Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

The Art of Racing in the Rain                                                                                                                                                  ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the art of racing in the rain movieImage: "I'm just driving him around until he gets his license back."    

 So can the phrase "Dog-Sploitation", finally be a thing? Not saying that it's always a bad thing, but we really need a term to describe this movies by this point. 

 Based on the book of the same name by Garth Stein, "The Art of Racing in the Rain" tells the story of a dog named "Enzo" (Whose thoughts are voiced by Kevin Costner), who is under the belief that when he dies, he's be reincarnated as a human. The film follows Enzo's life as he's adopted by "Danny" (Milo Ventimiglia), a race car driver, that inspires Enzo's love of the sport. Eventually Danny marries a woman, "Eve" (Amanda Seyfried), leading to the birth of a daughter, "Zoe" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Enzo witnesses the many wonderful moments of life, as well as several moments of sadness and confusion. When tragedy strikes (As it always does), Enzo's life changes drastically as he tries to understand the world around him, and how he can play his part in it.  

 Much like the movie itself, lets get through this one nice and quick, but competently and effectively. Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week with Marilyn"), "The Art of Racing in the Rain" follows the crowd-pleasing, life affirming, talking dog movie playbook to the letter. No detail and cliché is left unchecked, sentimentality and melodrama embody every frame, and if you are somehow surprised on how it all ends, you've clearly never watched a movie (Or read a book....or had any concept of typical storytelling) in your entire life. However, when I say that this is by far the best of the bunch, I say that not just because the emotional impact is actually fairly effectively done, but also because humans feel like actual humans this time. (For the most part anyways.) Curtis is a slick director, and the film looks lovely, with the screenplay by Mark Bomback ("War for the Planet of the Apes") injecting humor and genuine insight to go with the film's necessity to appeal to genre tropes. They're not avoided so much as they are just well utulized. 

 Probably the film's saving grace, as well as the main focus, is Enzo himself. The dog is cute and easy to get emotionally attached to. Kevin Costner's voice is rather perfect for the part, making him into a very smart and loyal dog, who just wants to understand the human world better. He's honestly terrific, with his voice matching Enzo's expressive eyes and effectively carries most of the movie. Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfriend have excellent chemistry, and their relationship is portrayed realistically, as both are very understanding of each other's issues and react to them in a way that people would naturally react. It's where the film's heart is, and even when the inevitable tragedy shows up, it's well handled. At least until the focus shifts to Eve's parents (Played by Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan), who commandeer the story away in the second half. These characters end up becoming so needlessly despicable and damn near heartless that it take away a bit from how strongly the film started. It's hard to get mad at it considering it's par for the course with these kinds of movies, but it's more distracting when there are actually some good aspects to the movie.

 "The Art of Racing in the Rain" offers some good humor and of course plenty of heart to go with the predictable story. When the film isn't bogged down by forced conflict and actually allows the natural emotions to ring true, it's hard not to find yourself a little misty eyed. For dog lovers, they'll eat it up no matter how unnecessarily melodramatic it gets. As a film, you wish it could of avoided such things a little more, but you can't get mad at something for appealing to its audience and at least doing a capable job of it. It's a form of art. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Adult Content, Sadness, And The Obligatory Guest Appearance Of Cancer.      

Dora and the Lost City of Gold           ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dora and the lost city of gold bootsImage: Boots is adorable when he's not throwing his poo. 

 In a year overwhelmed by strange and surreal film ideas, such as Deadpool voicing Pikachu, a guy completely shattering the space time continuum with music from the Beatles, and....whatever in God's name "Cats" is supposed to be, this movie doesn't really seem that out of place anymore.  

 Based on the family favorite Nick Jr. series, "Dora the Explorer", "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" follows the now teenage explorer, "Dora" (Isabela Moner), with it turning out that most of her previous animated adventures were basically just her imagination running wild. When her parents, "Cole" (Michael Peña) and "Elena" (Eva Longoria) set out to search for the fabled Inca city, "Parapata" (aka The Lost City of Gold), Dora is sent to live in the city with her cousin, "Diego" (Jeff Wahlberg). Diego has become quite the cynic during his high school years, and Dora's overly upbeat personality isn't helping. While on a school trip, Dora, Diego, along with mean girl, "Sammy" (Madeleine Madden) and nerdy guy, "Randy" (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped by a mercenary, "Powell" (Temuera Morrison), who wants Dora to lead him to her parents and the lost city. They end up rescued by "Alejandro" (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of Dora's parents, who offers to help her find the city of gold before the villains do. Dora, reunited with her boot wearing monkey sidekick, "Boots" (Voiced by Danny Trejo), leads her poorly put together group on a quest into the deep jungle, while Powell and his henchmen, which includes a certain kleptomaniac fox, "Swiper" (Voiced by Benicio del Toro), are hot on their trail.  

 "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is one of those films that makes you really curious to see just what went on in the minds of every studio executive who formulated the idea of this movie in the first place. It's an even bigger shock to see how surprisingly charming the final product ends up being. Directed by James Bobin ("The Muppets", "Alice Through the Looking Glass"), with a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller ("Neighbors", "Storks") and Matthew Robinson ("Monster Trucks"), what we have is more of a strange, but affectionate parody of the long running, educational children's show than a direct adaptation. The film seems geared to the older kids with nostalgic memories of the series, and while the film is certainly goofy, there is a certain charm to it. The humor works better early on, when the film pokes fun at some of the sillier moments from the show (There is a great gag involving Dora speaking to the camera, despite there being nobody there.). The laughs do sadly become a bit less frequent as the movie goes along, but remains endearing in a sort of surreal way. It helps that the film, despite a fairly by the numbers storyline, embraces the weird. There are cartoonish antics that come out of nowhere without explanation (Is nobody gonna question the talking fox?), and a few bizarre little sequences, such as one scene where the characters hallucinate themselves as animated characters. 

 The kooky charm mostly resonates from Isabela Moner, who has got to be the most energetic young actress I've ever seen. She's just as odd as everything else, but completely lovable and comically capable. Not to mention, she proves that she has an incredible amount of range as an actress. (She played a completely different character in last year's "Sicario: Day of the Soldado") Jeff Wahlberg, Nicholas Coombe, and Madeleine Madden are all fine despite mostly just playing character types. Eugenio Derbez feels a bit unnecessary at first, though ends up getting a more enjoyable role in the film during the last act. Eva Longoria and Michael Peña are fun in their limited roles, while Temuera Morrison gets nothing to do other than scowl and look evil. The CGI effects are subpar, though it actually works to the film's benefit, especially when it comes to Boots and Swiper (Although, the latter sadly doesn't actually appear much.). They're very expressively animated enough to make them fun to watch, and get some of the film's funniest moments. (The payoff with Danny Trejo was unexpectedly hilarious.) 

 Formulaic in plotting and not without a few groaner jokes, "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is more amusing and likable than it has any right to be. It's all silly kid stuff, but actually fairly smart in execution and not to mention, charmingly weird. It's certainly something the kids will get more of a kick out of than the parents. (It's no "Toy Story 4") However, both the film's and the lead character's cute and offbeat personality are rather hard to resist. We're in 2019, we have a live-action "Dora the Explorer" movie, and it's actually good. What a strange time we live in. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Occasional Not So Kid Friendly Jokes. 

Fast & Furious PResents: Hobbs & Shaw                                                                                                                          ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for hobbs and shaw movie imagesImage: Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, arguing over who had the better giant monster movie. 

 Evolution is a major aspect of the film industry, especially in long running franchises. The "Marvel Cinematic Universe" became more than just a superhero franchise. "Mission: Impossible" has gone from a simple television adaptation to a major critical and financial success. "Jurassic Park" has gone from family oriented creature feature to....something. (Was that little girl a raptor hybrid?) Then there's "The Fast & the Furious", which went from a nonsensical street racing live-action cartoon to a nonsensical spy/heist/slightly superhero-eque live-action cartoon. And the world is a better place because of it. 

 "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw" takes a detour from the family of characters that we've gotten to know in the "Fast & Furious" series. This time we instead focus on federal agent, "Luke Hobbs" (Dwayne Johnson) and former assassin, "Deckard Shaw" (Jason Statham), who has gone from villain to kind of good guy. (Sure he killed the Asian guy, but he did save Dom's baby. So he's an okay dude now.) Hobbs and Shaw are called in to work together when Shaw's sister, "Hattie" (Vanessa Kirby) is framed for stealing a deadly virus, cutely named "Snowflake". In reality, Hattie was forced to inject herself with the virus while on the run from genetically enhanced, self proclaimed "Black Superman", "Brixton" (Idris Elba). Brixton is part of a global spanning, evil organization that wants to get their hands on the virus to cause some end of the world sh*t. Tasked to protect Hattie and find a way to safely extract the virus from her, Hobbs and Shaw are going to need to stop bickering for five minutes to save the world from imminent destruction.  

 A spinoff of a series that's been known to decimate the laws of physics and gravity on a casual basis, "Hobbs & Shaw" ups the ante in the over the top department. Directed by David Leitch ("John Wick", "Atomic Blonde", "Deadpool"), the franchise dips its toe into science-fiction territory (Or more like jabs its foot in there.), but does so with a self aware sense of humor and dedication to going full blown crazy in gleeful fashion. Leitch has proven himself as a slick, stylish director, and knows how to make gonzo action look good. With solid special effects, some stuntwork, and a whole lot of destruction, this has some of the most memorable setpieces in the series. From a chase down a tall building, an explosive battle throughout an abandoned factory, and a finale that essentially becomes the game barrel of monkeys except with several cars and a helicopter, it may not make logical sense, but it's pretty damn cool. The script by Chris Morgan (Who has been with the series from the start) and Drew Pearce ("Hotel Artemis", "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation), doesn't exactly have any intention for focusing on plot. Luckily, they provide plenty of good humor, with quips and jabs being delivered by the film's incredibly charismatic leads. 

 Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham (Who were so good together in the last two films that this spinoff was inevitable), have actually been my favorite characters in this franchise. Their back and forth, as well as their ability to deliver cheesy one-liners, bring a certain overly macho personality to the film, that's utterly delightful. You just love seeing them, and it's clear how much they get along in real life that it really brings the whole film together. However, the film also gives time to the supporting cast. Vanessa Kirby is a badass addition to the series' long roster of characters, and holds her own against the leads in expert fashion. Idris Elba can play a good, menacing baddie in his sleep, and looks to be having a lot of fun. We get fun appearances from Cliff Curtis (as "Jonah", Hobbs' mechanic brother), Eiza González (as "Madame M", an old ally to Shaw), and Eddie Marsan (as the scientist responsible for "Snowflake"). Not to mention it's always welcome to see Helen Mirren (Returning as Shaw's criminal mother. What a family this series has created.) There are also a few unexpected, and surprisingly hilarious extended cameos that I will not spoil for anyone. 

 Looking for logic and cohesive story? "Hobbs & Shaw" won't exactly provide what you're looking for. While a bit longer than necessary, it does continue the franchise's trend of making up for narrative and intellectual shortcomings with a great sense of humor, oddly likable characters, and a commitment to truly insane and original action. The movie does also have a certain heart to it that at least shows that there is some kind of point to all of this. It's dumb muscle that knows it's dumb muscle, and embraces itself with the biggest, happiest grin you'll ever see. You know, I can see them going into space next time. It feels strangely natural. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Fragile Masculinity.   

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood                                                                                                                                       ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for once upon a time in hollywoodImage:Wait....Is this "Starsky and Hutch"?

 Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained", "Inglorious Bastards", "Kill Bill" Vol. 1 and 2) is the definition of a director having no equal. Sure some directors try their best to imitate his signature style and knack for providing complex, character driven dialogue. However, Tarantino's work, whether you're a fan or not, is something entirely his own. Take his ninth film for example. There is no way anybody else could possibly make a film quite like this. Ohhhhh boy, this was something.   

 How to describe this plot? Lets make it as basic as possible. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" takes place in Las Angelas during 1969, after the "Golden Age of Hollywood". The film follows insecure actor, "Rick Dalton" (Leonardo DiCaprio) and longtime stunt double/best buddy, "Cliff Booth" (Brad Pitt). After a meeting with his agent, "Marvin Schwarzs" (Al Pacino), Rick begins to see that his career is starting to take a nosedive, though Cliff assures him that his career is far from over. Rick gets a major role on a new, cowboy TV series that will hopefully lead to newfound success, while Cliff serves as his driver and voice of reason (Despite the fact that there is a rumor that Cliff might have killed his own wife). While our two protagonists set out to better their careers, Rick's actress neighbor, "Sharon Tate" (Margot Robbie), is soon to become a possible target of the "Manson Family", and their murderous plans. It sounds simple, but none of this is quite what you expect.  

 Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a surreal, comedic, and often, very loving look back into old Hollywood. Tarantino is clearly in heaven with the setting and late 60's aestetic. There are so many great lines and dialogues between characters, filled with his usual sense of humor and occasionally thought provoking themes. It's all on full display on usual, but this time, the violence is almost nowhere to be found. There are less moments that will likely offend, and most shockingly, something is just kind of heartwarming about the film. (That's right. Quentin Tarantino made a heartwarming movie!) One of the reasons is because it's obvious that Tarantino is absolutely obsessed with the time period, the look, and the way Hollywood was at the time.

 The almost whimsical world of old Hollywood is captured beautifully, and the cinematography is some of the best I've seen from the director. The way he weaves a web of seemingly unconnected storylines together simply through his direction is nothing short of brilliant. It's also where the film might lose some people. The film is almost plot free to a certain degree. There's a basic main story going on, but as usual with Quentin Tarantino's work, the film stops dead in its tracks to focus on something else. This one especially does that, and I would even say that the point of moments like this end up being intentionally kind of pointless. At over two hours and forty minutes, it might get a little grating for some, and I'll admit that even being a big fan of Tarantino's work, I'm not quite sure how I feel about where all this ends up going. 

 The casting here is a dream come true. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt together at last on the big screen. It's what many have been wanting to see, and the movie delivers. First, DiCaprio is hilarious and complex. He gives a very layered performance that's equally funny and actually a little bittersweet as an actor struggling with his fading career. Brad Pitt is quietly cool, with small moments sprinkled throughout that add a little mystery to his character. (We never actually do find out is the rumors about him are true or not.) Their chemistry together is movie magic, and come Oscar time, I would consider just making up an award for best duo, simply to give both of these great actors the appreciation they deserve. We have a large ensemble of actors, ranging from bit parts to um, slightly less bit parts. It includes a delightful Al Pacino, Bruce Dern (as "George Spahn", the owner of Spahn Ranch, who has let the "Manson Family" stay at his ranch), Austin Butler, Margaret Qualley, and Dakota Fanning (as members of the "Manson Family"), Kurt Russell (as "Randy", a stunt coordinator), a scarily uncanny Mike Moh (as "Bruce Lee"), and a few more surprises. Not to mention a terrific scene stealing part from newcomer Julia Butters (as a young method actress that Rick has a philosophical conversation with. Won't reveal who she's supposed to be.) Then we have Margot Robbie and her role in the film that might be somewhat of a turning point for most audiences. I can't really get into what the issue with her role might be, but I can say she's perfectly cast. She wonderfully serves as a sweet, cute, and some sense of hopefulness that I wouldn't expect from a Tarantino film. It just doesn't go where you would expect, and what one might perceive as artistic and brilliant, someone would just call sloppy and disjointed. 

 "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is incredibly smart, fascinatingly detailed, and an immense amount of fun, especially for cinephiles, with extensive knowledge of this classic era. Then Tarantino does what I can only describe as the equivalent of cinematic trolling. The ending of this movie is completely insane, nonsensical, and will turn this into one of the year's most divisive films. It's also where some of the most memorable moments happen. I'm puzzled by this finale, though also astounded and mesmerized by it. Regardless of how you feel about it, there is no way you could of seen it coming. It's both the least and most Quentin Tarantino-like movie he's made yet. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Language, Violence, And Those Late 60s/Early 70s Clothing Styles That Hipsters Still Think Are Cool. 

The Farewell                                  ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the farewell movieImage: "Here, try some Chinese food."

 There needs to be balance in the world. Yeah, I love me those big budget blockbusters and all the good major mainstream releases deserve more credit than they're generally given. But where would we be without the little independent film? Working at a theater that shows these low budget movies has given me the opportunity I never would have had otherwise. They obviously won't make the big bucks the other films will. You never know when one of those little movies might just come in and earn a shot at possible award consideration. It's the reason why I started reviewing movies in the first place. Well, that, plus my future interview with Jennifer Lawrence.  

 Based on what's described in the film as "An Actual Lie", "The Farewell" follows young Chinese-American woman, "Billi" (Awkwafina) and her close relationship with her loving grandmother, nicknamed "Nai Nai" (Zhao Shuzhen). Billi has had a rather complicated relationship with her parents, "Haiyan" (Tzi Ma) and "Jian" (Diana Lin), ever since they chose to move to America, leaving Nai Nai behind. However, the family gets news that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, and keeping with Chinese traditions, the family will not allow Nai Nai to find out. Using a wedding between Billi's cousin, "Hao Hao" (Chen Han) and his soon be be bride, "Aiko" (Aoi Mizuhara) as an excuse to visit Nai Nai, the whole family must go out of their way to make sure Nai Nai doesn't learn about her own illness, despite the fact that the knowledge is emotionally destroying them.     

 Directed by Lulu Wang (Mostly known for short films and music videos), "The Farewell" is a very quiet, simple film that has aspects of a screwball comedy, except with very dark subject matter and a realistic approach to the situation. It's directed in a semi-quirky, rather surreal manner, which is meant to make you just as uncomfortable as the characters. A lot of the humor comes from that discomfort, which to be honest, is exactly what families would feel during such a forced gathering, especially considering the real reason behind it. The film also really gets into different cultural traditions, and presenting them in a fair way that doesn't in the end, quite show one as completely wrong. You are left with the reasoning behind keeping such dire news a secret, especially when it's been something that many people have been doing for generations. However, it's obvious to see why one would question it, and constantly be at odds with the decision. The screenplay, which was also written by Wang, is smart enough to know how to present these themes, and finds the humor it it all. (A sequence during a wedding reception makes for some of the film's best uses of combing both drama and comedy.) The tone is perfectly balanced together, and should serve as an example to other filmmakers on how to do this right. 

 Awkwafina (Who has become quite the scene stealer in a comedic sense as of late, such as in last year's "Crazy Rich Asians"), gives a very moving, and unexpectedly reserved performance that I believe deserves some serious recognition. It would be so easy to overplay a role like this, except she instead chooses to keep the character subdued. She gets to deliver a great quip every now and then, but it's the hidden sadness behind those moments that make her performance stronger. Zhao Shuzhen (In her first acting performance) is wonderfully nurturing and humorously oblivious to her family's secret. (The tender moments between her and Awkwafina are the most heartfelt.) Other cast members include Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jiang Yongbo (as "Haibin", Billi's uncle), and Lu Hong (as "Little Nai Nai", Nai Nai's younger sister, who has been taking care of her), and they're all excellent together.        

 Heartbreakingly hilarious, or hilariously heartbreaking, "The Farewell" is the most human movie you'll see in 2019. It may not be the biggest movie out there, but it doesn't have to be to pack a powerful punch. Full of charm and thought provoking themes, the film's straightforward and soft approach are what make it so strong. Not all crowd pleasers have to be as great and big as "Avengers: Endgame".  4 Stars. Rated PG For Human Subject Matter And More Subtitles Than Your Average Moviegoer Might Be Used To. 

The Lion King                                          ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the lion king 2019

Image: "One day, all of this will be your's Kimba....er, I mean, Simba." 

 This is a weird time at Disney. Known for changing the game with animation, and producing some of the most original and beloved instant classics that basically shaped all of our childhoods. Now they're just remaking them, and not really doing anything all that different with them. ("The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella" aside.) With that said, what we do get is just as noticeably flawed as the other remakes, except with something that might just still influence filmmaking for years to come. In its own way of course. Disney can do what it damn well pleases. 

 A "Live-Action" (Or is at least meant to give the appearance of it being live-action) remake of the 1994 masterpiece that everybody knows, "The Lion King" once again takes place in Africa, where the animal kingdom lives in harmony in the "Pride Lands". The much loved king, "Mufasa" (James Earl Jones, returning from the original) and his queen, "Sarabi" (Alfre Woodard), have just given birth to the next king, "Simba" (Played as a child by JD McCrary, and as an adult by Donald Glover). Mufasa's resentful brother, "Scar" (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is not happy that his chance at the throne has slipped away, and plots to kill Mufasa. Simba yearns to become a great king like his father, though doesn't quite understand how big of a responsibility that will end up being. After Mufasa rescues Simba and his friend, "Nala" (Played as a child by Shahadi Wright Joseph, then as a adult by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) from some deadly hyenas, Scar decides to finally put his evil plan into motion.

 A tragedy happens (I mean, everyone should know what it is. But we'll avoid them for those few who don't know.), and Simba is forced out of the Pride Lands, leaving Scar to take over and do what he pleases. Simba is found by worry-free pair, skittish meerkat, "Timon" (Billy Eichner) and always flatulent warthog, "Pumbaa" (Seth Rogen), who take Simba in and raise him to eat grubs. But when Nala eventually reunites with Simba, he must now remember who he is and return home to save his home from Scar's tyranny. 

 With Jon Favreau returning to the director's chair after hitting it out of the ball park financially and critically with "The Jungle Book", "The Lion King" appears at first sight to be the most corporate of cash grabs.....and it is. It's clear that these movies are gold at the box office right now, and it's probably the easiest of concepts to come up with. This movie's existence is no different. Everything the light touches is fueled by pure, corporate greed, and there is no escaping that. However, Favreau is too good of a director and he's given enough free reign to make this big budget experiment a reality. What we end up getting is nothing short of incredible. The visual effects on display here are going to put all future films to shame. Every frame looks real, from the animals themselves, to the backgrounds, which is all completely photo-realistically animated. Everything its rendered in flawless CGI, which is incredibly and lovingly detailed down to the smallest spec of fur. 

  The visual effects look amazing, and perhaps a little too amazing. It's all almost too real to the point that it's hard for the mind to both comprehend and connect with it. It's most distracting because certain characters can't provide a certain level of expressiveness that we've become accustomed to with Disney animation. (Granted, when it's advertised as making them as realistic as possible, it shouldn't be too surprising.) Not to mention the screenplay by Jeff Nathanson mostly copies and pastes dialogue from the original, while only occasionally adding something new. It's not bad writing at all, but it's just something you've seen before. Like many of the remakes, they're just lesser versions of classics that we all recognize. It's when Jon Favreau decides to let the visuals tell the story and it leads to the film's most inspired moments. Whether it be letting the world speak for itself, or focusing on the admittedly expressive eyes of the animals (Which are at times just enough), that's when the film is most moving. 

 To make up for what we perceive as a lack of emotion behind the characters, we have a terrific ensemble voice cast. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover, is an excellent casting choice, and makes for a compelling lead. (Also credit to JD McCrary for delivering on the film's most emotional scene.) To hear Beyoncé's voice coming out of a majestic lion makes for a mesmerizing experience (It just seems fitting for some reason.), while the wonderful James Earl Jones returns to play his iconic character because it would of been physically impossible to recast him. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a quieter, darker element to an already menacing villain, and even gives him a sense of desperation that makes him much more dangerous than in the original animated movie. The same goes for the hyenas, which are voiced by Florence Kasumba (as "Shenzi", the leader of the pack), along with the more comical Keegan-Michael Key and Eric Andre (as "Kamari" and "Azizi", replacing "Banzai" and "Ed" from the original.) Some of the most perfect casting choices include Alfre Woodard (Who is given a bigger role in this version), John Kani (as "Rafiki", a shaman mandrill), and a delightful John Oliver (as "Zazu", the king's majordomo.). They're all good in the film, and bring to life creatures that can't emote the way that we as an audience would normally see in an animated film. But then we have the hilarious duo of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen, who not just steal the show, but they completely enliven the second half of the film all on their own. Their voices are matched up with the natural personalities of their characters, and are a quintessential example of great comic relief to balance out the drama. 

 The original "The Lion King" has some of the most memorable songs in entire Disney lineup. Once again written by Elton John and Tim Rice, with a little help from Beyoncé, the songs still sound amazing. (Who out there doesn't want to hear Donald Glover and  Beyoncé' singing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"?) The best musical moments being "I Just Can't Wait to be King" and of course, "Hakuna Matata", while others like the villain song, "Be Prepared", are either shortened or simply skimmed through. The score itself by Hans Zimmer (Who also did the score for the original and won the Oscar for it.), is once again beautiful and epic. 

 "The Lion King" is essentially a moment for moment remake, with little added to truly separate itself from its already perfect source material. (And I'm not just saying that because the original was the first movie I ever saw in theaters.) It's a cash grab to be sure, but not one I would call lazy. (The hard work is all on display.) For what it lacks in originality, the film makes up for in stunning visual splendor and a commitment to every detail, making something that could be a real game changer. Jon Favreau's skillful direction (And the scene stealing antics of Timon and Pumbaa) are what add to incredible effects on display. It truly is unlike anything you've ever seen before, and there are moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout. A masterpiece of visuals, but nothing much different from the original classic it's based on (And even then, it's nowhere on par with it.). Still, I'd be lying if I told you not to see it on the biggest screen possible. Lets hope with what Disney has accomplished here, flaws and all, will be used towards something even greater in the future.... Be prepared.3 Stars. Rated PG For Animalistic Violence And Meerkat/Warthog Lovers.  

Crawl                                       ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Where's Florida Man when you need him? 

 To be perfectly honest, I'm just glad it's not another shark attack movie. We have so many of those these days, and I think we give the other terrifying, man eating creatures of the world their time in the spotlight. Alligators, bears, your cat when it realizes you're edible, everyone deserves a shot at stardom. 

 "Crawl" follows "Haley Keller" (Kaya Scodelario), a young swimmer, who learns that her estranged father, "Dave" (Barry Pepper), is nowhere to be found when a dangerous, category 5 level hurricane hits Florida. Haley decides to head over to his old house to find him, along with his loyal dog, "Sugar". Haley investigates down into the crawl space under the house, where she discovers her wounded father, as well as a couple of killer alligators, with every intention of devouring anything that moves. When the weather starts to get worse and the water starts to rise, Haley must work together with Dave to find a way to safety before they either drown or become gator grub. That's the most straight forward plotline I've seen in a while.  

 "Crawl" has easily got to be the best movie to not be screened for critics. That's usually saved for the worst of films (And mostly anything from Tyler Perry.). The film isn't exactly something that sets out to change the game when it comes to survival horror genre in any way. It just does a solid job of providing a claustrophobic, anxiety filled, and fairly creepy creature feature. Directed by Alexandre Aja ("The Hills Have Eyes", "Piranha 3D"......Admittedly, not the most quality of filmographies), he knows how to utulize dark, cramped spaces, which makes for some solid scares and the suitably disturbing violence that comes from meeting an terrifying, agony filled fate from a hungry gator. (Although, it's still somehow notably less violent that "Stuber".) The setup is quick and to the point, and the plotting doesn't deviate from the designated route that's expected. It's just capably made, and at least injects a little new life into what can be seen as a tired idea. 

 It also helps that Kaya Scodelario (The "Maze Runner" series) has proven herself to be a compelling actress, and she gives it her all, elevating the seemingly by the number material. She has a relatable character arc and becomes increasingly badass as the movie goes on. Barry Pepper gives a pretty heartfelt performance, and Sugar is too adorably scruffy not to love. As for the killer reptiles themselves, they are fairly scary despite the mostly unconvincing CGI work. (There are times you can tell that they're just not there.) The film makes excellent use of their bone chilling hisses and monstrous roars. Other characters, who are mostly unnamed, are just here to be chomped. Luckily, the film mostly remains focused on the father-daughter relationship, which is surprisingly well done and sweet. 

 "Crawl" isn't anything all that original, and for the most part, is just a short, spine tingling survival movie. It's effectively creepy, well acted, and you'll find yourself shockingly more invested in its main characters than expected. It knows what kind of film it wants to be, but also knows how to liven things up with good scares and a certain sense of fun that this genre has really been missing lately. A nice summer surprise, though not exactly a positive traveling ad for anyone to visit Florida anytime soon. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Images And Ravenous Reptiles.

Stuber                                                         ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for stuber movieImage: Kumail Nanjiani speaking with what appears to be an empty seat. 

 This movie is definitely going to send the wrong idea. No ride from "Uber" is going to be this exciting or eventful. However, there is a good chance it will be just as vulgar and possibly as gratuitously violent.  

 "Stuber" follows ninny Uber driver, "Stu" (Kumail Nanjiani), who sadly has gotten stuck with the ridiculous nickname, "Stuber". Stu pines away from longtime friend, "Becca" (Betty Gilpin), but is too cowardly to do anything about it. Meanwhile, gruff, physically massive cop, "Victor Manning" (Dave Bautista), having recently lost his partner, "Sarah" (a Karen Gillan cameo) while chasing down violent drug trafficker, "Teijo" (Iko Uwais), has become obsessed with avenging her death. However, it's at the expense of bonding with his daughter, "Nicole" (Natalie Morales). After getting some laser eye surgery, Vic is left unable to follow an important lead on fining Teijo on his own, so he ends up essentially kidnapping poor Stu and making him his driver while attempting to solve the case. Stu finds himself trapped in Vic's emotionally draining and body riddled world of chaos, while bettering themselves as people in the process. 

 Directed by Michael Dowse (Who hasn't directed anything I've ever heard of), "Stuber" is a hilarious idea, that has the potential for great comedy. What we end up getting is a predictable, bloody mess that can't seem to overcome an uneven tone (Good lord is this gory!), though still offers quite a few moments of inspiration. It fact, it's almost saved by how occasionally laugh out loud it truly is. Despite the over the top and shockingly vicious nature of the film, we're still given a fairly fun ride that at least makes up for it's shortcomings with a fast pace and the comic timing of our lead actors. 

 It only mostly works as well as it does because of the chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. Nanjiani, who is a better actor than he probably even realizes (Remember "The Big Sick"?), is already well adapt with delivering quick quips and funny reactions to absurdity. Dave Bautista (A scene stealer in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies), is wonderfully chaotic, and even is allowed to display moments of humanity at times. When they're together, it's hard not to get a decent amount of chuckles out of them. Others like Betty Gilpin and Mira Sorvino (as "Captain McHenry", Victor's boss) aren't given much of a role, while Iko Uwais is just here to play the most generic of villains.   

 A few good laughs is really all you can ask for with a comedy, which is what "Stuber" for the most part provides. It's sadly not enough to make up messy plotting, and a lack of commitment to what's possible with its premise. The amount of violence in the film kind of takes away some of the enjoyment, yet it's some of those moments that provide the funniest stuff. It's more than amusing to say the least, but I can't see myself telling anyone to go out of their way to see it. 2 ½ Stars. (A lesser critic would of made a ride sharing pun of sorts right about now. But not this critic!) Rated R For Heads Exploding, Bloody Violence, And An Obligatory Genital Shot. 

Midsommar                                                  ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for midsommar movieImage: Another man is condemned to death by Snu Snu.    

 For the longest time, the horror genre was something I generally dismissed. However, in recent years, it's gone through a sort of renaissance, where directors use it to develop new kinds of terror from unconventional places. Whether it be Jordan Peele ("Us", "Get Out"), scaring people with political satire, or Ari Aster ("Hereditary"), traumatizing you for life with unthinkable themes of dread, they've just gotten much smarter. It's about hiding the frightening thoughts behind seemingly unconnected premises. Where "Hereditary" gave the appearance of a family drama, this one might be the greatest breakup movie of our time. 

 "Midsommar" follows a distressed young college student "Dani Ardor" (Florence Pugh), who has just suffered a horrible tragedy when her sister kills both of their parents as well as herself. Dani's plight comes across as more of an annoyance to her jerkass boyfriend, "Christian" (Jack Reynor), who is secretly looking for a way out of the relationship. Dani and Christian are invited by Christian's Swedish friend, "Pelle" (Vilhelm Blomgren), to go on a trip to Sweden, where his ancestral commune will be performing a traditional, midsummer celebration that is only taken part in every ninety years. The trip also includes Christian's other friends, "Josh" (William Jackson Harper) and "Mark" (Will Poulter). The group arrives and end up taking part in the celebration, where it quickly becomes apparent that things are going get a little weird. First, everyone takes some drugs, the people act abnormally happy and take part in awkward traditions, and then.....people start throwing themselves off of cliffs. It only gets more bonkers from there.  

 Once again serving as both writer and director, Ari Aster, still fresh of the success of last year's "Hereditary" (A movie that literally gave me nightmares.), "Midsommar" plays out like a demented fairy tale that unlike his previous film, appears to have a very twisted sense of humor about itself. You could almost label as more of a dark comedy than as a straight up horror flick, though you're not exactly laughing at it. It's more because what's happening is so outrageously deranged, and the reasons as to why it's happening, it's clear that Aster is trying to screw with his audience in more ways than one. His direction is oddly playful, even when we are subjected to nightmarish imagery. (None of it is quite as disturbing as the now infamous decapitation in "Hereditary", but there is still likely a chance you won't be forgetting this anytime soon.) The film is gorgeously shot, leaving you to question what's real and what's simply imagination. (I'm going to assume that this is what drugs must feel like.) 

 Florence Pugh (Who just recently showed off her star making potential earlier this year in "Fighting with My Family"), is more than a revelation in her role. Compelling throughout, Pugh goes through a wide variety of unexplainable emotions that she conveys brilliantly. (Her expressions alone draw you into her character.) Jack Reynor (Someone I generally find rather annoying) gets to play a complete dick of a character, who at least this time, is intentionally written as such. Vilhelm Blomgren is a special kind of creepy (And you never really do quite figure out what's going on inside his head) and Will Poulter provides great comic relief. William Jackson Harper is good, though out of everyone, his role feels the least important. 

 Skillfully constructed and darkly humorous, "Midsommar" doesn't always deliver on its payoffs, but it remains anything but predictable. Themes of toxic relationships and severe anxiety are sure to resonate, and it's nothing short of genius how Ari Aster is able to blend them into a world of brightly colored dread seamlessly. The film offers an unexpected amount of delight, and you'll find yourself oddly grinning maliciously once we reach the film's batsh*t climax. You may need to take a long shower afterwards, but it's the most fun you'll have watching something you feel like you probably shouldn't be watching. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For......You Don't Want Know. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home                                                                                                                                                  ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for spider-man far from homeImage: "It's perfectly safe. I'm only three for four when it comes to dropping people." 

 After "Avengers: Endgame", you would think that would be well, the end. We had literally the biggest movie of all time, fan favorite characters had their story arcs come to an end, and the scale of what we witnessed can never possibly be repeated. Yet, that was apparently the end to this third phase in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". We had one last second epilogue to set up what's to come in the future. A new era begins now, and comic book dorks like me could never be happier.  

 (Note: If you somehow haven't seen "Avengers: Endgame", this might be considered a little spoiler-ish.) "Spider-Man: Far From Home" opens after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" and the second "Snap" (Now known as the "Blip"), which brought back everyone previously thought to be dead. People are adjusting to the new world, and everyone's favorite webslinger, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland) still hasn't gotten over the death of his mentor, "Tony Stark/Iron Man" (Previously portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.). With that said, people are trying to get back to their lives, and Peter is going on a school trip to Europe. However, Tony's former bodyguard, "Happy Hogan" (Jon Favreau) insists that Peter stop avoiding phone calls from eye patch wearing agent, "Nick Fury" (Samuel L. Jackson), who wants Spider-Man for an important superhero related mission. Peter is more preoccupied trying to ask out his crush, "MJ" (Zendaya), and wants some much needed time off.

 Sadly, Peter can't even leave New York without trouble following him, with the trip being hi-jacked by Fury after an attack from a group of destructive, dimension traveling entities, known as the "Elementals". Peter must team up with another dimensional traveler, "Quentin Beck/Mysterio" (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of magic, who may be the world's next big superhero. Peter must balance his social life, along with his new responsibilities, while assisting Mysterio in defeating the chaotic villains. Peter also discovers that not everything is as it seems as he works his way to becoming a worthy successor to the fallen Iron Man.     

 After the epicness and heartbreak of "Endgame", Marvel's twenty-third entry into the MCU, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" is exactly what we need right now, and ends this phase of the biggest film universe of all time on a exciting and endearing note. A light hearted, high school based romantic comedy, that also just so happens to be a superhero movie. Directed once again by Jon Watts, the movie delivers a certain youthful innocence and a great sense of humor to go with the superheroics. You still get jaw dropping special effects and exhilarating action setpieces, but also are given loads of big laughs and some of the most relatable character interactions you'll find in the MCU. (It kind of rivals other more "Reality" based films as well in that department.) The scale is smaller and the tone is lighter, though the film isn't afraid to get darker, especially in the second half.  

 Tom Holland is still the perfect embodiment of who I expect Spider-Man to be. Awkward and lovable, and the right amount of nerdy to go along with his genuine niceness. Zendaya is a delight once more, getting a bigger role this time, and having flawless chemistry with Holland. Their relationship is just plain adorable, and you just love seeing them together. Samuel L. Jackson (Great as usual) and Cobie Smulders (as "Maria Hill", Fury's assistant at S.H.I.E.L.D.), provide excellent foils to Peter's attempts to go about his normal teen life, despite all of the insanity going on around him. A lot of the humor comes from supporting memorable characters, such as Jacob Batalon (as "Ned", Peter's best friend), Tony Revolori (as "Flash", Peter's narcissistic rival), Angourie Rice (as "Betty", Ned's new girlfriend), along with Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove (as Peter's unqualified teachers, who have no business teaching anybody.) There is also a fun ongoing plotline with Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei (as "May", Peter's very attractive aunt), revolving around Peter trying to figure out if they're dating or not. Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal is amazingly cast, and completely steals the show in a way I probably shouldn't get into. To all the longtime fans of "Mysterio" (With me being one of them), they get this character so right, leading to the film's craziest moments.

 Anyone with knowledge of the characters can likely easily figure out where some of the plot points in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" are going, though the way they play out are certainly clever and unexpected. The film doesn't quite measure up to the previous film (Not to mention, last year's surprise critical hit, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", really raised the bar to a near unreachable level), what we get is still a spectacular amount of fun. In fact, it's some of the most fun the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to offer yet. The heart is in the right place, and the twists and reveals lead to a mesmerizing finale. (Not to mention a last second surprise mid-credits scene that completely changes the game.) The Avengers as we know them may be gone for now, but their legacy is in the right hands. It goes to show that Marvel still has a few tricks up their sleeves, and we can only wait in anticipation for where it all goes next. Bring on the next twenty-three movies please! 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Destructive Action, Hormonal Teenagers, The Peter-Tingle, And Fake News. 

Yesterday                                                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for yesterday movieImage: "I just had the strangest dream. You were in Game of Thrones."

 We have right here, what could possibly be the most psychedelic movie of 2019. Should of figured that a movie that heavily involved the music of "The Beatles", would probably be pretty on the trippy side.  

 "Yesterday" follows struggling singer-songwriter, "Jack Malik" (Himesh Patel). Jack's only real support comes from his manager/childhood friend, "Ellie" (Lily James), and he's on the verge of just giving up. While riding a bike home late at night, all power goes out around the world for twelve seconds, resulting in Jack being hit by a bus. Jack wakes up in the hospital, mostly fine, but soon notices something major is off about the world. Apparently, "The Beatles" (You know the Beatles right? One of the greatest bands in the world? Responsible for some of the most beloved songs of all time? Those guys?), never existed. Jack decides to do the most human thing possible with this revelation, and proceeds to pass off the many songs from the Beatles as his own. This leads to Jack becoming an instant star. Fame of course starts to get the better of Jack as he's taken away from his old life, as well as Ellie, who has secretly been in love with him ever since they were kids. 

 Directed by Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire", "127 Hours", "Steve Jobs"), showing a remarkable amount of range with his filmography, "Yesterday" already has a brilliant premise. The film raises a lot of questions in a humorous and surreal manner. It's the suitably weird approach Boyle takes that adds to the fun. The film benefits from a peculiar, dreamlike style, with quirky images and good old fashioned British cheekiness, which is fitting considering all the Beatles music. (The movie also hilariously never actually explains what's going on. It just happens. Kind of refreshing actually.) The screenplay by Richard Curtis ("Love Actually", "About Time"), is thoroughly charming and genuinely sweet, though it does eventually devolve from something insightful and ambitious to something a bit more by the numbers. The film is more interested in being a romantic comedy, which to its credit, it does a solid job of it. Yeah, with how much the premise has to offer and how well the film does with it when it takes the time to do so, it's somewhat disappointing. Luckily, the film remains consistently funny throughout (And even tosses in the occasional big belly laugh that catches you off guard.), and offers a heartfelt, albeit slightly manipulative, story to make it better. 

 Himesh Patel (Who also does a solid job singing as well), is charming and relatable. His actions are human, and his reactions to the absurdity of the world around him are completely priceless. Lily James is as cute as she always is, and she has excellent chemistry with Patel. Kate McKinnon (as "Debra Hammer", Jack's new manager, who doesn't remotely try to hide how scummy she is) is her usual weird self. Some of the supporting cast, which include Joel Fry (as "Rocky", Jack's moronic friend), along with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal (as Jack's parents, who really don't have much interest in Jack's music) provide plenty of laughs. Also, I had no idea Ed Sheeran (Who plays himself), was so funny. He looks like he's having a blast, and gets a few memorable moments. 

 "Yesterday" is a fitting tribute to the Beatles and what they represented to the world. The film doesn't go far enough with its idea and every romantic comedy trope makes an appearance in some shape or form. (All the classics, from forced conflict to predictable outcomes. The works.) It's still in capable hands, and the chemistry and lovability of the leads, make it worth while. Sweet, strange, and maybe a little kooky, it's what you think of when you think of the Beatles. The songs are all used well, and you get good humor to elevate a standard crowdpleaser, that thankfully, know its audience. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For British Cheekiness And Yellow Submarines.  

Annabelle Comes Home                         ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for annabelle comes home 2019Image: Can somebody just kill this doll already?

 They literally just materialized this out of nowhere. Producer James Wan's "Conjuring" universe began with two excellent horror movies, then have mostly left their spin-offs to focus on the more generic stuff. The big one being "Annabelle", who began as one of the creepiest parts of the original film, but has been one for two when it comes to her own movies. (First one sucked. The second was perfectly fine.) This new one, which was only announced a couple months ago, luckily decides to make up for predictability with something that I always felt made the main "Conjuring" movies stronger. Actual heart. (You know, to go with the traumatizing terror.)

 "Annabelle Comes Home" opens just as real life paranormal investigators, "Ed and Lorraine Warren" (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) obtaining the creepy doll, "Annabelle", who can be used as a conduit to attract other spirits and demonic entities (Mostly evil.....Actually almost entirely evil.). It's obvious that there is an evil presence connected to this doll, which is unlike anything the Warrens have ever faced before, which leads to them making sure Annabelle is locked up away from their other ghostly objects in their home. Cut to three years later, The Warrens' daughter, "Judy" (Mckenna Grace), is uneasy about what her parents do, and is looked down upon at school because of it. Judy's only real friend is her babysitter, "Mary Ellen" (Madison Iseman), who is taking care of Judy while the Warrens are away. When Mary Ellen's best friend, "Daniela" (Katie Sarife) invites herself into the Warrens' home, she wanders into Lorraine's room of evil artifacts, where her dumb self ends up letting Annabelle free. Without a means of escape, Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela must work together and face their own personal fears as Annabelle unleashes whatever demonic spirit decides to join the party.   

 Directed by first timer (And longtime writer of this series), Gary Dauberman, "Annabelle Comes Home" feels like the most necessary and relevant of the spin-offs. Dauberman has a lot of fun showcasing the Warren case files, with all kinds of creative and scary creatures that each pop up during quick, elaborate set pieces like one of those amusement park haunted houses. (Except if it had the ability to murder you.) The film's 70s setting adds to the atmosphere, and the movie takes its time setting up scares, tricking the audience, and messing with their heads. (There's a surreal scene with what I can only assume is a possessed TV that's a special kind of creepy.) Nothing exactly new or surprising here, just some old fashioned scare tactics that thankfully don't try to rely too much on jump scares. (They're still there obviously, though they are used much less this time.) 

 The film also realizes that to make an effective ghost/demonic possession story, you need to have something to latch on to. Our characters are all actually well defined and likable. Mckenna Grace ("Gifted") is a wonderful young actress, and actually makes a few smart decisions of her own throughout the film. Madison Iseman ("Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle") is very endearing, and while Katie Sarife's character doesn't make the best of decisions, there ends up being a reason behind it and makes for one of the most complicated characters. There's a subplot involving Mary Ellen's love interest, "Bob" (Played by Michael Cimino), that doesn't amount to much, but does offer some comic relief. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are only in a handful of scenes, but they're wonderful as usual. Meanwhile, the movie finally gets across what Annabelle is capable of, and what she does exactly. (She acts as the ringleader to all the killer demons and ghosts, masterminding the entire situation.) It helps you remember why everyone was so freaked out by her when they saw her in the original "Conjuring" in the first place. 

 Like all the other spin-offs, "Annabelle Comes Home" is basic in its story, and the seemingly limited budget makes somewhat more apparent this time (For how good the practical effects are, the CGI is lacking). However, it's the heart behind it that makes it more effective. You get some chills and might even jump a few times. You also get characters to root for, and some touching themes of death and faith, that are surprisingly strong. While still not on part with "The Conjuring", it's easily the best of these standalone films. A solid, spooky thrill ride. 3 Stars. Rated R For Demented Dollies And Ghastly Ghouls.     

Anna                                        ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for anna 2019 movieImage: She's Russian into trouble.

 Another day, another pretty assassin movie. Sometimes movies give you so little to talk about don't they? 

  "Anna" follows the young woman sharing the same name as the title, "Anna" (Sasha Luss). Having suffered a rough, abusive life, Anna is recruited by KGB agent, "Alexander Tchenkov" (Luke Evans) to become an assassin. Anna is promised by Tchenkov (Who has the hots for her) and his superior, "Olga" (Helen Mirren) that when five years pass, that she will be allowed to leave and live as a free woman, which is something Anna has dreamed of her entire life. Posing as a model in Paris, Anna carries out her missions, no matter how degrading and violent. This eventually attracts the attention of CIA agent, "Leonard Miller" (Cillian Murphy), leading to Anna being forced to work for both government agents in hopes of finally finding a way out of this life.  

 Written and directed by Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "Léon: The Professional"), "Anna" sounds exactly like every other model turned assassin film you've ever heard of, and it is. However, Besson decides to make it much more frustrating and needlessly complicated in a likely attempt to cover up that fact. He still knows how to choreograph a good fight scene (A sequence in a diner is easily the highlight, though most of it was already shown in the trailer.), but the story is predictable right down to the several twists, and is muddled in the constant jumping around with the film's timeline. (It opens with a flashback before jumping forward five years, before moving back three, and back again.) When you figure out everything that's going to happen, it grows increasingly tedious when the movie takes its sweet time getting to the obvious point. It doesn't help that the tone suddenly shifts from very serious to surprisingly goofy and comedic part way through, which destroys the pacing completely. 

 The issues with the film have nothing to do with Sasha Luss, who you can tell has potential as an actress. She already has a compelling look to her, and her character's complex shifts throughout the movie. You do care for her, despite the film's inconsistent screenplay. Cillian Murphy is very charismatic in his part, and Helen Mirren adds some of her usual brand of much needed class to the film. Meanwhile, Luke Evans is pretty underutilized. Others characters appear to have mini-subplots, but most of them don't end up amounting to much. 

 Having been in production for years, "Anna" is generic, forgettable, and maybe a little creepy (Luc Besson does have a few sexual assault accusations against him. Kind of makes all of the sexual content and male gaze in the movie more unsettling.) The movie builds to a silly finale that seems to have the idea that it's more clever than it actually is. (We've seen this before. You're not doing anything new here.) Just another lackluster, assassin thriller that takes up theater space for a week or two before going away. Hey, I got over four paragraphs out of it. Nice! 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Stylized Violence And Sexuality.    

Child's Play                                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related image

Image: Woody and Buzz's worst nightmare.

 This truly was one terrifying tale about inanimate playthings. We left the theater disturbed, with thoughts of our meaningless existences, where our journeys eventually take us, and what life truly means. Not to mention that horrifying dummies. God, "Toy Story 4" was terrifying. Also, "Child's Play" was pretty creepy.  

 "Child's Play" opens with tech company, "Kaslan Industries" releasing their new, high doll, "Buddi", which can serve as a smart-home appliance, as well as a supposed "Best Friend" for the kids. (Granted, the damn thing is ugly as sin. So this was a bad idea from the start.) One defective doll ends up in the hands of single mother, "Karen" (Aubrey Plaza), who gives it to her hearing impaired son, "Andy" (Gabriel Bateman). Having trouble making new friends, Andy ends up taking a liking to the doll, nicknamed "Chucky" (Voiced by Mark Hamill). A strange friendship develops between Andy and Chucky, though it slowly becomes apparent that something just isn't right. Chucky starts to display signs of jealously, confusion, and well, homicidal tendencies, resulting in Andy attempting to distance himself from the doll. Chucky isn't going to have any of that, and becomes determined to keep Andy as his best friend through any means necessary. Even if that means hacking up people with a knife in a delightfully grisly fashion.   

 A remake/reboot of 1988 film with Brad Dourif as the voice of the killer doll, "Child's Play" has little to do with the original aside from the name and basic premise. (The less we address the controversy involving the dick-ish attitude of the studio to the original creators, the better.) It's less traditional horror, and more of a dark, slasher comedy, and for all of the silliness that comes with the franchise, what we get is exactly the amount of demented fun we could ask for. Taking out the supernatural element and replacing it with technology, the film is still just as preposterous and goofy as ever. However, that's kind of the point of it all and where the enjoyment comes from. The film is also committed to a certain over the top goriness that you don't really see in horror films these days. It's not torture porn. It's meant to be damn near gleeful, taking a sort of cartoonish and even childlike pleasure in the violence, much like how our main villain handles it. Most of the time you're laughing at how absurd it all is. Director Lars Klevberg really captures that, directing the film almost as if it were aimed at a family audience. (Except with people getting their faces ripped off by lawnmowers.) 

 Aubrey Plaza, known for portraying weird and wild characters, wonderfully plays against type as a mother. (Though she does get to keep her trademark snark.) Gabriel Bateman makes for one of the elements that are stronger here and the original, portraying a kid completely scared out of his mind very well. (Lets face it. In the original, that little kid was pretty weak.) Brian Tyree Henry (as "Detective Mike", Andy's cop neighbor, who investigates the murders Chucky is committing) is great as always, and just brings more gravitas to the film. Meanwhile, Mark Hamill, wisely deciding not to imitate Brad Dourif's classic portrayal, makes one completely his own. He's somewhat more sympathetic at first, starting out like childlike and innocent, then slowly developing into the murderous psycho we all know and love. Other characters mostly fill the background, and most of the victims are unlikable dicks who have it coming. 

 While never particularly scary (Though plenty creepy), "Child's Play" succeeds with a pitch black sense of humor, and a giddy appreciation for the macabre. It makes for an intentionally ridiculous, bloody blast, that might be even more fun than the original. (Be honest. The original, while a delight, is pretty dated stuff.) None of it really makes much sense and things do get a little bit rushed once we reach the finale. Still, it's clever, playful, and endearingly sadistic. Just like Chucky! Bless his ugly little heart. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Brutal Slashing And Stabbings, And Creative Watermelon Designs. 

Toy Story 4                                                ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for toy story 4Image: And the toys plummet from the sky.....The end.

 Maybe they should have left "Toy Story" alone. The franchise ended on a perfect note. So, maybe, Pixar decided to continue with the one of the few things that can bring people together in this divisive world. We really should learn to stop questioning them by this point, shouldn't we?  

 "Toy Story 4" picks up some time after the last film's supposed happily ever after. Now our beloved toys, which are led by ragdoll cowboy, "Woody" (Tom Hanks), now belong to "Bonnie" (Madeleine McGraw) after being passed down by their previous owner, "Andy". Everything seems wonderful for Andy's old toys, including "Buzz Lightyear" (Tim Allen), "Jessie" (Joan Cusack), etc. However, Woody has sadly been going through a bit of a rut, where Bonnie doesn't seem to have much interest in playing with Woody as she does with the other toys. Regardless, Woody is loyal to a fault, and will do anything he can to ensure Bonnie's happiness. One her first day of kindergarten, a nervous Bonnie decides to make a new friend to cope. That isn't a metaphor by the way, Bonnie creates life in the form of googly eyes and pipe cleaners attached to a spork, named "Forky" (Tony Hale).

 Forky as it turns out, is one suicidal spork, whose only purpose is to end up in the trash, and Woody has to go out of his way to keep Forky safe for Bonnie. When Bonnie takes all of the toys for a RV road trip with her family, Forky ends up flying out the window, and Woody leaves the others to track him down. With the two of them ending up in an old antique shop, Woody is reunited with his old love, "Bo Peep" (Annie Potts), who now spends her time being ownerless and saving other lost toys from harm. When Forky is kidnapped by damaged doll, "Gabby Gabby" (Christina Hendricks), who wants to rip out Woody's voice box to fix her broken one, Woody sets out on a mission to save Forky, with some help from Bo, tiny pocket cop, "Giggle McDimples" (Ally Maki), literally attached stuffed animals, "Duck and Bunny" (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and daredevil toy/Canada's Greatest Stuntman, "Duke Caboom" (Keanu Reeves).      

 Pixar changed the game with animation with the original "Toy Story" (A franchise that is twenty years old by this point), then continued with the equally (If not even more) wonderful "Toy Story 2", and then seemingly concluded the series with "Toy Story 3" (Which as we all remember, brought all of us claiming to be adults to tears). Yet, they had the gall to not only continue, but also keep the already perfect quality of the series in tact in a way that nobody could of ever expect. With that said, the film is not quite what you would expect. Pixar's animation has reached levels that were previously thought impossible. Every frame and character is exceptional detailed and beautiful, showing how far the studio has come from the original, which was already groundbreaking at the time. Every piece of fluff, fabric, and plastic looks authentic, and blends together in a way that's yeah, pleasing to look at, but also instills a certain identity that only Pixar can provide. 

 Directed by Josh Cooley (Who has worked as a storyboarder and writer on several Pixar films), "Toy Story 4" is brilliantly compacted into a brisk hour and forty minutes, with plenty of time given for intimate character moments, a deep emotional core, and most welcome of all, some of the funniest moments of any film to come out this year. The screenplay by Stephany Folsom and longtime Pixar collaborator, Andrew Stanton, is gut busting in how funny it is. Thanks to well timed slapstick and some fantastic, mile a minute dialogue between characters. Not to mention just how memorable they are, though maybe a few get sidelined for obvious reasons (Whether it be the fact that some actors have passed over twenty years, or what the film in the end decides to focus more closely on.) 

 Tom Hanks is as wonderful as ever. First off, his character has received some of the best character development in film (Animation or otherwise), having gone from a jealous jerk to someone willing to sacrifice his own happiness for someone else, despite his better judgement. This really is Hanks' movie, with his character's story taking an unexpected turn that may feel a bit off at first, but the more I think about it, it seems fitting. The excellent Annie Potts gets her biggest role in this series, with her character also having changed over time in a natural way. Tim Allen is a blast once again, while our massive returning supporting cast all give it their all. This includes Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn (as "Rex", the panicky dino), Pixar's good luck charm John Ratzenberger (as "Ham", the sarcastic pyggbank), Blake Clark (as "Slinky", the loyal slinky dog), Timothy Dalton (as "Mr. Pricklepants", the pretentious stuffed hedgehog), Jeff Garlin (as "Buttercup", the stuffed unicorn with a dark sense of humor), Bonnie Hunt (as "Dolly", who tries to keep Bonnie's toys from freaking out), the late, great Don Rickles and Estelle Harris (as "Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head", married potato people), and the always hilarious Kristen Schaal (as "Trixie", the dinosaur gifted with Kristen Schaal's voice). Some are sidelined more than maybe wanted, but you do get why, and thankfully, they all still leave an impression. 

 The film makes up for the lack of screentime for a few classic characters with some fitting new additions, who are destined to become instant favorites. Tony Hale is marvelously (and relatably) bewildered by his existence. He's lovable, and is an absolute riot. Christina Hendricks' cute voice perfectly matches her antagonist's look, whose story arc develops past the concept of what would seem like just another villain. Keegan Michael-Key, and Jordan Peele provide most of the film's laughs, with a running gag that just gets more and more hysterical the further it goes. Ally Maki is a blast, while Keanu Reeves (Who is currently going through an intimate romance with today's moviegoers) sounds like he's having the absolute time of his life. 

 "Toy Story 4" continues this franchise's trend of getting an emotional rise out of its audience, and managing to draw a few tears from every age. (Though people my age, having grown up with these toys, will probably find themselves even more broken up than expected.) Themes of existence, the inevitability of life, and finding (And also accepting) your purpose, are not something you would expect a film about talking toys to deal with. (It's not as overtly dark as the last film, but the questions raised will likely keep both the kids and adults up at night.) While thoughtful, heartwarming, and filled with great humor throughout, it can still seem like we're getting an unnecessary (Albeit still terrific) fourth entry in an already perfect trilogy. Then it all becomes apparent by the end what the point is and how important it is. (Might be a little controversial though. Time will tell on that one.) Either way, it results in the unexpected fourth adventure with our favorite pieces of plastic and fluff that we didn't even know we needed. Kids. Parents. Adults who awkwardly come into the theater alone. Everyone leaves happy, and like every movie in this series, comes out a little more mature every time. 4 Stars. Rated G. (Though There Is Plenty Of Nightmare Inducing Imagery Involving Ventriloquist Dummies. When Are Those Not Scary?)  

Shaft                                                          ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for shaft 2019 movieImage: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Damn right." 

 So the "Shaft" franchise has been around for over forty eight years, and I only just now figured that out. I didn't even know what this was until I saw the poster or even thought about it until I went to go see it earlier today. This brings up an obvious question. Was anybody really asking for this? 

 This new "Shaft" follows "John Shaft Jr." (Jessie Usher), or just Junior, the son of legendary private investigator, "John Shaft II" (Samuel L. Jackson). Junior works for the FBI (Mostly just as a data analyst. Much lamer than an actual agent.), having distanced himself and his mother, "Maya" (Regina Hall) as far away from his father as possible. However, when Junior's childhood friend, "Karin" (Avan Jogia), is found dead under mysterious circumstances, he is left with nobody else to turn to except for his dad. Shaft, seeing a connection between Karin's death and the involvement of an old arch-nemesis, "Gordito" (Isaach De Bankolé), Shaft decides to help Junior solve the crime. Thus begins the wonderful bonding between father and son, which also includes lots of shooting, drugs, and that cool music that goes "bow-chicka-wow-wow". 

 A standalone sequel/s[in-off/attempted reboot (Attempted. The box office decided that.), "Shaft" is an affectionate tribute to old fashioned, blacksploitation films that came before it. Sometimes, it surprisingly works. There are some genuinely well place one-liners sporadically sprinkled throughout to go with the absurd level of violence. However, when a joke falls flat, it does so in a depressingly, groan worthy fashion. Once you really get into the film, you start to realize that in terms of plotting, it's complete crap. Everything is needlessly convoluted and cobbled together, with plot points losing relevance and fading away as the film progresses.    

 The film truly comes to life when Samuel L. Jackson comes on screen, and he's a delight. First, he's clearly having a ball here, and his natural on screen charisma just elevates even the weakest of material. (I wouldn't be surprised if he ad-libbed a decent amount of his funniest moments.) Jessie Usher handles himself well with Jackson, and while he's not the most interesting of characters, the two of them end up having some solid chemistry. Regina Hall, while not in the film near enough, continues to be a highlight when it comes to mostly mediocre comedies. (Remember "Little"?) Alexandra Shipp (as "Sasha", Junior's love interest) isn't given much of a role, but is too cute and naturally charming to not like. Richard Roundtree (as "John Shaft 1", the original Shaft) doesn't even come in till the last twenty minutes, and it only shows how clunky the film really is. (It doesn't help that his role was advertised so much as if he was a major part.) Our villains feel like after thoughts, with little menace or character of their own.

 "Shaft" is gleeful with its over the top violence (Maybe to an uncomfortable degree for some), and there are times when you can see where the idea could of worked much better. It ends up being an issue with direction. Ironically named director Tim Story (Both "Ride Along" movies) can't seem to tell a focused story. He makes the movie look good enough, but never to the point where it leaves the impression. A few laughs can't make up for things just not working, and if you're not having enough fun, you can't help but focus on the many aspects that don't work. Just couldn't dig it, man. 2 Stars. Rated R For Loads Of Language, Violence, And Innuendo.    

Men in Black: International                 ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for men in black internationalImage: "For the last time....Stop calling me Thor!"

 It's a little ironic that despite the how much of an impact that the original "Men in Black" (Which still holds up as one of my personal favorite movies. And not just because of the nostalgic novelty of it being a part of my childhood.) has had on what has become the modern summer blockbuster, it could never truly continue to do so as a film series past the first one. We had a mostly lame sequel and even the third film, while enjoyable, was still missing what the first film could accomplish. (You know? State of the art special effects, big budgets, action and humor, and of course, loads of charm from our main characters. All of that good stuff.) It's a franchise that just never quite evolved, and in a way, ended up becoming much less influential that other major summer blockbusters that it itself likely inspired. Thy are silly Alien movies after all. 

 "Men in Black: International" follows the black suit and glasses wearing secret organization that fights aliens, but this time does not focus on Agents "J" and "K" (Formerly played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). We meet "Molly" (Tessa Thompson), a young woman who at a young age had an incident with an alien and didn't have her memory properly wiped by "MIB" (The Men in Black). Since then, Molly has been obsessed with finding the organization, and eventually tracks down their headquarters. Molly shows enough promise to impress MIB head, "Agent O" (Emma Thompson), who recruits her, dubbing her "Agent M". O takes notice of something going on over in the UK branch and sends M over to London to check it out. Once there, M is partnered up with the formerly heroic, but now slacking "Agent H" (Chris Hemsworth).

 Under orders from the UK branch head, "High T" (Liam Neeson), M and H are on a mission to get some serious information that an alien collective known as "The Hive" are after. The Hive, taking the form of a pair of homicidal twins (Portrayed by professional dancers, Les Twins), plan to dominate the world and assume the image of anyone they choose. This means that MIB is likely compromised, leaving M and H to go rogue, stumbling upon an unstoppable and unstable superweapon that could doom the entire galaxy.  

 Directed by F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton", "The Fate of the Furious"), "Men in Black: International" is pure formula from start to finish, and can mostly benefit from playing things just safe enough to make something at least entertaining. The film isn't without a lot of moments that offer a level of fast paced, light hearted goofiness. It's effectively diverting, though lacking in originality, much substance, and most shockingly, memorability. The screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway ("Iron Man", "Punisher: War Zone", "Transformers: The Last Knight". Talk about going downhill.) goes through every studio manufactured plot point you would expect, without much of an impact. It's not that what we get is bad, but it's just a little too generic. I understand the mentality as to why the filmmakers decided to go down this route. We've just become more accustomed to a little more risk with our popcorn flicks. Hell, we even demand it now. 

 One of the most successful aspects to the film is the casting of Tessa Thomspon and Chris Hemsworth, who we know already have great chemistry together after seeing them in "Thor Ragnarok". Hemsworth (A comedic riot in "Avengers: Endgame") has perfect timing, even making the weaker of jokes funnier because of it. He works well with Thompson, and I appreciate the film avoiding the most annoying of clichés by forcing a romantic element to their relationship. Kumail Nanjiani (as the voice of "Pawny", a tiny alien servant, who believes M is his new queen.) is basically just here to make quips and ad-lib, but it does make for a few amusing moments. Not enough is done with Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson (as "Riza", H's three armed, criminal ex-girlfriend), and Emma Thompson (Though she's delightful as always.). Les Twins don't have much personality, but make for an intimidating, villainous presence. (There's also a sequence in a night club, which allows them to show off their impressive dancing skills that you end up wishing could of gone on for longer.) 

 Occasionally fun, but completely forgettable, "Men in Black: International" is the perfect definition of a 2 ½ Star movie. The effects aren't anything special, though are creative enough (Especially when it comes to the alien designs), the story is formulaic, with every twist and turn being obvious to figure out from the start, and Gray's direction is slick and stylish enough to make up for how little emotional weight there actually is to the movie. It's a nice time waster and all. However, like I've noticed about most of our summer blockbusters this year, it doesn't hurt to ask for a little bit more. Especially since we know that it's entirely capable for a long running franchise to do so. For a movie planning to expand its universe, it still feels pretty small. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Slight Adult Content And Language, But Never Enough To Offend. The Most PG-13 Movie You'll Ever See. 

The Secret Life of Pets 2                  ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the secret life of pets 2Image: "No, I told you. This is not a toilet bowl."

 It's nice to see "Illumination", the animation studio responsible for the "Despicable Me" series and the "Minions", finally deciding to calm the heck down. Usually they go nuts with their advertisements, taking up all the space on TV, and showing their trailers during almost every theatrically released film almost a year ahead of the film is even released itself. Now, they appear to be a bit more confident in themselves, and not bombard the public with constant advertisements. I mean, by this point, they're basically up there with the other major animation studios (They might even be a bit more successful than "DreamWorks" as of late.), and they know there will be plenty of families, especially those with little kids, who will be excited to see what they release next. 

 A sequel to the hit 2016 movie, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" this time follows three separate storylines that focus on the collected characters from the first film. First, there's terrier "Max" (Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and the shaggy, gentle natured "Duke" (Eric Stonestreet) getting used to their new lives when their owner, "Katie" (Ellie Kemper) has a baby, "Liam". Despite at first not fully understanding what a kid is, Max eventually becomes very protective of Liam, mostly out of fear that he's constantly in peril. When the family goes on a trip to a farm outside of the city, Max meets "Rooster" (Harrison Ford), a tough sheepdog, who isn't afraid of anything. Rooster becomes a mentor to Max, who learns to overcome his own fears of the unknown. Second, fluffy Pomeranian, "Gidget" (Jenny Slate), who has always had a crush on Max, is left to watch over Max's favorite squeaky toy. She loses it in the apartment of some old cat lady and her army of feral felines. So Gidget turns to overweight cat, "Chloe" (Lake Bell) to teach her how to learn the cat-like ways to sneak in to get the toy back. And the third follows the bunny "Snowball" (Kevin Hart), who has since become a superhero (In his own head), going by the name "Captain Snowball". Snowball takes on a mission to help a Shih Tzu, "Daisy" (Tiffany Haddish) rescue an abused tiger from an evil circus owner, "Sergei" (Nick Kroll). All three storylines do of course culminate by the end, with all of the pets coming together to save the captured tiger.     

 As you can tell early on, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" isn't exactly one for narrative focus. On one hand, it could make it a bit weaker than the original. However, I think it better gets the point across. (It is called "The Secret Life of Pets" after all.) The first movie, while fun and good for the kids, had a simple, predictable plot that was essentially "Toy Story", except with animals. The way this film is structured just shows what kind of cartoonish antics they get into when humans aren't looking, and how they perceive the world around them. It can be a little frenetic, but I think works, especially because of the animation, voice work, and the fact that it's actually really, really funny. Directed by Chris Renaud (Who did the first film, along with the first two "Despicable Me" movies.), the animation has Illumination's usual brand of bouncy, stretchy animation that gives each character their own sense of identity, even without them speaking, along with adding to some well timed slapstick. It works well when taking an exaggerated look into what goes through the minds of our pets (Such as dogs loving to go for rides in the car, cats reacting to red dots, etc.) The humor works best when things get unexpectedly weird, catching you off guard with a quick belly laugh. 

 We also have a terrific voice cast, that while doesn't always utilize everyone near enough, still inject their own personality to their characters, and make them their own. I would say I actually prefer Patton Oswalt over Louis C.K.. Oswalt already has a funny voice, and it just feels like a more natural fit. Kevin Hart, who has a voice genetically created for a shouting, talking rabbit, is once again suitably over the top in a good way. Jenny Slate is adorable and perfectly cast, along with Lake Bell (Whose character best represents any cat you've likely ever had) and Tiffany Haddish, who also just has a voice that's naturally perfect for voicework. Others like Eric Stonestreet, Hannibal Buress (as "Buddy", a dachshund), Bobby Moynihan (as "Mel", a pug), an unrecognizable Nick Kroll, and a hilarious Dana Carvey (as "Pops", an old, grouchy Basset Hound) are all mostly here because they were in the first movie, but still have their moments and don't phone it in. The best new addition would be Harrison Ford, who sounds like he's just plain having fun, and gets to deliver the best lines in his usual Harrison Fordy way. 

 Short and simple, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" makes up for an admittedly limited plot with wacky antics, a lot of cuteness, and most importantly, by just being funny. The stories are loosely connected, offering some character, but nothing of much substance. It's lesser compared to other animated films in the sense that there is little depth or even anything that I would say that parents without kids could probably enjoy. It's mostly for the kids, but still offers good laughs and pet loving sweetness. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor And Feline Substance Abuse.  

Dark Phoenix                                           ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dark phoenix movieImage: Jean Grey finishes crushing the X-Men franchise once and for all.

 For nearly twenty years, the much loved comic book characters, the "X-Men", in a way, have been responsible for the formation of what we have come t expect from a superhero movie. With strong, relevant themes,  and memorable characters, the films have had their ups (The first 2 "X-Men" movies, as well as "Deadpool".), their downs (X-Men: The Last Stand", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), and some truly terrific work ("X-Men: Days of Future Past", "Logan") that rivals even some of the films the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us. There's been spin-offs, a sorta reboot (Time travel and whatnot.), and a lot of attention to world building. It's fitting that such a long running, influential franchise comes to a suitably epic, meaningful, and satisfying finale that, much like "Avengers: Endgame" brings everything the fans could of asked for to a proper close.....*Sigh* Maybe in another timeline.  

 "Dark Phoenix" takes things into the 90s, where mutant and human relations are at an all time best. Everyone appears to be getting along finally, with the mutant superhero group, the "X-Men", led by the telekinetic "Charles Xavier/Professor X" (James McAvoy), being cheered on by the public. Still based at "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters", the X-Men are called in to save some astronauts that are trapped above the Earth's atmosphere due to a mysterious solar flare. (Since when do the X-Men have a space ship?) Xavier's shapeshifting childhood friend, "Raven Darkhölme/Mystique" (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a team consisting of intellectual, but animal-like, "Hank McCoy/Beast" (Nicholas Hoult), the weather controlling "Ororo Munroe/Storm" (Alexandra Shipp), teleporting creature, "Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler" (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the speedy "Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver" (Evan Peters), the eye beam shooting "Scott Summers/Cyclops" (Tye Sheridan), and Scott's ultra powerful girlfriend, "Jean Grey" (Sophie Turner).

 The mission goes awry and Jean is left to use all of her power to save everyone, absorbing the solar flare. Despite claims that doing so should of killed her, Jean appears stronger than ever, earning the new nickname "Phoenix". However, a secret that Xavier kept hidden from Jean comes to light, resulting in Jean feeling betrayed by her mentor. All the rage and fear that Jean kept bottled up is unleashed, leading to tragic results. Sides are taken as everyone wants to track down the missing Jean, with even reformed mutant criminal, "Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto" (Michael Fassbender) coming out of retirement with the intention of killing Jean. Everyone's actions have consequences and Jean's uncontrollable powers threaten to destroy the fragile peace between humans and mutants. Aaaand then aliens show up, led by "Vuk" (Jessica Chastain), who want to manipulate Jean for their own villainous plans. Kind of jumped the shark with that one.           

  Another attempt at adapting the popular X-Men comic storyline, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (The first being the disappointing "The Last Stand"), "Dark Phoenix", like before has moments where you can see what could of been. Sadly, what we get feels like a TV series being prematurely and unceremoniously cancelled at the worst possible moment. Both directed and written by Simon Kinberg (A longtime writer of the series), the film lacks a sense of finality or even much actual depth, which is uncharacteristic for this franchise. Kinberg gives the film a decent enough look, with eye popping cinematography, which looks great on an IMAX screen. The visual effects are a bit more mixed, with some looking pretty solid, and others feeling unfinished. Rushed would be the best way to describe how this movie feels, and little has been done to make it feel like a genuine ending. The biggest issues would be with the script, which really just repeats things that we've seen before from the franchise, and offers little explanation or even resolution for where it all goes. It doesn't even quite feel like an ending. 

 The excellent cast may not have the best material to work with, but some of them are still able to give committed performances. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are pros by this point, and even with little time together on screen, their back and forth still works simply because of their chemistry. Nicholas Hoult does get to do some good work, especially later in the film when things get a bit darker. Meanwhile, Sophie Turner really gets to shine here, still giving a compelling performance despite how rushed everything is. She's someone who you can tell is only going to improve the more she's in. (Also, it's kind of funny how she's making appearances into two critically decimated finales in the same year. Some people still aren't over "Game of Thrones".) Tye Sheridan does fine, but the relationship between him and Turner does not have enough weight to make the emotions resonate. Others like a slightly bored looking (But still very pretty. I always have to point that out) Jennifer Lawrence, and a tragically underutulized Evan Peters are sidelined quickly, without an actual payoff.

 Then we get to something I honestly never though anyone would ever say. Jessica Chastain had no reason to be in this movie. (I know, I can't believe I'm saying that either.) Not only is she the most generic of villains and the performance she's forced to give has little menace to it, her whole storyline (And basically everything that involves the aliens) could of been left out entirely. There isn't any buildup or clarification as to who these villains are or even what they want to accomplish. They're just villains, who show up to be evil. (Not to mention, "Captain Marvel" did a better job with these types of characters earlier this year anyway.)

 There are moments and scenes that really do work in "Dark Phoenix" every now and then. Take the aliens out of the equation (And yeah, all of that is crap.), the film has a good, dark storyline that you can see has the makings for something that would anywhere else make for a great sendoff to these characters. The score by Hans Zimmer is epic, and those few strong, individual moments show what this movie could of been. It came down to whether this just doesn't work as finale, or even as an actually good X-Men movie at all. It's clearly been forced to conclude against its will with the whole Disney/Fox buyout, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe having the intention of taking the X-Men characters back to use at a later point, but even then, there's just something missing from the film.

 While not the worst in the series, what we get is a weak, very messy film, that just has the bad luck of being the apparent sendoff to a long running, and overall very important franchise. For something that once started out so iconic and even served as a stepping stone for what the superhero genre has become today, it all goes out with a slight flicker of smoke rather than a bang. It just makes me more sad than anything. (Just think of "Days of Future Past" as the sendoff, skip to "Logan", and stop there. It's gut wrenching, but you're better off that way.) 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Action And Violence, And Disappointing Resolutions. 

Booksmart                                       ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for booksmartImage: "It's summer....What are we still doing here?"

 Another movie I know I'm really late on. Vacations take up a lot of time, and I was forced to enjoy the final days of rest before returning to your repetitive daily routines. It's good to be home, and it's good to get back to getting movies the minute they're released. I can also try to convince people that there may be the occasional little movie that they too let slip past their radar. Not all of the best movies of the summer are the traditional blockbusters. 

 "Booksmart" follows high school seniors and best friends for life, "Amy" (Kaitlyn Dever) and "Molly" (Beanie Feldstein). The two have refrained from engaging into the typical debaucherous acts that most of their classmates have been a part of in favor of going to the most elite colleges and aiming for the best careers. However, it turns out the partiers and slackers, who always saw Amy and Molly as stuck-up, have also gotten into those same colleges. Deciding to break some rules before graduation and end their high school lives on a high note, Amy and Molly head out on a journey across town to go to a big, crazy party across town, complete with the consuming of alcoholic beverages and other things that would make your grandmother cry if she knew you were doing them. It turns out though that getting to the party is going to be more of a wild ride than expected, with the two becoming part of a few life changing misadventures along the way. 

 The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, "Booksmart" is what would appear to be just another coming of age story, with the outcome being one that you could easily predict. The film in a way doesn't deviate away from that formula's path, but instead takes the most unpredictable of routes getting there. First off, it's not a just simple gender swapping of the premise, the screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman lets that play into the themes of the film. (It's not like "The Hustle", which only had a gender swapped premise, but few other defining aspects.) It's very relevant what the movie deals with, but despite a raunchier, dirtier sense of humor, it's handled maturely and even realistically.  

 The biggest draw would be the leads, both of which have such good chemistry together, I honestly think they might be best friends in real life. Beanie Feldstein (Who you might remember as a scene-stealer in 2017's "Lady Bird"), already has comedic chops, and really gets the chance to shine here. Kaitlun Dever (Who I've mostly only seen in dramatic work, such as "Detroit".), shows an immense amount of potential, balancing more serious parts with the comedic ones. They're a perfect onscreen combo that you fall in love with, and you feel such a strong connection with them that you're upset once it's over. (I also appreciate that while the movie portrays them as the nerdy, more school prioritized girls, they're not shown to be overly socially awkward or even bullied. They're just a bit out of place with the party based climate.) The film's excellent ensemble gives room for loads of characters to get their moment in the spotlight. It includes, but isn't limited to Skyler Gisondo (as "Jared", the rich kid, who is desperate to please everyone in any way possible.), Diana Silvers (as "Hope", the seemingly simple pretty mean girl), Jessica Williams (as "Miss Fine", the teacher everyone loves), and an absolutely hilarious (and outrageously bizarre) Billie Lourd (as "Gigi", a strange, drug addicted party girl, who just keeps appearing everywhere Molly and Amy go.). There's also some funny smaller parts from Jason Sudeikis (as the school principal), along with the underused (But still delightful) Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte (as Amy's parents). 

 "Booksmart" is elaborately crazy and full of originality despite being a premise we've seen before. It has an identity that's all its own, much like its leads. Laugh out loud, but also sweet and sincere. Olivia Wilde's direction is charming in of itself, giving off an indie movie-like feel, without any hint of the occasional pretentiousness that can come with that style. Everything feels genuine, and by the end, there is something inspiring about it. An R-Rated, very adult comedy might have something to offer young girls despite its rating. It's one of the most endearing movies you'll see this year. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Teen Sex Talk, Lots Of Language, And Full Frontal, Barbie Doll Nudity. 

Ma                                                           ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for ma movieImage: See? This is why I don't drink. 

 I know I'm a little late on this one. I've been on vacation and haven't had all the time in the world for certain movies. So I'm sorry that my much needed rest and relaxation time prevented me from seeing Octavia Spencer torture a bunch of stupid teenagers. 

 "Ma" follows high school student, "Maggie" (Diana Silvers), moving with her single mother, "Erica" (Juliette Lewis), back to her mother's hometown. Maggie is a shy one, but does make friends with a bunch of delinquents, including "Haley" (McKaley Miller) and nice guy, "Andy" (Corey Fogelmanis), who clearly has a thing for Maggie. While trying to get an adult to buy some beer for them, Maggie's new friends are able to convince a seemingly sweet, lonely lady, "Sue Ann" (Octavia Spencer) to do it. Sue Ann decides to let the kids come over to her place, where they can drink and party in her basement. (So long as they don't wander upstairs at any point.) Everything at first seems perfect, with the young twerps having a place to hang out, giving Sue Ann the nickname "Ma". However, we wouldn't have a movie unless something went horribly, horribly wrong. The past starts to rear its ugly head, and Ma reveals her true colors, resulting in all kinds of insanity. 

 "Ma" is the cheap, somewhat trashy, totally bonkers thrill ride that something like "The Intruder" wanted to be. Oh yeah, it's nonsensical and doesn't really offer anything new or of substance. But it just so happens to be done as well as you could ask, and even manages to reach a certain level of uneasiness that should make the horror fanatics queasy. Directed (And Co-Written) by Tate Taylor ("The Help", "Get On Up", "The Girl on the Train"), the film has an extra layer of competence that prevent the movie from falling into the generic crazy thriller pile that films like it are generally destined to find a place in. Even through some predictable beats, the intentionally campy tone and occasionally off-kilter sense of dark humor add a little fun to liven things up. The movie also delivers quite a few cringey scenes that even made me squirm in my seat a little. (There's a scene involving dog blood, a knife, and Octavia Spencer caressing a frightened man's penis......It only gets worse from there.) 

 Octavia Spencer (Who has worked with Director Taylor a few times, and even won herself an Oscar for one of them), looks like she's have the time of her life. She's delightfully demented, fascinatingly complex, and even pretty frightening in a role that goes all over the place in the best way imaginable. You should be able to see the twists coming a mile away, but she doesn't phone it in or even go too over the top. It's the right amount to understand how this character got to where she was, but also to show how creepy and deadly she can truly be. Diana Silvers is a likable lead, while Juliette Lewis gets saddled with a mostly sidelined role. Most of the characters end up being underdeveloped (Pretty half of Maggie's friends) or are detestable idiots (The other half of Maggie's friends), though that's usually the case with these kinds of movies. Allison Janney cameos (as Sue Ann's mean boss), so that was fun. 

 "Ma" is....well, "Ma". You come for the silliness, but unlike some wannabe guilty pleasures, this one knows how to give the audience what they ask for. Nothing more, nothing less. Though not something I'd recommend seeing in theaters (Save that for the need to see on the big screen movies like "Avengers: Endgame" or "John Wick".) However, it's a nice gather your friends at home and shout at the screen kind of movie. It's worth it alone for the sight of Octavia Spencer running over someone with her car, then listening to Earth, Wind, & Fire's "September" right afterwards. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And Teenage Stupidity. 

Rocketman                                             ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for rocketman movieImage: Elton John in his Sunday best. 

 To those who really weren't really big fans of last year's Oscar nominated big screen, music based biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody", your prayers have been answered. Even I, someone who thinks the movie was mostly solid (Though Rami Malek's performance makes the whole thing worth it), can admit, there was just something missing from it. The music. I'm honestly surprised more biopics about musicians aren't turned into straight up, traditional musicals. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. 

 "Rocketman" tells the true story of renowned musician, "Reginald Dwight"......or as you all know him, "Elton John" (Taron Egerton). The film follows Elton as he recounts his life while in rehab. After a growing up with a complicated and not particularly loving relationship with his mother, "Sheila" (Bryce Dallas Howard) and father "Stanley" (Steven Mackintosh), Elton leaves home to pursue life as a rockstar. Meeting his long time collaborator and close friend, songwriter "Bernie Taupin" (Jamie Bell), the duo become big enough to tour across America. Further complications arise, with Elton accepting with his homosexuality, his romantic and eventually antagonistic relationship with his manager "John Reid" (Richard Madden), and the extravagant and just plain crazy lifestyle that comes with stardom. Complete with sex, drugs, and the most bizarre and colorful outfits you'll ever see. 

 Directed by Dexter Fletcher ("Eddie the Eagle", and served as Bryan Singer's replacement for wrapping up "Behemian Rhapsody". The comparison is even more fitting now.), "Rocketman" takes the musical biopic to an imaginative level unlike anything I've ever seen before. Staged almost like a whimsical, Disney-esque fantasy (Except with more drug use and debauchery), the film is a sparkling sight to behold, with a wild sense of fun and wonder. The songs fit perfectly, going through many of Elton John's greatest hits (Including "Crocodile Rock", "Bennie and the Jets", "Tiny Dancer", the titular "Rocketman", and the most impressive sequence involving the song "I'm Still Standing".), making for elaborately set up, showstopping musical numbers. It's all very fitting considering who the subject is. The screenplay by Lee Hall ("Pride and Prejudice", "War Horse", and the upcoming adaptation of "Cats"), is sharp-witted and insightful, providing the best look into a man with deep, personal issues, using flashy behavior as a coping mechanism.      

 The theme is best displayed by a brilliantly layered and emotionally complex performance from Taron Egerton. Having previously worked with both Elton John and Producer Matthew Vaughn in the last "Kingsman" film (Where John played an even more exaggerated version of himself), you can see where the casting of Egerton came from. He's an inspired and seemingly unlikely choice, that really gets down how we perceive about Elton John, but also conveys what we don't know about him. (For someone so bold, he was kind of a shy dork when he was younger.) It's a different look and one that Egerton is able to make his own, without it seeming like an impersonation. Egerton may be the star, but others such as a very likable Jamie Bell and an enjoyably smarmy Richard Madden, get their time in the spotlight. Some excellent work from Bryce Dallas Howard (Really playing against what I'm used to seeing her in.), Gemma Jones (as "Ivy", Elton/Reggie's caring grandmother), and Stephen James (as "Dick James", John's first manager). Like all biopics, some things are dramatized and skimmed over, such as John's misguided marriage to "Renate Blauel" (Briefly played well by Celinde Schoenmaker). They're made up for by great scenes among the characters and the actors playing them, but it's a typical flaw in trying to tell a true life story in a two hour format. 

 "Rocketman" is a rocking musical extravaganza, that also happens to tell a real person's story in the way they likely would prefer it to be told. It even provides more insight into aspects of that person's life that I didn't about, and I love when a biopic can accomplish that. A compelling look into excess and showmanship, that will also have you tapping your foot the whole way through. A much better use of Elton John's music than "Gnomeo and Juliet". 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Sexual Content, Substance Abuse, And Bulge. So Much Bulge.  

Godzilla: King of the Monsters                                                                                                                                          ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: The most aggressive form of heartburn. 

 It's the simplest of simple cinematic pleasures. The giant monster (or Kaiju) movie. They've been around since the dawn of film, with everyone's favorite scaled beast, "Godzilla", being the one to solidify their popularity. (Well, there was also "King Kong". But we'll be settling that debate next year. Stay tuned.) Who doesn't love a bunch of super powered monsters beating the crap out of each other, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake? The best part is now we have big budget, cutting edge special effects instead of guys in Halloween costumes to entertain us. 

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" follows the events of the 2014 film, with humanity now having to accept the existence of gigantic monsters, known as "Titans". The king, being the mighty, atomic powered lizard, "Godzilla" (Played by himself obviously), who despite saving the day in the last movie, also happens to be a giant, fire breathing monster capable of apocalyptic levels of destruction. The now no longer secret organization, "Monarch" argues to the government that humanity will have to learn to coexist with Godzilla, as well as the plethora of monsters slowly starting to reveal themselves, such as the pterodactyl-like "Rodan" and the big, beautiful bug, "Mothra".

 Former Monarch scientist/Monster hater, "Mark Russell" (Kyle Chandler) is called back into the organization by "Dr. Ishirō Serizawa" (Ken Watanabe) when an important device called "Orca", along with Russell's estranged wife, "Emma" (Vera Farmiga) and daughter, "Madison" (Millie Bobby Brown), are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group, led by "Alan Jonah" (Charles Dance). Orca has the ability to transmit sound frequencies that can be heard by the Titans, allowing them to be controlled, and Jonah plans to use it to unleash the dreaded "Monster Zero" aka "King Ghidorah", a three headed dragon-like beast of unimaginable power. Things however are not as they seem, and it becomes apparent that the only way to defeat Ghidorah, and prevent him from taking command of all Titans across the planet, is to work side by side with Godzilla. 

 Directed by Michael Dougherty ("Trick 'r Treat", "Krampus"), "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is exactly the massively scaled, immensely destructive monster movie that's been advertised. Nothing too much more sadly, but still effectively invigorating nonetheless. The visual effects are stunning, and dare I say, groundbreaking. The monsters never looked better and more intimidating. Dougherty's eye for spectacle is on full display, providing an audience of just how larger than life these creatures are, as well as what they're capable of. In terms of plotting, things are a bit more clumsy.  The 2014 film held back most of the destruction, leaving things open to interpretation, and this movie sets out to go bigger and better. It piles on as much chaos and destruction as possible, and while it's certainly frightening and even impressively done, it also veers a bit into destruction porn territory. Because of this, the story doesn't really amount to much, and neither do the characters. None of which are bad per se. They're just basic, without much development and instead going for a predictable path. 

 The characters are more archetypes than anything, but at least the ensemble cast is fantastic and made up of people who generally bring their best regardless of what the script offers. Kyle Chandler (An actor known for always popping up in movies, and doing a good job no matter how big the role.), gets the chance to be the main star, and along with the always wonderful Vera Farmiga, make for some of the more compelling characters. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from "Stranger Things") gets her first movie role, and once again proves to be a very talented young actress with tons of potential. Ken Watanabe, returning from the last film, gets the best lines like before, while Zhang Ziyi (as "Dr. Chen", a Monarch scientist) is mostly here to deliver sciencey talk. Thomas Middleditch (as "Dr. Sam Coleman, the scientist trying to reason with the government) and Bradley Whitford (as "Dr. Rick Stanton", a snarky scientist) are here to provide comic relief. Others like the returning Sally Hawkins ("Dr. Vivienne Graham", Serizawa's partner) and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (as "Jackson Barnes", the soldier with all the one liners) are underutilized. Despite limited characterization, everyone still does a fine job. (Watanabe and Whitford especially.) The stars of the show are the monsters themselves. Godzilla has never looked more powerful, and King Ghidorah is one menacing monstrosity. (Think a horrifying blend of a Hydra and a dragon, radiating with electricity and an sinister grin.) Also, credit to the filmmakers for making a creature as goofy sounding as Mothra work. (She gets to take part in the film's most entrancingly beautiful moment.)

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is a suitable love letter to those classic monster movies to a fault. Things get sillier and more explosive, and while the film does offer a nice environmental message (The monsters are essentially just really big animals acting on instincts after all.), it eventually takes a backseat to action. What we get is a fun, visually jaw dropping presentation. Still, after "Avengers: Endgame" (A summer blockbuster with well defined characters, memorable dialogue, and deeper emotional stakes), this feels rather ironically small for something so large in scope. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters And Radical Environmentalism.  

Brightburn                                     ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for brightburnImage: Um.....Trick Or Treat?

 It's impossible to create a brand new move genre. We have so many already, from comedy to horror, as well as Science Fiction and the most profitable one being the superhero genre. One thing I have noticed with the new age of film is that the newest trend is mixing them together, even when they don't look like a traditional fit. Even for its apparent flaws, "Brightburn" proves that there is a lot of untapped potential here.   

 "Brightburn" takes place in the small town of "Brightburn, Kansas", where married couple "Tori" (Elizabeth Banks) and "Kyle" (David Denman), dream of having a child of their own. Their prayers are answered when a spaceship falls from the sky and crashes into their barn. (This story starting sound a little familiar?) Inside the ship is a baby that they decide to raise as their own, naming him "Brandon" (Jackson A. Dunn). At first, everything seems fine. Brandom grows up as a normal young boy, but when he hits 12, changes start to happen. (And I'm not talking about puberty.) Brandon soon realizes that he has some strange abilities, such as super strength and super immunity to physical harm. What sounds like a traditional superhero origin story suddenly takes a dark turn as Brandon's abilities start to send him down the wrong path, with horrifying results.  

 Produced by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy", "Super"), and written by his family members, Brian and Mark Gunn, "Brightburn" takes the superhero genre, or in this case, the story of "Superman", and asks the question "What if it all went horribly wrong?". The film is essentially the possessed child horror story with a twist that while doesn't exactly go against the predetermined story structure. However, it still finds a way of delivering some effective menace and clever use of the tropes that we see in what would make for a basic superhero origin story. Director David Yarovesky (A frequent collaborator with James Gunn) makes excellent use of the film's small budget (Ranging from less than $8 Million). There already is something freaky about someone, let alone a child with a temper, being granted so much power, with little disregard for how this power will affect those around him. It takes what we perceive as heroic acts in other films, and uses them to generate scares with gorey outcomes.   

 Elizabeth Banks, proving she doesn't get near enough credit in more serious roles, does a fantastic job portraying a mother refusing to accept the worst of her child. In some aspects, the situations could look somewhat silly and hard to take seriously, but she plays it completely straight, complete with a look of pure terror to make it work. David Denman does some good work, while young Jackson A. Dunn delivers a calm, chilling performance that shows a certain restrained villainy that actually makes him much creepier. The costume itself is suitably creepy, making for some great imagery and well, is just plain awesome. You know, for a future homicidal maniac with the ability to burn your skull with his laser eyes. 

 The level of violence in "Brightburn", while bloody and gross, do serve an overall purpose as to what a being like this would be capable of. (Basically all of those things you never see in superhero movies taken to scarier, more violent level.) It works to the film's advantage as a horror flick, leading to unique deaths and unsettling images. Not without its clichés and a predictable story that concludes exactly where you would expect it to, the film delivers on its premise and sets the stage for maybe others to mix up our traditional genres a bit more from now on. I want my superhero/musical/romantic comedy/action period piece! 3 Stars. Rated R For Ahem, Jaw Dropping Violence. Heh...You'll Get It When You See The Movie.  . 

Aladdin                                                      ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★            

Image result for aladdin 2019 movieImage: "Ready to get jiggy wit it?" 

 Disney's continuous digging up of their old animated classics and remaking them into the live-action format is still one of those things about modern filmmaking that still raise a few eyebrows. Aside from the boatloads of cold hard cash that come with these films, you can see where the idea to do this came from and why they're not planning on stopping anytime soon. Some might even warrant some modernization and could also improve on the original ("The Jungle Book" being the obvious one.). Still, you do hope that maybe a little bit more originality is somewhere on their minds in the future. 

 Just in case you don't already know this story (How can you not?), "Aladdin" follows.....well, "Aladdin" (Mena Massoud). A skilled thief, referred to as a "Street Rat", Aladdin spends his time getting into trouble in the wondrous desert kingdom of "Agrabah", with his monkey pal, "Abu" (Voiced once again by Frank Welker). After an incident in the marketplace, Aladdin meets the beautiful "Jasmine" (Naomi Scott), not knowing at first that she is the princess. Jasmine's father, "The Sultan" (Navid Negahban) hopes that Jasmine will settle on one of her many suitors and marry, but she has much bigger dreams of becoming a proper ruler without the need to marry some dude. Aladdin and Jasmine clearly have a connection, but when Aladdin realizing who she is, he doesn't think he has much of a shot. However, The Sultan's scheming vizier, "Jafar" (Marwan Kenzari), seeking to seize the throne, comes to Aladdin with an offer. Jafar leads Aladdin to the "Cave of Wonders", where he is instructed to deliver Jafar a specific oil lamp in exchange for more riches to impress Jasmine.

 Things go awry, resulting in Aladdin and Abu being trapped in the cave with a living magic carpet and the lamp, which out also has magical secrets of its own. Once rubbed, it releasing the one, the only, "Genie" (Will Smith), who has the power to grant Aladdin three wishes. Never having had a friend like him, Aladdin is transformed into the wealthy prince "Ali", in hopes of winning Jasmine's heart. With some help from the Genie, Aladdin of course has some lessons to learn and hopefully won't forget who he is despite his new persona, while also having to deal with Jafar's plots to gain greater power. (It's so odd writing the plot for a movie I've seen hundreds of times, except in live-action form.) 

 An remake of the much beloved (And still terrific) 1992 animated film, "Aladdin" is much like 2017's "Beauty and the Beast" in which you're left with the question as to how necessary the film truly is considering how little time has passed since the original film was released. It doesn't help that the original has aged so well, and Robin Williams' voice  performance as the Genie has become such a staple of so many childhoods. (I know I'm not the only one who believes that he should of gotten an Oscar nomination for it.) For what we get, it's a well made, delightful and magical family film that has enough charm to make up for some occasional clunkiness. Directed by Guy Ritchie (The two "Sherlock Holmes" films.), it's nice to see what he can do when he restrained, though not even Disney can't control his reliance on his sense of stylized filmmaking. (The man just loves speeding things up and slowing things down doesn't he?) Aside from those moments of Guy Ritchie-ness, he gets to show off a wide sense of scope, beautiful visuals, and an incredible production design. (I can see a Best Costume Design nomination in the future.) 

 Mena Massoud, in his first major big screen role, has a look that fits the original character well and is as easy to root for as he should be. Naomi Scott is also a perfect fit for her character, and even gives her a little extra depth than before. (Jasmine already was a fairly strong character to begin with, but I appreciate the slight, modernized tweaks.) Nasim Pedrad (as "Dalia", Jasmine's sassy handmaiden/best friend) is a fun addition to the story, and offers something to differentiate itself from the original in a way that doesn't feel forced. On the weaker side, Marwan Kenzari (aka "Hot Jafar" as the internet has been referring to him as.), while plenty slimy, doesn't have enough of the original character's menace and enjoyable wickedness to make for a memorable villain. Also, the film doesn't do near enough with Alan Tudyk (as the voice of "Iago", Jafar's parrot sidekick). 

Then we get to Will Smith, who has been left with an impossible task in the eyes of the people. Robin Williams' performance was remarkable, and even now, it's still so funny and insanely lovable. Luckily, Smith doesn't so much try to replicate it, but instead make it own. He ends up giving one of his better performances in some time, even with the freaky realistic CGI. (Still looks better than "Sonic the Hedgehog" though.) Smith gets tons of laughs with his mile a minute delivery, and livens up the film after its somewhat uneven start. The visual effects, while flawed (It may be beautiful green screen. But it's still green screen.), are still marvelous to look at. I especially love what the film does with Abu and the Magic Carpet. They're the right amount of cartoonish, yet still blend into the live-action flawlessly. 

The songs in original were some of Disney's best, and this "Aladdin" does well with them for the most part. Yeah, some songs aren't as extravagant now (You can do more with animation after all.), but they certainly look good with the Bollywood-esque inspiration. The best show-stopper, much like in the original film, would be "Friend Like Me", while the weakest song would be the one new addition, "Speechless". (Aside from Naomi Scott getting to belt it out and show off her singing voice, the song adds little and feels out of place. You know, because it wasn't in the original movie.) The question as to how necessary all of these remakes are still debatable and "Aladdin" doesn't change the game, but settles for doing more of the same. However, it's not like there's anything wrong with the same if you do it right. Some off pacing and a few weaker elements are made up for by plenty of laughs, whimsy, and fun that the whole family can enjoy. Not exactly a diamond in the rough, but not without its worthy merits. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Frightening Moments And Blue People Servitude.     

The Sun is Also a Star                             ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the sun is also a starImage: ""This new Maroon 5 album is amazing!" 

 Another day, another cheesy young adult romance novel turned into film. There's an audience for it, mostly consisting of young girls looking for something dreamy. They also usually involve some kind of depressing subject matter or someone on the verge of death. (Guess that really gets them going.) We have one here that appears to be trying to go for something a little different. Which is good, because these movies are bringing me the Hell down, man. 

 "The Sun Is Also A Star" follows two young adults, "Natasha Kingsley" (Yara Shahidi) and "Daniel Bae" (Charles Melton). Natasha is a physics student, with a very fact based outlook on life, looking for a way to prevent her and her family from being deported back to Jamaica. Daniel is more of a dreamer, hoping to become a poet despite his parents having decided that he will become a doctor ever since the day he was born. While Natasha goes to meet with a lawyer (John Leguizamo) to reopen her family's case to stay in America and Daniel goes out for his college interview, the two end up having themselves a "Meet-Cute" (You know the term. When a couple meets in silly, cutesy fashion. Hasn't happened to me yet.) Natasha isn't much of a believer in fate and love, and Daniel is determined to prove the existence of such things to her. Asking for one day to get Natasha to fall in love with him, Daniel and Natasha spend the day together, with it becoming apparent that there is a clear connection between the two. Sadly, real life starts to rear its ugly head, threatening a possible relationship between these love birds. 

 Based on the novel by Nicola Yoon (She also wrote the original novel for that other romance, "Everything, Everything") "The Sun Is Also A Star" doesn't so much change up the typical romantic novel based formula. It just happens to do a better job with it than others, though throughout the film, there are shining moments that show it actually could of achieved something much better. Directed by Ry Russo-Young ("Before I Fall"), the film is shot beautifully, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning, which for a film like this, isn't necessary, but is very much welcome. The direction adds a sort of fairy tale like, glossy look to the film, which on a way feels fitting to what the story is supposed to be. The screenplay by Tracy Oliver ("Girls Trip", "Barbershop: The Next Cut") offers some moments of insight and the occasionally funny line, but can't resist falling into sappiness and even a little pretentiousness with its themes of fate and love. (It's the kind of dialogue where you want to shout at the screen "We get it already!") 

 Where at times, the script falters, the chemistry between our two promising leads is very much a highlight. Yara Shahidi ("Black-ish", and its spin-ff "Grown-ish") is terrific, with a compelling storyline that's easy to understand and relate to. Charles Melton ("Riverdale") is charming, and you can see how these two, despite some differences, could find each other and find a connection. (Although his lips are incredibly distracting. You hinge on every word he says simply because your eyes can't help but focus on them.) John Leguizamo is good, though its very obvious where his character goes and it's pretty hard to believe. (Nothing is THAT coincidental.) Another solid part comes from Jake Choi (as "Charles", Daniel's antagonistic older brother), whose plotline does add a little conflict and doesn't end the way expected. (They don't force a villain where it isn't needed.)

 By the numbers for the most part, "The Sun Is Also A Star" avoids most of the melodrama that plagues films like it. Nobody is dying, there isn't some evildoer trying to get in the way, and the contrivances are limited. (They're still there though. It's a staple of this genre.) The film ends up concluding on a surprisingly mature, realistic note that's unique and dare I say poetic. It really is a heartfelt, fitting way to end the film......And then it makes the mistake to keep going. The film truly ends on the most basic of notes, which while not bad exactly, it's just unnecessary and feels like the filmmakers didn't have the balls to commit. In the end, it's a fantasy, though not a bad one. However, you do feel like it could of been more if it really wanted to be. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Lovey-Dovey Talk.  

A Dog's Journey                                      ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a dog's journey movieImage: The new face of Hollywood.

 With 2017's "A Dog's Purpose" and earlier this year's "A Dog's Way Home", I'm starting to see this has the start of a new cinematic universe that I have personally dubbed as "The Dead Dog-Verse". Seriously, these movies have body counts that could rival the three "John Wick" movies. (They certainly killed more dogs than those movies did.)  

 "A Dog's Journey" once again follows the reincarnated lives of a dog named "Bailey" (Voiced by Josh Gad), and the people he meets throughout his many lives. Currently, he's still living with his original owner, "Ethan" (Dennis Quaid) and his wife, "Hannah" (Marg Helgenerger), who have also allowed Hannah's daughter in law "Gloria" (Betty Gilpin) and her young daughter, "CJ" (Played by Emma Volk as a toddler, Abby Ruder Fortson as a child, and Kathryn Prescott as a young adult) to stay with them. While Gloria wallows in self pity due to the death of CJ's father, Ethan, Hannah, and Bailey are the ones that bond with CJ. Gloria eventually decides that she wants to live her miserable life elsewhere, taking CJ with her and refusing Ethan and Hannah to see her. When Bailey becomes ill, Ethan asks that Bailey find his way to CJ after he dies to take care of her. Bailey is then brought back as "Molly", a playful beagle, "Big Dog", a lazy, always hungry boerboel, and "Max", a snippy terrier. As these new dogs, Bailey follows CJ as she grows up, being there for her in her times of need. 

 Based on the book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron (Also serving as a Co-Writer for the film), "A Dog's Journey" is unlike "A Dog's Way Home", an actual, direct sequel to "A Dog's Purpose". The movie is just as sentimental and just as uncomfortably dark as the previous film, complete with puppy cuteness and tonally inconsistent moments of death and despair. Granted, by this point, it kind of comes with the territory. But unlike the first film, this one follows a more straightforward structure. "A Dog's Purpose" followed a series of mini-plots that eventually led up to the final one which brought the opening story to a conclusion. The film was pretty sloppy, with not much time given to each storyline. This film only has one arc that just stretches over the course of four dog lives, which while very predictable, does at least allow for some actual development. 

 Josh Gad's voice over, while at times getting a little too goofy for a movie that has so many heavy moments, is still fairly inspired. He really does the kind of voice that matches the personalities of these dogs. The dogs themselves are utterly adorable, with the scene-stealer being Max, who gets the most screentime out of all of them. (Considering I own a little dog, this is an accurate portrayal of how they basically take command over everyone.) Dennis Quaid is very good in his limited screentime, along with a solid Henry Lau (as "Trent", CJ's childhood friend/love interest). Meanwhile Betty Bilpin is ridiculously vile, but she does a fantastic job at it, and even gets to have moments of humanity later in the film. Our main human character, CJ, is a likable lead, with Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Prescott both giving wonderful performances. Here is where the heart of the film really does work, and while the film certainly embraces its cheesiness, it's still emotionally heartfelt and genuinely sweet. 

 Surprise free, with the feel of something you should be watching on TV rather than in theaters, "A Dog's Journey" is silly and builds to a conflict-free last act. It's melodramatic, and, unlike "A Dog's Way Home", this one actually doesn't fully commit to the darker aspects, likely due to having less ambition than that film. However, the film does oddly work, whether it be the lighthearted humor, some effective drama, and better than average acting. The film, like the dogs, is too relentlessly cute to dislike. It ends on a slightly confusing, yet heartwarming note that will give any dog lover exactly what they paid for. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Adorable Puppies, Death Of Said Puppies, Physical And Emotional Abuse, And A Little Dose OF Cancer Thrown In There. For The Family!

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum                                                                                                                               ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for john wick chapter 3Image: I've seen Halle Berry in a vision, but Keanu Reeves wasn't in it.

 One thing I've come to learn having been reviewing movies for over nine years is that Keanu Reeves is kind of a strange anomaly. (My introduction to him was in the massive 2013 flop, "47 Ronin") For a while, he was going through a slump in his career, and the film to inject life and give it a massive jump start came from the unlikeliest of places.In the form of an action movie where a man seeks revenge for the death of his cute little puppy. Never would of seen that one coming. Now we have one of the best action film franchises in the last ten years, if not more. 

 "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" follows the continuing adventures of former legendary hitman, "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves), aka "The Bogeyman" aka "Baba Yaga". (The guy who killed someone with a pencil. A f*cking pencil!) John has had a rough couple movies, having lost his wife, his new puppy getting killed, leading to him going on a quest for revenge. However, things got more complicated and he was forced out of retirement permanently. After killing a member of the "High Table" (The mysterious superiors of this hitman centered world) on the premises of the hotel for hitmen, "The Continental", John is now on the run (Along with his dog, named er, "Dog".), having been declared "Excommunicado" with a bounty on his head of $14 Million.

 Everyone, everywhere is after is after John, with him taking on hordes and hordes of would be assassins, resulting in him traveling to Casablanca in search of safety. John teams up with an old acquaintance, "Sofia" (Halle Berry) to escape the contracted killers hot on their trail. Meanwhile, The High Table sends in "The Adjudicator" (Asia Kate Dillon) to deal with John's allies, such as the manager of the Continental, "Winston" (Ian McShane) and the ruler of a group of homeless assassins, "The Bowery King" (Laurence Fishburne). The Adjudicator also hires sword happy killer/John Wick fanboy, "Zero" (Mark Dacascos) and his group of ninjas to finish John off for good. Loyalties are tested and the consequences of past actions are confronted.      

 With stuntman turned director, Chad Stahelski (Having brought us both previous "John Wick" movies), returning to direct once again, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" is the third, and craziest entry yet. It also continues the series' streak of over the top, brilliantly choreographed action, slick and stylized direction, and an intricate amount of attention to world building. It's also completely awesome! The film expands on the established world of assassins and hitmen, having previously set things up in the first film, explaining more of how the system works in the second, and now showing just how far it extends across the world. The scope of the film, thanks to Stahelski's direction, takes up every inch of the screen, and needs to be viewed in the biggest theater possible. The action, which rarely relies on much CGI, is the definition of insane. In the first few minutes, we see a man get forcefully fed the thickest book you could find and a horse essentially used as weapon. From that point on, things only escalate as the film never stops to take a breath till the very end. 

 All of the aggressively bonkers violence wouldn't be enough if we didn't have an action hero to root for. Keanu Reeves, showing a remarkable amount of humanity with a simple stare, has made for one of the most relatable action movie heroes in recent memory. Sure, he can take on legions of experienced killers, going through them all like a video game character, but the fact that he does so, while getting the absolute crap beaten out of him, makes him more compelling. The reasons behind the character's plight makes John likable, and the further implied history only adds a little extra mystery to the character's origins, while not overdoing it with a needless amount of lore and backstory. Mark Dacascos is as violently villainous as he is hilarious, spending his downtime not killing to geek out over how much he's been wanting to meet John Wick. Halle Berry (Looking as lovely as ever), only appears for a portion of the film, but she steals the show. (Along with her dogs during a cathartic sequence that will have any dog lover cheering.) Asia Kate Dillon is a fascinating new addition, and Ian McShane returns to do what he does best, which is play Ian McShane, and it's always delightful. There are some great small parts for a wonderfully over the top Laurence Fishburne, Angelica Huston (as "The Director", a woman with ties to John's past), Lance Reddick (as "Charon", the concierge at the Continental), and Saïd Taghmaoui (as "The Elder", the man above the "High Table"). One of the most memorable sequences comes from a violent, yet humorously gentlemen-like fight between John and two of Zero's henchmen (Played by Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman).

 Loyalty is a major theme this time, and it seems fitting considering this all started with the death of an adorable little puppy. "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" is non-stop action, with plenty of time for memorable characters and a wickedly dark sense of humor. It's relentless in its carnage, yet oddly beautiful in execution. The only downside is that it ends on such a quick, almost conclusion free note. Granted, it appears to be set up for another chapter, and if they keep the consistency of this series going, I'm all for it. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Bloody Death By Gun, Knife, Sword, Car, Book, Horse, Dog.....Basically Anything And Everything. 

Poms                                                     ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for poms 2019 movieImage: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader tryouts are open to everyone this year. 

 By this point in my non profit, movie critic career, I've learned something about films targeted to a certain audience that I have no business being a part of. I think it's pretty obvious that I'm not an old lady, heading out to a girls movie night with by gal-pals, ready to laugh, cry, and clap. But, I think I've learned that sometimes, you don't need to be in the right demographic to tell if something is good.....You can also tell when it sure as Hell isn't. 

 “Poms” opens with the recently Cancer diagnosed, “Martha” (Diane Keaton), moving to a retirement community mostly so she can die in peace. However, the community is essentially under the tyrannical rule of “Vicki” (Celia Weston), who demands that everyone join a club of some sort. Having always had an interest in becoming a cheerleader as a young girl, Martha gets the idea to start up a cheerleading club with her with her nosy, overly hyperactive neighbor, “Sheryl” (Jacki Weaver). The club comes together nicely at first, with other community members such as “Alice” (Rhea Perlman), “Olive” (Pam Grier), and “Helen” (Phyllis Somerville) joining. However, Vicki for some reason just has to be the bad guy and puts a stop to the club. So Martha and Sheryl decide to do the club in secret. With help from Sheryl’s awkward grandson, “Ben” (Charlie Tahan) and the popular high school cheerleader, “Chloe” (Alisha Boe) to help prepare for upcoming cheerleading competition.

 Now there is nothing wrong with a predictably generic, crowd-pleasing story, and "Poms" in theory really should just be that. Sadly, it seems tonal structure, attention to characters, or much of an actual plot have evaded the filmmakers. Both directed and written by first timer, Zara Hayes, the film is cobbled of borrowed ideas and plot points from similar films, except this time without any of the charm or heart. It's not the the movie is intentionally lacking in that department, it's just not there. Hardly any of the characters end up resonating, the attempts at sentimentality end up feeling hollow, and the humor is too broad and sitcom-like for something that gets uncomfortably dark. You can't have quirky moments about old women talking about their breasts, then cut to one of them throwing up in the bathroom due to a terminal illness in just a quick cutaway. You can't have both a cartoon-ish comedy, and yet try to toss in a deep moral about life that also incorporates the most realism that death has to offer. 

I t's all a shame because Diane Keaton is still quite wonderful in the film, and you sympathize and understand where her character is coming from. Jacki Weaver, while occasionally a little too goofy at times, is also giving it her all. Others like Rhea Perlman, Pam Grier, Phyllis Somerville, along with the rest of the cheerleading club end up doing so little to justify their necessity to the story. The relationship between Aisha Boe and Charlie Tahan feels like an afterthought, with the both of them also serving little purpose by the end. While there is a once in a while amusing moment from Bruce McGill (as "Carl", the community's buffoonish security chief), the film forces conflict where there really shouldn't be any. Celia Weston, along with a group of mean high school cheerleaders, come across as so needlessly antagonistic over something that really doesn't affect them at all. (Just let them do their thing. They are literally not hurting anyone. Why do you care so badly?)

 "Poms" may have the once in a while amusing moment and obviously well meaning messages. The film just can't balance a tone that's one part silly exaggeration, another part realistic drama. It ends on such a heavy note that doesn't feel deserved, in part because note enough development was given to the story or characters. It's too choppy to be basic, which itself wouldn't be enough for me to recommend, even to the intended demographic. A waste of great talent. 1½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Heavy Material And Old Lady Sex Talk.  

The Hustle                                              ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the hustle movie

Image: "It's settled. We'll go see the WAY better original version with Steve Martin and Michael Caine."

 Online men are the easiest people to piss off. Like with "Captain Marvel" or that awesome, all female fight scene in "Avengers: Endgame", a female lead for "Star Wars", or you know, the "Ghostbusters" reboot from a couple years ago. (Remember that? The world didn't end did it?) In a time when toxic masculinity is threatened easier, now more than ever especially in the movies, we really didn't need crap like this right now. You know they're just gonna have a field day with this one.  

 A gender-flipped remake of the 1988 movie, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (Which was already a remake, so it's amazing just how little of a plot there actually is.) "The Hustle" follows a pair of female con artists, "Josephine" (Anne Hathaway) and "Lonnie" (Rebel Wislon). Josephine is rich, British, and full of herself, using her feminine charms to plan out elaborate ploys to con men out of their valuables, while Lonnie is more brash, using fake sob stories and honestly, just dumb luck to get what she wants. The two eventually cross paths, with Josephine seeing Lonnie as a threat to her operation. Not really sure how to describe how all of this plays out, but Josephine decides to train Lonnie in the art of the hustle. However, the two still can't seem to get along. So they have a bet to see who can faster con naive tech genius billionaire, "Thomas" (Alex Sharp). This leads to Josephine posing as an eccentric German doctor, and Lonnie going through an extended fake blind person routine that it borders on offensive. 

 Directed by comedian Chris Addison (Known for directing a few episodes of the critically acclaimed "Veep"....Talk about a major downgrade.), "The Hustle" is more of a premise than a story, and even in that regard, there's little to laugh about. Having been in production for about two years, the filmmakers don't appear to have gotten much further than the simple idea of gender flipping a much more well received film. The screenplay goes for the laziest, easiest jokes, with a reliance on poor slapstick, silly accents, and a colossal amount of stupidity. It would be one thing if it were all actually funny, but it's another when the film doesn't realize just how dumb it's actually being. It seems there's an attempt to make a point about how men look at women, not believing that they can be as capable (or even more so) than them when it comes to a battle of wits. However, not only does that idea get lost in the overbearing shenanigans, it also doesn't quite mean anything by the film's end. (The film strangely doesn't even appear to have one. It just blinks out of existence as if it's too worn out to go on any longer.)

 Anne Hathaway, who hasn't been having the best of years so far ("Serenity" is still fresh in my mind.), and aside from the unnecessary accent (She can do anything. But the British accent is pushing it.), her usually natural charm can't save such a nothing character. Rebel Wilson, who recently showed how charming and cute she can be in earlier this year's "Isn't It Romantic", appears to have devolved back into the obvious pratfalls and obnoxiously loud, bad comedy. It's also hard to buy that these two are apparently meant to be evenly matched. While Hathaway's methods of using her looks to con men are too transparent to be taken seriously, it makes much more sense than Wilson's annoyingly cartoonish antics. Neither are funny enough to make up for the lack of a narrative, and their lack of chemistry just plain makes it depressing. Alex Sharp gets stuck with an overly bland role, but he does seem to be trying to get something out of it. 

 "The Hustle" lacks surprises, and surprisingly much coherence. It starts with little, builds to nothing, and eventually ends with less than it even started with. Much like its prolonged fake blind person gag, it goes on for far too long and doesn't reach it's climax free conclusion fast enough. I'd make a crack about how this movie cons its audience with the promise of laughter, but instead brings out groans and disgruntled sighs. But I want to have a higher standard than this movie. 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Tired High Jinks And Worn Out Fat Jokes.

POKÉMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU                                                                                                                                                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★ 

Image result for detective pikachuImage: All I'm finding are Rattata and Pigdey. No wonder I stopped playing "Pokémon Go".

 Lets just point out the obvious, which needs to be stated early so we can talk about everything else. This is the greatest video game movie ever made! I know, it's a low bar. Hell, by this point there isn't even a bar anymore. ("Assassin's Creed", "Super Mario Bros.", "Mortal Kombat", "Warcraft", all of those "Resident Evil" movies, etc.) By this point, we've been willing to take just about anything. Still, you can tell early on that something was put into this that so few of those other movies had. Charm and actual effort to make well, a good movie that will give the fans what they want. I wanted this....I...I needed this.

 Set in the world where all animals have been replaced by colorful creatures known as "Pokémon", which are caught for training and battle (It's not abuse if they're happy!), "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" follows young "Tim Goodman" (Justice Smith), who had always dreamed of becoming a Pokémon trainer when he was young. Sadly, he never achieved his aspirations and settled for becoming an insurance worker (Gonna' assume that it's not as exciting as catching Pokémon). Tim travels to Pokémon/human utopia, Ryme City, where police offer, "Hideo Yoshida" (Ken Watanabe) tells Tim the sad news that his detective father, "Harry", died in a car crash.

 Alone in his dad's place, Tim comes across the titular, lovable fuzzy ball of electricity, "Pikachu" (Voiced by Ryan Reynolds). However, this Pikachu not only was Harry's apparent Pokémon partner, but he speaks in perfect English that only Tim is able to hear. When evidence becomes known that Harry stumbled upon a large conspiracy that could threaten the world, Tim and Pikachu team up to solve the case. With some help from enthusiastic wannabe reporter, "Lucy" (Kathryn Newton) and her always migraine suffering "Psyduck", Tim and Pikachu discover a purple gas called "R", which caused Pokémon to go wild, as well as a connection to the mysterious and immensely powerful Pokémon, "Mewtwo". 

 Based on the video game, "Detective Pikachu", which in turn was a spin-off of the ever-expanding, over twenty year old franchise, "Pokémon", "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" is a bizarre idea that was just crazy enough to work. First off, Director/Co-Writer Rob Letterman ("Monsters Vs. Aliens", "Goosebumps") deserves credit for his attention to world building and capturing every last detail. The film has hundreds of Pokémon either in the background or in the foreground, blending into the live action world seamlessly. It's obviously all CGI. However, it's both terrific, and most importantly, expressive CGI. Every creature is full of personality of its own, even if they're just there for a simple cameo or Easter egg. The way the film portrays humans and Pokémon coexisting together, going about every day lives and having it seem natural, is actually quite brilliant. This also leads to some good laughs, most of which provided by our titular Pikachu. 

 Ryan Reynolds is impeccably cast, with his likable voice coming out of such an adorably designed character. Most of the humor comes from his Deadpool-esque wisecracks and quips, but also has some delightful back and forth with Justice Smith (Despite not actually being on screen with him.) Smith is also very charming, serving as an audience surrogate that any Pokémon can relate to. Kathryn Newton is mostly just here to be the tag along, but is endearing and infectiously cute. Others in the cast include, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy (as "Howard Clifford", the man behind the vision of Ryme City), who both don't exactly get much to do, but remain professional nonetheless. The Pokémon themselves steal most of the show. Aside from Pikachu, we have my all time favorite, Psyduck, adding to the strangeness, an awesome battle with the fire breathing "Charizard", a hilarious sequence with the miming, "Mr. Mime", and of course, the frighteningly strong, "Mewtwo". (I also love what the film ends up doing with the beady eyed, shape shifting blob, "Ditto". Never trusted that guy.) There are hundreds of Pokémon, sometimes all on screen at once, and any longtime fan will find themselves having the time of their life trying to spot them all. 

 Where "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" kind of stumbles would be with its story. It's not so much that it's a bad one, but rather entirely predictable right down to the twists and turns of what is supposed to be a mystery. (Who do you think the bad guy is? Just look at the cast!) The film's climax, while exciting and visually incredible, does start to get a little sillier as more of the villain's plan becomes apparent, which will leave casuals a bit more confused than anything. (It's one of those things that you'll just have to go along with.) Though the film's plot is serviceable, yet nothing special, the film is packed full of heart, and will make for a fun time for families. Even better though, the fans will have the absolute time of their life. Being a former Pokémon obsesser as a kid, I found myself retaining a large, childlike grin on my face for most of the movie, and I can't really think of any other video game adaptation ever being able to accomplish that. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Adult Humor, Scary Situations, And Mr. Mime Enhanced Interrogation. 

The Intruder                                       ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Trust me, I'm a Botanist."

 Is it okay to criticize a movie for being nothing more than intentionally trashy filmmaking, just as advertised? Of course it is! Especially if that movie sucks. But you knew that already.

 “The Intruder” follows married couple, “Scott” (Michael Ealy) and “Annie” (Meagan Good), searching for a new house outside of the city to settle down in. They find the seemingly perfect place in “Fox Club”, which is a large house, secluded in a beautiful woodlands area. However, some red flags start to go up. Especially when they meet the original owner, “Charlie Peck” (Dennis Quaid), who introduces himself by blasting the head off of a deer. Despite Scott’s uneasiness around Charlie, the couple ends up buying the house, mostly because Annie just really likes it. Things start to get weird when Charlie just keeps showing up, mowing the lawn without asking, visiting Annie when Scott is away, and delivering lines in the creepiest possible manner. While Annie apparently doesn’t see any of this, Scott knows something is up and is determined to protect his new home, having no idea just how messed up and how dangerous Charlie truly is.

 Like clockwork, around this time every year we get a movie like “The Intruder”. A film whose only intention is to be stupid, generic, and get people to yell at the screen at the actions of its characters, despite them never listening because they can’t hear you. For movies like this, it’s never about proper direction, editing, good writing, or even capable thrills. It’s about how dumb you can be for an hour and a half and how cheap you can make it. Released by “Screen Gems” (Having also distributed similar films, such as “When the Bough Breaks”, “No Good Deed”, and “The Perfect Guy”), the film lacks much suspense and thrills, and replaces it with dullness and lazy jump scares, stripping any sort of trashy fun you could of possibly had with it.

 It’s odd how pretty much unlikable or annoying all of the characters are, especially when the least frustrating ends up being the homicidal maniac. Michael Ealy is trying his damndest to salvage poor writing, and though his character is clearly in the right not to trust Charlie, he goes about it in such a whiny, contrived manner that you could care less what happens to him. The same goes for Meagan Good, who makes some of the most shockingly moronic decisions you could make in a thriller. (Stop letting the creepy guy into your house! There’s a difference between being rude and not wanting the obviously unhinged guy with a shotgun wandering around your property!) Joseph Sikora (as “Mike”, Scott’s dick of a best friend) is the kind of doomed character that you can’t wait to see die. The bright spot would be Dennis Quaid’s absolutely deranged performance. Granted, his character does not do a good job hiding it, and it’s baffling that anyone would be remotely comfortable around him. He’s just so damn committed though, with his nervous ticks, maniacal grin, and menacing stare making up for the script’s shortcomings. It is also nice to simply see Dennis Quaid having a little fun for the first time in a while.

 Directed by Deon Taylor, “The Intruder” doesn’t look bad, and is sleekly put together as well as any cheap horror thriller could be. But crap is still crap, even when it aspires to be nothing more than crap. You can’t really blame a film for being more than what it is, but if the fun factor is lacking and you find yourself more bored than anything, I wouldn’t say the filmmakers quite succeeded at even that. 1½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Well, A White Man In A Red Hat And A Shotgun Terrorizing A Black Couple…..Not Sure If That Was Meant To Be A Political Statement Or Not.

Late Night                                          ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for long shot movie

Image: So Charlize Theron likes guys who are clearly not in her league....So you're saying there's a chance!

 It really goes to show that with the right amount of care, intelligence, and actual competency to make even the most tired of ideas work. Like with this movie, which is silly sounding on paper,  isn't all that original, and appeals to a genre that you all know I've never been the biggest fan of. You need charm, and lots of it. Luckily, this movie has plenty to spare. 

 “Long Shot” follows determined journalist, “Fred Flarsky” (Seth Rogen), who quits his job the second it’s bought out by vile media mogul, “Parker Wembley” (Andy Serkis). Now unemployed, Fred goes to a party with his more successful best friend, “Lance” (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), where he happens upon his old crush/babysitter/the Secretary of State, “Charlotte Field” (Charlize Theron). With the current TV star turned President, “Chambers” (Bob Odenkirk), planning on quitting early to branch out into film, Charlotte appears to be the favorite to take over the job of President of the United States, becoming the first woman to do so (44 Presidents and we’re still not there yet). Seeing as Fred is a capable writer and currently not doing anything at the moment, Charlotte decides to hire him as her new speechwriter, despite the protests of her advisors, “Maggie” (June Diane Raphael) and “Tom” (Ravi Patel). Fred accompanies Charlotte while she travels the world to push for an environmental bill, with the two having more of a connection than expected.

 The basic premise of "Long Shot" has been done many times before. The romantic comedy where the average guy gets the way, way out of his league girl. Been there, done that (Many times with Seth Rogen. Or Sandler. At least Rogen respects the premise). The film doesn't avoid predictability. What it does to make up for that is aside from loads of belly laughs, but it's a surprising amount of smarts and depth. Directed by Jonathan Levine ("50/50", "Warm Bodies", "The Night Before") and written by Dan Sterling ("The Interview") and Liz Hannah ("The Post"), the film ends up becoming just as much political satire as it is a rom-com. Whether it be unfair double standards for women or hilariously depressing political ineptitude, the film pokes fun at our current political climate. Though obviously it's still set in a bit of a fantasy world (Not sure politics work out quite like this), it's still very nice to see some genuine insight being provided by a raunchy comedy.

 None of this would truly work if not for the leads, both of which also serving as producers. Seth Rogen, having become known for his likably goofy persona, also gets to show off some more acting chops than what we're used to seeing. Charlize Theron, not really known for doing many comedies, proves to be just as capable here than any other film. Together, their chemistry is pretty perfect, and not just in terms of their comedic timing. Their back and forth is funny and sweet, and thoroughly endearing, accomplishing the impossible task of making it seem as if Seth Rogen could actually end up with Charlize Theron. We also get a fun supporting cast, with the biggest scene-stealer being O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Who I had no idea could be see hilarious). There are also some good laughs from June Diane Raphael, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk (Who is still a more appealing President than Donald Trump), Alexander Skarsgård (as "James Steward", the good looking, but ungodly boring Canadian Prime Minister), and a really bizarre Andy Serkis in old, chubby man make-up.

 "Long Shot" has strong themes as feminism and divisiveness in the political world, as well as sometimes what is necessary to properly play the political game. Well directed and put together, with wonderful chemistry between Rogen and Theron, some actual heart and depth, and most importantly for any comedy, a lot of big laughs. Honestly, it's probably one of the better comedies I've seen in a while. And who knows, at some point, maybe this will all play out in real life. Could happen. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Raunchy Language, Raunchy Drug Use, And Raunchy Ejaculation. 

UglyDolls                                         ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for uglydolls movieImage: So ugly they're cute....Cugly?

 Man, wasn't "Avengers: Endgame" great? Like, that was really something special, huh? A great superhero movie that also made for an all around great movie for everyone. We all saw it. It's going to make trillions. Many of us (Like myself) already saw it more than once. Why am I babbling about Avengers still? Because O'm not really ready to talk about a movie about dolls....That are ugly.  

 Based on a bunch of plush toys (Hey, if LEGOs can make for a good movie, why can't they?),"UglyDolls" following the goofy looking, slightly deformed doll citizens of "Uglyville", where all they do is sing, dance, and party. One cheerful doll, "Moxy" (Kelly Clarkson), dreams of traveling up to the supposed "Big World", where she will be chosen for a child. However, the town's mayor, "Ox" (Blake Shelton) assures her that it doesn't exist. Moxy decides to ignore Ox and leave Uglyville to see if the Big World is real, taking along her buddies for the ride, including the pessimistic "Wage" (Wanda Sykes), Moxy's best friend "Ugly Dog" (Pitbull), the chubby "Babo" (Gabriel Iglesias), and some other one called  "Lucky Bat" (Wang Leehorn).

 Moxy and her crew wind up in the "Institute for Perfection", which is where all of the perfect, but narcissistic dolls live. The nefarious leader of the institute, "Lou" (Nick Jonas), wants Moxy and her friends out of the picture, allowing them a chance to partake in an obstacle course known as the "Gauntlet" (Which will determine if they are worthy of being chosen for a child) simply to crush their collective spirits. Determined to make her dream come true, Moxy and her friends must prove Lou wrong and prove their worth, while Lou takes desperate measures to keep the conceited status quo.  

 As you can tell, the scope and aspirations have dropped immensely from "Avengers" last weekend. Directed by Kelly Asbury ("Shrek 2", "Gnomeo and Juliet", and "Smurfs: The Lost Village"), "UglyDolls" is both metaphorical and quite literal kiddie fluff. Filled with lame jokes and puns, a predictable and uninspired story, and light in terms of character development, it's obvious that the film is playing things very safe and soft for the youngest of children. Unlike something like say "Wonder Park", there does appear to be some kind of intention to be a bit more than just goofy antics. The film's message encourages positive self-esteem and having confidence in one's perceived flaws, though even the message does feel a bit off at times. (What kid wouldn't want an UglyDoll? They're much more creative and colorful than the supposed "Perfect" ones.) Regardless, it's still good for kids to promote something like that. The animation is a little uneven, in the case of the UglyDolls themselves, who are bouncy, cuddly looking, and expressive, and how bland and lifeless the Institute of Perfection is. (The film sadly spends most of its time here. I get the point being made, but it doesn't do much with the competent animation.) 

 The voice cast mainly consists of musicians, pop stars, and celebrity singers, who are mostly here to advertise the film's musical soundtrack. Some like Kelly Clarkson and especially Janelle Monáe (as "Mandy", a kind-hearted perfect doll, who befriends the UglyDolls) naturally have enough personality and charismatic stage presence to branch into voice work. Others like Blake Shelton and Pitbull add very little to the movie, and don't come across as natural. The film also doesn't really do anything with most of the ensemble, which also includes Emma Roberts (as "Wedgehead", a new member of Uglyville), Charli XCX, Lizzo, and Bebe Rexha (as "Kitty", "Lydia", and "Tuesday", a trio of perfect dolls working for Lou). The most memorable of performances come from Wanda Sykes (Who still gets an occasional chuckle) and a surprisingly villainous Nick Jonas (Maybe not surprisingly. He is a Jonas brother). The musical numbers, while nothing on par with anything from Disney, are fun, delightful showstoppers, and are thoroughly original. 

 Reviewing a movie like "UglyDolls" can be difficult, considering I'm obviously not the target audience. It's strictly kid based, and isn't meant to appeal to any of the adults who either took their kids to it or accidentally wandered into the theater. However, towards the end the heart of the film truly shows, and it concludes on an undeniably sweet and cute note. It's likable and at times amusing, but mediocre and fairly forgettable candy that your kids will eat up. At the least, no ugly dolls make the devastating sacrifice that saves humanity, leaving us in shock and uncontrollable sobbing....Hey, I can't have been the only one!  2 ½ Stars. Rated PG, Though It's So Harmless That A G Rating Could Of Been Possible. 

Avengers: Endgame                             ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for avengers endgame

Image: This....This isn't really the end....Is it? 

 Where were you when the "Snapture" happened? It's been about a year since "Avengers: Infinity War", and we had to see heroes fall, evil triumph, and probably more than any superhero movie (Or really any movie), see all hope being lost. It was a gut punch for sure, and since then everyone has been clamoring for what came next. There have been in depth speculations, research paper length fan theories, and for some reason, memes about Ant-Man going up Thanos' ass. (Why? Why Internet?) We no longer have need to hypothesize any longer. This is the moment we have been waiting for since back in 2008 when Tony Stark first said "I Am Iron Man"....Holy S*it! 

 The conclusion to what has been dubbed as "The Infinity Saga", and picking up after the events of "Infinity War", "Avengers: Endgame" opens in what remains of the universe after the Mad Titan, "Thanos" (Josh Brolin) used the reality and time bending "Infinity Stones" to wipe out half of the population, reducing them to specs of dust. The casualties include, but aren't limited to "Dr. Stephen Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch), "T'Challa/Black Panther" (Chadwick Boseman), "Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch" (Elizabeth Olsen), "Sam Wilson/Falcon" (Anthony Mackie), "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland), and many, many more of your beloved favorites. Two survivors, "Tony Stark/Iron Man" (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thanos' remaining step-daughter, "Nebula" (Karen Gillan), who is grieving for her deceased step-sister, "Gamora" (Zoe Saldana), are rescued from being adrift in space by the recently introduced, and immensely powerful, "Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel" (Brie Larson).

 Returned to Earth, Tony is then reunited with other survivors, such as the first Avenger, "Steve Rogers/Captain America" (Chris Evans), "Bruce Banner/Hulk" (Mark Ruffalo), "Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow" (Scarlett Johansson), "James Rhodes/War Machine" (Don Cheadle), the God of Thunder "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth), and talking raccoon/the last Guardian of the Galaxy, "Rocket" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper). The plan is simple. Find Thanos and use the Infinity Stones to reverse all of the damage that Thanos has caused. Lets just say, things aren't that simple, and it appears that there isn't anything that can be done to bring everyone back.

 Cut to five years later, everyone is trying to cope with what they have lost, such as former Avenger, "Clint Barton/Hawkeye" (Jeremy Renner), who has gone on a criminal killing spree after losing his entire family. However, hope arrives in the most unlikeliest form, the size changing "Scott Lang/Ant-Man" (Paul Rudd). Scott reveals that he's been trapped in the "Quantum Realm" (Place between time and space) for all these years, except to him it's only been a few hours. It seems time travel is in fact completely possible and is the last remaining alternative to fix what has been done. Our heroes decide to go back in time to find and "Borrow" the stones to reverse Thanos' deed and truly, "Avenge" the universe, while trying their best not causing irreparable damage to the timeline itself. It's the final battle. The grand finale. The end of an era. 22 movies. 11 years. The story arc that the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" set up from the start finally reaches its climax. 

 The epic culmination of years of planning, billions upon billions of dollars, and the greatest ensemble of actors in cinematic history, "Avengers: Endgame", even more than "Infinity War", is something that years ago, nobody would of believed could of existed. Once again directed by Anthony and Joe Russo ("Captain America: Civil War", "Avengers: Infinity War", and uh, "You, Me and Dupree"? You guys have come a long way.), and written by Christopher Markus  and Stephen McFeely, this is a comic book nerd's wet dream come to life on the big screen in a way that we've never seen before and will never see again. The Russo Brothers have found a way to keep the pace moving in a way that's not too slow, but not too fast, while Markus and McFeely balance tone and loads of characters. Nothing feels shortchanged, with dramatic moments being allowed to sink in, along with the usual Marvel sense of humor to balance it out. For how dark as the film gets, there are still plenty of laughs to be had, which help us relate and care for the characters. These are also people that we have seen grow and further develop over the years, and we want to see where their various story arcs will go in the future (Or for some, see how their arcs will end inevitably end.) It's a sight to behold, and the fact that they are all given depth and their own time in the spotlight in some shape or form, is an achievement in of itself. 

 "Avengers: Endgame" actually takes its time setting up the consequences left behind from last year's cliffhanger. The film shows how this would affect people, and how they would move on, if they even could. It's very intimate for something that was at one point simply seen as silly popcorn entertainment. Then the action kicks in, which is incredibly shot and the visual effects are game changing. Thanos again, looks like he's right there, with every detail (from his scars and facial expressions) on full display, fitting right into the real world. For what could be seen as a convoluted plot (Time travel, and the issues that come with messing around with it.), everything is tight packed, and explained in a way that makes surprisingly perfect sense. Honestly, time travel has never made more sense here than in any other movie before it. That's just great writing right there, and credit to the writers for making all of this work.   

 Now for the cast, and oh boy, this is quite the assembly. Robert Downey Jr. (Who without him, none of this would of even been possible.) is the one who started this entire universe, and gives a wonderfully human performance. It really is the definition of perfect character growth, and I doubt the Academy will acknowledge him once again. Chris Evans, the perfect Captain America, has one of the most emotionally powerful storylines in the film, while Chris Hemsworth (Who I swear might be a comedic genius) is an absolute riot, but even his story has some dramatic payoff. Most of the humor comes from Mark Ruffalo (In a role that needs to be seen to be believed), Bradley Cooper, and the unfailingly endearing Paul Rudd. Meanwhile, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, and the always underrated Jeremy Renner round out the flawless main cast. Not to mention Josh Brolin, bringing dimensions to a frightening villain that will go down in history as one of the greatest. There are smaller, but memorable roles for Brie Larson, Gwyneth Paltrow (as "Pepper Potts", Tony's longtime love interest), Tessa Thompson (as "Valkyrie", a warrior ally to Thor), the once again hilarious Taika Waititi (as the voice of the talking pile of rocks, "Korg"), Danai Gurira (as "Okoye", a survivor of Wakanda), and many other surprises that I wouldn't even dare consider spoiling. There are cameos in this movie, and references to other films (And beyond) that cut deep into the larger cinematic universe. More than ever, it feels truly connected, and what it all builds up to what will become an experience that can never again be replicated. (Sorry DC. I love ya, but you will never have this.)

 It's one thing to call "Avengers: Endgame" a masterpiece simply because of what the film achieves. The scope is massive, with the Russo Brothers piling up everything they can on screen, yet keeping it contained with a poignant, even uplifting story. The three hour runtime is never felt, everything comes together in tight fashion, and the tears will find their way out of your eyelids no matter how much you try to stop them. It's astonishing how we came to this moment in cinematic history, and we can't begin to predict how it will impact pop culture itself. There are laughs to be had, spectacular action, and heartwarming character moments, fully bringing this saga to a proper close. Our heroes have never been more heroic, and they may not be real, but by the end, you feel as if they are. Because of that, you will not be prepared for how it all ends. The greatest superhero movie ever made? Yyyyeah. That sounds about right. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Superhero Action, Irresponsible Use Of Time Travel, And The Ultimate Tearjerker.  

The Curse of La Llorona                     ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

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Image: "I'm here to talk to you about the Conjuring Initiative." 

 Producer James Wan ("Aquaman", the first two "The Conjuring" films, as well as creator of the series as a whole) probably has a endless list of scary legends and folktales, and is currently just crossing them off one by one to fill up his "Conjuring" cinematic universe. We didn't even know this was part of it until the premiere at "South by Southwest" (SXSW) last month. Still, kind of starting to get the feeling that from now on that they're going mostly end up being more miss than hit.  

 Taking place in the 1970s, "The Curse of La Llorona" follows social worker/single mother, "Anna" (Linda Cardellini). Child Protective Services sends Anna to investigate a mother, "Patricia Alvarez" (Patricia Velásquez), who appears to have lost her mind. Anna goes over to Patricia's place, finding strange symbols drawn all over the walls, along with her children locked in a closet. The children are taken away from Patricia, who claims that a supernatural entity, known as "La Llorona" (Marisol Ramirez), the Weeping Woman, wants her kids. Not too much later, the kids are found drowned in the lake, and Patricia blames Anna, saying that now La Llorona is going to target Anna's own children, "Samantha" (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) and "Chris" (Roman Christou).

 Almost immediately, Samantha and Chris start hearing the sobbing of La Llorona, before she marks them as her next target. With the lives of her children in danger, Anna turns to "Father Perez" (Tony Amendola), who you might remember previously had a run in with a certain creepy doll, for help. Perez suggests that Anna seek out "Rafael Olvera" (Raymond Cruz), an expert of sorts on the legend of La Llorona. Now Anna, with assistance from Rafael, must take part in an old ritual to stop La Llorona from taking Chris and Samantha through jump scary means. 

 Seems these Spin-Off films should instead be listed as the "Generic Ones". Directed by first time director, Michael Chaves (Who will be taking over the Director's Chair for the next "Conjuring" movie), "The Curse of La Llorona" is based on an old, and still very much feared, Latin American folktale. It's a very loosely connected spin-off that could end up being skipped over entirely. Mostly because it's just not all that interesting. The direction is bland and basic, going for your typical quiet, drawn out padding that results in a jump scare or two. It's not particularly scary, especially when you consider how well the main entries in this series have been able to provide genuine scares and an unsettled feeling that sticks with you after the movie ends. Not a poorly made film in the slightest, with an atmospheric setting and a solid creep factor. It's the story and execution that doesn't quite stick the landing. 

 It's nice to see Linda Cardellini in a main, starring role, and she does an excellent job with it. Not much for character, but her screen presence and strong performance make up for it. Raymond Cruz is a welcome source of humor, while Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen and Roman Christou are fairly solid child actors, who know how to portray childlike terror. (Though the characters are forced to make needlessly stupid decisions because the genre demands it.) Patricia Velásquez is just here to act crazy and her character arc ends up being dragged out too long, and Tony Amendola is just here to connect this movie to the other films in the series. As for our titular villain, La Llorona is creepy looking, but the constant use of lazy jump scares do little to differentiate her from other horror villains. (She's essentially just Valak from "The Conjuring 2" and "The Nun", except she's always crying.)

 While there is an occasional decent spooky moment, "The Curse of La Llorona" ends up just being predictable and too formulaic to justify a recommendation. The story behind the actual legend is actually much more unsettling and frightening than anything that actually happens in the movie. A woman losing her mind at her husband's infidelity and murdering her children in a blind rage, only to end up as a curse, weeping spirit because of it? That would of been more interesting if the movie had focused on that instead. What we get is a ghostly home invasion movie, which makes it unnecessary. Here's hoping for more originality in the next "Annabelle" movie. (Again, didn't even know that was coming out till recently.) 2 Stars. Rated R For Terror Towards Children And Ghostly Tears.  

Breakthrough                                ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for breakthrough movieImage: "And please let our box office returns be bountiful."

 Faith based, and especially Christian oriented ones have kind of become the critical punching bag. Not to mention a movie like “Unplanned” sure didn’t help. I'm all for a little religious based entertainment, but why do most of them have to range from simply bad to horrifically offensive to everyone else? Considering the track record, this movie actually being a good one could almost be seen as affirmation to the existence of God. Like Marvel films are. See? It’s not that hard.

 Based on true events accounted in the faith based novel “The Impossible”, “Breakthrough” follows Christian mother/author of aforementioned novel, “Joyce Smith” (Chrissy Metz), along with her husband, “Brian” (Josh Lucas) and adopted son, “John” (Marcel Ruiz). John is going through an angsty phase at the moment, becoming more and more distant from Joyce, who just wants to form a connection with how now teenage son. While messing around with his friends over a frozen lake, John ends up falling through the ice into the lake. A first responders rescue team goes to attempt to get John out of the lake, though they at first appear to be too late. Right as they're about to give up, a non-believer, “Tommy Shine” (Mike Colter), having possibly heard the voice of God, finds and rescues John. John is then taken to a hospital where he is put into a medically induced coma by “Dr. Garrett” (Dennis Haysbert). All hope appears lost, with the odds of John’s survival looking slim to none the longer he’s in the coma. With some help from the new local pastor, “Jason Noble” (Topher Grace), and the collected supporting of the rest of the community, Joyce’s faith is tested as everyone comes together to pray for Josh’s survival. Of course, miracles can happen. 

 Directed by Roxann Dawson (Mostly known for TV work), "Breakthrough" has one obvious aspect that so many other religious movies, especially today, seem to lack (You know, aside from being a capably, solidly written film.) It's one that actually presents its spiritually inspiring story in a way that should resonate with a more modernized audience. Don't get me wrong, it's not subtle in the slightest and the typical cheesiness in the dialogue can't help but worm its way into the film (It kind of comes with the territory.) However, in making up for a Hallmark channel like feel, Dawson's slick direction and well defined, likable characters help bring out the needed emotion to make this story work. Even better, it's done in a way that doesn't feel manipulative, mostly due to how realistically human everyone is portrayed. 

 Chrissy Metz (From "This Is Us") is a strong lead, with a compelling and compassionate character arc, that anyone can relate to, especially if you're a mother. Topher Grace provides light moments of humor, and plenty of heart, giving a wonderfully sweet performance. Others like Josh Lucas and Dennis Haysbert are both excellent in the film, giving it their all and even more so in the most dramatic of scenes. Mike Colter's character arc goes about where you would expect, but at least, unlike what you usually see in these kinds of films, he's still portrayed as a good person who just doesn't happen to believe in God. (Yeah yeah. The Athiest of course has to come to believe by the end. But it's progress considering these are usually portrayed as the villains more than half of the time.) But Marcel Ruiz is somewhat of a weak link at first, though does grow over time, showing more range as the film progresses. 

 Despite some sloppy last second subjects thrown in the last act (Though I appreciate the film at least attempting to acknowledge the inexplicability of perceived miracles), "Breakthrough" offers good, still morally elevating entertainment for Christian audiences. Unlike others in this genre, the good morals aren't beaten into your head and the more modern approach makes it more accessibly. The film shows the difference between blindly believing God will just fix everything, and just having honest to goodness faith that miracles can happen. It's about coming together through belief during a time of crisis, and isn't that what God (Whether or not you believe he's real) is meant to represent? It's nice to see a faith based film actually get that for once. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Content And Godly Intervention.  

Penguins                                            ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for penguins 2019 movieImage: Happy feet too.

 What "Disneynature" does is the essential definition of simply doing something for the art and the experience, rather than for the money. These films, despite the strong educational value and the usual good reception from the people who actually see them, generally fail to make much of a profit at the box office. They have the tendency to fade quickly and never be mentioned again. I for one, respect the hell out of the studio for continuously making these films, providing families with something to educate, as well as entertain. Not to mention, provide a whole lot of animal cuteness.

 Narrated by Ed Helms, "Penguins" focusing on scrappy male Adélie penguin, "Steve" in the harsh, icy climate in the Antarctic. The film follows Steve's journey as he searches for a suitable mate for the spring mating season. Steve eventually meets a female, named "Adeline", leading to the birth of two baby chicks. Now Steve must navigate fatherhood, such as finding food for his young, avoiding the constant weather changes, and the many dangerous predators, such as deadly leopard seals and baby eating skuas, that want nothing more than to devour Steve's new family. 

 "Penguins" is the latest and most lighthearted from Disneynature, and one of their best. A sweet, simple story, focusing on a singular animal and his mis-adventures. One of the funniest entries, the film benefits from a likably goofy narration from Ed Helms, who essentially is the human embodiment of a penguin as it is. Helms' narration matches the occasional silly situation that Steve finds himself in, such as collecting pebbles for a nest, only to have them stolen from other penguins in a hilariously cartoonish fashion. Yet, despite plenty of humor, the film does not shy away from the ruthlessness and unforgiving nature that real life has to offer. The film gets tense at times, and a scene involving some leopard seals attempting to snag some of the young penguins (And a few of them succeeding) could scare the kiddies (Honestly, it kind of freaked me out a little bit too.) It's handled in a respectful, heartfelt manner, showing that even these cute and cuddly birds have to struggle to survive just as much as any other animal.

 As usual for Disneynature, "Penguins" has some of the most beautiful, and utterly remarkable footage you'll ever see. There are incredible shots of the stunning landscapes, before and after the shifts in weather, along with some breathtaking underwater footage. (Probably one of the most captivating IMAX experiences I've ever had.) Seeing the penguins go about their daily lives, which can be at times humorous as well as informational, shows how much personality these creatures have. Steve's story writes itself, and while the film might anthropomorphize things a bit more than probably it happened in real life, there is still something heartwarming about how much care a father and mother animal will put into their babies. Short, sweet, and with plenty to offer for the whole family. Why don't you give it the time of day? You have time before "Avengers: Endgame" comes out next week. That will be way heavier. 3 ½ stars. Rated G, Though The Kids Might Get Traumatized By The Animal On Animal Violence.     

After                                                           ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for after movieImage: After what?

 So it goes to show that literally anyone can get anything made into a movie. The story behind this movie is actually much more interesting than anything that happens in it. "After" is based off of a 2014 book by Anna Todd, which itself was originally, and I'm not making this up, One Direction fan fiction! It was the same, with the exception of the characters being the guys from the band. (Apparently Harry Styles was the brooding, bad boy.) One thing led to another, people saw the first few chapters and I guess wanted more, leading to a series of novels. A name change here and there, and you get yourself a bestseller, resulting in $14 million produced film released nationwide. I guess fan fiction (Erotic or otherwise) really can lead to success.   

 "After" follows innocent, virgin college student, "Tessa" (Josephine Langford, sister of Katherine Langford). Tessa has an overprotective mother, "Carol" (Selma Blair) and a safe, but lame boyfriend, "Noah" (Dylan Arnold). However while in college, Tessa finds herself attracted to the angsty, pretentious bad boy, "Hardin Scott" (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin), who is like so edgy and stuff because he wears black and broods a lot. Despite having no chemistry at all, Tessa can't get Hardin out of her head, and it turns out he can't do the same with her. The two grow closer, with Tessa ignoring the warnings from everyone around her, including Hardin's step-brother, "Landon" (Shane Paul McGhie). As Tessa and Hardin quickly (Very quickly) become intimate, she discovers more about him and his secrets.....Wait. What secrets? There is not secret! You want to know what this movie is about? Boy and girl shouldn't date, are told they shouldn't date, but want to date anyway because hormones. Nothing happens!

 Behold! The most boring movie of 2019! Directed by Jenny Gage, who also co-wrote the screenplay with three other writers (Because a story this deep and involving needs three writers for some reason), "After" is the kind of movie you would expect something completely crazy to happen. What's this big secret? Just how dangerous is this guy? How will it affect the relationship and lead to the destruction of our lead girl's innocence? He's just an edgelord! There ends up being nothing there. It's not even one of those borderline abusive relationships, like what we saw in the "Fifty Shades" and "Twilight" films, which this has been compared to. It's just a romance. An ungodly unbearable, thoroughly unlikable and all around unpleasant one too. It's a formulaic, generically put together story that never goes anywhere you would never expect it to. Right down to the dialogue, which in of itself becomes predictable to the point you know exactly what kind of line is going to come out of each character's mouth before they actually say it. Not to mention a poor pace, which is oddly rushed. The relationship happens very quickly, and Tessa's infatuation with Hardin just sort of happens, with little work actually being put into it. It's hilarious how easily she's seduced. All she needed was a trip to a lake and some bad boy smolder for her to think herself to be in love.    

 Josephine Langford shows promise, and you can tell she has the personality to carry a film. It's just a badly written character, who gets less likable as the film progresses. On a dime, she goes from innocent to uncaring, willing to throw everything away for a guy she just met, and back again. It's all done in a half-assed manner, and gives the impression that the character is suffering from mood swings. It also doesn't help that Hero Fiennes-Tiffin is blandness personified, and you don't really see how these two could have any form of a connection, whether it be romantic or otherwise. He's not exactly dangerous or harmful. He's more whiny, pretentious, and annoyingly dull. Weirdly, Langford has more chemistry with Shane Paul McGhie, who is easily the most endearing character in the movie, and little ends up coming out of what you think at first is going to be a love triangle of sorts.  Dylan Arnold's character arc is dropped out early, while actors like Selma Blair and Peter Gallagher (as "Ken", Hardin's father, who Hardin resents.) are given minuscule roles, but at least show up to be a professional as humanly possible. Also, was that Jennifer Beals (as Ken's new wife/Hardin's step-mother, who only appears for ten seconds.)? 

 "After" suffers from an onslaught of clichés, and even does a crappy job utilizing them. The film doesn't look too bad, and is slickly directed to make up for the lack of actual interest. However, the characters are occasionally too mean spirited and detestable, and the way the film portrays them makes the ordeal hard to watch at times. Lots of the conflicts are forced, and the drama mostly consists of petty, shallow arguments. Not sure how good of an adaptation of the book this is, but if it's anything like this movie, it makes the story behind it even more baffling. Uninspired, lacking in substance, and honestly, too safe for its own good. All this movie offers is a mind-numbingly uninteresting, and realistically doomed relationship that shouldn't be happening at all. Thanks for making me once again feel like a relationship counselor. (You two have nothing in common and shouldn't be together. It's as simple as that!) 1 star. Rated PG-13 For Sexual Content And Angst. So Much Angst. 

Little                                       ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for little movie 2019Image:Hey I'm down too...And, uh, woke? 

 Let me explain to you guys just how dedicated I am to what I do. I willingly missed out on the extensive "Star Wars" related news revealed today for this movie. I don't get paid to do this, but I remain devoted to taking two hours out of my day, no matter what I'm doing, to see a movie that really has no impact on me whatsoever. Granted, the second my phone alerted me of the new trailer drop (Amazing by the way!), I stepped out of the theater to watch it twice. I'm only human! Plus I didn't miss anything anyway. We've all seen different versions of this movie before.

 "Little" follows successful business woman, "Jordan Sanders" (Regina Hall), who after being bullied at a young age, dedicates her life to getting whatever she wants and whenever she wants it, usually by bullying other people into doing so. Now Jordan has become a tyrannical boss, belittling and verbally abusing everyone around her, including her assistant, "April" (Issa Rae). After insulting a little girl performing magic tricks, Jordan wakes up the next day trapped in the body of her middle school self (Played by Marsai Martin). When Child Protective Services shows up, April is forced to pose as Jordan's aunt and enroll her in school, while running the company in Jordan's place. Huh? You know, that's just about it. There's a lesson, school drama, and betterment of one's self through humility. There's nothing else really to it.      

 Directed by Tina Gordon (Co-Writer of "What Men Want"), who wrote the screenplay with Tracy Oliver (Writer of "Girls Trip" and "Barbershop: The Next Cut"), "Little" is a competently made, compacted season worth of a occasionally funny, but incredibly slight sitcom. The film surprisingly starts off fairly strong, even with the already played out premise. A solid set up, with good enough main characters and a few well earned laughs. It's when the plot starts to take hold, going down a generic route with little actual stakes. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with it, considering what exactly the movie intends to be in the first place. It's just that even with some good chuckles that consistently find their way into the film, there isn't all that much to latch onto. 

 The always underated Regina Hall isn't in the movie too much, though makes up for her lack of screentime by displaying her natural star power and comedic timing for however long she's given. Marsai Martin (From "Black-ish") is the real star, and is an already talented, charming young actress. Essentially playing Regina Hall in child form, Martin is a riot, taking command of the movie and making even the silliest of plot contrivances enjoyable. (Also, she was the apparent Executive Producer behind the film. That's pretty awesome!) She also has good chemistry with the excellent Issa Rae, who plays the straight one to all the antics. Actors like Justin Hartley (as "Mr. Marshall", Jordan's new teacher, who she has a crush on), Tone Bell (as "Preston", April's love interest), a group of less than stellar child actors, and others don't really have much influence on the film, mostly because they're negated to the background. 

 There is some goofy fun to be had with "Little", and the heart is in the right place. It's just that there is well, little to it. No surprises, hardly any conflict, and by the numbers resolution. You can't fault it for what it is, and despite playing things much safer than most comedies these days do, I do have to commend the film for not going out of its way to be raunchy just for the sake of being raunchy. (You know they easily could of done that.) An amusing diversion, that I wouldn't necessarily recommend going out of your way to see. Little else to it, really. 2 ½ stars. Rated PG-13 For Crude Humor And Unrealistic Reactions To The Laws Of Nature Being Completely Shattered To Pieces. 

Hellboy                                                 ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for hellboy 2019 movieImage: You look like Hell....Boy.

 Whether you’re a longtime fan of the beloved Dark Horse comics character created by Mike Mignola, who has been around for over twenty five years, or simply are someone who enjoyed the two well received Guillermo del Toro directed films, I think we asked ourselves the same question after seeing this movie. We traded in “Hellboy 3” for this?

 “Hellboy” follows the titular powerful, snarky demon, “Hellboy” (David Harbour). A muscular, sawed off horned demon with a giant “Right Hand of Doom”, Hellboy works for the government monster hunting organization, “B.P.R.D.” (Standing for “Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense”). Having been raised as a son by the organization’s founder, “Trevor Bruttenholm” (Ian McShane), Hellboy still feels as if he doesn’t belong in the human world, with most of the population fearing him despite the good he does. An overly complicated series of events leads to Hellboy becoming a target due to an ancient dark prophecy where it is revealed that he will have involvement in an upcoming apocalyptic event.

 The event is triggered by a vengeful hog demon, “Gruagach” (Voiced by Stephen Graham) summoning the evil sorceress, “Nimue, the Blood Queen” (Mila Jovovich). Nimue plots to raise an army of demons and magical monsters to wipe out the world of man and bring Hell on Earth, with Hellboy being an important piece of her plan. Allied with a young woman with psychic powers, “Alice Monaghan” (Sasha Lane) and monster hating military man, “Ben Daimio” (Daniel Dae Kim), who has secrets of his own, Hellboy must come to terms with his foreseen future as a destroyer and save the world the coming threat.

 A reboot of the “Hellboy” series, and obviously combining elements that were originally going to be used for the development Hell destined threequel, this new “Hellboy” was pitched to move away from Guillermo del Toro’s more lighthearted, fantasy based adaptation. Instead it was going for a more horror based, grittier tone like the comic series, complete with more language and gorey violence. Lots and lots of violence. It's just another example of how a film can use the R rating in the worst way possible. Directed by Neil Marshall (“The Descent” and “Doomsday”) and written by Andrew Cosby (“2 Guns”), who writes the film like he just discovered the word “F*ck”, the film shoves it’s R rating in your face in an overly bombastic, obnoxious way. It’s shot and edited in a frenetic manner, with cartoonish acts of violence that happen on screen sometimes just for the sake of having them there. It seems more like a distraction from the lack of actual plot. There are mini arcs sprinkled throughout the film that never come together as a cohesive narrative, becoming confusing and more lost as the film progresses.

 Taking over for the fan applauded Ron Perlman, David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) had some pretty big shoes (and horns) to fill. The make up looks good and he’s a capable actor, embodying the character’s likable mannerisms, and he sure can deliver a silly one liner with a straight face. However, it’s hard not to miss Perlman, who just brought more heart to the character, which is something this movie is missing big time. Mila Jovovich makes for a good, threatening villainess, while Ian McShane plays a much rougher version of the character then what we’ve seen before. Others like Sasha Lana and Daniel Dae Kim really don’t end up serving much purpose, though you can tell they’re trying to work with the poor writing. The movie also completely wastes Thomas Haden Church (as “Lobster Johnson”, a Nazi killing mercenary with a motive for lobsters). The most memorable aspects of the film would be the creature designs and practical effects, which counter the CGI, which varies from mediocre to straight up terrible. (The big, bloody climax looks like absolute crap!) There are some cool puppets and make up effects, such as a disfigured witch, “Baba Yaga” (Voiced by Emma Tate), that add a certain low budget charm to the film that isn’t exactly there when it comes to the characters and story.

 “Hellboy” is too much all at once. It’s loud and all over the place, trying to throw in grindhouse levels of gore, random F-Bombs tossed in for the Hell of it, and tossing in as many story elements from the comics, culminating in a complete mess. The art design is fitting, and maybe there’s a funny line or two, but the film overstays its welcome pretty quickly. The del Toro films, while taking liberties from the source material (I’ve only read a handful of volumes so far.), still had heart, a memorable lead, and a sense of adventure. This new reboot (Which leaves a lot unfinished just to set up a sequel) just has an R rating, and thinks that's all it needs. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For…..Oh Boy. Excess Of Gore, Violence, Language, Everything An R Rating Can Get You.

Missing Link                                           ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for missing link movieImage: Just your typical family portrait. 

 "Laika", who are known for their critically acclaimed stop motion animated films such as "Coraline" and "Kubo and the Two Strings", have really yet to have its name cemented into the family household like "Disney", "Pixar", and "DreamWorks" has. Not really sure why this studio hasn't quite found a bigger following yet. They have a pretty solid track record (Four, now five, films. All good.), award nominations, and nobody I know dislikes any of their movies. Like all stop motion in general, their art just isn't appreciated the way it should be. Maybe branching out to a broader audience can change that. 

 "Missing Link" follows monster investigator, "Sir Lionel Frost" (Hugh Jackman), who dreams of becoming a member of a club of adventurers, run by the pompous, "Lord Piggot-Dunceby" (Stephen Fry). The club members want nothing to do with Frost, seeing his beliefs in myths and legends as a mockery of their club. When Frost gets a letter from an unknown person, claiming to have discovered the fabled Sasquatch (or "Bigfoot"), he makes a bet with Piggot-Dunceby that if he brings back proof of the discovery, Frost will be allowed to become a member of the club. Frost travels to America, only to learn that the letter was written by the Sasquatch himself, "Mr. Link" (Zach Galifianakis), or "Susan" as he prefers to be called. Susan believes that the also fabled Yetis are his cousins, and wants Frost to help him find them. Seeing this as a chance to make an even bigger discovery, Frost agrees to guide Susan into the snowy mountains to find the Yetis. Along with an old flame of Frost's, "Adelina" (Zoe Saldana), Frost and Susan must avoid a relentless bounty hunter, "Willard Stenk" (Timothy Olyphant), who has been hired by Piggot-Dunceby to prevent Frost from proving to the world that the Bigfoot exists.    

 Written and directed by Chris Butler (who also wrote and directed of one of Laika's best, "Paranorman"), "Missing Link" is the studio's lightest and more innocent entry, which is very fitting if consider the titular character's lovably naive nature. The laughs aren't as big this time, though there are still plenty (Some of which pushing the radar as usual), but where the film isn't lacking is an overabundance of natural charm. It's not just with the memorable characters, quirky sense of humor, or expressive character animation. There is also so much cleverness behind the film's look, art design, and elaborate setpieces (Such as an incredible scene involving a chase on a boat or an over the top saloon brawl). The detailed stop motion animation is incredible, where you can see the effort the animators put behind every frame. It's something that's only improved more over time, which is something considering how groundbreaking and unlike anything else back it was when the studio first started. 

 The inspired voice cast is each allowed to give it each their own personal flare to their parts, and all sound like they're getting to have a lot of fun doing it. The always charismatic Hugh Jackman, showing off more of his comedic chops, proves he can basically do just about any type of role. A wonderfully stammering Zach Galifianakis is instantly lovable, while Zoe Saldana is a delight. Stephen Fry and a hilariously unrecognizable Timothy Olyphant make for deliciously despicable villains. Then Emma Thompson (as a Yeti Elder) shows up to deliver some of the film's funniest lines in the most Emma Thompsony way possible. The humor is more reliant on standard slapstick that while funny, doesn't quite match how intellectual the dialogue in these film's are known for. (Luckily there are still some unexpected little one liners and quips that get some good belly laughs.)

 "Missing Link" offers strong messages of empathy, selflessness, and understanding differences, which are perfect for kids (And adults too honestly). There is a certain good natured heart to the film that makes for a solid family movie night. While it doesn't reach the heights that Laika has become known for, it's too likable not to recommend for young audiences, especially when the parents can still find something to enjoy as well. It's clear that the filmmakers went for something lighter and softer, which isn't a bad move. Hopefully soon audiences will wise up to give these talented people a chance to become a household favorite. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Cartoon Violence And The Occasional Adult Joke. (Don't Worry, It Will Go Over The Little Ones' Heads.)  

The Best of Enemies                              ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the best of enemies movieImage: "So, maybe t's time you stopped being a racist."

 It's going to be hard to talk about this film without drawing comparisons to the recent Best Picture winner, "Green Book". (By the way, wonderful movie and all. Shouldn't of won.) It's impossible not to considering both deal with true (Or supposedly true) life friendships that formed in the most unlikely of places involving racial differences and prejudice. Both have generated a little controversy, especially now that we're experiences such strong racial divide, that movies like these can give the wrong message. Sort of promoting the idea that racism was defeated by the power of friendship between an African American person and a former racist. It's just that it can more enjoyed by old white people patting themselves on the back for not being racist. I doubt the intentions are anything other than noble and quality is still quality. I do get it though. Not exactly the message needed right now. 

 "The Best of Enemies" follows the true story of "Ann Atwater" (Taraji P. Henson) and "C. P. Ellis" (Sam Rockwell). Atwater is a tough civil rights activist, who is not known for backing down and speaks her mind regardless of what others think. Meanwhile, Ellis is a loving family man....who just so happens to be the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. In Durham, North Carolina in 1971, an all African American school is damaged in a fire, resulting in talks of the kids being integrated into an all white school. That's when attorney "Bill Riddick" (Babou Ceesay) is called in to organize a charrette, with both sides of the argument being run by Atwater and Ellis. The idea was completely insane, especially with how racially divided the town was. Eventually common ground has to be found, people must change with the times, and quite possibly, a few people find unexpected redemption. 

 The story behind "The Best of Enemies" is an incredible, and truly important one. Regardless if now is the time and place to tell it in such a Hollywood-ized fashion, it's pretty impossible not to find something to like about it. First time writer and director, Robin Bissell (Who mostly served as an Executive Producer for several films), the movie makes up for its TV movie feel with a surprising amount of attention to detail when it comes to the time period. The film looks great, and even when the dialogue can't help some occasional chessiness (It kind of comes with the territory), it's still solidly written. It does help that unlike "Green Book" (Which drew controversy with how many liberties ended up being taken), there appears to be more truth to the story. . 

 For films like this, it's become apparent that at least the performances will be strong. Luckily we have some great actors involved,. Taraji P. Henson, once again proving to be one of the most capable and versatile actresses out there, is wonderful. Meanwhile Sam Rockwell somehow finds a way to make his character not only human, but believably redeemable. Humanity is very integral to the story, and while it's not as in depth as you might want it to be,the point comes across in a powerful way. Others like Babou Ceesay, a very sinister Wes Bently (as "Floyd", a clan member, who takes matters into his own hands), and Anne Heche (as "Mary", C. P. Ellis' wife) are all good, though they aren't the focus. The film does smartly portray how inevitably difficult a debate like this can be, resulting in for one to truly change their way, they will have to truly prove it through loss. 

 Lacking the memorable dialogue, sleekness, or even the defining chemistry between characters from "Green Book", "The Best of Enemies" is an easy one to describe. Simple, maybe not necessary at the moment, yet still an endearing story that needs to be told. It's not a film that you need to rush to see at this very moment and it likely won't have the view changing effects the filmmakers are hoping for. It still boasts terrific performances, a lot of heart, and at least shows that hope for change, while difficult, isn't impossible. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Racial Hatred, Uncomfortable Moments, And Language.    

Pet Sematary                                         ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Who's a cute, widdle puddy tat!

 You know, I think they missed out on a big opportunity with all these Stephen King adaptations they’ve been doing as of late. According to his many devoted cultists...er, I mean fans, Stephen King has set up a whole connected universe with his massive library of books. I’m just shocked with all the wannabe film universes studios have been trying to make a thing lately (Remember the “Dark Universe”? The one that lasted only one movie?), they never tried to make this one. Especially when there’s been so much more potential lately, such as with “It”. (One of the best horror movies I’ve seen in theaters.) Cut out “The Dark Tower”, and you could of had easily one of the more successful ones right here.

 “Pet Sematary” opens with doctor, “Louis Creed” (Jason Clarke), moving to a small town in Maine (It’s Stephen King. Of course it’s set there!) with his wife, “Rachel” (Amy Seimetz), along with their two kids, “Ellie” (Jeté Laurence) and “Gage” (Played by both Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie). Their new house seems pretty perfect, despite the fact that it’s located right next to a road where trucks just speed by without care. There is also a large, woodland area, where a pet cemetary (Spelled “Sematary”) is located. Some weird occurances start to unfold, along with talks of death that begin to make Rachel the most uncomfortable, due to a traumatizing event she experienced as a child.

 Death strikes when Louis and their new neighbor, “Jud” (John Lithgow), discover Ellie’s cat, “Church” dead on the side of the road. Jud, feeling bad for Ellie, takes Louis deeper into the cemetery to bury Church late one night, and the next day, Church shows up back home alive. However, he is not the same. He’s dirty, angry, and reeks of death. Jud reveals that the cemetery has a history of bringing things back, but not as they were before. The two realize their mistake, and hope to put it behind them. But the nightmare isn’t over yet, and when tragedy strikes, Louis decides to use the cemetery once again, leading to horrifying results.

 An adaptation of the novel by Stephen King and a remake of the 1989 film, “Pet Sematary” is a pretty unremarkable horror film considering it’s coming out after movies such as “Hereditary” or “Us” (Which only came out a couple weeks ago, which means you can just see it again right now.). The film lacks many surprises or originality, so it has to make up for that with genuine unsettling atmosphere and some truly haunting, nightmarish imagery that will keep you up in the middle of the night. Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, the film has a certain eerie look to it, that gives the feeling of something you would hear someone telling around a campfire to scare the children. The creep factor is amplified by the questionable moral decisions that build up over the film's speedy runtime. There are also some excellent shots, whether it be the shocking amount of gore or the upsetting visual images that accompany them. 

 Jason Clarke is excellent, going from a average guy to so distraught that he's willing to destroy the laws of nature to reclaim a lost one. He has some great development over the film, and even with how stupid the decisions he makes end up being, you can see how he came to them. Amy Seimetz has the look of pure, unfiltered fear down perfectly, while John Lithgow is compelling, giving an emotional performance even when it likely isn't necessary. The real star is Jeté Laurence, who is amazing, getting the role of a lifetime for such a young actress. Her character goes through a few changes, appearing one way before becoming the complete opposite. I can't give too much away, but I can say that she shows an immense amount of range that even few adult actors lack. Also credit to the cat (or cats) portraying "Church". Never seen a cat look so disheveled and pissed before in my life. (Not sure what you guys did to make that happen, but it works.) 

 "Pet Sematary" plays on one of the greatest, and scariest human emotions; Grief. While the film isn't anything special considering how experimental horror has become as of late, it plays off of the unsettling nature of human life and death very well. It doesn't quite stick the landing, with the ending just sort of happening without warning, yet the film's uneasy nature that makes for an effective scary story. 3 stars. Rated R For Scary, Upsetting Images, And Almost As Much Gore As "Unplanned".  

Shazam!                                                 ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

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Image: Just a picture of me, in my pajamas.

 It seems that the "DC Extended Universe" has found the most unlikely of heroes to save it's cinematic universe from collapsing on itself. With disappointments like "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "Suicide Squad", along with the franchise failing to keep "Superman" (Henry Cavill) and "Batman" (Ben Affleck) around (You know, the two biggest superheroes ever?), the whole thing has been all over the place. Still, there is hope with the wonderful, socially important "Wonder Woman", the completely bonkers and thoroughly entertaining "Aquaman", and now one of it's most endearing entries yet. (On a side note, we won't get into the debate over who the real "Captain Marvel" is. It's a long story.)   

 "Shazam!" follows young, orphaned troublemaker, "Billy Batson" (Asher Angel). Billy has run away from every foster home he's been put into to do, hoping instead to track down his birth mother. He is eventually adopted by "Victor and Rosa Vasquez" (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), becoming part of their foster family, which includes "Mary" (Grace Fulton), "Eugene" (Ian Chen), "Pedro" (Jovan Armand), "Darla" (Faithe Herman), and the superhero obsessed "Freddy" (Jack Dylan Grazer). Freddy, who has to walk on crutches, tries the most to befriend Billy, though Billy really wants nothing to do with his new family. After defending Freddy from some bullies, Billy finds himself transported to a magical place, known as "The Rock of Eternity", where the aging wizard, "Shazam" (Djimon Housou) resides. Shazam has been searching for his new champion, who is pure of heart to give his powers to.

 Shazam chooses Billy and and bestows the Wisdom of Solomon, the Strength of Hercules, the Stamina of Atlas, the Power of Zeus, the Courage of Achilles, and the Speed of Mercury, resulting in Billy being transformed into a lightning powered adult body (Zachary Levi). With help from Freddy, Billy does exactly what all kids with superpowers would do.....become a YouTube star and simply screw around for money. But all superheroes need a evil villain, and a dangerous one comes in the form of "Dr. Thaddeus Sivana" (Mark Strong). Dr. Sivana is obsessed with acquiring the abilities of Shazam, and has unleashed the monstrous entities, "The Seven Deadly Sins" on the world to get them. Billy must learn how to hone his new abilities to become the next big hero the world deserves, and quite frankly, the one DC needs right now. 

 Directed by David F. Sandberg (Who has ironically only directed horror films like "Lights Out" and "Annabelle: Creation") with a childlike sense of wonder, "Shazam!" is the most joyful, whimsical superhero movie in the history of cinema. It's also exactly what the the doctor ordered to bring much needed variety, and dare I say, charm to this film universe. Thanks to a smart, balanced screenplay by Henry Gayden, the film lightens the tone, filling itself with a sense of humor about itself (And it's genre), looking at it from a younger perspective. The clever aspect about the movie is that it's still a legitimate superhero film on it's own,  yet it's also just as hilarious as just plain a good comedy. There are funny gags involving comic book clichés, as well as a few movie ones, poking fun at superpowers, catchphrases, and a battle between the hero and villain that's equal parts exciting and laugh out loud. 

 Let's talk about how inspired a choice Zachary Levi is to play this character. I mean, he's basically a boy in an adults body in real life as it is. He plays that personality perfectly and sincerely, with a lot of laughs and capability as a hero. Levi and the excellent Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie from "It") have wonderful chemistry, while Asher Angel shows promise as a young actor. Mark Strong knows how to play a menacing villain, and does it well as usual, whose darker storyline is the perfect contrast between the lighter, goofier tone. (He may be sending monsters to bite off people's heads, yet it doesn't feel out of place.) Djimon Hounsou appears briefly, but looks like he's having a great time. There are some lovable side characters, with Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans, and the scene stealing Faithe Herman, who all bring heart to the film. (There are also a few unexpected surprises as well that I won't spoil.)  

 "Shazam!" feels like a kids movie you would of grown up with in the 80s or 90s. It's lighter and softer than previous DC films, but knows when the take a moment to let some darker moments sink in. There is an edge to the humor, yet still suitable for a younger audience. In fact, for a younger audience, this might be the most relatable of superhero movies. There is a formula and even when the film plays with it, it's noticeable, and the same goes for some of the special effects at times. (They're very good mostly except for a few parts. Though it somewhat adds to the charm when it isn't.) Beneath the laughs and action, there is a great, heartfelt story, that anyone can enjoy. It's a great standalone story in the DCEU, and continues to show that this film universe still has a chance to make it. That's a heroic achievement right there. 3 ½ stars. Rated PG-13 For Occasionally Scary Images And Teen Language.    

Unplanned                                            No Stars OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for unplanned movie

Image: Uh, maybe I should explain.

 Pure Flix, I feel like we need to have an intervention by this point. You were doing so well lately. By your standards obviously. But you were trying. Films like "The Case for Christ", "Unbroken: Path to Redemption", and your "Little Women" adaptation showed some sign of improvement. Even ones like "Samon" and "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness", while bad, weren't the usual hate filled propaganda you had become known for. You appeared to be moving away from that, and actually seemed to be trying to broaden your base. Sadly, you're an addict, and you just couldn't help yourself could you? Tragic. Faith based matters deserves a better argument. Especially a subject like this. 

 "Unplanned" follows the memoir of former Planned Parenthood clinic director, "Abby Johnson" (Ashley Bratcher). Despite the pleas from her parents (Robert Thompson and Robin DeMarco) and husband, "Doug" (Brooks Ryan), Abby believes in a woman's right to choose, seeing Planned Parenthood as a way of helping pregnant women through unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. The film goes through Abby's life over the years, from a bad relationship that resulted in her having prevented two of her own pregnancies, Abby's rising in the clinic and getting on the good side of the evil director, "Cheryl" (Robia Scott), and her eventual change of opinion after she witnesses an abortion up close. Abby goes on to become an activist for Pro-Life, turning her back on Planned Parenthood and their nefarious schemes. 

 Lets save personal opinions, politics, morals, and whatnot till the end. We're here to critique a film on it's own merits in terms of it's filmmaking quality. On that note alone, Pure Flix appears to have gotten worse. Directed and written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon (The writers behind the first/worst "God's Not Dead" movies), the production values feel cheaper than ever. It looks like a bad TV movie, with poor editing choices that make the film's timeline oddly confusing. (It starts, then flashes back eight years, then flashes further back two years, before flashing forward two more times.) Terrible direction and bad writing are typical from this studio, but it's baffling to see how much worse they've gotten over the course of a single film. Characters are thin copies of basic tropes (Pro-Life=Good, Pro-Choice=Bad), painfully cheesy dialogue, and all kinds of questionable content. Not to mention how graphically bloody the film ends up being, matching most horror movies in the amount of gore on display. It's hilarious how shocked the filmmakers were at the R rating. You showed a bloody fetus getting sucked into a tube, along with a woman having a chemical induced abortion in her bathroom. What the Hell did you expect? 

 Ashley Bratcher is trying I think, but she sure doesn't have the amount of dramatic range necessary to carry the film. (The less about her cringey narration, the better.) Brooks Ryan is bland cardboard personified, while others come and go with roles that add little impact. Then there's Robia Scott, who is essentially a female version of Emperor Palpatine, portrayed as manipulative, uncaring, and sinister. The way Planned Parenthood is portrayed is as an evil corporation, who intentionally tries to sell abortions like time shares to make money. Yet the film also tries to toss in half-assed attempts at fairness, such as portraying the pregnant young women feeling guilty about their abortions and showing some of the employees as simply doing their jobs. You can't humanize them if you're constantly screaming that they're intentionally murdering unborn babies! Aren't they just as bad in your eyes by that argument? You could of at least tried to be less lazy about it. 

 "Unplanned" is full of crap as usual for the film studio, and not because of the fact that apparently plenty of people have already poked a lot of holes into the so-called "True Story". It's hypocritical in it's messages, relying on demonization and guilt rather than actual facts. It's also just doesn't seem at all sure about what it wants to be exactly. At times it feels like it still wants to be a family oriented religious film, yet indulges itself in it's graphic nature. It's brutally in your face with it's shock value, unfocused in it's story (It's funny how long it takes for anyone to even mention God in this movie.), and uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. So the woman has to realize the error of her ways like her husband demands, resulting in her becoming Pro-Life? Isn't that the same thing as a man deciding what a woman should do with her body? Did nobody notice how awkward that sounds? How about the part where the husband joked about punching a woman? Abortion is not like fast food!!!

 Okay, now to get to my personal feelings, which I think probably should be conveyed to show impartialness. I believe that more people should take such decisions into as much consideration as possible. Aborting an unborn baby is not something I think anyone should simply come to an easy answer on. While personally I would prefer that the possible life should be given the chance to be, I would never in any way demand that a woman, who has likely gone through way more than I ever would, to have that baby regardless of her own personal beliefs, though I'm no absolutist. And that's yet another failure of this film. The filmmakers behind "Unplanned" don't bother to think about that. Nor do they think about the consequences of what they say or show. Good and evil. That's all it is to them. Maybe they could of made a point or even changed a few minds. It's a complicated subject and they could of contributed to the argument in a mature, understanding fashion. But lets be honest, that's not what they wanted to do. Just wanted to rile up the already agitated base. Not to mention just plain making a sh*tty movie to while they were at. Last time I give you guys credit for anything. No Stars (On a filmmaking standpoint alone.) Rated R For Disturbingly Bloody Images, Fear Mongering, And CGI Fetuses.  

Dumbo                                                ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: All elephants can fly....Right?

 Even I can come to admit that "Disney" may be going a little overboard with all these live action remakes of their beloved animated films. Especially so when they're now doing remakes of their fairly recent ones. They have three this year, taking up most of their theatrical release lineup. (With both "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" coming out in just a few months.) Still, quality is quality, even if you get the idea that money might be playing a bigger part in these decisions than you would want it to. Sometimes it's good or even better than the original (Like "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella"), or a solid enough film on it's own, but just not particularly necessary ("Beauty and the Beast"). 

 A loose, live-action remake of the 1941 animated Disney classic, "Dumbo" follows a traveling circus troupe, run by "Max Medici" (Danny DeVito). The former star of the show, "Holt Farrier" (Colin Farrell), returns home to his two kids, "Milly" (Nico Parker) and "Joe" (Finley Hobbins), after losing an arm in the war. With his wife now deceased and unable to perform the way he used to, Holt is put in charge of Medici's newly bought female elephant, who gives birth to a baby, eventually named "Dumbo". Dumbo has gigantic ears, and is seen as a freak by Medici's audience, who mock him mercilessly.

 An incident with Dumbo's mother protecting him from abuse that results in injuries and death, leads to Dumbo's mother being sent away. Milly and Joe decide to take care of the lonely Dumbo, realizing that his big ears provide him with the ability to fly, so long as he holds a feather with his trunk. Dumbo proceeds to become an instant star, attracting the attention of eccentric businessman, "V. A. Vandevere" (Michael Keaton), who convinces Medici to bring his circus family to be a part of his circus themed amusement park, "Dreamland". Despite Vandevere's clearly nefarious intentions, Milly and Joe vow to help Dumbo find his mother, while Holt is told to assist a famous trapeze artist, "Colette" (Eva Green) perform an impossible act with the flying Dumbo. 

 Directed by off kilter visionary Tim Burton, "Dumbo" deviates further away from it's source material more so than most of the previous the action remakes. The movie has all of the usual brilliance we've come to expect from Burton, as well as his typical flaws. While Burton appears to have toned himself down from his typical, macabre aesthetic, but the film's story isn't all that focused. The plot barely follows the animated film, and eventually becomes it's own thing entirely. There's just a lot of characters, and more focus being placed on distractions from elaborate set pieces. Granted, these aren't exactly bad characters, and the movie looks gorgeous. Tim Burton's signature style is on full display, and it's impossible to look away from. The visual effects are beautiful, along with the incredible art and production design. The wondrous score by Danny Elfman (Because of course it is. It always has to be.) pays homage to the music from the original film in clever and imaginative ways. (There is a wonderful sequence based on the infamous "Pink Elephants on Parade" scene.) The problem lies with the serviceable, but limited script by Ehren Kruger (Mostly known for horror like "The Ring", or a couple of the "Transformers" movies). 

 "Dumbo" isn't much for in-depth characterizations, though the talent involved do improve upon that. Colin Farrell and Eva Green are great, getting the best emotional arcs when it comes to the human characters. Danny DeVito is delightful, stealing every scene he's in. Michael Keaton plays a pretty generic baddie, who is evil for no apparent reason. But damn does he chew up the scenery like a pro. (I'd pretty much recommend this on that alone.) Also, Alan Arkin (as "J. Griffin Remington", an important banker) pops up to do his best Alan Arkin impression for no other reason than the fact that he's Alan Arkin. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins are fine, but they don't have much in terms of acting range and they make for the weakest part of the film. Really at times the movie seems to forget about the titular character, Dumbo, mostly due to all the characters added to the story. With that said, it's only every once in a while he's put in the background. When Dumbo is the focus, that's where the heart of the film truly shines. It's clearly a CGI character, but a good looking one that blends into the live action world seamlessly. Not to mention,  he's utterly adorable, with those big eyes and ears, along with the most endearing smile you'll ever see from an animated character. 

 Less of a by the numbers remake than the previous ones, yet lacking the magic of the original, "Dumbo" is just a little weak in parts. It's Tim Burton's eye for spectacular presentation and a good heart that make it work. The emotional beats, while still nowhere near as compelling as the original, are still there and make it difficult not to get a good reaction out of it. The film's topics of animal cruelty, especially in the circus are relevant and add some extra dimensions that weren't there before. Not to mention Dumbo himself is also too lovable to dislike. (I mean, look at that face. They literally couldn't of picked a cuter design.) It still warms your heart, even if I would list it as the lesser of these Disney remakes. Now I'd like a flying Elephant of my very own. 3 stars. Rated PG For Frightening Images, Animals In Peril, And Danny DeVito In A Bubble Bath. 

Us                                                  ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Maybe she just wants to talk?

 Someone tell me where Jordan Peele ("Key & Peele", and the director of 2017's Oscar nominated "Get Out") has been hiding such directorial talent? Critics and fans have been declaring him as a successor to those such as Alfred Hitchcock, which I think is uncalled for. That would mean that he is trying to emulate Hitchcock's work, which I don't think is the case. What he makes is completely his own, and is unlike anything to come out of any filmmaker currently working today or otherwise. He knows how to create something thoroughly original. Not to mention insane. Completely insane. 

 "Us" opens in 1986 with a young girl, "Adelaide" (Madison Curry), wandering off from her parents at the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. She goes into the hall of mirrors, coming face to face with someone who looks exactly like her. The experience haunts her throughout her life, Now as an adult, Adelaide (Now played by Lupita Nyong'o) is on a summer trip to their beach house near Santa Cruz, with her husband, "Gabe" (Winston Duke), and their two kids, "Zora" (Shahadi Wright) and "Jason" (Evan Alex). However, Adelaide is a bit uneasy about the trip, still traumatized by what she saw all those years ago. While settling in for the night, the family notices a group standing outside on their driveway, dressing in red and brandishing very sharp scissors. The intruders then reveal themselves to be doppelgängers of the entire family, though noticeably more frightening and somewhat animalistic. The invaders (Or "The Tethered" as they prefer to be called), led by Adelaide's doppelgänger, "Red", take the family hostage, planning to kill them all and take their place. Now Adelaide, as well as Gabe, Zora, and Jason must work together and face their own doubles, each representing a dark, twisted shadow of themselves. It is called "Us" for a reason.....Well, maybe more than one. Can't spoil it. 

 Directed, produced, and written by Jordan Peele, "Us" is not the most traditional of horror movies. Much like "Get Out", it's not exactly scary in the way we've become accustomed to. Yeah, there are terrifying, nightmarish images and all that. But where the real terror comes from is what the film represents, showing us what we really should be afraid of. The only difference is that it's not as clear this time around. While "Get Out" pointed out another form of racism that rarely gets brought up, the message is more hidden in the dialogue, characterizations, and hidden clues sprinkled all through the unpredictable narrative. (I think it's best I don't say what I believe it's all supposed to mean, and let you see if you can figure it out yourself.)  Peele is a pro at not only that, but also in how he frames a scene, with long, detailed shots that are magnified in scope. No matter how closed quarters the scene, everything feels grand. There are also unique sequences of fear and unease shown through camera angles on certain actors or objects in the room, which may or may not play a pivotal part at some later point. 

  Let's all just take a moment to appreciate just how flawless Lupita Nyong'o is. Her performance (or performances) is already being declared as the first possible contender at the 2019 Academy Awards. Nyong'o is captivating, from her strong, sympathetic motherly character to her startling, mysterious antagonist. Both are alike, yet different at the same time, and she conveys that brilliantly. Her acting range is nothing short of incredible. Winston Duke provides some excellent comic relief as our goofy fatherly character, along with projecting quiet menace as his double. Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex both show promise as charming, talented young actors, each given their moments to shine. (Whether it be as their main characters, or their homicidal doubles.) Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker (as "Kitty" and "Josh", dick-ish rich friends of Adelaide and Gabe) are a ton of fun, while credit needs to be given to Madison Curry for her scene stealing small role. It's also cool just to see characters actually reacting to horrifying situations rationally in a horror movie for once. (Finally! Someone keeps hitting the villain after one hit. Thank you!) .

 With an amazing use of sound and music (Whether it be the score or the soundtrack, it's combined in an ingenious way) and a darkly wicked sense of humor, "Us" will leave you freaked out and asking so many questions that you'll probably just turn back around to see it again. Jordan Peele surpasses his already brilliant directorial debut with an even freakier nightmare that will keep you guessing and questioning everything even after it ends. Things are left up to your own interpretation, and it's the ambiguity that makes it scarier. You'll likely be keeping a good eye on your reflection for the next few weeks. Maybe it's just best to avoid mirrors all together. 4 stars. Rated R For Violence, Terror, And Bunny Banquets.     

Captive State                                  ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for captive state movieImage: "I ate his liver with some fava beans, and a nice chianti."

 Oh, how I hate movies like this. It's easy to find the right words to describe how good a film is, and it's even easier to rant about how terrible one can be. The hardest job for any critic, let alone an unpaid one such as myself, is describing a film that lands right in the middle. It doesn't even feel quite right to use the word mediocre. It's more that it's a challenge to convey what exactly the film is. Why couldn't it have just plain sucked?

  "Captive State" takes place sometime in the not so distant future, where Earth has been visited by powerful, frightening extraterrestrial beings, dubbed "The Legislators". Humanity has essentially relinquished their freedom for a proposed unity. However, some things haven't changed, such as the poor remaining poor and desperate, and those with power only getting more. This has led to a conflict between the government and a small, but vocal resistance group called "Phoenix". Previously thought to be gone, Phoenix appears to be making a comeback, planning to "Ignite a War" that will change everything, which the Legislators have no intention of allowing. We follows different people from both sides of the conflict, with the closest thing to main characters being "Gabriel Drummond" (Ashton Sanders), the brother of the presumed to be deceased rebel, "Rafe" (Jonathan Majors), and "Officer William Mulligan" (John Goodman), who is tasked with tracking down those involved with Phoenix before they carry out their world changing plan.

 Directed and co-written by Rupert Wyatt ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), "Captive State" is not an easy film to label. It's not staged with a three act structure, nor does it even truly explain to you what exactly is going on, and what the purpose of it is. It's a form of world-building that is presented through a series of complicated sequences that show how both sides of this conflict work. However, it could also be seen as unfocused and lacking in excitement. It's not that there isn't clearly high ambitions behind it. The film is subtlety political in what it's meant to represent, and few of the characters are easy to label. Some in part due to how seemingly intentionally disconnected they feel, but also in how morally ambiguous some are. Nobody's motivations are quite clear at first, with their intentions being revealed as the movie progresses. I think where the biggest issue lies is in the screenplay, which is very exposition heavy. Granted, it has to be since there is so many details to how the current situation is. It's interesting, but oddly, an emotional connection to anything is in short supply. 

  Ashton Sanders ("Moonlight", "The Equalizer 2") has been showing a lot of promise with every role he's been in, and proves to be an engaging lead. John Goodman is a great actor, and he brings his usual gravitas. He's a very interesting character, and you really get behind his character. Others like Jonathan Majors and Kevin Dunn (as "Commissioner Eugene Igoe", Mulligan's superior) are all good in their roles, along with a collection of recognizable actors, though all in small parts. The biggest waste ends up being Vera Farmiga (as a prostitute Mulligan meets with), whose role ends up leading to an obvious twist with little payoff. 

 The cinematography is stunning and Rupert Wyatt's gritty, found footage-like style makes up for the small budget with some impressive special effects. "Captive State" looks great, and feels based in reality, There is a sense of suspense, especially when the unsettling look of the aliens are shown. There just isn't much to truly latch onto on a dramatic level. The strange thing is that this all feels deliberate, and it feels that the filmmakers wanted to go for something more uniquely told. It's fascinating, yet hard to recommend due to how off-putting the film's narrative and characters are knowingly portrayed. It ends on a high note when it all comes together, but I can see audiences not resonating with it. It's a very flawed experiment that while it has moments of inspiration, it feels like there could of been more impact if there was more character and less vagueness. 2 ½ stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Needle Aliens And Political Injustice.  

Wonder Park                                        ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for wonder park movieImage: We are all so high right now!  

 I don't believe I've ever seen a situation like this before. This is a movie that's missing a director. Well to be more precise, the former director of the movie, Dylan Brown, was fired for sexual harassment sometime during production. But unlike movies such as the somehow Oscar nominated "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Look, I liked the movie. But it did not deserve a Best Picture nomination.), which still found a way to credit Bryan Singer, this movie straight up removed the director's name entirely. There's nobody credited, and when the end credits roll, it just skips to the producers and screenwriters,. That is bizarre, especially for what's nothing more than a harmless, albeit bland kids movie. 

 "Wonder Park" follows young girl, "June" (Brianna Denski), who has a wild imagination. June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have a close relationship, with her mother having helped her imagine a magical amusement park, called "Wonderland". (Huh? Then why is the movie called "Wonder Park"? How didn't anyone think to change that?) The park is run by a collection of colorful animals, consisting of a tough boar, "Greta" (Mila Kunis), a scholarly porcupine, "Steve" (John Oliver), twin beavers, "Cooper" (Ken Jeong) and "Gus" (Kenan Thompson), goofy bear, "Boomer" (Ken Hudson Campbell), and the ride creator chimp, "Peanut" (Norbert Leo Butz). June also tries to create her own version of Wonderland, bringing in her friends along to join in the fun, though her imagination does tend to get a little bit much at times. (I mean, she does practically destroy her neighborhood with her mini-constructions.) However, when June's mom is diagnosed with an illness, leading to her leaving for treatment.

 Fearing for the future, June starts to lose hope, abandoning Wonderland and allowing herself to become disillusioned. While on a trip to camp, June wanders off alone into the woods, finding herself in Wonderland, which as it turns out is a real place. But now the park is in shambles, having been taken over by a mysterious force, called "The Darkness", which controls an army of creepy chimp dolls to destroy what remains of the park. June meets up with all of the other animals, revealing herself to be the one who created their world and is the only one who can possibly save it. The group must work together to bring light back to the park and stomp the darkness from engulfing everything.    

 From Nickelodeon Movies (Who is planning to use this film to start a future TV series, much like "Barnyard" and "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius"), "Wonder Park" is a movie that's exactly what's advertised. Innocent fluff, even when the film's out of nowhere darker subjects. It's a hard tone to balance and it can be awkward at times, though I do like that the film tries to have some kind of depth to its story. It's just a shame that there isn't much creativity to the plot and script, especially compared to the spectacular visuals on screen. The animation, while not on par with other more successful studios, is still very beautiful and makes up the lack of detail with lively colors and action sequences. It's actually pretty clever how the film stages many of these set pieces like theme park rides, making for good eye candy. 

 The film doesn't really give much in the character development department, keeping everyone fairly basic. Brianna Denski is a charming lead, but some supporting players aren't given much to do. Those such as Mila Kunis and Matthew Broderick (as June's father) are underutilized with roles that could of been played by anyone. Some of the more enjoyable voice work comes from a delightful John Oliver and Oev Michael Urbas (as "Banky", June's nerdy best friend). Meanwhile, Jennifer Garner, whose role is small by comparison, still is able to remain thoroughly absorbing and touching. It's the film's most important dynamic between June and her mother, and though the film doesn't quite provide it with the needed profundity it deserves, there is still something heartwarming about it.  

 "Wonder Park" doesn't have the laughs or the well defined characters that would be enough for the whole family to enjoy. It's more satisfied with being well intentioned fun for the kids, making for a quick and safe sit. (It's only an hour and twenty minutes, and it breezes by.) But with better movies like "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part" and "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World", which appeals to adults as well as children, you kind of wonder what's the point of it. If anything, it just makes how bland this film is even more apparent with better option still playing in theaters. I guess if you just want to keep the kids quiet for a while with something that won't in any way offend, this is a fine enough choice. Wouldn't say that's much of an endorsement though. Unless your kids need a quick distraction and you're out of other options 2 stars. Rated PG For Bad Puns And Pervy Directors. 

Five Feet Apart                                      ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Not another sick teen movie.
 
 Still not used to this whole "Sick Teen Romance" subgenre. (If it doesn't already have a name, I would like to patent that as one.) Generally being released relatively early in the year, with quality varying from "The Fault in Our Stars" (Basically the top level) to either mediocre or horrifically, but unintentionally offensive. It's an easy tearjerker, and you can only hope the filmmakers know what they're talking about.  
 
 "Five Feet Apart" follows "Stella Grant" (Haley Lu Richardson), a young girl, suffering from cystic fibrosis (Debilitating lung disorder.). Held up in a hospital waiting for a possible new lung transplant, Stella spends her time making YouTube videos detailing her experiences. Stella ends up meeting "Will" (Cole Sprouse), who also suffers from the same disease, though he's more cynical and reckless about it than she is. Seeing that Will is neglecting his own medication, Stella agrees to serve as an inspiration for Will's drawings so long as he continues with his treatments. Eventually, the two start to grow closer despite Stella's nurse, "Barb" (Kimberly Herbert Gregory), demanding that they stay at least six feet apart from each other, considering that the simplest touch could prove deadly. Stella and Will, cheating a little bit by making it five feet instead of six, begin to fall in love, finding some ray of hope in each other's lives, overcoming their current circumstances. 
 
 Directed by Justin Baldoni (Mostly known as an actor in TV roles), "Five Feet Apart" benefits from knowledge and care about it's subject matter. Not that the film avoids the quintessential and obligatory clichés. (They're all here for the most part.) It's just that it's better done this time, with a bit of a sense of realism, such as the actors looking like they're actually sick. The movie doesn't go out of it's way to pretty them up in a needlessly Hollywoodized fashion, but instead present them with scars and signs of genuine sickness. The movie also thankfully portrays them as still capable, strong human beings. It's mostly in the dialogue and plotting where the film falters. It's very predictable and at times, too cheesy for it's own good. There's light moments of humor and the good intentions behind the film are apparent, you just have to power through with by this point, what you expect to come with the territory. 
 
 None of this would work at all if our romantic leads weren't good actors. Haley Lu Richardson ("The Edge of Seventeen", "Split") gets her time to shine. She's the star and she carries the film wonderfully, with an endearing smile and loads of charm. I also never realized how good of an actor Cole Sprouse (You know? From "Zack & Cody"?) has become. He's likable and shows off some very competent dramatic acting chops. Together, they save even the film's hokiest of moments, and you root for their relationship. I appreciate the film not making Kimberly Herbert Gregory into an antagonist of sorts, showing that she does have a point to her actions. Moises Arias (as "Poe", a friend of Stella, who also suffers from cystic fibrosis) serves as a source of much needed humor, and does well at it. However, his character arc makes for one of the more frustratingly predictable moments. 
 
 The engaging onscreen chemistry between Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse are just enough to save "Five Feet Apart" from it's obligations to its genre. The film heads to an obvious climax, but ends on a suitably emotional and effective note. It does its job as well as it can, thanks to the talent that's been brought in. It's a story that while it likely could better told elsewhere, is something that should resonate with its younger audience, and that isn't a bad thing at all. 2 ½ stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Tear Manipulation. 

Captain Marvel                                      ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related image

Image: Captain Marvel, wondering why she didn't follow google maps. 

 This is a momentous occasion. I have officially been reviewing movies for nine years. Having started back in March of 2010, the site has gone through many changes and has evolved over time. It's similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe if you think about it. A whole universe of films, all connected through various characters and locations, which is now reaching it's eleventh year. This film universe is much like my reviewing. It has no intention of stopping anytime soon and can only continue to expand, though I suspect everyone involved with Marvel brings in a lot more dough than I do. 

 Set sometime during the 90s (You know, before Thanos snapped half of the universe out of existence.), "Captain Marvel" follows "Vers" (Brie Larson), a superpowered member of an elite team for the "Kree Empire", called "Starforce". The Kree (Blue aliens) are currently at war with the shapeshifting "Skrulls" (Green aliens), which are led by "Talos" (Ben Mendelsohn). Vers is plagued by a recurring nightmare of her on Earth, along with a woman she's never met before (Annette Bening), being attacked by a Skrull. After a mission goes bad, Vers finds herself captured by Talos, who reveals that there is more to her than she realizes. Vers eventually ends up stranded on Earth, attracting the attention of a familiar law enforcement organization, "S.H.I.E.L.D", along with a certain soon to be director, "Nick Fury" (Samuel L Jackson).

 Ignoring the orders of her mentor, "Yon-Rogg" (Jude Law), Vers decides to investigate why the Skrulls are on Earth. Meanwhile, Talos takes the form of Fury's superior, "Keller", leading to Fury being forced to go along with Vers to stop the Skull invasion. While on their search, Vers begins to discover that she did in fact have a life on Earth years prior (as "Carol Danvers"), leading to a deeper conspiracy that could not only turn the tide between the warring alien races, but also could change the future of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. (I mean, they have been saying that she is a big deal for some time. Now we get to see why.) 

 Directed (And Co-Written) by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck ("Mississippi Grind"), "Captain Marvel" is not here to become some sort of game changer to the Marvel formula that we've come accustomed to. However, it's a formula that works for a reason. One that already changed the game for both the superhero genre as well as filmmaking in general. Not to mention the movie decides to play with it a little, and even has a few unexpected and exciting surprises. The script is full of charm and plenty of laughs, knowing when it's best to not take things too seriously. Yet you still care about the characters and like them as people, which has been something that Marvel has been able to perfect over the years. The look of the film and the visual effects are stunningly colorful and aesthetically pleasing. (The 90s never looked so good) Not to mention how uncanny they were able to de-age some of the actors. (Although in Samuel L. Jackson's case, maybe he's just aged really well.) 

 Brie Larson is as tough as they come, with her cocky, but likable personality providing some charisma to her character. She's an instantly intriguing character that you become invested in, and she is clearly one of the most powerful characters ever to appear in the Marvel Universe. (Thanos better watch out.) Samuel L. Jackson has appeared in several of these films, though usually in small doses. This is his biggest role yet, and he's wonderful, getting to really let loose and show us a side of the character we've yet to see. Ben Mendelsohn is brilliant as usual, this time getting to add a little more to his character, who is more than a simple baddie. Jude Law is a compelling presence, while Lashana Lynch (as "Maria Rameau", a pilot/former friend of Carol) is strong in a supporting part. Annette Benning looks like she's having a ton of fun, also portraying who Carol sees as the Kree "Supreme Intelligence" (The AI ruler of the Kree). It's also awesome to see some returning faces, such as Clark Gregg (as "Phil Coulson", agent of S.H.I.E.L.D./fan favorite recurring character), Lee Pace (as "Ronan, the Accuser", the future big bad of "Guardians of the Galaxy"), and Djimon Hounsou (as "Korath", Ronan's future henchmen), though on the downside, they're mostly given small parts aren't in the film near enough. The true scene-stealer ends up being an adorable kitty, "Goose", who is also revealed to be something much more. (The funniest moments involve how much Nick Fury loves petting him, leading to a hilarious payoff.) 

 "Captain Marvel" is essentially what one could consider as middle of the road when it comes to Marvel movies. But middle of the road Marvel is still legitimately excellent. There is some real heart to the film, and inspiring messages that should resonate with everyone, let alone young girls. Yeah, so you've all likely heard by now about all the angry dudes bashing this movie before it even came out, and even those actively trying to ruin it. (Bunch of trolls down voting on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, etc.) That's all nothing more than typical dude rage, and really, it's jut as much stupidity as anything. We have ourselves a badass heroine right here, who could serve as a sign of even more of what's to come. We should all embrace it. It's what true believers would do. (Yes, there is a funny cameo of the late, great Stan Lee, as well as a touching tribute when the movie starts.) 3 ½ stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Action And Old Lady Punching. 

Greta                                                  ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for greta movieImage: How can you not trust someone named Greta? 

 Acclaimed French actress, Isabelle Huppert has one of the longest filmographies of any actor (Male or female) that I've ever seen. She's been acting for over fifty years, and yet, I've actually hardly seen her in anything. Granted, she's mostly been in foreign films, but after "Roma" (Should of won the Oscar by the way), I've learned that I shouldn't forget to give those a look. Especially since I'm attempting to be a legitimate critic. It's cool to see someone with such talent and class making one of her few American film appearances in something so delightfully psychotic. 

 "Greta" opens with young waitress, "Frances McCullen" (Chloë Grace Moretz), finding an abandoned handbag on a New York subway. She then returns the bag to it's owner, "Greta Hideg" (Isabelle Huppert), a lonely woman, who at first appears to simply be looking for friendship. Frances, having still not recovered from the loss of her mother, begins to see Greta as somewhat of a surrogate, and the two become fast friends. However, things take a turn for the creepy as Frances notices that Greta has a whole collection of identical handbags, each having the names of different names and addresses. On advice from her snark roommate, "Erica" (Maika Monroe), Frances decides to cut ties with Greta. But it turns out Greta isn't one to simply let someone go as she begins to stalk Frances, trying to force herself into her life. Frances soon discovers that there is something much more dangerous (And crazy) to Greta than it would appear. 

 Directed (And Co-Written) by Neil Jordan ("Byzatium"), "Greta" is made for an audience looking for something quick, with enough crazy thrills to keep them on the edge of their seats. Even when you know what's going to happen, we kind of want movies like this. Luckily there appears some hints of elegance and a sense of knowing what it is. The movie is clearly having fun with it's B-Movie premise, and while it remains fairly predictable in where it's all leading up to, it's still thoroughly entertaining. The film's presentation is great, from the lovely cinematography by Seamus McGarvey ("Bad Times at the El Royale", "The Greatest Showman", "Atonement") to score by Javier Navarrete (Who has previously collaborated with Neil Jordan on a few projects), which is played up like a ticking time bomb. (Quiet at first, before exploding in a fury of lunacy)

 The reliably charismatic and lovable Chloë Grace Moretz is excellent. Sure her character makes a few too many dumb decisions, which is a hallmark of films like this. (I know she's on the ground, but hit her again! She's just going to get up!) Isabelle Huppert is the kind of crazy that lulls you into a false sense of security. She's sweet and funny at first, calmly showing bit and pieces of insanity under the guise of frailness. But as the film progresses (And gets crazier), she shows how wildly bonkers she truly is. Maika Monroe serves as the comic relief and gets a few awesome moments of her own, being one of the smarter characters. Colm Feore (as "Chris", Frances' father) has a small part, but still gives a much more honest performance than what was likely expected. 

 Though not much for surprises (You know what's going to happen to a last second character who shows up at the wrong time) and packing a couple awkward attempts at having jumpscares, "Greta" is still the right kind of crazy. It's completely nuts, and stylishly so. It's also elevated by the compelling performances of both Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert, as well as capable direction. It's standard, but exciting insanity, with a slight sense of sophistication. For those of us who prefer our horror show with a touch of class. 3 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Content And Finger Chopping. 

A Madea Family Funeral                        ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a madea family funeralImage: May Madea rest in peace. She....She is dead, right?

 I'll admit, there was a sick side of me that smirked the second I heard the title "A Madea Family Funeral". Is it so wrong to want such a mean spirited, obnoxious character to simply just you know, die? Well Director/Writer/Producer Tyler Perry  assured us that this was the final entry in the overlong, continuity error riddled series, so I say it's still a good excuse for a celebration. 

 "A Madea Family Funeral" opens with our collection of characters gathering for a family reunion to celebrate the anniversary of "Anthony" (Derek Morgan) and "Vianne" (Jen Harper). The human doormat, "Brian" (Tyler Perry), is the one taking the four horrible people he for some reason still lets live in his house, "Madea" (Also Tyler Perry), "Aunt Bam" (Cassi Davis), "Hattie" (Patrice Lovely), and "Uncle Joe" (Tyler Perry Again!) to the reunion. (Although Brian's evil daughter is nowhere to be seen this time.) While at the hotel, the group stumbles into a room where they find Anthony dead, while having an affair that resulted in him choking on a ball gag. Turns out that isn't the only family drama going on, with Anthony's son, "AJ" (Courtney Burrell) is also having an affair with "Gia" (Aeriél Miranda), the soon to be wife of his brother, "Jesse" (Rome Flynn). (Not to mention the fact that AJ also happens to know what happened to Anthony and that he was cheating on his mother) So a funeral is planned, with all kinds of family secrets coming out, while Madea and her minions sit around and riff to pad out the hundred minute runtime. (Why is this so long?) 

 Let me assure everyone that the reason I'm even giving this movie a star at all is not because it's the last one. (One star is still very, very bad) No, the main reason is because it's just not quite as bad as the last couple. (Such as both "Madea Halloween" movies.) There's actually a resemblance of a plot in this one.....for the most part. There is still padding, sitting around, and lots of characters rambling nonsense. However, something is actually driving the movie forward. It's not much, but it's something. There is a reason for the plot to be happening and why the characters are there in the first place. Granted, it's still silly and tonally inconsistent, giving the feeling that a handful of characters from a screwball comedy wandered onto the set of the worst soap opera you can possibly imagine.  

 Our cast of characters aren't really characters. There are a lot of them, yet they're hardly given much development other than what's presented to us in their introductory scenes. Such as Courtney Burrell being a mean jerk with issues, Rome Flynn being the boring guy, KJ Smith (as "Carol", AJ's wife who he treats poorly) is just here to react, among other bit players with few defining traits of their own. Then there are of course, the core five who have appeared as the focus in the last couple Madea films. Cassi Davis and Patrice Lovely are as useless as ever, contributing less now than ever before. Tyler Perry once more fails to realize that he is a much more capable actor than he is in these movies, though the antics of Madea seem toned down (She's shockingly less cruel and unreasonable this time) and Brian is mostly just left in the background. Meanwhile, Uncle Joe continues to be a questionable character. (Perry also plays another character, "Heathrow", who is just another excuse for him to dress in old man makeup.) The best performance comes from Jen Harper, who at least feels like an actual person and even has the only dramatic moment that somewhat works. (At least, as well as it could in a Madea movie)

 Aside from a bit more focus and maybe a couple almost funny moments (There's a cartoonish bit with a cop pulling Brian over, that's more of a funny idea than anything), "A Madea Family Funeral" is more of the same. It's full of filler, odd tonal shifts, and unfunny humor that all too often goes for the easy joke, which generally consists of lame slapstick and yelling. It's also odd, for what's meant to be the final film, that it's surprisingly bland and by the book, ending on a rushed note, without much of a conclusion. I honestly expected something worse. It's faint, damning praise, but I guess I'll take it. Still expect it to make my next worst of the year list though. They always find a way on there. This is the last one, right? (Madea 2005-2019). 1 star. Rated PG-13 For Fairly Strong Adult Content And Forced Comedic Rambling.    

Fighting With My Family               ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for fighting with my family

Image: "Wait, you're saying wrestling isn't real?"

 I have never gotten the appeal of Professional Wrestling. Nothing personal against it, I just never got into it and couldn't no matter how much of it I saw. It's just not really my thing. So knowing that, it's a credit to the filmmakers to not only making me care, but also somewhat understand what it can represent to people, while doing so with humor and charm. But maybe not a whole lot of reality.

 Inspired by a true story, "Fighting with My Family" follows future female WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment Inc....In case you didn't know.) superstar, "Saraya "Paige" Bevis" (Florence Pugh). Paige aspires to be a wrestler, like the rest of her family including her parents, "Patrick" (Nick Frost) and "Julia" (Lena Headey), as well as her older brother, "Zak" (Jack Lowden). When Paige and Zak are called in to participate in WWE tryouts, the gruff trainer, "Hutch Morgan" (Vince Vaughn) only ends up selecting Paige. Having to leave her family behind (As well as now having a strained relationship with Zak), Paige leaves for America, with Hutch serving as a coach to all the wrestling hopefuls. Paige soon discovers that achieving her dream is going to take a lot more work than she first thought, and she also must come to realize why exactly she wants to become a wrestler in the first place. 

 Both directed and written by Stephen Merchant (Who also appears in the film briefly), "Fighting with My Family" is a good natured, insanely likable surprise. The movie could of so easily gone for something much simpler and generic, like most films similar to this one would. It's safe, and even when it's generic, there are chances it can still work. However, while the film does play it safe, it doesn't cheap out in the emotion, while retaining a humorous family friendly tone (Though there is plenty of language and adult content, but it's tame.) From WWE studios of all things, that's very unexpected. Lets be honest, they don't exactly produce the best of films. (Remember "The Condemned"? Ew.) 

 Florence Pugh, much like the real life person she's portraying, is a star in the making. Full of personality and a flawless reactionary face (Whether it be to something humorous or even dramatic), she is front and center for most of the film, which relies on her to carry it, which she does brilliantly. Jack Lowden is excellent, having a few heartfelt moments with Pugh, while Nick Frost and Lena Headey are a delightful presence, hijacking any scene they're in. The movie also finds a great way to use Vince Vaughn, who is funnier here than he's been in any movie I've seen in some time. There is depth given to some supporting roles (Such as the other female competitors, who are shown to be genuine people instead of typical "Rivals"), and Dwayne "Forever The Rock" Johnson (Who also serves as an Executive Producer) popping up for a couple scenes simply because he can.  

 "Fighting with My Family" doesn't try to avoid biographical sports clichés, but instead plays with them. The movie is smartly written enough to remember to provide plenty of good comedy to go with a terrifically affable amount of character, with the main focus being on the family themselves. The message of family is worked well into the story, adding in a very modern, relevant look into the importance of it. There's also a very strong, female empowered message. And it shows that regardless of your thoughts on professional wresting, this was a game changer for the better, leading to more women being accepted into the sport, as well as giving them more respect. Still not exactly a big wrestling fan, but I feel more of an understanding of what it can represent. It's funny, sweet, and effectively inspiring, which is what the best crowdpleasing sports films should be. Well, sport may be a broad term....3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Loads Of British Swears. 

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World                                                                                                    ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for how to train your dragon the hidden worldImage: Stop Dragon my heart around.

 The original "How to Train Your Dragon" was one of the first movies I ever reviewed. So with the third and final film being released, and because it's the ninth anniversary of when I made this site and dedicated my life to reviewing movies ( I'll pretend to be surprised at the party being thrown for me), well, it's fittingly bittersweet. 

 "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" following the now young adult, "Hiccup" (Jay Baruchel) and his best friend, the lovable Night Fury dragon, "Toothless".After the death of his father, "Stoick" (Gerard Butler) in the last film, Hiccup has had to step of as chief of the viking/dragon utopia of "Berk", which has become a bit overcrowded due to all the rescued dragons that have been brought there. The heroic efforts of Hiccup along with his girlfriend, "Astrid" (America Ferrera), as well as the rest of their collection of colorful characters, including the cocky "Snotlout" (Jonah Hill), the nerdy "Fishlegs" (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the constantly bickering twins, "Ruffnut" (Kristen Wiig) and "Tuffnut" (Justin Ripple), have spread, attracting the attention of the infamous dragon hunter, "Grimmel the Grisly" (F. Murray Abraham), who is known for having hunted down the Night Furies to near extinction.

 Noticing the overpopulation problem, Hiccup sets out to search for the fabled "Hidden World", which is a supposed place of refuge for all dragons, while Toothless happens across a female, white dragon, dubbed a "Light Fury", and instantly becomes smitten. When Grimmel arrives, with the intent of capturing Toothless, Hiccup must take charge and lead his people and their dragons away from Berk, on a search for the Hidden World, as well as a new home of their own. While on their journey, Hiccup and Toothless' relationship is tested like never before, with Toothless feeling compelled to move on with his new love and Hiccup being forced to accept his own responsibilities as chief, meaning at some point (Much like the franchise) everything has to come to an end....Damn it.

 Having always been an underappreciated (Yet still beloved) series, "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" concludes the trilogy on an epic, sweet, and heartwarming note that will leave fans satisfied, yet possibly with a couple tears in their eyes. Directed once more by Dean DeBlois (Who also directed the first two films, and Co-Directed "Lilo and Stitch"), the film's eye for beautiful visuals, detailed animation, and massive scope are still apparent. But much like the characters, they've grown and changed over time. You can see every facial hair on each character, who look stylishly cartoonish, but with an extra hint of maturity (Such s Hiccup's slight facial stubble, or the visible scars and individual scales on the dragons). The details put into the locations, with one of the most memorable (And funniest) sequences involving Toothless attempting to woo the Light Fury, with awkward dances and drawings in the sand. (You can see every grain! Now the animators are just showing off!) Not to mention the return of the Academy Award nominated John Powell, providing the sweeping score that will instantly get stuck in your head.

 This series is also a testament to how voice acting really deserves more praise than it gets. Jay Baruchel is terrific once again, with his relatable character getting some of the best development of any protagonist over the course of three films. He's matured over time, but still retains the likably dorky sense of humor, which also comes from Baruchel's voice automatically. America Ferrera has great chemistry with Baruchel, F. Murray Abraham is as slimy and hateable a villain as you can possibly get. The returning cast includes Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a hilarious Craig Ferguson (as "Gobber", a mentor to Hiccup), Cate Blanchett (as "Valka", Hiccup's mother), and Kit Harrington (as "Eret", the former dragon hunter, who likely gets all the fangirl fan art). There's also some added moments with Kristen Wiig (Who sounds like she's having a blast) and Justin Rupple (Replacing T.J. Miller since he went crazy). Also credit to bringing back Gerard Butler (Even if it is only in a couple short, but emotional flashbacks), who is excellent in these quick scenes, and shows off the big heart this series has been known for. Then of course, the scene stealers are the dragons themselves, especially Toothless. They are all full of personality and each have a unique look, while Toothless remains possibly one of the most adorable creatures ever created for film.

 The DreamWorks Animation equivalent to Pixar's "Toy Story" trilogy, "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" is laugh out loud when it calls for it, and quietly sweet and subtle when necessary. It ends on a high note, with the final ten minutes being as perfect as it could possibly be. The overall theme of loss (Not just in life and death, but also in what is forced to give up for one to grow) comes at a good time for those who have been following the series since the beginning, having matured along with it. Who would of thought a movie series called "How to Train Your Dragon" would not only last this long, but have this amount of depth? And who would have thought that a film review site....4 stars. Rated PG For Scary Situations And Mating Dances.  

Isn't It Romantic                         ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for isn't it romantic movie imagesImage: "Wait, you and I could be pitch perfect together."

 This would be Hell for me. Look, I've come to admit that there is the occasional good (or even great) romantic comedy that I've seen in my time reviewing movies. That does not mean that I wouldn't lose my mind in a scenario like this. To me, it'd be a twisted, somewhat darkly humorous, psychological horror movie instead. I'm a horrible Valentine's Day date.  

 "Isn't It Romantic" follows the cynical, "Natalie" (Rebel Wilson), who, kind of like myself, has a dislike for romantic comedies, seeing them as unrealistic fantasies. Natalie works as a architect in New York, along with her best, totally into her, friend, "Josh" (Adam DeVine), and only lets her pessimism affect the rest of her boring and underappreciated life. After an accident that results in a bonk on the head (Second movie in two weeks to have that happen), Natalie wakes up in a much prettier, cleaner, and more cinematically pleasing New York. After noticing a few other quirky changes, such as cheesy love songs playing out of nowhere, every good looking guy, including dashing billionaire, "Blake" (Liam Hemsworth) being interested in her, and the fact that she can no longer drop any F-Bombs, Natalie realizes she is trapped in a PG-13 romantic comedy. Now to find a way out of this bizarre situation, Natalie decides to play out all of the rom-com tropes, hoping to get Blake to fall in love with her and return home. 

 Calling "Isn't It Romantic" a straight up parody wouldn't really be the best way to describe the movie. It's very affectionate in what it's joking about, and of course follows the same basic story outline you would see in your average romantic comedy. However, not only is it all done in nothing more than good fun, but it also ends up doing a legitimately better job with these tropes than actual rom-coms. The movie plays with the sets and cinematography, as well as the look and feel you would get from these kinds of movies. It looks a bit dirtier in the real world, yet in the romantic comedy reality, it looks like some kind of Valentine's Day card just vomited on screen. It's unrealistically pretty, which is exactly the point. Credit to Director Todd-Strauss-Schulson ("A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas") for putting more effort into the backgrounds, as well as even providing a couple spectacular showstopping musical numbers, which honestly have no right to be as good as they are.

 Rebel Wilson, who has suffered from the Melissa McCarthy movie problem of generally just being reliant on lazy pratfalls, gets the chance to show off her charm and capabilities of carrying a film. She has excellent chemistry with Adam DeVine (Much like they did in "Pitch Perfect 2"), coming across as endearing and funny. Priyanka Chopra (as "Isabella", a model, who becomes Josh's love interest in the romantic comedy reality) is plenty pretty and looks like she's having a ton of fun, while some of the funniest moments come from the supporting cast, such as Betty Gilpin (as "Whitney", Natalie's friend in the real world, turned rival in the rom-com world) and Brandon Scott Jones (as "Donny", Natalie's neighbor in the real world, who becomes a hilariously stereotypical gay sidekick in the rom-com world). The biggest shock is how funny Liam Hemsworth is, and he steals every scene he's in, poking fun at himself a bit and showing some actual personality. A downside is that Jennifer Saunders (as Natalie's mother, who convinced her that romantic comedies are unrealistic in the first place) only pops up in one scene, though she gets a couple quick laughs. 

 "Isn't It Romantic" isn't without a few flat jokes and loads of predictability, though it's all done intentionally. It makes up for a few shortcomings with some good satire on the romantic comedy genre, that isn't in any way mean spirited, but instead embraces it while admitting to the typical flaws. Funny and sweet, with a bit more effort and intelligence than expected. All in all, a pretty fun rom-com on it's own. Even if  falling in love could never happen this way in real life....Sorry, damn my cynical nature. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Quick Cutaways, And Bleeped Out Swears. 

Happy Death Day 2U                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for happy death day 2uImage: Ooh, who's the cute widdle serial killer?

 You know, when it was announced that they would be making a sequel to 2017's surprisingly successful (And even more surprisingly enjoyable) "Happy Death Day".....This is not at all what I expected. It is a happy death day after all!  

 Let me try to explain this plot without spoiling too much because the less you know, the better. "Happy Death Day 2U" follows college student, "Tree Gelbman" (Jessica Rothe), having gotten through her whole ordeal in the first film, involving her being killed by a baby mask wearing psycho and being forced to relive the same day over and over. Now Tree has become a more considerate person, having found happiness with her boyfriend, "Carter" (Israel Broussard). Carter's roommate, "Ryan" (Phi Vu) shows up, revealing that he is currently reliving the same day after being murdered previously by another mysterious person wearing the same baby mask. The situation further escalates, resulting in well, complete and utter insanity, as well as the reveal to what caused the original time loop fiasco in the first place. Without spoiling too much, Tree eventually finds herself in a new timeline, reliving her birthday once again like the first film. However, things are different this time, not all of them for the worse.

Despite in this timeline, Carter is currently dating Tree's conceited sorority sister, "Danielle" (Rachel Matthews), Tree's roommate/the killer from the first film, "Lori" (Ruby Modine) no longer appears to have it out for her, and her previously deceased mother (Miss Yager) is alive and well. Now forced to choose between returning to her old timeline or staying in this new one, Tree must turn to Carter and Ryan, along with Ryan's nerdy friends, "Samar" (Suraj Sharma) and "Dre" (Sarah Yarkin) to fix the new time loop. But with yet another baby mask wearing killer on the loose and other mumbo jumbo, Tree is going to have to keep dying and resetting the time loop like before to put all the pieces together. 

 With Christopher Landon (A couple of the "Paranormal Activity" movies, as well as the first "Happy Death Day") returning to direct and serving as a screenwriter as well, "Happy Death Day 2U" takes a more comedic turn, leaving behind the horror elements (Though the original really wasn't much of a horror movie either). The movie also dips it's toe (Or just plain shoves it's entire foot in) into Sci-Fi territory, committing to some really crazy sh*t. It's baffling how the filmmakers came to the conclusion as to where they wanted to continue this series, but regardless of what strange thoughts were flowing inside their heads, it's a very much welcome change of pace. While the film does do what a lot of sequels do, such as rehash the popular jokes from before and even seemingly has a similar plot outline, it does so in a jokey, self referential way that's also very original. 

 Jessica Rothe once more shows herself to be insanely charming, having that certain delightful screen presence. She has excellent comedic range, as well as a certain sense of endearment to add to her likability, even showing a lot of strength in the film's few serious moments. Continuing with the romance from the first movie, Israel Broussard is lovable, with his chemistry with Rothe serving as a major part of the movie. Phi Vu (Who was just a small part in the first film), and Rachel Matthews get to have a lot more fun this time in their expanded roles. There are a lot of funny lines delivered from Sarah Yarkin and Suraj Sharma (The guy from "Life of Pi"), and I like where they go with Ruby Modine's character to contrast what happened to her in the first movie. The weakest aspect ends up being who the film reveals to be the killer, which feels a little tacked on and only works if you saw the first one. It's clever to keep things going and to use everything you possibly can, but the movie just delivers it in a sloppy manner.

 "Happy Death Day 2U" continues the first film's eye for dark humor (Such as a Tree going through suicide montage to reset the day, that only gets more and more hilariously brutal) and a shocking amount of heart. The movie has some good character moments that feel genuinely sweet and heartwarming. (How is it the "Happy Death Day" movies know how to do this right?) It's still not quite as good or as fresh as the first film, and the movie's crazy plot twists could be seen as the movie jumping the shark (Though it's clearly supposed to be.), it still makes for an effectively original, funny, and just plain adorable horror/romantic comedy. It's an odd combination, but I'd like to think it still works for a solid date movie. Just make sure your date has a sick sense of humor. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodless Stabbings, Cartoonish Deaths, And Confusing Multiverse Theories.  

Alita: Battle Angel                       ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: That real or virtual actress or character is a real or virtual badass.  

 "Why are that girl's eyes so damn big?" That was the first thing everyone shouted in unison the second they saw this first trailer early last year. Just going to get this out of the way fast and say, it's not distracting. At all, really. Not sure what the filmmakers did to adjust it, or if it's something about the actress (Most likely. More on her later.), but it oddly fits the look of the final film. Something just feels right with those anime eyes, and it's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is. It may just be because when it comes to visual flair, Director Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City", "From Dusk till Dawn") and Producer/Co-Writer James Cameron ("Avatar") know how to pull off some grand spectacle.

 "Alita: Battle Angel"  takes place in the far future, following a war that resulted in a devastated, junkyard based city. There, the people are hoping to one day gain passage up into the floating Utopian city in the sky, "Zalem". Cybernetic scientist, "Dr. Dyson Ido" (Christoph Waltz) comes across the still working, disembodied female cyborg, which he pieces back together, using a body originally meant for his now deceased daughter. The newly resurrected girl (Rosa Salazar), whom Ido names after his daughter, "Alita", shows a remarkable amount of intelligence, despite her memories being lost. Alita shows a lot of curiosity about this new world, befriending a young, possible love interest, "Hugo" (Keean Johnson), and learns about a deadly cyborg sport, "Motorball", which is unknowingly rigged by the villainous "Vector" (Mahershala Ali).

 Alita soon discovers that Ido is also a "Hunter-Warrior", which are bounty hunter of sorts, who go after the various criminals lurking within the dystopian city. Alita also learns that there is more to her than it appears, after effectively defeating some killer cyborgs, including the monstrous "Grewishka" (Jackie Earle Haley). Alita's actions also attract the attention of Vector and Ido's ex wife, "Chiren" (Jennifer Connelly), as well as their mysterious, body swapping master, "Nova", who sees Alita as a threat to his own plans. Working as a Hunter-Warrior and eventually becoming part of the Motorball sport, Alita sets out to find out who she really is and what she's capable of. 

 Based on a nearly thirty year old manga, turned anime, known as "Battle Angel Alita" in English, "Alita: Battle Angel" is an ambitious, visual marvel that sets out to be the next big franchise. The film's special effects are stunning, with a uniquely original look, and a lot of crazy visuals that look just like an anime brought to life on the big screen in live action form. The world created, and the characters who inhabit it, are lively and unique, with a dirty, gritty look that also gives the feel of an old fashioned Sci-Fi, action movie you would of seen in the late 80s/early 90s. It's all green screen and CGI, but it blends together seamlessly, especially during the the action scenes, which looks amazing in 3D. With such a huge, expansive world being set up, along with a lot of lore and characters to make time for, the film is packed with so much information, that you will be lost if you miss anything. This tends to be a fault in many original, franchise hopeful films like this in which the way the script takes time to explain itself (As well as it possibly can anyway) sometimes doesn't always have the appropriate flow of the standard three act story structure. The film almost seems distracted by itself at times, with big reveals and plot changes that while keep the film from being at all predictable, it also feels a bit muddled and sloppy. (Think a gender swapped Pinocchio story, that turns into a bounty hunter one, that also happens to be a bit of a sports movie with a love story. It's a lot to say the least.) However, unlike other films such as "Jupiter Ascending" or last year's "Mortal Engines", the movie offers more originality, better defined characters, and a lot of heart. 

 Our star, Rosa Salazar (Known for a supporting part in the "Maze Runner" series) finally gets the chance to show off how much acting range she has. Mostly covered in motion capture, but using her naturally expressive face and body language, she brings to life a likable, cute, mesmerizing character, who is easy to root for, emotionally strong, and totally badass. On the topic of the whole eyes situation, I get the idea it's not just meant to give her an anime-esque, more than human look, but also meant to represent something innocently angelic and full of wonder. (Literally wide eyed). Christoph Waltz is wonderful, playing a rare heroic characters, having sweet fatherly moments with Alita. Mahershala Ali looks to be enjoying himself as a shady villain, along with a smarmy as ever Ed Skrein (as "Zapan", a rival, more violent cyborg bounty hunter) and awesomely hammy Jackie Earle Haley (Whose head is CGI'd onto a hulking robot body). Jennifer Connelly is definitely overqualified for her role, but is too good of an actress to not make it work, and while Keean Johnson does a fine job, he's out-acted by Rosa Salazar and their romance is easily the weakest part of the story. There are also a plethora of cameos and bit parts that I won't spoil, and I assume either set up for a sequel or simply were put into the movie just for fun. 

 While occasionally spending too much time on world building and exposition, "Alita: Battle Angel" is the closest thing to getting a live action anime you can possibly get. The film has interesting characters, a compelling lead, and a heartfelt story to go with the incredible, breathtaking effects. The film's sequel hopes do kind of get in the way, especially once we reach the end, which is sad for a couple reasons. One being that it's no longer a standalone film, but also because the odds of the movie actually getting one are fairly slim. (Having cost over $170 million, not counting advertising) It's too bad because you can see the potential and the film's endearing nature make you actually want to return to this world to see the further adventures of Alita. Destined to be a cult favorite, it's a flawed, but worthwhile experience that I surprisingly want to see more of. The eyes have it. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Cyborg Violence And Dismemberment. 

What Men Want                                        ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: What Men Want? To be respected for our minds.... And hearts....That's all.

 Anyone actually remember the old 2000 released Mel Gibson movie, "What Women Want"? (Did I just call it "Old?" That makes me feel even older!) I remember being a little kid, having been dragged to the movie, with a fuzzy memory of some things that happened in it. Mostly, it sounds kind of dated really. Not to mention, shouldn't of falling into the bathtub with an electric hairdryer have killed Mel Gibson? Why would you want to remake that? 

 "What Men Want" follows sports agent, "Ali Davis" (Taraji P. Henson), who, despite her qualifications, is passed up for a promotion. Ali doesn't quite get along with her many male colleagues, seeing how they look down on her and ignore her. While out with her friends, Ali meets a fortune teller, "Sister" (Erykah Badu) providing Ali with a mysterious cup of tea (Likely full of ll kinds of illegal narcotics). Later that night, a bump to the head that results in Ali waking up in the hospital, with the ability to hear the inner thoughts of men. Though of course Ali has to sort through all kinds of the awkward, gross, insufferable thoughts that we men have (Come on dudes. Be honest. We're terrible.), she starts to see this as her chance to possibly move up in the world and get that promotion. Ali decides to use her new gift on outwitting her cocky colleagues and signing up upcoming basketball star, "Jamal Barry" (Shane Paul McGhie). However, Ali will also have to win over Jamal's dad, "Joe" (Tracy Morgan), who only connects with good family people. Seeing that being in a relationship with nice bartender, "Will" (Aldis Hodge) as a way of doing so, Ali pretends that Will is her husband, and eventually starts to abuse her power. Typical comedic plotline. Kooky situations, some lies and deceit, and morals are learned. You know how this plays out.

 "What Men Want" is one of those movies I was somewhat dreading, with the silly premise feeling almost as dated as the movie it's loosely remaking, and the jokes falling flat on their face with a hard thud. When it started, my fears appeared to be realized. The jokes were failing, and the set up was weak and predictable. That is only the first twenty or so minutes though. When the plot does get going, it's not much better and it falls into typical romantic comedy trappings (Which is jarring essentially since it's so unnecessary to do so), but the film's humor occasionally comes through, and Director Adam Shankam ("The Wedding Planner", "Hairspray") does the smartest thing he could possibly do and simply let the charm of it's actors completely take the wheel. Yeah, it can be seen as a little bit lazy, especially when so many other comedies these days appear to have the same thought process of just hoping their actors are enough to save a mediocre script. With all that said, I can see the mentality as to why, and it shows with how capable a lot of them are.

 Taraji P. Henson (Who deserves better than almost every single movie she's in) is a strong, reliably charismatic presence. She elevates the material more than what was required for no other reason than the fact that she can. Tracy Morgan gets quite a few laughs with his Tracy Morganess, along with Josh Brener (as "Brandon", Ali's loyal, gay assistant) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (as "Olivia", Ali's ridiculously religious friend). Brian Bosworth (as "Nick", Ali's boss) and Jason Jones (as "Kevin", the dick of the movie) are essentially the closest things the movie has to antagonists, and their stories kind of peter out, though it's not like either of them are bad in the movie. The most enjoyable scenes come from Erykah Badu, who is so freakin weird that it's entertaining simply because of how odd it is. These are actually fairly fun characters and I doubt it's because the screenwriters made them that way. It's more likely because the people playing them are just giving it their all. The film's romantic subplot with Aldis Hodge (Who is also an endearing character) feels tacked on, only becoming important and relevant when the movie calls for it.

 I do have to give some credit to "What Men Want" for actually committing to the R rating, since most movies like this usually cop out in that department. There are a few funny moments and the film's message ends up being a bit more complicated than expected. The story just goes down a overly silly, predictable route, that uses a few tired, annoying clichés. It could be seen as a fun, girls night out movie. You know, men want that too. Just a fun, boys night out, watching a romantic comedy together.  2 stars. Rated R For Language, Cartoonish Sexual Content, And Well, What You Expect Men Would Be Thinking About All The Time. 

The Prodigy                                             ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★                                   

Image result for the prodigy movieImage: This kid's not going to be any trouble at all.

 What is it about scary children? Kids are innocent and harmless, and yet, horror movies just love making them into the symbol of our fears. Maybe it's that want for something innocent and without cynicism.....or kids are all faking it and are in reality, all beings we should be terrified of. 

"The Prodigy" opens with expecting parents, "Sarah" (Taylor Schilling) and "John" (Peter Mooney) welcoming their new son, "Miles" (Jackson Robert Scott) into the world. Around the exact same time, a psychotic, hands obsessed serial killer (Paul Fauteux) is being gunned down by police. Over the years, Miles' parents notice that Miles shows signs of early development and high intelligence, though he appears to have trouble finding friends. As time continues, things get stranger as Miles starts to show a darker, more troublesome side (Such as smashing a kid's hand with a hammer, and speaking another language in his sleep.). A psychiatrist, "Arthur Jacobson" (Colm Feore), who suggests to Sarah that Miles is possessed, and now Sarah has to find a way to save her son's soul, before he does something horrible. 

 Directed by Nicholas McCarthy ("The Pact", "At the Devil's Door". Essentially just basic horror flicks.), "The Prodigy" is the latest in the creepy child, horror genre, and does not necessarily do anything new with it. It just does an okay job with it. After a rushed beginning and an awkward way of essentially spoiling it's twist in the first few minutes (Wouldn't it of been better to wait to reveal what's going on with the kid until later in the film?), the movie does slow down and let some atmosphere creep in. It's fairly unsettling in some parts, and while there isn't much mystery (And even when the film reveals a few more surprises, it's kind of choppily placed in there), there is some genuine suspense as you're waiting for things to escalate. It also helps that the movie's R rating actually works in it's favor, seeing that it's bloodier and more grotesque than advertised, and actually commits fully to it.

 Taylor Schilling is a capable lead, having some emotional moments that work because despite the supernatural element, it's still a human situation she's dealing with. She's a mother doing whatever it takes to save her son, and is willing to even cross a few lines to do so. Colm Feore gets one of the best scenes in the film, which is suitably disturbing, but oddly funny at the same time. Then there's Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie from "It"), and that kid is spectacular. He's innocent one moment, then unpleasant the next. His stare alone is enough to make you uneasy, and some of the things he does and says (The mouth on this kid. Good lord!) just add to it. 

 "The Prodigy" is never particular scary, and appears to have thrown in a couple jump scares just for the Hell of it, the movie instead goes for anxiety and dread rather than traditional scares. It's effective when it works, and at times really does make your skin scrawl. It's just too bad the eventual pay off ends up feeling a little cheap. The ending ends up being way too obvious, and doesn't have that last second wow factor they were going for. At times sloppy and uneven, but not without some chilling moments and a few inspired scenes of suspense, it's fine time for anyone looking for a quick spooky thriller. Even if there are signs of something stronger hidden under what we end up getting. 2 1/2 stars. Rated R For Childishly Strong Language And Childishly Strong Gore.  . 

Cold Pursuit                                             ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for cold pursuitImage: Call Mr. Plow! That's my name! That name again is Mr. Plow! 

 Nothing more fitting than watching a cold movie, set somewhere cold, while it's freezing cold outside. Made even better by the theater forgetting what a heater is, leaving the audience to practically bundle up together for warmth. Kind of adds to the atmosphere with this one, and the off sight of everyone covered in layers of clothes, blankets, and jackets in a dark movie theater definitely matches what the movie actually is. 

 "Cold Pursuit" takes place in the small, snowy town of Kehoe, Colorado, where snowplow driver, "Nelson Coxman" (Liam Neeson) has just been recognized as Citizen of the Year. Coxman's son is found dead, from a drug overdose, which Coxman immediately finds suspicious because his son wasn't a "Druggie" as he puts it. Unable to move forward and causing a strain in his relationship with his wife, "Grace" (Laura Dern), Coxman does some investigating of his own, piecing together that his son was forced to overdose by the local drug cartel. Coxman sets out to take out and kill the hilariously named cartel members one by one (The names consisting of "Speedo", "Santa", etc.). The ringleader of the cartel, "Viking" (Tom Bateman), learns of the vanishing of his various men, setting out to find out who is responsible, resulting in a turf war with the Native American cartel, run by "White Bull" (Tom Jackson). While both sides duke it out, the bodies start to pile up, and Viking getting more and more desperate, nobody has any clue that all of this was started by some regular old guy out for some good old fashioned revenge. Meanwhile, young, optimistic rookie cop, "Kim" (Emmy Rossum) and her old fashioned partner, "Gip" (John Doman) do some investigating on the sidelines, trying to piece everything together.

 Based on a 2014 Norwegian film, "In Order of Disappearance", which was directed by Hans Petter Moland (Returning to direct this remake too.), "Cold Pursuit" is not at all what you expect it to be. It's actually a very strange film, with a dark funny, slightly surreal tone, and to be honest, I had a fantastic time with it. It could at first glance be seen as a complete and total mess of plot points and kooky shifts from dark violence to macabre laughs, that are subtlety sprinkled throughout the film. It's not a full blown comedy, but the humorous elements are clever injected in the film, sneaking up on you when you least expect it.  Such as when somebody dies, the film stops to display their name almost in memoriam. However, the hilariously high body count and the random secondary characters who find themselves also dying due to simple involvement add a little intentional laugh to it. The stormy, snowy weather gives the film a sort of apocalyptic, gritty feel, and the ensemble of characters, (Some of which either being secondary, or popping up simply to die) add a bit of depth. It's still exciting and kind of compelling, despite how out of nowhere outrageous it actually is. 

 Racially insensitive comments aside (Noticed some critics feeling as if that completely ruined the film for them), Liam Neeson is superbly cast, somewhat acting as a parody of his other film roles. He's not exactly tough and his age shows, but he's a quick thinker and capable when the moment calls for it. He has some great, quiet dramatic moments, but also has some flawless reactions to some of the offbeat weirdness that happens. Tom Bateman is slime personified, and is delightfully villainous in childish fashion, with his character trying to find out who is killing his men (And doing such a crappy job of it) and trying to compete in a custody battle with his ex-wife, "Aya" (Julia Jones). Tom Jackson is one of the most fascinating characters in the movie, having an understated, yet enthralling mini-character arc. William Forsythe (as "Wingman", Coxman's  former mobster brother) is excellent in a memorable, small role. Emmy Rossum and John Doman are nothing more than a subplot, but do add a little balance and lightheartedness to the violence. On the downside, while other actors (Whether they be in major roles or not) get a moment to shine, Laura Dern is underutulized and exits the movie early on.

 Death and brutality is all over the place, with the film's harsh setting only adding to it, "Cold Pursuit" is a hodgepodge of quirky laughs and bloody violence. It really shouldn't work as well as it does. There are some fun twists, moments of insight, and an unpredictable story, along with some great action, disguised as a regular old Liam Nesson action thriller. However, what you get is more like a Tarantino movie, mixed with a little cartoon logic just for giggles. It all culminates in a hilariously baffling final shot, ending the film on a suitably bizarre note. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, that just happens to be well stitched together, and it may have you laughing just as much as it will have you perplexed. 3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Gorey Violence, And The Most Onscreen Deaths I've Seen In Some Time. 

The Lego Movie 2: The Second PArt                                                                                                                                 ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related image

Image: I think I already made this Lego movie when I was 7.

 We never did really quite figure out how exactly they did it. How not only did Warner Bros. make a movie about "Legos" (The building block toys that anyone of any age can have fun with for those who don't know), but also make the film as great as it was. "The LEGO Movie" got acclaim from critics, to the point where many were upset that it was snubbed from the Oscars for "Best Animated Film" (Some even thought a "Best Picture" nominee was also deserved). Previously directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Responsible to the "21 Jump Street" films, and also make "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" possible), who can really make anything they want....except a "Star Wars" movie for some reason. The movie was an instant classic, with plenty of laughs and heart for all ages. Why should the sequel be any different? 

 "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" picks up from where the first film left off, with the young boy, "Finn" (Jadon Sand) being told by his dad, "The Man Upstairs" (Will Ferrell) that he will have to share the Legos with his younger sister, "Bianca" (Brooklyn Prince, from "The Florida Project"). This results in the city of "Bricksburg" being attacked by the invading, pre-school based "Duplos", who hilariously start to destroy everything in the cutest ways possible. Cut to a few years later and the Lego citizens have all become hardened and bitter, turning their city into a Mad Max-esque wasteland, called "Apocalypseburg". As expected, the only optimistic person is "Emmet" (Chris Pratt), who remains upbeat and happy no matter how dire things have become, much to the annoyance of everyone else. However, Emmet does reveal to his love interest, "Wyldstyle/Lucy" (Elizabeth Banks) that he recently had a nightmare of an upcoming event, known as "Our-Mom-Ageddon".

 Right at this time, the Duplos return, with their leader, "General Mayhem" (Stephanie Beatriz), kidnapping Emmet's friends, including Lucy, the egotistical "Batman" (Will Arnett), sweet kitty with hidden anger issues, "Unikitty" (Alison Brie), 1980s space guy, "Benny" (Charlie Day), and pirate based talking head, "MetalBeard" (Nick Offerman). With nobody else volunteering to help, Emmet is forced to journey to the mysterious "Systar System" to save his friends, coming across multi-skilled (And very Chris Pratty) adventurer, "Rex Dangervest" (Also voiced by Chris Pratt), who accompanies Emmet on his journey. Meanwhile, Emmet's friends are brought to the system's shape shifting ruler, "Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi" (Tiffany Haddish), who assures the others that she is in no way evil, and plotting to marry Batman (It's all as hilariously bizarre as it sounds), while the coming Our-Mom-Ageddon approaches further. 

 With Lord and Miller serving as writers, and being directed by Mike Mitchell ("Trolls"), "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" has the same charm and spirit as the original, though it's obvious to state that it's not quite as good. Granted, after two spin-offs (With the almost as great "The LEGO Batman Movie", and the weaker, but still likable "The LEGO Ninjago Movie"), and a lot of hype to live up to, it's not the same, and it's best to get this out of the way early. The movie is still full of laughs, creative and incredible animation, and an overwhelming amount of weirdness and freneticism, that unlike other animated films that more so rely on that due to laziness, feels necessary. Much like the first film, everything happening in the Lego world is a metaphor for what's happening in reality between the son and his sister, which plays into how random things will happen. (Ever played with Legos? Or really any toy in general as a kid? You'd probably just make things up as you go.) There are also a few fun new songs sprinkled throughout the film (One of which appropriately titled "Catchy Song"), adding to the randomness. 

 The excellent ensemble voice cast, full of cameos and weird references, is a perfect collection of talent. Chris Pratt is as lovably naive as ever, while voicing another character that's essentially just a caricature of his movie roles. Elizabeth Banks and a once again scene-stealing Will Arnett are wonderful, along with smaller, but still playfully quirky parts for Charlie Day, Alison Brie, and Nick Offerman. Tiffany Haddish (Whose voice was made for voice work) and Stephanie Beatriz are delightful additions. There is an onslaught of others in tiny roles, such as Ralph Fiennes (as "Alfred", Batman's butler), Channing Tatum (as "Superman"), Jonah Hill (as "Green Lantern", who Superman still hates), Ben Schwartz (as a talking banana), Maya Rudolph (in a role I dare not spoil), Will Ferrell (in a cameo as the film's previous villain, "Lord Business"), and for some reason Bruce Willis (Why? I don't know, but it's so odd and out of nowhere, that it's freakin hilarious). The chaotic twists and turns are terrifically displayed with the building block, stop motion-esque animation, where anything can (and will) happen at any point. 

 While still laugh out loud, the humor isn't as strong, and maybe the film's constant moving could get old after a while to some. "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" may not reach the heights of the original (Not that we really should of expected that), but the heart is still in the right place and it's hard to not find yourself smiling by the end. It's a movie about finding a way to feel as if "Everything is Awesome" regardless of how much things might suck the older you get. Being happy and hopeful (even if it's unrealistic), which is the best way to describe the movie as a whole. Just something joyful for the whole family, that will have them laughing often and leaving with their hearts warmed. It's a franchise that on paper, shouldn't work, but in a way feels like something everyone should just take time to simply sit back and have some childlike fun with. Mentally, I'm no more than a child anyway.3 1/2 stars.Rated PG For Crude Humor And Lots Of Flashing Sparkles. 

Miss Bala                                            ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for miss bala movieImage: Miss Behaving. 

 Sooooo,.....There was nothing else this week? It's too early in the year for something like that. A forgettable action movie to go with a forgettable weekend. It's made worse by the fact that all I have on my mind right now is "Kingdom Hearts 3" (Amazing by the way.). And a movie like this, while not the worst or even that bad per se,...You know, I feel like I'm taking way too much time to explain what "Meh" is. Odd how I'm not used to this by now....Did I tell you about "Kingdom Hearts 3" yet?  

 "Miss Bala" follows "Gloria Fuentes" (Gina Rodriguez), who has arrived in Tijuana, Mexico to visit her best friend "Suzu" (Cristina Rodlo). Gloria and Suzu go to a nightclub, which ends up being attacked by the local drug cartel, run by "Lino Esparza" (Ismael Cruz Córdova). Gloria narrowly escapes, while Suzu mysteriously vanishes. Gloria, who was recognized by Lino, ends up abducted by his cartel and is forced to work for them in exchange for Lino finding out where Suzu is. After unknowingly being a part of an terrorist attack on a DEA safe house, the DEA decides to target Gloria, wanting to use her as a spy. Gloria is now forced to play both sides, gaining the trust of Lino, who appears to fancy her, and find Suzu, all of which eventually connecting to the upcoming Miss Baja California Beauty Pageant. 

A toned down Americanized, PG-13 version of a 2011 Mexican film of the same name that I never saw (Or even heard of before I went to see this), "Miss Bala" is a movie that you can tell that, despite not seeing the original, appears to be lacking a certain edge that was probably present in the original. The violence is quick, and the darker elements are either offscreen or mostly hinted at, keeping everything safe for the few teens who I guess Sony Pictures assumed would be interested in the move. Because of this, the film feels very generic, though not exactly poorly made. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen", "Twilight", "Red Riding Hood"), the movie looks good enough, and isn't without a few cool moments of female empowerment.  But the plot points are rushed through, leaving little impact, and nearly every single on is incredibly predictable. 

 Even though the film doesn't have much of it's own strength when it comes to story and execution, the film has star power in lead Gina Rodriguez ("Jane the Virgin"), who almost carries the entire film completely on her own. She keeps the film from totally collapsing under it's own mediocrity, showing a lot of range as an actress. She's likable, capable, and has a compelling character arc, going from an average, scared person, to an imposing badass. Ismael Cruz Córdova is a charismatic villain, with some interesting motivations and a realistic level of creepy. Many of our other villains are fairly cartoonish, as is the DEA characters as well, who vanish from the film fairly early. Then there's a quick appearance from Anthony Mackie (as "Jimmy", one of Lino's dealers), who is here only for a couple minutes, and has a story that goes down a route that feels much too sequel baity for no real reason.

 "Miss Bala" is competently made, and could be recommendable simply to show that Gina Rodriguez is an actress with a wide enough range to nearly save an entire film single-handedly. It's just not as interesting as it should be, and lacks enough good qualities (or even bad ones) to warrant memorability. It's a quick sit, but a total bore. Another generic action thriller that I'm surprised I found enough to write about as it is. Oh well. Back to playing "Kingdom Hearts 3" non stop for the next 2 or 3 days. 2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Watered Down Violence, Slight Adult Content, And Shirtless Drug Lords. 

Serenity                                                 ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Anne Hathaway is asking me to do something crazy?....Sure!".

 Gotta end January with a bang right? Or I guess in this case I should consider it the cinematic equivalent of willingly driving your car into a fiery explosion, claiming it's some kind of metaphor for human motivations. Ohhhh boy. You just never know what you're gonna get during this most bewildering time of the year.  

 "Serenity" is set on a fishing island called "Plymouth", where we follow obsessive Fisherman, "Baker Dill" (Matthew McConaughey), whose sole purpose in life is to attempt to catch a giant fish he's nicknamed "Justice". Baker's obsession only gets worse over time, never seemingly getting anywhere close to catching the fish. However, Baker's ex-wife, "Karen" (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island, offering Baker payment to kill her abusive monster of a husband, "Frank Zariakas" (Jason Clarke). Baker is hesitant at first (Considering how he changed his name and ran off to this island in the first place), though he considers the offer after Karen mentions how Frank also treats their son, "Patrick" (Rafael Sayegh). This right here is a simple enough premise for a film noir set in somewhere more modern. You would think that, but then things take a turn for the weird, then for the worse. Baker starts to have psychedelic visions, there's some off imagery, some guy in a suit (Jeremy Strong) keeps attempting to talk to Baker (Only to miss him by a couple seconds every time.), and it soon becomes apparent why "Aviron Pictures" decided to pull this film from it's previously scheduled September release, then pulling it from a October release, before finally settling on a last minute January release in a desperate struggle to keep people from seeing it. Judging from the box office reports, it kind of worked......I still saw it though.....

 Going to have to be vague with this one, and trust me, that's going to be a really difficult task. Not just because the issues with the film come from an early, unadvertised twist. But because it might trick you into thinking it's actually worth the time seeing it. Directed by Steven Knight (Known mostly as a screenwriter, and for directing the critically liked 2013 film, "Locke"), "Serenity" has the makings of a new take on a genre we don't see much of these days.....for about ten minutes. It becomes apparent pretty quickly, that aside from cheesy writing and dull pacing, that this film has higher, more absurd aspirations. The film's incredibly serious, very heavy tone does not match the occasionally off kilter imagery that comes with where the film decides to go. The problem however is that once it becomes apparent what the twist to the story is, the film itself takes way too long to explain it. It's obvious what it is and what the many metaphors sprinkled throughout are meant to represent. For something with such an out of nowhere later premise, it's all oddly and annoyingly predictable. 

 Why are such good actors in this? All it does is make bad movies more depressing to talk about. Matthew McConaughey essentially just plays the same character he has become associated with in recent years. Talking in his McConaughey voice and throwing out catchphrases. And while he's good at it, we all know how good of an actor he can be and that he can do so much better. Anne Hathaway is well cast and fits the part well, doing her absolute best to make it work, despite the horrible, clichéd dialogue. Jason Clarke is woefully painful to watch, with a villain so cartoonishly disgusting, that every scene with him becomes more unpleasant for reasons that probably weren't intended. Jeremy Strong's role is out of place and shatters the tone to pieces, while Djimon Hounsou (as "Duke", Baker's first mate) and Diane Lane (as "Constance", Baker's friend with benefits) are just more good actors that this movie somehow lured into it's twisted, vortex of dreadfullness.

 Pretentiously directed and lacking the actual insight it seems to think it has, "Serenity" is the kind of movie that once you figure it out, you're left begging for it to get to the damn point already. The hare-brained plot twists aren't enough to warrant a so bad, it's good viewing, because it ends up being too easy to deduce, and the film drags out its finale far too long. It's too boring to give the time of day, even ironically. The mindset behind the filmmakers is the more interesting mystery, and fittingly brings the first month of 2019 to a close. 1 star. Rated R For Sexual Content, Heavy Subjects, And Loads Of McConaughey Ass. 

The Kid Who Would Be King                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the kid who would be kingImage: A teenage Chris Angel discovers his mystical powers for the first time.

 I'm starting to think that it's probably for the best if we just let the British make all of our family friendly, whimsical adventure movies. Aside from Disney, although they too seem to be moving away from stuff like this, it seems that we tend to screw up these kinds of movie (Or at least make them incredibly forgettable). But movies like both "Paddington" movies ("Paddington 2" was snubbed at the Oscars!) or anything from "Aardman", seem to have a little extra class, lots of quirkiness, and even more ambitions to them than probably necessary, setting out to make something stronger and more memorable. More effort when you didn't actually have to. We need more of that. 

 "The Kid Who Would Be King" follows young "Alex Elliott" (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), living with his mother (Denise Gough) after his dad left some time before. Alex is bullied, along with his best friend, "Bedders" (Dean Chaumoo), by the local movie bullies, "Lance" (Tom Taylor) and "Kaye" (Rhianna Doris). While fleeing from the bullies, Alex stumbles upon a mysterious sword, stuck within a stone on a construction site. Turns out it's the legendary sword of the fabled "King Arthur", "Excalibur". However, pulling out the sword awakens the evil sorceress, "Morgana" (Rebecca Ferguson), who plans to unleash an army of undead soldiers to take over the world during an upcoming eclipse, due to the current instability of modern society. Alex is sought out by the great Wizard, "Merlin" (Played in his true form by Sir Patrick Stewart and his younger one by Angus Imrie), who takes the form of a teenager, using the "ingenious" alias of "Mertin". Merlin wants Alex to accept his destiny as the new king, foretold to defeat Morgana once and for all, and assemble his "Knights of the Round Table". Left with little options, Alex ends up enlisting Bedders, Lance, and Kaye to join him in his quest to seek out his missing father, thinking he may of had some sort of involvement in this series of events, and then take the battle to Morgana herself before her demonic soldiers track them down first. 

 Directed and written  by Joe Cornish (Who previously directed British cult favorite, "Attack the Block"), "The Kid Who Would Be King" takes it's simple, silly premise and sets out to make a family friendly, fantasy epic, complete with a sense of wonder you could only find in a kid's movie. That's exactly what you get. The movie is just plain charming, with a smart screenplay that makes it's characters likable, keeps a witty sense of humor, and knows when to calm down, despite the kookiness, and allow a little drama to sink in. It's a predictable, but very satisfying story, that addresses what elements it's borrowing (Such as the hero and his sidekick, the enemies becoming allies, and the hero understanding his own worth and finding faith in himself, not just his friends) and they work very well. The movie also has a very cool looking visual style, keeping the more realistic world simple, while incorporating the fantasy elements, which are portrayed as legitimately frightening at times. The undead skeleton army is actually really scary, and competent threats to add to the danger. However, the movie keeps it's sense of humor in tact, with a lot of funny lines thrown around and solid young actors who without them, the entire, regardless of how well made it was, would likely fall apart completely. 

 Louis Ashbourne Serkis (Son of Andy Serkis, and you can kind of tell) is a very commanding lead, remaining endearing and charismatic as his character grows, while also even getting a few good heavy moments of emotions. Dean Chaumoo is a lovable sidekick, while Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris at first appear to be stereotypical bullies, they develop as characters as the movie goes along, and become humanized. Patrick Stewart isn't around much, but looks like he's having a great time, with most of his character's screentime going to Angus Imrie, who steals the movie, getting the funniest moments. Rebecca Ferguson is creepy, and though the movie tries to gross her up, is still unsettlingly attractive (Not sure if that was intentional or not. But whatever.), but is still kind of wasted, especially when she just ends up turning into a giant, snarling monster by the climax. Granted, it's the journey of our heroes and what obstacles they have to overcome, so it's understandable that our villain is just there to be the final conflict. 

 While Joe Cornish's ambitions for something grander do kind of drag the movie down (It's probably fifteen minutes too long), "The Kid Who Would Be King" is a delightful, thoroughly charming good time. The messages about loyalty and growing up are strong and the points made about overcoming modern cynicism are very relevant. The movie is subtle when bringing up the current world's divisiveness, and a story of those coming together for the greater good, no matter how silly it might seem at first, is something that both kids and parents should take time to see, and might even learn something from. 3 stars. Rated PG For Some Action, Adult Content, And Scarier Images Than You Would Expect. 

Dragon ball Super: Broly                 ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dragon ball super brolyImage: "The Ultimate....WARRIORRRRR!!!!!"

 Okay, time for another confession. I never got into "Dragon Ball". Never cared for the original, or "Dragon Ball Z", or the new show "Dragon Ball Super". I personally never cared for it, thinking it was too much to get into, multiple episodes that were consisted of singular, padded out fights, and I don't know, I just couldn't get around to maybe giving it more of a chance. (Although while I'm not a fan, I know that "Dragonball Evolution" is all kinds of wrong.) I'm only here reviewing this because it's a fairly major release, and people I know have been affectionately pestering me about it, I decided to simply just go with it. It's a great way to look at this movie as a whole if you really think about it.  

 "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" opens with a massive, but pretty necessary backstory dump. Staring on "Planet Vegeta", the home world of the "Saiyans" (Think Superman, with a monkey tail), the inhabitants are placed under the tyrannical rule of the flamboyant and villainous, "Frieza" (Christopher Ayres). The king of the Saiyans, "King Vegeta" (Christopher Sabat) plans to have his heir, also named "Vegeta" (Voiced as an adult by Christopher Sabat as well) to be the one to eventually defeat Frieza. But it turns out the king is as jealous as he is conceited, because it turns out that another child, "Broly" (Voiced as an adult by Vic Mignogna), shows signs of becoming twice as powerful as Vegeta, and something much more dangerous. The king has Broly sent away in exile on a desolate, death-filled planet, while Broly's father, "Paragus" (Dameon Clarke), follows him. While Paragus raises and trains Broly to harness his abilities, Frieza, fearing for the loss of his power, destroys Krypton....er...I mean, Planet Vegeta, while one child, "Goku" (Voiced as an adult by Sean Schemmel) is sent to Earth.

 After a few seasons of a couple of TV shows, Goku becomes a renowned hero, Vegeta grows to be a villain until he isn't, Frieza dies, but doesn't, and all kinds of Anime story arcs and fights happen.  We then cut to the present, with Goku and Vegeta working as allies to protect the world. However, Frieza is back and is almost in the possession of the mystical "Dragon Balls" (Orbs of power that once collected unleash a genie dragon), and intends to use them to make himself taller......Makes Sense. But two of Frieza's subordinates, "Cheelai" (Erica Lindbeck) and "Lemo" (Bruce Carey), end up stumbling upon Paragus and Broly, who has grown to become just as strong as was predicted. Paragus has become consumed by vengeance, and wants to ensure that the Vegeta bloodline is destroyed, which is something Frieza intends to capitalize on. Hoping to get the Dragon Balls and to get some good old fashioned revenge in the process, Frieza arranges for Goku and Vegeta to fight Broly in a brutal battle to the death. However, it turns Broly might be just a bit too unstable a being to control, with an unstoppable amount of power that could cause trouble for not just both heroes and villains, but also himself. 

 Directed by Tatsuya Nagamine (Known for his work on several different anime series, as well as their films) and written by the original "Dragon Ball" creator himself, Akira Toriyama, "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" is probably something that will appeal to the fans, judging from the applause the audience gave the film during my showing. To say that is obvious because the movie is specifically made for them. Just giving my thoughts, which are....actually a little bit more positive than I expected. The movie oddly takes a decent amount of time to explain itself, providing a little context and backstory, which takes up the first fifteen to twenty minutes. It's still essentially nonsense and mumbo jumbo to me, but it's enough to follow what's going on. I do appreciate it though, and not enough films like this take time for something like that. The story, which is taken up mostly by the anticipated battle, isn't without a sort of over the top charm, and unlike the show, it's all in a briskly paced hour and forty minutes, instead of nearly ten episodes.

 The characters are defined enough, and the voice cast are all doing good jobs with them. Sean Schemmel makes Goku a likably goofy hero, while Christopher Sabat provides Vegeta (A character he has been voicing for almost twenty years) with some great reactionary moments of humor. A delightfully vile Christopher Ayres makes Frieza into one of those villains I love, in which they are willing to do villainous things for incredibly petty reasons, and to make matter worse, are just complete dicks about it. While Broly doesn't say much, he does leave an impact as a frightening, but sympathetic character, whose story arc adds a little more depth to a movie that at first, didn't seem like it would even need to bother. The real scene stealers here are both the animation and the action, and on the big screen, it's beyond breathtaking. The varying colors, stunning visuals, and incredible attention to detail, culminate in an insane, yet oddly entrapping experience.

 "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" isn't much for plotting and while providing some context, really isn't for the uninitiated. (There's this whole thing involving a silly dance that causes some sort of fusion that is brought up very late in the film), but considering I gave "Reign of the Supermen" a glowing review last week, I do feel as if I understand it a little better now. It's for the fans, and it gives them everything they could possibly want. On it's own, you can just see it as a rather absurd, but beautifully animated and solidly fun diversion. However, don't expect me to just drop everything I'm doing and become a devout fan now. I've got a lot to do these days, and a new anime obsession takes up a lot of time. 3 stars. Rated PG For Language, Violence, And Lots And Lots Of Yelling And Screaming. 

Glass                                                     ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for glass movieImage: Heart of Glass.

 This has easily got to be one of the most unique, and truly fascinating franchises that has ever been put to film. Especially since we had no idea it even existed at first. Starting back in 2000, when Director M. Night Shyamalan (Known for the acclaimed "The Sixth Sense", and the panned, "After Earth", "The Last Airbender", "The Happening", etc.) was still considered the next big thing, there was "Unbreakable". A stealth superhero movie, portrayed as a thriller that was actually a bit ahead of it's time, pointing out certain tropes that would later become the norm, as well as serving as a commentary on superheroes (And villains) in general. Sixteen years later, we had "Split", which was a psychological, hostage horror film that only in the final moments revealed it's big twist, being that it was in reality a sequel to "Unbreakable". Regardless of what you may think the final payoff ends up becoming, it's hard not to acknowledge that there is some genuine genius behind it all. But remember, geniuses are always a little weird.

 Concluding what's become known to some as the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy" (It's got a nice ring to it.), "Glass" follows three individuals who all have a certain connection to each other. In a world where it appears that super powered heroes and villains exist among us, we follow superhuman security guard, "David Dunn" (Bruce Willis), who has become a cloaked vigilante, known as "The Overseer". Working with his son, "Joseph" (Spencer Treat-Clark), David uses his ability to see the crimes of people by touching them to track down an elusive super criminal publicly known as "The Horde". The Horde is actually the alias given to "Kevin Wendell Crumb" (James McAvoy), a man with twenty four different identities inhabiting his body, consisting of "Patricia", a sophisticated woman in charge, "Dennis", a man with OCD, "Hedwig", a bizarre nine year old, and a terrifying monster called "The Beast". David tracks down Kevin and a battle ensues, resulting in the both of them being arrested, and committed to a mental hospital.

 This also happens to be where the madman who orchestrated David's origin, "Elijah Price/Mr. Glass" (Samuel L. Jackson) is currently being held. A psychiatrist, "Dr. Ellie Staple" (Sarah Paulson), believes that all of these abilities and comparisons to characters from comic books are nothing more than ideas that the three have planted inside their own heads, and have tricked themselves into believing. Dr. Staple intends to convince the three of this, keeping them all under lockdown. However, little does anyone know, Elijah's meticulous mind is already at worked. Elijah, a devout, obsessive believer in comics, plans to unleash the Beast and reveal what they are to the world, hoping that David will rise to the occasion to try to stop them, resulting in the superhero, comic book-esque story Elijah has been planning for years. 

 "Glass" is the culmination in almost twenty years of planning, and you can only expect something thrilling, suspenseful, and dramatically satisfying. For the first two acts, that's exactly what we get. The way the film establishes where these characters are since the last time we saw them, and how comic book elements can be grounded in the real world. Say what you will about where M. Night Shyamalan has gone in recent years, but one of his best talents is how low key he can make his characters, which makes them more relatable. They're all just regular people, who all just happen to inhabit extraordinary abilities. There are also some great moments of dialogue between characters, some solid action, and some captivating ideas of how people perceive and interpret comic book characters and superheroes. It's all building up to a big climax, which is exactly what everyone has been paying to see, and....well....This is where people are going to be pardon the pun, split right down the middle. Where it all ends up is not exactly where you would expect it to go, and there's something just off about it.

 Despite this, it's great to see the returns of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, and to see what's become of their characters during the time gap. It's nice to see Bruce Willis in a role that he actually cares about, and while he gets the least amount of screentime out of all the characters, there's something about his expressions (Much like in "Unbreakable") that make you feel for him, showing how much of a regular guy he is. Samuel L. Jackson is amazing once again, as a complicated, devious, and pretty charming villain with a goal that you can never quite figure out until he reveals it in a grand fashion. James McAvoy is brilliant, showing off just how terrific an actor he can be, portraying several different characters through their personalities, sometimes in the same scene. His characters are all unique with their own motives and wants (From Patricia, who is questioning her beliefs in the Beast. Dennis, who is tired of all the killing. And Wedwig, proving a weird sense of humor to the film.), and the way he allows them to inhabit his body (Both within the film, and within his actual performance.), bringing them all to life. It's not an easy role to play and one to make the audience take seriously, but he instantly entraps you, keeping you invested. Our supporting actors are all very good as well, such as Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark (Who gets a couple strong emotional scenes), the always mesmerizing Anya Taylor-Joy (as "Casey", the one survivor from the Beast's murder spree), and Charlayne Woodard (as "Mrs. Price", Elijah's mother, who still loves her son, despite the horrible things he's done.)

 Frustrating, but intentionally so, "Glass" gets a little to Shyamalany, piling on not one, not two, but three last second twists in the last twenty minutes. It doesn't destroy the film completely, especially since there were a few hints dropped at certain points, but from a storytelling point of view, it's all just too much to drop on you only moments before the credits roll. It also doesn't distract from the strong start, and true greatness sprinkled throughout, though the finished product isn't probably what you expected. For better or for worse. However, up until that point, I was compelled to where it was all going, and while I personally don't know how to feel about the big (Or not so big) payoff, it's clearly the story M. Night Shyamalan wanted to tell. I'm not sure I want to get inside his head. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Violence, Disturbing Images, And The Obligatory M. Night Syamalan Cameo. 

Reign of the Supermen                       ★★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for reign of the supermen movieImage: Super....Borg?

 I saw this as part of the theatrically released "The Death of Superman"/"Reign of the Supermen" Double Feature, but considering the first part was released last year, I'm just going to give a quick recap of my thoughts before moving on to the main event. (It would be weird to write a full review on something that came out a year ago.) So "The Death of Superman" is an adaptation of the classic 1992-1993 storyline of the same name (And the second adaptation if you could "Superman: Doomsday", which really condensed it all down). It's a strong addition to DC Animated Movie Universe, focusing on it's lead characters, providing some nice animation, and stunning action, with the final battle with Doomsday being a highlight. It all results in an ending that's dramatically effective, and accomplishes what it set out to do in less than an hour and a half, compared to what "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" failed to do in over two and a half hours with a much bigger budget. That's it in a nutshell, so now on to part two. 

 Set six months after "The Death of Superman", "Reign of the Supermen" opens with the world still reeling from the battle between the Man of Steel, "Clark Kent/Superman" (Jerry O'Connell) and the monstrous killing machine, "Doomsday", which resulted in the deaths of both. The death of the hero has also left many unanswered questions, not just including the fact that Superman's body has disappeared. Now there are new so called Supermen, claiming to take the place of the original, and nobody is sure how to react and who to trust. There is the cocky, teenage clone, "Superboy" (Cameron Monaghan), who was created by power hungry businessman/Superman's archenemy, "Lex Luthor" (Rainn Wilson), along with "John Henry Irons/Steel" (Cress Williams), who has created a mechanical suit of armor to honor the deceased superhero, and the more vicious, deadly "Eradicator" (Charles Halford). Then there is the most mysterious of all, "Cyborg Superman" (Patrick Fabian), a half man, half machine doppelganger, who has the most resemblance to the original Superman.

 Things can only get worse when the rest of the "Justice League" is seemingly taken out of the picture, including "Diana Prince/Wonder Woman" (Rosario Dawson), "Hal Jordan/Green Lantern" (Nathan Fillion), "Victor Stone/Cyborg" (Shemar Moore), "Martian Manhunter" (Nyambi Nyambi), "Barry Allen/The Flash" (Christopher Gorham), and "Bruce Wayne/Batman" (Jason O'Mara). Superman's love, "Lois Lane" (Rebecca Romijn) is left questioning how trusting these new Supermen are, especially Cyborg Superman, who appears to becoming the most popular replacement, offering to better enhance the people of the world to protect themselves. Evil schemes are uncovered and origins are revealed, along with a connection to the villainous conqueror, "Darkseid" (Tony Todd), which threatens to end the world, and without Superman, or the rest of the Justice League for that matter, someone is going to have to save the day.  

 The newest entry in both the "DC Animated Movie Universe" (It's like the live action DCEU, except it's actually fairly consistent.) and the long line of straight to DVD DC animated films, "Reign of the Supermen" is yet another example of how you do these much loved comic characters justice, and why the live action films should really start taking some notes by now. For some flaws, you kind of have to be a bit more forgiving, considering the fact that it's just a straight to DVD movie released in theaters for two showings, simply to promote itself more. But even knowing that, it's still an entertaining, action packed, well made superhero movie. The animation looks great, which comic accurate designs, and makes for some spectacular action. That wouldn't be enough if not for the solid character work that's provided, which is the film's highlights and why this series has lasted so long and worked so well. The defined characterizations make up for the film's juggling storyline, which is as well done as you could possibly do with an in depth adaptation of a major, defining comic book event (Not to mention the fact that it's a story that's over twenty five years old.)

 With Jerry O'Connell (Who has a certain boy scout-ish charm to his voice that fits Superman perfectly) out of most of the film, due to his character being, uh, dead, the movie's true main protagonist technically ends up being Lois Lane, and Rebecca Romijn's embodies the right amount of attitude and endearment. Rainn Wilson is essentially everything Jesse Eisenberg's version of Lex Luthor isn't, which is humorously petty, yet almost casually menacing. There is some good voice work to come out of the supporting roles, such as the still well cast Nathan Fillion and Jason O'Mara, who have been voicing these characters in these films for a while now. Due to so many arcs going on at once, some characters feel a little shortchanged, leaving some of the cast such as Cress Williams, Charles Halford, and Tony Todd (The whole Darkseid aspect is mostly just there to set up a future movie) with not too much to work with, despite all of them doing solid jobs. The most memorable new additions end up being Patrick Fabian, who is a threatening, compelling antagonist, and Cameron Monaghan (You know, the guy who plays the possible Joker in "Gotham"), is the most memorable and gets the best lines. 

 "Reign of the Superman" packs a lot into a brisk hour and a half, and while it's not perfect, it's still a damn good superhero movie on it's own. There are good characters, the story is dramatic, but the script is filled with enough humor to balance it out, and the themes of courage, heroism, and the simple act of wanting to do good, which is what we associate with Superman, are as wonderful as ever. (Though it's also nice that the movie also shows the dangers that likely will come from wanting to become like a figure so powerful and godlike) I can't say you should rush to the theater to see it since it was only a two night showing, but the second the DVD gets released next week, it's something any DC Comics fan definitely should want, and considering the current track record for theatrically released films based on these characters, it's something we kind of need. 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Comic Book Physiques. 

A Dog's Way Home                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a dog's way home movie

Image: "I'm not gonna' cry...Sniff....I'm not gonna' cry!" 

 You know what, I can admit I'm being a little lenient on this movie. From the trailer, which spoils much of the plot, and almost even straight up shows the resolution of the entire movie, it's easy to mock and throw away as just some manipulative, sappy, cheesefest, meant to force tears from your eyes. Maybe it is a little bit.......Doesn't mean it's impossible to do that right. If you don't want to be moved, well then you're a cold hearted bastard. 

 "A Dog's Way Home" follows the story of a half pitbull, "Bella" (Whose voiced thoughts are provided by Bryce Dallas Howard). After losing her family to Animal Control, Bella was raised by cats, living in an abandoned, collapses house until she is rescued by a young man, "Lucas" (Jonah Hauer-King) and his love interest, "Olivia" (Alexandra Shipp).Lucas and his veteran mother, "Terri" (Ashley Judd) decide to adopt Bella, who immediately becomes a beloved member of the family, and a best friend to Lucas. However, the local Animal Control officer (John Cassini) straight up has it out for the family for even having Bella, and is determined to impound her. Turns out in Denver (Where the film takes place), Pitbulls are essentially a banned breed of dog, something that Olivia refers to as "Racism for dogs". (Is this true by the way? If so, how? That's all kinds of messed up.) So the family decides to move, letting Bella stay with Olivia's family until they're ready. But Bella, not fully understanding what's going on, decides she has to return home to Lucas and leaves on her own. So begins a long journey back to her home, not knowing that her family is likely not going to be there by the time she arrives. On her quest, Bella encounters her own obstacles, as well as becoming a mother of sorts to an orphaned cougar, whom she nicknamed "Little Kitten", while showing just how loyal man's best friend can truly be. 

 Directed by Charles Martin Smith (Both "Dolphin Tale" movies), "A Dog's Way Home" is another dog-centric, adventure movie, which are really starting to blend together these days. At first I thought this was a sequel to the mostly meh 2017 film, "A Dog's Purpose". Mostly because, much like that movie, this one is based on a dog book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron (Who also served as a screenwriter for this movie), but then I learned a direct sequel would be coming out later this year. It's still a very similar film to "A Dog's Purpose", with the way it's directed, written, and right down to the thoughts of our canine heroine being shown through voice over narration. The biggest difference really ends up being that, unlike that other movie, something feels a bit more authentic. Because of that, you do overlook the film's shortcomings, and focus on what it does right, which is provide a heartwarming tale of loyalty. 

 The focus of the film is on Bella, who is as adorable a dog as you could possibly find anywhere to the point you swear the filmmakers cooked her up in a lab somewhere in an attempt to achieve maximum cuteness. It also helps that Bryce Dallas Howard is an inspired choice to voice her inner thoughts, which only adds an extra layer of adorable to the character. You could make the argument that the narration isn't particularly necessary, but considering the alternative (Like using horrifying effects to make the mouths movie), I'll take it. Her relationship with Little Kitten (Brought to life through questionable CGI), looks unconvincing thanks to the poor effects, but is one of the strongest, sweetest storylines in the movie. Our human cast only makes brief appearances, but all do good work. Jonah Hauer-King and Alexandra Shipp are likable, Ashley Judd is endearing as usual, and Edward James Olmos (as "Axel", a homeless man, who becomes a temporary owner to Bella) shows up to be a part of the most shockingly dark and heartbreaking moment of the film, that's unsettling for sure, yet I've got to commend the filmmakers for not sugarcoating something so heavy. The whole thing with John Cassini doesn't really need to be there, other than for the story to have a villain. 

 Predictable and even a little cheap looking, "A Dog's Way Home" is strongest in it's emotions, and I can't deny I was still moved by the film's honest heart. The movie has some moments where it stops to bring up some darker themes, such as how a dog will remain loving no matter how poorly an owner treats it, or how society unfairly views pitbulls, which are all handled maturely for what I thought would just be a silly, simple kids movie. In a way, it still kind of is one. It's just one that knows what it is, but doesn't have any intention of half-assing it. It's sure to warm the heart of any animal lover willing to forgive a little cheese thrown in there. I'm hugging my slobbering, drooling pups as we speak. 3 stars. Rated PG For Dark Situations And Tearjerky Elements. 

Replicas                                                         ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for replicas movieImage: "Whoa!"

 You see, this right here is more of what I'm used to. Not simple mediocrity, genuine surprises, or you know, anything trying to have some kind of depth. What I expect in January is incomprehensible and perplexing filmmaking, which is destined to not only make Worst Lists for for that year just when you finished the list from the previous one, but will also serve as an experience that you'll be asking yourself in a few years "Was that real?" Sadly it was. 

 "Replicas" follows neuroscientist, "William Foster" (Keanu Reeves), who works for a biomedical company, "Biodyne" in Puerto Rico, run by the obviously sinister, "Jones" (John Ortiz). Will is working on transferring a still functional brain from a recently deceased human body into a new, robotic body, though not of the tests seem to work out, usually resulting the brain rejecting the new body and destroying itself. Despite work trouble, Will decides to take his lovely wife, "Mona" (Alice Eve), and their three kids, "Matt" (Emjay Anthony), "Sophie" (Emily Alyn Lind), and "Zoe" (Aria Leabu) on a vacation. Will decides its a good idea to travel during a powerful storm, which ends in tragedy, with the car crashing, and Will being the only survivor. Distraught over losing his family, Will calls in a family friend/co-worker, "Ed" (Thomas Middleditch) to help transfer his deceased family's brains into robotic bodies.....oh wait. No he doesn't. Actually, since Bionyne also dabbles in cloning I guess (I'm not sure actually. The movie never makes it clear.), Will has Ed arrange for his family to be resurrected into clone bodies in his basement.

 Things get even worse for Will, when it's revealed that Ed can only provide three capsules of clone goo, leaving Will with no choice but to sacrifice one of his loved ones. (Bye Zoe! You didn't make the cut!) Will works tirelessly, trying to avoid suspicion from Jones and others, while trying to get the robotics tests back on track before the company goes under, which would also in turn shut his own experiments to bring back his family. Turns out cloning causes a lot of trouble, while bringing back Mona and his kids, who seemingly appear unchanged, Will's decisions will have lasting consequences, as well as eventually attract the attention of Jones and his superiors, who if you already haven't figured it out, have nefarious purposes. 

 Look, I failed Science, but even I know all of this is likely a load of crap. "Replicas" is curious film, with a weird premise and moral questions that are never answered. In fact, it's really hard not only to tell what this movie is trying to say, but also, what it's actual reason for existing is. The film claims to be directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Who wrote "The Day After Tomorrow") and written by Chad St. John ("Peppermint"), but it's hard to tell the movie was made by anyone with any credentials or experience whatsoever. How is it 2019 (or even 2016 when this movie was shot), and the filmmakers actually thought they could get away with a scene involving two cops standing outside in the pouring rain, yet they remain completely dry? The premise and story is so forced and needlessly convoluted.(Why clones? Why not just go for the robot angle? Why is that even there?) The tone is almost unsettlingly uneven, with odd dialogue that's over the top dramatic, but also tries to toss in a little silly humor (Such as Keanu Reeves wondering what a "Bae" is when posing as his dead daughter to her online friends), which does not belong here, and once we reach the silly, actionized climax, it almost feels like it;s been made by a completely different director. That's how a lot of the film comes across, with the movie changing ideas of what it wants to be throughout it's hundred minute runtime, which drags on forever because you can never tell when something is either going to become important or in some cases, get dropped from the film altogether. I'd say it's unpredictable, but that's just because it seemed like they were making it all up as they went along.

 The poor script and unfocused direction only translates to the actors, who are certainly capable and we've seen in good things. It goes to show how bad filmmaking can essentially drain all life from actors, no matter how hard they try. It most shows with Keanu Reeves, who is painfully miscast, coming across as dull and lifeless, seemingly treating the deaths of all of his loved ones more as a minor inconvenience than anything. It's upsetting to watch, and not for reasons it's meant to be. (Also, as I'm typing this, I just read that Keanu Reeves also produced this....Why? How? Two questions that will likely never be answered.) Alice Eve is mostly given nothing more to do than to look pretty and stare blankly, which don't get me wrong, she has a great stare, but I'm having trouble telling if she was directed that way or if she just didn't want to be here. Their relationship is hard to buy, considering she remains flawless during all scenes, no matter how dirty you're supposed to get, while Keanu Reeves looks disheveled and depressed even before his family dies. Thomas Middleditch is awkwardly misplaced, and only destroys the already messy tone further. The best performance comes from John Ortiz, who doesn't so much chew the scenery, he more devours it and comes back for seconds, sliming it up like the cartoon villain he is. 

 I haven't even gotten to the Keanu Reeves robot, which looks like CGI you would of seen in the 90s, and has the hilarious honor of having the voice of Keanu Reeves.....This movie is a disaster, and the definition of what a January release is expected to be. "Replicas" tries to be stylish, such as slanting the camera sideways for no reason. It tries to answer philosophical, Science Fiction-eque questions, but not really. It tries to have a coherent narrative, at least until it gives up on that entirely and goes for the most bonkers of climaxes (Right down to the final shot, which I don't even know what that was trying to get across). I could really go on forever on how it gets so much wrong in terms of filmmaking, acting, writing, direction, all those things that make a movie good. It really is fascinating how some films come into existence and fade away from memory before you know it. That's the true power of a throwaway January release. 1/2 star. Rated PG-13 For Violence Towards People And Machines, Slight Alice Eve Nudity, And The Carelessly Murdering Of Both God And Mother Nature At The Same Time. Good Job. 

The Upside                                                                    by James Eagan                                           ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the upside movieImage: The Odd-Ish Couple.

 There is one particular joke in this movie that should perfectly describe what kind of movie this is. We have a scene where our more sophisticated character takes his, um, let's just say less sophisticated friend to the opera. Of course, the less sophisticated character cracks jokes about the show at first. Jump cut to the end of it, and that same character is enthralled by it, and is the first to applaud. It's not an original jokes, nor is it inspired or even all that funny. However, it's fairly amusing, sweet, and mostly makes you smile enough to where you can't hate it. That's this movie. Uninspired, but somewhat endearing. 

 A remake of the 2011 film, "The Intouchables", and loosely (Very, very loosely) inspired by the true story of French rich guy, Phillipe Pozzo di Borgo, which it was based on, "The Upside" starts with the down on his luck, unemployed, "Dell Scott" (Kevin Hart). Dell has been having trouble finding work due to his criminal record and is unable to provide child support to his estranged ex, "Latrice" (Aja Naomi King). Though he's not really trying too hard to find a job, Dell ends up accidentally applying for a job as a caretaker to quadriplegic billionaire, "Phillip Lacasse" (Bryan Cranston), who instantly takes a liking to Dell's unfiltered attitude. Against the wishes of his very close assistant, "Yvonne" (Nicole Kidman), Phillip hires Dell, providing a place to live for him in his penthouse. As time goes on, both Dell and Phillip start to develop a friendship, with Dell learning how to become more responsible and to take charge of his life, while Phillip learning how to have a little more fun and to basically simply enjoy living once again. 

 "The Upside" is a movie that doesn't have too much to it, and sets out to accomplish one simple, but admirable goal. To warm the hearts of it's intended, undemanding audience. Granted, we did just got better versions of this kind of film recently, such as "On the Basis of Sex" and "Green Book", so this feels lesser and more disposable for a few different reasons. Directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless" and the first/not terrible "Divergent" movie), the movie looks good, though has a bit of a TV movie-ish feel. It also struggles slightly with it's tone, trying to mesh broad comedy and realistic drama. It doesn't always work, though the comedy does feel more brought down, and gets a few genuine chuckles to go with the film's heart, which truly is in the right place. 

 Where the film shines is with the likability and chemistry between the two lead actors, who seem at first like an unlikely pair, much like in the actual film itself. That oddly makes it work a bit better, because it feels more authentic because of it. Kevin Hart shows a bit more range than what I'm used to from him, and it's a very welcome change of pace. The movie shows he does have some dramatic chops, as well as comedic, while thankfully calming down a bit to let it all sink in. Bryan Cranston is someone that we already know can pull off both drama and comedy, and is well cast. His back and forth with Kevin Hart works because both actors are very good together, and work well off of each other. Even when some of the more humorous aspects don't quite the desired laugh, you find yourself endeared to these characters. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman brings more to what was probably meant to be a simplified role, having fun, adding some much needed class, and remaining as charming (And as lovely) as ever. 

 "The Upside" drags in the middle and suffers from a few odd editing choices (Such as awkward fade outs), but when the film focuses on the interactions between Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, which is where it should be focused on. Even when the film can't seem to avoid certain frustrating clichés, such as some forced conflicts that could be resolved with a simple conversation (Though I give credit to the movie seemingly trying to at least mix it up a little), there are nothing but positive messages and a certain charm to the movie. It's clear who it's meant for, and thankfully, it's inoffensive and likable enough that I can't help but recommend it to them. At least as something to rent and watch at home. No Oscar buzz (or Oscar hosting for Kevin Hart), but you can't hate on something for being what it is, and at least trying to be a little more while doing it. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor And Improper Catheter Use. 

Escape Room                                               ★★½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "These are January movies....NOOOO!"

 Time to say goodbye to 2018. Sure, there are a couple Oscar hopefuls that I still haven't gotten around to and hope to make the time for, but I also need to move on to the new year and whatever Hollywood decides to dump on us during the month of January. Granted, we shouldn't assume it will all be crap this month, just like how we shouldn't assume all the great movies will come out in November/December every year. Looks can be deceiving and never assume. Kind of ties into this movie a little bit. Just a little bit. 

 "Escape Room" follows a group of six strangers, all given a puzzle box that once opened, invites them to test their skills in an immersive, seemingly impossible escape room. The group includes, smart girl "Zoey" (Taylor Russell), who never takes risks, snarky loner, "Ben" (Logan Miller), scarred former soldier, "Amanda" (Deborah Ann Woll), goofy dad, "Mike" (Tyler Labine), cocky corporate businessman, "Jason" (Jay Ellis), and the nerdy guy, "Danny" (Nik Dodani), who won't shut up about how much he knows about escape rooms. The game at first seems simple enough, with the group being locked inside a seemingly normal room, but things take a terrifying turn when the room suddenly turns into a giant oven and tries to burn them alive. After escaping the first room, the group finds themselves in another one, this time apparently transporting them to log cabin near a frozen lake. The group also starts to discover hints and clues that have connections to their own personal lives and certain tragedies that befell them. It becomes clear that something nefarious is going on and the group is going to need to put their heads together if they are going to survive the many deadly traps set up in each room, while coming to terms with their pasts.   

 When I think of the typical January release, what usually comes to mind is cheap, lazy, and horror. They are the kind of film that gets popped out the minute the year starts, mostly because it seems like a guaranteed minor success. "Escape Room" has pretty much all of those tropes and trappings written all over it, though to give credit to the filmmakers and Director Adam Robitel ("Insidious: The Last Key", which was also a January release), a lot of creativity and twisted imagination went into this. It's a cool premise, and the movie has a pretty strong start, setting up the characters we need to know quickly, and leading them into the actual escape room at a fast pace. The escape rooms and traps they have to overcome are pretty cool, if not illogical. The film never explains how exactly the unseen villains are capable of something like this, and the movie itself suffers from unrealistic looking effects, which consists of a lot of green screen and bad CGI. It still makes for a few fun setpieces, such as an upside room where the floor keeps falling every few minutes, or a topsy turny room of black and white, which is meant to make the characters delirious. 

 The characters themselves are interesting enough, and while it's fairly obvious which are the ones who are going to live the longest (The ones who get the most screentime clearly), you find yourself invested thanks to a sense of humor and some mystery to keep you guessing. Taylor Russell is a sweet, likable lead, who gets a few strong moments of emotion. Logan Miller provides some snarky humor, along with an intentionally annoying Nik Dodani and an endearing Tyler Labine. Deborah Ann Woll is excellent, getting the sturdiest story arc. Jay Ellis gets the most predictable arc out of all of the characters, he does a good job playing up the uncaring, unlikable jackass of the group. The deaths are tame, because of the PG-13 rating, but unique in their own way and can come out of nowhere, which is fitting for a movie where survival through puzzles is the hook. One false move leading to instant death. 

 "Escape Room" offers pretty cheap, cheesy thrills, which is something that isn't unwelcome. There's some genuine competence behind the camera, good actors in front of it, and enough originality to make for a nice suspenseful thriller. Then the film kind of throws a lot of that out the window in the last five minutes. It's not so much a bad ending, as it is a really confusing one. It seemingly ends, then continues with a scene that was clearly added through reshoots, and then just keeps going with a strange little stinger that I guess was meant to set up for a sequel of sorts. It feels like something out of a spy movie, rather than a psychological thriller, and it's awkwardly stuffed in there at the last second. It doesn't completely destroy the movie and it's understandable that it can be a little difficult to properly end a movie like this in a way where everyone will feel satisfied, but it's just a bit too silly for something that has some actual sharpness to it. It's an enjoyable diversion regardless, even if the movie falls apart in the final moments. Honestly, considering the films I'm used to seeing around this time of year ("Mortdecai", "Norm of the North", and most of the lousy, hastily thrown out horror movies hoping to draw in some stupid teenagers), I welcome something, while flawed, just going for fun and at least trying to give it a little extra something. An escape, if you will....No, no. That's stupid. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Puzzling Peril And Illogical, Impossible Illusions.