Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

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 ★★★★

Image result for captain marvel movie

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.