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Reviews for Current Films:
In Theaters (Or streaming): Civil War, The First Omen, Monkey Man, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Immaculate, Late Night with the Devil, Love Lies Bleeding, The American Society of Magical Negroes, Arthur the King, Kung Fu Panda 4, Imaginary, Dune: Part Two

Coming Soon: Abigail, The Fall Guy, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, IF, Furiosa, Garfield, The Crow, Inside Out 2, A Quiet Place: Day One, Despicable Me 4

 

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Civil War                                by James Eagan                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★★    

Image: Trying to get Trump's good side is a job better said than done.

Love or hate what this movie may or may not be doing, how it's saying it, or if it's even trying to say anything politically, but you gotta admit its very idea is nothing short of brilliant. How many war films have we seen, where we follow a bunch of Americans (Soldier, journalists, etc.) in some falling apart country that's been ravaged by war and chaos? And how many of those films usually focus on either real life countries or fictional ones, where they're generally (And intentionally) made to exclusively foreign? Most of the time it's probably a bunch of darker skinned people, speaking another language, and in less recognizable locations, so that the audience watching doesn't get too scared, feeling that "Well, that's only over there. Not here. Where it's safe and civilized.". That kind of desensitized nature is exactly why this film is important (Again, whether you actually like the film or not), and how regardless of where you fall politically, none of that would remotely matter if one day, we were the ones in that exact situation that we've only seen happening elsewhere. Showcasing this kind of anarchy, but from an outside view, where we don't have all the answers, is such an ambitious task alone that I consider it worthy of praise. 

Set in the near future (Future-Ish?), "Civil War" shows the United States falling apart thanks to a multiparty conflict, with many states seceding and forming their own alliances (Such as things being so bad that Texas and California have apparently put aside their differences to join forces!), with the dictatorial President (Nick Offerman), serving his third term (And has only made things much, much worse). Renowned war photojournalist, "Lee Smith" (Kirsten Dunst), along with her colleagues "Joel" (Wagner Moura) and "Sammy" (Stephen McKinley Henderson), get word that the rebel forces are planning to take the capital on the Fourth of July, thus bringing an end to the President's reign (And maybe end the war? Honestly, nobody seems to have thought that far ahead). Lee and her team decide to make their way to Washington D.C. to interview the President before his fall from power (Or execution, most likely), letting a naive young photographer, "Jessie" (Cailee Spaeny), who idolizes Lee, tag along. The group witnesses the hellhole that the once great USA has become, facing deadly threats from all over, along with their growing detachment from the horrors that they continue to photograph. 

Written and directed by Alex Garland ("Ex Machina", "Annihilation", "Men"), "Civil War" is certainly made to be a divisive, harsh, and unbearably unforgiving film, that's less an action film as it is a horror movie. I have already seen the film gain from dislike from the left because they see it as Garland pulling his punches, avoiding political talk, and leaving so much open to interpretation (Which yeah, the film is clearly doing), while most on the right are upset because, well, an evil, self-absorbed President allowing for chaos in the streets, with various gun-toting militias shooting at anyone they deem "Non-American", hits too close to home for them (If you are a Trump supporter, seeing a Trump analogy without the filmmakers even saying that there is one, I think you pretty much know what's up!). It's specifically designed to NOT make everyone happy, or in some ways, make everyone so unhappy and depressed that they can only find solace in the possibility in our next election being our last at least putting them out of their misery. The film's focus isn't on world-building or the details, but instead drops you right in the middle of the madness, without any real clue as to what even caused it in the first place. Honestly, I kind of love that. It makes you even more uneasy since you're not entirely sure who is the good guy here and how anything good will even come from this. The film's real attention is squarely on the journalist aspect and their story, taking the usual road trip movie tropes and turning them into a series of nightmarish experiences that look like they could be happening right down the road from your home.  

The performances are all spectacular, portraying characters that you are left questioning how much you're really meant to like them. Kirsten Dunst is understated, giving a performance that feels emotionally detached, mostly due to seeing so much unimaginable, unrepentant death and torture elsewhere that you has seemingly become numb to it. However, you also can tell that those personality traits that she showcases may not be entirely true as the film progresses. Wagner Moura plays it differently, with a more humorous side that almost feels as if he's enjoying the life or death situations he's in and may not be entirely taking it all particularly seriously (Though when that charismatic charm fades, showing the more broken person beneath it, that's when the emotions hit hard). Cailee Spaeny on the other hand is the more innocent surrogate for the audience, learning more and more about the harshness of this new world, only to e further hardened because of it, while Stephen McKinley Henderson is where the film finds some kind of light within so much darkness. Jessie Plemons (as an unnamed, very trigger happy soldier, who the team come across), only appears for one scene, but makes the most of it in such a frighteningly real way, while Nick Offerman says a lot with his mannerisms and expressions in just a couple minutes of screentime (Showcasing the difference between a dictator's public image against who they really are when facing death's door). It's not much for action, yet you can feel the suspense and unnerving sense of dread throughout, from a scene where the team comes across a pair of soldiers in a shootout with some unknown resident (Where we never find out what got them into that situation in the first place, other than "He's trying to kill us and we're trying to kill him") to a brief moment of apparent peace in a seemingly lovely town that just wants to "stay out of things", to the point that everyone is going about their lives as if people aren't dying all around them. 

"Civil War" isn't without a few predictable beats (Though there are some parts where no amount of foreshadowing can prepare you for), some logically questionable moments, and so much bleakness that it could be seen as too nihilistic for some. However, it's still an exceptionally well constructed, intelligent, and, regardless of how hard you want it to hit (Or how hard you might think you're being hit), very relevant look into what war-driven mayhem could look like if it were happening right here, where many of us think we're stable to ever experience in our lifetimes. With a final twenty minutes of edge of your seat spectacle (This cost $50 million? Now that's the real shock!), and a final image that will certainly stick with you for a while, it works on levels that aren't just at face level. That alone makes it necessary. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong, Bloody War Violence And Murican Mayhem.     

 

The First Omen                         by James Eagan              ★★★★½ out of ★★★★★

Image: "Check this out sisters. I'm totally gonna freak this girl out. It's gonna be hilarious."

We all gave credit to "Immaculate" for its intense shock value and unsettling imagery, based around the possible birth of the Antichrist, which is to be forced upon a young woman of faith by those who claim to be people of God. You wanna know the real shocker? That was the watered down version! 

Serving as a direct prequel to the 1976 horror classic "The Omen", "The First Omen" takes place in 1971 Rome, where a young American "Margaret Daino" (Nell Tiger Free), arrives at an orphanage to take her vows and becoming part of the nun convent, reuniting with an old, loving fatherly figure, "Cardinal Lawrence" (Bill Nighy). Despite the ongoing left-leaning, civil protests of the younger generation of the time going on right outside, Margaret is determined to commit herself to God. The convent, headed by "Sister Silvia" (Sônia Braga), is at first quite welcoming, with Margaret befriending her more outgoing roommate, "Luz" (Maria Caballero), though faces some uncertainty, such as how the rest of the convent treats the clearly disturbed "Carlita Skianna" (Nicole Sorace), such as locking her away in separate quarters whenever she acts out. Margaret sees a connection with Carlita, who claims to be plagued by strange, frightening visions (Which she creates morbid drawings of), because Margaret also experienced such a thing during her own childhood. Margaret is approached by a crazy sounding priest, "Father Brennan" (Ralph Ineson), who claims that there is a great evil conspiracy going on within the church. A conspiracy that will intentionally bring about the birth of the Antichrist in hopes that fear of such a thing will only drive people back to the church. At first, Margaret thinks this is insanity, but after starting to witness several sinister events and images one after the other, she comes to realize that there truly is something vile going on within the convent. Margaret now must find a way to save Carlita and discover how far up this conspiracy goes, before the Antichrist is finally born. (And if you have seen the original.....well, cue the Latin chorus!)

Directed by Arkasha Stevenson (Mostly known for television work, with this being her first feature film), who co-wrote the screenplay with Tim Smith and Keith Thomas ("The Vigil", "Firestarter"), "The First Omen" on paper sounds like the most unnecessary addition to a franchise that already has too many unnecessary additions. The first film is good, with a few legit shocking moments of horror, but was plagued by the desire to exploitable a horror film's legacy (With a weak sequel, followed by a weaker one, followed by an abysmal television film, and a pointless 2006 remake). It gives off the vibe that the first film should have just been left to stand on its own, with its themes unable to find a place after the fact, and worst of all, the attempts at franchising on the verge of reaching "Halloween" or "Exorcist" levels of betraying what the original stood for. That alone makes this film such a demented miracle of terror. The filmmakers took something that normally would have served as a lame cash grab, trying to capitalize on an old franchise, and turned it into something that genuinely feels like it could tie into the original film, yet also, is actually much better than it. Much of it is because of the amazing work from Arkasha Stevenson, who shows much promise when it comes to its use of visual storytelling (Which is full of disturbing, religious subtext), a strong cast, social relevancy, and as any good horror movie does, finds a way to leave the audience's jaws on the floor in both shock and dread.

Taking cues from the original, Stevenson plays things soft and quiet, forgoing traditional jump scares in favor of forcing the audience to get a nice, long, agonizing look at what kind of horrific image is being presented right in front of them. Most of the time, you're left questioning what's real or what's just a figment of the lead character's imagination, which repeatedly calls into question her very sanity (Not to mention, it's easy to understand why she might be losing her mind because of how feverish things will sometimes appear to be). It's as if you think you're waking up from a nightmare, but then realize that it's only just begun. And when I say it's a nightmare, that's putting things lightly. The film apparently got an NC-17 rating several times for some of the controversial images that it shows, and while I feel such a thing would have been too extreme a call, I can't say that the film is for the faint of heart. It's also only made more upsetting by how dark the subject matter gets. There are themes of rape, female degradation, and taking control over what say women have over their bodies, with all of it being in the supposed name of God, turns the very concept of religious horror into something all too real. Sure, it's taking it to a more exaggerated, supernatural-esque degree, but the point is clear and you're left pondering how often such evils have been committed by people of faith claiming that it's for the greater good or the betterment of the church. Turning people to God, Christianity or any religion really, not by love and acceptance, but by fear and exploitation? Those are ideas that will never not be relevant.  

Much of what really sells the film is the very bold, uncompromising performance of Nell Free Tiger. She comes across as the ideal "normal", everyday character that just so happens to find herself walking into something much larger than herself, wanting nothing to do with it, yet is left little choice but to play her part. Not to mention, she plays realization induced fear and panic better than anyone I can think of at the moment (Where it takes one a second to fully grasp what kind of shock they're experiencing before letting it all out in an uncontrollable fit of irrational fear). It's very much Nell Free Tiger's film and this should serve as a catalyst for a promising career (There's a one shot sequence where she has to showcase what possession would likely look and feel like in the moment, making for a moment that you just can't look away from). Ralph Ineson (And his epic voice) play crazy really well, while the likes of a menacingly stoic Sônia Braga, Nicole Sorace, a creepy Ishtar Currie Wilson (as "Angelica", one of the more unsettling nuns at the convent), and a memorably morbid cameo from Charles Dance (as "Father Harris", a priest, whose discovery of the conspiracy makes him for a grisly fate in the film's prologue), all leave heavy impressions. Plus, it's always a delight to see Bill Nighy in anything, even when you know exactly how big or small a role he's going to be playing. The film makes surprisingly good use of callbacks to the original (Or should we say, call forwards?), and even when there are a fair share of more predictable moments, there's always something more to them that only make those reveals feel fresher. 

A hauntingly gorgeous trip into satanic insanity, "The First Omen" is the kind of scary where it's not meant to make you jump, but rather cause you to experience so much anxiety induced states of frozen fear, that you're too afraid to look away because you're not sure what will happen if you do. I can't even get into the f*cked up visuals that we're subjected to, which never feel exploitative but instead further drive home the film's heart wrenching themes of religion's casual abuse of women (Both mentally and physically). I have no idea how they pulled this one off. Turning something that could have so easily been something to throw away more horror schlock for a late night dumpster fire, then instead turning it into a future horror classic in its own right that only surpasses what came before it. Hell, I'd go as far as to say, if they do it right, this could even serve as a possible reboot for the franchise as a whole. 4 1/2 Stars. Rated R (A Hard R, Considering It Was Almost NC-17) For Gruesome, Disturbing, And Just Plain Upsetting Images Of Religious Induced Sexual Horror. Pretty Sure Something Like THAT Is Not Meant To Come Out Of That Hole.....

Monkey Man                          by James Eagan                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★★   

Image: Monkey! Monkey Man! I gotta be! A Monkey Man!

The story behind this movie's very existence is one of hope, human perseverance, and the desire to make a genre, action film with a sense of soul. A story brought about by its star, director, producer, and co-writer Dev Patel, who previously wanted Neil Blomkamp (Who he worked with on 2015's "Chappie"), to direct, who wisely declined, most likely because a South African white guy making such a film would have been thoroughly missing the very point of the film. Eventually things seemed to be coming together in 2020, only for Covid to rear its ugly head and change the plans, resulting in a new shooting location and an immediate on-set injury for Patel (Which I'm going assume happened a lot throughout this movie's production). After finally getting completed, the film was originally going to be released via Netflix, who later decided to abandon the film due to thinking its harsh themes wouldn't sell. Luckily, a hero in the form of Jordan Peele (Who has proven to have a damn good track record with his smart filmography, despite coming from a more comedic background), served as a last second producer, then made sure the film got the theatrical release that it truly deserved. I'm not going to get into the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that likely went into the actual shooting of the film, because you can definitely see all of it on screen for yourself. 

Set in an overpopulated city in India, ruled by overtly corrupt officials, "Monkey Man" follows an unnamed young man (Dev Patel), credited as "Kid", goes by the name "Bobby" to keep his identity hidden, and takes part in illegal, underground fights run by the devilishly charismatic "Tiger" (Sharlto Copley), where he dresses up in a Monkey mask, going by the moniker "Monkey Man" (Let's just refer to him as that because it just sounds cool). Monkey Man is secretly on a mission to get revenge on the people who, as a child, witnessed the  murder of his mother, "Neela" (Adithi Kalkunte), the destruction of his village, and continued persecution of any individual seemed lesser in a brutal Caste system. Posing as a kitchen worker at a socially exclusive club (Full of drugs and prostitutes to be given out to powerful people, including politicians and other important officials), run by the domineering "Queenie" (Ashwini Kalsekar), Monkey Man has to find a way to work up to the top to get his hands on the vile chief of police, "Rana Singh" (Sikander Kher) and his boss, the controversial spiritual guru "Baba Shakti" (Makarand Deshpande). However, Monkey Man is just, well, one man, and with his uncontrollable rage always on the verge of being unleashed, he's really got his work cut out for him.

Directed by Dev Patel (His directorial debut), who co-wrote the screenplay with Paul Angunawela and John Collee ("Hotel Mumbai" and for some reason, "Happy Feet"?), "Monkey Man" is a brutal, unrelenting, and ambitious action thriller, that might seem to bite off more than it can chew, yet finds a cohesive way to mix adrenaline fueled violence, social awareness, and even some memorable character in equal measure. Most of it is because of Dev Patel's chaotic, yet loving direction, which has taken clear inspiration from more recent action films (The film straight up references "John Wick", because if they didn't do it, we would have ourselves) by integrating well choreographed stunwork that feels like a barbaric dance of sorts, yet never appears overly planned out (Meaning that people will use anything and everything in a life or death situation, right down to many casual mistakes and nobody coming out unscathed). The film also makes great use of the crowded, claustrophobic-like setting, particularly in a sequence where Monkey Man attempts to flee into the city, only to run into a brothel and is out of nowhere attacked by the axe-weilding owner, resulting in yet another violent action scene. The film's disorienting camera work might not work for all (Apparently the filmmakers had to rely on whatever they could to shoot many of these sequences, right down to camera phones), but I feel it cleverly showcases how chaotic this world is, where a fight could just break out randomly at any moment and you're left unsure what to do next. 

Dev Patel really commits to the feature in many ways, especially with his he transforms himself into a certifiable, genuinely intense badass, who still for a good chunk of the runtime, gets his ass thoroughly kicked all over. The character is making up his plan as he goes along, proving to be smart enough to act quick on his feet, yet repeatedly has to compensate for mistakes. This makes for more suspense, extra depth to the performance, and even a little humor (Such as a hilarious bit where he attempts to leap out a window, only for himself to bounce right off it because realistically, windows don't break that easily). There are some supporting roles, where the performances of the actors (Along with brief moments where the screenplay allows them to show that there's more to them than what first appears) turn them into something that you take home with you after the film ends. This includes Pitobash (as "Alphonso", a lower rank member of the club, who is literally looked down on by the others and becomes a strange ally to Monkey Man), the beautiful Sobhita Dhulipala (as "Sita", one of the prostitutes, who has come to terms with her current situation), Vipin Sharma (as "Alpha", a member of a Transgender community that's been ostracized by the elites), Zakir Hussain (an unnamed drum player in the Transgender community that initiates the obligatory cool training montage), and a suitably sleazy Sharlo Copley. Our villains are all equally detestable and you just can't wait to see their eventual comeuppances, such as Ashwini Kalsekar (Representing corporate, sexually exploitative villainy), Sikander Kher (Representing police corruption), and a frighteningly calm Makarand Despande (Representing the mix of both political and religious corruption taken to the most dangerous degree imaginable). It's also cool to see some Trans representation, which in a lesser film (With a white lead), would have had them simply serve as a group to be saved, rather than actually contributing during the climax (In some ways even more than the lead does).

"Monkey Man" is immensely entertaining, creatively violent, and even surprisingly socially important, and you can truly see how Dev Patel poured his heart into making it into a reality. From the stylishly messy fight scenes to the strong sense of character, it has much more to say than "Guy in Monkey mask punches real hard". I mean, it does that too (And it's awesome!), but it's a lot more intelligent than just that. It feels like a culturally ignited, future cult classic that I'm sure will resonate with a wider audience in years to come. And it keeps me in anticipation as to what Dev Patel might do next. Sequel? Or maybe something even better? The fact that I'm genuinely curious is proof that he gave us something special here. 4 Stars. Rated R For Gruesomely Bloody Violence, Strong Adult Content, And Some Manic Monkey Business. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire                                                   by James Eagan                                                       ★★★½ out of ★★★★★    

Godzilla-x-Kong-running.webp

Image: Godzilla is about to introduce the Scar King to the pile driver! OH! And here comes Kong with the chair!

See? Now this is one of those "It is what it is" sort of movies that makes sense. We've all already heard it and knew you were going to say it. It's no "Godzilla Minus One". Blah Blah Blah. Look, I saw a statement from a random YouTube comment that said it best. If "Godzilla Minus One" is the "Dark Knight" of giant monster movies, then "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" is the "Batman Forever" of them. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, some might prefer it that way. 

The fifth entry in the growing "MonsterVerse" and following the events of "Godzilla vs. Kong", "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" opens with the current world order, with the anti-heroic, giant atomic-breathing lizard "Godzilla", serving as a protector of the planet, keeping the other "Titans" like him in line and keeping humanity always on their toes (Since he's basically God now, so all they have to do is make sure they stay out his way and don't piss him off). On the other side of things, giant ape/protector of the people "Kong", remains in the "Hollow Earth" (The world beneath our own, where all kinds of strange, giant man-eating creatures reside), where he of course has begun to get lonely since he is seemingly the last of his kind. Meanwhile, "Dr. Ilene Andrews" (Rebecca Hall), a scientist of "Monarch" (The organization that keeps track of all the Titans), learns that her adopted daughter, "Jia" (Kaylee Hottle), has been having strange visions, which coincide with Godzilla deciding it's time to power up for some kind of cataclysmic threat that might be looming over the horizon.

Learning that what Jia is sensing might be a distress call of sorts, Ilene and Jia, along with Kong's weird doctor "Trapper" (Dan Stevens), kooky conspiracy theorist "Bernie Hayes" (Brian Tyree Henry), and their antagonistic pilot, "Mikael" (Alex Ferns), chart a course into the Hollow Earth to search for it. The team discovers more of the tribal people that Jia came from and learns of the mysterious origins of the war between the various Titans. Kong continues his own adventures, where he comes across more apes like him, such as the slightly smaller chimp "Suko", who leads him to an even larger group of giant apes. However, these apes are under the command of the evil "Scar King", who has his own icy Godzilla, "Shimo", under his control and is planning to return to the surface world once again to conquer everything. When it becomes apparent that all of what's about to happen has been prophesied and it's obvious that Kong can't handle Scar King and his forces all on his own, it seems that the big hairy ape and Godzilla will have no choice but to put aside their differences for the greater good to save the world. 

Directed by the returning Adam Wingard ("Godzilla vs. Kong", "You're Next", "The Guest"), with a screenplay by the also returning Terry Rossio (The "Pirates of the Caribbean" films), along with Wingard's occasional collaborators Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slater, "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" lets you know right off the bat what you're getting into and lets you decide if you're willing to go along with its Saturday morning cartoon plot. If you're about to let a movie where a big ass monkey with a robot hand partners up with a dinosaur to fight another, eviler ape (Who straight up acts like a serial killer) and his own ice covered dinosaur ruin your day, then you must not be particularly fun to be around. These MonsterVerse films have become the closest thing we can imagine to live-action Anime in the sense that you get lots of heavy exposition, plenty of "Just go with it" moments, incomprehensible visuals that lack real logic and simply go by their own, and making sure whatever you're about to see on the screen is as freaking awesome as possible. This movie delivers on all that, and to the point where it almost would be too much if not for the fact that you're basically asking them to keep upping the ante (Don't wanna peak early, am I right?). The excessive CGI is full of life, and unlike say the "Jurassic World" films, which eventually dropped the ball on making the stupid actually fun, this lives and breathes the cheesy fantasies we all had as kids, where we just smacked our action figures together. It's more or less what we wished those old Kaiju films (Where it always had a guy in a rubbery costume) looked like. I can't say it looks real, but it's not really supposed to. It's meant to be engaging and this movie is certainly that. (It's almost two hours and it just breezes by)

As usual, the human stuff is the weakest link and you can generally take it or leave it (Something "Godzilla Minus One" surprisingly did well was making the human story compelling). With that said, you at least get capable performers to make it digestible, even when the dialogue is, well, like something you'd see in a cheesy anime or a cartoon. Rebecca Hall and the deaf Kaylee Hottle are still wonderful together, playing the film legit straight and have a heartwarming bond that works, mostly because they make it work. Brian Tyree Henry and a delightful Dan Stevens (Wearing a baffling Hawaiian shirt throughout the entire runtime) make for some good comic relief, Alex Ferns, in a precipitately short role, does make good use of the smarmy, jerkass part, while the whole thing with the ancient tribe (While it was set up in previous movies) is just a plot device for some backstory. To the film's credit, it remembers that the monsters are the stars and there are lots of long sequences where there's no dialogue, leaving us to watch these larger than life characters in their own environment. It leaves it up to the audience to understand what's going on and it's not just fun to watch, they're actually all pretty memorable characters on their own. Kong is an easy to root for hero, while Godzilla continues to be such an endearing dick, who is still plenty badass and clearly loves his title as the King of the Monsters. Suko ends up being more than just a cute mini-Kong, who proves to be kind of sneaky and scrappy, while Scar King makes for a perfectly ruthless, almost cartoonishly evil piece of work. 

"Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" isn't the best from the MonsterVerse, and these films don't seem to have any intention of getting less silly anytime soon. However, as far as what you want from your city destroying popcorn blockbusters, where big monsters are just beating the crap out of each other, this has it all. Wingard feels like a kid just playing with his toys and I mean that in the best way possible. Good natured, wildly bonkers entertainment that the whole family can enjoy. Nothing deep or meaningful, yet you don't always need that. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Monstrous Mayhem, Gargantuan Godzillas, Killer Kongs, And Soooooo Much Collateral Damage. I Mean, The Casualties For These Movies Have Gotta Be Through The Roof. 

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey                                                 by James Eagan                                                   ★½ out of ★★★★★     

Image: Bear suits are funny.....and Bears as well.

I get it. This truly is one of those "It is what it is" kind of movies, but come on! We shouldn't be giving this a free pass. Crap is still crap, even if it's intentionally designed to be. It's just slightly more polished this time. An improvement for sure, but that ain't saying much. Be realistic!

Set some time after the first film, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" follows "Chris Robin" (Scott Chambers, replacing Nikolai Leon), after escaping the clutches of his former silly old bear friend turned bloodthirsty serial killer, "Winnie-the-Pooh" (Ryan Olivia) and "Piglet" (Eddy MacKenzie). Now Chris has become a controversial figure in his hometown, with some thinking the murders from the last film were his doing, some believing his story and declaring war on the "Hundred Acre Wood" to find Pooh for themselves, and now there was an apparent movie (Implied to be the first film) that only cemented the entire situation into becoming a total joke. While Chris wants to move on and find happiness, Pooh and Piglet reunite with the maliciously Machiavelian "Owl" (Marcus Massey) and the especially violent (And misogynistic) "Tigger" (Lewis Santer), with a scheme to lay siege to the human society, while also getting their revenge on Chris for abandoning them. When the body count starts to rise, Chris must face his former friends, while also trying to figure out the larger mystery as to why they came into existence in the first place. 

Directed by the returning Rhys Frake-Waterfield (Known for all kinds of cheaply made horror garbage, like something called "Firenado"), with a screenplay from Matt Leslie, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2" is vastly superior to the original, simply because it genuinely for the most part looks like an actual movie, with better practical effects, a bigger budget, and some more attempts at making something clever with its admittedly distasteful premise. If anything, this is closer to what I'm sure many of us imagined the first film should have been. That doesn't stop it from being the bottom of the barrel horror slop that the best in the genre has moved away from (The whole AI debacle aside, "Late Night with the Devil" made good use with less and created something far stronger because of it). At its core, this is just another slasher, which just ups the kills, the gore, and the offensiveness, but really, I can't be the only one who never saw the appeal of overlooking basic quality issues simply because some random person gets gutted in a certain way, especially when it really isn't all that creative (The "Evil Dead" franchise showed you can do both). Plus, the luxurious sight a grotesque looking Winnie-the-Pooh ripping a girl's head off and hitting it like a baseball so hard that it splatters all over the place loses its impact when the film is so slowly paced and too damn long for its thinly written story to compensate. No movie with this title should be an hour and forty minutes. Barely an hour maybe, or at least an hour and ten. While the film sprinkles in some random kills, it gets repetitive and seems like padding in a movie that seems to want to attempt to have a story. Again though, none of that is what its target audience wants to see, so who is this even for? 

Scott Chambers, who also serves as a producer, is a fairly unremarkable lead, even if he at least seems to be trying (I actually kind of remember the guy from the last film leaving more of an impact), while Tallulah Evans (as "Lexy", Chris' longtime friend/love interest) is only here to serve the role of her character description (Being the "longtime friend/love interest"). The film's most (And really, only) recognizable face is character actor, Simon Callow (as "Cavendish", a mysterious man with a possible connection to how Pooh and his friends came to be), who gets stuck with a massive exposition dump, but does sell a preposterous backstory simply because the guy is clearly a professional and obviously serves as the best actor in the movie. Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Owl look much better than our childhood icons turned villains did in the last film, with much more money being put into the makeup effects, though you can still see a little bit of the fakeness when they have to move a lot. They're not bad though, even if the film still doesn't do much with the idea of turning these beloved characters into slashers. Pooh is just a lumbering lug, while Piglet does nothing, and Tigger serves as little more than a "Freddy Krueger" ripoff with a tail. Owl (Looking like a live action version of the original Vulture design from the Spider-Man comics) on the other hand serves as easily the best of the group, being the only one with a sense of menace and intrigue, thanks to Marcus Massey clearly having a lot of fun and the film seemingly trying to do something unique with the character (He appears to be the mastermind, coming across as a threat that's more than simply jumpscares or bloodsplatters). 

While I do appreciate how Rhys Frake-Waterfield has embraced his new Ed Wood-esque status as a giddy connoisseur of bad filmmaking, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2" just feels like a cruddy, trashy, cheap horror flick, which I suppose could be taken as a compliment compared to the first. The filmmakers use the budget well for what it is, avoiding some of the blatant sexism of the first film (I mean, at least every victim isn't just a hot girl this time. So there's that) and has some, shall we say unique, ideas for what's to come. Whether we want it or not. As it is, I still wouldn't call it a successful blood soaked slasher, as it's too dull, takes much time to get going, and doesn't many characters to attach yourself too due to the film's lacks of humor or personality. However, I can still give credit where it's due and the fact that this might not make my top ten worst of the year list by this year's end, I'd say that's an accomplishment right there. Can't say it's good though, and not sure I can take anyone seriously who does. 1 1/2 Stars. Not Rated, Though Clearly It's Rated R For Goriness All Around, Tigger's Love Of Assaulting Women Both Physically And Verbally, And That One Morbius Joke, Which To My Shame, I Chuckled At. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire                                                          by James Eagan                                                         ★★★ out of ★★★★★      

Image: Garraka prepares for his heavy metal cover of "Let It Go".

"Ghostbusters" is a fascinating franchise. Simply because it was never meant to be a franchise. It was just a silly little comedy from Dan Aykroyd and the late  Harold Ramis, about a bunch of doofuses busting ghosts, while Bill Murray delivers some iconic, incredibly quotable one-liners. Now we're onto the fourth film (Chronologically at least), and they've basically just become accustomed to as much nerdy fanservice as possible. 2021's "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" was a success, especially with said fans, who as we all remember didn't respond well to Paul Feig's woman-led 2016 attempt at a reboot (And that's putting it lightly). By this point, I feel like you have to know what you're getting into and decide if you're going to accept that or not. 

A couple years after the first movie, "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" follows the descendants of "Egon Spengler" (Previously played by Harold Ramis), as they've returned to the family business of catching ghosts in New York. The precocious, and probably too smart for her own good, "Phoebe" (Mckenna Grace), her brother "Trevor" (Finn Wolfhard), along with their mother "Callie" (Carrie Coon), and her boyfriend "Gary Grooberson" (Paul Rudd), try to live up to the family name, though catch the ire of "Mayor Walter Peck" (William Atherton), who is still dickless and wants to see the Ghostbusters shut down for good. After Peck admittedly makes the solid point that maybe it's not exactly ethical for a fifteen year old girl to be handling a Proton Pack, Phoebe gets benched from the team. Luckily for Phoebe, she forms a surprise friendship with a ghost girl, "Melody" (Emily Alyn Lind), to take her mind off things.

Meanwhile, while former Ghostbuster, turned businessman, "Winston Zeddemore" (Ernie Hudson), arranges for a new containment facility to trap the ghosts (Since the old firehouse is kind of falling apart), the retired "Ray Stanz" (Dan Aykroyd) is sold a strange looking orb from "Nadeem Razmaadi" (Kumail Nanjiani), who is just trying to make a quick buck on some old ancient family artifacts. It turns out that the orb contains a violent, purely evil entity known as "Garraka", who has the power to unleash a deadly force that turns fear itself into a weapon, causing anyone unlucky enough to cross his bath to literally freeze to death (While also basically having the potential to cause a second Ice Age). Despite being pushed to the side, Phoebe is determined to prove herself and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Garraka, who is already putting a plan in motion to bring about the apocalypse. 

Directed by Gil Kenan ("Monster House", "City of Ember", and co-writer of the last film), who co-wrote the film with the last film's director Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Tully"), "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" is dedicated in memory of the original film's director/Jason's father, Ivan Reitman, and the movie is certainly a labor of reverence. It's just, can't you guys try to do anything different? What we get is something that's admittedly entertaining, especially for the kids, but feels like junk food in the end, without much real substance. Even more than the last film, this one really adheres to nostalgia, with tons of callbacks, references, and the need to bring back any familiar face it can simply to get a rise out of its audience. It actually does start off strong, introducing some fresh ideas, along with obvious inspiration from the old animated series "The Real Ghostbusters" (Which was known for how much more creative it was than it needed to be). However, the messy plotline diverges too often and tries to incorporate way too much for its own good. The film literally just bites off more than it can chew, getting by on a few good laughs, some damn impressive effects, and the undeniable charm of its actors. 

Mckenna Grace is as usual, a wonderfully lovable young actress, while Finn Wolfhard, who gets less to do sadly, still has enough perfect delivery to compensate. I also wanna know if I'm the only one who got the idea that the subplot involving Grace and Emily Alyn Lind's characters was basically supposed to be a "coming out" situation. At least from my perspective, that looked like a little more than just "Good Friends". Carrie Coon and an especially great Paul Rudd have delightful chemistry together, while we also get some returning faces, with Logan Kim (as "Podcast", who is still obsessed with ghosts, yet hit puberty hard between films) and Celeste O'Connor (as "Lucky", the fourth member of the younger Ghostbusters, who I swear this movies have no idea what to do with). There's also another new addition with James Acaster (as "Lars", who works on the Ghostbusters technical team), and really adds nothing to the group except another body to fill in space, along with an amusing brief appearance from Patton Oswalt (as "Hubert Wartzki", a friend of Ray, who provides some comedic exposition). There's some good work with the legacy characters, which include Ernie Hudson (Who I do love getting more important roles in these movies now considering how the second movie seemed to treat him as the odd man out), a genuinely heartfelt Dan Aykroyd (There are a couple sweet moments between him and Hudson) and William Atherton (Who is a lot of fun, despite a limited appearance), while the film never does anything with Annie Potts (as "Janine Melnitz", the former secretary to the Ghostbusters), who gets much less to work with compared to the last movie and Bill Murray (as "Peter Venkman", the old team's wisecracker), whose addition is so late to the party that it almost feels like a cameo. The funniest scene-stealer ends up being Kumail Nanjiani, who makes his entirely silly plotline work simply by being an endearing goofball, with some great one-liners. The ghosts themselves are pretty cool, though Garraka makes for a menacing enough though forgettable villain. I do appreciate how the film doesn't always rely on CGI for certain effects, such as the appearance of "Slimer" (Who remains practical).

With too many characters and storylines competing for time, "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" is a sloppy entry in the franchise, and only shows that the filmmakers have little intention from moving on from what came before it. As it is, the heart is still there, with some humor and even some chills to delight fans of all ages. It's a perfectly suitable diversion, even if it is just a colder shell of what the original film was. The best thing I can say about it is that busting this time feels pleasant, yet just doesn't quite give you that sense of joy that you once experienced before. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Moments, Marshmallow Massacres, Insidious Icing, And Slimer Splooge. 

Immaculate                               by James Eagan              ★★★½ out of ★★★★★   

Immaculate-Syndey-Sweeney-012524-ec425c41fe8d424d8d2bd527100b60fc.jpg

Image: Sydney Sweeney, repenting for "Madame Web."

It's time the internet realized that Sydney Sweeney is more than just an overwhelmingly hot actress that has us all thirsting for on Twitter. She's a damn good actress, with loads of potential. It's something that makes this movie such a good showcase for that talent, which almost entirely rests on her shoulders. And yeah, she's overwhelmingly hot too. I say that respectfully. Again! 

"Immaculate" follows a young nun, "Cecilia" (Sydney Sweeney), who is invited to become part of an exclusive convent in Italy, which tends to sickly nuns before their deaths. Cecilia is very much welcomed by "Father Sal Tedeschi" (Álvaro Morte) and even makes friends with a more cynical nun, "Gwen" (Benedetta Porcaroli), but starts to notice that there just might be something off about this convent. Suddenly, Cecilia discovers that she's pregnant, despite being a virgin. This prompts the convent superiors to believe that this is a miracle and that Cecilia is a new Virgin Mary. As Cecilia's pregnancy progresses, things get weirder and she soon learns that the convent has no plans of her ever leaving, especially now that they believe that she's about to give birth to their lord and savior, regardless of what deranged methods they use to make sure that happens. 

Directed by first-timer Michael Mohan, with a screenplay by Andrew Lobel (His first feature length screenplay), "Immaculate" doesn't remotely change the game on horror and can't seem to avoid a few typical pratfalls, yet it does well with the still usable ingredients and makes for a solidly creepy (And even somewhat unhinged) bit of terror. The filmmakers are certainly having a lot of fun with the setting, making the convent go from a place of comfort and solace to a nightmarish prison, full of absolute madness. There's a damn good amount of uneasiness, so that makes it more unfortunate how often the film stops for a cheap, quick jumpscare, which all end not being remotely scary (Oh no somebody randomly popped up from behind with loud music! Scary!). The film gets better use out of some shocking good use of gore and violence, which is never pretty to look at (A character throws themselves off a roof and lands with a horrifying splat, complete with a pile of red mush for a face. Pretty impressive practical effects really). 

The film's whole reason for existing is because of Sydney Sweeney, who serves as one of the film's producers. Having previously auditioned for the film about a decade earlier before the film's screenplay was temporarily shelved up until a couple years ago, Sweeney is very committed to the part and how crazy it gets. It especially shows when the character experiences a brutal, mindbreaking pregnancy, which is anything but beautiful. Her already expressive eyes are particularly something to see when she's both confused and terrified at the same time, which comes to a head with an epic scream that straight up obliterates the theater sound systems. Álvaro Morte is having a lot of fun blurring the line between charming and menacing (Serving as Cecilia's main obstacle), while Benedetta Porcaroli gets the film's few moments of levity with a few good lines. The film's last act is where things take a turn that while not exactly impossible to see coming (At some point you should be able to get an idea of what's going on), yet still doesn't prepare you for how balls to the wall the film just revels in this insanity. It's the definition of something being completely based around something working entirely because of how it's executed. Seeing a nun convent become Arkham Asylum is both hilarious and so bonkers that it actually comes across as a bit scary. 

"Immaculate" gets good mileage out of some old tricks, even if it can't seem to help using some dated ones. However, thanks to some elevation from Sydney Sweeney's determined performance, disturbing moments that genuinely leave you unnerved, and the kind of wild derangement that horror movies today rarely even bother trying to go for, it makes for an effective ordeal of pure, sadistic torment. After crap like "Night Swim" and "Imaginary", we really needed this right now. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesomely Violent Images, Perilous Pregnancies, And A Final Scene That I'm Sure Many Will Either Being Laughing Hysterically At Or Will Be Morally Disgusted With. What's Funny Is That In The End, They're Both Kind Of Right. 

Late Night with the Devil               by James Eagan           ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ 

Image: "I see you....dressed in polka-dot pajamas....throwing explosive polka-dots are people..." "This girl is obviously insane. Commit her!"

Boy this movie's praise took a sudden turn, didn't it? A high Rotten Toamtoes score (100% just a day ago), rave reviews from people who saw it last year at SXSW, and just the novelty of seeing a beloved character actor finally getting his time to shine, only for all the goodwill to immediately get shot down by an admittedly small, yet glaring issue. The use of AI. Three images to be exact, which clock in at a collected total of about fourteen seconds or so over the course of the film. It is quite disappointing that a film with so much attention to the details and aesthetics of the era it's meant to be inhabiting found the need to rely on such an artist alienating process, for likely cheap reasons. People also have good reason to fear how much more normalized (And likely, eventually unnoticeable) it will at some point become in movies, television, and any kind of media. Still, it's not even a minute long, and review bombing, along with boycotting the film (Which is an independently funded project that needed like six or seven production companies to get it released. The opening logos have more screentime than these quick images!), seems harsh and comes across as making it more about how much you're taking a stand for something, rather than actually supporting the efforts of actual hardworking artists. If these brief, though still noticeable few seconds bother you that much, I understand not feeling comfortable watching it, though don't try to make it out like you're performing some sort of noble crusade and anyone who isn't as bothered by it must be shamed for not being as pissed off as you are. It deserves addressing, but doesn't affect anything in the actual film too much. (I mean, I'm pretty sure "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" was AI-free, being 100% human made garbage and that deserves no praise) I'd probably go as far as to say we've let worse things slide, like one of last year's best films/the Oscar nominated "The Holdovers", with Alexander Payne facing statutory rape allegations (Along with possible plagiarism too apparently) and yet, it's kind of been brushed off simply because the movie is great (AI bad, but rape is worse). As for this movie itself, it's pretty damn awesome and it's upsetting that the filmmakers allowed such a thing to serve as a controversial distraction from that. 

Presented as a found footage recording of a broadcast from a 1970s late-talk show titled, "Night Owls with Jack Delroy", "Late Night with the Devil" follows the titular host, "Jack Delroy" (David Dastmalchian), whose rise to being number one in the ratings has repeatedly been hindered. Declining ratings, controversy surrounding some of Jack's background, and the sudden death of Jack's beloved "Madeleine" (Georgina Haig) have caused Jack to become desperate to save his show. So he arranges for a special live broadcast, which will introduce interesting guests from a questionable psychic, "Christou" (Fayssal Bazzi), a smarmy former magician skeptic and refuter of anything supernatural, "Carmichael" (Ian Bliss), and a parapsychologist, "Dr. June Ross-Mitchell" (Laura Gordon), bringing in a young, disturbed girl, "Lilly" (Ingrid Torelli), who was the sole survivor of a Satanic Cult's mass suicide and claims to be possessed by a demonic force. Everything at first seems normal during the show for Jack, until things slowly start to take an unsettling turn, resulting in a terrifying broadcast that Jack's late-night audience won't soon forget. If they survive it, that is. 

Written and directed by Colin and Cameron Cairnes (Known for very small, independently funded films), "Late Night with the Devil" is a very clever, brilliantly constructed, and delightfully twisted piece of work. The brief AI aside, the film is clearly painstakingly crafted, with so much attention to the littlest of details that one normally wouldn't see as a necessity to do. The set and production designs, imitating old 70s variety programs, right down to the colorful costumes, fuzzy audio, and the incredibly saturated yellows that damn near blind you with how much it pops off the screen. It even utilizes the found footage look in a way that one should, with the footage actually looking like someone stumbled upon it, with how often the film will glitch or fizzle out (Leaving it open to interpretation if it's just really old footage, or possibly some other dark force causing it). It genuinely feels like you're watching an old recording, complete with cut out commercial breaks, along with some fictional behind the scenes footage to show what was going on once the lights go down and the real feelings of our characters come out. It's a unique, brilliantly crafted way of showing showing some age old concepts about how the celebrities (Particularly talk show hosts) really are, along with what kinds of lines one will cross for the one thing everyone in the business wants. Success. It's a lot of style, though with plenty of substance at the center.

The film's major selling point is David Dastmalchian, who has been working for years in small parts (Particularly his especially memorable part in "The Dark Knight") that gradually grew over time. In more ways than one, this is his show and his moment in the spotlight. Dastmalchian revels in it, with a strong, charismatic screen presence, going back and forth between being naively misguided to even a little manipulative and morally questionable. You just love seeing him work, and prove he's got the acting chops to play more than just a bit part. Despite this being Dastmalchian's vehicle, others in the cast do genuinely stand out, from Laura Gordon, a suitably smarmy Ian Bliss, Rhys Auteri (as "Gus", Jack's on-show sidekick, who is wary of the possible devilry on display), and an absolutely outstandingly complex Ingrid Torelli (Who plays up this sweet, innocent young girl act and still consistently finds a way to make her full blown "Exorcist"-like transformation believable). The film is funny as Hell in a macabre sort of way, and features some glorious uses of practical effects (And even some puppetry), which feel only natural within the aesthetic that the filmmakers are going for. Some of the more modern effects (Like some brief CGI) show the budget constraints, but are too quick to distract too much, though the brief AI artwork does standout for the couple of seconds they're onscreen. Again, for a film that does such a spectacular job with real, handmade effort, using such a cheap, morally (And maybe even legally) debatable method for the smallest of things kind of goes against the very idea. 

"Late Night with the Devil" is smart, hilarious, visually brilliant, and surprisingly effective as a different kind of horror flick. It's all about the constant sense of dread that you feel as you wait for the sh*t to go down, and what's gonna be the thing to cause it. That's where the real fun comes from. It's immersive in execution and it's impossible to look away from, especially once we reach the shocking finale (Which is especially something because you know it's coming and yet, you're still not prepared for it). It's actually one of the best movies so far this year, even if the more recent controversy serves as a blemish that's difficult for some to ignore. Maybe the filmmakers will wise up and remove it by the time we get a digital/home release, but we'll have to wait and see. 4 Stars. Rated R For Scary And Disturbing Images, Along With Some Demented Devilry.  

Love Lies Bleeding                   by James Eagan           ★★★★ out of ★★★★★    

Image: "Mama warned me about women like you! I was hoping she was right!"

You know a movie is good when the most batsh*t thing will happen out of nowhere and the audience together at once lets out the loudest "YEEEEEEESSSSSS!" you've ever heard. 

Taking place in 1989, "Love Lies Bleeding" follows a reclusive, cynical small town gym owner, "Lou" (Kristen Stewart), who has become estranged from her psychopathic, gangster father, "Lou Sr." (Ed Harris), and only sticks around for the sake of her sister, "Beth" (Jena Malone), the constant subject of abuse for her sleazy husband, "J.J." (Dave Franco). A rising bodybuilder, "Jackie" (Katy O'Brian), comes into town, looking for a job and a place to stay while she trains for an upcoming competition in Las Vegas, with Lou immediately taking a shine to her. Lou and Jackie become a couple, though after J.J. beats Beth to the point she's left in a coma, the couple find themselves stuck in a violent situation that can only escalate. Also not helping matters is Jackie's addiction to steroids, which continues to cause her body to grow, and Lou's messed up family drama on the verge of sending everything spiraling off a cliff. 

Directed by Rose Glass ("Saint Maud"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Weronika Tofilska, "Love Lies Bleeding" starts off as the kind of 80s or 90s erotic thriller that you always saw the box cover for at the local Blockbuster, yet never saw until that one really attractive hippie girl in your college film class told you how it's her favorite movie ever (And then you of course lied about loving it too). The film is a special, rather sadistic kind of insane, though slowly eases you into it until by the end, you'll fully accepting of whatever baffling images you're about to see. And damn! It's pretty awesome. Glass finds that right balance between the dark and suspenseful, but also the more sensationalist and campy, finding ways to shock the audience with its out of nowhere violence, along with a pitch black sense of humor. The movie is actually really funny in a macabre sort of way, and this is even before the film just progressively starts to mess with your mind to the point you don't know what the Hell you're seeing. The intentional trashiness behind the film doesn't take away from how crisp and engrossing the cinematography is, with imagery that always has a different meaning the second time the film showcases it to you. 

Kristen Stewart, who by this point doesn't remotely need to prove herself to those online dude-bros who for some reason haven't let her time in the "Twilight" series go (She should have won that Oscar for "Spencer"!), is outstanding. Stewart's occasional deadpan delivery really adds something to this character, both humorously and dramatically with how held back she's supposed to be. Katy O'Brian (Who you might remember from things like "The Mandalorian", "Black Lightning", and "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania") is a revelation, proving to have such amazing screen presence and bold acting chops in a part that's every bit vulnerable and strong. Their chemistry together is the film's biggest highlight and how well these two apparent opposites connect. (It's also quite nice to have a movie embrace the sexiness of feminine muscles. What? Who doesn't want to be broken in half by a hot buff woman? You know you're into that!) Jena Malone plays a much more frail part than I usually expect from her (Which is interesting because I'm used to seeing her as the "badass"), while Anna Baryshnikov (as "Daisy", a lesbian stalker, who just won't leave Lou alone) is hilariously creepy. Dave Franco (Sporting a Billy Ray Cyrus mustache/mullet combo) is a perfectly despicable scumbag, while Ed Harris (Sporting a long, balding hairline that I swear is going to become legendary) is a twisted, crazy piece of villainous work (And he eats a bug at some point. No clue why he did that, but it was great!)

I can definitely see "Love Lies Bleeding" being too crazy for some, while others will find it to be the right amount of bonkers. It's a damn good, edge of your seat thriller that finds creatively outrageous ways to catch its audience off guard and is sure to become a cult classic, but for good reason. It's kooky, erotic, shady, trippy, funny, and so much fun. It's like a fake movie that somehow became real. 4 Stars. Rated R For Some Quite A Bit Of Nudity, Jaw Dropping Violence, Pulsating Veins And Biceps, And Epic Roid Rage.

The American Society of Magical Negroes                                    by James Eagan                                                         ★ out of ★★★★★  

Image: When you award yourself for making a political point that everyone else already made after the fact. 

Guys, we didn't need this right now. From the usual, mostly white and all male annoyances online complaining about "Wokeness" in media, along with such things finding their way into modern politics and being used as talking points for presidential wannabes, a movie like this being bad is not in any way helping. And then it being THIS bad just goes and pisses everybody off. In a way, I guess it kind of succeeded in bringing everyone together. Just looking for positives here. 

"The American Society of Magical Negroes" (Based on the concept of the "Magical Negro", in which a black person exists as a pilot device to further along a white person's journey), follows a young African American artist, "Aren" (Justice Smith), who meets "Roger" (David Alan Grier), who introduces him to a world behind our own. There turns out to be a secret society of magical black people, who use their abilities to inject themselves into the lives of white people to make them comfortable with their own lives. When they do so, their magic grows and the pacification of white people means that black people don't have to be afraid of well, the usual stuff, like being accused for crimes, getting killed by police, and the many challenges that African Americans have had to face. Aren's first client is a self-absorbed tech-bro, "Jason" (Drew Tarver), who works at some kind of modern tech company, with Aren's mission being to find out what will make Jason happy with his already pretty privileged life. Aren also happens to hit it off with Jason's co-worker, "Lizzie" (An-Li Bogan), who really seems to like him back. However, when Jason gets the idea that Aren is trying to set him up with Lizzie, that proceeds to complicate Aren's already rather convoluted mission. If Aren fails, it could result in the entire society losing their magic, and they will have to erase his memory to preserve their power, along with protecting the non-magical black people. Ya get all that? 

Written and directed by first timer, Kobi Libii, "The American Society of Magical Negroes" feels like the kind of movie that Jeffrey Wright's character in "American Fiction" would have hated. This movie already ruffled some feathers, with the trailer on YouTube getting a massive amount of dislikes and downvotes from easily offended white people, throwing out the usual buzzwords that gets those real snowflakes flaking. Granted, the film is terrible, but just for entirely different reasons. The film's premise is great, and is based around a trope that still to this very day finds its way into movies and television. Black guy who is best friends with a white guy, but has no real life outside of participating in the white guy's dilemmas and making sure he achieves what he wants. I honestly think some of us are just so used to this that filmmakers just don't think about it anymore. (To them, black people just do that, I guess) The first twenty minutes or so has some fun with the concept, detailing how this magical world works, complete with a few amusing gags (Such as a invisible meter that measures white people tears, or rehearsed life-affirming metaphors that obviously revolve around penis sizes), along with satire, while obviously on the nose, that is certainly relevant.

The problems arise when you realize there is both too much detail to the concept, yet not enough at the same time, especially when the film's novelty wears off after those first twenty minutes and just becomes a generic romantic comedy. Even then though, that could be fine, if not a little disappointing, but the film keeps trying to do too much and loses sight of its own message. It's to the point where the quirky, whimsy doesn't gel with the real life consequences, and boy does it not do any favors for racial politics. The world doesn't make enough sense to fill in many, many plot holes, which normally could be overlooked in a satire if it was consistent. The magical society itself are actually kind of the main antagonists of the movie, yet I don't know if the movie itself realizes it. They're portrayed as goofy and witty, despite the fact that they're more focused on appeasement, rather than actually confronting the racial divide (In a way, they're actually prolonging it). Meanwhile, all of the white characters are generally antagonistic, oblivious, or are just plain stupid, which I'm all for because, well, you can't exactly offend the offenser. However, the film doesn't resolve anything, nor does it have anything to say about it. It's all too safe and watered down, and most baffling of all, it seems that the Libii thinks he's been hard-hitting. Literally every punch is pulled.

Justice Smith and An-Li Bogan both deserve so much better because while the romance serves as one of the catalysts for why the film is such a mess, they're genuinely likable and cute together. Their charm alone is trying its best to salvage this predictable tale, even when the screenplay constantly fails them. David Alan Grier is fine, but again, much like the titular society, I don't think the film exactly knows what it's trying to do with him. He comes across as warm and fuzzy, but there are some messed up implications here that the film doesn't seem to want to address despite the fact that they were the ones that unintentionally brought them up in the first place. The same goes for Nicole Byer (as the head of the Magical Society, who chooses to float above her subjects at all times). A lot of the white characters are pretty well cast, finding the most cartoonishly Caucasians out there, with Rupert Friend (as the Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk-like head of the tech company) being especially amusing. There are some very light chuckles here and there, though it's not exactly as insightful as the film seems to think it is. That's actually where the film's greatest, most aggravating problem comes from. It seems to think it's breaking down walls, when in reality, it's just repeatedly bashing its own inflated ego against it, only injuring itself and forcing us to watch. 

Towards the end, "The American Society of Magical Negroes" just goes downhill in brutal fashion. The film leads to a big, showstopping speech that doesn't hit the way the film intends it to. It basically revolves around the idea of African Americans feeling they need to play things safe around white people in hopes of not offending them or "making them feeling bad", even if it's at the expense of themselves as people, which is also complete with the usual white dude defenses ("I'm the most not racist person out there!") and even addresses how in some cases, this has led to the deaths of many African Americans (And yes, even in today's America). However, the way the film goes about it is so moronic, tone deaf, and clumsily cobbled together, that it ruins any good will the film may have had at first. You see, I agree (As should everyone) with everything that's being said, but when it's delivered in such a stupid way, that's just borderline offensive, especially when the film decides NOT to resolve anything once it's all said and done. Toss in one last second little sight gag that will leave you in a more sour mood (You're not cute, movie!), and you get one of the most depressingly bad movies of the year. We got some pretty serious stuff going on lately and something that only the white liberals will love isn't something we need right now! 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Adult-Ish Content, Black Magic (Sorry, I Had To), And Way More Dick Fondling Than I Expected.           

Arthur the King                            by James Eagan               ★★½ out of ★★★★★  

Image: "Alright! I guess I have to be the one to ask it..." "No Mark, we're not eating the dog!" 

The moment I walked into the theater, seeing that perfectly average Rotten Tomatoes score, and having sat through the already perfectly mediocre trailer dozens of times already, I just knew this was going to be a 2 1/2 Star rated movie. "Mid", as the kids say. At least the dog didn't have a voice-over narration. You just know if it had come out like five or six years ago, it would have. 

Inspired by true events and based on the book, "Arthur - The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home" by Mikael Lindnord (The real inspiration for the story), "Arthur the King" opens with "Michael Light" (Mark Wahlberg), captain of an "Adventure Racing" team, losing his mojo after taking some time off after a humiliating defeat. Now married to one of his old team members, "Helena" (Juliet Rylance), but still wants one final shot to prove himself. After gathering a new team, consisting of the social media obsessed "Leo" (Simu Liu), the rock climbing "Olivia" (Nathalie Emmanuel), and their navigator, "Chik" (Ali Suliman), Michael readies to take part in a huge race, across mountains and forests under extreme conditions. Early on, Michael meets an abused, but strong  stray dog, who to everyone's shock, manages to follow the team despite the hardships. Naming the dog, "Arthur the King", he joins them on their journey, bringing the team to the realization that there are things much more important than victory. 

Directed by Simon Cellan Jones ("The Family Plan", along with TV work), with a screenplay by Michael Brandt ("Wanted", "Chicago Fire", along with its spin-offs), "Arthur the King" is one of those nice enough, but not too compelling rainy day movies. It looks fine, has some okay enough performances, with safe dialogue, and plays things as safe as possible, while wasting little time tugging at the heart strings when it comes to the film's titular little pooch. Really, the only major frustration to the film is that there's too much focus on the human story in the first act, which is as bland and by the book as any sports drama can be. Once all the clichéd setup is out of the way (And the dog himself gets the spotlight he deserves), then the film is elevated just enough to make for something that I can see appealing to a certain audience (An older, less risk-taking one), though never once goes above that. 

Mark Wahlberg is solid enough, even if he's playing the same character he's already played a dozen times before (Which is just Mark Wahlberg by this point). Simu Liu gets to inject some humor, while Nathalie Emmanuel is charming (And quite cute, even when her natural accent slips out). I feel that Ali Suliman's arc just sort of comes and goes, while Juliet Rylance serves as the supportive wife and nothing else. Arthur is the film's real hero, and is all kinds of adorable. Not mention though, genuinely heroic and instantly lovable. It's the easiest job in the world for a filmmaker to get an emotional rise out of its audience when you toss in a doggy like this, and yet, we all still fall for it every time. 

"Arthur the King" is exactly what it needs to be. A 2 1/2 Star movie, with generic direction and an even more generic script, but with just enough heart to satisfy. It's at least in the right place and doesn't offend. Some white bread if you will. Like I said, 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Dramatic Dramaticness And Doggo Endangerment.

Kung Fu Panda 4                          by James Eagan         ★★★★ out of ★★★★★  

Image: One child and one adult for "Kung Fu Panda 4". Left to Right: Child, Adult. 

I don't think enough of us appreciate the fact that something called "Kung Fu Panda", has somehow become a genuinely beloved, acclaimed, immensely successful property. The franchise first began in 2008, opening to a big box office, critical love, and even went on to get an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Not to mention, it was genuinely respectful of Chinese culture, martial arts, and artistry. Then somehow "Kung Fu Panda 2" came around, was even better, and to everyone's shock, got some emotions out of people. While the third film was slightly less successful, I do mean that only slightly. It's a franchise that has gained a following of all ages, rivaling some of DreamWorks Animation's biggest IPs, such as "Shrek" and the "How to Train Your Dragon" series. Seriously! How can anything with the title "Kung Fu Panda" do that?

Set after the events of the previous film (From 2016), "Kung Fu Panda 4", the pudgy, plushy Panda/Dragon Warrior, "Po" (Jack Black), has enjoyed being the protector of the "Valley of Peace", but his wise, yet always curmudgeonly mentor, "Master Shifu" (Dustin Hoffman), tells him that his role as the Dragon Warrior is coming soon to an end and that Po will have to take yet another step in his neverending journey. Po must become the Valley's Spiritual Leader, meaning he will also have to select someone who he will mentor to be the next Dragon Warrior. However, Po never even considered that he would have to make such a drastic change, and can't make a decision. It also doesn't help that he has to contend with a snarky, thieving fox, "Zhen" (Awkwafina), who breaks into the palace. At the same time, Po learns that the first villain he ever faced, the snow leopard "Tai Lung" (Ian McShane), has seemingly returned, though Zhen suggests otherwise. It turns out that it's merely one of the many forms of the power hungry sorceress, "The Chameleon" (Viola Davis), who is plotting to conquer all of China and beyond. As luck would have it, Zhen knows a lot about the Chameleon, offering to help Po take her down in exchange for avoiding prison time. The duo travel to "Juniper City", where they must face all kinds of challenges and criminals to get to the Chameleon's villainous fortress, while Po's two dads, his paternal Panda one "Li" (Bryan Cranston), and his adoptive goose one, "Mr. Ping" (James Hong), follow them, worrying for Po's safety like the cute (gay?) couple they are. 

Directed by Mike Mitchell ("Shrek Forever After", "Trolls", "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part"), with a screenplay by longtime franchise writers Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, along with Darren Lemke ("Goosebumps"), "Kung Fu Panda 4" really doesn't try to hide that it came into existence due to DreamWorks Animation wanting to get a quick, guranteed success from a property with good clout and a dedicated fandom. That pretty much explains why the usual supporting characters, like the "Furious Five", aren't included this time around. With that said, we still get a perfectly good, laugh out loud funny, and gorgeously animated family feature, that joyfully accomplishes its goal with flying colors. That goal being, well, to be something for the whole family (Kids, parents, grandparents, angst-filled teens, that uncle you only see around the holidays, etc.). Sure, this isn't the best of the four (I'd maybe consider it a bit better than the third one), but these films always have a little extra something. Extra spice, if you will. Something that sets it apart from other films like it, which makes it just a bit more than it needs to be. Of course the lovingly crafted (And more beautiful than ever) visuals draw you in, with more detailed colors, a grand scale, and even a stylized mixing of various forms of other animation (Like a ancient Chinese mural come to life before your very eyes). The eye popping visuals also, just like the other films before it, result in some clever, even occasionally epic, action sequences. These movies have really embraced the art of animation and how you can do things that live-action could never even dream of, and this one is no different. In fact, it contains some of the most unique fights to come out of the entire franchise (Particularly due to the Chameleon's shape-shifting abilities). The score from Hans Zimmer (Who has been with this series from the very beginning) and Steve Mazzaro is the right amount of playful, energized, and oddly soothing.  

Jack Black is the face, voice, and heart of this franchise, and he always gives it everything he has. I also appreciate how Po's character has never faltered like other main characters in ongoing franchises have. He's still lovably goofy and even a bit too nice for his own good, yet has remained a capable warrior, who continues to grow with each new step he takes. Awkwafina (Who does seem to be a go-to when it comes to voice work and not always to good effect), does feel like a perfect match with her husky voice, getting to play well with the comedy, along with even some more dramatic parts. (She also really works well with Black, and you can tell they got a good rapport together) Dustin Hoffman (Whose voice is as gravely as ever), gets a much smaller part than before, though is continuously wonderful. The same goes for the returning Bryan Cranston and James Hong, who are hilarious together (Especially when they have to use their comedy relief status to their advantage in a deadly situation). Viola Davis continues the franchise's trend for memorable villains, with a surprisingly frightening one that might be the most evil of them all, yet still gets a funny moment or two to balance the sinisterness (And honestly, she just sounds like she's having the absolute time of her life with this role). Also returning is Ian McShane, who doesn't have a huge role, though it ends up being one that will leave fans pretty satisfied with what little they end up doing with him (There's actually quite a bit of fan service that even I shocked I got as much of a kick out of as I did). There are also some fun supporting parts for Ronny Chieng (as "Captain Fish", a fish captain who literally lives inside of the mouth of a pelican. Who came up with that?), Lori Tan Chinn (as "Granny Boar", a greedy boar who runs a diner where the rabbit staff is constantly abused), a trio of violence obsessed bunny children, and an especially delightful Ke Huy Quan (as "Han", a Sunda pangolin, who runs a den of thieves), who just has a voice made for animation. 

"Kung Fu Panda 4" isn't without its predictability, with telegraphed moments that should be easy for the adults to decipher without any issues. However, this franchise has always treated those type of plotlines more as a sense of traditional storytelling, rather than tropes to fall back on. The characters are still strong, with lovely visuals, big laughs (As well as some perfectly timed slapstick), and as always, some very heartfelt messages for the kids to grow up with (Such as the accepting, even embracing of change, especially within oneself). Even after sixteen years, that cuddly Panda continues to go against the odds and delivers exceptionally well, with a heartwarming smile. Again, not bad for, you know, "Kung Fu Panda". 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Cartoonish Humor, Kung Fu Action, And Panda Portliness.     

Imaginary                                     by James Eagan               ★½ out of ★★★★★  

Image: I'm less of a "Care Bear", and more of a "Don't Give a Crap Bear". 

I've started to notice that after a couple years of changing the game, delivering hit after hit, and subverting expectations, the horror genre is starting to go through an unexpected rut this year so far. Even though we had some solid horror flicks like "Out of Darkness" and "Stopmotion" (I'm sure none of you guys saw either of those), there's been little creativity from others, like "Night Swim", coming across as forgettable spooky fare for the least demanding and easily scared. "Imaginary" isn't really anything different. 

"Imaginary" follows an artist/creator of a children's book series, "Jessica" (DeWanda Wise), who moves back into her childhood home with her new husband, "Max" (Tom Payne), along with his two daughters, the teenage "Taylor" (Taegen Burns) and the little "Alice" (Pyper Braun). Despite having some trouble adjusting to being a stepmom, Jessica tries to bond with the girls, though Alice discovers a little teddy bear in the house, naming it "Chauncey". Jessica sees how happy Alice is with her imaginary friend, though something seems a little off about the bear. Experiencing flashbacks to her own childhood trauma, Jessica starts to uncover once buried secrets as Chauncey apparently starts to get Alice to perform some questionable tasks (Such as harming herself). Once it becomes apparent that Chauncey is very much alive and very much evil, with his main target being Jessica herself, Jessica is going to have to confront her past if she's going to protect her new family from a rage filled evil. 

Directed by Jeff Wadlow ("Truth or Dare", "Fantasy Island", "Kick-Ass 2"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Greg Erb and Jason Oremland ("Playmobil: The Movie"), "Imaginary" seems to have taken the "Five Nights at Freddy's" approach to horror, by playing things as safe as humanly possible to the point that it would almost classify as a kids movie. It's not that the premise couldn't be fun and there are moments of inspiration in there, yet, it's such the dull, uninspired execution that prevents it from feeling like a less creative "Goosebumps". However, it's like how with a comedy, you can forgive a lot of flaws so long as it accomplishes its goal to be funny. The same goes for a horror movie, which is to be scary. This isn't that. Much of it is because of bland direction, a derivative screenplay, and a tone that can't quite figure out what it wants to be until we reach the incredibly campy, but thoroughly absurd last act. The scares, if you would call them that, are incredibly tame. It doesn't even provide many jump scares. It's all very watered down and always feels like something you've already seen done better elsewhere. 

DeWanda Wise is committed to the part and carries what she can, while Pyper Braun isn't the best child actor in the world, she's got some good delivery in the cute and creepy factors. Taegen Burns' whole "I'm an angry teenager" routine is very annoying while Tom Payne is completely useless (Vanishing from the film almost entirely fairly early on). Betty Buckley (as "Gloria", the new neighbor, who takes an immense and fairly odd interest in everything that's going on) spends most of the film as an awkwardly placed place for exposition, until she eventually goes down a rather predictable route that makes absolutely no sense. There's also a mini-subplot involving the girls' mentally unwell birth mother, that goes nowhere. Every now and then you get a funny moment, with some being intentional, some being clearly unintentional, and others just being so freaking bonkers that your only reaction would be to burst out laughing. The film also doesn't have to budget for any big time special effects, with some poor CGI and green screen, though the practical effects are fairly cool (Such as an animatronic demon bear form that Chauncey takes). The film just becomes "Coraline" in the last half hour and while it goes on for a little too long, it's a cool idea. 

That's the thing about "Imaginary". It's got potential, but isn't executed in a way that comes together. The all over the place tonal shifts (Which even gets fairly serious in places, before getting too goofy for its own good), unsurprising story, and worst of all, no scares, make for a barely teen-centric dark, horror-fantasy that might just bore them more than anything. When the film eventually kind of jumps the shark, the camp nature might be able to satisfy the less demanding, but for others, it comes too late. Not near as imaginative as it should be. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Creepy Images, Childish Chaos, And Bloodthirsty Bears.

Megamind vs. the Doom Syndicate                                                 by James Eagan                                                         ★ out of ★★★★★ 

Megamind-vs-Doom-Syndicate-Peacock-1536x864.jpg.webp

Image: The sight of pure disappointment, mixed in with a little terror and your belief in humanity slowly fading.

"Imagine the most horrible, terrifying, evil thing you can possibly think of.....and multiply it....BY SIX!"  

Taking place just a couple days after the first film (Despite the original being almost fourteen years old), "Megamind vs. the Doom Syndicate" returns us to "Metro City", which has now embraced the former big blue-headed supervillain turned superhero, "Megamind" (Keith Ferguson, replacing Will Ferrell), along with his fish in a bowl, robotic henchmen, "Ol' Chun" (Josh Brener, replacing David Cross), formerly known as "Minion", but had to change his name due to copyright infringement (Okay, that's actually a pretty funny meta gag, considering the um, other "Minions"). Megamind loves his new popularity, though Chum feels underappreciated and goes out on his own, while reporter/former frequent kidnap victim, "Roxanne Ritchi" (Laura Post, replacing Tina Fey), has become less than enthusiastic about her work (Just like the animators!). This new peace if interrupted by some of Megamind's old villain buddies, the "Doom Syndicate", consisting of a colorful group of one-note characters such as the weather based "Lady Doppler" (Emily Tunon), the French mime "Pierre Pressure" (Scott Adsit), the lava monster-man "Behemoth" (Chris Sullivan), and "Lord Nighty-Knight" (Talon Warburton), who desperately wants to be dark and edgy despite his stupid name. The Doom Syndicate thinks that Megamind's new sense of goodness is all just an act, and in hopes of avoiding more chaos, Megamind pretends to go along with it. Believing that the next phase of Megamind's evil plan is coming, the Doom Syndicate is determined to make villainy happen, leaving Megamind to look for other means to stop them, such as help from a young, social media influencer, "Keiko Morita" (Maya Aoki Tuttle). And before you ask, yeah, they're totally doing this right now. 

Directed by Eric Fogel ("Glenn Martin, DDS", "Descendants: Wicked World"), with a screenplay from the first film's original writers, Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, "Megamind vs. the Doom Syndicate" brings us back to the good old days of bad, cash-grab sequels to fan favorite animated movies. The days of the straight to video Disney sequel, except now it looks like DreamWorks Animation has decided to jump on the bandwagon. There are two big differences here though. Firstly, now it's all about that streaming service money, and lastly, not even Disney is doing that anymore. Released exclusively on "Peacock" and serving as a pilot movie for the upcoming series, "Megamind Rules!", the film is nothing more than a slapped together, incredibly forced attempt to get in on the original film's resurgence in popularity. The first film was overshadowed by the "Despicable Me" franchise, yet gained quite a following and for good reason, with it being a funny, even thoughtful look at the superhero genre, along with its various clichés. What makes this sequel more frustrating is that it's basically nothing but clichés. Of course the fans were going to despise this and not just because it wasn't a true, theatrically released, big budget sequel (We got three "Trolls" movies instead of that!). It's just so ugly and lame looking, feeling watered down and pandering to the least demanding kind of young audience (Everyone who saw the original are adults now. They're not gonna have any interest in this!). Sure, we've had television continuations of bigger budget animated films, and from DreamWorks too ("Madagascar", "How to Train Your Dragon", "Kung Fu Panda", etc.), yet this feels extra cheap. The animation has no sense of appeal, looking like a bad video game you would have seen in the late 2000s. Considering how quickly this was announced and tossed out (In a matter of months. Barely even that), I wouldn't be shocked if the animators were forced into an excessive amount of crunch time to finish it. We can work with bad animation and the plot could make for something of amusement, so long as it was funny. Sadly, much of the humor is tired and lacks much energy behind it, ruining any sort of timing that could have made a joke work. 

Say what you will about the reliance of celebrity voice actors, but in the original movie, they did leave an impression. Keith Ferguson is a longtime, talented voice actor and impressionist, but aside from sounding nothing like the character, there isn't much of an identity to the performance. Laura Post and especially Josh Brener do at least feel like decent enough substitutes. The new villains are so basic that they don't standout, with the exception of Talon Warburton, son of Patrick Warburton, is actually pretty funny. (He is easily the only new character that I genuinely liked seeing) Everything with Keiko is incredibly annoying, throwing in the whole "feisty kid" trope and mixing it with the TikTok generation in a way that's not only forced, it's also clearly something brought into existence by some old, out of touch board members wondering "What the youth today" like. The movie would normally be something so bland and forgettable, that you just shrug it off and move on with your day (Or even just let your kid watch in the background to keep their attention for a an hour and twenty minutes). The movie's laziness, especially in the last twenty minutes, just gets to you after a while. I know that there isn't much money behind this, yet, you could at least look like you care. Just a little?

"Megamind vs. the Doom Syndicate" is too uninspired to keep the attention of the kids, or the adults. Just a waste of time that mostly only offends because of how little thought has been put into it. It's so close to the bottom of the barrel, though lacks so much heart that really gives it too much credit. (And hey, I do stan Lord Nighty-Knight. He deserves better) Definitely not worth streaming, though you could be like me and, hehe, go on the high seas to watch it (Wink Wink). Come on. You know that's what the real Megamind would endorse. This existing is real villainy right here. 1 Star. It Gets A TV-G Rating, But I Definitely Wouldn't Recommend It For Any Age Group.  

Dune: Part Two             by James Eagan                         ★★★★½ out of ★★★★★ 

Image: Time to kick some Arrak-Ass!

Denis Villeneuve has had to fight to get this thing to happen, and even then, it's still a shock that we're even here right now. Adapting such a grand novel (Which has been adapted before to, er, mixed results? If you would call David Lynch's version that), in one, let alone two films, seemed very unlikely. No matter how good it was. Then Covid happened, delaying the first film and also in turn, preventing both parts from being filmed back to back like originally planned. Luckily, the first "Dune" was still able to make a profit after being released a year later than expected (And in spite of being released by Warner Bros. on HBO Max at the same time), and even got itself some Oscar nominations, such as Best Picture. The much anticipated second part was on its way, only for the writer and actor strikes to happen, delaying it at the last second just only a bit before its release date. Seriously, no wonder the guy is so worn out. (We're not even gonna get started on how much we failed "Blade Runner 2049")

Based on the second half of the novel by the late Frank Herbert, "Dune: Part Two" opens directly after the events of the first film. The jealous ruler of the Galaxy, "Emperor Shadam IV" (Christopher Walken), arranged for an underhanded scheme to do away with the "Atreides" bloodline in hopes of protecting his own power. "Duke Leto Atreides" (Previously played by Oscar Isaac) is dead, and the desert, spice-filled world of "Arrakis" has fallen back into the greedy hands of the repulsively evil "Baron Vladimir Harkonnen" (Stellan Skarsgård). Now the Duke's son, "Paul" (Timothée Chalamet), along with his pregnant mother, "Lady Jessica" (Rebecca Ferguson), have fled into the desert to live with the oppressed natives, the blue-eyed "Fremen" people. Many of the Fremen, such as tribal leader, "Stilgar" (Javier Bardem), see Paul as their Messiah, having come to liberate their planet due to a prophecy (That has been fed to them from the offworld, witch-like religious group, the "Bene Gesserit"), while others, such as the strong-willed, "Chani" (Zendaya), don't believe in such nonsense.

However, thanks in part to Jessica's manipulations (Whose pregnancy takes a unique turn, where she can hear her unborn baby daughter speaking to her before she's even born), Paul starts to become that mythical figure that's been prophesied, though his capability, bravery, and desire to save Arrakis also leads to Chani falling in love with him. Through a series of attacks, Paul (Going by the name "Muad'Dib"), proceeds to disrupt Spice production on the planet, and since the Baron's barbaric nephew, "Rabban" (Dave Bautista) isn't up the the task of dealing with the situation, he seeks out his other nephew, the much more ruthless and maniacal "Feyd-Rautha" (Austin Butler), to do the job instead. Meanwhile, the Emperor converses with his daughter, "Irulan" (Florence Pugh) and the Reverand Mother of the Bene Gesserit/instigator of this entire situation, "Gauis Helen Mohiam" (Charlotte Rampling), of the consequences of Paul's actions and how they will affect the rest of the Galaxy. As Paul's power and influence grows, he soon realizes that there might not be any going back, with war being just over the horizon. 

Directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Prisoners", "Sicario", "Arrival", "Blade Runner 2049", along with the first film), who co-wrote the screenplay with the returning Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus", "Doctor Strange"), "Dune: Part Two" ups the ante in every way, making for a cinematic, big screen epic that's better than the original and deserves to be seen on only in IMAX. This is one of those films where you can truly tell how much hard work went into it, with the blood, sweat, tears, and whatever other moisture came out of the filmmakers, has been put into making it happen. The visuals, the sound design, the production design, costuming, and overall artistry is on a scale so massive that a theatrical screen can barely handle it. It's jarring how brought to life this world is, as if it leapt off the pages of the book, with impeccable effects work, blending together so seamlessly that it's impossible to tell what's practically made or what was created with CGI. A standout sequence, which takes up about a good twenty minutes of the film's runtime at the halfway point, revolves around the Harkonnen home world. It's almost pure white, feeling like you've entered some kind of alternate universe where color has completely vanished (With the occasional shades of black). As stunning as the film's presentation is, it would mean nothing if the story, characters, and themes didn't resonate. It's a timeless tale for sure, though serves as a reminder of one ahead of its time back when it was first written. That makes it something entirely new for today's audience and it doesn't hold back in some of the source material's complexities and even its most controversial of ideas. Sure, some things are left out or changed around (Mostly for time, or simply because it just might not translate on film), but their spirit is there. There's nothing but love on display from Villeneuve and all of the performers. 

Timothée Chalamet is able to be his most commanding here, going from what was once a naive hero that was easy to root for, to a much more confident, yet tragic figure. You see his steps towards something much darker and how he might not want to go down this path, everything around him seems to be making it impossible for him to turn away from it. Zendaya takes her character to some new places, serving as an audience surrogate instead of just Paul's love interest/sidekick. She questions things from the outside, coming across as more capable in her own right (And in some ways, could even be more of a main character than Paul is). Rebecca Ferguson is as lovely and majestic as ever, but she too gets to take her character into more morally questionable territory. There is a real menace to where they take this relationship between her and this unborn baby (Feeling like she's possessed by her), adding in an extra creep factor, along with another small unanswered question to the legitimacy of this so-called prophecy.(It also serves as a interesting interpretation of the very idea of the chosen one that we're used to seeing in books, shows, and movies).

Some more returning faces include a greatly welcome Josh Brolin (as "Gurney Halleck", Paul's former mentor, who was able to survive the attack by the Harkonnens), Charlotte Rampling, and Javier Bardem, who serves as a source of humor for the film. Some new faces include Florence Pugh (Getting a much larger role than her character did in the book), a brief but memorable appearance from Léa Seydoux (as "Lady Margot Fenring", a Bene Gesserit instructed to seduce Feyd-Rautha for their own purposes), and a very committed, downplayed Christopher Walken, who makes up for limited screentime by conveying a bit of frailty to who is in a way, the bigger bad of the film. Our main villains are all plenty despicable, from Stellan Skarsgård's grotesquely gluttonous presence and an intense, yet pitiful Dave Bautista. The big standout is Austin Butler (Previously having gotten an Oscar nomination as Elvis), who is mesmerizingly frightening. A sadistic, twisted creation of pure bloodlust and villainy, making for a nightmarish character that you're gonna remember once you leave the theater. The characters are memorable, with the top notch screenplay helping set them in what feels like a believable world with stakes and rules that actually aren't as hard to follow as some would be led to believe. 

With too many jaw dropping sequences to count (Any time the sandworms come in make for an on the edge of your seat moment), "Dune: Part Two" doesn't have to do any more setup, going for full blown spectacle, though never once feels like style over substance. It genuinely did my heart good to see so many people were able to gravitate towards it, making it feel like that successor to the likes of "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars" that we've been waiting for (Which is funny since the original novel basically was ripped off by "Star Wars"). It takes some slight deviations from the book towards the end, serving as a conclusion along with a hint at something more (Denis Villeneuve says he plans to adapt the second book, "Dune Messiah", which I actually haven't even read yet, and conclude the series on a trilogy). Whether or not we get a continuation any time soon, the film (With some help from the last one too) is powerful enough to work on its own as the kind of movie magic that stands the test of time. Let's just hope nothing else happens to get in the way next time. Long Live the Fighters! 4 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Sci-Fi Violence, Spice Snorting, Baron Butt, And Hardcore Sandworm Riding. 

Drive-Away Dolls                      by James Eagan                   ★★★ out of ★★★★★  

Image: Everyone's reaction to "Madame Web" last week. 

Renowned filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are probably the most famous directorial duo in cinema history, so it's jarring to see them take time apart to both do some solo work. Joel went on to give us one of 2021's best films, "The Tragedy of Macbeth", while Ethan has, um, given us this apparently. One brother went on to do literal Shakespeare, while the other proceeded to give a weird, totally gay-tastic, and absolutely horny road trip comedy. It's like we're seeing into their very minds themselves. Take that as you wish. 

Set in 1999, "Drive-Away Dolls" (Which actually means something else, but the film doesn't explain it until the very end. Kind of disappointed I didn't actually get it until that point) opens with the grisly murder of a man (A quick Pedro Pascal cameo) over a mysterious briefcase that he's holding. Later, two Lesbian best friends, the sexually free "Jamie" (Margaret Qualley) and the more wound-tight "Marian" (Geraldine Viswanathan), come up with the idea to take a trip away from home, after Jamie is kicked out by her girlfriend, "Sukie" (Beanie Feldstein) for cheating on her. Planning to visit Marian's aunt in Tallahassee, Florida, a mishap at a driveaway car service, results in the girls being given a car that just so happens to contain the briefcase from earlier. When "Chief" (Colman Domingo), arrives to collect for his panicking employer (Matt Damon), he sends in his "Goons" (Joey Slotnick and C. J. Wilson), to find the girls and get the briefcase back. While on their little adventure, Jamie and Marian discover the briefcase, becoming involved in a strange, but deadly conspiracy that could interfere with their seemingly innocent, sex-fueled trip. 

Directed by Ethan Coen ("Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "No Country for Old Men", ect.), who co-wrote the film with his wife/editor, Tricia Cooke, "Drive-Away Dolls" is basically a farce of a film, that's surely destined to be divisive. It's a quirky, sometimes overly quirky, feature, from its oddly inconsistent direction, editing, and even down to the film's nonsensical screenplay. The level of silliness that the film displays can be a bit off-putting, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it at times left me a little lost. There are times where things fall flat or feel just too over the top for its own good, veering between psychedelic and surreal to pretty broad and crude in its humor. In a way, it's all just buildup to one single joke. However, it's a pretty damn funny one. I'll admit that I didn't quite expect where it was all going, with the film feeling like pure, drug induced nonsense at first, before anything remotely starts to make any sense. When the film does though, and the big reveal happens, it gets a big laugh, especially with how much it completely changes the entire perspective of the film itself. 

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan are both delightfully charming, cute as Hell, and have wicked good chemistry together. It's hard not to like them. The film's hodgepodge of supporting characters each get their moment, even when the movie completely stops dead in its tracks to give it to them. Beanie Feldstein is hilarious in her aggressiveness, while Colman Domingo is smooth as can be. There are amusing bit parts for Matt Damon (Probably his most perplexing performance) and Bill Camp (as "Curlie", the unfortunate owner of the driveaway car service), while some of the funniest moments come from Joey Slotnick and C. J. Wilson's unstable, disastrous duo.

"Drive-Away Dolls" is the definition of silly in weaponized form. At barely an hour and twenty minutes, it knows that it's pretty thin and thankfully, cuts off right before it probably could have gotten a little annoying. I like the characters. You get a few laughs. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It might all be a bit too much. It leads to something clever. It's just enough to make for a short, fun, screwy little future cult favorite. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Sexual Content, Puzzling Cameos, Head On The Rocks, And Lifelike Dick-Molding.      

Madame Web                           by James Eagan                         ★ out of ★★★★★   

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Image: The lost look you have when you realize what kind of "Marvel" movie you've been cast in. 

You know what? It's a good thing this movie exists. It came out at the right time and is just what we need right now. It takes us back to how most superhero and comic book films (Especially ones from "Marvel") were back in the early 2000s before the rise of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". Oh no, not because it's good. Oh Hell no! Far from it. You see, I grew up during that time. I watched what happened when a studio just made whatever, without any care or thought process, other than it's based on a possibly profitable property. The days of "Daredevil", "Elektra", "Ghost Rider", "Catwoman", both "Fantastic Four" films, etc. These were dark days and despite some of the unevenness of the current MCU (And Disney too, really), we all need a reminder of what real evil looks like. Pick your poison!

The newest entry in "Sony's Spider-Man Universe" (Which continues to be without a Spider-Man), "Madame Web" opens with a pregnant scientist, "Constance Webb" (Kerry Bishé), and explorer, "Ezekiel Sims" (Tahar Rahim), researching a rare, rumored to be magical spider Peruvian jungle. Constance is betrayed and shot by Sims, who steals the spider so he can claim its mystical power for himself. Constance is saved by a tribe of racially insensitive, mud-wearing Spider-People, who are able to rescue the baby before Constance dies. Years later in 2003, the daughter, "Cassandra" (Dakota Johnson) works as a paramedic in Manhattan with her close friend/future Canon Event victim, "Ben Parker" (Adam Scott), where she discovers that she has clairvoyant abilities (Being able to see brief glimpses into the future, seemingly at random). However, when Cassandra witnesses a vision of three teenage girls, "Julia Cornwall" (Sydney Sweeney), "Anya Corazon" (Isabela Merced), and "Mattie Franklin" (Celeste O'Connor), being murdered by a returning Ezekiel Sims, she becomes their only source of protection. It turns out that these three girls are destined to become spider-based superheroines ("Spider-Women") that will eventually kill Sims, and he plans to kill them first. Cassandra must not hone her abilities to keep the girls safe, defeat Sims, and discover her role in growing SpiderVerse. Kind of. Not Really. 

Directed by S. J. Clarkson ("Anatomy of a Scandal", along with much work in television), who co-wrote the screenplay with Claire Parker, along with Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless ("Gods of Egypt", "Dracula Untold", "Morbius"), "Madame Web" has been getting mocked by the public since it was first announced. First of all, it's based on a rather secondary character in the larger Spider-Man mythos. Second, it has absolutely nothing to do with that character and seems to only exist so Sony can continue to own the rights to a large portion of Spider-Man's supporting cast so that Disney can't have them. And thirdly, it's set in the same cinematic universe as the "Venom" films, but also "Morbius" (Which was a movie so hilariously tone deaf and misguided that people were able to successfully gaslight Sony into re-releasing it back into theaters as a joke). I'm one of those guys who wants to give things a chance, especially with all the negativity we already have online, but yyyyyeah, it's as bad as everyone has been saying. Not even in a fun way though. It's bad in the dullest, most generic, and brainless way possible (And yes, I again repeat, nothing in the entire MCU has ever stooped this low before).

It's funny how the filmmakers are now claiming that this is meant to be completely standalone, with no connections to any specific Spider-Man, and even lacks any post-credits scenes, claiming that the original idea was to connect it to the Andrew Garfield films, but decided to abandon those plans when the timelines didn't quite add up. The real question is if they decided that before or after they, you know, already started making the movie? The film is a jumbled concoction of bizarre ideas that the film tries to force into connection with each other, and somehow, no matter how insane it gets, it's not remotely interesting. We got tribal Spider-People, awkward attempts at Prequel-baiting, unexplainable Spider-Powers, and lots of spoiler-ish reveals that I would normally say would be worth the price of admission in a "So Bad, It's Good" way, but it's so uninvesting that it's not worth it. It's not the fun kind of stupid that you can find in the "Venom" movies (At least those HAVE personality), or it doesn't even have the meme-ability of "Morbius". 

Dakota Johnson, bless her heart, is a likable, very cute, and capable actress, but is just stuck in something that gives her absolutely nothing, resulting in her not being able to give anything back. The only times that Johnson looks like she's having remotely any kind of fun is when she's being charmed by Adam Scott (Who is trying his best to liven up such a thankless role). Most of the time, she looks bored, and why wouldn't she be? When the script is as bland as can be, with incompetent direction, what is a performer supposed to do in that kind of situation? The three main girls also sadly don't fare much better. Sydney Sweeney (And her little schoolgirl costume) is only here to look cute and confused, which she does well I guess, though you'd never be able to tell how good an actress she can be with this movie. Celeste O'Connor is just annoying, coming across more as a liability to the main group, while Isabela Merced (Who had so much personality in that "Dora" movie) just fades into the background, as if the movie just forgets she was ever there in the first place. There is no chemistry between the girls, with the only scene where they actually get to have any kind of fun is in an amusing sequence where they dance on a table in a diner to Britney Spears' "Toxic" (The only time the film makes use of the time period), which then leads to a fight scene with the song playing over. Also, it's pretty embarrassing how the film tries to portray them as teenagers, despite the fact that they are obviously not (You can only dress down Sydney Sweeney so much before certain, er, "attributes", become noticeable).

There is an absolutely unnecessary bit with a wasted Emma Roberts (as "Mary", Ben's sister, who is pregnant with a certain future web-crawling hero), a weird long cameo from Mike Epps (as "O'Neil", a co-worker of Cassandra's, who she has a vision of dying), and Zosia Mamet (as "Amaria", a tech genius forced to work for Sims), who straight up vanishes from the plot towards the end. Easily the worst part is Tahar Rahim, and everything associated with him. He's so nonthreatening, with absolutely no character motivation (What was he even doing with those Spider-Powers anyway? What was the endgame with that?), and some baffling ADR work (Where his voice is never matching what his lips are saying). The costume looks like easily tearable rubber, and doesn't make sense in context, resulting in possibly one of the worst villains in comic book movie history (Top five at least!). 

"Madame Web" looks stitched together, with much left out, and just has this cheap fee to it. Right down to some absolutely abysmal CGI, that has no place in 2024 (Seriously, MODOK was at least supposed to look hideous. What's the excuse here?). The lack of effort, inspiration, or overall vision, makes this pretty much the definition of what's seen as wrong with the superhero genre at the moment, and what's also leading towards its apparent downfall. And worse still, it's just so damn boring. At almost two hours, it feels like three. It just taints the brand, though maybe it can get some to reevaluate some of the MCU's weakest entries (The internet does like to do revisionist history). 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Spider-Action, Fanservice That Nobody Asked For, And Death By Pepsi.

Bob Marley: One Love                by James Eagan               ★★ out of ★★★★★

Image: Anyone else remember that Cinnamon stick guy from those "Apple Jacks" commercials? Those were pretty racist, weren't they? 

It's sad that this wasn't the one to help me get over my biopic fatigue. If anyone's story was gonna do it, it would have to be such a fascinating figure like Bob Marley.

"Bob Marley: One Love" focuses on the life of famous reggae singer and icon, "Bob Marley" (Kingsley Ben-Adir), during the last act of his life. After performing a unity concert to promote peace in Jamaica (During a very turbulent, violent time), Marley is almost assassinated, along with his supportive wife, "Rita" (Lashana Lynch), prompting him, along with his family and band to leave the country to avoid any more attempts on their lives. Marley and his band, "The Wailers", head to London to work on possibly their greatest album. Marley must face several obstacles along the way, such as a desire to spread his message to the people of Africa and his need to return home to finish what he started, along the inevitable and tragically too soon demise.   

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Joe Bell", "King Richard"), who co-wrote the screenplay from Terrence Winter ("Boardwalk Empire", "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Frank E. Flowers ("Metro Manilla"), and Zach Baylin ("Creed III"), "Bob Marley: One Love" is a pretty safe endeavor, that I suppose will appease Bob Marley's most devoted, though undemanding fans. The movie doesn't do the whole story, going through every moment in his life like a series of cliff notes taken from his Wikipedia page. Instead, it's just one of those cliff notes, stretched out to an hour and forty minutes, which is still obviously taken from a Wikipedia page. The film centers on the last couple years of his life (Though never goes all the way up to his death), with an occasional, very quick flashback to certain moments in his younger days. This decision is different to say the least, though only makes the film feel sloppy and unfocused. Like any weak biopic, it doesn't tell you anything that you don't already know about its subject, while rushing through everything it can with a brisk enough pace. 

For such an inconsequential movie, it's still worth it to give credit to an actor trying their very best to elevate it. Kingsley Ben-Adir continues to show what a real versatile actor he is, from his work in things like "One Night in Miami", "Secret Invasion", and "Barbie", there is a remarkable amount of range to this guy (And he's British too!). He brings the film to life, and even when the film frustratingly leaves you wanting, his charismatic performance is what keeps you engaged. This especially shows not during the dramatic moments, but instead during the moments of humor or heart (Ben-Adir's smile alone just kind of makes you smile right back). Lashana Lynch is another one, who always brings what she can to a part, while nobody else in the cast quite stands out. This isn't any of their faults. They just aren't given much time to do so. Thankfully, when the film gives time to the music, it's beautiful to hear and might even get you tapping your feet a little. Still though, this is yet another area where the film just falls short in which it never gets into how the music and the message both coincided together to become a phenomenon.

The music is great and Kingsley Ben-Adir is giving it his all, but "Bob Marley: One Love" almost feels unnecessary. It doesn't feel like it knows what story it wants to tell. It breezes by too many important events in a few quick flashbacks, while clumsily cobbling together a narrative that doesn't warrant an entire film. In any other biopic, for better or for worse, this would have been just a section of the story rather than the whole thing. Maybe we would have learned more if it had been. Or it could have been worse. However, it would have felt more complete. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Jaimacan Accents All Over!  

Out of Darkness                   by James Eagan                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★★  

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Image: This isn't your average, everyday darkness. This is.....Advanced Darkness....

Oh boy, this is definitely going to be "It's not for everyone" kind of movies. All I can say is that if you've only seen the trailer and you're thinking this is one thing, you probably shouldn't be thinking that. You'll understand what I mean if you see it, which I honestly think you should. Smaller movies, especially ones with bolder visions that got left on a shelf collecting dust after a 2022 London premiere, deserve their time in the light. Pun completely intended. 

Set 45,000 years ago, a group of travels arrive at a new, undiscovered land in their quest for survival. This group includes the overly proud leader, "Adem" (Chuku Modu), his pregnant partner, "Ave" (Iola Evans), his younger brother "Geirr" (Kit Young), his young son "Heron" (Luna Mwezi), the elderly "Odal" (Arno Luening), and a stray "Beyah" (Safia Oakley-Green), that they've picked up along their journey. However, this group proceeds to find nothing but desolation and starvation, with Adem's decision making being called into question. Unfortunately, they have nowhere else to go but forward, only to discover that something more frightening awaits them within the darkness. Soon, they are hunted by some kind of screeching creature, while also having to contend with the very monster that resides in every single one of them. 

Directed by first time feature length director, Andrew Cumming, with a screenplay from the also first timer, Ruth Greenberg, "Out of Darkness" is an atmospheric, semi-horror that's just been hiding in the shadows, waiting to find its audience. Now while I can't say the film will necessarily find it (Granted, nothing is particularly doing that well at the box office right now), I can only commend the brilliance behind the premise and execution, along with the balls to actually commit to it. The film's dialogue is subtitled in a completely made up language that feels just right for the time period the film takes place in, with it convincingly being conveyed by the strong, admirable cast. The film is all about mood and visuals, where things aren't quite supposed to make total sense at first. It's one of those scripts that lets actions speak for the words, and Cumming's intense, ambitious direction does just that. It's incredible how this was pushed into one of the smaller theaters, despite its gorgeous, almost mind-bending cinematography just screams the biggest IMAX screen possible. What the film also just revels in, and quite fittingly so, is the use of darkness itself. There are some suspenseful moments where you can only see the characters illuminated by campfire, while nothing but pure black nothingness surrounding them. It puts you on edge, especially when someone can just as easily vanish into that seemingly endless void without warning. Even when the story shifts to day, there is this gloomy shroud constantly following the characters, as they resort to more barbaric methods of survival. 

The performers are all worthy of praise, but it's Safia Oakley-Green that's a real find. She is so compelling to watch, where you're not always sure what exactly what's going on through her head, especially when her character ends up taking command in places, seemingly willing to go that extra mile that any rational person would never even dream of. However, it also serves as a look into that beast within everyone that can easily come out when it comes to survival. That's where the real terror of the film resides. Those cold, calculating actions that we believe separate us from animals, while slowly killing a bit more of ourselves the further we descend into, er, well, darkness. It's in the title!

"Out of Darkness" won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's not too hard to see some later reveals coming and it might alienate those coming in for an old fashioned horror movie, with jumpscares and a scary monster. However, I feel that only further cements the point that the film is making. Those are just the masks that our fears wear. What we should be more afraid of is what lies behind it. 4 Stars. Rated R For Scary Images, Non-Existent Personal Hygiene, And Jaw Dropping Violence. 

Lisa Frankenstein                     by James Eagan             ★★ out of ★★★★★ 

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Image: Classic Story. Girl likes boy. Boy is a decomposing corpse. You know the rest. 

This movie really has the ingredients to be something for my admittedly questionable mind to gravitate towards. At least younger me more than anything. You got an inspired take on a classic monster story, with Tim Burton-esque set design, a gleefully macabre sense of humor, somebody as cute and charming as Kathryn Newton, and a sense of late 80s/early 90s twistedness that nobody is attempting to make these days. This movie has all those things.......and I really did not like it. 

Set in 1989, "Lisa Swallows" (Kathryn Newton) has never fully recovered from her mother literally getting axed off by an axe-weilding maniac, going into a state of depression where she barely even speaks. Since then, her oblivious father, "Dale" (Joe Chrest), has remarried to the overbearing "Janet" (Carla Gugino), and now Lisa is an outcast in her new school, with the only person willing to be around her is her new, more popular stepsister "Taffy" (Liza Soberano). Ignored by everyone else around her and madly in love with the popular guy, "Michael Trent" (Henry Eikenberry), Lisa's only place of solace comes from the local graveyard, where she hangs around a forgotten tombstone belonging to an unnamed, Victorian era corpse (Cole Sprouse). After a thunderstorm, the corpse rises from the grave and befriends Lisa, who keeps the corpse rejuvenated via a tanning bed. One day, after it becomes clear that the only way for the corpse to become fully human again is through reacquiring his missing parts (Hand, ear, among other shall we say useful appendages), Lisa decides that a little old fashioned murder might do the body some good.

Directed by Zelda Williams (Daughter of the late Robin Williams), with a screenplay by Diablo Cody ("Juno", "Jennifer's Body"), "Lisa Frankenstein" has future cult classic status written all over it. Too bad it's just not going to end up as one of the good ones (Remember, movies like "The Room", "Road House", and "Howard the Duck" are considered cult classics now). While I can definitely see how the film could find an audience (And it's not to say that there aren't some things to admire about it), it just frustratingly has no dick. Which is very ironic, don't ya think? It's a PG-13 dark, horror comedy, that doesn't have near enough horror, fairly weak comedy, and should have been a whole lot darker, especially considering how much on the morbid side it is. There is some humor to find in the premise, such as how our lead character is going around and hacking people up for her own Frankenstein's monster, yet also completely friendzones him in favor of her more traditional crush. The film struggles to balance that gruesome tone, thanks to a watered down rating, some sloppy editing, and a screenplay that's not as clever as it seems to think it is. Perhaps the film was trimmed down, which would explain how the film will just jump around between what's meant to be logical and what's meant to be fantasy. The characters just jump right to the decision to go around killing without much buildup, and things only spiral out of control from there. 

While character motivations are too thin on paper, some of the performances make up for it. In fact, they salvage it. Kathryn Newton is terrific (And I'm not just saying that in hopes of her possibly seeing this, then agreeing to become the future Mrs. James Eagan), with pitch perfect line delivery between questionably likable and innocently psychotic. It's also a pretty delightful decision to have Cole Sprouse mostly speak in gurgling grunts and groans, while Liza Soberano being a surprise standout with how much more depth she brings to her role (It's fairly predictable where it all goes, but she makes it work and gets a few good one liners). Carla Gugino looks like she's having some hammy fun, while Joe Chrest does what he apparently does best, which is playing a buffoonish, out of the loop dad, who hasn't the slightest idea about the insanity going on around him. 

"Lisa Frankenstein" has a beautiful visual aesthetic, even if it's framed like something you'd see on television rather than in theaters. While the film isn't without its chuckles, more of it falls pretty flat, particularly when the film seems to want to have an edge yet is settling for something too tame for its ambitions. Towards the end, it just gets kind of stupid, having worn out its welcome (Also, I think it's time we retire ever using "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon in anything ever again. It's overused by this point). There is a joyful bit of deviousness to the film that I can see winning some over, while its campy attitude might also leave others irritated. I just see it as lesser than the kinds of films that inspired it, even if I appreciate the effort. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sinister Slaying, So Much Teen Angst, And Improper Dick Handling. 

Orion and the Dark                     by James Eagan                ★★★½ out of ★★★★★

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Image: When that PCP kicks in during the middle of the night. 

Ok, I can kind of see why DreamWorks Animation didn't release this in theaters, instead opting out to release it via Netflix, but that still doesn't seem fair to me. If something like "Argylle", which has the broadest kind of appeal, can bomb as hard as it's about to bomb, then why can't a somewhat overly ambitious, yet endearing animated film for the family pushed to the side. "Pixar" is known for stuff like "Inside Out" and "Soul", which incorporate some unique, philosophical themes, but still have much to appeal towards the kids. Last year's "The Boy and the Heron" was a surprise success too, so I think giving kids a little more to think about, along with the usual colorful characters and animation, deserves more respect than a soon to be forgotten Netflix release. 

Based on the book by Emma Yarlett, "Orion and the Dark" serves as a story that a father (Colin Hanks) telling his daughter (Mia Akemi Brown) before bed, following a young boy, "Orion" (Jacob Tremblay), who is literally afraid of everything, such existential anxiety, bees, cell phones, rejection from girls (Sorry kid, that one never goes away. Trust me), killer gutter clowns, and most of all, the dark itself. Orion's irrational fears prevent him from living life, and one night, he meets the very embodiment of the dark itself, aptly named "Dark" (Paul Walter Hauser), who promises to help Orion conquer his fears. Dark introduces Orion to the night life that helps the world move, which includes his friends, "Sweet Dreams" (Angela Bassett), "Sleep" (Natasia Demetriou), "Insomnia" (Nat Faxon), "Quiet" (Aparna Nancherla), and "Unexplained Noises" (Golda Rosheuvel), who all have their parts to play throughout the night. While having to always move before the arrival of "Light" (Ike Barinholtz), who Dark despises due to feeling underappreciated, Orion soon learns to face what he doesn't understand, along with how the world needs the dark just as much as the light. This is all before things get a little more complicated as the story takes some unconventional detours before arriving to its established destination.

Directed by longtime animator Sean Charmatz, with a screenplay from Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation", "Anomalisa", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), "Orion and the Dark" is a flawed, though inspired premise that boasts almost too many grand ideas, though thankfully does it in such a sweet, earnest, and genuinely funny way that I can see all ages being able to follow it more than even the distribution predicted it would. I actually left a lot out from the plot synopsis because about half an hour in, the film's story takes a pretty unexpected turn, which still leads down a predictable path mind you, but doesn't seem to want to talk down to kids. In fact, Charlie Kaufman's screenplay really gets right just how much more existential kids really are, especially today. These fears about what you don't fully understand and how they clash with a developing mind that seems to overthink things just as often as it underthinks them. Heck, even plenty of adults still go through these kinds of anxieties, and the film is smart about how it brings them to life in a colorful fashion. The animation is not the most detailed of what we've seen from DreamWorks, but it's got these rather children's book-like cuteness to it, which just bursts with pure, unintelligible imagination. What makes this extra bold of the filmmakers is that the film is by no means grand. It's a script that relies more on the characters talking with each other, mixed in with lovely visuals. Most of the charm comes from the film's sense of humor, which also never talks down to kids. It's bound to get the whole family laughing. 

The voice cast is top notch, with the typically likable Jacob Tremblay and a scene-stealing Paul Walter Hauser playing perfectly off each other. Ike Barinholtz is a lot of fun as the cocky sounding embodiment of the light, while Agela Bassett's powerful sounding voice always commands your attention, no matter what she's in. Some of the best gags come from how the characters' powers work, such as Nat Faxon being the embodiment of insomnia (Waking people up by whispering anxiety fueled thoughts into people's ears while they sleep), Golda Rosheuvel as the embodiment of those unexplained noises that you always hear in the middle night, and a pretty hilarious Natasia Demetriou as the one who puts everyone to sleep via disturbing means such as forcing a sleep pillow over people's faces or straight up chloroforming them (Plus, her character design looks like a rejected muppet, so it's automatically ten times funny because of that alone). When the two main stories eventually converge, that's when things might become a bit more divisive, giving off the feeling that there are just too many ideas colliding and falling just out of reach, though I respect the maturity behind such designs. (The movie itself even somewhat acknowledges that it's not exactly sure how this story is supposed to end in a moment that's either going to be seen as clever or frustrating)

"Orion and the Dark" is no "Inside Out", but it has much more to offer for a family audience than one could give it credit for. It's a fun, humorous, sweet little film that shoots for the stars simply because it has the faith that the kids will be able to follow. It speaks to them right on their level, with plenty of charm for the parents as well. I got nothing against "Argylle", but even I can admit that this feels more befitting a wide, theatrical experience than something that, regardless if you love it or hate it, you're gonna forget in a week. This film at least asks you some big questions, hoping that just maybe, you'll start looking at the little things that might unnerve you a bit differently from now on. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated TV-Y7, Which Is Basically A PG Rating, For Some Slight Mature Humor And The Sleep Hammer (I Can't Be The Only Person Who Burst Out Laughing At That). 

Argylle                                  by James Eagan                  ★★½ out of ★★★★★  

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Image: How am I supposed to lick my balls in this thing? There's no room!

Guys! The nightmare is finally over! If you're like me, and you see a lot of movies, you've probably been subjected to the trailer for "Argylle" over and over again since like September or October of last year. The trailer itself is fine I guess, and I was okay with having to see it at some point, but holy Hell, watching the same exact trailer at least two or three times a week for months, with it being played before almost every single movie regardless if it fit or not, it starts to get very old, very fast. So you could have called this one of my most anticipated movies of 2024 for no other reason than to make sure that I never, ever see that trailer before a movie ever again. Never! Again!

"Argylle" opens the titular super spy, "Agent Aubrey Argylle" (Henry Cavill) and his baffling haircut, on a mission to capture glamorously sexy terrorist, "LaGrange" (Dua Lipa), with help from his sidekicks "Wyatt" (John Cena) and "Keira" (Ariana DeBose). However, it turns out this is all just the plot for the latest book in the "Argylle" series, by shy, cat lover "Elly Conway" (Bryce Dallas Howard). Elly is having a little bit of writer's block though as she's pressured by her mother, "Ruth" (Catherine O'Hara), to not end the next book on a cliffhanger. While on her way to visit her parents, Elly meets a stranger, "Aidan" (Sam Rockwell), who reveals that he's not only a fan of her books, but is also a skilled spy himself and has been tasked to protect her. It turns out that Elly's books have actually predicted a lot of things that have happened in real life, such as the revelation of a secret organization known as the "Division", run by the evil "Director Ritter" (Bryan Cranston). With the revelation of a "Master Key" in Elly's next book, which will expose the Division to the world, Aidan and Elly, along with her kitty, "Alfie" (Who is carried around in a little backpack), must find it first before the Division can hunt them down. As the mystery and intrigue gets more and more twisty, Elly soon learns that there is an even greater revelation about to be uncovered. 

Directed by Matthew Vaughn ("X-Men: First Class", "Kick-Ass", and the "Kingsman" films), with a screenplay by Jason Fuchs ("Pan", "Ice Age: Continental Drift". Um, interesting filmography), "Argylle" is an interesting film, in which there has been some fascinating theories on how with the recent release of the book that the film is supposedly based on, along with who the real Elly Conway is (With some even claiming it to be Taylor Swift) and if the book was really written first or not. The film itself has the same look and style of the "Kingsman" films, and is certainly an enjoyable enough time, especially since there is still nothing new playing in theaters right now that's worth seeing on opening weekend. However, there is also a junk food-like quality to the film, that also lacks the added necessity that you can find in the usual blockbusters. It's not like a big franchise film, or a "Marvel" movie, or even such a good original product that everyone is going to be talking about after you see it. Not that there isn't plenty to like about the film (And I do see enough audiences leaving happy), but it's hardly for everyone and could easily annoy some. One reason is that it's an intentionally convoluted, topsy turvy, twisty and turny story, that might revel too much in its own style. Matthew Vaughn's eye for colorful visuals, even when the CGI is less than stellar, is on full blast, with elaborate fight sequences, an odd sense of humor, and amusing needle drops. The film cost like $200 million, and you can see where the money went, even with the underlying fakeness of it all (Something that's always been part of the "Kingsman" films as well). Still though, the focus does seem to become a bit more reliant on how stylish the film is, over much substance, despite the film trying to have defined characters and an intricate story. This does clash more than it should, particularly with how much actually happens in the film. At almost two and a half hours, it's too much to take in. Too much story, with too many characters, and far too many twists (Which vary between genuinely pretty clever to rather predictable).

The ensemble cast is very much game, and elevates the film with their presence. Bryce Dallas Howard is suitably charming, as cute and lovable as she can be, and does make the character's messy arc more believable mostly because of how genuine she feels. The chemistry between her and Sam Rockwell is one of the film's standout qualities, with Rockwell being a joy to watch as a discounted James Bond. Speaking of James Bond types, Henry Cavill's role is a lot smaller than you would expect, appearing mostly in various fantasy sequences, yet he gets to show off more of the charismatic side that we haven't been able to see enough of (And something about that hair just gets a big laugh out of me). Bryan Cranston lays on the smarm as the villain, while Catherine O'Hara is excellent in a part that takes a few extra turns. There are a couple of faces that we've seen in other of Vaughn's films, such as Samuel L. Jackson (as "Alfred Solomon", an ally to Aidan) and Sofia Boutella (as "The Keeper, a mysterious extra third party in all the intrigue), along with very underutilized roles for John Cena and Ariana DeBose. It also goes without saying that Alfie the cat is pretty damn cute. (Who doesn't like a pudgy kitty?)

"Argylle" feels like it would have been better suited in different hands (Like a Rian Johnson type), though you can only imagine how ungodly horrible it would have been in much worse hands. Matthew Vaughn prioritizes his usual visual flair over the story itself making much sense and it dwells on it more than it should, though it's not without entertainment value and a cast that looks to be having so much fun making the movie. There's also an interesting post credits scene that I think enough people should see coming, and I'm a little interested in where it could go (Personally though, I just want a sequel to "The King's Man", so we can see where that Thanos-style Hitler reveal goes instead, but that's just me). It's an okay way to pass the time till the bigger and maybe better movies come out. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Chaotic Action, Bizarre Hair-Styles, And Pussy In Peril. 

Lift                                              by James Eagan                  ★½ out of ★★★★★    

Image: Mission: Impossible, if you ordered it from wish.com.

Is this what desperation looks like? Turning to Netflix in your time of need in order to make up for the lack of any new movies getting released in my nearby theaters? I usually tend to skip full reviews for these movies (Leaving them as quick, admittedly less than well structured mini-reviews on Letterboxd and Facebook), mostly because half the time, they're just so generic and lifeless. The dullest of the dull, which usually somehow find a way to get some recognizable faces and budgets that are quite frankly too high for a Netflix quality production, with the budget likely just going towards whatever locations the film includes. Luckily for us though.......This is exactly one of those kind of films, which I'm only reviewing the pass the time. See how I went nowhere with that setup? That's what it's like watching these things. 

"Lift" follows a renowned art thief, "Cyrus" (Kevin Hart), who has been on Interpol's radar for some time. Cyrus, along with his crew of misfits, a pilot "Camila" (Úrsula Corberó), the energetic safecracker "Magnus" (Billy Magnussen), a hacker "Mi-Sun" (Kim Yoon-ji), the engineer "Luke" (Viveik Kalra), and the eccentric master of disguise "Denton" (Vincent D'Onofrio), avoid capture at the hands of Interpol agent/Cyrus' former romantic flame "Abby Gladwell" (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). After lifting a very valuable NFT.....Okay, stop! This is already unrealistic. I just need a moment to comprehend that I just typed that.....So anyways.....the team gets nabbed, though Abby's boss, "Huxley" (Sam Worthington), has other plans in mind for Cyrus and his crew. There's some terrorist baddie, "Lars Jorgenson" (Jean Reno), who is forming an alliance with another criminal organization to make a profit doing bad guy things, which revolves around a payment of gold bars to seal the deal. Huxley, offering legal immunity, wants Cyrus and his team to assist in capturing Jorgenson, so a heist is planned where the team will steal all of the gold while it's transported by commercial airliner, while it's still in the air. After convincing Abby to work closely with him once again, Cyrus and the crew must formulate the best way to complete their mission before Netflix realizes just how basic this all sounds. 

Directed by F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton", "The Italian Job", "The Fate of the Furious"), with a screenplay by Daniel Kunka ("12 Rounds"), along with producing credits from the likes of Simon Kinberg and for some reason, Matt Reeves (NO!!!!), "Lift" is a perplexing bit of boring, banal blandness, that would normally be just forgettable if not for the film's rather confusing casting choices and well, just how almost spectacularly uninteresting it is. The film is certainly slick looking and the locations look nice, but there's this underlying sense of cheapness that's always present, even though the film is trying to hide it behind smoke and mirrors. I'm starting to get the idea that Netflix is putting up the facade of big budget blockbusters (Such as "Rebel Moon", "The Gray Man", and "Red Notice"), which look expensive on the outside, but feel like they could have been made by anyone, as quickly as possible, without trying to secure a full theatrical release. And boy, there are plenty of times where it's obvious the budget wasn't spent on visual effects, CGI, or actual production design, with so much green screen throughout. I know a bunch of our theatrical blockbusters do the same thing too, but the heavy green screen use has been based around creating a world that already isn't real, rather than films like this trying to cover their asses. The action and the plotting are uninspired enough as it is, but it's all brought down by a screenplay that has little to no identity and tries way to hard to compensate with fake charm (Feeling more like smarm if you ask me). 

Suave, cool, and badass. These are not the words I would use to describe Kevin Hart. I give him credit for trying to branch out with a performance that's more deadpan and somewhat serious, but it doesn't remotely work. In fact, it painfully falls flat. Hart has none of the qualities that you would see in a James Bond or Ethan Hunt type of character, despite the film really trying to tell you that he does. Hart has zero chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in a romance that really just gets in the way more than anything else. It doesn't help that the crew themselves are completely underwritten. Úrsula Corberó, Kim Yoon-ji, and Viveik Kalra, mostly fade into the background to the point one forgets they even exist, though thankfully Billy Magnussen and Vincent D'Onofrio at least go a little out of their way to inject some personality (And God, do you miss them when they're not onscreen). Burn Gorman (as "Cormac", Jorgenson's lead henchmen) always does a solid job playing creepy, while Jean Reno makes for an nonthreatening villainous presence (And he certainly looks more uninvested than anyone watching this thing). Shockingly, the person I wanted to see more of was Sam Worthington, who looks like he's having some fun as a bureaucratic slimeball, and makes the most out of a small-ish part that could have had anyone play it. The film's most memorable aspect is how much NFTs play a part in the film, even towards the climax, and you gotta wonder how long ago this was written because we're basically at a point where everyone already knows what a joke that whole trend was. 

You know that "Rick and Morty" episode where Morty writes a heist film to pitch to Netflix, only to abandon it after realizing how stupid and generic it is? I'm assuming that's where "Lift" came from. It follows all of the tropes, without enough humor, developed characters, or intelligence to make it work. Just a snoozefest, but an extra obnoxious one at that. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Violence, Slight Language, And A Slight Screenplay.   

I.S.S.                                     by James Eagan              ★★★½ out of ★★★★★        

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Image: The look on your face when you realize your "Portal" space memes died out over a decade ago.

Uhhhhhh, so this wasn't the most eventful of movie weeks and it's not often that I see a movie that I know little to nothing about. Usually that's a bad sign. I've been through it many times before. 

"I.S.S." follows American scientist, "Kira Foster" (Ariana DeBose), who joins a crew of American and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station (Or I.S.S., in case you didn't know). Her fellow American colleagues include the captain "Gordon Barrett" (Chris Messina) and "Christian" (John Gallagher Jr.), along with the Russian crew members, "Nicholai" (Costa Ronin), "Weronika" (Maria Mashkova), and "Alexey" (Pilou Asbæk). All seems to be going well until suddenly explosions can be seen from the station happening all over Earth, along with Gordon getting a very clear message from his superiors before all communication is shut off, which is to "Take control of the I.S.S. by any means necessary". Fearing that the Russians also may have gotten the same message from their superiors, tensions start to rise as everyone fears who will make the first strike, while the station itself only has a matter of time before it falls from orbit. 

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Our Friend", "Megan Leavey", and the acclaimed documentary "Blackfish"), with a screenplay by Nick Shafir, "I.S.S." has the unfortunate luxury of being an early January release, which will be quickly forgotten from memory the moment a bigger film comes out. It sucks because the film, while not exactly special by any means, is actually pretty good. It's using some old fashioned ingredients, but they're still quite effective in creating an intense, very claustrophobic, and occasionally even a bit unpredictable thriller. Cowperthwaite's direction is one of the highlights, which makes use of the obviously small budget by filming everything in close quarters, which can get nerve-wracking and dizzying since the characters are stuck in zero gravity. The effects aren't anything to write home about, yet they work for how little they're used, particularly in a sequence where one of the characters has to go outside the station, with only the endless void of space and the haunting beauty of Earth (Which features endless explosions going off all over) surrounding them.However, I won't say much about what I can assume was meant to be an action scene towards the last act, which felt pretty unnecessary (And features some very fake looking blood). Some of the details don't quite add up, and even the ones that the film takes time to try to explain feel very much like an afterthought. That vagueness does work in terms of the film's suspense, though I do recommend not trying to put all the pieces together when that's clearly not the intent. 

The performances are really what bring out the characters, with Ariana DeBose (Who has deserved so much better since winning her Oscar) being a very capable lead. Chris Messina and his excellent mustache are exceptionally downplayed, while Costa Ronin and Maria Mashkova do keep you guessing where their characters' loyalties will go, even if the script is rather telegraphed from the start. John Gallagher Jr. is one of those actors who always brings a lot to a performance, even when it's just a supporting part, and the same goes for Pilou Asbæk, known for being the guy who can elevate a generic villain role, but actually plays against that type with a more conflicted character. 

"I.S.S." isn't going to stick around in my head once we reach the end of the year. It's more or less a rainy day film, that just so happens to have better than expected direction, acting, and some clever turns. I always gotta give credit when a movie somehow has a twist or two that I don't see coming, and this genuinely did catch me off guard towards the end. It's a quick sit at barely an hour and a half, serving as a fairly gripping bottle film, that accomplishes its goals efficiently. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For A Little Bit Of Violence And Because I Assume A Little Language, But This Felt Like A PG-13. Like I've Seen Much Worse Get More Lenient Ratings. 

Mean Girls                         by James Eagan                     ★★★½ out of ★★★★★   

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Image: So that's where all the leftover pink went after "Barbie".

I mentioned this a couple weeks ago with "The Color Purple" in how the marketing for the film seemed to be hiding it was a musical, and this movie seems to be doing the same thing. What makes it more frustrating though is that all I've seen is how it's only further confused the average moviegoers, who just think this is a regular remake. They don't know what this is. They just see the poster or trailer, without having a clue what the film's actual intentions are, and presume it's just a pointless remake of a film that they love. Okay, maybe it might be a little pointless, but there's something more to it than just redoing the same movie again. 

Based on the Broadway musical, which was based on the 2004 film, which was based on the 2002 book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" (You get all that?), "Mean Girls" follows the original's story, with the home-schooled, "Cady Heron" (Angourie Rice), getting a transfer into North Shore High School. Cady finds friendship with the school outsiders, "Janis 'Imi'ike" (Auli'i Cravalho) and "Damian Hubbard" (Jaquel Spivey), who tell her all about the ways of the school. Cady learns about the mean girls, or the "Plastics", consisting of their queen bee "Regina George" (Reneé Rapp), her little minion "Gretchen Wieners" (Bebe Wood), and the incredibly dimwitted "Karen Shetty" (Avantika). Cady immediately finds herself entranced by the Plastics and after she's accepted into their clique, Janis and Damian suggest Cady be a spy for them on whatever cruel or stupid crap they get up to. After Cady's crush/Regina's ex, "Aaron Samuels" (Christopher Briney), ends up back in a relationship with Regina, Cady goes along with a plan to completely ruin the Plastics from within. However, Cady soon starts to morph into a mean girl herself, thus everything starts to spiral out of control. Oh, and it's a musical!

Directed by first time collaborators Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., with a screenplay from Tina Fey (Who previously wrote the original film), "Mean Girls" has to somewhat struggle to justify its existence, and while it doesn't stand out like say "The Color Purple" did, the film does retain a sort of musically bombastic charm. For what's more or less a rehash of the beloved original, you can feel the love that the filmmakers have for the material, especially for something that was originally meant to exclusively release via Paramount+. The film doesn't exactly look grand in terms of its budget, yet the effort onscreen is clear as day. From the choreography and musical numbers, which almost charmingly reuse the same sets over and over, give off a High School Musical-like feel that's both certainly more on the cheap side, but also endearing in its simplicity. It also helps that the film is still very funny and packed with lots of talented performers, who carry the film with ease.

Angrouie Rice, who always continues to shock me with how well she hides her Australian accent, is perfectly cast as our likable, at first shy lead, even if it is hard to quite detach it from Lindsay Lohan's pretty iconic portrayal. Reneé Rapp (Who previously played this character in the Broadway version) is a star in the making with not just her stunning singing voice, but also in how she commands your attention every single time she's onscreen. She makes this character her own, getting the highlight musical numbers and outshining everyone every chance she gets (So it's no wonder she's another flawless casting choice). Auliʻi Cravalho (Moana herself!) and Jaquel Spivey serve as almost narrators this time, and are both a delight to watch, while Bebe Wood has the perfect panicking face (Always looking on edge, trying to please Regina like a cute little puppy). Christopher Briney is rather bland and Busy Phillips (as Regina's mother, who thinks she's still in her teen years) doesn't quite get the same amount of laughs as Amy Poehler did in the original. There are some fun supporting parts for the likes of Jenna Fischer (as Cady's mother), along with Ashley Park and John Hamm (as teachers at the school), and the returning Tina Fey (as "Ms. Norbury") and Tim Meadows (as "Principal Duvall") are very welcome to see. For me the biggest scene-stealer Avantika, who is a total riot. Whether it be her incredibly moronic comments or just the completely baffling remarks that she makes at the most random moments, she is hilarious, right down to her detached, unwavering, never blinking stare that she does, even in the background (It's laugh out loud, every time).

Does "Mean Girls" completely justify its existence? Not really. It feels like a more watered down version of the original, losing much of its edge in the process, though it is genuinely such a fun time that you find yourself entranced by its fetchness. The musical numbers are a blast, which are all brought to life by the enthusiastic cast, and offers just a good amount of laughs. For the fans, I bet they'll be left quite happy, along with maybe a few newcomers. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content, Burn Books, And Sexy Cancer.

The Beekeeper                          by James Eagan                    ★★★ out of ★★★★★

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Image: "I'm the Bee's Knees." "Best Bee care around me." "I'm gonna Bee-eat the Hell outta you." "I got a million of em!"

One thing I've noticed is that we kind of give a free pass to campy trash. Sure, it's not good, but it's not good in a fun way. The kind of way where if you just shut your brain off, you'll have a good time. I actually disagree with that idea. Don't shut your brain off! Oh no, you gotta go in with your intelligence working 100%. All of this so that you can appreciate just how stupid it really is. If anything, you might find something more of value somewhere inside of all the stupidity. Some honey within the beeswax. 

"The Beekeeper" opens with an average, everyday, jacked British beekeeper, "Adam Clay" (Jason Statham), who has formed a friendship with the retired, kind-hearted, "Eloise" (Phylicia Rashad). Eloise gets caught in an intricate phishing scam, with completely drains all of her bank accounts, credit cards, and even the charities she's been a part of, leading the emotionally destroyed Eloise to take her own life. Clay discovers the deceased Eloise, whose death is investigated by her own daughter, FBI Agent, "Verona Parker" (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Clay tracks down the company responsible, and completely annihilates its base of operations. It turns out though that this is only a piece of a much larger, country-wide spanning organization of phishing scams, orchestrated by the slimy, "Derek Danforth" (Josh Hutcherson). Derek leaves finding out who Clay is to his family friend/former CIA director, "Wallace Westwyld" (Jeremy Irons), who learns the horrifying truth.....Clay is.....a Beekeeper! No! Not just a literal beekeeper (With honey and bees and all that). A beekeeper as in a secret government program that protects the "hive" (Society as a whole), from anything would do it harm. Clay may be a retired beekeeper, but his mission to root out the corruption, no matter how far up it goes, rages on as he kills his way to the very top. 

Directed by David Ayer ("Fury", "Suicide Squad", "Bright"), with a screenplay from Kurt Wimmer ("Equilibrium", "Point Break", "Expen4bles"), "The Beekeeper" is a movie that I feel is kind of trolling its audience. I mean, look at that plot. This is beyond stupid, and it's made weirder by how straight faced the film plays it, though to such a degree that I think that's what's supposed to be funny about it. For all of its buffed out buffoonery, it's also absolutely out of its damn mind too. This is a movie that's all about escalation, in terms of the violence, the stakes, and nonsensical story. Everything just keeps getting bigger and bigger until the film literally just stops existing. In spite of all of this though, I really gotta commend it for what it's going for. It's meant to be a campy, action packed thrill ride, and yeah, it's a good amount of fun. This is probably David Ayer's best looking film by far, where the action is over the top, yet unique in execution (And not near as excessive in the usual mean-spiritedness that I've seen in most of his movies). It's pretty cool to see action that doesn't entirely rely on guns blazing, with the titular character only rarely using a gun to dispatch a villain. Most of the time, he just tosses the gun away and instead goes to town on using everything else from bis bare fists, kicks, and whatever object happens to be within reach to brutally take out a baddie. The setpieces aren't exactly logical (Can one guy get a good hit in? Just a single shot at least?), but they're enjoyable to watch and at least creative in how nuts they are. The real fun comes from the places the film's story later goes and while I sort of predicted the path it appeared to be on, even I didn't expect them to actually do it. In fact, I'm genuinely shocked that I haven't seen an action film go down this route. It's almost jumping the shark, yet it's so original that it sets itself apart from other films like it. 

Jason Statham retains his trademark scowl throughout this entire movie, delivering bee puns and kicking ass every chance he gets (And when he runs out of ass, he's still got some puns to throw out there to make up for it). He's certainly committed like he usually is, and that's something I've always appreciated about his work. Not to mention, there are some simple pleasures to come out of watching Jason Statham mop the floor with a bunch of cocky tech bros. Emmy Raver-Lampman and Bobby Naderi (as "Agent Whiley", Verona's partner, following around Clay's trail of bodies) are a likable pair, making for amusing audience surrogates trying to make sense of the carnage, while we get a brief appearance from Minnie Driver (as the new CIA director). Phylicia Rashad is only in the first ten minutes or so, but does retain a sort of warmth to her and it's particularly tragic how badly the villains destroy her life in a matter of minutes (Hell, it's probably the most realistic thing in the movie how questionably legal corporations do target the elderly to steal all of their savings away without apparent consequences). The best part of the film are the villains. Josh Hutcherson is suitably scummy and despicable, being such an immature, coked up douchebag that even when he's being hunted down by an unstoppable killer, he still finds time to flirt with some random girl and try to sell her on Crypto currency. Jeremy Irons is also a blast to see him be the source of sophistication, where he proceeds to become more and more panicky when he learns how he's been backed into an unwinnable situation. There are also some hilarious side villains, with David Witts (as one of the head scammers, who ends up as unfortunate first victim on Clay's warpath), Enzo Cilenti (as one of the most obnoxious head scammers), and a god awful, yet brilliantly so Taylor James (as "Lazarus", the maniacal final boss battle Clay has to face). 

"The Beekeeper" is goofy, bloody, and full of holes, but it seems that was just as intended. However, it also feels like a lesser "John Wick", where it has some world building, though lacks the intelligence, sense of humor, and memorable characters that made those films special. This is more run of the mill popcorn fun that found a capable budget to make up for how slight it is and again, some plot points that are so out there and baffling that you are kind of on the edge of your seat the entire time. At least so you can see how far the filmmakers are willing to go with how dumb this is. It's exactly what an action movie about a badass beekeeper should be. Nothing special, but gives you a decent buzz. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Millenial Morons, And More Bee Jokes Than You Can Count. Trust Me, They Do Almost All Of Them. 

Night Swim                              by James Eagan                ★½ out of ★★★★★

Image: Just pee in the pool. The demons won't get ya if you do that. 

We have entered 2024! It's a brand new era for my reviewing website, and there are going to be some big changes around here. The kind of changes that have been needing to happen for a while now. No, I'm not getting paid to do this. Pfft! Don't be ridiculous! I'm changing my rating system from the usual four star rating to five! Yeah! Finally getting with the times, and my ratings will also match my Letterboxd account. I'm about to turn thirty in a week, so I feel like I had to do something different this year. It's the most eventful thing to happen today. Oh yeah, and I saw "Night Swim" too. 

Based on the short film, "Night Swim" follows former Baseball player "Ray Walker" (Wyatt Russell), his wife "Eve" (Kerry Condon), and their kids, "Izzy" (Amélie Hoeferle) and "Elliot" (Gavin Warren), as they move to a new home in hopes of getting a fresh start, mostly due to Ray's physical health (With him suffering from multiple sclerosis). Their new house also comes with a large pool, which comes in handy with Ray being suggested to take up swimming exercises. The pool seemingly at first does wonders for Ray, and even seems to be assisting him in his road to recovery (Though at a shockingly fast rate). However, something more supernatural and vile is at play here, with a dark force beneath the water about to terrorize this family. Slowly, Eve and the kids start to see freaky images and experience unexplainable moments of horror, with the haunted pool's demands on their way to being revealed. (And that usually revolves around demonic, freaky people coming out to drag an unfortunate soul into a watery grave. 

Written and directed by first timer, Bryce McGuire (Who made the original short film with Rod Blackhurst) and produced by James Wan ("Insidious", "Malignant") and Jason Blum ("M3GAN", "Five Nights at Freddy's"), "Night Swim" is a really silly premise, though not one without merit. Personally, I never saw the appeal of swimming pools in the first place, and always saw them as giant bathtubs, but I know some people do have a genuine phobia of what could be lurking inside there, especially at night. There is a creep factor there, and to give the movie some credit, there is some originality here. Particularly with where the story goes, with the pool requiring sacrifices for its healing abilities to be fully complete, along with how it finds a way to get into one's mind for its sick, twisted pleasure. However, for something like this to work, it's all about execution. First of all, you gotta have something new to add to the table, but the film eventually comes down to the usual possession tropes in the last act. The variety of ideas have potential, yet the story stumbles around into stupidity. Maybe some more self-awareness would have been more welcome or some more creativity to the silliness. We can go along with a lot of dumb stuff if we're given something to latch onto. And most importantly of all, you gotta be scary. And no! It's not scary at all. Maybe a little creepy in places, but never frightening or nightmare inducing. Something going after you underwater can be scary enough on its own, but all we get are some lame, telegraphed jumpscares and some bargain bin zombie-esque creatures (Which feel like something that wasn't good enough for last year's "Talk to Me" or the "Evil Dead" franchise). I will say this though, it's hard to get mad at anything like this because it's so par for the course with bad horror movies, especially ones that used to litter the month of January every year before. 

Wyatt Russell and especially Kerry Condon thankfully came to do their jobs like the professionals they are. Amélie Hoeferle and Gavin Warren are also pretty solid, with their characters not coming across as annoying, overly precocious kids. I actually do like the family in this and don't want to see anything bad happen to them. It's all just kind of stuck in a pile of tired out tropes, which the film seems to only rely on because they don't have nearly enough to compensate for how thin the plot is. Again, cool ideas and all, but it never comes together in a cohesive way. 

"Night Swim" is pretty forgettable stuff and what makes such a thing so sad is that it didn't need to be. McGuire's stretching out of his old short film feels just like that. So stretched out. After jumping off the deep end towards the end (That pun was not intended at first), it becomes way too run of the mill in a time where people are asking for much more when it comes to horror. It's goofy, though not exactly the fun kind, and serves as a reminder of what kind of lame ass horror movies that January used to offer us. We truly are back to normal now, aren't we? 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Faces, Bloody Tears, Kitty Killing (I Knew That Cat Was Dead The Second He Walked In), Perilous Pool Parties, And Malicious Marco Poloing. 

The Color Purple               by James Eagan        ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: Taraji P. Henson, demanding your attention. Something she frequently does very well. 

People are only now noticing that movie trailers try to hide the fact that they're musicals? Movie marketing has been doing that for years and it never made sense to me. Why hide that from people? You would rather them be pissed that they're seeing a musical? What's wrong with musicals? Remember, even the trailers for "Frozen" hid it (And that went on to make billions at the box office worldwide with those songs playing on repeat in everyone's head after). Musicals are great, the world would be more peaceful if we all just broke into song,  and more people gravitate to them than most. Stop doing that! 

Based on the stage musical, which was based on the novel by Alice Walker (And was previously adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985), "The Color Purple" is set in the South during the early 1900s, following "Celie Harris" (Played as a teen by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, then as an adult by Fantasia Barrino), and her sister, "Nettie" (Played as a teen by Halle Bailey, then as an adult by Ciara), who despite physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from their father (Deon Cole), share a close and loving bond. However, Celie is married off to ruthless "Albert "Mister" Joohnson" (Colman Domingo), despite Mister preferring Nettie. After Nettie leaves their father to live with Celie and Mister, she's eventually thrown out of the house when she refuses Mister's sexual advances, promising to write to Celie every day before vanishing into the unknown. Years later, Celie is still trapped in a sad marriage with Mister, who treats her more like a servant than an actual wife, instead longing for his longtime mistress, the famous blues singer, "Shug Avery" (Taraji P. Henson). The film showcases Celie's time with Mister, along with various other women that she forms connections with, such as Shug herself, along with "Sofia" (Danielle Brooks), the strong willed wife to Mister's son, "Harpo" (Corey Hawkins), before eventually Celie's own self-confidence begins to grow as she frees herself from a life of being put down. 

Directed by Blitz Bazawule ("The Burial of Kojo", "Black Is King"), with a screenplay by Marcus Gardley ("Foundation", "The Chi") and a producing credit from Steven Spielberg, "The Color Purple" has quite a bit to live up to, with the original film being a somewhat controversial, but classic story that connected with a lot of people (And genuinely does hold up as a very good film if you ask me). You also got the book and the musical to live up to as well, and while I'm not sure if this is quite the best adaptation you can get of the story, I feel that as of now, it just might qualify when it really matters most. The 1985 film is one that even Spielberg himself admits could use some improvement (And you know, maybe someone from the African American community being the one to make it), and Bazawule is very much up to the challenge. The film thankfully isn't trying to outdo the original or even just trying to rehash what came before. Instead, it's providing an inventive way of addressing poignant, socially aware themes that really will never not be culturally significant. The staging is beautiful, with the musical numbers (All of which are real toe-tapping, showstoppers), being incredibly choreographed and only further add to the characters that many of us already know. It also makes for stunning visuals that you just can't look away from. It's got that Broadway feel, but on a cinematic level, without feeling too kitschy. It's a fine line you gotta balance, risking the chance to take your audience out of the film, but the filmmakers are wise enough to know how to never cross that line. 

It's the wonderful ensemble that truly sells the film, with Fantasia Barrino perfectly capturing her character's quiet nature, that you know only hides a much stronger willed woman. (And dear God, when she gets her big number, "I'm Here", towards the end of the film, it's just magical) Some of the biggest scene-stealers are a perfectly cast Taraji P. Henson, who is so appealing every time she appears (And yeah, just hot as Hell), and an Oscar worthy Danielle Brooks, challenging the already terrific performance that Oprah Winfrey once played, with somehow an even stronger, funnier, commanding one. Colman Domingo treads between threatening and pathetic, being a villain that you find yourself hating and pitying at the same time, while Corey Hawkins continues to show an incredible amount of versatility as an actor (He's genuinely capable at playing a wide variety of roles, and making it feel natural). There are some excellent smaller roles, from the likes of an unrecognizable and vile Deon Cole (Who you might know from those Old Spice commercials), Ciara, Louis Gossett Jr. (as Mister's even worse, uncaring father), David Alan Grier (as "Reverand Avery", Shug's disapproving father), Jon Batiste (as "Grady", Shug's later husband, who just shows up at the wrong time), and a wonderful Phylicia Pearl Mpasi, though the singer H.E.R. (as "Squeak", Harpo's later, quieter wife), doesn't get near enough to do. Halle Bailey, despite her appearance in the film being fairly brief, leaves such a strong impact  and presence that much her performance in earlier this year's "The Little Mermaid", that I can only see more major roles for her in the future. 

"The Color Purple" improves on the original in some aspects, though can't quite grasp some others, such as a few emotional moments from the Spielberg film that are too strong to replicate. Still, these moments are nonetheless effective, resulting in some heavy themes and even some heartbreak, but also works as an inspiring tale that will only continue to stand the test of time. There might be a few tears in your eyes, but they won't necessarily be from sadness. The pure, almost godlike joy that can come from even the darkest of moments, feel more warranted and will always remain with you, even as you get older. That's a theme that will never age. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Uncomfortable Adult Content, Some Language, The Unfortunate Consequences Of The Time Period, And Danielle Brooks'Mighty Kicks And Punches. 

Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire                                           by James Eagan                                                                ★ out of ★★★★ 

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Image: Anyone cosplaying as these characters at the next Comic-Con are going to be ruthlessly bullied by overweight, acne riddled, neckbeards. 

Zack Snyder has become one of the most contentious people on the internet, and he never actually did anything himself to earn that love or hate. It all really came to a head with his once fabled "SnyderCut" of 2017's "Justice League", which many (Mostly terrible people of the male variety) rallied to the cause of for reasons that actually don't fully add up (I get wanting to see a director's vision completed, especially when he got screwed out of it, but the obsessiveness came out of nowhere). Since then, there have been attempts to get Zack Snyder's original plans for the "DC" film universe back on track (Despite him having long abandoned it), then attempts to discredit other filmmakers such as James Gunn (Despite the two of them having collaborated before and seem to be very friendly to each other), or use Zack Snyder himself as a way of combating the so-called evils of wokeness (Despite Snyder again seeming like a nice, open-minded guy, who is pretty woke too considering how diverse he tries to make his casts). Zack Snyder seems like a cool dude and I've not only enjoyed some of his movies, I'll even admit that I was wrong to jump the gun on his "SnyderCut", which I thoroughly enjoyed more than I expected. I didn't necessarily go in ready to hate, but damn it! This just might be Zack Snyder's worst film yet (The jury is still out on "Sucker Punch"). It's like a last minute lump of coal before the year ends that instead of being stuffed in your stocking, it instead was thrown directly at your face.  

Set in a galaxy far, far away (But not too far I'm assuming), "Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire" opens with some extensive backstory where the "Motherworld", with their brutal military force, "The Imperium", have conquered the galaxy. When the monarchy of the Motherworld seemingly starts to embrace a more peaceful future, the Imperium overthrows their leaders, replacing them with the tyrannical "Balisarius" (Fra Fee). Years later, the Imperium continues to make the galaxy suffer. On a small planet, where a village of farmers reside, led by their chief, "Father Sindri" (Corey Stoll). When Balisarius' extra Nazi-like enforcer, "Atticus Noble" (Ed Skrein), arrives to claim the village's resources, leaving his forces behind to occupy the planet. One of the villagers, a loner "Kora" (Sofia Boutella), who has a dark past as a former Imperium soldier, decides to fight back. Kora sets out with one of the farmers, "Gunnar" (Michael Huisman), to find a pair of warrior rebels, "Darrian Bloodaxe" (Ray Fisher) and his sister, "Devra" (Cleopatra Coleman), to help defend the villagers. After partnering up with a Han Solo-Wannabe, "Kai" (Charlie Hunnam), Kora and Gunnar pick up some stragglers along the way to join their little rebellion, such as the musclebound "Tarak" (Staz Nair), the laser-sword wielding assassin, "Nemesis" (Doona Bae), and a washed up former Imperium general, "Titus" (Djimon Hounsou). This ragtag band of rebels prepare to confront Noble and his forces in what's apparently meant to be the start of a brand new, completely original, space opera franchise, made up of loads of toys, books, merchandise, and will gather a cult of rabid fans cosplaying as all their favorite characters. Yyyyyyeah. Not likely. 

Directed by Zack Snyder ("300", "Watchmen", "Dawn of the Dead", etc.), who co-wrote the screenplay based on his own story with Kurt Johnstad (Both "300" films, "Atomic Blonde"), and Shay Hatten ("Army of the Dead", "Army of Thieves", and the last two "John Wick" films), "Rebel Moon" began life as a "Star Wars" film that Snyder had originally pitched to Disney. They passed on the project, resulting in the film being changed up and given over to Netflix. It has the makings of what a more adult "Star Wars", or "Dune" could be, except only in the worst possible ways. The film is basically incomplete, and not just because it's part one of a two parter (Or three parter even). There is talk of a director's cut to be released sometime in the future, which leads me to the most important question of all. What's the damn point then? You're Netflix! You can literally release a three hour film and it would be fitting, considering you guys started the whole "Binge" movement in the first place. The only reason for such a trimming down on an already overly intricate, overstuffed, and overproduced slog is a desperate attempt to soulessly replicate the same hype behind the whole SnyderCut fiasco online for "Justice League", except for this new franchise. They're basically trying to shamelessly force a phenomenon and that's the best way to describe the film itself. Shamelessly forced. It's a hybrid of various Science-Fiction tropes, with all of them tossed into a crockpot to simmer, praying that it somehow makes sense in the end. Everything about it feels ripped off from something else, and that really wouldn't matter too much if it had an identity of its own.

Whether or not you love movies such as "Avatar" or "The Creator", they at least stand out in some way despite many derivative elements. This film is completely devoid of personality, urgency, real ambition, and most shocking of all, any creativity. It's hard to tell if this is the fault of the film being cut down (Granted, it's well over two hours long. So it's still inexcusable!) or Zack Snyder's direction itself, which feels almost as if it's on autopilot. Yeah we get lots of slo-mo and edgy PG-13 violence, but there's so little time to let anything breathe, which is especially odd since the film doesn't actually have a second or third act. Most of the runtime is just bringing in new characters, having a little side quest, and then moving onto the next quick setpiece. Rinse and repeat. The action is unremarkable, and the visual effects go back and forth between looking too expensive for Netflix to handle (Where do they get their money anyways if they're always canceling stuff?) or just plain ugly in how obvious much of the cast is acting against nothing. (The CGI work is on par with the "Star Wars" prequels, which are nearing about twenty years old now)

The cast is made up of capable actors and actresses, who should all be playing interesting characters, but the film never gives them time to have any sense of urgency. Sure, the screenplay tells you that they have motives and goals, yet it's less than the bare minimum, like a bunch of action figures being smashed into each other by an unfocused pre-teen boy just copying everything he's seen in better movies. Sofia Boutella is a total badass and a very compelling actress to boot, but she only has three modes for the entire film. Angry, brooding, or some kind of combination of the two (And people had the gall to complain about Rey in the recent "Star Wars" trilogy). Saying that Michael Huisman is about as interesting as a moldy graham cracker is an insult to a world-weary graham cracker, while Ray Fisher is given absolutely nothing to do, leaving less of an impact that he was trapped with in the original theatrical cut of "Justice League". Staz Nair, Doona Bae, and even Djimon Hounsou, are all such nothing characters, who become part of the story in the moment and serve as nothing other than background props after their introduction.

There are some facinating (Not sure if I mean that in a good way or not) cameos from the likes of a bearded Corey Stoll (Channeling a horny old viking), Cary Elwes (as the deceased former king in flashbacks), Ray Porter (as a greedy animal rancher), Jena Malone (as a scary spider-hybrid) and Anthony Hopkins (as the voice of a friendly robot, who I am assuming is going to have a larger role in part two since he just vanishes early in the first half hour). Charlie Hunnam tries to inject something resembling actual character into the film, though one spends more time trying to figure out what the Hell kind of accent he's going for (It's like Shrek meets the Lucky Charms Leprechaun). Ed Skrein thankfully can play a good villain in his sleep, probably being the only semi-interesting part of the whole film. It feels that the script and dialogue is taking itself so damn seriously, relying on lots of exposition and extra lore to trick the audience into thinking something of importance is being said. Because it's always adding something through the runtime, it's less exciting and more exhausting. We got spider-people, giant hawk/lion creatures, people in space using modern swears, and Ed Skrein getting pleasured by some kind of tentacle creature, and yet, it's sooooooo boring!

Woefully generic and uninspired, "Rebel Moon" makes me appreciate something like "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" so much more. At least that film had a feeling of spirit and seemed to be made by people who were just having fun. This is treated like it's "Schindler's List" in space, though it can't even give its own political themes of injustice and fascism any time to resonate. It's a literally unfinished product, tossed out to the public to sell even more products in a cynical attempt at coercing a hashtag on Twitter. This is coming from a guy who adores a good franchise, such as the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", "Star Wars", "DC", all that good nerdy stuff, and I also embrace when newer ones try to make their mark on the geek fandom. However, give us something to gravitate to other than "We'll eventually give you the longer, R rated cut, that will fix all the problems of the previous cut that we just sold you". I already don't care as it is and with the reminder that this is merely part one, that feels purely like a vile threat that only adds more fuel for the naysayers to toss into the fire. 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Violence, Blatant Thievery Of Better Material, Giant Vagina Portals, And Seriously, What Was Up With That Tentacle Hentai Looking Thing Ed Skrein Had Going On?

Anyone But You                        by James Eagan                     ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

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Image: Just admiring the majestic majesty of Sydney. Sydney, Australia is pretty too.

Congratulations! You passed the "Love Actually" test! That fine line between annoyingly cloying and genuinely funny or charming. Granted, much of that was thanks to some Sydney Sweeney hotness, but I mean that respectfully. 

In a more modern day "Much Ado About Nothing", "Anyone But You" opens with a little meet-cute between "Bea" (Sydney Sweeney) and "Ben" (Glen Powell), where the two hit it off fast and end up spending the night together. However, the next morning, Bea leaves without warning, due to some personal insecurity, resulting in Ben feeling a bit ghosted. Bea then overhears Ben badmouthing her, mostly just to hide his true feelings. In typical Rom-Com fashion though, Bea and Ben find themselves spitefully reunited when Bea's sister, "Halle" (Hadley Robinson), starts seeing an old friend of Ben's, "Claudia" (Alexandra Shipp). When Halle and Claudia get engaged, Bea and Ben end up once again having to face each other when they're invited to the wedding in Sydney, Australia. Things get even more awkward when Ben's ex, "Margaret" (Charlee Fraser) shows up and Bea's parents, "Leo" (Dermot Mulroney) and "Innie" (Rachel Griffiths), try to set Bea back up with her own ex, "Jonathan" (Darren Barnet). Apparently, even Ben's friend, "Pete" (GaTa), along with Claudia's parents, "Roger" (Bryan Brown) and "Carol" (Michelle Hurd), are trying to set Bea and Ben up, mostly to avoid their bickering ruining the wedding plans. To get everyone off their backs, Bea and Ben decide to play along, pretending to become an item, though when you toss two attractive people at each other, of course some sparks are likely to fly at some point. 

Directed by Will Gluck ("Easy A", and the "Peter Rabbit" films), who co-wrote the screenplay with Ilana Wolpert ("High School Musical: The Musical: The Series"),  "Anyone But You" is the kind of film that should annoy me on paper, and thanks to a few dated tropes that worm their way in, there are moments where it does. Thankfully, for all the film's faults, the charming cast, genuinely smart and funny script, and even Gluck's slick direction, keep these shenanigans from sinking the love boat. The film is rather clever how it finds ways to incorporate some of the old Shakespearean work into the film, and is also wise enough to know how tired many of these tropes are. I mean, the film still uses them, but the filmmakers do it to the best of their abilities and don't take it so seriously. Clearly the film isn't going for anything life-changing, and seems to be settling for cute and funny, which it is. 

Sydney Eagan......er, I mean, Sydney Sweeney (Heh. A guy can dream, right?) and Glen Powell are a pair of charismatic and likable leads, who never fake their charm unlike many other Romantic Comedies have done. It's nothing that unique, but they work well together, and especially in a way that you can see how their challenging moments genuinely make them stronger as a couple (Sometimes a little challenge does bring out the best for both sides). The rest of the cast looks like they're all having a blast together, with Dermot Mulroney, Bryan Brown, and the impossibly cute chemistry between Alexandra Shipp and Hadley Robinson, being standouts. GaTa at first looks like he's just going to be here to be the supportive, black best friend, who doesn't seem to have anything else going on in his life except being there for his white buddy (An odd stereotype that needs to go away), but he does end up getting the film's funniest lines. He actually kind of steals the whole movie. 

"Anyone But You" offers some lovely scenery (Sydney Sweeney included. Sorry, I just had to throw that in there!), some solid work from our capable leads, and a good mixture of laughs and heart. It balances out the silliness and has enough intelligence to know what it is. It's a quick sit, with enough cutesie stuff for the Rom-Com lovers to grasp onto, but doesn't annoy those who will find themselves dragged to it against their will. (I do also appreciate that despite its R rating, it's not really that raunchy. It's kind of tame by most standards) It's not much, yet it's got just enough for everyone to leave happy. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language, Sexual Content, Glen Powel's Bare Buttocks, And A Brief Glimpse at Sydney's Sweenies. Again. Something For Everyone. 

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