to fragile business affairs. Things get more complicated and shady, with Patrizia and Maurizio's relationship crumbling, along with lies, deception, betrayals, and some good old fashioned murder, all about to come to a head. 

Directed by Ridley Scott (Who just released "The Last Duel" a few months ago), with a screenplay by Becky Johnston ("The Prince of Tides"), "House of Gucci" is more based on the book, "The House of Gucci: A Sensual Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" by Sara Gray Forden, and as you can tell, has the making for something very fascinating. It's a crazy story, and knowing the fact that a lot of it actually happened, only makes it more delightfully bonkers. The film isn't without that wild sense of glamorously exquisite insanity, though it's hard to tell what's meant to be campy and what isn't. The film suffers from a lot of odd tonal shifts, which don't always feel intentional. Trying to figure out a film's tone for almost three hours is not exactly the way that one should want to spend Thanksgiving at 11:35 at night. The film gives off a bit of a silly, soap opera-ish feel, and while I'm sure that the real life story lends itself to such a thing, a bit more of a balance would be nice. As for Ridley Scott's eye for direction, the film looks great and certainly luxurious, with a certain scummy sensation in the center. The dialogue can be a bit more hit and miss, with a few lets just say, awkward lines (Mostly from Jared Leto. More on that wackiness later). 

The final product may be inconsistent, but one thing that's certainly deserving of acclaim is Lady Gaga, who shows off just how much range she can have as an actress (Comparing this to her Oscar nominated role in "A Star Is Born", and they couldn't be any more different). Even with the accent (Which really just is what it is), she mercilessly grabs your attention, showing to be a figure that's both terrifying, halfway respectable, and even a little sympathetic at times. (When it comes down to it, she was probably the smartest person in the entire family) She has some good chemistry with Adam Driver, who also plays spineless very well. Al Pacino does his best Al Pacino, while Jeremy Irons doesn't even bother with an accent, though he's so refined and regal that you don't really mind. Salma Hayek (as "Giuseppina Auriemma", a psychic that Patrizia seeks for guidance, and apparently contributed to the later infamous murder. Seriously!) doesn't appear much, though still does a fine job and seems to be having fun. Then we get to the big man himself, Jared Leto. I feel that this role is unintentionally an insane trip down into this madman's psyche, where his character sees himself as brilliant and underappreciated, though repeatedly does weird, idiotic stuff, which nobody even asked him to do. Under the admittedly impressive makeup job, Leto is basically wearing the Italian form of blackface, channeling a bizarre Italian stereotype, that's certainly entertaining to watch. (The Academy should in all honestly consider a new category for "Most WTF Performance" of the year. Let's just say that it makes you think they should reconsider that Chris Pratt's "Super Mario" casting for completely different reasons now)

"House of Gucci" is a lot of fun, but not in the most elegant of ways. For what it is, it's an entertainingly goofy look into the greed and sensationalism that comes with far too much money and hubris. It's also a bit too long, too tonally varying, and just lacks that extra final polish to be something more worthy of awards season. It still features some spectacularly memorable performances from Lady Gaga and Jared Leto (Though for him, it's for a completely different reason), and could make for a good time if you were to see it in the middle of the afternoon. I don't recommend it any later than that though. It's one of those  long, not so great movies that sure can take a lot out of you. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Irresponsible Italians, And Jared Leto's Puzzling Chocolate And Sh*t Analogy. Possibly The Strangest Thing I've Ever Seen Come Out Of A Man's Mouth, And I Live In Austin, Texas.    

Encanto                                                 by James Eagan                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Mucho Gusto.

By this point in a way, it could seem almost like an insult to leave yet another Disney animated musical saying to yourself "Another day, another Disney classic"......but yeah, another day, another Disney classic. What can I really say anymore? When they get it right, they create real magic. It's their gift. 

In Walt Disney Pictures' sixtieth animated feature, "Encanto" follows the "Madrigal" family, who reside in a living, magical house referred to as "Casita", which has also bestowed upon the family unique abilities (Or "Gifts"). With "Abuela Alma" (María Cecilia Botero) as the head matriarch, the family consists of a wide variety of colorful characters, such as our lovable (Though ungifted) heroine, "Mirabel" (Stephanie Beatriz), along with her parents, "Agustin" (Wilmer Valderrama) and "Julieta" (Angie Cepeda), who can heal people with food, and two sisters, the super strong "Luisa" (Jessica Darrow) and the seemingly always perfect "Isabela" (Diane Guerrero), with the power to make flowers bloom. There's also Mirabel's uncle, "Félix" (Mauro Castillo) and her aunt "Pepa" (Carolina Gaitán), whose emotions control the weather, along her cousins, the shapeshifting "Camilo" (Rhenzy Feliz), "Dolores" (Adassa) who has super hearing that can hear everything, and "Antonio" (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), who is being prepped for the Casita to present him with his gift (The ability to communicate with animals). 

There's also the mysterious, black sheep of the family, "Bruno" (John Leguizamo), who had the ability to see the future and went completely insane one day before vanishing (They don't talk about Bruno). Mirabel continuously feels out of place, compared to the amazing things the rest of her family can do, not just for each other but also for the rest of the community. However, Mirabel starts to notice strange cracks within the house, similar to what Uncle Bruno had seen before his disappearance. When nobody else believes her (Or in some cases, doesn't want to believe her), Maribel sets out to solve the mystery behind  what could possibly be causing the magic to die, along with discovering how someone seemingly not to special can do to save it. 

Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush ("Zootopia"), with a co-directing credit to Charise Castro Smith, along with a screenplay by both Bush and Smith, "Encanto" doesn't adhere to the Disney traditional formula. It's a musical and it's plenty magical, but there's a lot of the trademarks of what we've come to expect from the usual Disney fare. There's no princess. No villain. No big stakes. Nothing really fairy tale-esque either. The movie looks like it would follow those tropes, but at its heart, it's a family conflict. It's a family oriented story, that just so happens to have whimsical elements. It's very slice of life, where some characters just so happen to have magical superpowers. Similar to Pixar's "Luca", it's not about how grand it is. What makes the film special is how much it's able to resonate with any kind of possible group of moviegoers out there, thanks to it's memorable characters, stunning animation, amazing songs, and messages that the entire family can learn from. Even though the film never leaves its one simple location, the lush looking animation is full of colorful life, with each character large or small, getting to shine when necessary. They have so much personality even when they aren't speaking, while the setting itself feels like it could be a real place that you find yourself just lost in. 

The variety of music and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Who also contributed to the story because the man is constantly working, apparently), are wondrous and showstopping. Not a single song is too similar to one another, and each serve a purpose, getting across the right emotions, matching when the animators decide to cut loose, and are just plain loads of fun to watch. It's the kind of soundtrack though where you wanna get it for the musical numbers, but also just to appreciate the film's rather soothing score. It's as if Disney can't resist finding new and inventive ways to create the kind of music you feel the urge to listen to simply on its own. 

The film features an unforgettable cast of characters, with Stephanie Beatriz being what carries the film as our easy to identify with heroine. She's funny, charming, endearing, and never wallows in her own problems, even though her situation is very reasonable. It's also cool to see a Disney lead who has to take charge of a conflict completely on her own, though never at the expense of the rest of the cast. John Leguizamo is a scene-stealer, getting some of the film's funniest moments, while his character animation straight up emulates Leguizamo's mannerisms in a delightfully spirited fashion. Lots of the characters have more to them than they at first expect, with María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, and Jessica Darrow being particular standouts. And of course, Disney's new good luck charm, Alan Tudyk gets to appear in some capacity (This time providing um, toucan noises for a toucan named "Pico"). It's a rather diverse cast of characters, right down to the variety of skin tones, which is something that even a lot of our live-action films tend to struggle to allow for. 

Sometimes you don't have to go big to create a real winner for the whole family. "Encanto" is small scale, but filled with everything we already know that Disney has proven time and time again to do wonderfully. It's not so much surprising that it's another great addition to the always growing Disney canon. What's different this time is what the film seemingly does with so little. It has such a timeless feel that it can feel relevant at any time, with any audience, no matter the age. The Disney magic is more subtle this time, yet nonetheless something to bring the family together during the holidays in the most positive way possible. Disney owns our hearts and souls, and we've handed them over willingly. We'll certainly do it again the next time too. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Familial Dysfunction, Though Plenty Wholesome Stuff Overall.  

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City                                                                   by James Eagan                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Mother Licker!

Guess what guys? I'm one of you now! I've finally started playing through the "Resident Evil" video games! Well, I played the second and third game remakes (With the second probably being one of my all time favorites), still currently going through "Resident Evil 4", watched a whole bunch of cutscenes from some of the more secondary games, and played some of the original classic.....before I found myself completely lost, screwing myself over on the collecting of certain items, and I would have had to do so much backtracking that I just went and watched a playthrough of it. I dig the franchise though. A lot. Good action/horror is hard to find, and the less said about what Paul W.S. Anderson did to the franchise, the better. 

A hybrid amalgamation of the first two games (Along with a few other aspects sprinkled on top), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" follows "Claire Redfield" (Kaya Scodelario), as she returns to the now doomed "Raccoon City", the soon to be former home of operations for the totally not villainous pharmaceutical giant, "The Umbrella Corporation", headed by the questionable scientist, "Dr. William Birkin" (Neal McDonough). Claire has always known something wasn't right about what Umbrella has been doing over the years, though her brother, "Chris" (Robbie Amell), has never believed her. However, it becomes apparent that Claire was right all along, as Umbrella's years of experimentation on the town have resulted in a zombie outbreak, and now she's caught in the middle of it. Meanwhile, Raccoon City's special tactics group, "STARS", consisting of Chris, "Jill Valentine" (Hannah John-Kamen), "Albert Wesker" (Tom Hopper), and some redshirts, are sent to investigate the infamous "Spencer Mansion", where little do they know, sh*t is about to go down and Umbrella's secrets are just waiting to be let out. Also meanwhile, the Raccoon Police Department is left mostly unguarded, with the exception of rookie cop, "Leon S. Kennedy" (Avan Jogia), and da chief, "Brian Irons" (Donal Logue), who are now trapped as the zombies start to overtake the entire town. Claire makes her way to the police department, where she and Leon try to find a way to the mansion to find her brother, before Umbrella takes it upon themselves to cover up what they've done by leveling what's left of Raccoon City. 

Written and directed by Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" is by far the best of the live-action "Resident Evil" films, completely rebooting it from the ground up, and instead focusing on doing something that actually resembles the game it's meant to be adapting. It's still not very good, but hey, they listened. Then again, they didn't exactly listen in a good way. To get some positive thoughts out of the way, the film seems to have the right idea, toying with the late 90s setting as it straight up goes for late 90s action/horror B movie vibe, complete with a grimy look. Johannes Roberts is one of those guys who I feel is trying to have his own sense of stylistic flair, even when the budget is clearly not up to par. It's a cool looking movie when it comes to the set design, which look exactly like the locations from the game. (The mansion and the police department feel as if they just popped to life on the big screen) Not to mention, loads of references that range from annoyingly Easter Eggy to actually pretty cleverly woven into the story in some capacity (There's a rather great creepy moment where Claire and Leon discover old film footage involving the "Ashford" twins, which is an almost shot for shot recreation of that sequence from one of the games) I'm really glad I've been going through this series because it made really appreciate all of the genuine attention to detail. There's also a couple fun sequences of dark humor, especially when it comes to some of the amusing music cues (A burning man walking into the police station while "Crush" by Jennifer Paige is playing in the background is actually a pretty memorable little moment) and some cool creature appearances (The grotesque "Lickers" are just as terrifying here as they were in "Resident Evil 2")

The film sadly falls apart in a lot of other places, and those end up being the places that matter. The plot structure is all jumbled, trying to throw in whatever it can despite it either not making a whole lot of sense or just not having the budget necessary to do what the games have the capabilities of doing. It's funny how the film seems to have a 90s aesthetic considering how the special effects look like something that would have been considered bad even by 90s movie standards (The CGI feels even more poorly rendered than what you'd see in one of the older games). The dialogue is also subpar, lacking the character and personality that elevate the games past its sillier aspects (Plus some rather cheesy name drops, where every single character is addressed by their full name when they walk into the film). On the bright side, it's about as gory and over the top as the games, just lacking in the fun. The hard work thrown into the details of how the game looks and feels are to be commended, but its at the expense of what actually makes for a good movie. 

There are quite a few solid casting choices, such as Kaya Scodelario, getting the character's tough personality down right (And is probably the only character to actually give a crap about). Hannah John-Kamen isn't a bad choice, though she doesn't get much of a role, while Neal McDonough gets to ham it up as our villain and Donal Logue is actually an excellent choice for his character (Sadly, his role gets cut nearly by 75%). Robbie Amell is pretty milquetoast (Then again, so is Chris. So there's that. Send your hate mail), while Avan Jogia gets turned into a complete and utter moron. Tom Hopper is by far the worst casting choice, with the film trying to give the fan favorite villain some extra backstory, but it all falls flat due to how little screen presence he has (They completely butcher this character). Some characters like "Lisa Trevor" (Played by Marina Mazepa), a deformed girl experimented on by Umbrella, get a little extra depth, though most of the rest of the important players from the games get either cut out completely or serve no purpose (They did "Sherry" wrong!).

"Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" has the fanservice and some potential in parts, making for something that could be halfway enjoyable with the right audience. However, the last fifteen to twenty minutes are absolute garbage, rushing to a quick, almost nonexistent climax, and featuring one of the worst Post Credits scenes I've ever seen. It's rather half-assed, and it's like the filmmakers just ran out of time (And money) to make it work. It feels like there could have been a way to make this all work, though what you've got imagined in your head is probably much better (Plus, if you've already played the games, you already know there's a better version). It's more itchy than tasty. 2 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Gore, Zombie Violence, Random F-Bombs, And A Jill Sandwich. 

King Richard                                       by James Eagan                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: And 44 combined Major Championships later....

For a biopic such as this, you need to come to an early understanding of a few things. As usual, something is going to be left out. In fact, a lot is likely going to be left out for the sake of drama or just for the sake of the inspiration the story has generated. Nobody should be surprised anymore and if the real people involved are okay with it, none of us have any actual stake in it. This is the story they wanted told, and it all comes down to how well its brought to screen. 

"King Richard" follows the life of "Richard Williams" (Will Smith), the father of "Venus" (Saniyya Sidney) and "Serena" (Demi Singleton). Richard is determined to ensure Venus and Serena's tennis success by any means, though it all has to go according to the plan that he's laid out, even if it doesn't always make complete sense. (Or really any sense at all actually) After some coaching from tennis expert, "Paul Cohen" (Tony Goldwyn), Venus already shows signs of promise in the Juniors Circuit, before Richard signs up both daughters with another coach, "Rick Macci" (Jon Bernthal), before taking his entire family to Florida. However, Richard insists that his way is the way to go, even though it goes against what every expert would say, but against all odds, Venus and Serena prove to be the superstars that Richard somehow always knew they were destined to be. 

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Monsters and Men"), with a screenplay by Zach Baylin, "King Richard" leaves out some details, as to be expected, but wisely makes up for it in other ways. First off, it embraces the themes and trademarks of the standard sports biographical drama, while also competently avoiding some of the genre's pratfalls or just simply remembering why the average audience is generally willing to forgive them. Green's direction is slick and well paced, never dragging, and always keeping itself focused on the subject at the center. It's Richard Williams' story through and through, but there's always something else going on and the film balances these various moments in their lives in a way that feels naturally cinematic, without feeling the need to overdramatize things. It's a story, that spans over a good amount of time, which could be easily made into just another corny, Oscar-baity crowdpleaser. (Far too often these kinds of movies end up doing more of a disservice to the subjects at hand, instead of actually telling their story) It's all edited so well, keeping the pace moving, with a screenplay that keeps the film from going too far. There's drama, humor, character, and even a little sports action, which is all explained in a way that a complete sports idiot like myself can thoroughly understand. 

Obviously one of the selling points is Will Smith, who is just as phenomenal as others have been saying. In fact, it's almost frighteningly uncanny just how much he captures the real Richard Williams' look, voice, and subtle mannerisms. However, it never feels as if he's just copying a real life person. It's a truly transformative performance that reels you in and demands to retain your attention. Equally wonderful are Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who feel like natural teens, while Aunjanue Ellis is a total powerhouse (She gives Richard a rather epic humbling moment partway through). There are also some excellent supporting parts from Tony Goldwyn (Who you can really feel the frustration for) and a scene-stealing Jon Bernthal (And his award worthy mustache). 

"King Richard" intentionally leaves out a few details that hold it back from reaching top tier greatness, though it's not to say that the film doesn't occasionally find its way to at least emulating such a standard. It's still an inspiring, touching story that can be related to anyone of any demographic, with memorable performances worthy of award season, and slick, pitch perfection direction, that knows how to appeal to an audience looking to cheer, without going for schmaltz. A family drama that definitely has a place among lists of movies to take your kids to during the holidays. Everyone's gonna get something out of it in the end. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Drama And Poor Sportsmanship. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife                            by James Eagan                           ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Mother Puss Bucket!" 

We can all agree to be civil about this one right? The last time we talked about "Ghostbusters" (With the Paul Feig's 2016 attempt at a reboot) a certain madness took over the internet. Downvoting trailers on YouTube, death threats, lots of unbridled nerd anger, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.....Mass Hysteria! (Sorry, I had to work that reference in there somewhere). So let me address to the true fans who have just been clamoring for a proper continuation that you're gonna get much of what you wanted. Let me address to the sexist dudebros that there are in fact penises in this movie, so don't you worry about that. And to also address to those just looking for a fun family movie night this weekend, yyyyeah, this actually works better for you guys than anyone else. 

Decades after the previous two films, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" follows the young and socially awkward "Phoebe" (Mckenna Grace), as she, along with her single mother, "Callie" (Carrie Coon) and brother, "Trevor" (Finn Wolfhard), are evicted from their home, with nothing else to their name aside from a small, run down farmhouse located just outside of a rural town in Oklahoma, that was left behind by their mysterious, recently deceased grandfather. The town is very simple, where nothing appears to ever be happening, with the exception of the occasional random (And somewhat questionable) earthquake. Phoebe decides to do some investigating around, discovering some of his grandfather's secrets, such as a certain car with a ghost logo, a mechanical trap with something otherworldly contained inside, and some familiar looking proton packs. Teaming up with her new school buddy, "Podcast" (Logan Kim) and their fanboy teacher, "Gary Grooberson" (Paul Rudd), Phoebe discovers that her grandfather was in fact a "Ghostbuster". Our new heroes also learn that the earthquakes, as well as other strange occurrences are all connected to a terrifying apocalyptic event decades in the making just ready to unleash literal Hell on Earth. With the threat of ghosts, demonic terror dogs, and a certain familiar ancient evil, all ready to put an end to the world of the living, these new Ghostbusters must step up to the challenge, prove that they ain't afraid of no ghosts, and save the world. All good stuff. 

Directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Up in the Air", "Tully"), the son of previous "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is a legacy film of sorts, with a lot to live up to, and lots of ready to pounce fans ready to attack if things go remotely wrong. (I mean, I grew up with the original too and regularly quote it, but not all of us nerdy fanboys need to be dicks about it) The film has its flaws and seems to intentionally fall short of greatness towards the end, but nonetheless remains a cleverly done, fast, funny, and all around heartwarming smaller scale adventure that can really just appeal to anyone. For any gender, age, or movie preference, there's something that can appeal to a general audience regardless. That's something the film does rather brilliantly. It's never too adult, but with just enough of an edge so that the entire family can have a good time. The film starts off incredibly strong, easing the audience into the already established franchise by exploring it through fresh eyes. The references are kept to a minimal, the new characters are all endearing, and the atmosphere only builds. The screenplay by Reitman and Gil Kenan ("Monster House") is fast and smart when it comes to its humor, but sincere and calm when it comes to its drama. Its a slow, but charming buildup that works more than it doesn't, though some later issues become more apparent in the third act. The quieter story seems to go for broke when he reach the near hour and a half portion, delivering loads of fan service and easter eggs, resulting in a chaotic and slightly rushed finale. A lot happens over the course of twenty or thirty minutes, with a lot of it being difficult to process. We get some creatures from the first film making appearances, our big bad revealed, some familiar plot points getting rehashed, a random character actor cameo, and it culminates in an explosive, CGI heavy climax. The essentially starts off as "The Force Awakens" (Introducing the new, while also honoring the classics), before taking a dive into becoming "The Rise of Skywalker" (Just giving the audience what they want, even if it doesn't always add up simply because the fans need to be made happy) It's not to say that there still isn't plenty to enjoy, because there certainly is. The effects are better than solid, with plenty of good laughs, and our obvious last second cameos that I'm sure all the fans have been dreaming of for years. You kind of have to take the good and great, with the mostly meh.

The cast is utterly fantastic however. Mckenna Grace is just a talented little actress, and I'm continuously amazed by her wide range of roles, along with how convincing she always is no matter what it is. Finn Wolfhard gets to snark it up, while Logan Kim's overly excitable attitude is instantly lovable. Celeste O'Connor (as "Lucky", Trevor's crush and the fourth member of the group), gets the smaller part, though still gets just enough time to prove herself as part of the new team. Paul Rudd is of course charming as Hell, and has some better than necessary chemistry with Carrie Coon (Both of which appear to be loving the entire experience). As for the ghosts and monsters, they're fine and look cool. However, I'd say something the reboot had over this one was more originality and creativity when it came to its creatures. (Although a sequence involving homicidal/suicidal mini-Stay Puff Marshmallow Men is quite hilarious). And yes, the cameos from returning franchise cast members (I don't think I even have to mention them by name), are a delight for sure, yet also rather sincere, even if their inclusion feels a bit last second. 

While it eventually descends into nostalgic appeasement and slight pandering (You know, the climax really is just "The Rise of Skywalker" with Ghostbusters), "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" offers plenty of likability, wit, and family friendly wonderment throughout, even if it falls short of greatness almost purposefully. The film clearly means something special to the filmmakers and it's most apparent once we reach a certain major, rather impressively done reveal. Is it cloying and maybe a little manipulative? Sure, but it still feels genuine. It's so heartwarming and sweet that I'd have to be a complete dick to not give this a positive review. The film is just fun, and the perfect time for longtime fans, while also bringing in a few new younger ones. It's "Ghostbusters." Whaddaya want? 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Humor, Scary Images, And The Brief Splitting Of Human Flesh. Not To Mention All That Marshmallow Carnage. Still Pretty Tame Stuff For The Kids Though.

Home Sweet Home Alone                         by James Eagan                      No Stars out of ★★★★

Image: Kyle Rittenhouse prepares to take the law into his own hands.

I haven't the slightest idea what in the name of the good grace of God was the plan here. Remake? Sequel? Reboot? Reinvention? Desecration? How about an obliteration of the goodness that's meant to come out of the holiday season in some kind of desperate attempt to make a little extra money off of a beloved property? I'm not mad here. I didn't pay for this, and who can mad at film studios trying to make money like they always do? It's just that this one is fascinatingly vile. 

A continuation of sorts of the modern Christmas classic "Home Alone" that nobody in the world wanted, "Home Sweet Home Alone" follows a selfish little sh*t, "Max Mercer" (Archie Yates), who is frustrated that his really worn out mother, "Carol" (Aisling Bea), has invited the whole family over for Christmas. While taking a contrived stop at the house of financial struggling parents, "Jeff" (Rob Delaney) and "Pam" (Ellie Kemper), Max is believed to have stolen a hideous, though rather valuable doll from the couple. As usual, the Mercer family departs, accidentally leaving Max home alone for the holiday. Meanwhile, Jeff and Pam plan to break into the Mercer residence to take back the doll, not knowing that Max is preparing to fortify his house into a weaponized stronghold. I actually simplified a bit of this plot, because most of that doesn't happen until almost an hour in. Just know you need to keep your kids away from this one, and just plain avoid it yourself. For the sake of my love of critiquing terrible movies (And the fact that it's actually been a while since I've seen one this bad. Like several months), let me delve more into what's wrong here.

Directed, a term I use loosely, by Dan Mazer ("Dirty Grandpa"), with what's listed as a screenplay by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (Both having written for "Saturday Night Live), "Home Sweet Home Alone" is a movie that only has the wrong ideas on its mind, somehow gets all of those ideas wrong, and just plain all around feels wrong in every sense of the word. Released through "Disney+" (Although the film is quick to show off that "20th Century Studios" logo so that they can take the blame for it), the film is hard to decipher. The already spontaneously cobbled together plot makes less sense the more one thinks about it, and the main selling (Being the various improvised and fairly deadly traps our lead uses to fend off the burglars) doesn't actually come into play until nearly an hour in. What happens first involves some poor excuses for comedy, lazy attempts at holiday time whimsy, and a lot of surprise cruelty. The lack of anything remotely funny is bad enough as it is, but most of the characters, ranging from grotesquely moronic to obnoxiously mean spirited, only make the hour and a half long runtime feel like an eternity. Obviously the humor and heart of the original is nowhere to be found, and it even lacks the basic repeated premise of the sequels. (There were like four of them) 

Archie Yates (Who was previously quite the scene-stealer in "Jojo Rabbit"), is thoroughly detestable and bratty, despite the apparent film not seeming to realize it. Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper are trying and tragically failing at every chance to get something funny out of their roles, coming across as more sympathetic that our actual main character (Though their relentless stupidity make them almost as deplorable). The film features plenty of funny people, such as Chris Parnell (as "Uncle Stu", Max's uncle who gets like two or three lines), Andy Daly (as "Mike", Max's father, who I think only gets like one line), and Kenan Thompson (as "Gavin", Jeff and Pam's real estate agent, who just looks like he's in an insane asylum), getting nothing funny to do. The closest connection this film has to the original "Home Alone" is the very, very brief appearance from Devin Ratray (as "Buzz McCallister", who has become a cop, and a rather incompetent one at that), and even then, it feels tacked on. I also just feel bad for Aisling Bea, who just looks so sad every time she's on screen. 

With full direction, insultingly basic traps and gags, and a predictable last second reveal that makes the whole ordeal even more pointless than it already is, "Home Sweet Home Alone" is the kind of Hell that you can't look away from. No jokes work. No actor can save it. Scenes don't go anywhere. Nothing adds up. Nothing comes together. It's a rare film where anything and everything falls flat on its face, though in a way that almost needs to be seen to be truly believed. It's not just the worst movie I've seen all year. It's gotta be the worst movie I've seen in at least three or four years. To call it an early lump of coal in one's Christmas stocking would be both unoriginal and an insult to the constructive things one could do with coal. It's more as if Santa just left you a massive dump in the stocking instead. You're too befuddled to even get upset, and you're not sure what you did you deserve it. No Stars. Rated PG For Unpleasant Children, Unpleasant Adults, And All Around Unpleasantness. Christmas is cancelled!

Belfast                                                 by James Eagan                               ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wow, this movie we're in is amazing!"

This has been described by Kenneth Branagh himself as his "Most personal film", and it really didn't hit me until the end as to why. It's actually quite obvious when you get down to it, and it puts a whole new perspective on every single frame of the film's bittersweet, semi-storybook like appeal. Not to mention, it's already a wonderfully, beautiful, and warm natured little film as it is.  

Taking place in the real life place of the same name, "Belfast" follows the childhood of a young Protestant boy,  "Buddy" (Jude Hill), during the middle of the Norther Ireland Conflict (Or "The Troubles"), who lives with his brother, "Will" (Lewis McAskie), and their parents, simply referred to as "Ma" (Caitríona Balfe) and "Pa" (Jamie Dornan). Tensions between Catholics and Protestants are growing, while we follow Buddy as he navigates a few awkward moments in his life, such as his crush on one of his classmates, "Catherine" (Olive Tennant), the urging of his more troublemaking cousin, "Moira" (Lara McDonnell), to join a gang that she's a part of, and his loving relationship with his grandparents, simply referred to as "Granny" (Judi Dench) and "Pop" (Ciarán Hinds). Current events though start to make their way home, with Pa, who is always away on work, starting to worry about the progressively deteriorating situation, only worsened by the threatening demands of a Protestant unionist, "Billy Clanton" (Colin Morgan), forcing people to either contribute through payments or by joining in the chaos. (He's basically turning everyone into wannabe terrorists) Pa wants to get his family out of Belfast, though Ma can't even imagine leaving a place that she and her family have lived their entire lives. Buddy, who is only a spectator in these events, soon realizes that the world he knows is about to change, whether or not he's exactly prepared for it. 

Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Belfast" is as you can tell clearly inspired in some way by his own early life, and that feeling of comforting nostalgia remains, even though you know that there's something much darker, that's mostly left offscreen. It's not the film glossing over important details. Instead, it's showing us how life was like during this difficult, rather twisted time, through the eyes of pure innocence. Even if you don't know anything about what's really going on (Honestly, I really didn't know all that much in detail), anybody from anywhere can relate to at one point in their youth. You don't have to know what's going on to know that it's something serious. Branagh takes a more unique approach to the subject, filling the film with intentionally misplaced child-like whimsy, simple slice of life storytelling, and most shockingly, a lot of humor. It's actually a pretty funny at times, with charming characters and witty dialogue that are meant to put a happy mask over the situation. It's never cloying in that regard, taking a simplified route, but also never in the slight way. The decision to be presented in black and white only enhances that, giving off a classical feel (Though moments of color seep through at rather fascinating moments. I don't even know why, though it's certainly aesthetically appealing). You're lulled by the sense of wonder, which instead of focusing on the bad at hand, you're able to see the odd beauty that many of the characters see, along with why many of them would rather stick it out and stay in spite of the violent times. 

The film features a remarkable cast, with an outstanding Jude Hill, carrying the film through his winning smile and impossible not to love attitude. This kid amazingly can carry this film, even though it's also got several other top notch performances. Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan have winning chemistry, making for one of this year's best onscreen duos. You totally get where each of their perspectives are coming from, and sympathize with the fear of what will be lost whether or not they actually leave their little hometown. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are also both worthy of recognition, providing emotional sincere supporting roles (While I can't say I cried at all during the film, there is a rather moving, yet still humorous exchange involving Ciarán Hinds, that honestly got me a little choked up. Maybe it's because I remember having conversations like this with my own grandpa). Colin Morgan does an excellent job playing the kind of would-be gangster that you fear ever getting into a position of power, while Jude Hill's mini-subplot with Olive Tennant is just too precious not to love. There are also rather brief roles that each result in something memorable. You don't know everybody's name, but you feel like you know the character personally once their part is done, which really brings the setting to cinematic life. 

"Belfast" is a film about finding some light in the darkest of times, hanging onto the way one's always been living, but also being forced to accept upcoming changes. The film can be soft, sweet, and simple, or more grandiose, before possibly getting into a heavier area, though remains tonally consistent all the way through. This is best shown through a variety of sequences, such as a terrific sequence involving Jamie Dornan belting out "Everlasting Love", a quiet moment involving Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds recounting their youth, and an incredibly intense standoff in the midst of a violent riot. The film may not appear to say much, but it hits you in unanticipated ways. One of the best films of the year, and one of the most thoughtful in recent memory. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Emotional Material And Lots Of Thick Irish Accents.

Clifford the Big Red Dog                             by James Eagan                       ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I don't think there's a ShamWow big enough to clean that up."

With this and "Paw Patrol: The Movie", I refuse to believe that I live in a world where I'm either semi-recommending (Or even straight up recommending it) to people in my age group. The fact that I can say one is legitimately better than the other and can go into more detail than necessary as to why, has made me realize that topics like these aren't exactly something I should bring up on a first date. Maybe the second, if we get there. 

Based on the beloved books by Norman Bridwell (Along with a cartoon that ran on PBS), "Clifford the Big Red Dog" opens with "Clifford" the small red dog losing his family, only to be found by the appropriately named, "Mr. Bridwell" (John Cleese), who runs a semi-magical animal rescue center. One young girl, "Emily Elizabeth Howard" (Darby Camp), feels lonely and out of place, with her mother, "Maggie" (Sienna Guillory), going away on a business trip, leaving her to be watched over by Emily's completely incompetent uncle, "Casey" (Jack Whitehall). Emily and Casey come across Bridwell's center, where she immediately takes a shine to Clifford. The following night, Emily randomly finds Clifford in her school backpack (Did she not open that all day?), and Casey allows her to keep him for the night. Remembering Mr. Bridwell's kind words about how Clifford will grow depending on how much she loves him, Casey wakes up the next morning to find that Clifford has apparently become a miniature Kaiju, capable of all kinds of destruction. (But he's still a total sweetheart, so it's ok) Emily and Casey set out to return Clifford to Bridwell (Who has apparently vanished off the face of the Earth), while a shady genetics company "Lifegro", run by the devious "Zack Tieran" (Tony Hale), schemes to get his hands on Clifford for his own desires, while the dog himself becomes a quick sensation all over New York City. 

Directed by Walt Becker ("Van Wilder", "Wild Hogs", "Old Dogs", "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip".....Yikes....), with a screenplay for some reason written by three people, "Clifford the Big Red Dog" has all the trappings of a grotesquely horrible and thoroughly insulting excuse for a kids movie, which we're used to giving so many others like it a bad name. It's a live-action and animated hybrid, with a more realistically designed CGI makeover for a beloved character, a predictable plot, and of course, a few more toilet based jokes than any of us want. These faults are still there and they still bring the movie down. However, it's either the filmmakers just bringing their A game in spite of it or maybe even a little more love and passion than we're used to, but the final product ends up becoming much better and at least, more likable than I doubt anyone expected it would be. The film actually starts out fairly strong, with a heartbreaking opening involving Clifford's loss of his family, along with a solid setup for a sweet story about a girl and her magical giant dog. Of course the film becomes more generic as it goes along, though it works well for an undemanding family audience. It gives me vibes similar to "Dora and the Lost City of Gold", where is seems semi-catering to those who grew up with the property, having a good laugh to a degree at it, while also embracing what made the source material worked in the past. I'd say that movie is a bit better than this one (It was just more clever and tried to get away from the most basic of kids movies), especially since the screenplay and story don't standout the more the film goes on. This plot doesn't make all that much sense (I'm not exactly sure how the evil corporation was planning on getting away with any of this), and the film has no intention to explaining the details. With that said though, none of this is surprising. You can never get mad at a movie for doing what its intended to, and to give director Walt Becker some credit (Again, considering his filmography), the film is well made and looks like a movie that you'd see belonging in theaters. When one compares it to all those other live-action hybrids (Like "The Smurfs", "Garfield", and all those darn Chipmunks), it's a freakin cinematic masterpiece.

Another thing that stands out about the film is Jack Whitehall, who looks very committed to the film. He gets a lot of laughs, especially with his reactions to the absurdity, while also just being really likable as well. Darby Camp is a solid young actress and does sell a lot of the film's heartwarming moments, while Izaac Wang (as "Owen", one of Emily's classmates, who has a crush on her) is quite the surprise scene-stealer. Some of the supporting cast also gives better performances than I would say a movie like this requires, such as an amusingly despicable Tony Hale, along with a few chuckles from David Alan Grier (as "Mr. Packard", an overly controlling superintendent) and Kenan Thompson (as a veterinarian, who reacts about as realistically as one logically should when meeting a giant dog of destruction, with more confusion than anything). Sienna Guillory doesn't really have a role, which is spent mostly offscreen, while John Cleese is suitably whimsical. Once you get past the mediocre (And sometimes, slightly frightening) visual effects, Clifford is a cute creation, and the movie does address the pitfalls of his massive size in a more realistic setting, which leads to more than a few genuinely funny moments. (That dog's tail will literally send someone flying) 

For a movie such as this, it just has to get two things right to at least stand out in some way (And being good is not one of them), be cute and be quick. Thankfully, the film succeeds there. "Clifford the Big Red Dog" is simple, silly, and isn't without its weaker kiddie moments (Pee jokes. You gotta have em!), but also offers enough warmth and sugary sweetness to make for something good for the kids, and pleasant enough for the adults. (Although since it's available on "Paramount+" as well in theaters, I'd say that's a better place to check it out) I gave this a positive review. We really are in weird times. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For A Couple Jokes That'll Go Over The Kids' Heads, But Still Works As Something 100% Harmless. 

Spencer                                                by James Eagan                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Literally, a splitting image

Can we cut it out with the "Twilight" jokes now? Yeah those movies were pretty crappy, but it's almost been a decade. By this point, the only one keeping that franchise alive is your needlessly blind outrage. Not to mention, there have been much worse movies since then. I think it's time we moved on. The actors sure did, and now one of them has an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination to look forward to. 

Taking place at Christmas time, "Spencer" follows "Diana, Princess of Wales, née Spencer" (Kristen Stewart), during the final days of her marriage to "Prince Charles" (Jack Farthing). Spending the holiday at the estate of "Queen Elizabeth II" (Stella Gonet), with her two boys, "William" (Jack Nielen) and "Harry" (Freddie Spry), and it is not just strained in her relationship with Charles (Due to him being a cheating pig), but with the rest of the royal family, who have instructed "Major Allistair Gregory" (Timothy Spall) to keep an eye on things.....Mostly her. Mentally and emotionally distressed, Diana struggles to retain herself, while also keeping up the oh so important appearances that the royal family demands and what's expected of her, regardless of fairness. 

Directed by Pablo Larrain ("Jackie"), "Spencer" takes a fascinating real life figure, and crafts a semi-whimsical (And sort of eerie) dramatization about who she was, what she experienced, and what turmoil she kept hidden behind a much loved smile. It's not a biopic. It kind of borders on a psychological horror movie to a degree, with atmospheric imagery, and long, unnerving moments of drawn out dread, which range from artistically bombastic to fairly subtle. This is a very hard tone to balance, especially with a real person and rather heavy themes, involving topics of sexism and mental health. The screenplay by Steven Knight ("Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"), is able to keep things contained and respectful, while also incorporating Larrain's flare for the surreal and dramatic. It's not to say though that there's anything wrong with Larrain's direction. In fact, it's quite brilliant in how it remains glamorous, yet gloomy at the same time, giving the sensation that you too are trapped in a rather lovely, though crushingly controlling insane asylum (That also just so happens to have some cute corgis running around). It does somewhat feel though that this stylistic choice might be offputting to some. There are hallucinogenic moments (Such as Diana seeing an apparition of "Anne Boleyn" in random spots), that will either further distress some as intended, or just leave others completely bewildered.   

Regardless of how certain audiences will react to the overall execution, nobody can logically argue with how stunning Kristen Stewart's work here is. It's a truly beautiful performance that doesn't remotely feel like someone just getting into makeup, putting on a costume, and playing a part that many will recognize. It doesn't even really feel like a performance. You don't see Kristen Stewart. You see Princess Diana. That's just her on screen, and the film wisely knows to always keep her in focus no matter what. That doesn't mean that other players don't get moments to shine. Sean Harris (as "Darren McGrady", the royal chef, serving as an emotional shoulder for Diana) and Sally Hawkins (as "Maggie", a royal dresser, who Diana has befriended) are both warm presences, while Jack Farthing is all kinds of snide. Not to mention a terrific, though really easy to hate Timothy Spall. 

"Spencer" isn't something that I can see being up everyone's alley. The surrealism can be seen as a bit strange, but feels fitting in a way. It only adds to the inner dejection and in spite of it, Kristen Stewart commands the screen so well that it comes across as completely natural. Intentionally offputting, effectively heartbreaking, and in its own way, uplifting. Under the melancholy, there is something hopeful despite knowing where Princess Diana's story would later tragically conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Emotional Abuse. 

Eternals                                                 by James Eagan                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I think they're a bit overdressed for spring break if you ask me.

Alright guys! It finally happened. The day we all feared. With twenty six films, a couple TV shows, and much more on the way, the perfect streak "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has enjoyed has come to an end. This is the first film to not get a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's especially noticeable when they're used to such high scores that DC fans have assumed that Disney just paid all the critics off. Although it still better than "Batman v Superman". Gotta stoke the fire just a little right there.   

"Eternals" follows a group of super-powered, human-esque beings, from the planet "Olympia", who were sent to Earth thousands of years ago by the god-like "Celestial", "Arishem" (Voiced by David Kaye). These "Eternals" as they're called (I mean, it is the title of the movie after all), consist of their leader "Ajak" (Salma Hayek), along with "Sersi" (Gemma Chan) who can manipulate matter, "Ikaris" (Richard Madden) who is essentially Scottish Superman, "Kingo" (Kumail Nanjiani) the wisecracker, "Sprite" (Lia McHugh) who can make illusions though is forever trapped in a twelve year old's body, "Phastos" (Brian Tyree Henry) the inventor, "Makkari" (Lauren Ridloff) who is gifted with super speed, "Druig" (Barry Keoghan) with the power to control minds, "Gilgamesh" (Don Lee) the most physically powerful, and the warrior goddess "Thena" (Angelina Jolie). These beings have watched over humanity for centuries, and due to Arishem's orders, have never been allowed to interfere with whatever f*cked up thing that humans tend to do to each other. Instead, the Eternals' mission in life is to face off against these reptilian tentacle monsters called "Deviants", seemingly defeating the creatures at some point in history. Now after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" (The whole "Thanos" wiping out half the universe, then the "Avengers" bringing everybody back thing. No big deal), and everyone has moved on in their lives. 

Former lovers Sersi and Ikaris have broken up, leaving Sersi to start a new relationship with perfectly nice guy, "Dane Whitman" (Kit Harrington), along with keeping Sprite around. However, they are attacked by new, more powerful deviants, leading to a reunion with Ikaris. It seems that the Deviants are back as part of some kind of world ending event called "The Emergence", and the Eternals only have a limited amount of time to stop it. Sersi, Ikaris, and Sprite set out to track down the other Eternals, who have all also gone in different directions (Such as Kingo becoming a Bollywood superstar, Gilgamesh taking care of an ailing Thena, Druig refusing to participate in the overly strict rules from the Celestials, etc.). While the Deviants show signs of evolution, such as the more intelligent "Kro" (Voiced by Bill Skarsgård), Sersi discovers more about Arishem's intent and the true purpose of their mission, causing a question of their very existence and their presumed role in protecting the people of Earth. 

Directed (And Co-Written) by the Oscar Winning Chloé Zhao ("The Rider" and the most recent Best Picture winner "Nomadland") and based on the characters by Jack Kirby (Anyone familiar with his work shouldn't be all that surprised), "Eternals" is quite possibly the most original property to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn't always adhere to certain traditions, and takes us through ideas that only those most knowledgeable of Marvel comics lore might possibly know about. And boy, is it a lot to take in. The film is almost too much all at once, with so much story, exposition, and details to iron out, that it's so easy to get lost in all the excess. It doesn't exactly help that the film is told out of order in some places, and while other more recent comic book films (Like "The Suicide Squad" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings") did it much better, it can be a little jarring, especially when most of these non-linear moments involve important plot points that feel oddly explained at times. It can feel a little messy in spots, and it's something that tends to plague many projects with high aspirations for something more. Gripes like that prevent the film from truly reaching the greatness it seems to hope to achieve, but never dilutes what works with the film, and for what actually does work, it's certainly something special. It's rather refreshing to see that Marvel is content enough to try out some new, more bizarre tricks, and a lot of the film feels very much experimental. Anyone familiar with Chloé Zhao's work, knows that she has an eye for beautiful, somber imagery, and while the film has plenty of that, the scope and spectacle that she brings to the screen, is astounding. From the very first shot alone, you can feel her handiwork, and it's only further enhanced by the top notch visual effects. (The introduction to the Celestial, Arishem, is absolutely terrifying in IMAX. He just envelopes the entire screen, making you feel insignificant by comparison) From the terrifying creatures, to the Eternals' powers themselves, look grand, matching well with some unforgettable cinematography and imagery. 

While the screenplay by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, along with Ryan and Kaz Firpo, isn't quite up to par with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (And feels very much standalone. That being a negative and a positive), it still retains that trademark and always needed sense of humor, features some at times really compelling drama, and even takes a few turns that are rather unexpected when it comes to what to expect from a modern blockbuster. Not all the characters are exactly perfect, with a few surprising revelations and even some questionable decisions that do feel human, even with the fantastical elements. Gemma Chan has proven herself to be captivating lead, while of course Angelina Jolie retains her usual star power, making for one Hell of a future favorite Marvel heroine. Some get lesser roles than others, though are all perfectly good, such as Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee, while the most humor comes from, as you would expect, a hilarious Kumail Nanjiani and a scene-stealing Harish Patel (as "Karun", Kingo's lovable manager, who tags along on the adventure). Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan are also major standouts (Being some of the most fascinating of the group, with more distinguishing character arcs), and while Richard Madden does at first appear to be the least interest character of the bunch, there are some later developments that not only make for a more notable character, but also allows him to give a deeper performance. Salma Hayek's role is much smaller, though still suitably regal, while Kit Harrington doesn't get much to do (At the moment at least) aside from be his charming self. Bill Skarsgård's voice is certainly chilling, but he's not much of a villain, and neither are the Deviants themselves. There's a reason for it, though the execution is a little on the sloppy side. As if it were an afterthought. 

Perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good (And towards the end, you do somewhat feel that runtime), "Eternals" has true greatness in places, when it comes to scale, visual wonder, and an overall sense of maturity. Not everything quite comes together as perfectly as it should, despite Chloé Zhao's respectable and thoroughly earnest determination. However, while the characters aren't exactly destined to rank up with some of the MCU's best, they're still memorable. It gives off the feel of something that could resonate with people in the future, and sure, it's lower on my MCU ranking than I wanted it to be, and yet, it does feel like a strange, though beautiful stage in the evolution of the Marvel universe. (The post credit scenes alone leave much to anticipate) It still needs to be seen on the big screen, for both the average movie loving audience, and even more for the true believers. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Tentacle Hentai Monsters, Adult Content (Including A Brief Sex Scene. Disney is Growing Some Balls Lately), And Too Much Respectful Diversity For The Worst Of Reddit To Handle. 

My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission                                                              by James Eagan                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The Suicide Squad is recruiting younger these days.

I take it that this is the review that you non-nerds are going to skip, and it might be the only review that the "Weebs" are going to check out. Don't ask me what that is. Explaining to people what that is to people who don't care, takes up way too much time. And writing can be hard sometimes. Anime stuff. It's best we just jump right in. 

To give a little backstory for those who don't already know, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" takes place in a world of superheroes, with their unique abilities referred to as "Quirks". People with quirks make up a good percentage of the population, and there are now those who fear that humanity is on the verge of extinction. A terrorist group/cult, known as "Humanrise", led by the dangerously powerful, "Flect Turn" (Kazuya Nakai), have planted bombs filled with Quirk triggering gas all over the world, which will result in the deaths of millions of those with Quirks (Though will leave humanity unscathed). So to prevent Flect Turn's plans from coming to fruition, our heroes in training are sent to various locations, such as "Izuku Midoriya/Deku" (Daiki Yamashita), "Katsuki Bakugō/Dynamight" (Nobuhiko Okamoto), "Shōto Todoroki/Shoto" (Yuki Kaji), among the rest of the series' cast (Pretty much everyone else is negated to the background though). However, Deku becomes distracted by the accidental involvement of a fast-talking, local criminal "Rody Soul" (Ryo Yoshizawa), who just so happens to have accidentally gotten a hold of a briefcase that contains something Humanrise doesn't want getting out. After framing Deku for murder, along with Rody as an accomplice, Humanrise sends their enforcers to bring back the briefcase and kill anyone who gets in the way. Now cut off from his friends, Deku partners up with Rody, along with his cute little bird buddy, "Pino" (Megumi Hayashibara), to prove their innocence and prevent Quirk genocide. Along the way, Rody starts to take a few life lessons from the honorable Deku, becoming his own kind of hero in the process.

The third film based on the popular anime/manga/worldwide phenomenon, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission", like many television series based films, plays out a little like an hour and forty minute episode. Unlike like last year's "Heroes Rising", the plot has less characters this time around, with the story focusing purely on Deku and Rody, and while that leaves much the the cast of fan favorites on the sidelines ("All Might" and others, barely interact with anyone really), there's at least more time available for the film's heart to really pull through. There's something sweet about Deku and Rody's relationship (Credit to Daika Yamashita and especially Ryo Yoshizawa, for their wonderfully voice work), and the slower pace makes for more personal moments. The humor is still in tact, and when the film prepares for a cinematic action sequence, they're sights to behold. Fast paced, constantly moving, and animated brilliantly, especially once we reach the explosive finale. On the downside (For some more than others), there aren't too many and it takes a while for the film's reason to be to become more apparent. You are left wondering why this needed to be a movie, since the scale doesn't at first feel all that grand, and it doesn't help that the villains are once again a little less memorable than any of the ones from the series. Granted, none of the "My Hero Academia" movies have particularly had big bads to write home about (There's only so much screentime available for a one and done baddie after all), and while Flect Turn certainly has a cool design and a decent backstory, nothing about him stands out in a way that's all that interesting.   

"My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" is smaller in scope and more intimate than previous films, where nothing particularly groundbreaking happens for a good while until we reach the climax. This one seems to be more interested in telling a solid and overall heartfelt singular story, where the message of hope and accepting of all people no matter their abilities is at its strongest. The animation is top notch as ever, and the film just incorporates everything we love about the series. I'd be surprised if any fan doesn't leave satisfied. I watched it subbed, so I can only assume that the dubbed version is just as solid. I don't judge when it comes to who prefers English dubbing over subtitles. Only villains do that. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Superhero Action, A Little Language, And Quirky Behavior. 

Last Night in Soho                                  by James Eagan                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm getting ready....For all of the 20 movies I'm in this year."

I don't think I've seen a movie all year that looks so beautiful and seductive, while also being completely sleazy and vile at the same time. You're enticed by it the entire time, and then feel the need to scrub yourself after. Maybe that was just the Sixties overall. Stunning on the outside, then disgusting on the inside.

"Last Night in Soho" follows "Ellie" (Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman with a love of old music (The Swinging Sixties especially) and fashion, living with her caring grandmother, "Peggy" (Rita Tushingham), after the suicide of her mother. Ellie is accepted into college to study fashion design in London. Ellie moves to the bright, vibrant streets of Soho, where she gets stuck with a crappy roommate, "Jocasta" (Synnøve Karlsen), and is immediately turned off by the city's seedy underbelly. So Ellie instead finds a new play to stay in a mostly forgotten apartment, owned by a strict but nice old lady, "Ms. Collins" (Diana Rigg). Once Ellie goes to sleep though, she finds herself transported to the Sixties era, where she becomes enamored with the life of a beautiful rising star, "Sandie" (Anya Taylor-Joy), as her career begins to take off with her seemingly charismatic manager boyfriend, "Jack" (Matt Smith). Ellie starts to base her life around Sandie, focusing her fashion school projects on her, and even changing her hair color to match Sandie, unable to wait till the next time she can go to sleep and immerse herself in that world. However, as the story continues, Ellie's fantasy takes a dark turn, witnessing Sandie's life spiral into a much more twisted place. As the visions become more nightmarish, Ellie becomes determined to find out what became of Sandie, as well as prevent herself from succumbing to her own madness.

Directed by Edgar Wright (The "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", "Baby Driver"), "Last Night in Soho" starts off a bit slow, feeling as if it's meant to show a sense of normalcy before the film takes its turn. While I appreciate the idea (And Edgar Wright has done that brilliantly before elsewhere), you do feel the drag just a little bit for the first fifteen minutes or so. Thankfully, the film finds its footing rather quickly, becoming an alluring, though tension filled stylistic experience, that even when you're just as engrossed in this world as our lead character is, there's this constant feeling of dread slowly poking at the back of your skull. This may be one of Edgar Wright's more unique films, only briefly embracing his fast editing technique, and instead slowly pulling you further into a whirlpool of flashy and colorful torment, with images that are genuinely terrifying (And I feel that I can't even delve into the more uncomfortable, all too real subject matter lurking beneath the surface). The screenplay by both Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns ("1917"), keeps you on your toes, never giving away too much into the apparent supernatural aspect (We never know why Ellie is the one to experience these things, though in a way, not knowing works in the film's favor), and giving us a mystery that never plays out in a simplistic fashion. It can be seen as a little sloppy at times, but the various twists and turns make it feel as if it was intentional (For the most part). 

Thomasin McKenzie ("Leave No Trace", "Jojo Rabbit", "Old") is one of those actresses that just keeps getting better and better in everything I see her in. She's thoroughly lovable, super adorable, and plays completely petrified out of her mind like nobody else I've seen. She also has an incredible stare that conveys so much emotion, thanks to long shots where her face is just the focus. Anya Taylor-Joy is bewitching as usual, and perfectly embodies both the beauty and the hidden sadness of the Sixties era. Matt Smith rather skillfully switches between charming, scummy, and chilling, while Michael Ajao (as "John", Ellie's fellow classmate and all around nice guy), is plenty likable. We also get awesome supporting work from Diana Rigg, and a scene-stealing Terrence Stamp (as a mysterious and rather creepy old man that Ellie keeps seeing). There isn't much time for other supporting plays though, like Synnøve Karlsen, who just plays the role of "Mean Girl" and not much else. 

From the beguiling score, Oscar caliber cinematography, and a few ambitious choices worth extra praise, "Last Night in Soho" is a different kind of horror, and one that unlike say, "Halloween Kills", has more to offer to it than the genre usually demands. The final reveal is something I kind of pieced together, but it's still a damn good one, and leads to a particularly insane finale. It's a different type of apprehension in which you feel content and safe one moment, before you discover it's much too late to escape now. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violent Images, And Faceless Abominations.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun                                      by James Eagan                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You're right....I can't understand Wes Anderson either."

I think I've probably mentioned this before. If I could choose what film director's world I would wish to live in, it would definitely be Wes Anderson's. They're like candy coated doll houses, where everyone is as deadpan quirky as they can be, and nothing remotely plays out like you would expect. My kind of world right there. 

"The French Dispatch of the Liberty , Kansas Evening Sun", or just simply, "The French Dispatch", opens with the death of the esteemed, matter-of-fact, editor, "Arthur Howitzer Jr." (Bill Murray), whose final wishes are that the newspaper publication come to an end, though with a final issue republishing three articles. The three articles are presented to us in an anthology. "The Concrete Masterpiece", by "J.K.L. Berensen" (Tilda Swinton), follows a tortured, mentally unstable, imprisoned artist, "Moses Rosenthaler" (Benicio Del Toro), becoming a worldwide sensation for his rather perplexing masterpiece, a nude painting of a prison guard/his unrequited love, "Simone" (Léa Seydoux), thanks to a stuffy art dealer, "Julien Cadazio" (Adrien Brody), previously also incarcerated for tax evasion. As the years ago by however, Rosenthaler fails to produce more paintings, leading to a little amusingly eccentric chaos. "Revisions to a Manifesto", by "Lucinda Krementz" (Frances McDormand), follows Krementz as she retains her "Journalistic Neutrality" (Something that everyone is repeatedly confused about), as she becomes embroiled with a student revolutionary, "Zeffirelli" (Timothée Chalamet), during the midst of a wild student protest all centered around chess. Krementz also secretly assists the inexperienced Zeffirelli with his manifesto. "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner", by "Roebuck Wright" (Jeffrey Wright), is told via a television interview, where Wright recounts the events of his dinner with the "Commissaire" (Mathieu Amalric), which just so happens to be the night where the Commissaire's son, "Gigi" (Winston Ait Hellal), has been kidnapped. The dinner instead becomes a standoff between the police, with Wright being brought along, and the kidnappers. 

Written and directed by Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "The French Dispatch" is Wes Anderson unleashed. That's the best way to describe it. It takes everything that you would traditionally see in one of his films, and like a kid with his toy box, sprays it all over the floor and just goes nuts with it. Due to the anthology structure, Anderson is allowed to resist the temptations of holding back, doing everything in his power insert every single one of his colorful trademarks somewhere in the film. Now that may be a bit much for some, but for me, I'm kind of in heaven. His trademark off-kilter sense of humor is also on full display, and I'd go as far as to say this might be one of his straight up funnier films, ranging for cartoonishly goofy to even a little on the macabre side (Not to mention a brilliant little sequence shown to us through the use of stylized animation). The three stories, while they aren't meant to have an overt connections, certainly feel like they could have stood on their own as full length films, especially with the hodge-podge of your usual Wes Anderson favorites making appearances, in both small and larger capacities. 

Each story, and even more so, each character (All based around real life journalists in some way), are filled with Anderson's delightful aesthetic, and the cast is remarkable as always. The first vignette might be my personal favorite of the three, featuring a weird, though still thoroughly compelling Benicio del Toro and a hilarious Adrien Brody. Some excellent parts also come from Léa Seydoux, quick surfacings of Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban (as Julien's uncles, who only appear together in each scene), and the very much welcome Tilda Swinton. The second one benefits from the bizarre, though still rather spectacular chemistry from Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet, along a great Lyna Khoudri (as "Juliette", a fellow, more strict revolutionary), and a quick cameo from Christoph Waltz. The final entry takes a little bit to get going, though once the point of the tale becomes clear, it offers something more bittersweet. Jeffrey Wright is wonderful here, as are Mathieu Amalric and Stephen Park (as "Lt. Nescaffier", a police officer/famous chef). This one also features Edward Norton (as one of the kidnappers), Liev Schreiber (as a talk show host), Willem Dafoe (as an imprisoned accountant), and Saoirse Ronan (a showgirl, who is also part of the kidnapping). The framing device has a perfect Bill Murray, as well as Owen Wilson (as "Herbsaint Sazerac", a traveling writer, who gets the focus in the opening prologue), and a narration from Angelica Huston. There's actually a few too many people to mention, and we don't exactly have all day here. It's just one of those casts where every familiar (Or not so familiar) face stands out in some way. 

"The French Dispatch" could alienate those not acquainted with Wes Anderson's work, or even those teetering on the edge. It's also not quite the best of his films that I've seen (Though the bar is very high). It's still a blast through and through, and serves as a touching tribute to the art of professional journalism (Something that so often can be ridiculed for even existing these days). Funny, whimsically weird, and by the end, with a little bit of a sweet side. It's Wes Anderson in his element, and it's always something to see. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Artistic Graphic Nudity, Rebellious Youth, And Dangerous Food. 

Ron's Gone Wrong                                 by James Eagan                             ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So what do I do when I have to pee?"

Somewhat off topic, but not really. Is it weird that we're just now accepting the whole Facebook taking our data thing? Manipulating our lives? Allowing for the distribution of dangerous propaganda? I'm still on there. A good chunk of us are. The whole recent testimony really didn't tell us things that we didn't either already know, or at least expect. And we're just going to accept it. I mean, there's a good chance you might be reading this review on Facebook. Kind of scary isn't it? We're so willing to throw our lives away online so easily, even though we know the dangers and don't really care......Oh well, here's a movie about a cute little robot. 

"Ron's Gone Wrong" opens with the introduction of a revolutionary, technological marvel, a robotic buddy for kids called the "B-bot", created by the tech giant, "Bubble", run by the well intentioned "Marc Weidell" (Justice Smith) and his less well intentioned partner, "Andrew Morris" (Rob Delaney). The B-bot is meant to serve as a friend, that will also connect one to other friends all over the world via the internet. In a small town, everyone but poor "Barney Pudowski" (Jack Dylan Grazer) has been able to get one. Barney, who doesn't have any friends aside from his widowed, always busy dad, "Graham" (Ed Helms) and his offbeat grandma, "Donka" (Olivia Colman), desperately wants a B-bot for his birthday, and feels more ostracized by his fellow students now more than ever due to not having one. However, Graham and Donka are able to get their hands on one (Although it did fall off a trunk and has some clear damage), which Barney happily activates, only to instead get introduced to "Ron" (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike other B-bots, Ron gets everything wrong, is always apparently malfunctioning, and repeatedly finds himself in some kind of danger. With that said though, Ron starts to grow on Barney, discovering something rather unique about the eccentric bot, leading to the duo become the best of friends. When Ron's malfunctioning personality becomes known to the public, resulting in mass chaos with other B-bots downloading his all over the place code, the higher ups at Bubble become determined to send Ron to the crusher and save some face. Ron and Barney embark on a wild journey to escape Bubble and learn the true meaning of what real friendship can be in our more modern, tech-heavy era. 

Released through 20th Century Studios (Poor Fox), and the first feature film from "Locksmith Animation", "Ron's Gone Wrong" seems to understand that to make an old fashioned, been there done that formula work, you either reinvent it in some way, or you just treat your audience with enough respect.  Directed by Sarah Smith ("Arthur Christmas") and Jean-Phillppe Vine, the film chooses the later, fashioning a pretty standard in terms of plotting, but makes up for it in a whole lotta charm. The screenplay, by Smith and Peter Baynham ("Arthur Christmas", "Hotel Transylvania"), is smart about its fairly predictable story, offering some safe, but plenty chuckle worth humor, while the pleasant animation makes for more impressive visuals than you would expect from a non-major animation company. The film has its own identity (Although the robots do look suspiciously like Baymax from "Big Hero 6", but we'll move past that one), with a elaborate, expressively lovable animation style. The film's themes and messages are always handled in a mature manner, never talking down to the little ones, and even gives something for adults to consider. It never demonizes technology and points out the good intentions behind it, though still warns that it can be so easily abused, sometimes for nefarious purposes or just all around human cruelty (You know, like bullying or allowing it to determine your part in so called social hierarchies.)

Jack Dylan Grazer is an endearing lead, while Zach Galifianakis is as well cast as one can possibly be, with hilariously upbeat delivery. (Some of the funniest moments involve Ron's attempts at getting people to friend Barney, such as essentially kidnapping them, along with a baby who he describes as a small, balding man) Ed Helms and a wonderfully peculiar Olivia Colman, are great supporting roles, while Kylie Cantrall (as "Savannah", the seemingly generic Instagram obsessed girl) and Ricardo Hurtado (as "Rich", the seemingly generic prankster bully), prove to have more dimensions to them than what would first appear (Something that's just refreshing to see). Our main villain is on the other hand pretty one dimensional, though that's to be expected, and Rob Delaney is having a good time. 

Things get a bit rushed in the final act, though that's where the film's heart really shines, "Ron's Gone Wrong" takes a few familiar themes (We even saw some of them in more recent films like "Free Guy" and "The Mitchells vs. The Machines"), and just does a competent job with them. It's nothing all that remarkable, nor is it actually trying to be. It's a simple narrative and one that works with the right people telling it. Classic family friendly fun. Never gets old. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Questionable Use Of Technology, Robotic Shenanigans, And Poop Girl. 

Dune                                                   by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Our unvaccinated heroes finally arrive in the one place free of those so-called unconstitutional mask mandates.

It is quite the struggle to create what we would refer to as the next "Star Wars", or the next "The Lord of the Rings". Whether it be an original property or otherwise, to create a new world in the eyes of the general moviegoing public, in hopes that they will clamor for more, is a hard task. Sure we have book adaptations all the time, but it's kind of a flip of a coin to see if they'll find success, and the next big epic rarely can even find anyone with enough ambition to give it the time of day. Enter Denis Villeneuve. Even if I still can't pronounce his name.

Based on the classic, revolutionary novel of the same name by the late Frank Herbert, "Dune" (Or "Dune: Part One", since it covers the first half of the book. Literally, I think) opens in the far future, where the desert planet, "Arrakis", has been given to the highly respected "House Atreides". Arrakis is barren, with the only source of life being the mysterious "Fremen" people and the monstrous, giant sandworms, but is also home to a sought after drug, called "Spice". (Which is worth an apparent priceless amount of money) "Paul Atreides" (Timothée Chalamet), the son of "Duke Leto" (Oscar Isaac) and "Lady Jessica" (Rebecca Ferguson), has been experiencing dreams of Arrakis, with most of which focusing on a girl, "Chani" (Zendaya). Paul has been mentored in not just military and political knowledge, by the easily agitated "Gurney Halleck" (Josh Brolin) and the charismatic "Duncan Idaho" (Jason Momoa), but he's also been gifted some rather unique abilities by Lady Jessica, against the will of her own religious superiors. Duke Leto, who knows that the higher ups seemingly want an excuse to get rid of his family by sending them on a possible doomed mission, hopes to make their operation on Arrakis work regardless by befriending the Fremen (Who as you would expect, aren't a fan of the offworlders taking what doesn't belong to them). 

It doesn't take long for things to go wrong, as a deadly conspiracy involving the more ruthless, rather barbaric "House Harkonnen", led by the repulsive "Baron Vladimir Harkonnen" (Stellan Skarsgård), who previously ran the operations on Arrakis and really wants it back. House Atreides becomes a target of an evil alliance, resulting in Paul and Lady Jessica to flee into the unforgiving desert. Paul is forced to take charge and hone his abilities, to become the so called hero that he's apparently destined to become, if he's going to save both his family and the Fremen people from absolute destruction.

Directed and co-written by Denis Vileneuve ("Prisoners", "Sicario", "Arrival", "Blade Runner 2049". How's that for a filmography?), with screenplay credits also going to Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus", "Doctor Strange") and Eric Roth ("A Star Is Born", "Forrest Gump"), "Dune" has been a franchise that was deemed unfilmable, despite the source material having a role in establishing what many of us see as modern Science Fiction. David Lynch tried with his 1984 film to not particularly favorable (And rather bizarre) results. The novel, while certainly long, is also apparently very intricate and difficult to fully translate, especially in a way that the every day audience can comprehend (Think less nerdy). It basically has the word "Disaster" written all over it, and that's not even considering the budget needed. Big budget franchises do need to make money after all. Vileneuve's determination to make this seemingly impossible task into a profitable reality. Well time will tell in terms of the profitable part, but for what the film accomplishes, it's an enlightening, purely cinematic experience that serves as a reminder of the worlds that only the movies can fully immerse us within.

"Dune" is a extraordinary looking film, with more attention to endless amount of details, which help further establish how this world works without the need of exposition. Granted, it can make the film a bit jarring to the unitiated, or even a little hard to full follow at first. However at a rather early moment everything just clicks, then you're full engaged to the point that you feel that you just feel that you're there on Arrakis. From Villeneuve's clear passion for the story, and the overall the big screen experience, just give off those nostalgic feels of say a "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings". It definitely looks like nothing you've ever seen before, with some beautiful cinematography, focusing on the endless desert (Which looks harsh, uninviting, and just plain haunting), the futuristic technology (Such as dragonfly-like ships and holographic shielding devices, making for some clever action scenes), and a little time given to explain the political ramifications of the situation, without getting remotely boring about it. We also get a heart pounding score by the great Hans Zimmer (Who has had quite the year, with this and "No Time to Die"). The visual effects are flawless, and almost too real. There were times I couldn't remember what was actually physical, and what was just created through spectacular special effects work. The scope of the film, which even on the more basic movie screen I saw it in (Sadly, I couldn't see it in IMAX), still showcases a miraculously indepth art design and more than a few unforgettable setpieces. 

Where the film may be a little more detached is with some of its characters. They're certainly likable and plenty of them stand out, but due to the way the story is told (And perhaps, how it rather needed to be told), some just feel as if their roles are just yet to be expanded (I mean, this is only the first half of a rather large novel. So that's not shocking). Timothée Chalamet's role may be one of those performances that I feel some people might not completely get. It's not about what's obvious when it comes to his emotions (Or what appears to be a lack of emotion). It's all about the subtleties and the way the character reacts to the situation he's been thrust into, especially when he's repeatedly told that he's going to be a messiah-like hero, whether he likes it or not. Something I always like about Chalamet is that his eyes sometimes just say everything, even when you don't at first get it. Oscar Isaac is his usual terrificly charismatic self, while Rebecca Ferguson is stunning once more, getting some of the more complex, yet still warm feeling, character growth. There are some great supporting roles for Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley Henderson (as "Thufir Hawat", a loyal ally to House Atreides), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (as "Dr. Liet-Kynes", a scientist sent to assist House Atreides on Arrakis), Javier Bardem (as "Stilgar", the leader of the Fremen, who doesn't remotely hide his distrust of the colonizers), an unrecognizable Charlotte Rampling (as "Gaius Helen Mohiam", the eccentric Truthsayer), and especially awesome Jason Momoa. Some get more development than others, but everyone gives the material everything they got. Stellan Skarsgård is a suitably vile, revolting to look at villain, while Dave Bautista's role (as "Glossu Rabban", the Baron's fanatical nephew and general) feels like there's more to come. I do also just love seeing David Dastmalchian (as "Piter De Vries", the Baron's creepy servant), in basically anything he's ever been in. Zendaya's role is rather small, though vital, and she's certainly perfectly cast as a character that has the kind of mystifying allure, leaving you wanting more. Again, maybe in the sequel.....If it happens. 

"Dune" is a lot of movie, even though it's not the full story. It's flawed in places, and where the film ends, it's not really an ending. There's not even really a climax actually. (The way the film cuts to the credits, you expect a "To Be Continued...." tagline to make an appearance) Still though, at over two and a half hours, it breezes by quickly, and you're already so engaged in the worldbuilding that you're more sad that this part of the journey is already over. Villeneuve never lets his love for the project alienate the average audience, being something that anyone should be able to become invested in. I wouldn't call it the next "The Lord of the Rings", but it has the potential to be. A sweeping epic, that demands the big screen treatment, and I hope that the box office numbers are enough to make that possibility an actuality. Be a shame to just end the adventure right there. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Science Fiction Violence, Spice Abuse, And Giant Butthole Worms. 

The Last Duel                                  by James Eagan                                 ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Remember....Save a little bit for the rematch."

Once you strip away the vibrant colors, the chivalry, and all the sophisticated talk, medieval times were pretty freakin barbaric and scummy as Hell. All those knightly tales really lied to us. 

Based on true events, or rather based on the novel "The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France" by Eric Jager, "The Last Duel" opens with the entire kingdom showing up to witness a duel to the death between a knight, "Jean de Carrouges" (Matt Damon) and a squire, "Jacques Le Gris" (Adam Driver). "Marguerite de Carrouges" (Jodie Comer), the wife of de Carrouges, claims that Le Gris (Who is also the former friend to de Carrouges), raped her, and according to medieval law, this sanctioned duel is what will decide what the truth is, and if de Carrouges dies, so will Marguerite (Quite painfully too, I might add). The film is then told in three chapters, focusing on the supposed truth according to our three main characters, detailing the events that led everyone to this moment, though as expected, our leading men are going to leave out some key details or boast themselves up a little. The three perspectives are revealed before returning us to that fateful duel, with an innocent woman just being caught right in the middle of a dick measuring contest. To the death. 

Directed by Ridley Scott (Who has another movie, "House of Gucci", coming out next month), with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon (All three of them serving as producers as well), "The Last Duel" is a fascinating, culturally appropriate tale, that's rather brilliantly told in a rather clever way. The decision to break the story up into sections, from different perspectives, really drives home what can be manipulated as the truth, and Ridley Scott does a terrific job making these perceptions change as the film progresses. In one version, we might see a scene being portrayed in a somewhat more comedic light, while in another, we witness it in a more horrifying way. One character at first appears heroic, before being shown to be incompetently stupid, and then even being portrayed as someone more monstrous. There are subtle tweaks to the dialogue and the score within similar scenes depending on who is being focused on, and how that character appears to wish for the audience to view the scene. It's something that could warrant a repeat viewing, so one can see all the tiny details and how they further play into later developments. It's a gorgeously constructed film, with the once whimsical or regal setting being brought down to this dark, grey, dirty, and thoroughly savage this time period can truly be. 

We get a top notch cast, all of which are allowed to play against their traditional types, with some portrayals varying between flattering or otherwise, well, not. Matt Damon goes through some of the biggest shifts in his characterization, along with Adam Driver, going from charismatic and smart, to repulsive and cowardly. Both characters are certainly human, and at times, you're left wondering how much of their perceived accounts are actually what they believe or something that they are just making up to gain sympathy. Jodie Comer is the one who stands out the most, giving a powerhouse performance that only truly gets to shine once we reach the final act. Just from her eyes alone, you feel every emotion, even when they aren't exactly obvious in the moment. Ben Affleck (as "Count Pierre d'Alencon", who immediately takes a shine to Le Gris, inviting him to his drunken parties and orgies), steals most scenes that he's in, embracing the kind of sleazy scumbag that you take a sick delight in seeing. The film incorporates a few moments of humor, with some of it coming from how bizarre the time period is, or just how plain horrendous it could be. It also adds a lot of character, especially to some supporting players like Harriet Walker (as "Nicole", Jean de Carrouges' mother, who is always disapproving), and Alex Lawther (as a rather odd "King Charles VI"). 

"The Last Duel" is unrelenting and cruelly honest, yet still shows signs of hope and that something better can eventually come out of this. It leads to a grueling climax that will have you on the edge of your seat, especially if you know nothing of the story. The execution of the narrative might be jarring to some, but feels necessary when you think more about why it's told the way it is. It serves as a compelling drama, as well as a fitting allegory for our current state when it comes to what we choose to believe as truth and how the women at the center might still not have as much of a say, even when it concerns them more than the rest of us. I'm not saying that we're still burning them at the stake, but you gotta admit, a lot of the arguments here are eerily similar, like how the men in power treat the rape more as an insult to the man than anything, or repeated questioning on how it technically couldn't be a rape because of religious/science mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense. It's a powerful, unsettling, and wonderfully uncompromising tale that sadly went mostly ignored at the box office. Lets hope next year's Oscars don't forget it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Violence, And An Especially Uncomfortable (Though Necessarily And Uniquely Explained) Rape Scene.  

Halloween Kills                                      by James Eagan                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: OK, so I admit, it looks incriminating.

What's been impressive about the "Halloween" franchise (Aside from completely ignoring everything after the 1978 classic by John Carpenter in favor of the 2018 soft reboot/sequel) is that underneath all the slashing and stabbing, there's something more frightening. Considering slasher films rarely scare me, the thought of an unknown shape, with no known motivation or reason, going around and killing without remorse, while also incorporating characters that you actually care about, can at least put me a little more on edge. Most films in this genre seem to miss that, or at least their sequels do.

Taking place literally seconds after the last film still taking place on Halloween night,  "Halloween Kills" opens with survivors "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter "Karen" (Judy Greer), and granddaughter "Allyson" (Andi Matichak), leaving the silent, mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers/The Shape" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), to die in a burning house. Sadly though, the fire department arrives and unintentionally gives Michael a means of escape, after brutally slaughtering everyone in sight of course. Meanwhile, while Laurie recovers, along with the revealed to be alive "Deputy Frank Hawkins" (Will Patton), Allyson and Karen learn of Michael's survival. Previous survivors from Michael's first rampage, including "Tommy Doyle" (Anthony Michael Hall), "Marion Chambers" (Nancy Stephens), "Lindsey Wallace" (Kyle Richards), and "Lonnie Elam" (Robert Longstreet), also find out about Michael's return, leading to Tommy organizing his own angry mob with the intent on putting an end to Michael's reign of terror for good. Determined to get her own vengeance, Allyson joins Tommy's group, along with her ex, "Cameron" (Dylan Arnold), setting out to track down Michael. Meanwhile, Michael continues to butcher various innocents, with little rhyme or reason like before. Gruesome deaths ensue, along with all the townsfolk themselves now starting to create even more chaos, creating all out anarchy. 

Directed once again by David Gordon Green, who also participated in writing the screenplay with Scott Teems and Danny McBride, "Halloween Kills" serves as a bridge film, wrapping up loose ends from the first and setting up things for next year's final entry in the franchise (Unless they reboot it again). Sadly, this means that there is likely going to be a good amount of filler, and the film rather disappointingly indulges in its worse aspects. Not to say that they aren't plenty of things to enjoy on a popcorn level, and even some legit greatness mixed in here, but when it comes to it, this unlike the last film, feels exactly what I would expect from a slasher movie. In fact, it feels rather by the numbers. 2018's "Halloween" felt like a solid drama that just so happened to have a serial killer in it, where time was given to every single character (Even ones just being set up to meet grisly ends), and you feel for them. This time though, aside from the main leads (Who remain engaging) and maybe like one or two side characters, that emotion is lacking. It doesn't help that more of the characters are a lot dumber this time, making your typical horror movie mistakes to set up bloody deaths. Now it's not to say that some of these kills aren't clever or even a little frightening (Michael's massacre of the firefighters is a highlight). There just sadly isn't much effort to elevate itself above the simplest of genre thrills. David Gordon Green is a good director and can frame an unnerving shot or two. It's the screenplay that drops the ball in character development and heart, which again, the last film had a lot of. The only heart here is bleeding profusely. It's a rather disjointed story, stopping for kills along the way, and while it gives its target audience what they came for, you know the filmmakers can do so much better.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends almost all of the runtime in a hospital bed, is still terrific here, along with endearing performances from Judy Greer and Andi Matichak. These are three great leading ladies,and you still hope for their survival. It's also nice to have Will Patton back (Who was one of the smartest characters in the first film), and he's given a little extra backstory that I can assume will lead into the next entry. I did also enjoy Omar Dorsey (as "Sheriff Barker", who is trying and miserably failing to keep the peace), who does a good job at just looking completely worn out. These are characters that I  like and feel for, but where the film falters is just about with everyone else. Most of the characters don't receive the same level of thought that our main leads do, popping up to predictably die. Most of the time because of their own stupidity. The film also stops to give a little focus on a few probable victims, such as Scott McArthur and Michael McDonald (as "Big John" and "Little John", a gay couple living in the Myers house), but you don't care near enough about them as the film intends. For how drawn out some of these scenes are, you want the film to just kill them already and move onto the next ghastly setpiece. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to embrace the idea of the audience yelling at the screen for people not to make poor decisions, and while I can see the enjoyment, the previous films didn't need to do that. One part where I give a little leeway would be the angry mob subplot, where the stupidity is not only addressed, but also part of the point the film is trying to make. They are irrational, disorganized, and only become more violent as the film progresses, showing how a being like Michael Myers could basically turn an entire town into lunatics in a desperate attempt to end his carnage. While it goes where you would expect, it's still a brilliant and necessary concept that I'm surprised hasn't happened sooner. As for Michael himself, he still remains a menacing presence, and the film remembers not to give us too many details about just what he even is. He appears human, feels pain, and seems to at times enjoy his butchery of the innocent, and yet, his true motivation appears to remain somewhat of a mystery. Just the shots of that lifeless mask staring down at a helpless victim as life leaves them, is frightening enough on a psychological level, and to constantly be in a state of confusion as to how one can be this evil for possibly no reason, it shows why this character can remain a horror icon.

Overall, "Halloween Kills", doesn't have much in terms of actual scares, going for all out gore, and adding little to a genre that's already been in a serious need of a shakeup. There's a decent amount that works, and I do love how tightly woven this continuity is, feeling like you can watch all these movies as one continuous narrative. However, the last film was willing to add more depth, while this one feels as if it's just there as an obligation, leaving you to wonder if this and next year's final entry (Appropriately titled "Halloween Ends") would have been better off just as one movie. Time will tell on that one. Aside from a tragic death or two (And an abrupt ending), the film doesn't stand out in a way that it should. It gets the job done and offers plenty of savagery for the more blood lust filled fans, but abandons much of what set it apart from other films like it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Eye Gouging, Knife Fights, Head Stompings, And The Persecution Of Perfectly Innocent Escaped Insane Asylum Patients. 

No Time to Die                                     by James Eagan                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: He looks pretty shaken. But not at all stirred.

It's been one Hell of a road coming here. In a way, I doubt many of us thought we would even get this far. It's felt like it's taken forever, but we powered through it and we're finally here. "No Time to Die", one of the first movies (And maybe the first really major one. Don't quote me on that!) to get delayed, is at long last released. And yeah, it's very much worth the wait. 

"No Time to Die" MI6 agent, "007", aka "James Bond" (Daniel Craig), who after the events of the last film, has decided to retire from the spy business, and settle down with "Madeleine Swan" (Léa Seydoux). Now Bond is living the happy life, enjoying the peace and tranquility, along with all the steamy sexy time with Madeleine. However as one would expect, these joyous days are not to last. Bond finds himself under attack from a one-eyed freak, "Primo" (Dali Benssalah), working for the still active crime syndicate, "Spectre", run by Bond's incarcerated foster brother/arch-nemesis, "Ernst Stavro Blofeld" (Christoph Waltz). Bond has become convinced that Madeleine had a role in this attack and has betrayed him (Granted, it doesn't look good), refusing to listen to her before sending her away, and vanishing off the grid. Years later, a questionable scientist, "Valdo Obruchev" (David Dencik), is kidnapped, along with an experimental bioweapon, "Heracles" (Made up of little nanobots, creating a virus that can touch and kill, based purely on DNA alone).

 It also doesn't help that MI6 head honcho, "M" (Ralph Fiennes), approved for Heracles' existence in the first place, and now one wonders what could be done if it were in the wrong hands. Meanwhile, Bond is approached by his CIA buddy, "Felix Leiter" (Jeffrey Wright), informing him of Obruchev's kidnapping and the weapon, and since Bond isn't exactly on the best of terms with MI6, especially the new 007, "Nomi" (Lashana Lynch), he agrees to help Leiter in tracking the scientist down. However, there is something much more nefarious and dangerous at the center of it all. This leads to Bond being reunited with Madeleine, along with a disfigured, Rami Malek-eyed maniac from her past, "Lyutsifer Safin" (Rami Malek), who is manipulating all sides in a diabolical plan to kill millions, get his hands on Madeleine, and shape the world in his own demented image. 

Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Beasts of No Nation"), "No Time to Die" is a bold, and almost completely unheard of entry to the long running "James Bond" franchise. Based on the character created by Ian Fleming back in 1953, with twenty five films (And the fifth/final one starring Daniel Craig), this entry is especially epic and feels like an eye-opening end of an era. Not just for Daniel Craig, but it changes the game so much that I can't see a logical reason for anyone wanting to go back. I'm not even sure it's physically possible by this point. The Craig Era (as I like to call it, made up also of "Casino Royale", "Quantum of Solace", "Skyfall", "Spectre"), moved away from some of the more campy elements in favor of a darker, more real, and more human-centric version of the character, acknowledging some of the character's more dated aspects, without ever feeling the need to bash and most importantly, never losing sight of what made the character so iconic in the first place. Even when the films couldn't quite reach the heights of greatness we know they're capable of, there was always something special about them. These were also the first of the character's long filmography where I actually felt really attached to things, with some of that benefiting from a more serialized approach. 

Flaws and all, this movie feels like a fitting, thoroughly exciting, and immensely moving conclusion. One that I would almost consider it to be a solid stopping point overall. Clocking in at almost three hours, the film never feels like it, rarely dragging, and it's a credit to Fukunaga's slick direction, which balances out the hard hitting, grounded feel, while also embracing hints of something a little more science-fiction. It all could have felt so out of place, and yet, it could be seen as just a natural progression of where this franchise's form of warfare would go. It's also pretty scary too. What timing to have a villain plan involving a deadly, incurable virus, that specifically targets certain people, without affecting others, which could also result in the complete and utter collapse of all human society. (You know there's someone out there thinking about it, and there's a good chance that someone you politically contributed to at least knows about it.) The action sequences themselves are particularly elaborate on their own, along with a few sequences of tension building, such as an intense scene at a club in Cuba, where the build up to the close quarters sequence is just as exciting as the payoff. It's bolstered by an epic score by the great Hans Zimmer (The "Dark Knight" trilody), and the perfect for IMAX cinematography by Linus Sandgren ("La La Land", "First Man"). The screenplay by Fukunaga, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Who have both been a writer for the franchise since "The World Is Not Enough"), along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag"), the film feels grounded, though makes way for some more fantastical elements, while balancing deeper character moments and even a little humor. I'm pretty sure that Phoebe Waller-Bridge contributed most to the more self-aware moments, such as the fact that Bond is repeatedly ready for an intimate moment, only to get realistically denied. 

This also translates to the characters, each and every single one having identifiable traits and even though some getting more screentime than others, they're certainly unforgettable. First and foremost, there's Daniel Craig, who I think has proved himself as one of the greats by this point. Considering last we saw him he was playing an eccentric though still brilliant detective in "Knives Out" (Robbed of so many Oscar nominations), the man has so much more versatility than anyone gives him credit for. Craig has the charm and the quips, but also the brutality and badassery, while also showing more humanity than any other Bond. (Granted, I haven't fully seen too many of these films, so don't go crazy on me, fanboys) Craig makes sure to end his time as the character one that's definitely going to stick with you, even after the film's credits roll. The hypnotically lovely Léa Seydoux takes a few unexpected turns for what's usually given to a Bond love interest, even participating more in the grander plot than they traditionally do. Lashana Lynch has some great semi-antagonistic/semi-friendly banter with Craig, while remaining a cool new character on her own, while Ralph Fiennes shows a few more complicated layers to his character (Even the supposed good guys can make a few rather morally questionable decisions). Rami Malek plays a perfectly creepy, and suitably eccentric villain, though compared to some of the others in this series (And considering this film is meant to cap off the current saga they've got going), he feels a little small by comparison. You do expect something a little grander. Christoph Waltz is still a devious delight despite his limited appearance, and Dali Benssalah is a great offputting henchmen that you immediately love to hate. There are some other returning faces, like Ben Wishaw (as "Q", MI6's quartermaster and tech guy, still full of so much excellent snark), Jeffrey Wright, and Naomie Harris (as "Eve Moneypenny", a close ally to Bond), though she doesn't get as much to do as before. Other supporting players like Billy Magnussen (as "Logan Ash", Felix's fellow CIA agent, always wearing a rather dumb smile on his face), a rather detestable David Dencik (He's a nusance, but he's supposed to be), and a fantastic, completely scene-stealing Ana de Armas (as "Paloma", another, seemingly inexperienced CIA agent), who participates in the film's best action scene. You wish she was in it more, but regardless, she leaves a major impression. The film also takes a turn around the last act, with something that's rather unheard of in the "James Bond" franchise, and I'm actually shocked that until now, nobody has ever thought of it. All things considered, you would think that he would have had something like that happen to him a long time ago. 

"No Time to Die" has a lot going on, and some smaller aspects may or may not fully work. Yet, they don't detract from a film that knows how to give the audience what they want, and maybe a little bit of what they need. "James Bond" is a character that in recent years, has been questioned in terms of if he is truly a heroic character. Now some of that's a little harsh, considering he has his flaws and the character seemingly is knowledgeable of them. However, this is the one where he shines and by the end, I was inspired as Hell. The film culminates in a finale that showcases the character at his absolute best, leading to a moving conclusion that even though I sort of expected it, I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little lump in my throat when it was all over. My mind is still attempting to process what ends up being the endgame here. This one feels really special, as if the franchise is ready to grow further, and only opens the door to infinite possibilities. Is it perfect? Not quite, but I loved it regardless, and am eager to see where they take this next. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Espionage, And Mind Blowing Watches.