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.
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.
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.
Image: 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.
Image: "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.