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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Nomadland                                                                                                     ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I sure hpe there's Wi-Fi out here."

There really is something about the simplicity of the human facial expression that can tell you more than any long winded, self righteous monologue or rousing musical cue ever could. It's not the kind of tactic that may even get an immediate emotional reaction out of you at first. It sinks into your soul, creeping up on you, and at the moment your defenses are down, it hits you hard. That's the power of the human reaction right there, and it takes true skill to convey it in a somber, realistic fashion, without the need to cloy and beg for that Oscar. 

Based on the non-fiction novel, "Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century" by Jessica Bruder, "Nomadland" follows the recently widowed and unemployed, "Fern" (Frances McDormand), after "The Great Recession". Having lost everything she's become accustomed to, Fern decides it's time for a complete change. She buys a van and moves into it, proceeding to travel across the country, searching for work such as a winter job at "Amazon". Becoming a "Nomad" (Person without a specific place to live, moving from place to place throughout the seasons), Fern begins a spiritual journey across the American West to find her place in it, learning more about what we as Americans may be taking for granted. 

Having been written, directed, produced, and also edited by Chloé Zhao ("The Rider", and will be directing the upcoming "Marvel Cinematic Universe" entry, "The Eternals". Talk about an unconventional choice), "Nomadland" gives off the feeling of a documentary, except shown through a cinematic lens. It's not a particularly grand film, with a matter of fact narrative and a lack of flash or style. There are no twists or turns, no heroes or villains, and not even any of the conventional conflicts that we're used to when it comes to movies. None of that is the point here, and even without any of the traditional cinematic protocols, it doesn't stop the film from being something deeply moving in the slightest. In a way, it only further allows it to sink in.

There's no style here, only substance. The movie is gorgeously filmed, proving a look at a part of America that every day people might just forget even exists. Every portrayed in the film is either completely real or at least so authentically so that you'd never be able to tell the difference. You get all the details necessary through simple imagery, whether it be the stunning landscapes or the collective group of unique individuals, without the need of ostentatious dialogue. What we get is more to the point, feeling thoughtful, yet like how expect an average person to speak. Zhao, like any real artist, captures that and presents it maturely without feeling condescending or false. She literally lets the people speak for themselves. 

Frances McDormand, who may have one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen, gives a sublime performance. It never wavers, and never does it go out of its way overemphasize itself. It would have been so easy to do so, but McDormand is nothing but gripping, even when the camera is just focusing on her reactions to the world she's only just begun to experience. David Strathairn (as "David", a fellow Nomad that Fern befriends) is endearing throughout, while real-life nomads, such as Bob Wells, Linda May, and a rather wonderful Swankie (All playing fictionalized versions of themselves that Fern meets while on her journey), are all very special in their sporadic appearances. The emotions aren't in what completely on display, but rather in the little things. It ranges from the leads, or just the minor roles scattered all over. Even when you don't think you quite get it at first, you're left something to ponder. 

"Nomadland" doesn't have the intention of judging or preaching. It rather just tells you like it is, displaying the pros and cons of such a lifestyle, and most importantly, just giving it the time of day it deserves. You see the hardships that these people have to go through, the pleasures of life that they are lacking, and what one is sacrificing in favor of simplicity. However, you see what one would gain from such an experience, such as better appreciation for what you do have, a more attuned connection to the world around you, and time that can be spent on more meaningful endeavors. We do tend to take things for granted, and half the time we don't even realize it. There's a beautiful part of our country that most of us will never see is literally right there, and to see someone have the ability to recognize and respect it the way that these people do is honestly one of the most American things I can think of. Even if you're not exactly sure if you can truly understand what a nomad does or even why, the film does a wonderful job at least helping you meet halfway. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content and Rough Living.             

Promising Young Woman                                                                           ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: A promising young future Oscar winner. 

There are aspects of our culture that you would think that we would have overcome by now. Sure we still have our obsessive need to discriminate, hold on to worn out traditions, and try to reshape history so that it doesn't look as bad as it actually was. College rape culture though. We're past that one at least right? Like, nobody defends that, right? Um, right? 

"Promising Young Woman" follows "Cassie Thomas" (Carey Mulligan) who, after a tragedy involving a close friend from college, "Nina", has made it her personal mission in life to pose as a drunk woman at bars and wait for supposed "nice guys" to pick her up, then take advantage of her while she's apparently inebriated. Once they're trapped, Cassie reveals her ruse to them and ruthlessly berates them for what they planned to do, keeping track of her targets while she does. She lives with her parents, "Stanley" (Clancy Brown) and "Susan" (Jennifer Coolidge), and has let her personal mission control her life, though she does start to change her mind when she falls for a doctor, "Ryan" (Bo Burnham). However, after learning the one responsible for what happened to Nina, the proclaimed cool guy that everybody likes, "Al Monroe" (Chris Lowell), returns to the picture to get married, Cassie goes after all of the ones who played a role in the incident, exacting her vengeance.  

From first time director, writer, and producer, Emerald Fennell (With Margot Robbie also serving as a producer), "Promising Young Woman" is kind of demented. It's an unhinged, nonchalantly twisted piece of work that despite a humorous tone centered around it, still makes for one of the darkest movies this year. Basically the term "Pulling your punches" doesn't mean crap to this movie. It instead intends to take a hammer to your face, then kick you in the crotch just for the Hell of it. It's the right amount of uncomfortable, and Fennell's genre-bending screenplay and suspenseful direction bring it all together in a complex puzzle of strangeness. The movie is filled with well crafted scenes, along with simplistic, yet memorable cinematography. It looks gorgeously, with clever use of color and background imagery. Despite the really dark subtext, there are a lot of funny moments, even though these bits might make one cringe or wince at the same time. 

Much of what carries the film is Carey Mulligan, who makes for an incredible presence in the film. Sympathetic one moment, terrifying the next, and at times, quite unlikable, the character goes through various moods and changes throughout, and Mulligan keeps the character grounded. She further compels the audience to follow her even when they're disturbed by some of her actions. While this is Carey Mulligan's show, the film has an excellent ensemble of recognizable faces, such as Bo Burnham (Who Mulligan has terrific chemistry with), Alison Brie (as "Madison", an old college acquaintance of Cassie's), Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox (as "Gail", Cassie's boss), Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield (as a dumb buddy of Al's), Alfred Molina (as "Jordan Green", Al's lawyer), Connie Britton (as the dean of Cassie's college), Molly Shannon (as Nina's mother), along with Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as a pair of Cassie's unsuspecting "victims"). 

"Promising Young Woman" addresses some worn out old sayings, such as "Well, what do you expect?", "Maybe she was asking for it.", or "Boys will be boys", without the need of portraying everything as good and evil, but also not letting those who allow for such actions off easy. It just so happens to do so with a somewhat sadistic smirk. While I can see some not exactly getting behind where the film eventually concludes, it remains fully committed to the twisting and turning tone that's been set up, and is either way, anything but predictable. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, And Untrustworthy Guys Who Just Can't Help Themselves.    

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise                                                                                                                                                                                                        ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Megatron. Are you talking to yourself again?" 

I reviewed the previous season of the "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy" not just because of my love of "Transformers", but mostly because at the time, I was struggling to find movies to review. This doesn't mean that I'm going to start reviewing more shows, Netflix events, or limited series, anytime soon. I do however feel that I might as well review the rest since there's not only a good amount to talk about, but I still have to fix what the Michael Bay movies failed to do (And "Star Wars" fans have the balls to think that they know cinematic pain....), and prove to the uninitiated that underneath all of the toy based consumerism, there's something truly great about this franchise. There is a lot of toy based consumerism still. It's just really, really cool though. 

Following the events of the first act, titled "Siege", "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" begins its second act in the epic battle between the heroic (But flawed) "Autobots" and the evil (But complicated) "Decepticons". After Autobot leader, "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee), sent the much needed "Allspark" into space to keep it out of the hands (And the luscious lips) of Decepticon leader, "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha), Prime, along with a few more Autobots, including the new recruit, "Bumblebee" (Joe Zieja), boarded the "Ark", to leave their homeworld of "Cybertron". The Ark vanishes, leaving their survival in question. Now "Elita-1" (Linsay Rousseau), must lead the remaining Autobot forces against Megatron, who works with Decepticon mad scientist, "Shockwave" (Todd Haberkorn), on a special plan known as "Project: Nemesis" (Which is powered by the harvested sparks of both Autobots and Decepticons). Meanwhile, Optimus and the others, as it turns out, are still alive in deep space, but are not in the hands of a group of factionless mercenaries, led by "Doubledealer" (Michael Schwalbe) working for the five faced "Quintesson", known as "Deseeus" (Voiced by Jolene Anderson, Keith Silverstein, Jay Sanford, Joseph Houghton, and also Linsay Rousseau). With more dangers left to face, Optimus and his allies continue their search for the Allspark and Megatron leads his forces to hunt them down. However, the battle for survival takes an unexpected turn involving the past, present, and future, that could alter the course of everything.    

From Rooster Teeth Studios, "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" should come with a quick warning before it starts for certain longtime fans. If you weren't a fan of the first part, you're definitely not going to be won over. A vocal minority of the fanbase just couldn't find themselves getting into the first act, and I can to a degree understand why. (Granted, after five live action films, with two of them being some of the worst things I've ever seen in a theater. That's not me being overdramtic. I'm being 100% honest there!) Told through six episodes once again, the story is darker, slower paced, has longer, drawn out moments of dialogue, and lacks the usual goofy sense of humor that many have gotten accustomed to. In a way, it's very different for this franchise. I think though, in spite of that, it's something that rather feels like a breath of fresh air for it. The factions aren't so simple, with the villains showing some depth and the heroes making more questionable decisions. I love the character interactions, especially when Optimus and Megatron are the main focus, though I truly appreciate the time given to Elita-1, who has always kind of been the background in most incarnations, but this time has her own major subplot. (A downside being that her storyline takes a backseat about halfway through before becoming more important towards the finale) The action is also thrilling to watch, with the animators having a lot of fun with the many abilities and transformations that the characters have, which are also integral to their personalities. Even bit players have a little extra something to them, which makes them more humanized (Well, humanized as far as an alien, transforming robot can be). 

The voice cast, while talented, are some of the more mixed aspects, though thankfully the characters are well written enough to make up for it. Jake Foushee's Optimus has been a major point in the broken base, mostly because of how much more incapable he is as a leader this time around. I actually really like that aspect though. He's a flawed hero, that sometimes has a tendency to struggle with his perceived legacy, and I do think Foushee gets better, especially during the climax. A standout would be Jason Marnocha's Megatron, who makes for one of the compelling, yet still frightening incarnations of the character. He truly believes himself to be the true savior of his race, though commits horrible acts to achieve his goals, which only get more and more ruthless as he goes along. It's a great villain, and the places his story goes are both shocking and thoroughly exciting, even more so for a longtime fan. (They also toned down his lips. So that's already a positive.) Other beloved characters get their time in the spotlight, such as Elita-1, Bumblebee, Shockwave, and my personal favorite, Megatron's treacherous second in command, "Starscream" (Frank Todaro), while some others get surprise roles, such as an interesting take on "Sky Lynx" (Sean Wright), a towering "Scorponok" (Michael Dunn), and some that you would never expect to play a part here. One gripe I have is that Deseeus, along with the Quintesson/mercenary storyline, doesn't quite serve much purpose except to have a third party for the climax. 

"Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" has plot twists galore, a moody atmosphere, too many references to count, and well directed action, which would be nothing without the series' realization that character is what makes this all matter. Regardless of a few little shortcomings, you're invested in both hero and villain, and can at least understand why they make the choices they do. The final two episodes take this all to a place that I wouldn't have seen coming, and while it brings everything together, ends on an abrupt cliffhanger with many lingering questions. It's not for every fan, and I while I get why, I am thoroughly excited (And most of all captivated) by where it's all going to conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated TV-Y7 For Some Bizarre Reason, Despite Some Gruesome Deaths. Sure They're Robots That Bleed Purple, But It's Still Disturbing To Watch. 

Wonder Woman 1984                                                                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: An Angel with really shiny wings.

Is this really the future of cinema right here? Releasing upcoming films both in theaters and on streaming at the same time? This actually does somewhat have me worried. I don't think that the art of film is never going to recover, or that movie theaters will all shut down (Though they most certainly will take a hit. Then again though, what can you do?). I'm more worried that we might just be past the point of no return (People might just be too used to this), and that studios might be preparing for the long haul. We're going to be feeling the effects of Covid long after its gone, and that's hoping it goes away anytime soon. So with all that said, something inspiring good old fashioned superhero heroism in a year without it (It's jarring not to have a Marvel movie this year) was needed.  

"Wonder Woman 1984" follows the powerful and immortal Themascarian Amazon princess and warrior, "Diana Prince" (Gal Gadot), aka "Wonder Woman", as she secretly fights crime all over the world, while also working in the Washington D.C. Smithsonian as an anthropologist. While in D.C., she befriends a socially insecure archaeologist, "Barbara Minerva" (Kristen Wiig) and studies ancient cultures, such as a mysterious relic, known as the "Dreamstone" (Which can supposedly grant any wish one desires. For a price of course). Diana is still heartbroken over the loss of her true love, "Steve Trevor" (Chris Pine) back in World War I, wishing that she can somehow be reunited with him. Her wish is granted, with Steve (Inhabiting the body of somebody else) is resurrected, bringing the two together once more. However, charismatic, power hungry oil tycoon and television personality, "Maxwell Lord" (Pedro Pascal), has been searching for the Dreamstone and plans to use it to achieve the greater power that he's always felt that was owed to him. 

After schmoozing it off Barbara (Who has also made a wish to become both really hot and scary strong), Max wishes to become one with the Dreamstone, allowing him the ability to grant any wish, while achieving incredible power at the same time, along with total insanity. Diana and Steve know that such power in the wrong hands could unleash Monkey's Paw style chaos on the entire planet, with the lives of many now hanging in the balance. Now Diana and Steve must travel across the globe to track down Max and find a way to put an end to his madness before his actions bring an end to the world. Meanwhile, Barbara, who has no intention of losing the power and confidence she's always wanted, slowly begins her own transformation, putting herself at odds with Diana. 

With Patty Jenkins ("Monster") returning to direct and co-write along with David Callaham and comic book writer, Geoff Johns (Known for his "Justice League" and "Green Lantern" runs), "Wonder Woman 1984" has a lot to live up to. This is not just considering the fact that the original was the first truly remarkable entry into the "DC Extended Universe", proving that the franchise could work with the right team behind it. It also all around wonderful film that just so happens to give the female audience their own superhero to look up to. (For the longest time, female comic book movies either failed miserably or were intentionally pushed to the side out of fear that they wouldn't be successful) This sequel goes much bigger, grander, and due to the 80s aesthetic, more colorful than ever before. Perhaps the film goes somewhat overboard in some places, but for what it gets right, it does so in spectacular fashion. 

 The film has a lot to get out of the way once it opens, with some new characters to introduce, along with detailed plotlines that can only get explanations as the film progresses. It can be bit to take in, especially when you know that the film is two and a half hours long. Then again though, once the film finds its footing, it gives the fans everything they could want from a "Wonder Woman" movie, mixed with a certain goofy charm that comes with the 80s. Clearly Patty Jenkins was inspired by the old fashioned sense of the older "Superman" films or the golden age era of comic books. Considering most DC films have this almost drug-addicted need to be as dark as humanly possible (What is it with Zack Snyder and his absolute hatred of color?), going back to the era that while of course, somewhat cheesy, at least gives you more personality and a sense of fun that's been sorely lacking from too many of these films. Also, who doesn't miss old school heroics? It's best shown in an early sequence involving Diana as she faces off against some incompetent criminals in a retro styled mall in a rather comedic, yet still badass fashion. The film remembers to keep a good sense of humor, which makes you actually care for the characters, especially when things get a bit more serious as the movie really gets into the complicated plot.  

The film's visuals are gloriously wild and vibrant, and make for more than a few stunning action sequences, such as a chase scene in Cairo. There's also a beautiful scene with Diana and Steve piloting an invisible jet through a fireworks display (The fact that they even found a way to include the invisible jet without it looking silly at all deserves praise). Underneath all of that is something very human, which despite some of the story's more out there moments (What the Dreamstone is or where it came from is one of those "Just go with it" sort of plot points), is really what elevates the film past some shortcomings, preventing the film from being overindulgent. The lighter tone doesn't shy away from the film's deeper message, along with the dark implications of what such power in the wrong hands could be capable of. It also addresses what it takes to overcome such things, with themes of hope and believing that our humanity will win out in the end despite our obvious flaws. It's actually a very fitting metaphor for the film as a whole now that I think about it.

Gal Gadot, who by this point embodies the character so much that I can only see her in this part from now on, is stunning once again, showcasing the heroine's strength, weaknesses, and endearing grace in her expressions and body language alone. Her chemistry with Chris Pine, who also gets a lot of great comedic moments reacting to the new world around him, is what carries the film and gives it its heart. It's one of those movie relationships where you care so much for both characters and can't help but follow them through anything. Pedro Pascal, who is like Donald Trump except more charming, funny, capable, makes for a compelling antagonist (You know what, aside from the hair, he's actually nothing like Donald Trump), greedily hi-jacks his scenes, while Kristen Wiig is rather perfectly cast. Her later transformation into full "Cheetah" also looks pretty solid all things considered. (Although it's strange to say that the characters from last year's "Cats" are actually much scarier than the actual cat person whose supposed to be menacing) We also get brief appearances in flashbacks from Connie Nielsen (as "Hippolyta", Diana's mother) and Robin Wright (as "Antiope", Diana's aunt/mentor), who are very much welcome. Where the first film somewhat faltered once it reached its third act, this one ends up being elevated by its own. The finale, instead of going bigger and better, surprisingly keeps it contained despite the larger scale implications. However, once the point the film is making becomes apparent, it's perfectly explained. The emotions speak for themselves and resonate well in today's rather divided, antagonistic world. (I also appreciate the nod to a certain controversial moment from the comics and how its handled in a more thoughtful, less violent fashion)

 A bit too much of a good thing at times, "Wonder Woman 1984" makes up for its flaws of ambition with honesty and a sincere nature. Unlike most films in the DC Extended Universe (Something I fear next year's "Zack Snyder's Justice League" will only further neglect), this movie offers hopeful inspiration, a sweet smile, and enough charm to make up for any mistakes. It's the heroism that you wish to see from your iconic heroes, and the kind that further motivate you to be better than you even think you could possibly be. Lets see your precious "Snyder Cut" do that! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Pervy Men, Superhero Action, And Too Much 80s For The Average Person To Handle. 

Soul                                                                                                                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Music Smurf steps into a completely different movie.

Merry Christmas everyone! We've been through a lot this year, but we at least made it hear. Not to mention, our streaming services had special presents just for us. Released through "Disney+", both "Walt Disney Pictures" and "Pixar Animation Studios" (After the whole "Mulan" thing didn't quite work out) have decided to gift us with yet another instant classic for the whole family to enjoy. However, this one also has something deeper than what your children might be used to. Only Pixar has the guts to do something like this.

"Soul" follows middle grade school band instructor, "Joe Gardner" (Jamie Foxx), a lover of music and jazz, having always dreamed of becoming a professional musician, though sadly, never actually has been able to achieve his goal. Thanks to an old student turned drummer, "Curley" (Questlove),Joe is able to get a gig with renowned jazz musician, "Dorothea Williams" (Angela Bassett), which may change his life forever despite also getting offered a full time teaching position at the school. Joe, lost completely in the thought of his dreams finally coming true, ends up falling down an open manhole to an unexpected death. (Sort of) Joe's soul, now in a squishy, puffy form, begins to move on to the "Great Beyond", but Joe isn't ready yet, escaping into "The Great Before". Within the Great Before, at the "You Seminar" all souls are assigned personalities by astral beings called "Soul Concelors", all named "Jerry" (Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade). 

At the seminar, Joe poses as an instructor to find a way back to Earth, being assigned assist a rather cynical soul, "22" (Tina Fey), who wants nothing to do with Earth or life itself, believing it to not be worth the hassle. While searching for 22's purpose in life, she and Joe find a way back to Earth with help from the spiritual sign twirling, "Moonwind" (Graham Norton), while they're being pursued by the overly into her job, "Terry" (Rachel House). Joe and 22's journey leads them to an unexpected place, which I dare not spoil. Lets just say that there's more to this movie than advertised.       

Directed by Pete Doctor ("Monsters Inc.", "Up", "Inside Out"), with a co-directing credit to Kemp Powers (Who also co-wrote it along with Doctor), "Soul" has got to be one of Pixar's more ambitious and surreal projects yet. It's also got to be their most mature in many different, unpredictable ways. The movie doesn't flow exactly like your average family fare. Granted, Pixar, and a lot of the time Disney too, have been known for such things. Movies like "Up", "Finding Nemo", "Ratatouille", and  the "Toy Story" series have some more grown up based themes, but this is on a whole new level. The humor is actually different as well. Sure we get some well timed slapstick and quick gags. There is a lot of humor that actually just comes from the characters interacting. It's also balanced out beautifully with a very deep, authentically real feeling story which fittingly focuses on the lively world that the characters inhabit. It's a film about life and what life can bring, and the movie, without having to overplay it, carefully crafts loads of great characters, who range from major to supporting roles. However, every single one of them is memorable and I love how the film finds a way of making them each play their part in the story. 

The animation is a sight to behold, making for one of the best looking films (Animated or otherwise) out there. It looks real, though never too overly so. The human characters have slight exaggeration, but don't feel out of place (Look closely and you'll notice how nobody looks remotely the same). The souls and other abstract beings are simple in design, yet are used for some incredible imagery. It's all really original what the filmmakers have come up with, and jaw droppingly creative. (Also, the design on a certain cat, "Mr. Mittens", is just too adorable) The animation, which blends between styles (Traditional 2D animation is wonderfully utulized in a few sequences), could be a game changer for the art form, and I appreciate how well the its used in the film, without having to heavily rely on it. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, along with a few songs by Jon Batiste, really captures the look and feel of what's shown to us. It's fitting how the main character gravitates towards music (Jazz specifically, which always a fascinating sound to me), and how expertly it's interwoven into the narrative to coincide with the themes of life, death, fulfillment, and existence. All of this is something that your kids might not fully understand. With that said, the movie doesn't talk down to kids, but it also doesn't alienate them. It's a little baffling how the filmmakers knew how to give plenty to appeal to the youngsters, a human narrative for the adults, and some things for the whole family to contemplate together. 

Jamie Foxx gives one of those all time great voice performances. Almost unrecognizable if you didn't know it, he perfectly encompasses his character, matching his expressions (Both in his human and soul form), bringing a lot of humor and depth. Tina Fey is also phenomenal, getting a lot of laughs, while providing an emotional core. There's a lot of strong supporting roles for Questlove, Angela Bassett, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, and a really warm performance from Phylicia Rashad (as "Libba", Joe's mother), while Rachel House and Graham Norton spend most of the time stealing whatever scene they're in. There's a sense of unpredictability to the film, a lot of which is nowhere to be found in the trailers and commercials (Unless you look very carefully), and I appreciate how it never goes the supposed easy route, even though it easily could have. To a degree, one wouldn't even mind if it had. Pixar deserves a lot of credit for not wanting to do your usual family fare, complete with all of the typical, obligatory tropes that come with it, but instead want to make an actual film that one would feel to urge to take inspiration from, even if you don't have any kids. 

"Soul" is Pixar doing what it does best, while offering a much different outlook than even what the studio has been known for. It blends in some African American culture in a subtle manner, though also makes it easy for anyone to feel for and relate to. (There are so many subtle little details that it warrants another viewing, aside from how good the film is) There's something very special about this one. You get laughs, heart, and spiritual insight explained in a completely original fashion, along with of course, maybe a few moments that will certainly get a few small tears out of you. It's Pixar. You can resist all you want, but you know it's going to happen at some point. Thoughtful, fun, and stunning to the eye, it really makes you appreciate that after all you may have been through this year, you're still alive and still free to leave your mark on a flawed, yet beautiful place. How many movies this year have been able to do that? Let alone one aimed at all ages? 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Slightly Mature Moments And Theoretical Constructs Too Much For Our Tiny Brains To Possibly Comprehend. 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom                                                                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: A posthumous Oscar for a King.

The loss of Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer was one of the biggest gut punches to come out of 2020. An actor that I immediately knew had instant greatness back in 2013 with the movie "42" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one), and then skyrocketed into the mainstream, becoming a household name with his appearances in "Captain America: Civil War" and then of course, "Black Panther" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one too). He was an actor that was always good no matter what, and not to mention, just seemed like a really awesome guy too. The tragedy of his passing is something that only made what was already such a rough year even rougher, and I hope that the man's final, possibly greatest performance, finally gets him the recognition that he already deserved years ago.   

Based on the play by August Wilson (Which is inspired by the real life "Mother of the Blues"), "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" takes place in the 1920s, with "Ma Rainey" (Viola Davis), prepares for a recording session with the rest of her bad, consisting of pianist, "Toledo" (Glynn Turman), bass player "Slow Drag" (Michael Potts), guitarist "Cutler" (Colman Domingo), and trumpeter "Levee Green" (Chadwick Boseman), who has big aspirations for his future, planning to leave the band and start his own. However, Levee's ambitions put him at odds with the rest of the band, along with Ma's arrival with her girlfriend, "Dussie Mae" (Taylour Paige), and her stuttering nephew, "Sylvester" (Dusan Brown), who Ma intends to give a part to on the album regardless of his stutter. Tensions continue to rise among the band members mostly due to Levee's antagonistic behavior, mixed in with Ma's larger than life personality, the racial injustice of the time, and the demons of the past that eventually affect the present. 

Directed by George C. Wolfe (Mostly known only for his theater work), with a screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a producing credit by Denzel Washington, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" plays out in a way that would seem stage-like at first, with the drawn out sequences of monologues in a single closed space or the lack of locations due to the film's short timeline. However, this is a film where those close quarters really work to the film's advantage, giving the viewer the same sense of anxiety and subtle apprehension of fear that the characters do. It's a very personal feeling that only enhances the film, which is also helped by the intricate, character heavy dialogue that provides instant insight into every character's motivations and their somewhat vague, yet just detailed enough backstories. There is a lot of very human interaction here, which has moments of humor, pathos, and allusions to the real life African American struggles.  

This is further illuminated by the pitch perfect cast, which features some outstanding performances unlike anything you've ever seen from some of these actors. Viola Davis, who is almost unrecognizable at first, has got to have one of the most commanding presences I've ever seen in a film. Everything goes quiet when she enters the room, demanding both fear and respect at the same time, with small, poignant hints to the more mortal soul buried within her rough exterior. Chadwick Boseman, in one of his last (If not his last) performance, shows a different side to himself than what we're used to seeing. He portrays a character that plays up a cocky attitude and a lot of in your face charisma, while hiding something more tortured beneath the surface, just waiting to be let out with dangerous consequences. Pretty much everyone in the small cast gets a moment, though special recognition goes to Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, and Jeremy Shamso (as "Irvin", Ma's white manager, who is desperate to keep the peace). 

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" tackles racial injustice, the art of music, and the cultural divide, along with the scars that history has left behind, which in many ways have yet to truly be healed if they ever actually can be. Everything boils to a dark, yet contained ending that further showcases these themes without overplaying it. It simply allows the audience to ponder the moments and take it with them once the film draws to a close. One of this year's best, which is also a touching tribute to one of the best actors taken away from us much too soon. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content And Language, Along With Cultural Appropriation. 

Songbird                                                                                                                        ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm sorry I'm not wearing my mask....It's my constitutional right!"

Imbecilic. Brain-Dead. Simple-Minded. Thoughtless. An intellectual failure to all of the aspects that make us the supposed superior species on the planet. Guys, I can only find so many synonyms for the word "Stupid". So bear with me. 

"Songbird" takes place in dystopian future world of.....2024. COVID-19 has become COVID-23. The United States is in a permanent lockdown, with the Department of Sanitation taking those infected into concentration camp-like facilities known as "Q-Zones". (It's Tucker Carlson's worst nightmare come to life!) However, packages continue to get delivered, thanks to the delivery business run by "Lester" (Craig Robinson). Set in Los Angeles, we follow a delivery package courier, "Nico" (KJ Apa), who is immune to the virus and is in a virtual relationship with a young caretaker, "Sara" (Sofia Carson), as she takes care of her sick grandmother, "Lita" (Elpidia Carrillo). Meanwhile in another storyline, a rich couple, "Piper Griffin" (Demi Moore) and her husband, "William" (Bradley Whitford), are most likely up to shady things, while taking care of their daughter, "Emma" (Lia McHugh). Then in yet another storyline, another courier, "Michael Dozer" (Paul Walter Hauser), a former war vet delivering packages with drones due to being in a wheelchair, befriends pretty aspiring singer, "May" (Alexandra Daddario), though she is trapped in an abusive affair with William. When Sara's grandmother becomes infected with the virus, it attracts the attention of the Department of Sanitation, along with their wacko leader, "Emmett Harland" (Peter Stormare). Determined to save the love of his life, Nico sets out to get some immunity bands for Sara and her grandmother (Although that doesn't actually mean  that they are immune. So doesn't that meant that they risk the possibility of catching or at least spreading the virus? Didn't think that one through, did ya?), while avoiding Hardland and his Nazi-esque hazmat suit wearing henchmen. 

 Produced by Michael Bay, though directed by the mostly unknown Adam Mason (His IMDB page is mostly made up of short films), "Songbird" is basically a Michael Bay ripoff since it contains many of his trademarks and still has his stink all over it. (Everyone in Michael Bay's universe is ungodly sweaty) I'd say that the timing of this movie was terrible, if not for the fact that the filmmakers intentionally made it so. The premise and overall concept behind the movie is incredibly bizarre and for many, could be seen as horribly offensive, considering how many have both died and suffered over the course of this pandemic. However, the most offensive part of the entire film is just how intellectually impaired it seems to be. Calling it dumb would be too lenient a word, and would unfairly compare it to perfectly harmless and more enjoyable dumb things in life. The movie is a festering pot of stupid ideas that are barely connected to one another, and only crumble under each other's inept thickheadedness, that it only seems the filmmakers were hoping nobody would notice or care. The world that's set up doesn't make remotely any sense, and neither do the places the plot ends up going. Why are those immune to the virus (Or "Munies", as the film calls them) just told to go around making deliveries, instead of using these people to look for a cure? How exactly did the Department of Sanitation become so militarized? Where does Nico expect to go with Sara? The film never states that, if she's immune, Isn't she, you know, going to die? I could go on with these pointless questions that nobody has answers for. 

The film's focus on KJ Apa and Sofia Carson (Both of which are capable actors), results in a cheesily written, agonizingly boring storyline that still isn't enough to fill up the film's short eighty-five minute runtime. Apa and Carson can't overcome the overabundance of cringe, and it's more depressing to watch than anything. Craig Robinson is the movie's attempt at humor (Although he doesn't actually contribute much the more I think about it), while Demi Moore looks like she would rather be anywhere but here. Bradley Whitford looks continuously perplexed, while Alexandra Daddario (And her pretty eyes) doesn't do anything aside from pad out the movie. Paul Walter Hauser is trying his best, but his subplot gets increasingly more ludicrous as it continues. The real scene-stealer, as expected, would be Peter Stormare, who at least gets a few laughs in the movie (Some of them even intentional). You have to give the guy credit, no matter what, he always gives it 110%. 

Aside from making the intentional decision to refrain from explaining literally anything, "Songbird" also seemingly doesn't even know what its actual stance is on the whole lockdown situation is anyways. It's like the film is implying that while the virus is very much real, can kill you, and will affect those around you, love is more important and screw anyone who says otherwise. That's a horrible message to tell people! I work at a CVS and still get people telling me that the virus isn't real or that it's not that bad. Showing an apocalyptic future, with a Nazi regime forcing people to stay in lockdown is only going to give these morons more fodder. The direction is sloppy and obnoxious, the writing is full of clichés, and so slow paced that even with the short runtime, it feels like you've been watching it for hours. Worst of all, it's just so moronic, which is more insulting to those who have sadly lost loved ones to this pandemic and those will may continue to lose more to it before it's over. It would have been one thing if the film took a side on the debate (Why there's even a debate is beyond me), but the film lacks the brain power to even do that. If you have nothing important to say, maybe you should have kept your damn mouth shut! 1/2 Star. Rated PG-13 For Glistening Sweat, Little Social Distancing, A Little Blood, And A Whole Lotta Stupid! 

Monster Hunter                                                                                                 ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Mila Jovovich hunts only for food, not for sport.

Well, if you're going to make a big dumb video game adaptation, at least have the decency to go all the way. After a year's worth of terrible crap going on, we could use some good crap as a distraction. Also, who doesn't like big, scary monsters?   

Based on the much loved "Capcom" game of the same name (With a few Americanized tweaks for those who I guess can't accept um, people hunting monsters...), "Monster Hunter" opens with a small military team, led by US Army Ranger, "Captain Natalie Artemis" (Mila Jovovich), as they are swept up in a strange storm that somehow teleports them into another world. This new world is similar to ours, except for the fact that it appears to be mostly desert and is filled with giant, deadly Kaiju-like monsters that have only one mission in life, which is to kill and eat whoever crosses their path. Eventually Artemis is all that's left, but she finds surprise help from a skilled warrior, known only as "The Hunter" (Tony Jaa). Knowing that a mysterious tower, which is located in the same raging storm that transported her into this alternate world in the first place, Artemis teams up with the Hunter to journey to the tower, avoiding the monsters blocking their path, such as giant spiders, a massive horned bull, and a certain fire breathing dragon your gamer friend might geek out over. 

Written and directed by cinematic lunatic Paul W. S. Anderson (The guy responsible for all those "Resident Evil" movies), "Monster Hunter" is one of the better cases of false advertising being a good thing. At least, from an outsider just looking for a silly popcorn movie perspective. People weren't happy when it appeared that his long-running franchise was going to be changed for no good reason, and would focus on a bunch of bland military soldiers fighting monsters, despite what the premise of the games is actually supposed to be. However, all of that is merely the setup. After a pretty rocky first twenty minutes or so, the movie takes a shift for the better. All of that is thrown out the window (In surprisingly violent fashion), making way for something that, while not all that much more intelligent, is at least fairly entertaining to watch. Paul W. S. Anderson's direction style has always relied on excessive action and whatever over the top imagery you can throw at the screen. He's not without his occasional eye for wildly out there, but cool looking imagery, and can craft an solid actions setpiece. There's moments of suspense, and even though the CGI varies from looking fairly impressive to looking like obvious green screen, it feels fairly fitting for a film like this. 

Say what you will about Mila Jovovich's career choices, but she always looks like she could very much handle herself in an action scene. She also does good work with the also very badass Tony Jaa. They're likable, look as believable as they possibly could be fighting larger than life monsters, and when they become the sole focus, the movie itself feels more attune with its own identity. Others such Clifford "T.I." Harris and Meagan Good (as fellow military soldiers) don't have any real effect on the story in the slightest, while Ron Perlman (as "Admiral", leader of the other monster hunters) and his hilarious wig/sideburns combo, pops up to be a scene stealer even in something so ridiculous. The monsters themselves are very intimidating, especially the killer spiders, who get a few good kills in and even a few decent scares. I also can't help but award half a star simply for the appearance of a,... Ahem, "Meowscular Chef", which is one of those things that must be seen to be believed. (He only appears in a couple scenes, but it's honestly, one of the greatest creations I've ever seen) 

"Monster Hunter" is mind numbingly stupid, lacks much flow when it comes to story (Which is especially noticeable towards the end's poor attempt at a sequel), and is definitely something I could in good conscience say that you should risk your health to see in a theater. However, for something that I had written off as a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, it's still a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, and yet, it succeeds at being so with at least a sense of imagination. That's no small feat for a video game adaptation if you ask me. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters, Death By Spider Birth, And For Still Less Frightening Cat People Than Last Year's "Cats". 

The Prom                                                                                                            ★★★  out of ★★★★

Image: Donny and Marie make their long awaited comeback.

Can movies be comfort food? I'd like to think so, especially when we still have the rest of December to get through before we finally reach 2021 (Anyone else waiting for an apocalyptic event to happen? I hear we have a Michael Bay pandemic based movie on the way. Does that count?). Sometimes something silly and kind of cheesy to simply make you smile, and enjoy the simpler things in life. 

Based on the 2018 Broadway musical from Matthew Sklar, "The Prom" follows New York stage actors, "Dee Dee Allen" (Meryl Streep) and "Barry Glickman" (James Corden), after their newest Broadway extravaganza, "Eleanor" (A musical based on Eleanor Roosevelt), fails miserably with the critics, mostly due to Dee Dee and Barry's public image. However, they see an opportunity for a better image when they discover that in a small town in Indiana, the leader of the Parent Teacher Association, "Mrs. Greene" (Kerry Washington) has had the local high school cancel the Prom because a young Lesbian girl, "Emma" (Jo Ellen Pellman), wanted to take her secret girlfriend/Mrs. Greene's daughter, "Alyssa" (Ariana DeBose). Dee Dee and Barry, along with some fellow washed up actors, such as a former chorus girl "Angie Dickinson" (Nicole Kidman), "Trent Oliver" (Andrew Rannells) an all over the place actor whose name nobody can remember, and their publicist, "Sheldon Saperstein" (Kevin Chamberlin), head out to Indiana in hopes of swooping in and saving the day. Of course, the entire situation becomes more of a debacle than it already was. With help from Emma's supportive, Broadway loving principal, "Tom Hawkins" (Keegan-Michael Key), they are able to get the prom back on, though still have to deal with the town's bigotry as well as their own personal problems.    

Directed by Ryan Murphy (Does the man ever take a day off?), with a screenplay by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (Co-writers of the original Broadway show), "The Prom", much like from what I've head about the actual source material, is pretty generic and safe by stage musical standards. I'm mostly only assuming that the film adaptation isn't too much different and remains plenty faithful to the original. The movie doesn't do much new, and if you're not a fan of bombastic musicals, you are sure as Hell not going to be having any of this. Me, being someone with a bit of a guilty soft spot for them, had a complete blast with this movie. It's goofy and sparkly all over, but the film knows it's full of cheese and embraces it with sense of earnestness that's rather hard not to admire. The screenplay is smart enough to get by the predictable plotting, especially with the well timed funny back and forth between characters, which also find their place in the very poignant story without undercutting the message of understanding and accepting those different than you. (While bigotry is still allowed to exist, we will always need to heard this moral)

Meryl Streep, who actually may or may not be playing an exaggerated version of herself here (And boy, is he having the time of her life doing it), is just dazzling here, giving a reminder as to why the Academy seemed to be obligated to give her at least one Oscar nomination per year for a while. James Corden, though I can see why some in the LGBTQ community could see it as a questionable role (We are getting to the point that it might be best to you know, actually cast gay people as gay characters), is also pretty excellent and is much funnier here than he's been in a while. Streep and Corden together make for a flawless (And dare I say, fabulous) duo. Nicole Kidman, aside from being pretty on almost inhuman levels, gets one of the most memorable musical sequences (Though she has the smallest role out of the group), Kevin Chamberlin is a delight, and Andrew Rannells gets some of the biggest laughs, especially when seemingly poking fun at himself considering he too seems to be unknown despite appearing in various projects. (Wait! He was the narrator on "Sonic X"? I have questions....) Kerry Washington makes for a detestable antagonist, while Keegan-Michael Key has surprisingly fantastic chemistry with Meryl Streep. Special praise is also given to mostly newcomers, Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana De Bose, who both convey human sympathy to their characters, as well as do a fine job keeping up with the more veteran performers. 

I can't say the songs in "The Prom" are anything I am going to actively seek out. However, they're all catchy and fun to listen to, especially with Ryan Murphy's lively, boisterous direction, which has energy to spare. It's clear that a lot of hard work went into the production design, and it shows in how nearly excessively detailed the dance choreography is. The film is authentic and old fashioned to a fault. With that said, it's so likable and most importantly of all, just so much fun. Nothing particularly nutritious, but comforting nonetheless. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content And Enough Gayness To Make Any Bigot Wet Themselves.  

Mank                                                                                                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Citizen Oscar Winner.

I still think that regardless of how many last minute movies come out this year, we are not going to have an Oscars. An actual show even happening might now seems most unlikely (How strange would it be to see it done via "Zoom" call? How would that even look?). I've been wrong before, but no matter how many last minute hopefuls show up, it's not going to be the same either way. Still, even with the several wonderful performances I've seen this year, I'm very confident that the race for the Best Actor category might already be over.  

"Mank" recaps the events that led up to the creation of one of cinema's greatest achievements, "Citizen Kane". The film follows once the renowned, but not washed up and depressing, Hollywood screenwriter, "Herman J. Mankiewicz" (Gary Oldman), also referred to as "Mank". He is recruited by actor/director/guy who voiced the giant evil planet in the animated "Transformers" movie, "Orson Welles" (Tom Burke), to write the screenplay for his next big movie. Throughout the film, we see flashbacks of what led Mank to where he is now, along with what would inspire the characters in "Citizen Kane", and the darker underbelly of old Hollywood that has a tendency to get left unaddressed these days. 

From director David Fincher ("Zodiac", "The Social Network", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", "Gone Girl"), and based on a long unproduced screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher (Who passed away back in 2003, with screenplay having been written back in the 1990s), "Mank" feels personal and could be seen as a little indulgent by some. (Fincher has become known for stuff like that) In a way however, that personal feeling does add an extra layer of pathos to the film, which itself makes up for its moments of indulgence by being immensely entertaining. Fincher's direction, which is done in a very grainy black and white (Which is complete by occasional dark spots that appear on the screen. I know it's a bit of a gimmick, but damn is that cool!), is as old fashioned looking as you can get. It beautifully encompasses the time period itself, along both with that certain atmosphere and aesthetic that classic films have ingrained into our memories of it. It's perfectly fitting way to tell this story, complete with a lot of nods to the golden era of filmmaking, which any cinephile is sure to adore. The dialogue is fast and sharp-witted, but lingers long enough to be profound. There is something deeper here than first advertised, and even while Fincher's style can be hard to completely follow, you are captivated by it all. 

The big seller here would be Gary Oldman. The man is generally nothing short of astounding (And the fact it took so long for him to get Oscar consideration, let alone an actual win, is one of the Academy's many crimes), but here, he's on another level, much like he was in 2017's "Darkest Hour". bringing vulnerability to go with the real life character's droll, seemingly self destructive nature. Amanda Seyfried (as "Marion Davies", mistress to "William Randolf Hearst", who Herman sees a kindred spirit in) is damn near unrecognizable, giving a very sincere look into subject that historically might have been overlooked. Lily Collins (as "Rita Alexander", Herman's secretary, who assists in writing the screenplay) is wonderful, while we get some more excellent performances out of Charles Dance (as "William Randolf Hearst", who is the likely inspiration for "Citizen Kane"), Arliss Howard (as "Louis B. Mayer", co-founder of MGM, who gets a very memorable monologue), Tom Burke (Who really sounds like Orson Welles), Tuppence Middleton (as "Sara", Herman's wife, who really had to put up with a lot), Tom Pelphrey (as "Joseph", Herman's brother), and a few other recognizable faces portraying other recognizable faces from cinema's history. 

Much like its titular subject matter, "Mank" might be somewhat uneven in how it finds its way to its conclusion. But the subject is always interesting and oddly enthralling. You're left in awe of the technical achievement regardless. However, there is something quite unforgettable about it. It's one of those movies that's enjoyable in the moment, though only gets more and more fascinating the more you think about it. It's a true writer's and director's movie, through and through, which is very fitting in the end. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And All That 1930s to 1940s Way Of Speaking. 

Hillbilly Elegy                                                                                                          ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'M supposed to win the Oscar!" "...."No, I'M supposed to win It!"

How does one have Oscar bait when there might not be an Oscars this upcoming year? Granted, it still doesn't help when you really don't deserve to win anything. At all. 

Based on the memoir of the same name by "JD Vance" (Portrayed by Owen Asztalos as a child, then by Gabriel Basso as an adult), "Hillbilly Elegy" follows JD as he temporarily leaves Yale Law School and his girlfriend, "Usha" (Frieda Pinto), to return to his Northern Kentucky home after getting a phone call from his sister, "Lindsay" (Haley Bennett). Lindsay informs JD that their mother, "Beverly" (Amy Adams), has overdosed on heroin and is in the hospital. Throughout the film, we see JD during his youth as he struggles with his emotionally abusive mother, troubled living conditions, and his eventual time living with his wise old, "Mamaw" (Glenn Close). 

Directed by Ron Howard (THE Ron Howard), with a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor ("The Shape of Water"), "Hillbilly Elegy" has the makings of a good, inspiring melodrama, complete with high caliber actors, an acclaimed director, and an American based story that the Academy usually goes nuts over. All the ingredients are there. Unfortunately though,the final product is not only not up to the task, but it also seems to have the delusional idea that it actually is. It's one thing for a movie to not be very good. It's another for it to feel as if it's great despite not actually doing anything worth much praise. Maybe some mockery perhaps, but nothing praise worthy. For such a good director that Ron Howard can be, the movie feels detached and oddly underwhelming, even with the overly sweeping score and in your face "insightful" screenplay, which can't balance tone to save its own life. Where it mostly falters is how the story is told, with the present being used as a framing device and everything else being told in flashback, though still at times out of order. The story rushes through most of the events, seemingly hoping that either the actors can make it work, but the emotions aren't there. It's more annoying than inspiring, and it shouldn't have to be. 

Amy Adams, who has been one of the greatest actresses working today, proves that everyone can have their off days. It's not entirely her fault, due to the inconsistent script. Either way, she overplays her performance, especially when the character is going through a rage-filled explosion. It's too over the top, and it ruins the sincerity of the film's more tender moments. Glenn Close, who in a way might still be overdoing it, at least does so in a more natural way. (Granted, the admittedly solid makeup helps) She gets some good lines to go with the more corny ones, and even though she could be seen as a stereotype, she at least feels real. Owen Asztalos doesn't have much range, while Gabriel Basso fairs a bit better, though Frieda Pinto, while charming (And very pretty), doesn't get much to do. The best performance to me comes from Haley Bennett, who aside from the excellent job done to make her look like a teenager at one point, then again as an adult, feels much more genuine than anyone else. 

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a story that warrants telling, with a focus on an aspect of our country that some feel is overlooked. However, the movie when you get down to it, doesn't actually do it any real justice. It's so blandly done, and fails to keep your attention. It's forgettable schlock to say the least, though the possible award recognition it may or may not get (I know I'm not the only who can see the Academy wrongfully finding way to get this movie some nominations) makes it a little bit more infuriating. With the odds of an Oscars show seeming more unlikely than ever, a movie that doesn't really know the meaning of the word "Humble", shouldn't be given a participation trophy. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Mamaws Being Mamaws, And Too Many Accents To Count. 

The Croods: A New Age                                                                              ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Don't make me make any Crood remarks!"

From "DreamWorks Animation", 2013's "The Croods" was a surprise success both financially and critically, being the kind of lighthearted family film for all ages. Despite this, it kind of faded from memory, didn't it? I know there's a little Netflix show, but even then, nobody talks about it. So to see a sequel, even one with many delays, getting an actual theatrical release (During a pandemic too!) was a bit of a surprise. It's also a bit of a welcome one. 

"The Croods: A New Age" reunites us with the prehistoric family of cavepeople, "The Croods". Led by the traditional father, "Grug" (Nicolas Cage), the rest of the strange family is made up of his wife, "Ugga" (Catherine Keener), the rebellious daughter, "Eep" (Emma Stone), the dimwitted son, "Thunk" (Clark Duke), the rabid daughter, "Sandy" (Kailey Crawford), the demented grandmother, "Gran" (Cloris Leachman), and Eep's boyfriend, "Guy" (Ryan Reynolds), along with their pets, an alligator-dog, "Douglas", their giant cat creature, "Chunky", and Guy's sloth belt named uh, "Belt". The Croods continue to struggle to survive the harsh landscapes and out of this world animal hybrids. However, Grug fears change is just over the horizon, with Eep and Guy planning to leave the pack to spend their lives together. The Croods end up discovering a mysterious wall that leads to a utopia, filled with food, safety, and a new, more advanced family known as the "Bettermans". 

The Bettermans, made up of "Phil" (Peter Dinklage), his wife, "Hope" (Leslie Mann), and daughter, "Dawn" (Kelly Marie Tran), are old family friends of Guy, and welcome the cavepeople into their homes, though make many passive aggressive comments the entire time (And demand that nobody eat their bananas). Turns out the Croods are a little out of place in the newer, so called civilized society, with Phil and Hope determined to get rid of the Croods, believing Guy belongs with them. The two families are slowly pitted against one another, though a looming threat to all of them forces everyone to come together in the end.   

"The Croods: A New Age" takes a fairly predictable, sitcom-esque plotline, but both has fun with it, and makes sure to keep the fast pace moving with a great cast, candy-like animation, and some really good humor. The movie doesn't avoid clichés, at all really. However, it's not like it's a bad formula to be honest. It's a classic family dynamic story, and while you don't get make surprises, the message is always going to be relevant. The gorgeous visuals are one of the major selling points. The first film was beautifully crafted, but this one is on an entire different level. The scope is grander, the colors are vibrant, and the world on display feels entirely real. The fast moving animation also makes for some well timed physical comedy, which is mixed with plenty of great visual gags and mile a minute dialogue.  

While Nicolas Cage struggles to contain the urge to regress into his caveman-like lifestyle, one can't deny how perfectly cast he is here. Peter Dinklage is also a standout, with his awesome voice fitting his character's noticeably passive and pretentious mannerisms. Ryan Reynolds sounds like he's having a great time, while Emma Stone is charming as ever even when it's just her voice. The rest of the cast, such as Leslie Mann, Catherine Keener, Clarke Duke, and especially the still very lovable Kelly Marie Tran, all do excellent work. However, the funniest moments come from Cloris Leachman, who just shows up to say and do weird stuff, with her randomness repeatedly catching me off guard. Another scene-stealer comes in the form of the dreaded "Punch Monkeys" (Some violent apes, who only communicate by punching things), with the animation's eye for good old fashioned slapstick really shining through. The animators just looked like they were having an absolute blast with these characters.  

"The Croods: A New Age" is one of the few films getting a theatrical release at the moment, and while I can't exactly say that families should risk their lives to see it right now (Especially since we're spiking with Covid cases yet again. Remember when we were told that this was all a hoax? In March?), it's still something that has plenty to offer all ages. From gloriously lively animation, the memorable characters, sweet messages, and too many big laughs to count. It's just a good time for the entire family if they're looking for some solid escapism that anyone can connect with. What's more relatable than a caveman Nicolas Cage? 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Cartoon Violence, Kill Circles, And Sadistic Simians. 

Fatman                                                                                                                     ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Oh well, Jewish people weren't getting Christmas presents anyway. 

To say that this is a weird premise is putting things lightly. Completely asinine? Psychologically deranged? In bad taste? Mean spirited? Bad for anyone in a ten mile radius? Just like Mel Gibson! 

"Fatman" follows the not so holly, jolly titular fat man himself, "Chris Cringle" (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. "Santa Clause", who has lost some of his Christmas spirit over the years. Chris, along with his wife, "Ruth" (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), have come to realize that children today are naughtier than ever, which leaves the Christmas icon unable to keep his workshop profitable, meaning that he can't pay his bills. So to make more money, Chris decides to outsource to the United States military, building components for their new fighter jets. Meanwhile, after getting a lump of coal as a present due to his ruthless nature, a spoiled rich boy, "Billy Wenan" (Chance Hurstfield), demands vengeance on the fat man. So Billy hires his hitman, known only as the "Skinny Man" (Walton Goggins), who also happens to have a personal vendetta against Chris, to hunt down the man in red and kill him. Following the letters to Santa, the Skinny Man makes his way to the North Pole to fulfill his contract, while Chris tries to keep his elves and his workshop running despite their new objective. 

From first time directors, Eshorn and Ian Nelms (Who also wrote the screenplay), "Fatman" is an intentionally stupid premise where the humor of the film is meant to come from said stupidity being taken completely seriously. To make something like this work requires a lot of talent and the ability to expertly balance the clear incompatible genres. It's not impossible to make a really dark comedy like this work. However, it's just very noticeable and more disappointing when it doesn't. The film never does quite figure how to bring everything all together, with the various ideas failing to mesh. It's really all that funny, and much too slow paced (And self serious) to get enough stupid laughs out of. It's also well, too freakin stupid to take seriously. 

Mel Gibson, say what you will about him both mentally and morally (Mostly morally), does somehow deliver a pretty solid performance here, He encompasses those traditional Santa mannerisms, along with an action hero gruffness. Chance Hurstfield does a good job playing an evil little sh*t, while Walton Goggins as perfected the art of playing crazy. (He just has that kind of face) Marianne Jean-Baptiste is quite excellent in the film despite all the absurdity. She gives such a heartwarming, strong willed, and most of all, quietly compelling performance. There's also some fun to be had with Eric Woolfe (as "7", the head elf at Chris' workshop), and I feel like there are a few undercooked ideas involving the others elves, the reindeer, or anything else involving the Santa Clause legend that could have been ripe for action movie parody.

While there are a few good one liners here and there, "Fatman" is too tonally jumbled and bizarrely boring (Santa Mel Gibson is being hunted by Walton Goggins. How do you make that boring?). It never goes far enough with the over the top possibilities, and also appears to have too much dedication to trying to make what appears to be an ahem, "legit" movie. It's "Fatman"! Nobody wants you to take this seriously! Maybe something great could have been done with better direction or writing (Probably could have helped if the filmmakers had a bigger budget too), but the end result fails to register. It's a funny idea and sporadically, you can get a dumb laugh. Sadly, the only real comparison I can make for this movie would be a lump of coal in your stocking. That just wrote itself right there. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And an Anti-Sematic Santa.        

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey                                                            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So Megyn Kelly was wrong, Santa really is black?"

You know, when Netflix isn't going around, cancelling all of your favorite shows ("The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" was amazing, and you guys should be ashamed of yourselves! And what about "One Day at a Time?...Bastards.), they have been killing it for the most part not only when it comes to Oscar hopefuls, but also, they've been providing some surprisingly excellent family entertainment. With last year's Oscar winning "Klaus", along with this years "The Willoughbys" and "Enola Holmes", we might just have another instant family favorite. 

"Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" opens with a woman (Phylicia Rashad), telling her grandchildren a story on Christmas Eve. The tale follows fantastical inventor and toymaker, "Jeronicus Jangles" (Played by Justin Cornwell as a young man, then by Forest Whitaker), who is beloved by everyone and is currently on the verge of releasing his greatest invention yet, a sentient matador doll, "Don Juan Diego" (Voiced by Ricky Martin). However, Diego doesn't like the idea of being replicated due to narcissism, so he convinces Jeronicus' ambitious apprentice, "Gustafson" (Played by Miles Barrow as a young man, then by Keegan-Michael Key), to ahem, "borrow" Jeronicus' book of inventions. Jeronicus, distraught over the loss of his life's work, goes into a deep depression, leading to the loss of his confidence, and after the death of his wife, it also results in the estrangement to his daughter, "Jessica" (Played by Diaana Babnicova as a young girl, then by Anika Noni Rose). Years later, Jessica allows for her daughter, "Journey" (Madalen Mills), who also happens to be a gifted, aspiring inventor, to stay with her father up until Christmas is hopes of mending the broken relationship. 

Meanwhile, Jeronicus is now a struggling washed up pawn shop owner, and has found himself unable to keep his shop open due to his lack of new inventions. While staying with Jeronicus, Journey discovers a failed invention from Jeronicus, a little flying robot called "The Buddy 3000", which comes to life through the power of belief. However, Gustafson, having become a renowned toymaker and also having gone through all of Jeronicus' stolen inventions, no longer has anything to present to the public. Working with Don Juan Diego, Gustafson schemes to get his hands on the Buddy, leaving it up to Journey to save the day and return Jeronicus' sense of wonder once more.  

Released through Netflix and directed by David E. Talbert ("First Sunday"), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" from a distance looks like one of those Netflix holiday movies that most of us just shrug off and ignore, seemingly only existing for the least demanding crowd who just want some kind of Christmas movie. I wasn't even planning to review it and simply starting watching it out of curiosity. However, moments into the film, it becomes apparent that there really is something quite magical about it. For something that doesn't have the biggest budget in the world, the film is beautiful to look at, feeling like one of those colorful miniature Christmas towns brought to life, with the world itself being a mix between fairy tale whimsy and elaborate steampunk (Stunningly created through solid CGI and some occasionally flawless stop motion). The film's vague explanation for exactly what it is or how the world works (Magic is possible, but also appears to be scientific at the same time. Plus Jeronicus basically created sentient life and nobody bats an eye), but that is something that is easy to forgive, especially when the logistics of this fantasy world are really unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It's all made up for how much life the world has to it, along with the obvious care and detail that's been given. 

The soundtrack is also very unique and most shocking of all, very memorable. The film is actually a musical, with songs written by Phillip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, Michael Diskint, and John Legend, which is made up of various music styles, such as a "Broadway" inspiration infused with "R&B". Usually modern day musicals, especially those not distributed by a more well known company ("Disney" really has beaten everyone down, haven't they?), don't tend to get me to not only get invested in the music, but also openly seek out the soundtrack afterwards. There are some terrific songs in the movie, such as the showstopping opener, "This Day", the powerfully sung "Make It Work" (Which allows Anika Noni Rose a chance to show off her amazing voice), and my personal favorite, "Magic Man G" (Who doesn't love a good villain song?). It's a great cast, with Forest Whitaker giving a very sincere and heartfelt performance, along with a wonderful Madalen Mills, who just embodies charm. Keegan-Michael Key is both dastardly and villainous, along with Ricky Martin, who sounds like he's having a great time. There are also a couple likable side characters, such as Lisa Davina Phillip (as "Mrs. Johnston", Jeronicus' nosy/very horny for a kids movie neighbor) and Kieron L. Dyer (as "Edison", Jeronicus' biggest, nerdiest fan). Also, the Buddy 3000 is a pretty adorable, instantly marketable little creation (Even if he does look a little like "WALL-E"). 

 Not without its flaws (There is a lot going on throughout this movie all at once), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" would honestly be the most wholehearted movie I've seen all year. It embraces holiday cheer with the biggest smile you'll ever lay your eyes on, providing a fast, funny, totally magical possible soon to be family favorite that has plenty of heart to spare. It also making way for a new, more diverse audience to enjoy just so happens to be an added bonus (It's literally for everyone!). Considering we still have another month of 2020 to go, we could all use something that doesn't appear to have a remotely cynical bone in its body. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Christmassy Chaos And Child Endangerment.  

Run                                                                                                                   ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Mommy already told you, no going to the movie theater until 2021!"

Only now after over seven months have I begun to get a grasp of the current situation at hand. Usually I base what movies are getting released by trailers and by constantly checking the "Box Office Mojo" release date schedule, then plan out what I'll be seeing accordingly, making changes if necessary. This year though, it's been impossible to know anything in advance, especially since movies just get dropped online without any fanfare. This time though, I've become prepared. Just check every streaming service. Odds are I'll find something. After taking a break from watching the "Animaniacs" reboot on "Hulu" (It's great by the way), I stumbled upon this.   

"Run" follows teenage girl, "Chloe Sherman" (Kiera Allen) who, aside from being born premature (Which prompts her to use a wheelchair), suffers from a few diseases, and is homeschooled by her doting, but over-protective mother, "Diane" (Sarah Paulson). Recently, Chloe has begun to yearn for a chance to go to college, though her mother is wary of the possibility. However, Chloe only now has begun to question some of Diane's rules and choices. When she discovers some prescription pills seemingly written for her mother, Chloe starts to put together that things are not what they seem. As Chloe starts to unravel the disturbing mystery, Diane's true nature starts to become apparent, leading Chloe to find a way to escape her mother's grasp before she's sucked into and lost within her demented world for good. 

Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty (Who did the underappreciated "Searching" back in 2018), "Run" is essentially one of those crazy thrillers that one would normally either shrug off or seek out because of our need for outlandish popcorn entertainment with a hint of insanity. However, this time, there is more substance beneath the surface, and quite frankly, something pretty intense and subtly frightening. Chaganty's direction is close quartered, intentionally slower paced, and always intense. It's unrelenting in its suspense, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat (Or couch, depending on where you're streaming it from), and making what should usually make us feel both loved and safe, instead feel nightmarish and deadly. 

The film's main focus is squarely on our leads. Kiera Allen is a compelling heroine that is both vulnerable and beyond tough, feeling capable even when seemingly held back by her current predicament. Sarah Paulson meanwhile makes good use of the scenery, coming across as loving and sincere one moment, then unhinged and terrifying the next without much warning. However, it never feels over the top, and that's the beauty of her performance. It's also what makes it so scary. The smart screenplay, which also adds a little bit of a quirky sense of humor to itself (It's something that would normally feel tonally off, but ends up adding to the anxiety), finds a way to balance what might seem somewhat ludicrous and keep it grounded in reality.

"Run" at times somewhat pushes the logistics, but even so, things never go too far. It still gives the audience the twisted thrills they desire, while also thankfully not feeling the need to go for schlock. It's the kind of movie that you turn on just to waste time and maybe get a good laugh out of it, believing it to be similar to one of those hilarious "Lifetime" movies, but end up shockingly sucked into it. It messes with your head and generates a good, post-Halloween scare. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Content, Pill Popping, And Smotherly Love.   

Freaky                                                                                                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: It's always the cute ones you have to look out for.

The Slasher film, being a sub-category of the horror genre, is something that I personally never really could get into despite my growing appreciation for horror films, especially lately. Not that there aren't some good ones, but I don't find them particularly scary and see a lot of them as just mostly over the top. I believe that the future of this genre requires more of an understanding of the former and most of all, the embracing of latter in a more humorous fashion. 

"Freaky" follows shy high school student, "Millie Kessler" (Kathryn Newton), who struggles after the death of her father, living with her widowed mother, "Paula" (Katie Finneran) and police officer sister, "Char" (Dana Drori). With Homecoming about to happen, a deranged, violent serial killer, known only as "The Blissfield Butcher" (Vince Vaughn) is on the loose, killing teenagers around town, having gotten his hands on an ancient dagger, and targeting Millie. After cornering Millie when she's alone, the Butcher proceeds to attack her and stabs her with the knife, though is prevented from killing her when the stabbing engages a ritual which causes the two to switch bodies. Now Millie, trapped in the body of the Butcher, works alongside her best friends, "Josh" (Misha Osherovich) and "Nyla" (Celeste O'Connor), to find a way to get back into her body. Meanwhile, with the real Butcher now in Millie's body, he can continue his murderous rampage without anyone being none the wiser. (Hey, nobody would suspect a cute little blond girl.) With only twenty-four hours to re-switch bodies, Millie and her friends have to stop the Butcher before it's too late. 

Directed by Christopher Landon ("Happy Death Day", "Happy Death Day 2U), "Freaky" shows off more of the director's talents and keen eye for the genre, embracing the silliness that people love while also remembering to have some sick, twisted fun with it so cynical critics like me can also enjoy it. Something that really works about the film is how it never goes for parody. Sure it's more of a comedy and has more than a few sly winks to the audience (By this point, being self-aware of yourself is the only way we can accept certain played out tropes), but it still plays out like a legit horror movie, complete with ridiculous kills and an absurd amount of violence. It's smart enough to know what makes these movies work for hardcore fans, yet also tries to inject just a little more depth to it. The explanations for what causes the entire premise is vague, but that works in the film's favor since in the end, none of that is actually important at all. It's surprisingly character driven, with well written dialogue, and even when it can't escape some mild predictability, the film counteracts that with a little lighthearted sweetness (Something that the "Happy Death Day" movies also had). Underneath the gory body count, the film has heart in the right place. 

Vince Vaughn is funnier here than he's been in a long time, in a performance that's first off, absolutely hilarious, but also quite sincere. Essentially having to play Millie for most of the film, the character remains charming and easy to love even in the body of a deranged killer. There's something also weirdly empowering about it as well, which is not something I would have expected going into this movie. Vaughn also shines as a somewhat scary villain to in the few scenes where we actually get to see it on full display. Meanwhile Kathryn Newton herself, who is always endearing and thoroughly adorable, ends up being quite menacing, playing a bloodthirsty maniac in the body of a young girl that also happens to be really small compared to everyone else. The supporting cast are also a joy to watch, with standouts including Celeste O'Connor, Uriah Shelton (as "Booker", Millie's longtime crush), and a scene-stealing Misha Osherovich. 

Deconstructing the genre, but never in a mocking fashion,"Freaky" isn't something I would call a game-changer (Though it shows signs of it), and while the film pokes fun at the tropes that many of us have just gotten accustomed to over time, it also can't help but follow them almost to the letter. Then again though, that's what the fans want, and the film thankfully retains its natural charismatic quirkiness, creating a gloriously wild, blood soaked good time. It's the kind of film that laughs with its audience, while also giving them just what they asked for. This is probably what the future of the slasher genre is going to look like, and it's much better for it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gallons Of Gore, Chainsaw Slaughtered Teenagers, And Why I Always Feared Being Left Alone In Wood Shop Class.     

The Informer                                                                                                      ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Fitting in the first day and making new friends is always the hardest

So this week we got what I like to call the perfect "Have it on in the background" movie. I genuinely mean that as a compliment. 

"The Informer" follows a former soldier and convict, turned FBI informant, "Pete Koslow" (Joel Kinnaman), who is tasked by his superiors, "Erica Wilcox" (Rosamund Pike) and "Montgomery" (Clive Owen), to infiltrate the Polish Mob's drug trade within New York. While trying to bring down the mob's leader, "Ryszard Klimek" (Eugene Lipinski), also known as "The General", a rookie undercover cop (Arturo Castro), ends up dead, resulting in bad business for everyone, and the FBI deciding the abandon Pete. To protect his wife, "Sofia" (Ana de Armas) and daughter, Pete is instructed to take the fall for the murder, being forced to serve jail time for the General, just so he can disrupt his operations from within prison for the FBI, who have every intention of screwing him over if it becomes necessary to do so. While Pete struggles to survive prison, an NYPD cop, "Edward Grens" (Common), begins to do some digging around, uncovering the ongoing federal conspiracy, working with Pete to protect his family from both his enemies and supposed allies long enough for him to get out of prison. 

Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, "The Informer" is a predictable thriller, that doesn't exactly warrant a high recommendation, but if you have nothing better going on in your life at the moment (And especially if I compare it to "After We Collided"), this movie at least accomplishes, you know, being an actual movie. The movie looks good, with some solid enough action and genuine suspense despite the lack of actual surprises. It's also just oddly sloppy, with elements that don't mean much later on and focus being pulled in different directions than from where the plot seemed to be intended. The thing is that it's a little hard to  figure out if that was intentional or not. I guess it's just a bit of a mess of a movie, that only serves to get the job done as quickly as possible, and yeah, it does actually. 

Joel Kinnaman does a good job here, remaining complicated, but sympathetic and of course capable in a well done action scene. There are some actually excellent performances from some of the actors, such as Rosamund Pike (Who is overqualified for this) and Common (Regaining his natural charisma after losing it in "Ava"). Clive Owen can play a scumbag in his sleep, and obviously does a great job doing it. Eugene Lipinski is an intimidating presence, though his role diminishes as the film progresses, to the point he straight up vanishes halfway through. Ana de Armas is criminally underused however, being stuck in the sidelines as a damsel in distress. For the most part, there is just enough depth to most of the lead characters, which make them just barely enough of something worth getting invested in. 

"The Informer" isn't a movie that sticks with you. It's also not a bad one by any means. There's enough to it to make for an entertaining distraction, but quite frankly, there just isn't enough to talk about. Watching it, whether it's on TV or rented, simply as a means of wasting a couple hours or while you just need some background noise, you at least get something competently made, though very flawed regardless. I'd say that this was just something to waste a little time before the bigger last minute Winter releases come out, but you know, Covid just won't let us have fun again just quite yet. And fun isn't allowed until 2021....Maybe. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Our Corrupt Officials At Work.     

After We Collided                                                                                                        ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I promise, we'll never have to stoop so low for film work again."

There are many aspects about 2020 that happened that were completely out of our control. Some of us lost our jobs, financial stability, or others maybe even something more important. So much of what's made this year so bad, causing so much heartache and suffering were things that I'm sure many of us had no way of controlling. However, this right here could have been avoided. I know that. In a desperate move to find more movies to review for this site, I have done things that no man should ever have to do. I sought out the sequel to one of last year's worst movies (Which was based on a book that originated as overtly erotic One Direction fanfiction. I am not remotely joking about that!), and subjected myself to another hour and forty-five minutes of this. I asked for this torture, and now I must pay the price for it. About $6. 

Following the events of "After" (Based on the book of the same name by Anna Todd), "After We Collided" opens exactly where we all expected the last film to go moments after it ended, with "Tessa Young" (Josephine Langford) and "Hardin Scott" (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), breaking up. (She's an easily corruptible blank slate looking to piss off mommy, and he's an emotionally unstable douchebag who gives off major homicidal stalker vibes) Tessa has moved on, getting her dream job at a publishing company, and appears to be doing well for herself, while Hardin wallows in self-pity, acts like a dick to everyone around him, and pines for Tessa 24/7. While out with her coworkers, including the oh so nerdy, "Trevor Matthews" (Dylan Sprouse), getting drunk at a nightclub, Tessa drunk dials Hardin, resulting in her ex coming over, and after some jealous rage, the two reconcile and do the wrap around butt grab. With Hardin's mother, "Trish" (Louise Lombard), comes to visit, Hardin has neglected to tell her about the break up, prompting he and Tessa to pretend they're still together, and yadda yadda yadda.....Look! Here's what happens. They pretend, fall back in love, there's stuff about Hardin having psychological issues, Tessa has her own problems, and I beg for the sweet, sweet release of death all throughout. Why did I do this to myself? 

Directed by Roger Kumble ("Cruel Intentions", "Just Friends", "Furry Vengeance"....This is a perplexing filmography....), with Anna Todd co-writing the screenplay, "After We Collided" is no less melodramatic, ungodly boring, and as increasingly questionable as the first film, but this time things are much quirkier in the most random of places, more aggressively horny, and much more juvenile than ever before. The film, which has gone from a PG-13 to an R rating without warning (It took about ten F-Bombs, a shockingly detailed though nudity free sex scene, and more detailed sex talk for me to realize that something was off), goes out of its way to force its harsher rating, and the results are more obnoxious than anything. It's funny how the film wants to drive things over that edge, without going too much further than others in hopes of retaining the Young Adult audience, and if you ask me, that's actually kind of sick the more I think about it. It's bad enough already that I'm forced to watch a toxic relationship foolishly and stupidly try to explain itself. I thought we were done with "Fifty Shades of Grey"! We don't need a "Next Generation" version of it! There also seems to be more of a sense of humor this time around (Well, at least it looks like there is at times), with some goofier moments that feel as if they're meant to be intentionally funny, though don't even remotely get any chuckles. (It's actually much funnier when the film tries to be very serious.) 

Josephine Langford totally Dakota Johnsons the best she can, looking like someone with possible acting talent, brought down by vile dialogue (Although a scene involving a cat fight at college party is particularly painful to watch). Hero Fiennes Tiffin shows very little signs of improvement, though I contribute most of the issue to his detestable character, who continues to be irritatingly whiny and occasionally creepy. Together, these two don't gel, and the characters themselves have no business being together, despite how much the movie seems to go out of its way to imply otherwise. One of those examples being Louise Lombard's character as a whole, who is meant to serve as the heart (And as a source of exposition), to Hardin's character. While she also seems to be trying, at times the character somewhat feels like she's enabling his character flaws, explaining it all away with a very heavy backstory, that doesn't feel remotely earned. It feels more like an excuse than anything. Candice King (as "Kimberly", a co-worker with Tessa) kind of drops in and out despite having a poorly placed subplot, Shane Paul McGhie (as "Landon", a friend to Tessa and Hardin) does nothing, and both Selma Blair (as "Carol", Tessa's revolting mother) and Dylan Arnold (as "Noah", Tessa's ex who has a little bit of an inappropriate relationship with Tessa's mother) return briefly to be some of the most bizarre movie characters I've seen in a long time. Also, the less said about Inanna Sarkis (as "Molly", the slutty girl who just wants to get into Hardin's pants), the better. The most enjoyable part of the entire film is easily Dylan Sprouse, who despite the film's attempts to turn him into a last second antagonist, still remains the most likable character in the entire movie. He at least gets some amusing lines and is more logical than anyone else here. (I honestly just feel more bad for him than anything)

Tonally off, painfully misguided, and worst of all, pretentiously slow paced, "After We Collided" crashes and burns in a fiery blaze, and not in one that's at least interesting to watch. Roger Kumble's direction is so lame and feels cheap, Anna Todd's screenplay makes a solid argument for one being banned from ever writing anything again, and the film's forced edginess is both laughable and just plain gross. I've also just learned that there are two more books, with the film adaptations being filmed back to back, meaning that we're only at the halfway point here! Halloween may have passed, but the thought alone is scarier than anything I have witnessed this year. Again though, I could have avoided this. In a way, I asked for it. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Excessive Use Of The Word F*ck, Nudity Free Yet Still Gratuitous Sex Scenes, Hardin's Ass, And For Being The Reason That Older People Think We've Lost Our Way. 

Friendsgiving                                                                                                          ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Oh my God, there's gonna' be SO much COVID!

Is this why we never get Thanksgiving movies? Or why nobody ever actually promotes Thanksgiving? (We seem to go from Halloween to Christmas in less than twenty four hours after the kids stop trick or treating) I am very desperate to review movies lately.....

"Friendsgiving" follows two best friends on Thanksgiving Day, a now single mother "Molly" (Malin Åkerman), who has just had a divorce, and the only semi-recently come out of the closet, "Abby" (Kat Dennings), who went through a bad breakup. Molly and Abby agreed to spend the holiday together, but there end up being a few complications. Actually, there ends being a lot of complications, with some of them not really making much sense. Firstly, Molly neglected to tell Abby about her rebound lover, "Jeff" (Jack Donnelly), along with others starting to invite themselves over as well, including Molly's neglectful mother, "Helen" (Jane Seymour), another friend, "Lauren" (Aisha Tyler) and her husband, "Dan" (Dean Cole), Molly's ex, "Gunnar" (Ryan Hansen), their weird friend, "Claire" (Chelsea Peretti), some lesbians, and other annoying, forgettable characters. Too many people cramped together, some more passive than others, and our leads going through very stressful points in their lives, what could possibly go wrong?  

Written and directed by first timer, Nicol Paone, with producing credits from Malin Åkerman and Ben Stiller, "Friendsgiving" is a very low budget, sitcom-esque, and basically plot-free comedy that would be more forgivable if there was, well, actually comedy in the comedy. It's not to say that there aren't humorous moments (Or at least moments that I think were meant to be funny), but most of the time it feels that there really isn't much of a script, with lots of meandering around and too much reliance on ad libbing. For such a short runtime, there are times where nothing is happening, and it slogs through a seemingly endless amount of padding to get the film just over an hour an a half (Every few scenes, the movie stops to show characters dancing or mingling around the party like if there were commercial breaks intended for those moments). The movie also can't seem to figure out what kind of comedy it wants to be, ranging from cartoonishly goofy, comedic with a little drama mixed in, somewhat raunchy, and at times, jarringly surreal. 

The best part of the movie easily would be Malin Åkerman and Kat Dennings, especially when they're together. They have good chemistry together, get the funniest lines, and most importantly, unlike most of the cast, at least feel like real people. A lot of the others aren't very interesting or just plain aren't very likable, relying on running jokes that don't amount to anything or having one joke being their only character type. Aisha Tyler and Dean Cole have their moments (Sadly, they get sidelines for a lot of the movie), Chelsea Peretti shows up just to say and do weird things, and Jane Seymour appears to have made a second career out of appearing in bad movies (Ryan Hansen has too, come to think of it). There are also appearances from Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster, and Margaret Cho (Who appear as "Fairy Gay Godmothers" to Abby during a hallucinatory, Shroom fueled trip), that got a chuckle out of me just because of how random it is. 

A movie like "Friendsgiving" would have at least been a little more fun in a crowded theater, full of drunk women during a Girl's Night Out. However, without the novelty of cackling and hollering women, it's just really boring. It's a movie that feels like someone removed the laugh track (Which would have helped me at least know what was meant to be funny), and serves only as a time waster in more ways than one. I had to review something this weekend, and this was all I could find on such short notice. Hopefully my actual Thanksgiving will be more enjoyable....Although considering the upcoming election, maybe more social distancing wouldn't be a bad idea. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Dirty Sexy Talk, And For Lesbian Terminology. 

The Witches                                                                                                       ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: I got ninety-nine problems but a Witch ain't one.

Not gonna lie. The 1990 movie, "The Witches". I don't remember any of it. Sure it's something that was well received at the time despite poor box office returns, and has since developed such a strong cult following, especially with my generation, due to how surprisingly frightening it is (Look at those screenshots of the practical effects from that movie. They're still quite amazing.). It struck a cord with people, and while I can see why, it just never stuck with me in the slightest. The only things I remember about it have to do with people on the internet reminding me about it. The positive of this being that despite the quiet, yet still vocal amount of excitement about this HBO Max released remake, I am basically going into the film basically with little attachments. So....Was the original this bizarre? Because even I was shocked by the utter weirdness of this movie.  

Based on the book by Roald Dahl and a remake of the 1990 film directed by Nicolas Roeg, "The Witches", follows our lead protagonist, credited only as "Hero Boy" (Played by Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as a kid, and voiced by Chris Rock when narrating the film as an adult), who moves in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) after the death of his parents. Hero's grandma, who is a healer of sorts and the sweetest woman you'll ever meet, gifts Hero is a pet mouse named "Daisy" and helps Hero find happiness despite being orphaned. After Hero encounters a scary woman trying to sell him candy, Grandma explains that he just met a witch, saying that they live all across the world, targeting kids to turn into animals simply because they are nothing but embodiments of pure evil. Grandma, who is paranoid due to having an encounter with one as a child, takes Hero to a hotel, managed by "Mr. Stringer" (Stanley Tucci) to hide out. However, while Hero wanders the hotel, he realizes that an entire coven of witches, along with their leader, "The Grand High Witch" (Anne Hathaway), are gathering at the hotel to enact a dastardly plot to end all children around the world by turning all of them into mice. When Hero eventually finds himself mouse-ified, he'll have to team up with his grandma to find a way to become human again and stop the evil witches before they enact their plan. 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Forrest Gump", "Romancing the Stone", "Cast Away") with a screenplay also written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro,  "The Witches" is the kind of breezy, somewhat twisted, family adventure that I could have really gotten into more if only it figured out what it really wanted to be. It's all kinds of weird (And I only scratched the surface of it all during my plot summary), with some pretty haunting images, intentionally preposterous plot points, and a quirky sense of wickedness, which strangely appears to want to have a bit of an edge to it, though not too much at the same time. There are some freaky imagery, but the very lackluster (And overtly cartoonish) CGI take away most of that edge, giving the film a cheaper feel than most likely intended. Now it's not to say that the film isn't without some spooky moments (The Grand High Witch becoming more monstrous, revealing her claws, and a giant, shark like mouth, certainly looks a bit on the frightening side), but it's all quite tame. Granted, maybe that's all that families could ask for. Where the movie falters when it comes to identity and commitment, it makes up for in some genuine charm, a sweet story underneath all of the macabre, and enough ghoulish material to give the kids enough of a scare, while also not going anywhere too far so that the parents wouldn't need to feel the need to intervene. 

Anne Hathaway, complete with the over the top look and silly accent (Still pretty attractive if you ask me.....), rips into the scenery without mercy, and is all the more enjoyable because of it. She makes for a despicable, often hilarious, and even a bit chilling villainess, and feels right at home within the twisted fairy tale-esque setting. Octavia Spencer is quite wonderful as well, bringing a lot of her usual warmth, and even getting a chance to take part in the craziness without feeling underused. Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, while not exactly a young actor with much range yet, can carry the film, while we get some solid supporting work from Codie-Lei Eastick (as "Bruno", an always hungry boy, who ends up turned into a mouse like Hero), Kristin Chenoweth (In a surprise voice role), and Stanley Tucci, who just plain looks like he's here to have a good time. (Oddly, he contributes very little, yet he nonetheless hi-jacks every scene he's in) Chris Rock, only appearing in a voice performance, is an inspired choice for providing narration. 

Despite an identity crisis and maybe a little too much weirdness for its own good (Even for Roald Dahl it's a bit much), "The Witches" is a fun, heartfelt family feature that could make for a solid treat for the kids this Halloween. I can't really say that you wouldn't be able to do better (Or that the original might surpass it, despite myself remembering nothing about it), though for what it is, it does it job well enough with enough unpredictability and an unrelentingly bonkers attitude. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Scary Images, Mice Problems, And The Abuse Of Good Witches.  

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan                                                                                                                   ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Let's all make sexy time!

When 2020 needed a hero, one mustached man answered the call. Someone to free us from this evil year's continued sense of monotonousness and unforgiving turmoil. Someone shine a ray of light, return hope to the world, and most importantly, find a way to just get us to freakin laugh at all. No matter how uncomfortable it gets. And trust me, the cringe is only what makes it better.  

Following the events of 2006's acclaimed "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", the sequel, which is titled, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", shows the now disgraced Kazakhstan reporter, "Borat Margaret Saggiyev" (Sacha Baron Cohen), as he is now given a chance to win back his country's favor, due to his previous documentary resulting in Kazakhstan becoming a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Borat's mission is deliver the Kazakhstan Minister of Culture (And known porn star), "Johnny the Monkey" (A literal monkey) to American President, "McDonald Trump" (Translation: Donald Trump), but due to an um, previous incident at Trump Tower, Borat has to instead bring the monkey to a man with such incredible sexual magnitude that he just can't dine alone with another woman, "Mike Pence". Having lost everything, with the exception of a fifteen year old daughter, "Tutar" (Maria Bakalova, who is actually twenty four in real life), Borat travels to America once again, though discovers that since everyone here knows who he is now, Borat is going to have to do this undercover. 

When going to pick up Johnny the Monkey, who seemingly traveled to America via shipping crate, Borat is shocked to see that Tutar has stowed away within the crate (And has also eaten poor Johnny....). Borat, now under the threat of execution by his home country unless he wins Pence's favor, comes up with a new plan to give Tutar to Pence as a gift. It goes about as well as you would expect, so Borat settles for the next best thing, gifting Tutar to America's mayor (Not anymore after this....), "Rudy Giuliani". The father and daughter proceed to travel across the country, finding themselves in all sorts of crazy situations, confusing (And disturbing) those around them, and learn more about America's weird ways than ever before, all being done so while a major worldwide pandemic also happens to be going on (Ya know, Coronavirus? You heard of it? It's still going on! We've not "Turned the F*cking corner", a**hole!)).   

Boy, a lot of changed over the course of fourteen years. Also, very little has changed in the absolute worst of ways. Released through streaming via "Amazon Prime", "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" (Not going to type the full title more than necessary. I want to get as many words as possible into these things, but that would just be plain silly), once again offers that biting, completely unhinged, and merciless satirical commentary that doesn't so much refuse to pull punches. It more along the lines keeps repeatedly punching until you just can't help but laugh through the pain, and laughing through the pain is exactly what one will do throughout this movie. The original mockumentary showed us some of the occasional worst our country had to offer, portraying bigotry from different angles (Racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, etc.) Directed by comedy writer, Jason Woliner, the film wisely decides not to just do the same exact thing as the first film (It's physically impossible to do so, and too many, including Sacha Baron Cohen himself have tried and failed), but instead escalate things further. This means, more offensive humor, more in your face displays of the unsightly and repulsive, and the need to do anything and everything to get a laugh, while also being really smart about it. Underneath the gross out humor, is an incredible and oddly careful amount of attention to every tiny detail that brings the movie together, which is even more jarring considering how the movie was made without any of our knowledge. (So remember that guy in the Trump fat suit that crashed the Mike Pence's CPAC speech? Or the guy who got a bunch of people at a right-wing rally to sing about injecting Barack Obama with the "Wuhan Flu"? That was all for this movie!) 

What can one say about Sacha Baron Cohen? He is something else. Brilliant, fearless, out of his damn mind, and most likely on the verge of getting himself killed one of these days, but damn it, he really is the current generation's Peter Sellers (I know I can't be the only one thinking that). Aside from his pure, unbridled sense of giddiness to resurrect such a renowned character and inject him into current events, Cohen shows levels of commitment that I once thought were unheard of among even the best actors. He finds the humanity to what would be a somewhat detestable character, making him cringe-inducing, original, and even a little lovable. However, he's not just the focus this time. Maria Bakalova is a star in the making, going even further than Cohen has in terms of crossing the line, and yet, making for plenty of laugh out loud moments. Together, the duo is a comedic force to be reckoned with. As for the people caught in the crossfire of the documentary style, such as trying to get a baby figurine removed from Tutar's stomach at an anti-abortion clinic, Tutar learning about feminism from a babysitter (Who apparently wanted to "Kick Sacha Baron Cohen's Butt", in her own words), and Borat befriending (And temporarily living with) two right wing conspiracy theorists. Even when some of these pranks might be staged (Though it is so hard to tell, and you'd be surprised what people will say and do when their guard is down), they still generate laughs, as well as some much needed insight into the minds of people today. The best though are the ones that are obviously not staged, and the most damning. The biggest out of all of them being the now infamous sequence involving Rudy Giuliani (as he's interviewed by a dressed up Tutar), and while there are those looking to sympathize with him (Okay sure, maybe, just maybe, he really was just tucking in his shirt....the entire situation escalated as much as it did because of his own stupidity), it's still an uncomfortable, creepy, and eventually, hilarious scene that's not going to be going away anytime soon. Plus in the interview, Giuliani states that the Chinese manufactured the virus and intentionally let it get out. So you know, screw him anyway. 

Offensive in all the right ways, occasionally painful to watch, but by the end, with much more to say than even the first film, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" is hilarious from start to finish, and boy does it finish on a high note. It culminates in probably one of the best plot twists I've seen in a movie in a long time, and only makes one go in for a second viewing simply to see how it all came together so beautifully. All of this may seem somewhat juvenile and mean spirited (And well, it kind of is), but of course there is a point to it that needs to be listened to. Even then, I would say that this one may be a little more accessible than the first film, since despite the harsh jokes and repeated jabs at the unsuspecting, there is something a bit warmer about the film. A hidden sweetness, whether it be the heartwarming and evolving relationship between father and daughter, or the surprise kindness that can be found even in today's world. (Believe it or not, once you get past the racism, Borat does encounter a decent amount of at least halfway amiable people) The film proves that even when a true life virus continues to threaten our way of life, laughter truly is the best medicine. New Borat Movie Very Nice! 4 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Human Hair, Racist Beliefs, Monkey Business, Rudy's Hands (Ew...), Sexy Time, KKK Cosplay, A Lack Of Face Masks, And Those Who Kind Of Have It Coming Being Caught With Their Pants Down. Almost Literally. 

The Trial of the Chicago 7                                                                            ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I think I missed this one in the history books.

If there was a movie this year that I really wish I had been able to see in a packed auditorium, with an amped up audience, which I know damn well would have erupted in a grand applause once we reach the film's closing, very inspiring moment of poignancy. Sure, it could be somewhat cheesy, but it's what the audience wants during these troubled times. To see humanity triumph over injustice, political negligence, and those who would abuse what power they hold, I can't think of anything more necessary throughout 2020. Maybe it's all the discourse, the neverending pandemic, the lack of enjoyment to be had in the world, or the upcoming election, which is either going to end with something mostly generic, though much needingly safe, or something, well, absolutely mindbogglingly insane. Whatever it is, the sentimentality works. I really missed this feeling. 

Based on the true story "The Trial of the Chicago 7", the film follows the "Chicago Seven", made up of "Abbie Hoffman" (Sacha Baron Cohen), "Tom Hayden" (Eddie Redmayne), "Jerry Rubin" (Jeremy Strong), "David Dellinger" (John Carroll Lynch), "Rennie Davis" (Alex Sharp), "John Froines" (Daniel Flaherty), and "Lee Weiner" (Noah Robbins), as they stand trial (Which is basically just a glorified intimidation tactic) for presumed conspiracy and for initiating a riot, based around anti-Vietnam War sentiment, in Chicago, Illinois, which culminated in an incident at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Represented by their lawyers, "William Kunstler" (Mark Rylance) and "Leonard Weinglass" (Ben Shenkman), the seven are also, quite confusingly, joined by the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, "Barry Seale" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is also on trial for a murder charge, though doesn't have a lawyer to represent him and really has nothing to do with anything actually going on. (He's essentially there because of good ol fashioned racism. Luckily, that kind of racial unfairness just up and went away one day. So some say.) With a crotchety old loon, "Julius Hoffman" (Frank Langella), residing as Judge, and with tough prosecutors, "Richard Schultz" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and "Tom Foran" (J. C. MacKenzie), the Chicago Seven find themselves in a tough situation, with the chances of walking free seeming unlikely. 

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (Who wrote the screenplays for "Charlie Wilson's War", "The Social Network", "Moneyball", and "Steve Jobs", while also directing "Molly's Game"), "The Trial of the Chicago 7" is another Oscar contender (Though us having an upcoming Oscars ceremony seems very unlikely at the moment) from Netflix, which has come out at the right time when many of us needed something just like this. A film that's armed with words in both a metaphorical and literal sense, the film is carefully and professionally handled by Sorkin's direction and only enhanced by his unparalleled writing (The man's eyes for dialogue is legendary). Even when things get more politically complicated than what the average filmgoer may be used to, you're sucked in pretty quickly by the smart back and forth, which can range from occasionally humorous, intellectually profound, or just plain fascinating to listen to. His direction is also very tightly packed, with the over two hour runtime feeling well earned and never dull. Also give credit to both the cinematographer, Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska", "Ford V Ferrari") and editor, Alan Baumgarten ("American Hustle", "Molly's Game"), also add to the film's somewhat speedy, yet intuitive, experience. 

The amazing ensemble cast, who all deliver their mile a minute dialogue with scenery chewing glee, is made up of important moments all over whether or not they're a major character or not. Essentially our main characters would be Eddie Redmayne (Doing a startling American accent), a spectacular Sacha Baron Cohen (If there ends up being an Oscar ceremony next year, I can see a possible nomination), and the always very welcome Mark Rylance, who carry most of the film, though don't divert too much attention from others who give standout performances. The cast includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Who it's nice to see in more movies lately), an enjoyably loathsome Frank Langella, a brief (But still fantastic) appearance from Michael Keaton (as "Ramsey Clark", the former attorney general, who becomes an important part of the trial), Alex Sharp, an unrecognizable Jeremy Strong, Ben Shenkman, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as "Fred Hampton", who joins Bobby Seale in court, and later meets an unnecessary fate at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve), and an outstanding Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. There are some other semi-recognizable faces (Or new ones), who certainly make the most of their short appearances. Something I really love about the movie is how everyone feels very much alive and human, which plays into a central theme of the film and how we can't forget the lives lost while we waste our time on unimportant crap (Cultural bigotry, silencing unique and controversial voices, attempting to save face by toying with people's lives, downplaying the threat of a widespread virus, etc.). People were dying in a war over the course of the events of this movie, and yet, too many people in power didn't really seem to care as much as they said they did. 

While the moment in time of the movie's setting may have passed, the topical themes of "The Trial of the Chicago 7" are more than just significant, it's straight up the same exact thing we've seen countless times since. It's one thing to say it's relevant to today's times, but it's also something that will always be poignant, especially when people continuously refuse to learn from past mistakes. People will utulize their legal right to protest for what they believe in. Those who have historically been wronged in the past will continue to face further discourse that some would rather just pretend went away a long ago. We will continue to have these repeated conversations for years to come, and trust me, no election is going to fix that. (It might make it a little better....or worse. But we'll have to wait and see.) Regardless of how much of it we as a species end up taking it to heart, there is something quite timeless about the film. Helped by Sorkin's compelling direction, a terrific screenplay balancing comical satire with relevance, unforgettable performances, and images of cultural significance that might even get someone who hasn't thought enough about to at least reconsider some past decisions. I've become more cynical as of late than ever, and yet, a true, unapologetic, maybe a little corny, but much necessary crowdpleaser like this gives me at least the impression that hope and the goodness of humanity will win out in the end. 4 Stars. Rated R For Language, Grouchy Old White Dudes, Hippie Horseplay, And Levels Of Bigotry, Which Until First Acknowledged, Will Only Continue To Exist.   

The War with Grandpa                                                                                         ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I pray Grandpa De Niro doesn't read the reviews."

We had a good run didn't we? At least we got to see those new trailers for "Wonder Woman 1984", "The Batman", "Dune", and anything else that we now are going to have to wait even longer to see. Theaters (At least the ones that are still open) won't be showing much of anything anytime soon, so one must take the time to make the possible last theater viewing experience (For the time being anyway) memorable. I paid $8 to see Robert De Niro expose his junk. 

"The War with Grandpa" follows young, "Peter" (Oakes Fegley), who is distraught to learn that his parents, "Sally" (Uma Thurman) and "Arthur" (Rob Riggle), are allowing for his generationally inept grandpa, "Ed" (Robert De Niro), is moving in with them and taking Peter's room. This means that Peter will have to stay in the attic with the bats (Uh....Were there no other solutions to this dilemma?). So Peter gets the idea from his friends, despite Ed not really doing anything to provoke the situation, declares war on his grandpa (A prank war that is). At first Ed wants nothing to do with it, but when the pranks starts to escalate, Ed starts fighting back. With Ed now backed up by his buddies, "Jerry" (Christopher Walken) and "Danny" (Cheech Marin), the prank war can only get more and more out of hand, and if you ask me, kind of deadly if this were in any way realistic.  

A movie that was filmed about three years ago (Or so it claims. It's a little hard to tell if it wasn't more), "The War with Grandpa" isn't quite as horrendously stupid as you would expect it to be. It's just really perplexing. The entire sitcom-esque plot doesn't remotely make sense, feeling like it wants to be a live-action cartoon, and yet, has no intention of committing to that idea. The direction by Tim Hill ("Alvin and the Chipmunks", "Hop") feels cheap and looks like it would look more at home as an ABC TV show that would get cancelled after four episodes (Which is about the length of this movie). The major conflict has no reason to escalate, with Peter coming across as needlessly sadistic and Ed being a complete moron. Most of their pranks seem more cruel and damn near deadly than funny, and what's even worse that the parents apparently couldn't think of a better solution. (There are literally bats and rats in the attic! Why would you put your tween son in there? Was there really no alternative?) Maybe I wouldn't care so much about the lack of logistics  in what's meant to be a dumb kids comedy if the comedy was actually funny. As usual, when the humor fails, everything else comes crashing down with it.  

Oakes Fegley is someone that I know to be a really good young actor, he's just held back by lazy writing, playing a thoroughly unlikable little brat. Robert De Niro is stuck perpetuating old people stereotypes (Look! He doesn't know how to use a touch screen! And self-checkouts confuse him! Funny!), and while he keeps his dignity in tact, aside from a running joke involving him exposing himself, seeing legendary actors regularly appear in piles of crap always leave a bad taste in your mouth. Uma Thurman (Looking really cute) and Rob Riggle play incredibly incapable parents, while Poppy Gagnon (as "Jennifer", Peter's Christmas obsessed little sister) does get a few moments of amusement. There's a subplot involving Laura Marano (as "Mia", Peter's older sister, who just wants to spend time with her boyfriend, despite her mother's militant stance on "No Boys") that only results in more uneeded chaotic behavior. Other familiar faces include Cheech Marin, Jane Seymour (as "Diane", Ed's love interest, which the movie tacks on at the last second), and Christopher Walken, who thankfully gets the only funny moments in the entire movie (I've said this before, and I'll say it again, we need to protect Christopher Walken from COVID at any cost). 

While not as painfully unfunny as it could have been, "The War with Grandpa" is just plain lame and really generic, where the only real credit I can give the film is that it avoids making any jokes about old men sexual potency (Actually kind of surprised by that one). Still though, there are a lot of moments here where I don't think the film's humor is completely age appropriate. Made worse by how immature they are at the same time. With a reliance on predictable running gags, a false sense of sentimentality, and the fact that it's yet another film with no place being on the big screen, it being possibly the last movie I will be seeing in a theater at the moment, feels like a dark metaphor and a bad omen for the future. We still got two months in 2020 left, and it ain't getting any better. Call it a year already. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Out Of Place Adult Jokes And Multiple Accounts Of Attempted Murder. (It's Really Close!). 

Ava                                                                                                                            ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: It's the Jessica Chastain "Hot Assassin" movie. Which is better than the Jennifer Garner "Hot Assassin" movie. But not as good as the Charlize Theron "Hot Assassin" movie. And slightly worse than the Jennifer Lawrence, or Zoe Saldana, or Kate Beckinsdale "Hot Assassin" movie.......

When I used to think of Video on Demand, I mostly thought of it as overpriced straight to DVD. The pandemic kind of changed that around somewhat, with some big screen films having nowhere else to go. I also noticed that maybe there can be more to it if you really try hard enough. Some movies just get bad luck. Then there's this!   

Another entry into the "Really Hot Female Assassin" genre", "Ava" follows a really hot female assassin, "Ava Faulkner" (Jessica Chastain), working under fatherly mentor, "Duke" (John Malkovich). A former addict, Ava is instructed to carry out her missions, eliminate her target, and for the love of God, don't talk to any of them. However, she can't seem to help herself, being curious about why they're scheduled to be killed in the first place. After a botched mission, Ava suspects that someone intentionally gave her bad information, though Duke assures her that it isn't possible, telling her to take some time off. Ava then returns home, reuniting with her sick mother, "Bobbi" (Geena Davis) and estranged sister, "Judy" (Jess Weixler), despite being away for some time due to some familial troubles. Meanwhile, Duke talks to his superior, "Simon" (Colin Farrell), knowing that there is most likely something else going on than a simple information flub, with a target being placed on Ava's back. While trying to make amends with her loved ones, Ava also has to confront other assassins trying to kill her, along with her own personal addictions, and the film's crumbling under its own aimlessness.     

Directed by Tate Taylor ("The Help", "Get On Up", "The Girl on the Train"), with a screenplay by Matthew Newton (Who was originally meant to direct before stepping down due to countless accusations of assault and domestic violence. Add that layer of uncomfortable to something that's already falling apart as it is.), "Ava" is as unoriginal as they come, and even with all of the recognizable faces and decent production values, the film still feels almost repulsively cheap. One moment it may look like a mainstream, theatrical release, then the next moment it looks like something that would have been shoved immediately within the $5 bin sometime during the early 2000s. I don't know if there were more production troubles than what we already heard about, reshoots, or uncredited rewrites, the movie for the most part, wanders around without direction, poorly trying to shove in as much story as it possibly can to the point much of it doesn't quite add up. It doesn't help that when you really think about it, none of this movie actually needed to happen. If it weren't for the characters constantly being hilariously antagonistic towards each other, there would have been no actual conflict. 

Her indescribable levels of attractiveness aside, Jessica Chastain does make a pretty solid argument for a chance at becoming an action star. She's already a compelling enough actress as it is, and does a fine job during the action scenes. (Even when they're lackluster, you do buy that she can take on all of these guys on her own) The strongest point in the film is her relationship with John Malkovich, who is rather excellent despite the occasionally cringy dialogue. There is a certain sweetness and warmth to their relationship, which I can only assume works because of how they're just great enough actors to elevate crappy material. Others don't fare as well sadly. Colin Farrell, who looks fairly bored, is an obnoxiously stupid villain, whose entire master plan has little rhyme or reason to it. (He's outright pathetic, and I'm not sure the movie quite realizes it) Geena Davis is wasted, Diana Silvers (as "Camile", Simon's daughter) gets stuck with a part that's both predictable and stupid. And I don't know what they did to poor Common (as "Michael", Ava's former love interest), but he's stripped of any and all personality and spends most of the movie with the same dejected, confused expression. 

With a horrible screenplay (Another one that tosses around the word "F*ck" as if its looking for a way to justify an R rating) and an annoying stock techno soundtrack, "Ava" goes from blandly generic to lazily pedestrian in a blink of an eye. You can see the up to date production values from time to time, but in the film's worst moments, bring everything crashing down, especially when it struggles to explain its own story (Which also makes even less sense the more you think about it). No place in a movie theater, and even on Video on Demand, it barely could fit the criteria, the smallest screen possible is easily the only place a film like this could call home. 1  1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Jessica Chastain Fanservice (Never A Bad Thing, No Matter How Poor The Movie). 

Enola Holmes                                                                                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Sherlock Holmes' sister? Well, I guess "Stranger Things" have happened

Well, it was fun while it lasted. Theaters are showing nothing once more, due to almost every major release getting delayed to either next year or to an unspecified date. It's like 2020 can't let us have anything fun, can it? What would normally be something completely depressing to me, Netflix provided some slight hope that while we won't be seeing any traditional big theatrical releases anytime soon, it's not completely impossible to find that level of filmmaking quality elsewhere. 

Based on the book series by Nancy Springer, "Enola Holmes" follows the titular "Enola Holmes" (Millie Bobbie Brown), the unknown and never talked about younger sister of renowned detective, "Sherlock Holmes" (Henry Cavill), and his less renowned brother, "Mycroft" (Sam Claflin). Unlike her brothers, Enola (Whose named spelled backwards is "Alone"), has been living with her mother, "Eudoria" (Helena Bonham Carter), showing signs of intellectual brilliance like her brother. Trained in defensive arts, along with her traditional teachings, Eudoria is Enola's closest relationship, and is left devastated when Eudoria mysteriously vanishes without a trace. This prompts Sherlock and Mycroft to return home, never having spoken to Enola since their father's death, knowing (Or caring) little about her. While acting as Enola's legal guardian, Mycroft intends to have her enrolled in a finishing school run by the strict, "Miss Harrison" (Fiona Shaw) to be what is considered a proper lady. Enola then decides to run away and sets out to find her missing mother. 

While off on her adventure, Enola meets a young lord, "Viscount Tewkesburry" (Louis Partridge), who is also on the run from his family. However, it turns out that Tewkesburry is being pursued by a homicidal man in a brown bowler hat (Burn Gorman), diverting Enola's attention away from her search for her mother. Now caught in the middle of the situation, it's up to Enola to solve a case involving Twkesburry, whoever is trying to kill him, her own mother's possible involvement, and an important Reform Bill that could change the way of the country, which is something some people don't want to happen. While doing so, Enola begins to discover her purpose in the world, becoming her own woman in the process and proving her worth to not only her brothers, but also herself. 

Directed Harry Bradbeer ("Killing Eve", "Fleadbag"), with this serving as his first full length film, "Enola Holmes" is an idea that could derail so easily in the wrong hands. Even when telling people about it, it can sound somewhat silly or forced, feeling more like someone's weird fan fiction than an actual movie or book series. Luckily the film not only has its own unique voice, it's also got so much charm to spare, that I can't logically see anybody in their right mind not at least smiling once throughout the film. With a smart screenplay by Jack Thorne, the film feels like it could coexist within the classic "Sherlock Holmes" stories that many of us grew up with or at least have had ingrained in our minds over time (He's too iconic a character not to have), which has a quirky sense of humor to go along with the clear sense of dark subtexts and a sense of relevance that's intentionally never fully explained, though it's easy to figure out what it's meant to symbolize. 

The one who carries the entire film with her irresistible charisma is Millie Bobbie Brown, who once again goes out of her way to prove to the world how she could possibly be the best young actress out there. It's especially prevalent when her character stops the film to address the audience (An gimmick that would be annoying if it wasn't for how likable the character is), whether it be to explain exposition in a humorous fashion or even have it used to provide a sense of pathos to the character (She spends most of the film by herself, with the audience seemingly being the only person to vent her personal thoughts and feeling to). This is her movie through and through, though luckily, other well cast players have their moments as well. Such as a rather inspired Henry Cavill and a perfectly smarmy Sam Claflin. Millie Bobbie Brown also has some excellent chemistry with fairly newcomer, Louis Partridge in a cute relationship that doesn't feel forced. There are good small parts for recognizable faces, such as a snooty Fiona Shaw, Susie Wokoma (as "Edith", a martial arts trainer to Enola, who gets one of the film's most memorable and socially poignant moments), Adeel Akhtar (as "Inspector Lestrade", Sherlock's ally and biggest fan), a creepy Burn Gorman (Who brings a shocking level of violence and danger to what appears to be a family movie), and Frances de la Tour (as Tewkesburry's wealthy grandmother). Helena Bonham Carter only appears sparingly, but leaves quite an impact, making for some of the film's sweetest moments. 

"Enoa Holmes" utulizes its wonderful lead, aesthetically pleasing direction, and a keen eye for the time period to make up for what's a fairly standard and pretty simple mystery, that does the job enough, though really isn't too shocking when you think about it (I pieced it together just moments before the big reveal). Then again, that's not the main point of the film. Empowering to girls of any age, retaining a timeless feel, and gives us some of that old school sleuthing that's been missing from modern movies. It also feels like something that wouldn't have been out of place serving as a last minute summer blockbuster. Big screen fun is alive and well, and for the time being, it's not impossible to get that level of enjoyment at home. 3 1/2  Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And For Moments Of Surprise Violence. 

Antebellum                                                                                                              ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: At least she's not forced to wear a mask. Yep, that's just as bad. 

When a film shows a lot of promise, has clear greatness within itself, but seemingly either doesn't quite have the capabilities to follow or even worse, intentionally chooses not to in favor of going for what's easy, makes for an emotionally exhausting experience. However, it ends up being for the exact opposite reasons than intended. 

So to get the point across, but to also be as vague as possible, "Antebellum" follows two stories, set in different moments in time. First, we follow a African American slave, "Eden" (Janelle Monáe), as she's trapped on a especially brutal and inhuman plantation in the Antebellum South. Eden is looked to for guidance by the other slaves for reasons yet to be known, with everyone looking for a path to freedom, despite the impossible odds. Cut to the present day, we then follow an accomplish African American journalist, "Veronica Henley" (Also played by Janelle Monáe), attempting to change the still unfair racial divide, while raising her daughter, "Kennedi" (London Boyce), with her loving husband, "Nick" (Marque Richardson). While out with her friends, "Dawn" (Gabourey Sidibe) and "Sarah" (Lily Cowles), Veronica starts to notice something off about the random people she's coming across and dealing with, before having her own nightmarish experience. 

Written and directed by first timers, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, "Antebellum" is the kind of movie that shows us moments of captivating brilliance and originality, and yet, completely collapses on itself in a fiery explosion once everything is said and done. It's quite tragic because the concept the film appears based on is something to be admired. Turning the real life unjust horrors of slavery into a literal horror movie is not only fitting, but creates a realistic sense of terror that people in the past experienced, with the side effects still being felt today regardless of how many people attempt to ignore it. Sadly, it's a little difficult to figure out what the Hell the movie really wants, with the first act being completely different in tone from the second act. I get that the setting change is meant to be more than just simple symbolism. However, the meshing of the two time periods don't remotely compliment each other like they should, especially when the first act is much stronger. That's not to say it's great (The movie isn't exactly original when it comes to the typical tropes you'd see in a story based around slavery), but there is a sense of suspense and dread, and not to mention, harsh honesty when displaying the evil that humans are capable of. The next act of the film just sort of meanders around, messing with the paces, and resulting in a lot of moments that really don't make any sense. (What was the point of the little ghost looking girl?)

While the movie eventually fails itself, the most consistent aspect out of everything is Janelle Monáe, who is magnificent in every possible way. The tones might not successfully, but she remains a force to be reckoned with regardless. Compelling, lovely, and graceful, Janelle Monáe proves once again, to those who are yet to realize it, that she's an incredible actress just waiting for the perfect role. Eric Lange (Simply credited as "Him", the man in the plantation whose claimed Eden as his own) and Jack Huston (as "Captain Jasper", a sadistic slaver), make for truly despicable monsters in human flesh, while Jena Malone (Whose appearance alone kind of spoils the big reveal), doesn't get near enough screentime to resonate as the big bad. Kiersey Clemons (as "Julia", a fellow slave with Eden) is underutilized and Gabourey Sidibe makes for unnecessary comic relief, while Tongayi Chirisa (as "Eli", another slave who works with Eden to escape) conveys a lot of emotion with simple expressions. 

While it's gorgeously and hauntingly filmed (If the movie was better I would have recommended an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography), "Antebellum" most falters in the final act, which culminates in a really obvious twist you can see coming a mile away, and just throws in everything it can to reach an ending that feels cobbled together. All of this doesn't remotely gel in a movie that's barely an hour and forty minutes (And that's with the credits), and when something that could have been both inspired and culturally significant decides to take the easy way out, it takes a lot out of you.  One should have been left disturbed and contemplative. Not just left with a headache brought on by torturous fatigue. It's not the worst movie of 2020, but it's easily the most disappointing. 2 Stars Rated R For Excessive Human Suffering And Evil Southerners.  

The Broken Hearts Gallery                                                                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Even Antifa protesters need to relax and unwind.

So much as been so crazy the past few weeks, I haven't taken the time to acknowledge the fact that my site got a complete revamp. It was also against my will, too. Didn't have any say in it, and my web provider told me to upgrade since nothing was working at all for almost a week. Now we're much shinier, and while it will take some getting used to, we can look forward to another ten years of this, though hopefully I finally start getting paid to do this by then. I think I'm ready for the big time. The show. The big leagues.

"The Broken Hearts Gallery" follows aspiring art gallery assistant "Lucy" (Geraldine Viswanathan), who is known for not taking her breakups very well, keeping a collection of mostly useless items from previous relationships for somewhat obsessive sentimental value. Lucy ends up being dumped by her boyfriend, "Max" (Utkarsh Ambudkar). After forcing a stranger that she mistook for her Uber driver, "Nick" (Dacre Montgomery), to drive her home, Lucy finds herself a new friend. Lucy, with help from Nick, who owns an under construction hotel, creates an open gallery of the items from her old relationships, calling it "The Broken Hearts Gallery", encouraging others to bring stuff from failed relationships to be a part of it. The idea becomes quickly popular, with Lucy and Nick working together to get the gallery off the ground, while of course, in true Rom-Com fashion, grow closer along the way.  

Directed by first timer, Natalie Krinsky (Who also wrote the screenplay), "The Broken Hearts Gallery" isn't the kind of movie that you see warranting a major release theatrically at this moment, though on the bright side despite the film's need for genre obligations, there are moments of something fairly special here. The film is unexpectedly well written, with smart humor and even some deeper, insightful things to say as well. It's also directed in a fairly speedy, quirky fashion, which gives the film its own personality to differentiate itself from others like it. The charm of the movie overcomes rather predictable and generic plot elements that the genre can't seem to get away from no matter how good the movie is or how unique it tries to be. If done right, it can be fine and make for a solid crowdpleaser, but regardless, it leaves slight (Very slight) sense of disappointment when you can tell that there was something even greater in there. 

Geraldine Viswanathan ("Blockers"), shows off her comedic range, proving to be an instant star. She and Dacre Montgomery (Who always plays a completely different character in everything I've seen him in), have some wonderful chemistry, with a great mix of both humor and sentimental. The movie makes time for some memorable side characters, such as Arturo Castro (as "Marcus", Nick's quippy friend), along with the funniest material coming from Molly Gordon and Phillipa Soo (as "Amanda" and "Nadine",  Lucy's roommates and best friends, who take bets on Lucy's relationships) . There's also an hilarious running joke involving Nathan Dales (as "Jeff", Amanda's longtime boyfriend who never seems to speak, and yet, somehow participates in many conversations). Utkarsh Ambudkar gets a little more depth than your typical antagonist (By the end, he really isn't one), and Bernadette Peters (as "Eva Woolf", Lucy's boss and idol) just shows up to say weird things. 

"The Broken Hearts Gallery" goes through the Rom-Com playbook, complete with a last act twist to force a little conflict. It's unnecessary, but what you expect. Luckily, the humor is consistent, the characters are endearing, and the sweet message rings true, especially for those who might need a bit of a pick me up for these troubled times. It's just that there was potential to be something grander. The movie has something to say, whether it be about what relationships can mean to people, how we interpret them, and how they will continue to affect us after they've ended, sometimes without us even knowing it at first. Then again, the filmmakers know to give the audience what they want. Can't fault anyone for that. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Language, And Questionable Artistic Interpretation.   

Mulan                                                                                                                   ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Call it Kung Flu one more time, I dare you!"

Disney has really struck a nerve this time, haven't they? And to a degree, it's hard not to see why. Remaking yet another very recent (And very beloved) animated classic, this time being 1998's "Mulan". However, unlike some of the more recent live-action remakes ("Aladdin", "The Lion King", etc.), this one had the intention of not just making the same movie, but to tell a more mature, completely different story. Sadly, there has been some controversy, such as more than problematic comments made about the recent Hong Kong protests from the main star, even more problematic filming locations, and of course, the fact that instead of a theatrical release, the film is being distributed through "Disney+" for $30 before being made free at the end of the year (Granted, think of the alternative? It's safer than going to a theater and if you have a family, it's essentially the same price). Those aside, I've noticed that the movie is being declared to be the worst remake yet, the worst movie to come out of Disney in years (Um, did we forget "Artemis Fowl" already?), and to be one of the worst things to come out of this year. To add more fuel to the fire......I don't see what the big deal is. In fact, I thought it was, well, pretty solid actually. Aaaand you just clicked off my site, didn't you? 

More of a uniting of various versions of the Chinese legend ("The Ballad of Mulan") this new "Mulan", follows the titular "Hua Mulan" (Yifei Liu), a courageous young woman in rural China, who shows signs of adventurous and heroic potential (Also due to how uniquely powerful her Chi appears to be). However, the times do not allow for such things, as a woman is mostly just there to be made a wife, while the men partake in battle. The "Emperor of China" (Jet Li), is alerted that Rouran warriors, led by the vengeful "Bori Khan" (Jason Scott Lee) and his shapeshifting witch ally, "Xian Lang" (Gong Li), have declared war on China, causing the Emperor to make a decree for one man from each family to participate in the coming war. However, while Mulan's father, "Hua Zhou" (Tzi Ma), wishes to fight (Due to not having any sons), Mulan knows he's too frail to do so. 

Fearing for her father's safety, Mulan takes it upon herself, stealing her father's armor and sword before leaving to join the Imperial army disguised as a man, named "Hua Jun", with the family's guardian (A mystical Phoenix that only she can apparently see) to watch over her. Immediately, Mulan finds herself out of place, training under "Commander Tung" (Donnie Yen) to get down to business and make a man out of her, while knowing that the consequences will mean execution if she is discovered. With Khan's army nearing closer and closer, Mulan must prove her worth to not only her fellow soldiers, but also herself, becoming one of China's greatest legends in the process. 

Directed by Niki Caro ("The Zookeeper's Wife", "McFarland, USA"), "Mulan" is an adaptation of the original animated film in name only, with aside from the occasional similar story beat, along some dialogue and music references, it's very committed to being its own fantasy, war drama. There are no songs, very little comedy, and most noticeably, no "Mushu" (The Phoenix kind of fills in his role, which even then is very limited). Judging the film on its own merits, I found a lot to like about it, though there are a few rather glaring flaws. On the positive side, Caro's direction is gorgeously shot, with incredible cinematography, beautifully crafted fight sequences, and a stunning amount of attention to the littlest of details. The stylistic editing choices, while at times a bit offputting, do lead to a handful of well choreographed moments. (On a side note, the whole Chi aspect, which basically turns people into Jedi, is questionable from a cultural perspective, but still cool to watch) I do also appreciate how much the movie commits to the more mature rating, with the body count being actually onscreen this time, with characters being stabbed left and right. (Seeing a character literally die in front of us is kind of unique for a straightforward Disney movie) The movie is a visual feast for sure, and yet, while it can't reach the heights of the original (Which is one of the top five best Disney movies), there is still an empowering, thoughtful story of courage and heroism against injustice from both evil and even those around you. 

Looking past the admittedly questionable to say the least comments (For a company known for silencing people or keeping a ludicrous amount of restraint on what actors say, surprised they let that one slip by), Yifei Liu is still quite a capable and engrossing lead, who pulls off the character's much cherished arc with grace, beauty, and determination. Donnie Yen is his usual electric self, while Tzi Ma is rather wonderful in a slightly more expanded role. Jason Scott Lee is intimidating, though doesn't have the terror the original villain had, while Gong Li makes for a worthy change in the story, becoming the most fascinating of the two villains having a few well done scenes with Liu. Jimmy Wong, Chen Tang, and Doua Mousa (as "Ling", "Yao", and "Chien-Po", fellow soldiers in the army) provide some humor, while Yoson An (as "Chen Honghui", a solider who Mulan forms a connection with), does a fine enough job, but I'm not sure how much I buy the romantic aspect of the relationship. (To be honest, Yifei Liu has more chemistry with Gong Li than him. Take that any way you wish to internet!) Also, just the presence of Jet Li alone is too awesome to not enjoy. (He, while completely stone faced, catches an arrow with his hand. So silly, yet so freakin badass!) There's also a cameo towards the end that I'll admit, kind of got to me in an emotional way.  

To be honest, I was a bit confused to the outrage surrounding "Mulan", considering our biggest complaints with these remakes have been how unoriginal and almost shot for shot similar they've been to the originals, without adding much to better liven up the experience. Overall, they've been fine, though mostly pointless. This one on the other hand, barely resembles the original. In a way, maybe that's the problem. The original didn't need improvement, and while the film is vastly different, it still lacks a certain charm that the original had. This remake is pleasing to the eye, makes for one of the better ones, and is plenty likable, but in the end, really isn't all that memorable (However, with the pandemic STILL going on, your family could do so much worse). It boasts plenty of great qualities and inspiration (And certainly doesn't deserve the hate), though doesn't really stand out from Disney's best, animated or not. I get the idea that for these to work better, we need to remake something that actually could use a possible revamp (It's why "Cinderella", "The Jungle Book", and "Pete's Dragon" all worked so well). Even though they seemingly have the right idea to no longer just do the same thing, to make these remakes work, since there's likely going to be many more of them, they should instead focus on something that actually needs it. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For War Violence, Impalements, And Mulan's Nude Silhouette. Kind Of Surprised Disney Left That In There. 

Tenet                                                                                                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "But Christopher Nolan....I STILL don't understand ANY of this!".

Cinema is officially back, people! Our filmmaking lord and savior, Christopher Nolan (“Inception”, “Dunkirk”, The “Dark Knight” Trilogy), has returned with the first big movie in months, and one meant to be seen on the biggest screen imaginable. Now sure, we may still be doomed to endure this never ending pandemic, our leaders don’t seem to have a good idea how to stop it (Remember when it was apparently a hoax? So much has happened I feel like people forgot about that!), and if this movie doesn’t turn a profit, we most likely will have to go back to the way things were up until a couple weeks ago. However, so long as you wear your mask (It’s seriously not that hard), keep your distance, and maybe we can finally get back to the joy that only the cinema can truly bring us.   

“Tenet” follows an unnamed CIA agent, simply known only as “The Protagonist” (John David Washington), because he's, well, the Protagonist. Our protagonist ends up captured while on a mission and after being tortured, takes a cyanide pill. He awakens and is greeted by his handler, “Victor” (Martin Donovan), revealing that the pill was fake and was part of a test , which our protagonist passes. He’s then brought into a secret organization, only being given the word “Tenet”, before joining. Now here’s where things start to get a little freaky. After getting an explanation from a scientist, “Laura” (Clémence Poésy), the protagonist learns about “Inversion” (It’s like time travel, but it looks and sounds much cooler), which allows objects or even people to move backwards through time. 

Partnered up with “Neil” (Robert Pattinson), the protagonist tracks down a Mumbai arms dealer, “Priya” (Dimple Kapadia), the one has been supplying inverted bullets to a completely unhinged Russian oligarch, “Andrei Sator” (Kenneth Branagh). Sator, who has been communicating with the future (Just go with it), and plans to use inverted weapons to cause what could be an apocalyptic event and it’s up to our protagonist to stop him. Finding a way to Sator by going through Sator’s estranged and abused wife, “Kat” (Elizabeth Debicki), the protagonist is in a literal race against time itself to locate a mysterious inverted weapon from the future and save the world. And then things get even freakier, but I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out on your own.     

Both written and directed by Christopher Nolan, “Tenet”, is the kind of big budget blockbuster deserving of the big screen treatment, and one that can only come from Nolan's very distinctive, and dangerously labyrinthine mind. It's also a damn good example of the kind of cinematic enthrallment that we've all been craving all summer. Christopher Nolan is the kind of director that you can't really tell if he's some kind of mad genius or not. Regardless if how much sense everything actually makes, it's all explained intellectually and intricately to the point where you find yourself kind of getting it. Maybe you don't fully get it all the time, or even quite comprehend the entire situation as a whole. (I totally get it if you leave confused by everything you witnessed) However, you can't deny that not only does it sound really, really smart, it's also thoroughly entertaining on both a cerebral and popcorn munching level.  

Nolan's eye for mesmerizing cinematography (Done by Oscar nominated cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema with glorious 70mm and IMAX film) is something that not even his biggest critics can seem to find issue with. The way his films leap off of the screen, with gripping action scenes, edited together in seamlessly sporadic and elaborate fashion. I'm also baffled by how the filmmakers were able to accomplish certain feats with as little reliance on modern computer generated special effects as possible. I can't tell anyone in good conscience to risk their health to see any movie in a theater right now, though this is one of the few that kind of needs it, at least on a technical level. It's jaw dropping stuff here, with your mind being almost unable to comprehend what you just saw. (Some of the editing choices come across as a little strange, but I think it adds to the deliberately delirious atmosphere) While Nolan's usual composing collaborator isn't here, Ludwig Göransson ("Creed", "Black Panther") takes over to create a nail biting, tension building score that blares from the speakers and shakes the entire theater.  

John David Washington is really starting to come into his own as a leading man, with very James Bond-esque charisma, and is quick to root for simply because of just how well intentioned a guy he is. He works well with Robert Pattinson, who delivers a nice splash of humor to the film, and can't seem to help himself when stealing scenes. Kenneth Branagh is one detestable villain, with no soul to be found, while Elizabeth Debicki is tremendous, with her storyline being treated seriously and respectfully. (It's uncomfortable and even a little brutal, but in the end, amounts to something more empowering and human than you would expect in movie like this) There are great performances from others who appear sporadically, such as a rather menacing Dimple Kapadia, an at first unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as "Ives", a commander specialized in missions involving inversion), and a long cameo from the always welcome Michael Caine (as "Michael Crosby", a British Intelligence officer who assists the Protagonist). For something so complicated, I found it interesting that there is a low-key, deadpan sense of humor to the film, which adds some personality as well as most likely covering holes in the plot exposition that may or may not exactly add up.

"Tenet" will most likely frustrate and alienate some, and even I can't say I'm 100% sure that everything in the movie is basically just a bunch of bullcrap disguised under pseudotechnical talk. Even when you aren't sure you're following though, you're invested in every single word, unable to look away from every meticulously crafted frame, and most of all, left thinking about it more and more after you leave the theater. It's flawed for sure, and yet, it's what we've been waiting for to liven up 2020's movie schedule. Just don't die to see it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Pulse Pounding Action, Disturbing Themes, And Weird Science. 

Bill & Ted Face the Music                                                                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: In "John Wick: Chapter 4", John Wick finally settles into his retirement dream. As a wedding singer, with his little buddy, Bill.

What can you say about the "Bill & Ted" movies? They're uniquely and intentionally stupid on an completely original level, and yet, you can’t help but love the absolute Hell out of them. You know damn well that they might be a danger to themselves (And maybe even those around them), but you like hanging around them, especially since they may be the purest, nicest guys to ever grace our cynical, hate-filled world. Where the Hell have they been! 

 "Bill & Ted Face the Music" follows the continuing adventures of those two lovable dimwits, "William S. Preston, Esq." a.ka. "Bill" (Alex Winter) and "Theodore Logan" a.k.a. "Ted" (Keanu Reeves), of the rock band, "Wyld Stallyns". They were meant to unite the world through all of time and space with a prophesied song. However, Bill and Ted have reached middle age, haven't had much success, and are basically the same exact guys they were when they were teenagers. Their marriages to their respective princess wives, "Joanna" (Jayma Mays) and "Elizabeth" (Erinn Hayes), are struggling, and their daughters, "Billie" (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and "Thea" (Samara Weaving) are essentially Bill and Ted if they were girls. "Kelly" (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of their old time traveling buddy, "Rufus" (Previously played by the late George Carlin), takes Bill and Ted to the future, where they are instructed to write their world saving song before 7:17 P.M., or else all time and space will completely collapse on itself. Deciding to take the easy way out (And because they are very stupid), Bill and Ted instead travel through time to steal the song from their future selves. Kelly's mother, "The Great Leader" (Holland Taylor), sends a killer robot (Anthony Carrigan), to hunt down Bill and Ted, and destroy them, while Billie and Thea try to help their fathers by bringing the best musicians throughout time to the present. 

Directed by Dean Parisot (“Galaxy Quest”, “Red 2”), “Bill & Ted Face the Music” serves as an epic finale to the excellent adventure and bogus journey from the late 80s and early 90s, that’s just as incredibly imbecilic as ever. However, when the screenplay by returning writers, Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, obviously seems to know that, in a bizarre way, it feels halfway smart. I’ll give it this, just like the titular characters, it’s anything but unoriginal. It’s also just plain a ton of ridiculous fun. Complete with oddly charmingly cheap looking visuals, an onslaught of memorably weird setpieces, and a plot that’s somehow intricate and well thought out, while also giving the feeling that someone set the film on random. It’s unpredictable and insane, and at times, maybe too senseless for some. 

Luckily, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are as lovable as ever, with really fantastic chemistry (You just know they're friends in real life), and some great reactionary comedic timing. As well put together the movie is, none of it would actually work without them. It would all fall apart. But it's their almost childlike earnestness that firstly, makes the characters endearing rather than annoying, and also makes them feel real. (They're man-children, but they're not offensive or trying to hurt anyone.)  Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine rather perfectly encompass what female versions of the main leads would look like, and surpringly are given lengthy roles, along with Jayma Mays and Erinn Hayes. There's a lot of great comedy from Kristen Schaal, Jillian  Bell (as Bill, Ted, and their wives' therapist in a hilariously cringy scene), and Anthony Carrigan (Whose character takes an unexpected turn partway through). Of course, the big scene-stealer ends up once again like in the second movie, being the returning William Sadler (as "Death", the Grim Reaper, who was once part of Bill and Ted's band), who is an absolute riot. I also had no idea Kid Cudi (as himself) was actually pretty funny. 

 "Bill & Ted Face the Music" is all kinds of dumb, and lovingly so.  In fact, it's so stupidly sweet that you're just can't resist having a good time. I'd say it's the best in the trilogy, knowing what works in today's times, and embracing it with a big, thoroughly brainless grin. It's righteously weird, teaches us to be adequate to each other, and is also certainly, most excellent. Woah! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And For Most Ludicrous Adjectives, Dude.        

The Personal History of David Copperfield                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: So this guy does magic tricks, right?

 The first time I ever read (Er, mostly read), "David Copperfield", I was an admittedly stupid freshmen in high school, who both couldn't follow and just plain couldn't get into the novel. Chalk it up to my youth, or my inability to appreciate influential literature, but I've never gotten around to reading it, and until now haven't had any interest in doing so. Maybe it just wasn't for me, or maybe it just took a different interpretation to make me really understand it. Or, maybe it was just a little bit boring? I can't be the only one who thinks that.

 A re-imagining of the novel by Charles Dickens, "The Personal History of David Copperfield", tells the story of "David Copperfield" (Played as a child by Jairaj Varsani, then as an adult by Dev Patel). Detailing his life from his birth to the present, we see David as he progresses from child to young man, being introduced to the many, many characters in his life, forming him into the man he will one day become. From his wicked, abusive stepfather, "Mr. Murdstone"(Darren Boy), the creditor avoiding "Mr. Micawber" (Peter Capaldi), his wealthy, though easily agitated aunt, "Betsey Trotwood" (Tilda Swinton) and her eccentric cousin, "Mr. Dick" (Hugh Laurie), David?s longtime friend, "Agnes Wickfield" (Rosalind Eleazar), his more troubling friend, "James Steerforth" (Aneurin Barnard), among others, all playing a part in David's journey to become an author and a gentleman, whether it be major or otherwise.

 Directed by Armando Iannucci ("Veep", "The Death of Stalin"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Blackwell, "The Personal History of David Copperfield" puts a more modernized (And by that, I mean, diverse), self-aware, and quirkier spin on the well known, classic story, and does so with possibly the most charm I've seen in a movie this entire year. Considering how relentlessly brutal and unforgiving 2020 has been, a little old fashioned could probably do us some good. The script quite expertly adapts the 600+ page novel, into something a bit brisker,, similar to a fairy tale-like comedy. Normally condensing something so large would make for a more frenetic, underdeveloped, and disjointed experience. However, the freneticism actually makes the story flow better, with the sense of humor keeping things moving, and the spirit of the original novel remaining perfectly intact, but providing something fresh for the new generation (And those who just didn't, you know, get it, when they were younger).

 A tremendous and award worthy Dev Patel wonderfully carries the film, with so much wit, likability, and delightfully sincerity  with his own flaws. It is a great character for sure, but Patel really conveys that with his genuine smile alone. The altogether terrific ensemble isn't without notable standouts, such as Tilda Swinton (Who we all know has a talent for scenery-chewing), an endearing Hugh Laurie, a hilariously inept Peter Capaldi, an excellent Aneurin Barnard, and a perfectly slimy Ben Whishaw (as "Uriah Heep", an antagonist to David, who is basically the human personification of a vulture). Other fantastic players include a very appealing Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark (as two characters, "Dora Spenlow", David's ditzy crush, as well as a brief appearance as David's mother, "Clara"), Benedict Wong (as "Mr. Wickfield", Agnes' always drinking father), Gwendoline Christie (as "Jane Murdstone", David's even crueler step-aunt), and Daisy May Cooper (as "Mrs. Peggotty", David's very motherly housekeeper). What's so great about the movie is that while there are loads and loads of characters (Not all of them I mentioned),is that everyone is memorable, and that's both a credit to the screenplay, the direction, and also, the source material itself.

 While being the first movie in months that I would say deserves a bigger audience (Though the unending pandemic makes that a little difficult), "The Person History of David Copperfield" is one of this year's best, and in way, most necessary movies. It's just so pleasant and fun, with a lot of that great British humor (Priding itself on how it catches you off guard), very human drama, and doing what an adaptation of a source material so ingrained in people's minds should do. Sure it reinvents itself for today's audience, but it does so while not forgetting what made the story so iconic in the first place. Even a complete moron like me who couldn't get into it before, understands what it represents to people. It's a little like last year's "Little Women" in how sometimes, a good, classic tale is just too good not to translate for future generations to come. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Occasional Mature Content, Though Is Still Perfect For a Family Audience.

The New Mutants                                                                                            ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Teenage Mutant Ninja Humans.

 The "X-Men" franchise just continues to get a ruthless beating long after death. After suffering a case of a franchise cut short when Disney bought out 20th Century Fox (And also allowing Marvel to get back all of their characters from the studio), the once relevant, acclaimed, and game changing X-Men series ended on the lowest of notes with last year's "Dark Phoenix". Now we have their actual final movie, that was filmed in 2017, got a surprise removal in 2018, sitting on the shelf till the beginning of 2020, with a planned real release earlier this April. Then Sh*t went down.

 Set in the X-Men Universe, "The New Mutants" takes place in a mysterious, almost completely abandoned hospital, run only by one doctor, "Dr. Cecilia Reyes" (Alice Braga). A young Native American girl, "Danielle "Dani" Moonstar" (Blu Hunt), awakens in the hospital, being the sole survivor after her reservation is destroyed by a tornado, though she suspects that something more monstrous is responsible. Dr. Reyes tells Dani that she is a new mutant and has been brought to the hospital to get treatment among other new mutants. However, Dani doesn?t know what her powers are yet. Dani meets the rest of the Mutant Breakfast Club, including an invulnerable mutant that can physically rocket himself, "Sam Guthrie" (Charlie Heaton), a friendly wolf girl, "Rahne Sinclair" (Maisie Williams), a cocky one that refuses to talk about his powers, "Roberto da Costa" (Henry Zaga), and a Russian mutant sorceress, "llyana Rasputin" (Anya Taylor-Joy), who is immediately antagonistic towards Dani. The hospital is surrounded by a powerful force field, with Dr. Reyes always keeping an eye on the teens, monitoring them for unseen superiors with possible nefarious intent. The teens all start to experience terrible nightmares, among other strange occurrences, prompting them to retaliate, fighting to survive their worst fears as they come to life around them.

 Directed and co-written by Josh Boone ("The Fault in Our Stars") and based on the characters created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod (Who's the film?s end credits hilariously misspell) , "The New Mutants" has been a source of mockery and disdain due to all the delays and for Disney refusing to allow press screenings with proper social distancing measures in place (Kind of a dick move). I find it unfair and think that a lot of critics have been far too harsh on the movie. It has some cool ideas, and some really good performances, but the final product appears to be missing something. It might come down to the thoroughly unoriginal execution, which makes the film very predictable, with easy to decipher mysteries (I'm sure longtime comic fans were able to deduce what was going on in the first ten minutes). The characters, while likable, feel underdeveloped, along with much of the overcooked story, which does little to explain itself thanks in part to the surprisingly short runtime under an hour and forty minutes.

 Blu Hunt makes for a compelling lead, along with an excellent Maisie Williams, with their relationship (Which takes a romantic turn), being a highlight. This is actually the biggest onscreen LGBTQ representation between main characters in a major movie franchise I can think of. (Not even the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has had the balls to commit to this) Anya Taylor-Joy is the scene-stealer, getting the most humorous lines, and being one of the most capable characters. Charlie Heaton, though his story arc feels incomplete, is solid, along with Henry Zaga, who is by far the least interesting of the lead characters (One a side note, the character has a much darker skin color in the comics, sparking a little controversy). Alice Braga ends up being a bit of a nothing character, who feels like her storyline is cut short, turning completely villainous almost completely out of nowhere. The special effects range from aesthetically pleasing (Such as the appearance of mask wearing Slenderman monsters, called the "Smiley Men"), or seemingly unfinished (The monstrous Demon Bear, which is a story aspect that should be more interesting than it actually is).

 There is some occasional suspense, and clever concepts in "The New Mutants", and you can tell that there is something unique in there. It makes the film feel more like a disappointment than anything, coming to a rather inconclusive conclusion, that doesn't remotely feel like that?s where it was all originally meant to end. (Don't stick around. There's no post credits scene.) It's not a bad movie at all, and there are so many moments where I can see one having a good time with it. It just doesn't seem to know where its place in the bigger picture is, and could just be seen as a throwaway movie. Fitting, because in the end, Disney did kind of just throw it away. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images And Mutant Teen Angst. It?s Like Regular Teen Angst, But With More Explosions.

Unhinged                                                                                                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image:"It's OK, Russell....Next year will be way better than 2020....Right?"

  I have officially had my first theater experience post-pandemic. The seats were mostly empty and it's still obvious things aren't quite back to normal, with everyone (Customer and employee alike) wearing masks. Is it a good thing that we decided it was a good idea to open things back up despite there still being COVID-19 cases and the threat of a resurgence continues to linger? Well, no. The answer is no. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Still, there was something kind of comforting to me about it. For better or for worse, "Eagan at the Movies" is back. Hold for applause. 

  "Unhinged" follows a struggling mother, "Rachel" (Caren Pistorius), who is going through a messy divorce while raising her teenage son, "Kyle" (Gavriel Bateman). While driving Kyle to school, Rachel gets fired and gets stuck in rush hour traffic. After getting detained by the freakin largest Ford pickup truck to ever be made, owned by a creepy looking weirdo (Russel Crowe), who may or may not be named "Tom" (We never actually find out), Rachel honks her horn at him for refusing to move at a green light. The man follows her and demands an apology. When Rachel refuses, he decides to make her life a living Hell. The man stalks Rachel in his truck throughout the city, before revealing how out of his mind he truly is, targeting her loved ones, killing any innocent bystander that just so happens to be in the way, and leaving a trail of mindless destruction in his wake. When Andy is threatened, Rachel goes full mama bear, determined to bring an end her road rage fueled attacker.  

 Directed by Derrick Borte (Who hasn't done anything I've ever seen or heard of) with a screenplay by Carl Ellsworth ("Red Eye", "Disturbia"), "Unhinged" is basically a slasher thriller, where the psycho murderer uses a car instead of a knife or gun. It's actually surprisingly brutal and even a little suspenseful at times. It's not even poorly directed either, looking better than something you would see being straight to DVD. So why does the film still feel out of place in a theater? I think it might be because once you get past the premise, there's nothing about it that stands out or feels special at all. The movie comes across as generic in its writing, execution, and as it goes on, progressively difficult to believe. The levels of destruction and death can be over the top at times, and the overall threat of the villain becomes diluted once you realize that literally everyone in the whole city is looking for him, and yet, can't seem to find him. He stands out in more ways than one, especially after he brutally kills a guy in a diner on camera. 

 Despite how needlessly over the top it can get on occasion, Russel Crowe is a very intimidating presence. Having gained quite a bit of weight, looking more disheveled than usual, and retaining a surprising amount of physical strength, he can be scary. It also helps that his character is thoroughly unlikable, playing the kind of villain that you immediately should hate (Logically should anyway). I do also like that we don't by the end know too much about him, though there are plenty of hints giving us a clue as to the kind of person he is, with his violent, frequently misogynistic comments, and the belief that he is for some reason owed something from the world. (He also looks like the kind of guy who goes on reddit to complain about Brie Larson) Caren Pistorius, though I'm little confused by the ages given to the character (So? Did she have her son when she was like fourteen?), is also good and actually very realistic going up against a larger, crazier enemy and becoming more capable along the way, while Gabriel Bateman plays the most logical character in the entire movie (He is the first person to question that something is clearly off about the guy, and even contributes to attempting to stop him).


 "Unhinged" loses steam towards the end, and while the film isn't without suspense and a tight, quick pace, I don't see a rational reason as to why this was the first movie I've seen in a theater in about five months. Is "Unhinged" really the one that we need to risk our own health to see on the big screen? No movie is actually worth that, and that's especially true of something that would be right at home if you were streaming it. It's a great feeling to have the movies back and all (And yet while I'm sure it's exactly the right time to do so), but I suggest you wait until something a bit befitting the grand auditorium comes out to spend your money. 2 Stars. Rated R For Violence And For The Worst Drivers Imaginable. (Maybe We Should All Go Back Into Quarantine And Stay Off The Roads.) 

The Tax Collector                                                                                                   ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Shia LaBeouf as Mexican...Or maybe Bulgarian....No No....Lithuanian?

 Movies are back apparently. Theaters are opening back up, with this movie being one of the ones to get more theatrical showings as well as Video on Demand. I have to ask, of all the movies to come out when the country needs the art of cinema, why in God's name is it this? Out of everything that could be playing up on the grand silver screen that has brought us so much joy and entertainment, we pick the most questionable film of 2020? When Shia LaBeouf is the least weird thing in your movie, something is very, very wrong!!!  

 "The Tax Collector" follows "David Cuevas" (Bobby Soto), who works alongside his longtime friend of unknown race and skintone, known only as "Creeper" (Shia LaBeouf), as tax collectors for an imprisoned crime lord, going by the name "Wizard". Despite being a ruthless, murderous, and all around violent scumbag of a human being, David is at least a loving family man to his wife, "Alexis" (Cinthya Carmona) and his two kids. Trouble arises when a rival crime lord with a big ambitions, named "Conejo" (Credited as being played by "Conejo"), shows up and declares himself top dog in the city. Conejo, who is a complete raving lunatic that likes to do ritualistic sacrifices and kill people for fun, wants David and Creeper to join up with him. However, since this is all kinds of insane, they want nothing to do with him. Conejo doesn't like that, and prepares to hunt for blood, with David desperately trying to protect his loved ones from a world that really, everyone involved should of saw coming a mile away.    

 Written and directed by David Ayer ("End of Watch", "Suicide Squad", "Sabotage", "Bright", other Gang related dude movies), "The Tax Collector" is an uncomfortable, twisted experience, whose only real level of enjoyment comes from how batsh*t crazy is. Sadly, when it isn't completely loco man, it's boring and unfocused. For a brisk ninety-five minute movie, the plot doesn't actually happen till a good chunk of a way into the story, which spends nearly the entire first act just by showing us how the main characters are going about their day, threatening people and bantering gang talk. Then when the plot does get going, there's just a lot of sitting around, chatting about stuff, before someone suddenly gets their head cut off or stomped in. For something that seems to think it has a point or purpose (And seems to think it's really clever. I mean, come on. Who didn't figure out who "Wizard" was actually meant to be?), it takes most of the runtime to actually get there, and does so in the most nihilistic and needlessly bleak way possible. Ayer's bombastic direction style feels oddly toned down for the first two thirds, though despite this, the only thing keeping you interested is how perplexing the movie is. 

 Bobby Soto, while he shows some charisma mostly in scenes he's sharing with LaBeouf, is not the most interesting of leads. He's also too despicable a character to root for, which would be fitting if only the movie seemed to realize it. (The screenplay has the bizarre idea that he's sympathetic and heroic in spite of the numerous dead bodies and ruined lives he leaves in his wake). Shia LeBeouf on the other hand, feels like an alien, disguised as a tan white guy, pretending to be a stereotypical Mexican guy, that also happens to be high off of his ass. (David Ayer claims that it's not brownface. Honestly, I believe him....which makes this character even more confusing) Cinthya Carmona is here to play the role of wife (And even she's kind of scummy too), and the appearance of an unrecognizable until he isn't George Lopez (as "Uncle Louis", a high ranking member in Wizard's group) is completely laugh free, thoroughly confusing, and oddly depressing. As for Conejo, he's just so generic as a villain, coming across as unrealistically demonic (Who would follow this guy?).

 When the violence goes down in "The Tax Collector", it's gratuitous  and exploitative, and yet, maybe it's because I've become so desensitized to it (Not saying that's a good thing), but instead of shocking, I just found it kind of funny. It's someone trying way too hard to grab you and shake you to the core. Sadly, the terrible dialogue and over the top execution appear childish. I can't really get into how baffling the film gets (There's this out of nowhere inclusion of "The Bloods" towards the climax that doesn't make any real sense), but at least when the movie gets a little weird, it's halfway fascinating to watch. Not in a good way of course. However, most of the time it's a total slog, and it makes a good argument for most movies (If they're like this) to remain specifically on streaming. It's not worth risking your health for this. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Hardcore Violence, And Pavement Induced Facial Makeovers. 

Project Power                                                                                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: This Hydroxychloroquine works almost as well as disinfectant!

 I'm all for new visions and fresh voices, providing a new perspective on mainstream genres, such as the superhero genre. However, I really think that "Black Widow" and "Wonder Woman 1984" are really what we need right now. You're just....not the same.  

 "Project Power" takes place in New Orleans some time in the near future, with a new, experimental pill, called "Power", becomes a hit on the streets. Power as it turns out has the ability to grant one temporary, unpredictable superpowers, though some people have been known to combust from within as well. A street-smart, aspiring rapper named "Robin" (Dominique Fishback), also works as a dealer of Power, to make money to support his sick mother, "Irene" (Andrene Ward-Hammond), Robin also has a cop friend, "Frank Shaver" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who on occasion uses power while also looking out for Robin. After the death of her cousin, "Newt" (Colson Baker a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly), who used Power to give himself the ability to light himself on fire, winds up dead after a confrontation with a mystery man, named "Art Reilly" (Jamie Foxx), going under the alias "The Major", Robin finds herself kidnapped by him. Art, who is on a very personal mission to hunt down the ones responsible for creating Power, brings Robin along as he attempts to put a stop to any further distribution of the drug, uncovering a big bad supervillain-esque conspiracy in the process. 

 Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Who both did two of the "Paranormal Activity" movies and 2016's "Nerve"), "Project Power" is yet another small scale, lower budget Netflix distributed superhero movie, and even while the bigger ones continue to be delayed as of now, movies like this really don't give us that special summer blockbuster feeling that we've all been craving. I do like the premise quite a bit and the political subtext is very much appreciated, but in a way, I'm not sure what the movie actually wants to be. Maybe it's the budget constraints keeping the film from going all out with the comic book-like elements, or it could just be obligating to the genre. It all feels out of place when it actually happens (Guys exploding at random or turning into giant CGI monsters), especially since the film keeps itself relatively grounded in reality. The world building is solid enough, and I do find myself liking a lot of the characters (And especially the actors involved). 

 Jamie Foxx is well, Jamie Foxx, kind of playing up the same persona that he's become known for, though at least has a solid rapport with Dominique Fishback. Speaking of her, she is rather phenomenal here. Fishback (Who is listed as being almost thirty), surprisingly still looks the part of a teenager, and is arguably the main character. (She is also one Hell of a rapper) It's also just great to see the typically reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has oddly been in little as of late, despite generally everybody liking him as actor. (He also provides some much needed humor) Rodrigo Santoro (as "Biggie", the distributor of Power) can play a charismatic baddie, though Amy Landecker (as "Dr. Gardner", Biggies superior) just sort of fades into the background despite being the actual main antagonist. Also, what is with movies lately doing absolutely nothing with Courtney B. Vance (as "Captain Craine", Frank's boss)? 

 "Project Power" has a nice, very unique sense of style, and when focused (Not to mention, whenever it isn't trying too hard to be like every other superhero movie), there's potential for a good action/crime movie that just so happens to have some Science Fiction elements. It's fairly cool and not without a few well done action scenes (There's a sequence during a drug deal gone wrong, which is shown through a very cleverly placed camera angle). However, when the movie takes things to a discount version of a Marvel movie (In a way, it's just a lesser "Iron Man 3"), it's a bit all over the place and doesn't all come together that well. Just going off of ideas, even good ones, don't necessarily a good movie make, especially when those ideas are constantly clashing. Maybe there;s a pill for that. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Occasional Harsh Violence And Explosive Pill Popping.  

An American Pickle                                                                                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "And then he turned himself into a pickle! Funniest sh*t I've ever seen!"  

 With "Netflix", "Hulu", "Disney+", "HBO Max", that upcoming "Peacock" thing, (Not "DC Universe" though), it seems that streaming services appear to be benefiting from the lack of movie theaters most during this pandemic. 

 Released through HBO Max, "An American Pickle" opens in the 1920s, where an Ashkenazi Jewish man, "Herschel Greenbaum" (Seth Rogen) and his wife, "Sarah" (Sarah Snook), leaving their home for America, in hopes of finding a better, more fulfilling life. While working at a pickle factory, Herschel falls into a vat of pickles, which proceeds to brine him for a century. Having been perfectly preserved within the brine, Herschel wakes up in the present day Brooklyn. While everyone Herschel knows and loves is long gone by this point, he finds one remaining relative, a great-grandson named "Ben" (Also Seth Rogen", a computer programmer. Herschel goes to live with Ben, realizing how much the world has changed, with much of what he knew having vanished over time, while Ben himself being much further away from his old fashioned values. After an incident at a cemetery where Herschel gets into a fight with workers trying to set up a billboard over the graves of his deceased family (Which also ruins Ben's chances of developing his long delayed ethics app), the two of them go separate ways, with Herschel going off into the city to build himself a pickle empire from the ground up. When Herschel finds surprise success with his pickle business, Ben becomes even more at odds with his great-grandfather than ever before, thus commencing a clash between two completely different generations. 

 Directed by Brandon Trost (Known for collaborating with a few of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's films) and written by Simon Rich ("Miracle Workers"), "An American Pickle" is all kinds of quirky and weird, but also the right kind that provide us with some good laughs that we desperately need right now. As far as plots go, a lot of it feels like it's on shuffle, randomly twisting and turning around to whatever feels funny at the time. Still, the film's oddly whimsical tone, which intentionally contradicts the broad sense of humor, finds that right balance, while also incorporating some relevant insight and a sweet center. It's a well directed movie, giving off the feel of a strange fairy tale in the opening before conflicting with the modernized world. There are a lot of jokes at the expense of the divide, such as how some have probably forgotten their familial beginnings, while also mocking how many, many (And I do mean, many) old fashioned beliefs do not have a place in today's society (Though some will obviously find a way to praise it). There's a part where Ben tricks Herschel, knowing exactly the kind of things he would say, should join "Twitter" and post whatever little idea comes to mind, resulting in all kinds of offensive content that somehow only gets him praise for "speaking his own mind". (An amusing sight gag includes a news article stating that Kanye West is defending his right to offend. Boy, that's certainly relevant right now!) 

  There are sporadic appearances of side characters throughout, though none of them really leave an impact or actually move anything forward. The focus is specifically on Seth Rogen's performance, or should I say, performances, and he's excellent in both roles. As Ben, he retains his usual likability, playing the straight man in the situation perfectly. As Herschel, along with his shockingly authentic sounding accent that never actually wavers, he's a delight, and even when he says and does questionable things, you do sympathize with his current situation. It's suitably strange to watch an actor have terrific onscreen chemistry with himself. 

 While the plot can feel jumbled and at times, made up on the fly, "An American Pickle" benefits from an understated sense of humor (Which is very toned down from Rogen's usual work) and the sweet, sincere intentions behind it. The movie ends up being kind of adorable, finding a heartwarming (And oddly poignant) resolution in spite of all the wackiness. The off-kilter nature of the film may not be for everyone exactly, but if you're searching for something quick, consistently funny, and to be honest, thoroughly original, it's the kind of light-hearted diversion that comes out at the right time. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor And Herschel's Many Threats To Do Violence.   

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Siege                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the Hell else you talkin' to?"

 Since there really isn't much of anything to review this week (And I'm sure as Hell not subjecting myself to "The Kissing Booth 2" if I don't have to), Netflix, along with "Hasbro" (In association with "Rooster Teeth" and "Polygon Pictures"), has given my other geeky obsession something we have long been asking for. 

 The first chapter in the "Transformers: War for Cyberton Trilogy" (And based on the long running, and much loved toyline turned cartoon series/movie franchise abomination), "Siege" details the final days of the war between robots turned vehicles/vehicles turned robots, focusing on the heroic (Though this time, somewhat more flawed) "Autobots", led by "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee) and the villainous (Though this time, somewhat more complicated) "Decepticons", led by "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha). The six episode series follows characters on both sides, with the leader of Megatron's "Seekrs", "Jetfire" (Keith Silverstein), having to contend with the always scheming "Starscream" (Frank Todaro), Optimus' close friend, "Ultra Magnus" (Edward Bosco) searching for any means of ending the war, and the angsty neutral Cybertronian, "Bumblebee" (Joe Zieja), who is eventually forced to pick a side and embrace his destiny. The search begins for the mythical "Allspark", while the Autobots attempt to gain control of a "Spacebridge" to leave the planet, and the Decepticons face constant backstabbing in their ranks. When Megatron enacts a plan to force the Autobots into servitude against their will and finally gain complete control over the planet, Optimus must speed up his escape plans if he's to save his kind. 

 While it's short in length and could be a little jarring for some newcomers (Though it's truly amazing how much lore and backstory is packed into just a handful of episodes, along with how surprisingly easy it is to follow), "Siege" is the right amount of fanservice, but has its own identity and place among the many beloved incarnations of the decades spanning franchise. It's also one that's aimed more at the longtime, older fans, feeling much closer to the toyline than ever before. Each detailed character, who are all instantly recognizable and covered in battle worn damage (Such as cracked bodies, scratches, and blaster holes), giving off the sense of how long these characters have been fighting. It really does feel like a war now, with casualties being felt on both sides, and the writing, while simple, does attempt to a little depth and pathos to what we're used to seeing as a standard good vs. evil story. 

 These short episodes give the Transformers more development than any of the five Michael Bay movies combined. The series shows that the Autobots aren't perfect, playing a part in the destruction of Cybertron despite their good intentions, while the Decepticons in theory make some good points, though have progressively gotten more and more violent as the war continued. Some of the voices can be a bit jarring, especially with Jake Foushee as Optimus (Peter Cullen is so iconic after all), who at times doesn't quite convey the deep voiced, inspiring leader that we all remember. I'm also not quite sure how I feel about Todd Haberkorn (as "Shockwave", the one-eyed Decepticon mad scientist). There are others who fare better, like Jason Marnocha making for a menacing Megatron (Despite Megatron's weirdly luscious lips) and Frank Todaro being pitch perfect as Starscream (Always a personal favorite of mine). Some highlights would be Keith Silvertein, Edward Bosco, and Linsay Rosseau (as "Elita-One", a female Cybertronian who finds herself at odds with some of Optimus' choices). I love the inclusion of more female characters, and the idea that neautral parties actually exist during the conflict. 

 "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy: Siege"gives off a tone closer to the terrific IDW comics, though probably much darker. It's something that might turn off a lot of longtime fans. Due to the darker situations and heavier, somewhat dour atmosphere, the series is not something that will gel with fans looking for something more fun (Like the original series or "Beast Wars"), a mix of light and dark (Like "Transformers: Prime"), or something that just jumps right into the action (Like the film series). It's got some noticeable growing pains (And an abrupt ending), yet I do feel that the potential, especially for something that has always been overlooked by the franchise, is met. The anime inspiration leads to breaktaking imagery and compelling storytelling, as well as great action as expected. I also appreciate how the source material is handled. It's easily the most toy-centric series yet, with the character models being very accurate to the current toyline, and loads of little Easter Eggs for the longtime fans to look for. It's an ambitious project to say the least, and one that can really pay off in the long run if they stick the landing. It's something that any true fan of those shape changing robots needs to give a look to, and while all of the angst won't be what everyone is looking for, you can at least still see why the franchise has lasted for so long, and will continue to evolve (Or transform if you will). 3 ½ Stars. Rated TV-Y7 Despite Some Language And Gruesome Robotic Deaths. (Just Because You Don't Show Blood, Doesn't Make It Any Less Gruesome) 

Relic                                                                                                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The happy family.

 So, I thought horror movies were supposed to scare me? I didn't know they were also meant to make me incredibly depressed and upset?

 "Relic" follows "Kay" (Emily Mortimer), who returns with her daughter, "Sam" (Bella Heathcote), to their family home after Kay's elderly an solitary mother, "Edna" (Robyn Nevin), has randomly vanished. While the search for Edna begins, Kay and Sam feel a sinister, mold filled presence is inhabiting the house. After Edna returns home as if nothing happened, not remembering much of anything, more strange things start to happen around them. Contemplating what to do with her, the mother and daughter come realize that whatever is going on has to do with Edna, as well as her deteriorating mind. (If you haven't realized by this point, the film is a grim metaphor for dementia)   

 I wouldn't consider "Relic" to really be a horror film in the traditional sense. I would rather consider it to be a slow paced, melancholic drama, that also just so happens to contain horrifying imagery, nightmarish themes, and a constant sense of existential dread. Directed by first timer, Natalie Erika James, the film is gorgeously filmed, taking its time to allow the atmosphere to take shape. Now that may not be everyone's preference for a scary movie (Or to some, any movie at all actually), and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the movie certainly not something I would normally recommend. However, the eerie nature of the film, as well as the more serious, heavy, and admirably realistic approach to the subject matter, the movie hits you where it hurts in a subtle fashion. 

 Emily Mortimer is terrific, playing someone who knows that a loved one is slowly slipping away and the desperation that follows. It's a heartbreaking, underplayed performance that I hope people don't overlook. Bella Heathcote, who I never really ever took the time to notice as an actress, is also very impressive here. Robyn Nevin, in a role that could go wrong so quickly, plays it in a respectful, harshly lifelike manner, that might feel a little too real for some. Anyone who has ever had a family member go through a similar situation will connect, such as the memory loss, the random mood swings, and the feeling that while things seem right in a moment, they can just as easily change seconds later. There is also a theme of how we tend to treat and forget our elderly in their time of need which I think we're all a little guilty of in some way.  

 "Relic" will either leave hardcore horror fans confused and wondering where all the jump scares are at, while others will be left with feeling the need to call their grandparents. With this whole pandemic further separating us from our loved ones, it just might be a good idea anyway. It's a sinister movie in places, frightening in a hushed way, and thoroughly upsetting. It's another one of those movies that you more appreciate the intelligence and attempts at something deeper, rather not straight up enjoy in the customary sense. Then again, new voices and original, smart filmmaking deserves to shine while the blockbusters are all put on hold at the moment. Give it a chance.  Odds are regardless if you connect with it or not, you'll walk away with something to say. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Grotesque Mold, Body Horror, And The Revelation That One Day We Might All Find Ourselves In A Similar Situation. 

First Cow                                                                                                             ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Milk...I wonder if it really does do a body good."

 The current pandemic is the best thing to "A24". This is the perfect time to give recognition to the much critically acclaimed independent studio, who have given us instant favorites such as "Room", "The Witch", "Green Room", "Moonlight", "20th Century Women", "It Comes at Night", "The Florida Project", "Lady Bird", "The Disaster Artist", "First Reformed", "Hereditary", "Eighth Grade" (I could stop now, yet I feel the need to keep going), "Mid90s", "Midsommar", "The Farewell", "The Lighthouse", "Uncut Gems", and many, many more movies your hipster friend has begged you to watch instead of a "Marvel" movie. (Can't we have both?) Whether or not the movie ends up great, you're going to get something very much unlike anything else to come out of current mainstream cinema.    

 Taking place sometime during the 19th century, "First Cow" follows a quiet, sensitive cook, named "Cookie Figowitz" (John Magaro), who is currently traveling with a group of fur trappers, coming across a Chinese immigrant, "King-Lu" (Orion Lee), with the two quickly becoming friends. Cookie and King-Lu, having settled together in a cabin outside a trappers settlement, they find use for a Jersey Cow (The first cow brought into the territory) that just so happens to belong to a wealthy landowner, "Chief Factor" (Toby Jones), and steal the milk to make some cakes, which become instantly popular with the settlers. Their business flourishes, also attracting the attention of Factor, who hasn't the slightest idea that they're stealing from right under his nose. The plot is basically just a subtle character driven escalation of events. 

 Directed by Kelly Reichardt (Known for smaller budget, personal films), "First Cow" is as A24 as you can possibly get, and if that's what you want, you're sure as Hell going to get it. Based off of the book "The Half Life" (By Jonathan Raymond, who also co-wrote the script), the film is presented with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is an A24 favorite. It's refreshingly old fashioned (Though that can be an occasional detractor), telling the story through visual presentation and with little dialogue. There is something quite engrossing abut simply watching everything unfold before us, though the intentionally slow pace might leave a viewer checking their watch after a while. It's not really a flaw, though it makes the film not necessarily one I would see myself giving repeat viewing. 

  The film ever really gets into what exactly the relationship is between both John Magaro and Orion Lee's characters, with most of it being left to interpretation. However, there is something so gentle and sincere about it, that you find yourself caring for what becomes of them. It's also very fascinating to see two more sensitive male characters, trapped in an overly in your face masculine world. (Lots of penis measuring contests in this movie) Toby Jones is also enjoyably buffoonish, while some familiar faces that I'd rather not spoil, pop up for small parts.   

 "First Cow" is a moving and muted drama, filled with delicate character development, and culminates in a bittersweet climax. You do sort of question if the creative decisions are just as much distractions, and if lesser filmmakers utilized similar tactics (Intentionally or otherwise), it would be seen as well, bad. I can't say it's something to recommend to everyone, though I can't see how anyone interested in the art of film wouldn't be able to appreciate what it's trying to accomplish. While not exactly great art, it's still good art, and it deserves an audience to analyze it. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Hardcore Onscreen Milking.  

The Old Guard                                                                                                   ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Charlize Theron decides to finally take out her revenge on Tom Hardy...Look it up.

 With nothing to offer from the major comic book turned film franchise moguls like "Marvel" or "DC Comics", it seems like it's the perfect time for someone less well known to get their moment in the spotlight.  

 Based on the comic of the same name (From "Image Comics") by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández, "The Old Guard" follows a group of secretive mercenaries, consisting of "Andy" (Charlize Theron), "Booker" (Matthias Schoenaerts), "Joe" (Marwan Kenzari), and "Nicky" (Luca Marinelli), who all just so happen to be centuries-old immortal beings who can heal themselves after any injury. After being hired by a former CIA operative, "Copley" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the team discovers that they have been set up. Copley, having recorded footage of the team recovering from being riddled with bullets, is actually working for a scumbag businessman, "Merrick" (Harry Melling), who wants to capture them and use their abilities for profit (Mostly by extracting their blood out of them by force). Now on the run, Andy learns of a newly discovered fellow immortal, a soldier named "Nile Freeman" (KiKi Layne), who was recently thought to be dead. Andy and the rest of the team find Nile, and bring her along as they attempt to escape Merrick's forces, hoping to keep their gift of never ending life out of the wrong hands. 

 Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Secret Life of Bees", "Beyond the Lights") and released through "Netflix", "The Old Guard" has to work a little harder to set itself apart from both the mainstream superhero movies and the lesser, more generic ones attempting to imitate the more successful ones. While the start appears slow, once the film finds its footing and more importantly, discovers its identity, we end up getting a pretty solid, well directed, and often compelling action thriller, that at least tries to take a little time to have a little extra depth. Written by Greg Rucka (His "Wonder Woman" run was one of my introductions to mainstream comics), the film's slow paced prologue is mostly due to the film wanting to avoid a reliance on exposition (Since there is clearly some intricate backstory to the film, a lesser movie would get caught up in it), but thankfully the film eventually finds a way of explaining itself without losing focus. It's also a very fascinating story that even finds a way to shine despite the clear limitations by the film's budget. The filmmakers provide some well choreographed, and well, very violent, action sequences, which unlike a lot of action films seem to do, don't rely on a shaky camera to elevate itself. Everything is so clear and detailed, and most importantly, very unique. The film has a lot of fun with the concept of the main characters taking an excessive amount of damage, and even though the movie addresses that they can't die, the action is still intense and clever enough to make it work. (Though there is a reveal involving how long their immortality lasts, which is a little confusing and could possibly be seen as contrived in a hope for adding more suspense later on)

  Charlize Theron (Also receiving a producing credit), who we have already seen plenty of times before play a total basass without any sort of theatrical manipulation. (See "Atomic Blonde" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" for examples) She makes the character her own, while also having a nice mentoring relationship with KiKi Layne (Wonderful in "If Beale Street Could Talk"), whose talent and range as an actress needs more recognition. Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli all do good work, playing slightly more developed characters than you would expect (It's nothing too deep, but it's just enough to make you give a crap). Meanwhile, Chiwetel Eijofor is almost needlessly terrific as usual (His brings his A game and delivers strong emotionally dramatic moments that a movie like this doesn't even really need, yet feels very welcome nonetheless) and Harry Melling plays the ninny douchebag role rather perfectly. (He's "Dudley Dursley" from the "Harry Potter" movies, so he's easy to hate.)

 "The Old Guard" builds to a thrilling finale, and while I'm not sure about the literally last second set up for a sequel, the film does offer some absorbing concepts and I can see people becoming invested enough to see what else could be done with it. It's nothing all too new considering how many comic book movies Hollywood pops out these days, but it sets itself apart just enough to make things interesting. For something that could of just winged it, it's nice to see a movie go a bit more out of its way to distinguish itself from the usual by the book genre conventions. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong, Intense Violence, And Video Game-Like Respawning.  

Hamilton                                                                                                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Just like I read in the history books.

 Well if we're being honest, this was probably the closest I was ever going to get to ever seeing "Hamilton" on Broadway, with or without the current pandemic. Also, "Disney+" needs to make up for "Artemis Fowl". 

 A recording of the immensely popular, very revered Broadway musical production, "Hamilton" follows the life and career (All in a musical format) of immigrant turned one of Founding Fathers of America, "Alexander Hamilton" (Lin-Manuel Miranda). Following two acts, we see Hamilton's marriage to his wife, "Eliza Schuyler" (Phillpa Soo), his relationship with his sister, "Angelica" (Renée Elise Goldsberry), working with "George Washington" (Christopher Jackson) during the American Revolution, the at odds relationship with "Thomas Jefferson" (Daveed Diggs), and of course, the fateful duel with longtime frenemy, "Aaron Burr" (Leslie Odom Jr.). 

 It feels weird reviewing a Broadway play as if I were reviewing a movie, but we're still in weird times, and since this Fourth of July came around during the worst year in recent memory (I've done the math. It's the worst year ever!), I can't think of anything else to possibly put me in a more joyful spirit. Also, it's probably one of the best movies I've seen this year, by technicality. I'm being completely serious about that. This version of "Hamilton", which you've either seen and praised to everyone about or have just heard other people constantly praising it, could of been just something of simple enjoyment, but nothing really more. However, it's either because of how well made and tremendously acted it already is, or a credit to the skillful direction by Thomas Kail (Who also brought us the original show), It's definitely the epic experience that's been advertised.   

 The songs, which have become so iconic that they've been engraved into the memories of both those who have or haven't seen the actual play, are presented in a suitably spectacular and showstopping fashion. The don't so much get stuck into your head, but instead plant themselves like a flag onto your brain. From "My Shot", "Helpless", "Satisfied", and many more (Including "You'll Be Back", which gives us the precious gift of a delightfully hammy Jonathan Groff as "King George III", up close and personal as he chews the scenery), there's a reason these songs have become so iconic. Not to mention, the vast variety of musical styles is something I think more musicals need to look into. (Also, if all political debates were rap battles, the world would be a much less depressing place.) It's the intelligent and clever writing, mixed with the inedible music surrounding them, and of course, the diverse, undeniably talented cast.    

 Due to the inclusions of more close up camerawork, you will get to experience a much more in depth look into the performances of the cast members. The cast includes the terrific Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Christopher Jackson, Phillipa Soo, Anthony Ramos (as both "John Laurens", and Hamilton's son, "Phillip"), Okieriete Onaodowan (as both "Hercules Mulligan" and "James Madison"), and Jonathan Groff's handful of hilarious moments. (The entire ensemble really deserves commendation for the commitment to the artistry on display.) For me, the standouts would be Renée Elise Goldsberry and her mesmerizing singing voice, along with Daveed Diggs (Who also plays "Marquis de Lafayette"), who plays Thomas Jefferson the way I from this point on choose to view him as. 

 You can probably pick apart historical inaccuracies (Though I've heard how there is surprising amount of detail and truth to a lot of it) and some possible historical manipulation that may or may not be what's exactly needed at the moment (We still have political and social divide at the moment, or have you forgotten?). While I can see where some people would be coming from, I believe "Hamilton" might be doing more good than harm. I see it more as a representation of what we want America to aspire to be, with people of color in historically white roles (An obvious reference to both how they've been negated to the side in both history and media), topics of social change that will always be relevant, and the overall concept of the perceived "American Dream" (Something that I believe to be more of an idea to always want to adhere to, rather than something one can ever truly achieve). It may not be a true movie in the traditional sense, but with 2020's constant need to punish us, its existence feels most needed. It's still inspiring stuff, and while I may never get to experience it the way it was originally intended, this is still the next best thing. It's a brilliant concept, brought to life by incredibly gifted people, and followed through beautifully. So yeah, I'd consider it one of the best movies to come out of 2020. It at least put me more in a patriotic mood than anything else to happen this year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, Historical Content, And The "Lost Art" Of Dueling.  

My Spy                                                                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Now pinkie swear you won;t ear me after you finish your ice cream."

 With every movie I've been looking forward to this year ("Black Widow", "Tenet", "Wonder Woman 1984", etc.), at least "Amazon Prime" found the time to finally release a movie that I had been getting advertisements for over a year ago. Thanks guys. 

 After many, many, MANY delays, "My Spy" follows former Special Forces soldier, turned CIA operative, "JJ" (Dave Bautista), who as it turns out really isn't cut out for the job, due to his tendency to attempt to play the hero, resulting in explosions, bad guys getting killed, and nobody taking him seriously as a spy. (He's also mastered the ability of standing so incredibly still that he's become invisible to the eye. Had to thrown in a "Guardians" reference somewhere.) So CIA Director, "Kim" (Ken Jeong) decides to give JJ a less exciting mission. Teamed up with his biggest fan, "Bobbi" (Kristen Schaal), JJ is tasked to watch over widowed mother, "Kate" (Parisa Fitz-Henley) and her precious daughter, "Sophie" (Chloe Coleman), who are the in-law family to a ruthless illegal arms dealer, "Victor Marquez" (Greg Bryk). When JJ and Bobbi are discovered by Sophie, she takes an instant liking to JJ, blackmailing him into keep her company, later convincing him to give her some spy training. Eventually JJ and Sophie bond, become besties, and take down some bad guys together. You know the drill, kids.   

 Directed Peter Segal ("Get Smart" "50 First Dates"), "My Spy" has been pushed back from several release dates (The current pandemic not helping) before settling on being released as an Amazon Prime exclusive, and what for what we get, it's not exactly a bad time. The film is perfectly enjoyable, thoroughly silly, and only really works at all thanks to the stars. It's not a very original, or even all that well thought out, of a story, and due to the surprising edge the film has (Language, violence, and even a little death), it's a little hard to figure out who the movie is actually made for. The comedy can be a little too goofy, giving off some standard family movie vibes, but then someone will get randomly stabbed or blown up. Not to mention the level of gunplay, while admittedly (And even amusingly) absurd, doesn't really feel right in what seems to aimed at a young audience. 

 Dave Bautista has already shown to have some great comedic timing in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, and once again pulls it off here, while injecting his own natural charm to liven up the script. He also has a pretty delightful relationship with Chloe Coleman, who is quite the young scene-stealer. Kristen Schaal also gets some hilarious moments just by being Kristen Schaal and Ken Jeong shows he actually excels at toning himself down. Meanwhile, Parisa Fitz-Henley gets stuck with a generic love interest role and Greg Bryk leaves no impact as our villain. There are also some maybe somewhat questionable, though also admittedly fairly funny supporting roles for Devere Rogers (as "Carlos", the typical, nosy gay neighbor) and Noah Danby (as "Todd", Carlos' partner, who for some reason only speaks in grunts.) 

  "My Spy" is nothing special, memorable, or even that well made. It does offer some solid distraction for the seemingly never ending pandemic, thanks almost entirely to the likability of Bautista and Coleman. The uneven sense of identity doesn't exactly make this something I'd recommend to the family, though we could all do so much worse. Some decent laughs make up for all those spy turned babysitter clichés we've seen before, especially when you at least enjoy the company of the people involved. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Not So Family Friendly Language And Not So Family Friendly Violence. 

Irresistible                                                                                                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Rose Byrne literally chewing the scenery.

 God, I am not looking to the Presidential election at the end of the year. While we are still experiencing this seemingly never ending pandemic (For what I've been told is all a hoax, this has gone on for quite a while), the current state of our country, our current Presidential candidates (One who most likely goes to bed at 6 P.M. and uses the bathroom several times at night, and the other being a grotesque human being and, you know, consistently making things worse for four years straight), and 2020 itself just not taking a damn moment to chill, this is the worst possible time to be going through the election process. 

 "Irresistible" follows cynical Democratic political strategist, "Gary Zimmer" (Steve Carell), who after the now infamous Donald Trump victory, is looking for a chance to change the course of the current political climate. Gary sees an opportunity after seeing a  video featuring a a retired Marine colonel, "Jack Hastings" (Chris Cooper), giving a passionate speech about undocumented workers in his small, mostly conservative Wisconsin town. Gary convinces Jack to run for mayor, with himself running the campaign, bringing along everything within his politically driven arsenal in the process. The mayoral race becomes a total sh*tshow as you would expect, with Gary's longtime Republican rival, "Faith Brewster" (Rose Byrne), arrives to support the current right wing mayor, "Braun" (Brent Sexton), causing Gary more grief as he struggles to create his big political success story.    

 Written and directed by former host of "The Daily Show", Jon Stewart, "Irresistible" has the makings of some good satire, and in a time of divisive politics, we really need something like that right now. Sadly, it only really works if it's well, actually funny. The film lacks much bite or any real edge to it, and it feels like Stewart decided to go for something a bit more in the middle. That's fine, and all. The message of how political parties, the media, and money seem to motivate and manipulate the system to suit their own narrative, and are just as responsible for how crappy things eventually become, is one that deserves addressing. However, it's nothing all that original, and when the laughs are so few and far between, it feels more like a dull, yet oddly cartoonish lecture. There's an uneven tone throughout the film, where things feel grounded one moment, then get strangely silly almost randomly. I know it's supposed to be satirical, but you can't have it both ways. 

 Steve Carell is very Steve Carell, and even while the script is a letdown, he's always really good at playing that. The film has a solid cast, getting good work out of Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis (as "Diana", Jack's daughter), Topher Grace (as "Kurt", Gary's pollster), and a very funny Natasha Lyonne (as "Janet", Gary's more technical analyst). However, the real scene stealer would be Rose Byrne, who only appears frequently, but gets easily some of the funniest lines and most outrageous moments, playing up the most mean spirited and needlessly sarcastic of people. (Not to mention, I got a thing for the blonde hair. Just feel like I need to point that out.) 

 "Irresistible" has nothing but the best of intentions, with the message, while nothing that new, is still something of value for people to remember (Especially those in the media and in positions of political power). While there is a last minute twist that adds a little extra layer or depth and I'll admit I didn't quite expect, the movie is not near as clever as it seems to think it is. The inconsistent tone and sporadic laughs keep the film from leaving an impact, and it feels like a wasted opportunity. It's 2020. We need to just sit back and laugh at the absurdity of our divisive state of things. However, it just needs to be a bit more original than this. 2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language, Fox & Friends, And Steve Carell's Pleasurable Enjoyment Of A Pastry.   

The King of Staten Island                                                                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: 2020. A year where Pete Davidson might get an Oscar nomination. That's how weird this sh*t has gotten.

Sometimes the best way to cope with a serious, and very personal subject matter, is to have a good sense of humor about it. It's something that I've noticed SNL comedian, Pete Davidson, is quite good at. It can get uncomfortable, and maybe it's not exactly everyone's thing, yet when you find that right balance, you have the potential to both make people laugh and leave some impact while you do it.

Loosely based on the life of Pete Davidson, "The King of Staten Island" follows "Scott Carlin" (Pete Davidson), a high school dropout/aspiring tattoo artist, who has never quite recovered from the death of his firefighter father years prior. While his sister, "Claire" (Maude Apatow), leaves for college, Scott remains home with his mother, "Margie" (Marisa Tomei), with no signs of his life going anywhere. Scott becomes at odds with another firefighter, "Ray" (Bill Burr), after almost giving his nine year old son a tattoo, leading to Ray starting to hit it off with Margie. Fearing change, Scott becomes determined to find a way to prevent Ray and Margie's relationship from continuing, while attempting his own personal problems.

Directed by Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up", "Funny People", "The 40-Year-Old-Virgin"), with a screenplay also written by Apatow, along with comedy writer David Sirus, and Pete Davidson, "The King of Staten Island" finds comedy in heartbreak. It's a fine balance that the film is able to get right, offering some great back and forth between characters, with some of it being hilarious and at times, kind of depressing. It's something that Apatow has always had a talent for, even though as usual, the film can get a little sidetracked because of it. Little moments that don't really impact the film make it a bit longer than it needs to be. (The film clocks in at two hours and sixteen minutes) However, the laughs are consistent, and the film certainly isn't without some smart insight.

Pete Davidson shows some surprising acting chops here. It's obvious he can be funny, but his dramatic moments are very subtle, and I appreciate that there wasn't a need to overplay his performance. (Not to mention, he is an expert fast talker, going a mile a minute.) Marisa Tomei is lovable, while Steve Buscemi (as "Papa", one of Ray's fellow firefighters) and Maude Apatow all get funny lines and moments of emotion. The film also gets some impressive work from Bill Burr, and especially Bel Powley (as "Kelsey", Scott's female friend/lover/love interest), who brings more to what could of just been a sideplot without much purpose.

"The King of Staten Island" might seem to overstay itself at times, though there are consistent laughs and a deeper, heartfelt story at the center, making the moments of filler feel minor. There is something very smart about the film, and it has a more unique way of approaching its subject matter, as well as explaining it. Using a sense of humor to cope with a certain trauma is a very human thing to do, and this movie gets that better than most. Not to mention, it gave me a new found appreciation for tattoos. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language And Adult Content.

Da 5 Bloods                                          by James Eagan                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Maybe we should dig our way out of 2020." 

 I'll admit that I'm not the most professional film critic out there. Aside from you know, not being paid at all, I'm still really far behind when it comes to the fimographies of some of cinema's most prolific directors. It's also pretty pathetic that my introduction to acclaimed director and activist, Spike Lee was that forgettable "Oldboy" remake. With that said, along with "BlacKkKlansman" (Which was one of 2018's best films), I have started to really see what makes him such a unique voice in film. It's commendable to see how one can entertain, inspire, compel, and leave you thinking at the same time. It's also the kind of movie, considering the current climate in America at the moment, that is more necessary than ever.  

 Released through "Netflix" (And most likely making up for last week's "The Last Days of American Crime"), "Da 5 Bloods" follows the story of aged, American Vietnam War veterans, "Paul" (Delroy Lindo), "Otis" (Clarke Peters), "Eddie" (Norm Lewis), and "Melvin" (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), returning to Vietnam, saying that they are there to retrieve the remains of a beloved fallen fellow soldier, "Norman Earl Holloway" (Chadwick Boseman), also known as "Stormin' Earl". However, it turns out there is more to this expedition than they're admitting. They're also on the hunt for some buried gold bars that they previously uncovered with Norm before he was killed in action.

 The crew also ends up bringing along Paul's son, "David" (Jonathan Majors), who is attempting to mend their damaged relationship. The quest is being funded by Otis' old flame, "Tiên" (Lê Y Lan), as well as a French businessman, "Desroche" (Jean Reno), who may or may not be particularly trustworthy. With some help from their Vietnamese guide, "Vinh" (Johnny Trí Nguy?n), the veterans journey deep into the jungle to find their deceased friend as well as their treasure. Seems simple enough, but it doesn't take long for things to unravel, and it's best that you don't know too much going into this. 

 The definition of a "Spike Lee Joint", "Da 5 Bloods" is based on a script by Danny Bilson and Paul De Mero that previously had been sitting on the shelf for seven years before Spike Lee and his frequent collaborator, Kevin Willmott ("Chi-Raq". "BlacKkKlansman"), giving the film a more socially relevant rewrite. It's a grand, old fashioned epic, that also just so happens to be one of the best movies I've seen this year (By far), and also smartest movies I've seen in quite a while. The film reaches past the two and a half hour mark, yet you never notice, due to how well paced and compacted the story is. It has the makings of something you've seen before (The old friends/veterans going on a treasure hunt has become somewhat of a classic tale), but how it all plays out doesn't feel remotely by the numbers. It also helps that the screenplay is chock full of well defined, fascinating characters (Each with their own motivations), and the strong dialogue they're given. Lee expertly delivers on the interactions between them, while also incorporating moments of well placed (And much appreciated) humor and incredibly powerful and intense drama. It takes good writing to have time for characters to describe how their PTSD has affected their lives, yet also have time for some good banter and how some of the main characters react to how of their own is somehow a "Trump" supporter. However, the film also even finds a way to humanize that in a way that I really hope more people can at least understand.  

 In a year that hasn't had the time to grace us with too many Oscar caliber performances (It's flippin June, and I haven't even seen fifty movies yet. I don't think I'm going to get past a hundred this year, am I?), we get a truly memorable one that's going to leave on Hell of an impression. Delroy Lindo hits it out of the ball park with an amazingly complex, emotionally fierce, and passionate performance. He gets one especially captivating monologue, shot while focusing almost completely on his face and never breaking contact with the viewer, that I can defines what I would consider flawless acting. While Lindo gets the biggest showcase, the comradery between him,  Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr., gives the film heart, along with an equally fantastic Jonathon Majors. The film just has a great cast of characters, all contributing in some fashion, from a suitably snooty Jean Reno, a really likable Johnny Trí Nguy?n, and a small, absorbing part for Veronica Ngo (as real life Vietnamese radio personality, "Hanoi Hannah"). Chadwick Boseman also shines in his small role, only appearing in flashbacks that are presented in an aspect ratio and style reminiscent of Vietnam War stock footage. The changing tones add an extra layer of depth to the film, keeping you constantly engaged. 

 "Da 5 Bloods" is a movie that's made for the big screen, but still doesn't lose any of its grit and cinematic quality. From Spike Lee's brilliant direction, the Oscar worthy screenplay, and enthralling performances, the film also brings everything that we see throughout the film (Whether it be seemingly unimportant or simply something meant to be on the sidelines) all together in one gutpunch of a finale, resulting in this year's most poignant and culturally significant endings. Current events continue to spiral, avoidable deaths continue to happen, almost half of the country still refuses to see there's even an issue, and there is for some reason still a debate about why people are trying to draw awareness to a serious societal problem involving race. 2020 still sucks so far, but the impact that we can still feel from the best of cinema certainly hasn't taken a hit. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Dramatic Weight. 

Artemis Fowl                                                                                            ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: Man, "Men in Black" sure took a weird turn.

 As kids, we may have been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but with the eight installment book series, "Artemis Fowl", I did exactly that. The book had an awesome cover (It had a sparkling, locked gold, old fashioned fantasy tome-like design), and while I only read the first book (I was like seven or eight!), I remember it being pretty cool actually. Sort of like an anti-Harry Potter, with a young sort of villain protagonist, eventually becoming more of an anti-hero, that also had fantasy elements thrown in there. It was a long time ago, but even I know something is not right here!   

 Based on the young adult book series of the same name by Eoin Colfer, "Artemis Fowl II.", of course, follows the titular twelve year old protagonist, "Artemis Fowl" (Ferdia Shaw). Artemis is the super intelligent son of his wealthy businessman father, "Artemis Fowl I" (Colin Farrell), who has always told his son stories of fairies and an unimaginable world that no other human has ever seen. After his father mysteriously vanishes, Artemis also learns that he is also suspected to of been responsible for the theft of many priceless artifacts before receiving a call from a mysterious, raspy voiced, hooded villainess, "Opal Koboi" (Listed as being voiced by an uncredited Hong Chau, but something feels off about that). Koboi has kidnapped Artemis' father and demands that he bring her a dangerous artifact, called the "Aculos", or else he'll never see him again. Artemis, along with his faithful bodyguard/butler, unfortunately named "Domovoi Butler" (Nonso Anozie), devise a very elaborate, and very confusing scheme to find out where the Aculos has been hidden. The plan involves kidnapping a fairy officer, "Holly Short" (Lara McDonnell), manipulating a giant dwarf, "Mulch Diggums" (Josh Gad), and avoiding the "Lower Elements Police" (LEP), led by "Commander Julius Root" (Judi Dench), with Artemis Fowl becoming a renowned criminal mastermind in the process of saving his kidnapped papa.    


 Directed by Kenneth Branagh (With the last Disney movie he did being easily one of their best live action remakes, "Cinderella"), "Artemis Fowl" had been in development hell for years, with the big screen adaptation getting pushed around before becoming another casualty of the country shutting down, settling for a release on Disney+. It has the makings of something cool, but boy, does it just get everything so wrong. It's an adaptation where more than a few important aspects appear to have been lost in translation, and those aspects are what just so happen of been what would of held it all together. The screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl ("Johnny English Reborn", and something much better, "Paddington"), has so much to get done in an hour and a half, with underdevloped characters, and loads of exposition filled with mythology and lore, just being tossed in at random.

 None of the characters truly stand out, and the plot itself takes away too much time to get going, to the point where the main focus doesn't even become an issue until the last twenty minutes. There are some nice looking visuals, such as the underground fairy city or the goblin prisons, but we don't see much of that. Most of the film takes place at the generic looking "Fowl Manor", with that part of the story taking up the entire second act, and even a little into the third. Because of this, most of the effects we're left with are shockingly crappy, looking like the admittedly dated effects fro the original "Harry Potter" movie. (However, that movie gets a pass for not only being much better, but also being you know, almost nineteen years old.)   

  Ferdia Shaw, grandson of Robert Shaw, really doesn't quite have the onscreen charisma to carry what is meant to be a character with such a presence and sense of confidence. It's especially noticeable during scenes with Lara McDonnell, who while also doesn't really have the role completely down, does seem to be more of a natural than Shaw is. Nonso Anozie doesn't end up having much of a role to contribute by the end, along with Tamara Smart (as "Juliet", Butler's niece), who I have no idea what her purpose was actually supposed to be. The more enjoyable performances come from Josh Gad, getting a couple amusing lines despite essentially being Hagrid if Hagrid sucked, and Judi Dench, who I get the idea is just here simply to see what kinds of bizarre things they can get her to say and do. (We do get the sight of her saying "Top of the morning to ya!", so there's that.) Colin Farrell is also frustratingly limited to a handful of scenes.

 Then we get to one of the stranger flaws in the film, the villain. We never actually see her, with her face hidden in shadows and by a hood, with the voice being completely distorted, and while her name is mentioned onscreen many times, she's still listed as "Shadowy Female Figure" in the credits. The character feels out of place, doesn't actually do anything of real menace, and Hong Chau, despite being listed as playing the character in all promotional material, is nowhere to be found in the actual movie. Is this a reshoot issue? Or maybe something to do with the actress realizing the movie was trash? It makes for a really hard to follow plot device that both takes up a lot time, and yet, feels completely disconnected at the same time. Not to mention, with the main threat being mostly inconsequential, there isn't any sense of urgency to whatever is actually happening.

 Nearly impossible to follow in some places, resulting in an almost conflict-free climax, and clearly edited into oblivion, "Artemis Fowl" just falls apart in the most baffling of ways. It's Kenneth Branagh's "The Last Airbender". The movie feels wrong, and it certainly is made worse by the lack of any real sense of wonder or magic. (It's a Disney film in name only.) Maybe it's best that your kids just spend some their quarantine time reading instead. They'll get more joy out of that instead. 1 Star. Rated PG For Scary Images, Such As Josh Gad Unnaturally Opening His Jaw Like A Cartoon Shark. That's Gonna Haunt Me For A While.    

The Last Days of American Crime                                                                               By James Eagan                                                                No Stars OUT OF ★★★★

Image: "Put down the gun...And the script...And the camera....You know what, just throw all of it away!"

 Not much having come out the last couple weeks, and not to mention the political and social uproar that's been impossible not to get involved in. (The racial ramifications have been ignored for far too long!) So with the debate between the power that our law enforcement has abused in the past (And whether you choose to believe it or not, continues to abuse from time to time), why the absolute Hell did anyone think to themselves "Yyyeah. Perfect time to release this one!". 

 "The Last Days of American Crime" takes place in the future-ish somewhat, where after years of rampant crime, the government decides to send out a countrywide broadcast signal (Known as the "American Peace Initiative" or "API") that will cause a painful, piercing sound into the heads of anyone daring to even think of committing a crime of any kind. Our hero, a ruthless and violent bank robber, "Graham Bricke" (Édgar Ramírez) is depressed, having recently heard that his brother committed suicide in prison, he's had no logical choice (Apparently), but to kill all of those responsible for selling him out, and with the API about to go into effect, it means his criminal career is about to be over. However, Bricke meets the wacky son of a gangster, "Kevin Cash" (Michael Pitt) and his shady fiancée, "Shelby Dupree" (Anna Brewster), come to Bricke with an offer. Kevin, who was in prison with Bricke's deceased brother, knows that his death wasn't a suicide, convincing Bricke to join them in a last second heist before the API begins. Seems simple enough, right? Bricke is always serious, he has a thing with Shelby, Kevin is crazy, and there are bad guys. So why does this movie clock in at about two hours and twenty nine minutes? Its because someone went out of their way to make the absolute worst thing imaginable this year. 

 Timing is the least of the problems that plague "The Last Days of American Crime", but it's the most obviously offensive aspect of it. I get not accounting for real life events getting in the way of the point you're trying to make. However, when there is no point you're trying to make, and instead you just want to pile up excessive violence, sex, swears, and an onslaught of bullets piercing blood splattering flesh, you really deserve nothing but the ridicule of the American moviegoers. Not to mention you make a pretty damn terrible movie at the same time. Directed by the most likely villainous Oliver Megaton ("Transporter 3", Taken 2", and "Taken 3" or as we call it, "Tak3n"), the film is a narrative disaster of nearly epic proportions, failing in nearly every filmmaking department. 

 Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini (Though I haven't the slightest clue what this has to do with it), the film is a ruthless tribute to dirty, sleazy excess, but not the good kind. I mean dirty as in grimey and ugly, with near exploitative levels of gory violence, hilariously limp sexual content, and some of the worst dialogue you'll ever hear courtesy of the in your face macho screenplay by Karl Gajdusek ("Oblivion", "The November Man"). The movie seems to get the idea that it's so edgy and cool, feeling increasingly lame the longer it goes. Horrendous dialogue and grotesquely unlikable characters don't exactly make for a so bad it's good experience when your movie doesn't seem to know when to get to the damn point. Though even with that said, the point itself seems to be lost. In fact, it's almost an hour and a half until the actual plot kicks in, with the film taking several detours before getting to the heist that the film has been building up to. I don't even know what half of these little distractions are supposed to contribute, and I'm having more trouble trying to remember the order in which these scenes happen. It absolutely has to be the worst edited film I've seen in a long time. A good hour or so could of been shaved off of this movie, and that hour wouldn't of been missed. 

  Édgar Ramírez is someone I've seen be a good actor, but in this, he gives an award worthy (Razzie award worthy that is) performance. It's an outstanding achievement in dull, remaining stone face throughout the entire movie, never emoting once, and failing to generate any kind of sympathy whatsoever. His chemistry with Anna Brewster, who gets some of the worst dialogue out of the entire cast, is nonexistent, and their romance feels grossly shallow. While Ramirez overly tones it down, Michael Pitt overly turns it up, nearly exploding off the screen in how over the top he is. Screaming every other line like a maniac, mugging as if he's having trouble chewing his food, and just plain being a plague on your eyes and ear in every scene, Michael Pitt's shtick gets old before it even begins. Other supporting characters come and go, with some overdoing it, most adding little, and as for Sharlto Copley (as "William Sawyer", a cop who gets a random mini-subplot for about ten minutes), he's criminally wasted. (How dare you do a nonsensical, cartoonish action movie and not let him chew the scenery. He's actually a pro at that!)  

 Reveling in decadence, always trying to show off how "cool" it is, and never cutting the tough guy crap, "The Last Days of American Crime" is a movie trying its best to compensate for a tiny penis. The timing of its release is certainly unwarranted, yet it's nothing compared to the visual ugliness that the film seems to drape itself in. In terms of direction, writing, acting, editing, and basic coherence, it deserves all of the panning it's been getting. It coming out while the country is going through a very heated, but much needed social debate, just makes it worse. I really can't think of a single good reason to give it any stars, because that would mean something positive would of come out of this almost two and a half hour orgy of cinematic foulness. So yeah, No Stars. When nothing good comes out of a movie, it deserves nothing back. Rated R For All Kinds Of Sex, Violence, Language, And Police Brutality That It's Best Movies (Let Alone Bad Ones) Shouldn't Probably Show For A While.  

The Lovebirds                                 By James Eagan                               ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: Good Cop, Bad Unicorn.

 We are officially hitting the point where all of this is starting to become normal, and while the premise behind watching movies on my phone and computer will always feel odd to me (You really do miss the whole movie going experience.), I'm getting a little too used to it and I don't like it! 

 "The Lovebirds" opens with the almost sickening lovey dovey relationship between "Leilani" (Issa Rae) and "Jibran" (Kumail Nanjiani). The two are inseparable and destined to be first. Some time later, the couple has grown distant, are always arguing, and are left questioning where their relationship goes from here. While on their way to a friend's party, Leilani and Jibran decide to call it quits, only for their breakup to be interrupted when Jibran hits a guy on a bicycle with his car. Then seconds later, a random guy with a mustache, who they nickname "Moustache" (Paul Sparks), claiming to be a cop (And that the cyclist is also a criminal) hi-jacks their car, and proceeds to run over the guy twice, killing him. It becomes obvious that Moustache isn't a cop, especially when he flees the scene, leaving Leilani and Jibran looking pretty guilty of murder. Now on the run, the couple has to work together to find the killer and clear their names in the process, while also stumbling upon a strange conspiracy involving a congressman and his wife, "Edie" (Anna Camp), a bunch of frat boys, and a mask wearing sex cult. The day escalates really fast. 

 Directed by Michael Showalter ("The Big Sick"), "The Lovebirds" is the kind of short and sweet, and often pretty damn funny diversion that feels just what the doctor ordered while we're waiting for the world to finally normalize once again. The movie is over the top and revolves around some forced situations, which are made thankfully quite funny due to good timing, smart writing, and a pair of wonderful leads. The movie is certainly unpredictable in its oddness, with the plot moving along briskly and almost randomly. Most of the best comedy comes from how far things get in such a short amount of time. Its all kinds of goofy, but you can forgive the film for that, especially when you're getting a consistent amount of laughs. 

 Most of this works because of the pitch perfect chemistry between Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani. They work well off each other with their constant comebacks and throwaway jokes, and while in terms of comedy, it's not hard to see how good their chemistry would be. Romantically, they are dynamite as well. Sure they argue a lot, yet you can see the clear love that these two characters have, even when they forget. It actually ends up being really sweet and thoughtful, and even with all of the over the top wackiness going on, it feels like one of the more realistic movie relationships I've seen in a while. Other characters don't get much screentime, though they really aren't meant to be the focus, the only exception being an enjoyably weird appearance from Anna Camp.     

 "The Lovebirds" doesn't overstay its welcome (It's not even an hour and a half), and comes to a predictable, though crowdpleasing conclusion at the right moment. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani make the film, and are a delight all the way through. With a hidden sweetness, unexpectedly good laughs, and an entertaining amount of absurdity, 2020 may be continuing to remain stuck, but at least the movies remain a nice way to escape and making us laugh. Still, is there a chance we can get back to living our lives in time for "Tenet" to come out? C'mon! It looks awesome. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bickering Couples, And What We All Know Masked Rich People Do On The Weekends. 

Scoob!                                                                                                    ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: ""It says here that Scooby and the gang were quarantined for 14 days, and the bad guys got away. The end."

 As depressing as this situation continues to be (Wear a mask! It's not that hard! It doesn't hurt you in any way!), I will admit, I am so happy that I've been able to see this movie. Not that I was ever particularly excited for it, or even thinking about it much (Looked cute and all, and hey, I like "Scooby-Doo". Who doesn't?), but it was actually a movie I had planned on seeing for this site back when movie theaters were still a thing. It gives me a sense of closure and normalcy. It makes me feel safe, and safe is good. 

 Another theatrical film released instead via Video on Demand, "Scoob!" opens with the origins of those meddling kids and their talking dog, "Mystery Inc.", with "Shaggy Rogers" (Will Forte) and "Scooby-Doo" (Frank Welker), having been the best of friends since childhood. Complete with the rest of the gang, including "Daphne Blake" (Amanda Seyried), "Fred Jones" (Zac Efron), and "Velma Dinkley" (Gina Rodriguez), they have been going around the world, solving mysteries which generally end with someone being unmasked. Now the gang wants to expand and move up in the world, with this movie's celebrity guest star, "Simon Cowell" (Himself, obviously), offering to invest into the company. However, he sees Shaggy and Scooby as the weak links and says he will only invest if they're gone.

 Feeling unwanted, Shaggy and Scooby go off on their own, where they're attacked by killer, transforming robots sent by the dastardly "Dick Dastardly" (Jason Isaacs). They are rescued by the "Falcon Fury", which is piloted by the famous superhero, "The Blue Falcon", or more specifically, his much dumber, less capable son, "Brian" (Mark Wahlberg). Brian, along with the rest of his team, including "Dee Dee Sykes" (Kiersey Clemons) and robotic dog, "Dynomutt" (Ken Jeong), bring Shaggy and Scooby along with them to find the skulls of the "Great Cerberus" before Dastardly does, preventing the end of the world as we know it.  

 Seemingly setting up a shared universe of sorts made up of classic "Hannah-Barbera" characters, "Scoob!" seems to be more about a clever premise than anything all that unique when it comes to storytelling. Directed by animation director Tony Cervone (Known for "Looney Tunes", "Tom & Jerry", and "Scooby-Doo" related work), the movie itself is a cool idea, but the plot is way too convoluted and all over the place for a kids movie, giving the sense that most of the story was worked around the concept, which clearly came first. It's not a very well directed movie in that sense, with the pacing being off, especially early on, and lots of the story elements feeling underdeveloped, much like some of the characters. The movie just jumps right into it all immediately after the opening (And fairly cute) origin story, not giving much time to establish much. Granted, we all know who the main characters are since they've been around for over fifty years, but it would of been nice to get more of an emotional attachment to what's going on.

 Narrative woes aside, Cervone does at least offer a delightful visual feast. From the "Warner Bros." animation department, "Warner Animation Group" (or "WAG"), known for the "LEGO" movies, the film has a great look to it. It's CGI, but every expressive CGI, resembling a more fluid, detailed traditionally animated, hand-drawn cartoon. It also makes the characters themselves more fun, even when the script really doesn't fully flesh them out. Not to mention all of the great sight gags and Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout. Even while the movie doesn't give much in terms of a cohesive plotline, it's not without some decent sized laughs. Whether it be some solid self-aware gags (Something this movie does better than the old "Live-Action" ones. They're not as good as you remember. Trust me.), and some good one liners that get an occasional belly laugh. (It may be a kids movie, but there some stuff here for the adults, which is very much welcome.)

 Where "Scoob!" really shines is with its fantastic voice cast (Though it is strange hearing a mostly celebrity ensemble replacing well known voice actors). Will Forte does a great Shaggy, with Frank Welker being the only returning voice actor to bring his much loved character to life. (The speech pattern is a little more inconsistent here, but it's still the Scooby we all know and love.) Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Gina Rodgriguez make up for being reduced to a subplot, adding their own spin to their characters. Mark Wahlberg is a ton of fun, along with an enjoyably sarcastic Ken Jeong, though Kiersey Clemons gets the least amount to work with here. The biggest scene stealers would be Jason Isaacs, relishing in the hysterical villainy, and a sadly brief, but brilliant appearance from Tracy Morgan (as "Captain Caveman", who I am sure plenty of you probably remember), being one of those perfect casting choices for a well known character. 

 While the story has a sweet message, with a great cast and some big laughs from time to time, "Scoob!" is also kind of distracted by itself. The kids probably won't give much focus to how thin the story is and how needlessly complicated it gets, but it keeps the film from being anything special. It's almost as if it could of been about anything, yet just so happens to have Scooby-Doo in it. (It's also got nothing on "Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island". Now that's the best Scooby-Doo movie. Fact!) For your kids (And for your curiosity, especially if your a big fan of that Scooby Snack loving pooch), it's fun enough. However, we've got "Onward" on "Disney+" right now, or the much better "The Willoughbys" (Which deserves your family's attention), on "Netflix", for a much cheaper price. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Some Humor For The Adults, The Double Entendre Involving Dick Dastardly's Name, And Fred's Questioning Of His Sexuality. 

Capone                                               by James Eagan                                   ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: "Wise guy, eh?"

 What was once a non paying job that required one or two shifts a week, has turned into maybe something every two weeks. Sure some people are insisting it's all over, the virus has been neutralized, and that it's perfectly safe to go out, pile up, and party! It doesn't work like that people, and even if the whole pandemic had reached its end, that doesn't mean we should all start gathering in collective groups once again. We're not out of the woods yet, so all we can do is sit back and watch Tom Hardy slowly munch down on some delicious scenery, spit it out, and chew on it some more because, well, he's crazy. Fun, right? 

 "Capone" follows the final, miserable days of feared gangster and bootlegger, "Al Capone" (Tom Hardy), after his release from prison. Having retired in Florida, Capone lives with his wife, "Mae" (Linda Cardellini), and the rest of his family, while his mind is slowly and painfully rotting away from syphilis and dementia. While the feds keep Capone under surveillance, hoping that he will reveal where he supposedly hid $10 million, Capone also starts to face visions of all the death and misery he's caused, as well with how it has effected him as the once former dreaded crime boss nears death's door. All of this happening in a not so glamorous fashion.     

 Directed, written, and edited by Josh Trank (Who also directed 2011's "Chronicle" and supposedly directed some of the 2015 "Fantastic Four" aka "Fant4stic"), "Capone" has been declared by some critics to be the most gonzo, baffling, and on the cusp of "So Bad, It's Good" movie of 2020. While I can admit that the film is certainly bizarre and at times, fairly wacko, I'm a little disappointed because once you get down to it, all we really get is a mostly safe, generic, and pretty unnecessary crime biopic without much substance. Something preventing it from really being any worse, is that Trank really isn't a bad director. The movie looks fine, and the stylistic choices, while weird and out there, aren't badly staged at all. The writing on the other hand doesn't quite reach any spectacular heights, and the strange tone does not gel in the slightest. There are out of place sequences of outlandish imagery, and over the top violence, becoming needlessly gory for no reason. There are head shots, brutal neck stabbings, and a guy gouging out his eyes, all executed in an almost cartoonish fashion. I can enjoy some good, goofy bloody violence, but its really not something that a movie like this should really have. 

 The film also doesn't any room for character development, offering little insight on much of the true crime story, with much of it feeling undercooked. Tom Hardy however, is kind of a unique form of spectacular here. Purely committed in the decent enough prosthetics, with the caricature-like raspy voice, Hardy looks as if he's portraying a demented version of "Baby Herman" from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". It's all kinds of peculiar, but it's also something that livens up what could of just been a forgettable biopic. Others such as Linda Cardellini (Once again giving much more than her thankless role requires), Matt Dillon (as "Johnny", an old mobster friend), and Jack Lowden (as an FBI agent), aren't given good enough material to work with. Granted, the focus is purely on Tom Hardy, and he's oddly captivating to watch, whether it be his constant chewing on a cigar, the almost hilarious outbursts, and the constant crap he's spewing. (Literal crap. There's a lot of crap in this movie.) 

 Not near unintentionally (Or intentionally? There are moments where it's hard to tell) funny enough to be fun, "Capone" is like stale bread. It's so bland once you really get into it, drags on in the middle (Especially during an especially driven out dream sequence), and doesn't feel necessary for any other reason than to just have Tom Hardy offer some amusing new gifs for Twitter to play with. For that novelty, there's some enjoyment to be had. It's just not enough to earn a place on any end of the year lists. Good or bad. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Moments Of Violence, And Capone Crap. 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The "Siege of Mandalore" Arc                                                                                                                                                                                                             By James Eagan

Image: "But I need to know where Baby Yoda came from too."

 So this is it people! What began as something people were dreading (A "Star Wars" cartoon? For children? Set in the prequel era? With a female lead? Not their cup of tea at the time.), became one of the greatest animated shows of all time, which contributed more to the "Star Wars" saga than most of the movies. (They pretty much fixed most issues I ever had with the prequel trilogy.) Now we reach the endgame of all those years of character development, epic battles, and loads of heartbreak, with the best Star Wars movie since "The Last Jedi" (Its great! One day you will all admit it like you did with "Revenge of the Sith"!) Spoilers, obviously!

 Part 1: "Old Friends Not Forgotten" opens with what was going on just moments before the opening crawl of Revenge of the Sith. While "General Grievous" attacks Coruscant, the no-longer Jedi padawan, "Ahsoka Tano" (Ashley Eckstein), along with Mandalorian warrior, "Bo-Katan" (Katee Sackoff), turn to Ahsoka's old master, "Anakin Skywalker" (Matt Lanter) and "Obi-Wan Kenobi" (James Arnold Taylor) for help in finally liberating Mandalore from the evil Sith turned crime lord, "Maul" (Sam Witwer). Sadly, Anakin and Obi-Wan are called in when Grievous kidnaps "Chancellor Palpatine" (Ian McDiarmind), but they leave Clone Captain, "Rex" (Dee Bradley Baker), and his Clone squadron (All also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) to assist them. 

 The first episode in the arc takes on a completely different style from every other episode in the seven season long (And twelve years old) series. It opens like a a traditional Star Wars movie, with only this episode having a news reel (Narrated by Tom Kane's awesome voice). Everything about the episode is very cinematic, focusing on the deep character interactions rather than the action (Though the action itself is still stunning), showing how far everyone has come since the 2008 released "Clone Wars" movie. The relationship between Ahsoka and Anakin has become increasingly bittersweet, especially since we all know how it eventually ends in "Star Wars: Rebels". The episode also includes a massive tearjerker with Rex introducing Ahsoka to the clones she will be commanding, with all of them having painted their masks to match her as a sign of respect. This entire arc has a strong focus on loyalty, and how it can become tested during wartime. God, does it make what happens later even more heartbreaking. The only complain I could possibly have is that we never actually get to see the battle of Coruscant, or the capture of Palpatine. Though granted, the episode's heavy ties to what happens in the opening act of Revenge of the Sith, and when it comes down it, that isn't the point of the story. This is Ahsoka's tale through and through, showing us where she came from when the show started, providing us a look into her development as the show progressed, and coming down to these last four episodes, giving us insight into who she later becomes. Rating: 10/10 

Image: Attached at the hip.

 Part 2: "The Phantom Apprentice" opens with Maul's surprise and disappointment to find Ahsoka having come to put a stop to his iron-fisted rule instead of Obi-Wan and Anakin. With a group of Mandalorians under his command, such as the prime minister, "Almec" (Julian Holloway) and a future servant of the Empire, "Gar Saxon" (Ray Stevenson), Maul has no intention of going down without a fight, though it quickly becomes apparent to Ahsoka that there is more to this story than it seems. Maul is filled with fear, knowing what is to come, and who will bring upon it, resulting in an epic duel of the fates between the former sith and the former padawan. 

 The second episode in the arc is very Maul-centric, and it continues to amaze me as to what the show has done with the character. What began as a cool, but quiet and somewhat underutulized villain back in "The Phantom Menace", survived his slicing in half (Long story. He's just too damn angry to die), and become a Shakespearean villain. With a monologuing, soft speaking voice, but on the verge of pure insanity, Sam Witwer gave the character a new sense of life. The episode especially showcases how brilliant and intense of an actor he can be. Not to mention, the incredible lightsaber duel that ranks up with the best for numerous reasons. One being that the battle was livened through motion capture, with Ahsoka being portrayed by stunt woman, Lauren Mary Kim, and Maul being portrayed by his original actor, Ray Park. The visuals, mixed in with the captivating score, and the emotional power behind the sequence, end this part in the arc on a high note. Ranking: 10/10.

Image: Yeah, I can see Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka.

 Part 3: "Shattered" opens with the battle of Mandalore seemingly coming to a close, with Maul under arrest, and his followers having been defeated. Ahsoka leaves with the clone to return the captured crime lord to the Jedi Council, though there is still plenty of tension between her and her former teachers. Anyone who knows Star Wars should know that she never makes it to Coruscant, as the long awaited and much feared "Order 66" is enacted by the newly "Elected" Emperor Palpatine, resulting in all clones (Including Rex) turning on all of their Jedi generals across the galaxy. Ahsoka fights to survive the onslaught from her now bloodthirsty friends, having no other choice but to make a deal with the devil, teaming up with Maul in hopes of escaping the attack of the clones. (See what I did there?)

 The third part slows things down, almost to a halt, but that is where the arc really begins to shine. This is where it makes its mark, becoming one of the series' best. (If not the best.) First the poignant conversation between Ashoka and Rex at the episode's beginning really drives home how this war has developed these characters, in ways for the better or possibly the worse. Its a beautiful moment, with Ashley Eckstein and Dee Bradley Baker giving terrific performances. (Voice acting is real acting, and people need to realize it.) When the sh*t hits the fan, and Order 66 rears its ugly head, and the clones open fire on poor Ahsoka, it hurts. You really do feel a connection to these characters, and despite you know how this is all going to end, you love them enough to hope for something else to happen. Toss in Maul reenacting Vader's hallway massacre scene in "Rogue One, and you got yourself another perfect episode. Ranking: 10/10. 

Image: This is getting way too painful.

 Part 4: "Victory and Death", the final episode in the series, opens with Ahsoka having removed Rex's inhibitor chip (The thing that made the clones turn on the Jedi in the first place. What? You thought they were just always planning on killing them all for Palpatine from the beginning? That would be stupid.), with the two of them having to find a way off of the ship to safety. However, due to Maul's involvement, the ship is on a collision course, and all evacuation ships are now blocked by the still trigger happy clones. This leaves Ahsoka and Rex with a moral dilemma, with all decisions leading to tragic outcomes.

 It all comes down to this, and I gotta say, it's not at all what  expected. Yet, that's where the strength of the episode comes from. The final confrontation of the series, with Ahsoka and Rex being forced to take on their brainwashed brothers in arms, while trying to survive a deadly crash, and Maul showing up as the wild card, the entire series doesn't go out with an explosive bang. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath, quietly letting all of the tragedy sink in. Everyone has lost something, and their lives will never be the same again. We may know where Ahsoka and Rex's journey later leads, but this is what truly began that journey. In a way, this entire show could be seen as their origin stories. Then to top it all off, it concludes with the appearance of the man himself, "Darth Vader", with Anakin gone (At least for now), and what was left of the friendships he shared, shattered to pieces. Roll credits without the usual Clone Wars fanfare. Ranking: 10/10.  

Image: Devastating.

 Final Score: 40/40. Which would normally mean 4 stars out of 4. If we were ranking this as a movie. 

 The "Siege of Mandalore" is an incredible, deep, and emotional final story in the Clone Wars, serving as an epilogue to the prequel trilogy, and leading up to what would later come. This is what Star Wars should be, and to watch it on "May the 4th" (Star Wars Day, for those who don't know), I couldn't think of anything more perfect. Its a flawless finale that none of us knew we needed, and whatever the future holds for the saga, it's going to have to do something really game changing to top this. For something near and dear to my heart (And one that can at times be frustrating to love due to those surrounding it), it serves as a reminder that greatest that can be achieved is powerful enough to persist any obstacle, even when hope is lost, possibly for good. (It's all a metaphor isn't it?)   

The Willoughbys                                                                                                             By James Eagan                                                            ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: "Our Netflix account was suspended....NOOOOO!!!!" 

 Last year's Oscar nominated "Klaus" was a welcome surprise from Netflix, and showed that this could be the place for more unique forms of animation that other studios would never be brave enough to attempt. It's also the only place where a family movie as crazy and refreshingly unsentimental as this could exist. While 2020 continues to bring us down, this is the pick me up I needed. 

 Based on the book by Lois Lowry, "The Willoughbys" follows the titular "Willoughbys", a family descended from ingenious inventors and adventurers, all known for their glorious mustaches (The women have them too!). However, the current generation is less than admirable, with young, mustache-less "Tim" (Will Forte), his sing-songy sister, "Jane" (Alessia Cara), and their creepy twin brothers, both named "Barnaby" (Seán Cullen), living with selfish, neglectful "Father" (Martin Short) and "Mother" (Jane Krakowski). With their parents having suggested that they find love elsewhere since the day they were born, Tim attempts to be the voice of reason to the family, though usually ends up taking the fall for everything instead. When Jane finds a baby (That they later name "Ruth") in a box outside their house, the parents demand that the children get rid of her. The kids leave the orphaned Ruth at a colorful candy factory, which is owned by the goofy Wonka-esque, "Commander Melanoff" (Terry Crews).

 Seeing Ruth in a new happy home, this gives the children the idea that they would be better off as orphans. The kids devise a scheme to create an elaborate, death filled vacation, sending their parents off to possibly die (They're terrible people after all. So it's okay), which would result in the children becoming orphans. However, before they leave, the parents just so happen to hire the cheapest nanny they could find, "Linda" (Maya Ruldolph), whose happy, loving nature comes as a shock to the kids. With their new nanny, the Willoughbys find themselves in a series of mis-adventures, which become more complicated as the parents continue to survive their deadly vacation. All of this being overseen and narrated by a talking blue cat (Ricky Gervais).

 Directed by Kris Pearn ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"), with a co-directing credit to Rob Lodermeier, "The Willoughbys" is one of the more unconventional animated films you can find, which still finds a way to offer plenty for the whole family to enjoy. The film is given a colorful picture book-like feeling, from each character's sporadic movements, the animated chaos in the background and foreground, and the fact that everyone's hair looks a lot like balls of yarn. The animation clearly is designed to look close to stop motion, and every frame is given a certain eccentricity. It's incredible work from the animators, with character designer Craig Kellmen ("Madagascar", "Hotel Transylvania", "The Addams Family"), really allowing the kooky cast to each have their time to shine. All of it is brought to whimsical and bizarre life by the strong screenplay by Pearn and Mark Stanleigh, which avoids anything remotely close to cloying (And even seems to poke fun at that idea) in favor of a sarcastic and even pretty dark sense of humor. (I mean, there are literally cars always crashing in the background. I don't even know why.) The film embraces that kind of humor, and even knowing the kids are watching, doesn't hold back in an occasional probably not so family friendly joke. (Everything involving the parents sickeningly lovey relationship is chock full of inappropriateness, and while the kids may be confused, the adults watching will get a kick out of it.) 

 The delightful cast of characters consists of the voices involved clearly enjoying the chance to let loose and have a blast. The completely unrecognizable Will Forte is suitably great as the nervous, though likable lead, along with a fantastically quirky Alessia Cara. Seán Cullen gets to steal a lot of scenes with the twins' off kilter throwaway lines, while Maya Rudolph and Terry Crews fit well into the weird world the movie sets up. Martin Short and Jane Krakowski are both hilariously vile, deliciously embracing their roles as the worst kinds of people imaginable. Meanwhile, the perfect casting of Ricky Gervais really should give the right idea as to what kind of movie this intends to be. 

  While at times "The Willoughbys" might be too weird for its own good, and on occasion gets a little distracted while trying to tell its story, the film makes up for it with a tight pace, great laughs, and an incredible animation style that's always a joy to watch. Even with the lack of in your face sentimentality, there is still a sweet story in there, and a warm message of the different forms that family can come in. So many of the movies we've been given this year have had this feeling of forgettability (Even the good ones), and it's very cathartic to have one truly stand out as something special. It's not Disney or Pixar, but it's a great choice for a quarantined family movie night. Especially if you actually like your family. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Questionable Childlike Antics, Abused Tour Guides, And Mother's Balls. 

Extraction                                                                                         by James Eagan                                                     ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image: "Stop calling me Fat Thor!"

 It has been day thirty-nine since both of my livelihoods were physically destroyed in one fell swoop, and all things fun have been cancelled. While I do hear that ingesting Lysol might be the miracle cure we've all been hoping for (Thank God nobody in a position of power appeared to suggest that), I'm starting to assume that this will be the way of the world for most, if not the rest, of the year, and I should just get used to it. So to make up for the lack of an upcoming "Marvel" movie, the Russo Brothers have given us......another rainy day/quarantine movie. There are so many of those right now.    

 "Extraction" opens in Mumbai, India, with the kidnapping of "Ovi Mahajan" (Rudraksh Jaiswal), the son of the biggest drug lord India (Pankaj Tripathi). The kidnapping was orchestrated by a rival, Bangladeshi crime lord, "Amir Asif" (Priyanshu Painyuli), forcing Ovi's fathers henchman, "Saju" (Randeep Hooda), in hopes of protecting his own family, to seek help in tracking poor Ovi down. This leads to the hiring of death seeking black market mercenary, "Tyler Rake" (Chris Hemsworth), and his team, to help find out where Amir is holding Ovi hostage, revealed to be Dhaka, Bangladesh. When Tyler finds Ovi however, it turns out that being paid was never part of the plan, and now Tyler must protect Ovi from getting killed in the crossfire of a gang war, and get him home, whole hopefully sparing him from the vile nature of this kind of world.      

 Directed by stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave (Who performed work in "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Endgame"), with producers Anthony and Joe Russo (Who also wrote the screenplay), "Extraction" is a mostly generic action thriller, made by capable and talented people, but doesn't result in anything of true substance. It's really just a less than mediocre film, made slightly better by occasional moments of inspiration and potential for the filmmakers to go on to something better in the future. The story is something you've seen before, and the screenplay does not offer near enough personality of its own to make it memorable. It's not without some solid actions sequences though. An especially terrific nearly thirty minute setpiece, filmed to simulate a single take, involves a car chase into a crowded street, with the chase going through an apartment complex, and culminating in a knife fight in the street. Most of the action is fairly solid, and the movie does give us the rather amazing sight of Chris Hemsworth beating up (After taking a slight beating himself) a bunch of teenagers armed with machine guns, knives, and machetes. (It also results in a hilarious line where Tyler refers to them as "The Goonies from Hell")

 Chris Hemsworth easily makes up for his character's lack of depth (Though the film does try to add more as it goes) with his own natural charisma, and newcomer Rudraksh Jaiswal does a fine job, especially when he's paired with him. (Their occasional banter adds some much needed humor, and even their dramatic scenes feel natural) Some of the supporting cast have their moments, such as an excellent Randeep Hooda and Golshifteh Farahani (as "Nik Khan", Tyler's Partner), though the villains are as basic and forgettable as they come. Also, thank God for the brief appearance from David Harbour (as "Gaspar", an old mercenary buddy for Tyler's), who adds a little extra life to the film. The movie does make a point to give the Indian actors roles, making up for a supposed typical white savior mentality, and it's very much appreciated. 

 "Extraction" is a bit too violent for its own good at times (People splatter and squish), and wouldn't normally be the kind of movie that you should rush out to see. This does make its placement on Netflix at this very moment kind of perfect. Better than average, but that's only thanks to the people involved, and while entertaining enough in the moment, I can't recommend it as something legitimately good. There isn't enough characterization, in depth drama, or anything that requires it. You get some good action and some good performances to keep things elevated. That's enough for something to put on in the background while we're all constantly checking our E-Mails for word on stimulus checks. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence And Teen Rage. 

Trolls World Tour                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Trolls World Tour, reviewed by a 4.5-year-old and Vox's critic-at-large -  Vox

Image: They're going off the rails....On a crazy train.

 With most movies being delayed till later this year, sometime next year, or are just until further notice pulled from the schedule entirely, the last month has been more than interesting. I've had to mix up my reviewing style, and even had to check out a couple unconventional choices. ("Coffee & Kareem" was not worth it!) "DreamWorks Animation" has luckily provided me with a means of reviewing something that was already on my schedule in the first place. Sure it cost $20, but hey, the things we do for what we love. Someone has to think of the children here.  

 Based off of those "Troll" dolls with the weird hair, "Tolls World Tour" returns to follow the new queen of the "Pop Trolls", "Poppy" (Anna Kendrick), who learns of the existence of other Troll kingdoms and music when the queen of the "Rock Trolls", "Barb" (Rachel Bloom), sends a letter announcing a world tour to all the kingdoms. However, Poppy's father, "Peppy" (Walt Dohrn), explains to Poppy that all music among Trolls was once united by six music strings (Pop, Rock, Funk, Techno, Classical, and Country), before their inability to coexist resulted in the kingdoms deciding to remain separated. But Poppy is determined to bring everyone back together, much to the chagrin of her best friend, "Branch" (Justin Timberlake).

So Poppy, Branch, along with their chubby friend, "Biggie" (James Corden) and his little squishy worm buddy, "Mr. Dinkles", head off on a journey to unite the kingdoms. Sadly, it turns out Barb is using her tour to attack all of the other Troll kingdoms, and steal their strings to forcibly unite all music under Rock. Now on the run for Barb and her bounty hunters, Poppy and Branch are left to save the world from Barb's intense Rock hardness. Meanwhile, lovable horse troll, "Cooper" (Ron Funches), sets off on his own little quest to find more Trolls like him, leading to a discovery that might actually be the true way to bring peace to the kingdoms.    

 With returning Co-Director, Walt Dohrn, "Trolls World Tour" takes what worked about its surprise success 2016 predecessor, and with something this simple, if it's not broke, there's no need to do much fixing. Now that keeps it from being anything special, but considering the current times and all the families currently quarantined in their homes, something light and fluffy is just the thing to brighten up the day. The film's blindingly colorful and bouncy nature is constantly moving at a relentless pace, and even while the film feels frenetic, you gotta give a lot of praise to the animators. It's one of those movies where you can tell that they are just having the time of their lives, throwing all kinds of crazy images, splashes of vibrancy, and sight gags into each frame. There are also a delightful variety of song covers, getting a lot of mileage out of what could normally be seen as an overdone concept.

 "Trolls World Tour" benefits from some good humor and zany antics that will amuse the kids, while the adults, much like myself, might find themselves thoroughly entertained by how weird and surreal the film gets. Some of the most memorable moments include strange imagery, that get a big laugh mostly because of how random and bizarre they are.(An overly epic "Pinkie Promise" got a pretty big laugh out of me) It's certainly a creative film, making up for the unremarkable storyline. It feels like the plot is just something easy enough so that will keep the kids attention, and hoping the songs and sparkling colors make up for the story's simplicity. (It's basically "Infinity War", except with squishier characters) 

   Another one of the film's strongest aspects is the excellent ensemble voice cast, which is chock full of recognizable faces, letting loose and just plain having a good time. The reliably adorable and charming Anna Kendrick and the underratedly funny Justin Timberlake, are great together. Ron Funches is given a larger role this time, and gets some of the funniest moments, along with an absolutely hilarious Rachel Bloom. Other great voices include Sam Rockwell (as "Hickory", a Country Troll who offers to help Poppy and Branch), George Clinton and Mary J. Blige (as the leaders of the Funk Trolls), Kelly Clarkson (as "Delta Dawn", the leader of the Country Trolls), Ozzy Osbourne (as Barb's ancient Rock Troll father), and a surprisingly funny appearance from Jamie Dornan (as "Chaz", a Smooth Jazz Troll). The least interesting of the cast would be James Corden, but that's generally because of how uneeded he is to the rest of the story. (Plus, I'm still mad at him for both "Cats" and that Oscar joke. You must answer for that!) 

 The story does feel secondary and the film's sugary, candy coated level of cuteness might make this more something for the younger audience. So I don't see anyone over twelve wanting to rent this for themselves specifically. (Aside from me, but that was because I had to review this. It's still my job!) "Trolls World Tour" at least includes very well explained message of living in peace and harmony not in spite of differences, but by willingly embracing those differences as a good thing. It's good for the family, and right now, that's all that really matters. (Nothing wrong with childlike optimism) Cute, undemanding, and though a little more disposable than some of the better animated movies, it offers the kind of in your face sweetness that will force a smile out of your face whether you want it or not. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Crude Humor, And The Animated Equivalent Of LSD For Kids.  

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The "Ahsoka" Arc 

Star Wars The Clone Wars Gone With a Trace Breakdown ? /Film

Image: Easy rider.

 Ah, "Star Wars", where would I be without you? (Probably somewhat wealthier, considering all the stuff I've bought over the years.) I'm keeping my promise to review the other remaining arcs in the final season of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" as they air on Disney+. Like the last arc, this one also started out as an unfinished story reel (Though this one was never fully shown and has been heavily tweaked over time), and gives us the return of a now beloved character, who much like another strong female lead, "Rey", was once hated by the fanbase for existing. It's like poetry. It rhymes. 

 Part 1. "Gone With a Trace" catches us up with "Ahsoka Tano" (Ashley Eckstein), the now former padawan to "Anakin Skywalker" (Matt Lanter). After leaving the Jedi Order a couple seasons ago (Due to be falsely accused of terrorism and admittedly poorly put together conviction), Ahsoka travels down below the ever busy planet of "Coruscant" (The planet that's nothing but a big city. Never knew why anyone would live there.), where she befriends two sisters, "Trace and Rafa Martez" (Brigitte Kali and Eliabeth Rodriguez). However, Ahsoka finds herself having to hide her Jedi past from the sisters. The first aspect that demands mentioning is how wonderful it is to see Ahsoka again. Having been introduced in the "Clone Wars" movie back in 2008, Ahsoka has gone from the spunky padawan learned and developed into a wise, caring, and capable Jedi on her own (Despite having never acquired the actual title). The Martez sisters add a new layer to the Coruscant underworld. They're are flawed, though likable. The strongest part of the episode would be the attention to introducing and reintroducing these characters, and I always did love that despite the under half hour runtime, the show always stopped to allow intricate character interactions. It's not meant to be a big, action packed episode, but instead something to allow the characters to feel lively and real. Score: 8/10.  

Marg Krim |

Image: A face you can trust.

 Part 2. "Deal No Deal" opens with Rafa taking Ahsoka and Trace along as she transports "Spice" (Drugs! In a kids show!) from the planet, "Kessel" (Where a certain someone made a run in twelve parsecs. Maybe.). But when Ahsoka learns that Rafa intends to trade it over to the dangerous "Pyke Syndicate", she tries to get the sisters to reconsider the deal.......And then a bad decision leads to things getting much, much worse. An episode with a great setup, a slightly forced main conflict, but is at least plenty of fun to make up for it. The inclusion of Kessel is of course a great bit of fanservice, as are the return of the villainous Pykes. (Though we will get to more of them a bit later.) The whole situation going out of control is predictable, along with the cliffhanger ending. So the setup to this arc's main plot isn't groundbreaking, but it does make for the only natural progression of Ahsoka's storyline. Extra points to the touching moment where Anakin temporarily senses Ahsoka through the Force, despite being located on separate ships. Nice "Return of the Jedi" reference! Score: 7/10.  

Star Wars The Clone Wars Dangerous Debt Review ? /Film

Image: "Don't you agree I should have been written into The Last Jedi?"

 Part 3. "Dangerous Debt" starts with Ashoka, Trace, and Rafa being captured by Pyke Syndicate leader, "Marg Krim" (Stephen Stanton), and despite all three being at odds with each other, must devise a plan to escape. Pretty standard filler episode stuff. The episode basically ends where it begins, and the reveal behind Trace and Rafa's distrust of the Jedi, while poignant and cleverly connected to an earlier episode in the series, is not the most original of plotlines. Also, while the Pykes are certain imposing, they don't really have much identifiable personalities of their own, and Marg Krim doesn't really do much aside from threaten. There is some good humor, and you do enjoy the main trio, it's one of those episodes that could of been condensed somewhere in the second or even fourth part of the arc. The unexpected cameos at the end (Which I will explain in the next part), do add a little surprise thankfully. Score: 6/10.  

Clone Wars First Look: "Together Again" |

Image:  The Coronavirus is making everyone extra careful.

 Part 4. "Together Again" starts with Ahsoka needing to act on her own, and help the Martez sisters escape at the expense of herself. After tricking Marg Krim into allowing the sisters to make an escape, Ahsoka is free to use her Jedi abilities once before to find her own means of getting away. Things end up getting a bit more complicated as Ashoka discovers the true mastermind behind the Pykes, "Maul" (Sam Witwer). Not to mention the arrival of Mandalorian warriors, "Bo-Katan" (Katee Sackhoff) and the mother of a familiar future rebel, "Ursa Wren" (Sharmila Devar), which shall lead up to what will be this season's final arc. (As well as for the entire series as a whole.) This arc doesn't quite have the best consistency when compared to others, but it does result in a pretty strong finish. It becomes easier to let the Pykes' lack of a presence slide when you learn of Maul's involvement. (For those unfamiliar, the horned formed Sith Lord has had an interesting life after losing his lower half.) It adds an extra sense of menace to the conflict, and I really appreciate how Ahsoka being outed as a Jedi to Rafa and Trace is treated. (Realistically, I do feel it would be natural for them to be very understanding despite their issues with the Order.) Not to mention the "Mandalore" connection feels like the best way for this series to prepare for an epic ending. This is also the best directed episode in the arc, with the cool looking animation allowing for amazing imagery. Score: 8/10. 

Star Wars The Clone Wars Together Again Breakdown ? /Film

 Image: The eye of the Jedi.

 Final Score: 29/40

 This doesn't end up being as exciting or as compelling as the previous collection of episodes, and especially when compared to how brilliant the series can be, it feels second tier. (Also, am I the only one who notices something off about some of the clearly newly written material? You can tell some minor aspects were added late to fit into some of the more recent revelations in the overall continuity.) Still, it's a compliment to "Lucasfilm" that even lesser episodes are very much well made and well written. There is a good heart to it all, and the smaller scale, while giving off the sense of being mostly unimportant, does play well into the overarching theme of Ahsoka's story. The padawan we met years ago is still there, but she's become more powerful and has matured greatly. In a way, it kind of feels like a lot of us did too with her. (Well, except for most of the "Star Wars" fanbase. By this point, it's not even fun to talk about anymore.)  

Coffee & Kareem                                            ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Coffee and Kareem Trailer: This Is No Cop and a Half - /FilmImage: Hey, this is how guys bond.

 After having to deal with ongoing boredom, a lack of purpose, and the dark, unsettling thoughts that come with these heavy times and the fear of the unknown at the moment, I would normally thank Netflix for providing me something to review right now. Less than an hour and a half later, I kind of wish I had been left to my dark thoughts.  

 "Coffee & Kareem" follows lame, super safe police officer, "James Coffee" (Ed Helms), who is at odds with the aggressively cruel, foul mouthed "Kareem" (Terrence Little Gardenhigh), because Coffee is currently dating his mother, "Vanessa" (Taraji P. Henson). Kareem, being the endearing young man that he is, decides to hire an escaped drug dealer, "Orlando Johnson" (RonReaco Lee), to take Coffee out of the picture. Things obviously go wrong, resulting in Kareem seeing the death of a corrupt cop, and both he and Coffee being chased down by the killers. With everyone now convinced that Coffee has been framed for the murder, and believed to have kidnapped Kareem because he's a pedophile, Coffee and Kareem must set aside their differences and form an uneasy alliance to find the real villains responsible. 

 Directed by Michael Dowse ("Stuber"), "Coffee & Kareem" really would not of had a place in theaters, and probably wold of been even more frustrating if I would of had to of taken time before or after work to go see this. (At least I saw it on my own terms.) The very uninspired story would be more forgivable (Or at least more forgettable), if not for how the script completely falls apart, relying on the worst kind of rauchy, offensive humor. Not just the kind that isn't funny, but the kind that you can easily predict coming a mile away, and just plain feels so immature. It's lazy stuff here, and it's not just limited to the screenplay. (And the title too. Granted, it did admittedly take me a little too long to get the pun.) It also shows in the Dowse's direction, which feels bland and cheap. It's more likely that everything happening is just an excuse for the jokes to be set up and maybe time for the actors to ad-lib. Sadly, the movie not being funny enough makes those failings even more noticeable.   

 Ed Helms (And his silly mustache) plays the dumb, nice screw-up character he's played plenty times before, and Taraji P. Henson is shamefully given nothing but stereotypical "Yelling Black Mom" material. Both are trying their best, but are weighed down by bad comedy. Terence Little Gardenhigh, who might have potential elsewhere, is unbearably annoying and is impossibly vile and mean-spirited. Nothing about the character resembles any form of likability, and it only hurts the film's poor attempt at heart. (I get that Coffee is essentially the living embodiment of white bread, but he does absolutely nothing to warrant Kareem's cruelty.) Some of the supporting cast is more fun, such as the enjoyable RonReaco Lee and the much needed Betty Gilpin (as "Detective Watts", Coffee's bullying superior), who is really way too great for this.  

 "Coffee & Kareem" may rarely get an amusing line (Thank you Betty Gilpin!), but the movie far too often falls back on homophobia and to an unsettling amount of jokes based around child rape. (Why are there so many?) I get a comedy wanting to go for some shock value and intentionally offensive humor. The problem is that, aside from being misguided and in poor taste, the lack of laughs makes the continuous crassness come across as an all around unpleasant experience. With everything else going on in the world, unpleasantness is definitely not something we all need right now. 1 Star. Rated R For Constant Swears, Crude And Dated Jokes, And A Lot More Bloody Violence Than Needed.    

ELEPHANTS/DOLPHIN REEF: DOUBLE FEATURE REVIEW                                 ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★/★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Elephant (2020) Review | Movie - EmpireImage: At least they have enough trunk space for the trip. 

  So how's the quarantine life treating everyone? Tired of sitting around, being stuck in the same place, and binge watching the same shows over and over? I can only imagine it must be worse for the little ones, who are just begging to get out of the house. Now would be the perfect time for a trip to the zoo. Luckily, Disney+ has us covered. (Not to mention, they're once again giving me something to do. Step it up Netflix!) The Coronavirus might be a saving grace for Disney's nature documentary label ("Disneynature"), since now you're all forced to watch these movies. Good! These movies needed more of an audience. 

 Narrated by Meghan Markle, aka the Duchess of Sussex (Even being listed as the "Royal Duchess of Sussex" in the Disney+ subtitles, because it's too awesome a name not to say), "Elephant" follows a herd of elephants, led by the elderly matriarch, "Gaia", as she leads them across the treacherous Kalahari desert. The film also follows a mother elephant, "Shani" and her adorable and playful son, "Jomo", as they follow their leader, avoiding dangerous predators, and the desert's harsh environment, as they search for their new home, experiencing important changes along the way. 

 "Elephant" provides us a different look into the lives of these beautiful animals, and even shows us a side of them I don't think many of us have ever even considered before. These are very intelligent, social creatures, who live for each other, acting as a group to survive. They're also on occasion fun-loving (They make a pit stop to splash around in the mud), and brave, risking their lives to protect the younger or weaker members of the herd. There are some incredible footage (A staple of the DisneyNature films), such as the sweeping landscapes, and the dangers that they encounter along the way. (A sequence involving some lions could of been manipulated, but it's so hard to tell and is still pretty terrifying regardless.) The film is also full of heart and doesn't steer clear of the darker aspects of the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to a heartbreaking death late in the film that proves that Elephants, like many animals, are so much closer to us than we realize. Bolstered by Markle's refined narration, this makes for one of Disneynature's most majestic, yet quiet entries. 3 ½ Stars. Rated G. Dolphin Reef' Review | Hollywood ReporterImage: The Porpoise driven life. 

 Narrated by Natalie Portman, "Dolphin Reef" is a coming of age for a young Pacific bottlenose dolphin named "Echo" and his mother, "Kumu". The film follows Echo as we experience life on the ocean reef through his eyes, showcasing tons of other, sometimes literally, colorful creatures, such as a neat freak peacock mantis shrimp named "Mr. Mantis", graceful humpback whale mother, "Mo'orea" protecting her young child, "Fluke", and all kinds of other strange, exotic undersea life. We also see how society works under the sea, and how everything must be in perfect balance between predators, prey, and even the underwater plant life, so that life for all of these creatures can continue.   

 "Dolphin Tale" could be listed as the "Fun" one of the Double Feature, since it's shorter, lighter, softer, and mostly more interested in showing off the quirkiness of the ocean than anything else. Not that the film isn't without heavy moments, such as the dangers that the animals have to face and a sequence where Echo finds himself lost deep under the ocean floor (It's almost nightmarish at what could be down there, and how little chance there is of escaping). The movie doesn't get too deep into it all though, and lightens the mood with both humor and weirdness. (Mr. Mantis is quite the scene-stealer). It does still astound me at how the filmmakers are able to acquire footage of this level, and the images that we're shown only make you more curious about what else could be left unexplored down there. While the focus is at times off, Echo is an endearing creature, and Natalie Portman's narration is full of her natural charm. 3 Stars. Rated G. 

 Both "Elephant" and "Dolphin Reef" make for excellent ways to educate kids, while entertaining them in the process. I'd say "Elephant" is easily the superior film, due to the deeper story, higher ambitions, and stronger educational value, but "Dolphin Reef" does still offer a sweet, funny, and gorgeously filmed. While you and your kids are yearning to go back outside again, both films are a great way to get a new sense of appreciation for it all, and might even make you want to check out the other Disneynature films, that very much deserve your attention. That and you know, binging "The Simpsons" in between movies. 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The "Bad Batch" Arc 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7 Trailer: Meet The Bad Batch /FilmImage: The world's medical professionals prepare to kick Coronavirus ass.

 I'm currently still locked at the moment, without a job to pay me, anywhere open to actually go to, and worst of all, no movies to review. Which is why I want to pay tribute to our diabolical Disney overlords, who gifted us last month with the return of one of the greatest animated shows of all time on Disney+. (I say this as a "Star Wars" fan, and as a fact.It's legitimately one of the greatest.) So with nothing else going on, I have decided to mix up my usual reviewing formula, and talk about the first arc in the series' final season. SPOILERS!

 Part 1: "The Bad Batch". The arc opens with the devastating Clone Wars nearing its final year, as the Clone Troopers and Jedi Generals of the Republic face off against the droid army of the Separatists. Having trouble dealing with the cyborg spider, "Admiral Trench" (Dee Bradley Baker), Clone Captain "Rex" (Also Dee Bradley Baker), along with "Cody" (Mr. Bradley Baker, again), search for an alternative tactic. This brings in the much genetically defective and completely uncontrollable "Clone Force 99" aka "Bad Batch" (All voiced by Dee Bradley Baker. The guy is just that talented!). What was originally presented as unfinished story reels after the series was cancelled, the first episode mostly spends time giving us a look at our main characters now, while introducing us to the new ones, such as the titular Bad Batch (Which consists of "Sergeant Hunter", "Crosshair", "Tech", and "Wrecker"). They're all a fun collection of clones, with enough personality on their own to warrant future appearances despite this being the final season. One major instant takeaway from the show returning is the animation, which is beautiful and feels more fluid now than ever. (The expressions and the movements give off a live-action-esque feel). It's a great setup for the rest of the first arc of the season. Score: 8/10     

 Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 7, episode 2 recap - "A Distant Echo"Image: "You WILL greenlight more Clone Wars episodes."

 Part 2: "A Distant Echo". The arc progresses with Rex, still under the belief that fan favorite clone, "Echo" (Its the same guy still!), is still alive despite being presumed dead back in Season 3. The clones discover a signal belonging to the seemingly deceased clone, and the Bad Batch is sent to investigate. A great character moment would be Anakin's brief conversation with secret wife, "Padmé Amidala" (Catherine Taber), which shows a quick look at her baby bump. (This does bring up a question though. Since this takes place before "Revenge of the Sith", does Anakin just think his wife is gaining weight?) This bit leads to a hilarious revelation that confirms once and for all that Anakin's old master, "Obi-Wan" (James Arnold Taylor, whose Ewan McGregor impression is still spot on), knows about their little secret. (His remark that he hopes Anakin at least told Padmé he said "Hello" is one of those quick jaw dropping moments, especially after years of only implication.) The action has also become more well drawn out since the series began, with the clones each demonstrating their own skills. It also leads up to an emotional reveal, showcasing how brilliant Dee Bradley Baker really is. He's playing dozens upon dozens of characters, all with the same voice, and sometimes all at once, and yet, each one has very subtle quirks that help you tell them apart and feel for them. Score: 9/10

 Star Wars: The Clone Wars On the Wings of Keeradaks Breakdown – /Film Image: I think we're all seeing this image in our current nightmares.

 Part 3: "On the Wings of Keeradaks". After finding the now cybernetic Echo in the hands of the evil "Wat Tambor" (Matthew Wood), the clones, along with Anakin, are forced to flee on top of giant bat-like creatures called "Keeradaks". I would consider this to be the weakest episode in the arc for no other reason than it just being somewhat of a filler episode. It progresses things, though mostly just to lead up to the next (And concluding) episode. It's also barely even twenty minutes long, and feels much shorter than any other episode before it. Still, the action is fast paced and fun, with time given for good character beats, and a few clever movie references while thrown in. On a side note, how is Tambor even here? He was arrested back in the first season, and just sort of pops up here, back in power. It's great to see him and all, some context wouldn't of hurt. Score: 7/10

 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 7: 5 emotional moments we need to seeImage: Call "Terminex!"

 Part 4: "Unfinished Business". The arc concludes with Anakin and the Clones striking back against Admiral Trench, to make way for Obi-Wan and "Mace Windu" (TC Carson), to finally put an end to the droid army's occupation. Now this right here is "Clone Wars" at its finest. With lots of attention to the little details, some injected humor and strong character work (Mace Windu's attempt to logically reason with the droids is one of the most memorable moments), and an explosive finale that wraps up everything nice and neat, while of course, leaving some things open. From Wrecker's obsessive need to blow things up, and Echo's contribution to the rest of the team, along with Trench's brutal fate at Anakin's hands (Which hints at what he will become not too much longer from now), this was pure "Star Wars". Score: 10/10.   

 Admiral Trench – Star Wars Thoughts Image: "Reporting for duty....Until General Skywalker completely loses his sh*t and gives in to the darkside."

 Final Score: 34/40

 You know, this entire storyline could of been a movie and we would of been satisfied. (It would of even worked more on a cinematic level than the actual "Clone Wars" movie) From great characters, a controlled tone, intense action, and gorgeous animation, the final season is off to one Hell of a start. What's disappointing is that we once again have to wait week to week for more episodes. (Don't worry, since this whole quarantine thing won't be ending anytime soon, I'll be sure to review the rest of the season as the story arcs are made available.) The "Skywalker Saga" may of ended last year, but this shows that there is still more than enough story to tell in a galaxy far far away. 

Spenser Confidential                          ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for spenser confidentialImage: "I'm going to rush into that crowd of people, using clean health practices, and giving at least six feet of personal space....Cover me, with hand sanitizer." 

 The days have been closed off, secluded, and I'm still without both of my jobs. Well, I gotta review something, or else I might go absolutely mad. ("The Grudge" is currently the 25th Best Movie I've seen this year.....25th!) Thank God for Netflix and good ol' reliable Mark Wahlberg. 

 "Spenser Confidential" follows rough around the edges Boston police officer, referred to only as "Spenser" (Mark Wahlberg), who is sentenced to five years in prison after beating the crap out of his corrupt captain, "Boylan" (Michael Gaston). Once he's finally released, Spenser goes to live with his old boxing mentor, "Henry" (Alan Arkin), though has to share a room with the equally brash, "Hawk" (Winston Duke). The next day, Boylan is found gruesomely murdered execution style, along with the dead body of another cop who is conveniently accused for his murder. Known for a near obsessive need to be the hero, Spenser, along with Hawk tagging along, start to investigate further, discovering an elaborate scheme involving drugs, police corruption, and a casino being built on the abandoned Wonderland dog park.    

 Directed by Peter Berg ("Hancock", "Deepwater Horizon", "Patriots Day"), and based on the character created by Robert B. Parker (Or more precisely, the novel "Wonderland" by Ace Atkins), "Spenser Confidential" is the kind of movie that feels right at home on Netflix. The scale is relatively small, though the production values are just enough to not warrant the usually mocked labeling of "Direct to Video", and reliable actors to carry the solid enough, but uninspired screenplay. The movie's plot is not really something of much focus, despite Berg's attempts to make it more interesting and less convoluted. None of it is anything you find yourself caring about too much, and it's just an excuse for the admittedly fun characters to interact. 

 Mark Wahlberg's Wahlbergian shtick does fit well here, and the character is brought down to Earth as a likable hero, who just wants to bring people any form of justice, even when it comes at the expense of himself. (I also appreciate how often Wahlberg allows himself to realistically get his ass kicked from time to time) Winston Duke (Who you might remember from "Us" and "Black Panther"), proves to be quite the scene-stealer, playing well off of Wahlberg. Bokeem Woodbine (as "Driscoll", a reasonable police officer) is one of those recognizable faces who usually leaves a welcome presence, and Iliza Shlesinger (as "Cissy", Spenser's overbearing love interest) is a total blast. Meanwhile, Alan Arkin (In a role that was likely written just for him) shows up to play Alan Arkin and I can't imagine a world where that isn't delightful. Also, Post Malone (as "Squeeb", a criminal who Spenser knew while in prison) has a small, though slightly important part in the film, and he actually does a rather solid job too.  

 "Spenser Confidential" is predictable in story, maybe a little uneven, and really just kind of forgettable when you get down to it. However, it's still a fairly enjoyable, funny, and well executed generic action comedy. I can't necessarily imagine seeing this in theaters, though for something small on Netflix, it's not the worst way to spend your self-quarantine. Not to mention it gave me something to write about. Keeping me sane. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Violence And Foul Boston Language. 

I Still Believe                                   ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for i still believe movieImage: "So....You wanna' go see a movie?"

 So? How's everyone doing? We've had ourselves an interesting last few days, haven't we? I actually saw this movie earlier this week, but recent circumstances such as every movie in Hollywood getting delayed and me losing my job due to all Regal theaters getting shut down across the country because of the Coronavirus pandemic, have given me a lot of other things to worry about. We are going through tough times right now, and we have no idea where it's all going to go next. (Honestly, this year just keeps getting worse,) Just stay healthy, find ways to keep yourselves occupied indoors, and hope this situation doesn't escalate anymore than it already has, so that we can all attempt to go back to our lives once it's over. (You know, unless next month we have an animal uprising or alien invasion. Might as well while you're at it 2020!) 

 Based on the inspirational true story, "I Still Believe" follows up-an-comer Christian musician, "Jeremy Camp" (KJ Apa), as he leaves home for college. With some help from another musician, "Jean--Luc" (Nathan Parsons), Jeremy appears to have his chance at stardom. Jeremy also finds the possible love of his life, "Melissa" (Britt Robertson), though it also appears Jean-Luc might also have an interest in her. Jeremy and Melissa find an immediate connection, and the two start dating, albeit secretly. Once the secret gets out, it's also revealed that Melissa has been diagnosed with a serious form of ovarian cancer. Despite this, Jeremy loves Melissa far too much to back out now, and asks for Melissa's hand in marriage. The rest of the film follows the couple's relationship as Jeremy tries to help Melissa through this incredibly tough time, though if anyone knows how this real life story goes, sometimes having faith just isn't quite enough.   

 Directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin ("Moms' Night Out", "I Can Only Imagine"), "I Still Believe" isn't the kind of movie I would consider as well, good. It would be more fitting to label it as "Religious Movie Good". The movie isn't something I could recommend to anyone other than its target audience, but thankfully unlike most faith based movies (Last year's "Unplanned" has left a permanent bad taste in my mouth), it's not poorly made, has decent enough production values, and preaching a strong (And I would even go so far as to say, important) message, without feeling the need to demonize or discriminate in the process. It's still overly cloying, the screenplay by Jon Erwin, Jon Gunn ("The Case for Christ"), and Madeline Carrol is typically corny and sloppily constructed, and even though the film looks theatrical (Still not sure why I saw it in IMAX though), nothing about it screams a necessary big screen viewing.  

 You can tell that KJ Apa and Britt Robertson are much better actors than this movie deserves, though you still welcome their professionalism, and the fact that they still deliver somewhat fantastic performances despite the script's cheesy dialogue. They have good chemistry, and the movie would of failed entirely without them. Gary Sinise and Shania Twain (as Jeremy's loving parents) are good despite only being supporting parts, and I appreciate the filmmakers not finding a forced need to turn Nathan Parsons' character into an antagonist. The film's message of retaining your faith, even in times of crisis, do lead to some moments of inspiration, and the movie does take time to acknowledge that no matter how strong your faith is, bad things can and will still happen. It's all about how you take it. 

 "I Still Believe" is good for Christian families, but isn't a movie that really warrants the time of anybody else. I'm not going to remember it, yet if you need some faith based entertainment in your life (Especially right now), you could do so much worse. Granted, I'm not sure how you're going to get to watch it right now since all of us have to self-quarantine ourselves and the whole country itself is coming to a complete stop. As for me, I'm basically out of two jobs right now. But hey, look on the bright side. #ReleseTheButtholeCut for "Cats" is trending on Twitter right now. I guess we have that to look forward to. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Life Happening And A Lack Of the Best Christian Rock Band Of Our Time, "Faith + 1".  

Bloodshot                                        ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for bloodshot 2020 movieImage: He's a little slower now, but still furious. 

 I was planning on celebrating my tenth year anniversary since I began reviewing movies (That's right people! Ten years! Still unpaid!), but sadly due to the coronavirus panic, most major releases are being delayed in the coming weeks, and I'm going to be left with nothing to review. (The next "Fast & Furious" has been delayed an entire year as of right now) Everything is in chaos in the world, people are terrified, and not even the movies that we use to escape our troubles can help. least there are comic books, right? 

 Based on the comic book by "Valiant Comics", "Bloodshot" follows skilled marine, "Ray Garrison" (Vin Diesel), who is living a happy life, cheating death and returning home to his pretty wife, "Gina" (Talulah Riley). All is going good until they're kidnapped by eccentric baddie, "Martin Axe" (Toby Kebbell), who proceeds to murder Gina, before killing Ray as well. However, an amnesiac Ray wakes up in a lab, having been brought back to life through an army of microscopic nanites (Tiny robots.) created by "Dr. Emil Harting" (Guy Pearce). Harting explains that Ray has been enhanced, much like his previous subjects, such as his sexy assistant, "KT" (Eiza González), and can now take an almost unlimited amount of damage and heal in an instant.

 Ray's memory suddenly returns to him, and he sets out on a mission to take revenge on Axe. After facing an onslaught of henchmen and against all odds, Ray proceeds to kill Axe, avenging his dead wife. End of movie. Roll credits.........But not really. It turns out everything in Ray's head has been simulated and fabricated by Harting, who is using him to hunt down and assassinate key targets that threaten his research. Of course, Ray's true memories slowly start to poke holes into the falsified reality, and the unstoppable killing machine isn't too happy about being manipulated.  

 An attempt to capitalize on that much coveted Marvel money, "Bloodshot" is the kind of silly, adrenaline fueled action movie that's a decent amount of fun in the moment, but feels increasingly stupid the more you think about it. Directed by video game visual effects guy, David S. F. Wilson, with a screenplay by Jeff Wadlow ("Truth or Dare", "Fantasy Island") and Eric Heisserer ("Arrival", "Lights Out"), the movie is a bombastic mess, that never really balances out the silly with the serious, though is an admittedly enjoyable ride nonetheless. I think one reason is because despite how jumbled it all is, the film is unique for a comic book movie, and seems to have an identity of its own for the most part. It all looks fairly cool, with the crazy powers and well paced story, with Wilson showing moments of directorial flair. It's also a little held back by its modest by comparison budget. The CGI work is quite bad, and reaches levels of hilarity once we reach the over the top climax. (The sight of a computer generated rag doll Vin Diesel smacking around cybernetic villains, and getting smacked around himself, looks really out of place in a major 2020 theatrical release.) 

 Vin Diesel still isn't one of those actors that quite has the range necessary to full carry a movie like this, though you can tell he's giving it his all, and ends up being a fairly sympathetic character with some cool abilities. Although on a side note, the movie kind of glosses over the fact that he may of killed an innocent person or two. It would of been against his will mind you, but it's all so vague and feels like the writers found themselves in a corner and decided to ignore it. Eiza González gives more than what appears to be required, which is mostly wearing very, very tight black outfits, while Lamorne Morris (as "Wilfred Wiggans", a comical techie, who becomes Ray's "Guy in the Chair"), is pretty delightful and provides much needed personality. Guy Pearce may very well NOT want to be here, but he's shown before he can play a decent bad guy, while Sam Heughan (as "Dalton", another one of Harting's enhanced soldiers, who has it out for Ray for some reason), is not near good enough of an actor to play up the hammy second in the command villain. As for Toby Kebbell, he's too good of an actor to get stuck in mediocre movies, though he leaves more of an impression than probably intended. (Makes you wish he had been the true big bad in all of this.) 

 Some times the humor works, most of the time is doesn't, and even then, the failed attempts do get an occasional moment of amusement. "Bloodshot" does try to explain itself as best it can, and while you can see it all coming together, it's all ludicrous mumbo jumbo that doesn't end up making much sense at all. (Also, I'm not sure about the editing in this movie. I wouldn't be surprised if it was originally meant to be rated R, but got chopped down to a safe PG-13). The kind of goofy to get action fans through the lack of a "Fast & Furious" movie coming out this year, though still lesser in quality than those are. (Sometimes bigger budgets and bigger studios do amount to something better than average.) 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Enhanced Machismo. 

The Hunt                                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the hunt 2020 movieImage: Woman...The most dangerous game of all.

 Doesn't it feel great to do something bad sometimes? I mean, look at me. I went to see the apparently most dangerous movie in recent memory. On opening night too! After some tweets from that guy who said "You're fired", the movie was pulled from its 2019 release date and delayed indefinitely for being too dangerous to exist. Luckily, the American people and their interest in the detestable just wanted this movie to happen, and here we are. Strange, I don't have the sudden urge to kill anyone. Almost makes you think that this was all just an overreaction which resulted in a marketing scheme used to mock those who contributed to said overreaction.

 "The Hunt" begins with a collection of kidnapped "Deplorables", waking up in the middle of nowhere, only to discover that they're being hunted by the liberal elite in some kind of sick, twisted game (Just like the conspiracy theory they heard about on Twitter!). One of the captives, "Crystal" (Betty Gilpin), ends up being unexpectedly more than they can handle, and threatens to ruin all of the kidnappers' plans. As Crystal mows down her captors one by one, the mastermind behind the entire scheme, "Athena" (Hilary Swank), eventually has to take matters into her own hands.  

  Isn't it great when someone does your job for you, and reviews a movie without having ever seen it? Sure you might end up completely missing the actual point the filmmakers were trying to get across, but how else can you rile up people? In all seriousness, "The Hunt" is a brutally in your face satire on the political system as a whole, showcasing the absolute worst on both sides of the argument, from the racist, gun-toting, conspiracy loving right to the hypocritical, pretentious, and deep down, totally uncaring left, who don't know what the Hell they're talking about, but still feel the need to take others down anyway. If anything, this movie should of brought people together if you really think about it. 

 From director Craig Zobel ("Z for Zachariah"), Co-Screenwriter Damon Lindelof ("Prometheus", "Star Trek Into Darkness", and the critically acclaimed "Watchmen" series), along with distribution from "Blumhouse Productions" (Do they just have new movie every week?), "The Hunt" is often quite funny, insanely violent, and unrelenting in its offensiveness. It's also surprisingly well thought out, solidly directed, and certainly unique to say the least. It's also occasionally too damn much of everything, though you could argue that it's supposed to be. The screenplay offers lots of big laugh out loud moments of political hilarity, but also can't resist doing the obvious jokes (I don't recall anyone saying "Make America Great" though, so I'll give them that).When a punchline falls flat, you do feel it, and because you know that the script can do better, it kind of makes it a little more noticeable. Thankfully, Zobel shoots the film like an actual action thriller, so that it makes some of the more outrageous moments stand out in a good way. 

 The film is also an excellent excuse to show off just how awesome of an actress Betty Gilpin is. Someone who has had a tendency to pop in in supporting parts recently (And always giving it her all, even when the movie itself isn't anything special), she is a total badass weirdo, with humorous quirks and bizarre reactions to the chaotic carnage around her. While Gilpin carries most, if not almost all of the film, there are a few recognizable faces who spring up, though mostly to get offed gruesomely. Two time Oscar winner Hilary Swank is pure evil in this, and looks like she's relishing every moment. It's also just great to see her in something, and having fun while doing it. There are also some unpredictable twists and turns, resulting in a memorable final fight sequence that puts some big budget action films to shame.  

 "The Hunt" doesn't always quite get it right, and the level of violence in the film can just get so over the top that it kind of dilutes the point a bit. However, the film is funny in the most offensive way it possibly can, and you know what, maybe with everything going on in the world (And with the political climate), we all just need a good laugh at it all. It sets out to offend you, and it will do so with a sadistic smile. Just gotta be offended for the right reason. Anyone who just babbles on about something they know nothing about just so they can get their followers all pissed off and scared, shouldn't be listened to at all. Thank God there's nobody like that in a position of power, am I right? 3 Stars. Rated R For Fowl Mouths, Dumb Rednecks, High And Mighty Elitists, And Glorious Gore Galore.   

The Way Back                                        ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

The Way Back' Trailer: Ben Affleck Basketball Drama | IndieWire

Image: Glad-Fleck  

 I've never been a sports guy, but that doesn't mean that even I can't be moved by the occasional, rousing and inspiring sports drama. It's a movie trademark after all. 

 "The Way Back" follows a former high school basketball player, "Jack Cunningham" (Ben Affleck), who has since become a struggling alcoholic mess. This has led to the falling apart of his marriage to his ex-wife, "Angela" (Janina Gavankar), and has resulted in his life taking a downward spiral. However, Jack is offered a job as a basketball coach for a Catholic high school, where the team has never won a game and doesn't seem to be remotely coordinated in the slightest. With a new outlook on life and a chance at redemption, Jack sets out to better the failing team, as well as bettering himself.     

 Directed by Gavin O'Connor ("Miracle", "Warrior", "The Accountant"), "The Way Back" is basically most of what you would expect from an inspiring tale of finding your lost self through helping troubled young athletes, though this one has a little extra weight to it than others would. Some of that can be credited to the sharp direction by O'Connor, along with a solidly written script by Brad Ingelsby ("Out of the Furnace","Run All Night"). i appreciate how the film doesn't feel the need to overly explain certain plot elements in an unnecessarily exposition heavy or cheesy way. (We don't find out exactly why Jack fell so low until a chunk of a way into the film's runtime) The cheesiness is there in spades, but it feels toned down for the most part, and gives off the idea that the filmmakers wanted to be halfway realistic about the human drama within the story.

 Giving one of his best performances in a while, you can tell Ben Affleck felt a bit of a personal connection to the main character. He doesn't overplay the part, and gives a very deeply insightful and emotional powerful performance that honestly, could deserve some sort of recognition by the year's end. (It might be considered too early to be thinking about that kind of stuff, but I think it's warranted.) Supporting work comes from a likable Al Madrigal (as "Dan", the assistant coach), Janina Gavankar, and Michaela Watkins (as "Beth", Jack's worried sister). The players themselves are easy to root for, though don't get much development really at all. They're rather secondary in terms of the bigger picture.  

While the film can't resist a formulaic approach to its genre, it's said genre thrives on that kind of thing. However, the filmmakers wisely (Or possibly sloppily. It's kind of hard to tell.) at least attempt to add some unexpected drama, especially when everything takes an admittedly unexpected turn somewhat towards the end. It feels a little off, yet I welcome the more realistic approach. Affleck's intimate performance, mixed with good direction and writing, take this simple, possibly overdone story to a higher sense of quality. It may be something you've seen before, yet it still effectively tugs at your sports fan heartstrings. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language, Alcoholic Benders, And Reality Creeping Up Without Warning. 

Onward                                                          ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for onward movieImage: "Um...Can I offer you some magic pants? They're half off."

 I only temporarily went into the "Dungeons and Dragons" rabbit hole for a couple months with a few friends from work. While I'm pretty sure we did basically everything wrong (You have no idea how many innocents we have killed, and how little focus we had on what we were actually supposed to be doing.), one big takeaway I had from the hysterically inept experience is that anything could happen at any moment, no matter how insane. I think the fillmakers at Pixar understood that too, and made a whole a movie centered around it.  

 Set in a world where magical creatures adapted into modern times (Though magic itself seems to have been lost during the transition), "Onward" follows two elf brothers, the shy and nervous, "Ian" (Tom Holland) and his adventure craving older brother, "Barley" (Chris Pratt). On Ian's birthday, their widowed mother, "Laurel" (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), gives him a special gift from their deceased father, "Wilden" (Kyle Bornheimer), who tragically passed away before Ian was born. The gift is revealed to be a Wizard's Staff belonging to their father, which also contains a magical gem capable of casting a spell that will resurrect him back for twenty four hours. However, while attempting to cast the spell, the gem shatters, and the brothers are only able to resurrect half of their father. (The lower half to be precise.) Now Ian and Barley must embark on a quest, which is identical to Barley's Dungeons and Dragons-like board game, to find a new gem that will help them fully complete the spell and give them a chance to see their dad again before he passes on once more. 

 After an adorable "Simpsons" short, involving little "Maggie" yearning to play with her new friend and amusingly getting delayed constantly, "Onward" is another delightfully clever winner from Pixar, and even when they're following their formula to the letter, nobody can quite do it better. Directed by Dan Scanlon ("Monsters University"), the film has a load of fun with its premise, and hilariously finds unique ways of interconnecting classic fantasy adventure elements with the modern times, such as the brothers' so called "Chariot" being a broken down van with a unicorn spray painted on named "Guinevere", or a major tough directional dilemma being whether to take the dark, dangerous path or just take the crowded highway. There are also a lot of funny references and sight gags scattered throughout the film (And yes, puns. Glorious puns!), and like every Pixar movie, the amount of detail and time the animators put into everything is to be commended. Praising their animation by this point seems redundant (When is it not great), and yeah, it's flawless to look at, with expressive characters, and imaginative worlds, lovingly brought to life.    

 Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are terrific together, with Holland playing nerdy, neurotic, sympathetic and endearing, and Pratt playing up the lovable, good natured goofball. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a delight and Mel Rodriquez (as "Colt", Laurel's new centaur cop boyfriend) gets some fun moments, along with a scene-stealing Octavia Spencer (as "Corey", the former manticore, who went from sending people on quests to running a family restaurant.) The characters are likable, and the story, while I guess you could make the argument is at times not on par with Pixar's absolute best (They've been snubbed out of a couple Best Picture nominations if you ask me), is still very heartfelt. 

  A sweet story, with plenty of obligatory tearjerker moments that just sort of sneak up on you, "Onward" still has the charm that you can only find with Pixar, and also makes for one of their just straight up funnier films. Things may start to lose their way towards the end (Though it does give way to the best joke of the film involving a dragon.), but it's still a very sweet, thoughtful film for all ages and demographics. Parents, kids, and all you fantasy nerds out there. Everyone will go home happy. Just roll the dice. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For A Few Crude Jokes, Biker Pixies, And All The Best Fantasy Puns You Can Think Of. 

The Invisible Man                                   ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the invisible man 2020Image: "Do you wanna' play a game?"

 The horror genre has not been off to a good start this year so far. Two obligatory bad January releases, some lame and toothless PG-13 schlock, and of course, "Brahms: The Boy II", which needs its own category of badness. When you hear that "Blumhouse" is rebooting an old franchise, you get the idea that this should be nothing more than a desperate cashgrab. What it actually ends being is possibly one of the most intense, unsettling experiences I've had at a horror movie in some time.      

 Taking the original novel by H. G. Wells into the modern day, "The Invisible Man" follows an emotionally distraught woman, "Cecilia Kass" (Elisabeth Moss), who is currently trapped into a controlling and abusive relationship with her successful scientist boyfriend, "Adrian Griffin" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). One night, Cecilia is able to escape his prison-like house with the help of her sister, "Emily" (Harriet Dyer). A couple weeks later, Cecilia is living with a friend, "James" (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter, "Sydney" (Storm Reid) , fearing that Adrian might be able to find her. To her surprise, Cecilia learns from Adrian's lawyer brother, "Tom" (Michael Dorman), that Adrian has not only committed suicide, but he's also left her most of his fortune. While everything at first seems positive, Cecilia can't help but feel as if something is wrong, and that she's being watched. Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrian has faked his death and has found a way to mentally (And physically) torment her without being seen. Cecilia's grip on reality  is questioned by those around her, and her life becomes an unimaginable nightmare with no end in sight. Struggling to keep her sanity, Cecilia must confront her invisible abuser, despite nobody believing her. 

 Originally meant to be part of Universal's "Dark Universe" before it died a quick, yet painful death with the 2017 bomb, "The Mummy" (Honestly, they should of called it quits with "Dracula Untold"), "The Invisible Man" is rather brilliantly directed by James Wan's buddy Leigh Whannell (Known for writing most of the "Saw" films, along with directing the highly underatted "Upgrade"). Whannell expertly gives the classic scary story the more contemporary treatment, and cleverly mixes in some relevant and unsettling themes in the process. It could be considered more of a stalker thriller, that remains tense and disturbingly traumatic all the way through. Whannell knows that the true terror comes from what we can't see, and takes his time building up anticipation for the titular villain to make a visible appearance. The screenplay (Also by Whannell) is tightly packed, never over explaining things, but also leaving some of the more disturbing content to the imagination. However, while the buildup is slower, It's that intensity that puts you on edge. It's also helped by the cinematography, which constantly plays with the idea of someone or something standing off to the side of the room or watching other characters from the shadows. (I swear there are moments here and there where you can just see the translucent baddie just standing in the background while others are none the wiser.) 

 An actress with tons of emotional range to spare, Elisabeth Moss gives a committed, amazingly real performance. Portraying a horribly mistreated woman, who still is feeling the effects of her violent and cruel abuser, Moss is spectacularly effective. What makes the performance work so well is not only because she is good at playing terrified and unstable, but also because her way of conveying how messed up she's become sympathetically, though questionably. While it's clear that something nefarious is likely going on, you do at times start to wonder how real everything is, especially when circumstances could easily add up that she could just be going crazy. Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer, and Storm Reid are all good in supporting roles, and as for the Invisible Man himself, we don't see much of him (You know, because he's invisible!). However, he is still a very terrifying, despicable presence that adds a layer of brutality to the film. It's actually quite shockingly violent at times, with the buildup reaching near savage levels of viciousness towards the end.

 With incredibly visuals and a mesmerizing score by Benjamin Wallfish ("Blade Runner 2049", "It"), "The Invisible Man" is the kind of terror that doesn't mess around, and even with the at times a bit hard to truly believe (Not 100% sure how logical the science really is.), it ends up being one of the more powerful horror flicks I've seen in a while. It's a movie that kind of hurts in a way, and once we reach the shocking last act, you might find yourself leaving with a couple unnerving questions and a sense of uneasiness. (It's one of the few horror movies that actually got me to blurt out an "Oh sh*t!" in a decently crowded theater. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one.) It only gets better the more I think about it, and I would even consider it this year's first legit great movie. Scary in its simplicity, unrelenting in its intensity, and unforgiving in tone, it comes out of nowhere and sneaks up on you. Surprise! 4 Stars. Rated R For Violence, Dark Themes, And Ambiguous Repercussions. 

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising                                                                                                                                       ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for my hero academia heroes risingImage: "Wait....You aren't Yu-Gi-Oh!" says the parent/guardian you dragged along to this movie. 

 This one's for all the weebs out there. There are still only a handful of anime that I've been watching (And even fewer manga that I've been reading), but the only one that I've taken the time to watch both the anime and manga almost simultaneously. "My Hero Academia", which is currently one of the most popular anime in the world right now. Already being a major comic book nerd, with a deep love for superheroes, it shouldn't be too shocking that I would be a fan.    

 Taking place in a world where people are born with superpowers (or "Quirks", as they're called), "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising" follows the returning heroes in training as they're given the chance to work on their own without the supervision of the Pro-Heroes. Our main protagonist, "Izuku Midoriya/Deku" (Daiki Yamashita), having inherited the strength based quirk "One For All" from the former number one hero, "All Might" (Kenta Miyake), along with the rest of his class, "1-A" of "UA High School", including his hot headed (And always angry) rival, "Katsuki Bakugō" (Nobuhiko Okamoto), are left to watch over a peaceful, seemingly crime-free island. Conveniently at this very moment, the "League of Villains" just so happen to accidentally unleash a scary new baddie, "Nine" (Yoshio Inoue), who has the power to steal the quirks of others. For his own reasons, Nine sets his sights on a pair of children, "Katsuma" (Yuka Terasaki) and "Mahora" (Tomoyo Kurosawa), and threatens to destroy everything and everyone on the island to get to them. It's now left up to Deku, and the rest of the still inexperienced heroes to come together to protect the innocent civilians all on their own.  

 The second film based on the smash anime/manga (After 2018's "My Hero Academia: Two Heroes"), "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising" is one of those movies that you should just review as something specifically catered to the fans. Not that the film isn't certainly well done, fairly easy to follow for what's given, and full of charming characters to make it all work, it just comes with the territory that those familiar (And those who are just as obsessed as the rest of us) with the material will be more satisfied. The movie isn't too deep in plot (It's basically a really long episode, like many anime series turned into films), but it offers out of control action, well placed humor, a good heart, and animation that will blow your mind. It's actually kind of shocking how good the animation ends up getting, especially during the last act. The animation for the series has always been top notch, but here the animators go all out, delivering the kind of explosive superhero entertainment that just deserves to be on the big screen. 

 The characters are as great as ever, though as expected some are either sidelined or just left out. (There are so many after all) To give the movie credit however, it does try to incorporate the entire Class 1-A in some capacity. Daiki Yamashita and Nobuhiko Okamoto are wonderful as always respectively voicing Deku and Bakugō. Other fan favorites, such as half fire/half ice "Shoto Todoroki" (Yūki Kaji) and Deku's gravity defying maybe love interest "Ochaco Uraraka" (Ayane Sakura), have their time to shine, along with a few surprise small parts for those like the winged hero, "Hawks" (Yuichi Nakamura) and the League of Villains' decaying leader, "Tomura Shigaraki" (Kōki Uchiyama). As for Nine, while he's intimidating enough, he's not the most interesting or memorable of villains. (Nine's beast like henchmen, "Chimera" (Shunsuke Takeuchi), is a bit more fun, mostly because of the just plain cool character design)

 "My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising" builds to a jaw dropping finale that offers an emotional amount of fanservice that while may or may not actually end up meaning much in the long run (It's rare these standalone movies actually affect the show as whole), it's just too damn awesome to not find yourself cheering. There's a sweet message at the film's center, and sure, nobody really gets any extra meaningful development, but they're characters we've grown attached to and remain true. It gives the fans what they want, and knows how to deliver it in energetic style. Plus Ultra! 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Anime Violence, Rapid Decay, And Mashirao's Thick, Throbbing Fleshy Tail. (Thing Needs A Censor Bar) 

Brahms: The Boy II                                 ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for brahms the boyImage: That boy just ain't' right.

 I never saw the original critically "Meh"ed 2016 horror film, "The Boy". From what I've heard, I really didn't miss much, but at least it had more of a purpose for existing than this did. This is what happens when filmmakers get together with the smallest of budgets to make a movie for no other reason than because "Well, Why the Hell not?".  

 "Brahms: The Boy II" follows a mother, "Liza" (Katie Holmes), who experiences a traumatic home invasion along with her son, "Jude" (Christopher Convery). While Liza is still haunted by what happened, Jude has refused to speak since the event. Liza's husband, "Sean" (Owain Yeoman), suggests that the family move out of the city and move to a house in the woods, which just so happens to be located by a really creepy, rundown and abandoned mansion, which also just so happens to have some scary history of its own. While exploring the property, Jude finds a well dressed, porcelain doll named "Brahms". (Even if you haven't seen the first one, it's pretty obvious that there's something freaky about this doll). Liza starts to suspect there's something screwy going on, as Jude seemingly starts to act out, though claims that Brahms is the one doing it. Sean remains useless, Liza is for some reason helpless, Jude's notepad is made up of gorey images of himself and Brahms killing people, and the weirdo living outside, "Joseph" (Ralph Ineson), serves as an expository device, revealing the doll's sinister past and future evil plans. 

 With returning director William Brent Bell ("The Boy", "The Devil Inside"), "Brahms: The Boy II" (God, what kind of stitched together title is that?) has absolutely nothing going for it, and is one of those movies that just sort of happens for no apparent reason. It would just be forgettable, if it weren't so damn lazy. The screenplay by Stacey Menear is too predicable and doesn't do anything remarkable to make up for it, along with Bell's bland and lifeless direction. The story itself is also quite confusing and indecisive on what it even wants to be. Again, never saw the first one, but I know of that film's big twist (Where it turns out Brahms was actually an adult perv living in the mansion walls, moving the doll around to make it seem as if it were alive), and where this film goes, it feels made up on the spot in a desperate attempt to make a sequel out of this. 

 Katie Holmes (One of the only true bright spots in the entire movie), is forced to do whatever she can with the poorly crafted material. At least, you can see she was putting effort into her role. I can see that Christopher Convery is not a bad actor, but the film oddly gives him little to actually do aside from look spooky from time to time in an attempt to drag out suspense. It doesn't work when the film spoils that the doll is obviously alive and evil right off the bat, ruining any chances of anyone buying that Jude is the one responsible for what's going on. While his character's true purpose amounts to a nonsensical (And perplexing) reveal, Ralph Ineson does play crazy well, while Owain Yeoman is one of the dumbest characters I've seen in a horror movie in a long time. (Just drop the damn doll and make a run for it. Nothing is keeping you there, and you're too moronic to see that anything is clearly wrong in the first place!) 

 The twists are half-assed, and the jump scares are littered all over the place, yet even they don't at least offer anything scary, "Brahms: The Boy II" is here just to occupy a spot in your local movie theater. Sure, it could of easily made room for something more meaningful, well made, or at least, resembles what actual cinematic entertainment is supposed to look like, but it's here anyway. Maybe not the worst horror movie I've seen in recent years (Maybe. It could be a close call), though it's easily the lamest and most useless one. ½ Star. Rated PG-13 For Loud Scary Noises, Child Impalement, And Merciless Teddy Bear Homicide. 

The Call of the Wild                                 ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the call of the wild 2020Image: "Chewie....We're home."

 We're kind of in an awkward situation. I think everyone can agree that putting animal actors in harm's way is something that shouldn't of even been a thing of the past. Now that may mean that we're going to be using million dollar special effects to bring real life creatures to life. Sadly, both Disney and the people who did the "Planet of the Apes" movies weren't available.  

 Based on the classic novel by Jack London, "The Call of the Wild" follows a larger than life St. Bernard-Collie mix named Buck as his life takes an unexpected turn. After getting abducted from his luxurious and pampered lifestyle in Santa Clara, California, Buck finds himself in the Yukon during the height of the 1890s Gold Rush. Buck first becomes a sled dog for a pair of mail carriers, "Perrault" (Omar Sy) and "Françoise" (Cara Gee), then suffers abuse from a greedy (And psychotic) man, "Hal" (Dan Stevens), before finding a new, kind master in the lonely "John Thornton" (Harrison Ford). John, suffering from his own personal losses, sets out on an adventure into the unknown wilderness to search for gold, where Buck, seeing visions of a mystical looking wolf, slowly starts to find his one true place in the world. 

 A story that's been adapted several times and is one of those dearly loved ones that's been held deep in a lot of people's hearts, "The Call of the Wild" is directed by Chris Sanders ("Lilo & Stitch", "How to Train Your Dragon") in his first non-animated film. Somewhat. The film is actually bolstered by a fairly large budget, which was over $100 million, and heavy use of CGI. In fact, most of the film is apparently created through computer imagery, from certain locations, the vast mountains, and the various animals that appear, right down to our canine protagonist. The film is certainly well directed and stunning to look at. Sanders has an eye for color and visual beauty, combined with striking cinematography. The effects falter when it comes to Buck, and the rest of the digitally created animals, who in a strange twist on the usual complaints about modern CGI, are far too expressive and cartoonishly animated to be believable. The exact opposite of last week's "Sonic the Hedgehog", which benefited from a more animated design, the CGI characters rarely feel like they should exist in the real world. It feels like a poor decision to rely on such distracting designs for what is meant to be a very deep story.

 While he lacks the sense of realism that a live-action film such as this would require, Buck is still an impressive creation . An overly excitable, too big for his own good puppy, who goes through an emotional and uplifting character arc, Buck is pretty hard not to love. And some actor named Harrison Ford gives a very earnest performance, despite having to act against a dog (And many locations) that aren't always there (It's not like acting with a Wookiee). There are some solid, if not brief parts for Omar Sy, Cara Gee, and Bradley Whitford (as "Judge Miller", Buck's worn out first owner). Not to mention a really bizarrely over the top Dan Stevens, who only gets more deranged and villainous as the movie progresses.

 Despite the mixed bag effects work, "The Call of the Wild" works best when the story's heart and emotional weight are allowed to sink in. With Sanders' skilled direction, a powerful score by Oscar nominated composer John Powell (Also "How to Train Your Dragon", "Solo: A Star Wars Story"), a legendary movie star, and a pair of likable main characters, it's an exhilarating adventure for the family, even if the film's relying on digital effects do give off the feeling of missing your own point. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Pooches, Greedy Gold Rushes, And Canines Taking Names.  

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon                                                                                                                    ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a shaun the sheep movie farmageddonImage: This film isn't half baaaaaaad!

 You have no idea how much it depresses me to see beloved British claymation animation studio, "Aardman Animations", who are the major Oscar winning animation studio behind "Wallace and Gromit" and "Chicken Run", get pushed to the side the way they have here in the United States. Their films just haven't found that much financial success despite nobody disliking any of them. 2015's wonderfully hilarious, "Shaun the Sheep" was a prime example of a great family film, that basically got praise from anyone who saw it, to just fade away from the box office almost instantly. And yet, we had how many "Alvin and the Chipmunks" movies?    

 Based on the television series (That's mostly remained somewhat obscure here), "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon" follows the titular lovable troublemaking sheep, "Shaun" (Justin Fletcher), living on a farm owned by eyeless, glasses wearing farmer named, er, "Farmer" (John Sparkes), along with worn out sheepdog, "Blitzer" (Also voiced by Sparkes) and the rest of the flock. Blitzer has become increasingly frustrated with Shaun's antics, and Shaun just continues to find ways to get involved in some kind of chaotic situation. This time the situation involves a cute little alien, "Lu-La" (Amalia Vitale), which sends the entire town into an alien obsessed frenzy, including the Farmer (Who gets the idea to create an alien based theme park, "Farmageddon", to bank on the new craze). Lu-La's arrival also attracts the attention of some shady government agents, led by the no nonsense, "Agent Red" (Kate Harbour). Now Shaun must find a way to get Lu-La home before Red, her always nervous robot, "Mugg-1N5" (David Holt), and an army of faceless, hazmat suit wearing henchmen, find them.    

 Released through Netflix (Like last year's "Klaus", another more unique animated film that deserved better), "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon" is another hand crafted, delightfully goofy, and unfairly charming treat from Aardman. With all dialogue being limited like before (All of the characters speak in grunts, groan, grumbles, and whatever other sound the voice actors can come up with), the film relies on the visually pleasing animation to speak for itself. Every detail is noticeable, right down to the Aardman trademark thumbprint, and what the animators get these characters to do is nothing short of incredible. The humor comes from well timed slapstick and quirkiness, along with an overabundance of easter eggs and science-fiction based references, which are littered throughout the entire film in both the background or foreground. (It almost demands a second viewing so you can try catch them all)

 The characters are all a load of fun to watch, with the funniest moments coming from the always exasperated Blitzer and the Farmer's scheme to build up his theme park (A subplot with an amusing payoff). Shaun is an endearing character, and Lu-La is an adorable creation, just like Shaun's baby sidekick, "Timmy" (Also voiced by Justin Fletcher). The story this time tries to go for bigger, and considering what worked so well about the first film was how simple it was, it kind of doesn't feel needed. It's a minor complaint though when the film still has such a sweet center and good morals of kindness to go with the laughs, which are funny enough to get the parents bursting out with laughter. (Yes, as usual there are plenty of jokes just for the adults to get) "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon" is pure charm personified. Drop what you're doing and give it your time of day. 3 ½ Stars. Rated G. 

The Photograph                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the photograph movieImage: "How about we spend a romantic evening seeing Sonic the Hedgehog?"

 Being the kind of guy who would consider "Sonic the Hedgehog" a good Valentine's Day movie (or maybe "Birds of Prey". I'm not completely out of it), having to review a romance film by myself, surrounded by a horde of married couple and lovers, continues to be awkward after all these years.  

 "The Photograph" follows a photographer, "Mae Morton" (Issa Rae) and a journalist, "Michael Bloc" (Lakeith Stanfield), who fall in love after Michael is assigned to write an article on Mae's deceased mother, "Christina" (Played by Chanté Adams through flashbacks). Throughout their relationship, we are shown Christina's past, her relationship with an old love, "Isaac" (Played by Y'lan Noel in flashbacks, and by Rob Morgan in the present), and why she was the person she was, leaving Mae to question what kind of person she also is. That's the easiest way to describe the plot I think.     

 "The Photograph" has the appearance of a by the numbers romance, and to a degree, it kind of is one. However, it also ends up being a bit more of an unexpected (And welcome) challenge. Written and directed by Stella Meghie ("Jean of the Joneses"), the movie has a straightforward story, but it isn't exactly told in a straightforward fashion. At first glance, it looks as if the flashbacks have little connection to the main storyline in the present, other than the focus on Mae's mother's youth. It gives off a disjointed feeling up until it becomes apparent what exactly it's all meant to symbolize, which is something the film does quite beautifully. Meghie takes her time to tell the story, and avoids many clichés in favor of simply following a touching, very realistic relationship. The film also looks stunning, with some breathtaking cinematography, and pleasing visual imagery. 

 The story may not have much of an actual conflict per se (It's there, but it's not focused on or even given much attention to), but the cast keeps you invested in its characters. Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield (Another great actor with tons of versatility) have killer chemistry together, and are endearing to watch. They're just such likable characters, and you get the feeling how, despite some internal (And external) issues), do deserve a chance to be together. Lil Rel Howery (as "Kyle", Michael's brother) and Teyonah Parris (as "Asia", Kyle's wife) deliver on some lighthearted humor, Rob Morgan is quite excellent, and Courtney B. Vance (as "Louis", Mae's father) makes up for limited screentime with a couple heartfelt scenes. Chanté Adams, who has only just started to break into film, shows tons of promise, and gives a terrifically subtle performance. 

 "The Photograph" isn't a grand film, nor is it one with well, the kind of excitement the average moviegoer may be looking for. It's quiet, simple, and not everything goes exactly the way you might be used to. It's enjoyably different, and refreshing to see something a little deeper from what could of just been forgettable Valentine's Day fluff. There's no need to overstate or overdramatize. Just give the audience a good, crowdpleasing romance, with a new outlook. That's all any 26 year old, single man can ask for. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Lovey Dovey Stuff. 

Fantasy Island                                                ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for fantasy island movieImage: Where's ZE PLANE!!!!!?????

 You know what I love about film? There's something for literally everybody. Some people want action or drama. Some want romance or comedy. Maybe some horror or fantasy. Some people also want weird attempted reboots of heavily memed TV shows nobody talks about. I don't know who those people are, but I'm assuming they're out there. 

 Based on the old television series and given a more horror element (Kind of), "Fantasy Island" follows a group of contest winners as they arrive on the mysterious er, "Fantasy Island", run by the even more mysterious "Mr. Roarke" (Michael Peña). The guests include snarky, cynical girl, "Melanie" (Lucy Hale), wannabe action hero, "Patrick" (Austin Stowell), the regretful "Gwen" (Maggie Q), and the annoying step-bros, "Brax" (Jimmy O. Yang) and "JD" (Ryan Hansen). Mr. Roarke, who is extremely vague on all of the details, reveals that all of the guests will be receiving one fantasy each, and will have no choice but to see them through to the very end no matter what. With Brax and JD wanting an excess amount of money and women (And men too.), Patrick wanting to become a soldier like his deceased father, Gwen wanting to correct a mistake from her past, and Melanie wanting to get revenge on a mean girl (Portia Doubleday), who tortured her in high school. Of course, there's something nefarious going on, and it appears the guests may not being going home alive. Insert maniacal laugh here.  

 From "Blumhouse Productions" ("Paranormal Activity", "The Purge", "Get Out", all kinds of horror things) and directed by Jeff Wadlow ("Kick-Ass 2", "Truth or Dare"), "Fantasy Island" could classify as their most ambitious project yet. There appears to be an idea here, but I haven't the slightest clue what the hell it's supposed to be. Whatever the project originally began as, the final product is a hodge podge of tones, setpieces, convoluted plot twists, and the mad ramblings of whoever wanted to make a scary (Or in this case, PG-13 scary) version of an old show teenagers know nothing about. You know, aside from the little guy going "Ze plane! Ze plane!". The film feels randomly cobbled together, with the horror element going little further than your typical jump scares and the meager attempts at humor falling flat on its face. Most of the fantasies, which are unique to say the least, don't end up making much sense at first glance, and only get more confusing once the movie finally tells us what everything has been leading up to. The disjointed screenplay feels made up as it goes along, and while I can say it's not exactly predictable, that's just because it's physically impossible to tell where the movie even wants to go. 

 Michael Peña is thankfully a decent amount of fun in the movie, clearly relishing his creepy role, and even getting a good line here and there. A few of the actors, such as Maggie Q and Austin Stowell really are trying their best despite the material given, while Lucy Hale has possibly the worst story arc of the entire cast. (It just gets dumber as it goes along) As for Ryan Hansen and Jimmy O. Yang, aside from their antics being short on laughs, I'm just confused by the fact they're basically playing the same exact characters they played in last month's "Like a Boss". (Shared universe?) The most enjoyable performance comes from the always entertaining Michael Rooker (as "Damon", a crazy guy lurking on the island, attempting to discover the island's secrets), who knows how to liven things up, even if it's only for a little bit. 

 At nearly two hours, "Fantasy Island" isn't boring. It's too damn long for its own good, but not something too terrible. It's just a complete mess of a movie, with a not very well thought out premise. While there seem to be some slight aspirations, it all comes crashing down once we reach the unintentionally hilarious wrap-up. Nonsensical and needlessly confusing, it's one of those movies I can't imagine enough people asked for, and can't find a single person to recommend it to. Bad vacation spot. 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Lazy Spooky Moments, And The Evil Side Of American Tourists. 

Sonic the Hedgehog                              ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for sonic the hedgehog movieImage: Sonic, after seeing how good he looks now, takes a confused look at the terror that could of been. 

 I have (Yet) another confession for the people who have been following my reviewing for these last (almost) ten years. "Sonic the Hedgehog" is my boi, and I have been a fan of the video game-based speedy blue blur since I was little. After all the ups, downs, and the horrific disaster of 2006 (Lets just say it wasn't a good year for him, and leave it at that.), when I heard that a movie was being made, I feared the absolute worst. Then I began to emotionally dread it after the now infamous first trailer, which revealed a revolting CGI design that still haunts the nightmares of millions. After the film was thankfully delayed a few months for the film's animators (Who deserve even more praise than they're getting), we got something much closer to the original hedgehog I know and love. Now all that remained was the movie's actual quality.... May God be with us.

 Based on the almost thirty year old video game series, "Sonic the Hedgehog" follows the titular super sonic speedy blue hedgehog, "Sonic" (Voiced by Ben Schwartz). Forced to flee from his planet at a young age, Sonic uses his magical, teleporting gold rings to find a new home on Earth. After years of solitude in the small town of "Green Hills" (Cute reference), Sonic is lonely and yearns for companionship. His power attracts the attention of the government, who send in brilliant, but completely evil mad scientist, "Dr. Robotnik" (Jim Carrey), to track down Sonic. When Sonic's rings wind up teleported to San Francisco, Sonic finds help from the town's local cop, "Tom Wachowski" (James Mardsen). Now Sonic and Tom head out on a road trip to find the missing rings, and get Sonic to safety, while avoiding Robotnik and his army of lethal drones. 

 Directed by visual effects guy, Jeffy Fowler, "Sonic the Hedgehog" had the makings of the grand disaster that I had previously been afraid of. I mean, as far as plots go, this doesn't necessarily scream classic Sonic, and it's also just one of the safest forms of plotting you could possibly come up with. What we end up getting is a very strange, predictable, yet unpredictable, and oddly endearing little movie. I can admit it's nothing that special, and for the most cynical, it won't change any minds when it comes to the "Video Game Movie Curse", but I can't help but admit I had one heck of a good time with it. The weirdness makes the movie more inviting, and it makes up for a generic story with a good heart and some bonkers sequences that are going to be hard to forget. (The novelty of a "Sonic the Hedgehog" movie is odd enough, but I never expected the sight of Sonic partaking in a bar fight, or Jim Carrey dancing to the song, "Where Evil Grows")     

 The visual effects aren't particularly real looking, and don't mesh with the live action setting hardly at all. It especially shows with Sonic himself, who looks copy and pasted into the real world. Thankfully, his lovable personality and adorable charm make him a delight to watch. He just looks alive, providing some laughs, and even looking pretty awesome when he really starts to speed up. (And not to mention, unlike his previous design, his appearance doesn't make you want to throw up.) Ben Schwartz also deserves credit here, and does a wonderful job providing his own spin (Pun not intended) on the character, while still doing him justice. James Mardsen remains professional no matter how silly the film is, and his buddy relationship with Sonic is actually quite cute. There isn't much more use for other supporting characters, who don't end up having much of role, such as Tika Sumpter (as "Maddie", Tom's wife), Natasha Rothwell (as Maddie's agitated sister), and Lee Majdoub (as "Agent Stone", Robotnik's minion). Then there's Jim Carrey, who appears to be having more fun here than he's had in years. The right amount of over the top villainous, hilariously wild, and even a little imposing in a few scenes, Carrey just does this part better than anyone, reminding the audience why he was once the biggest star in the world.   

 Unexpectedly heartfelt and a bit more clever than advertised, "Sonic the Hedgehog" has a lot of genuinely good laughs, some groaners, and a few so dumb that they're admittedly kind of funny. (Olive Garden. Why Olive Garden?) The film is also compedently directed, and even ends on a shockingly well done and excitingly action packed finale. The movie isn't flawless, as you would expect, but it is the kind of fun that kids will love, the longtime fans will have a good time with, and even the parents, who may or may not know much about the character, will find themselves slightly charmed by it. It's nostalgic towards a classic character, and gives off a 90s era-esque vibe that I do kind of miss. It's the kind of flawed, though sweet and charming movie I would of loved as a kid, and can plenty having a soft spot for. And now I finally get to say I liked the "Sonic the Hedgehog" movie. Strange, isn't it? 3 Stars. Rated PG For Super Sonic Action, Slightly Crude Humor, And Sanic. No PINGAS Though, Unfortunately.  

Birds of PRey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)                               ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for birds of prey movieImage: "Joker" who? 

 DC Comics' "DC Extended Universe", having always been a subject to unfavorable comparisons to the much more successful (And more consistent) "Marvel Cinematic Universe", has finally figured out what it will take to make their more recent films work. Completely going off the deep end. And everything is much better now because of it.   

 "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" follows the titular "Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn" (Margot Robbie), a former psychiatrist turned crazed lunatic girlfriend to "The Joker" (Previously played by Jared Leto before DC disowned him). However, Joker ends up dumping Harley, leaving her without much purpose and the immunity being with him gave her. Determined to change herself for the better, Harley sets out on her own, only to find herself thrown into an elaborate series of events, and becoming the target of a lot of people who really want to kill her. With the "Batman" nowhere to be seen (Ben Affleck is gone, and Robert Pattinson is gonna do his own thing), maniacal (And petty) crime boss, "Roman Sionis/Black Mask" (Ewan McGregor) has plans to take over the criminal underworld, but his plans are threatened when an important diamond is stolen from him by a young thief, "Cassandra Cain" (Ella Jay Basco). Harley, in an attempt to get on Sionis' good side, tries to find Cassandra before Sionis' mercenaries do.

 Harley slowly grows fond of Cassandra and proceeds to become a possibly bad influence on her, while others also get wrapped up into the chaotic web of violence, including Gotham City Police Detective, "Renee Montoya" (Rosie Perez), a very (Very!) talented singer at Sionis' club turned informant, "Dinah Laurel Lance/Black Canary" (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and a crossbow wielding vigilante with anger issues, "Helena Bertinelli/Huntress" (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Eventually, all of these badass ladies are going to have to go up against Sionis, to protect Cassandra and save the city from his villainy, while also getting some much needed emancipation.  

 Having found critical praise with more standalone films, such as "Wonder Woman" and "Shazam!", "Birds of Prey" (Which is um, very loosely based on the comic of the same name), decides to continue what they started by not really focusing on the fact that all of these movies are meant to be a shared universe. The film also doesn't feel the need to be restrained by the tone or typical film ratings that usually accompany these movies. R rated, and proud of it, the film is rather brilliantly directed by Cathy Yan ("Dead Pigs"), with a screenplay by Christina Hodson ("Bumblebee"), and it goes all out with the insanity, giving us the DC-equivalent to "Deadpool". It's a laugh out loud, unhinged, and often strange thrill ride, showing us the darker, seedier side of the DC universe, while retaining a gleeful charm to itself. (The film is packed full of bloody violence, raunchy humor, and swears. Definitely not for the kids!) Yan, with this being her second film, shows a lot of potential, with her stylish direction working well with the violent, though well crafted action, the random humor, and moments of weirdness. (The film stops for a couple minutes to have an out of nowhere musical number tribute to Marilyn Monroe. It's such a baffling, yet amusing bit that fits perfectly with the odd tone.) The story, while a bit all over the place, feels like it's been done so intentionally, with Harley serving as a narrator, who keeps telling things out of order or getting distracted. 

 Margot Robbie, who stole the show previously in "Suicide Squad" (And tried her absolute best to make up for that film's disappointment), is the perfect Harley Quinn. It's clear that this was a personal project for Robbie considering she's also helped produce the film, and this time, she gets to let loose more than ever before. The right blend between delightfully funny, in your face bonkers, and even a little tragic, it's Robbie's show, and she runs it wonderfully. Ella Jay Basco, in her first major movie role, is a terrific straight man (or woman) to Harley's zaniness, Rosie Perez becomes an inspired choice for her character (Who originated from "Batman: The Animated Series" just like Harley did, before becoming a mainstream comic character), and Jurnee Smollett-Bell is entirely awesome in the most unexpected of ways. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who gets the smallest role of the group, still leaves one hell of an impression, deserving of her own possible spin-off in the future. (DC! Get on this now!) The movie also gives us some great baddies for our ladies to go up against, such as a really creepy Chris Messina (as "Victor Zsasz", Sionis' sadistic henchman/likely lover, who cuts himself after every kill) and an amazingly flamboyant, hilarious, and yet, still scary Ewan McGregor, who just deserves more recognition considering how good he always is. 

 With some insanely clever and original action sequences (Which were helped put together by "John Wick" creator, Chad Stahelski), "Birds of Prey" doesn't get too deep (And even if the story's randomness is intentional, it is a little offputting at times), but still offers a crazy amount of fun, some great characters, and a little something to offer for everyone. It's basically a girls night out kind of movie that just so happens to also be a comic book one. Showing more personality than ever and embracing something much different than their usual comfort zone. (I'll admit, even Marvel has trouble doing that sometimes.) 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Lots Of Violence, Powered Up Drug Use, And The Tragic Demise Of An Innocent Egg Sandwich. 

Gretel and Hansel                                     ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for gretel and hansel"Image: "I bet Hansel and Gretel taste just like chicken!"

  You know, all this movie was missing was an "A24" logo. This is not at all what I was expecting, and certainly not something I'm used to seeing as a major mainstream release. It's too artsy fartsy for that. 

 "Gretel and Hansel" follows the titular, "Gretel" (Sophia Lillis), and her younger brother, "Hansel" (Sam Leakey), who after being sent away from their mother, embark on a journey into the deep and dark forest to find a new home. While on their travels, the children come across an old house, filled with delicious food, sweets, and warm beds, where an old woman named "Holda" (Alice Krige), offers them a place to rest temporarily. However, their stay starts to become more permanent, as Hansel is easily swayed by Holda's generosity, while Gretel believes there is something more nefarious going on. If you've ever heard the old story before, then you know where this is going, and that witches be crazy.

 A more twisted take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale (Or if you really think about it, the scary version might be more appropriate. Fairy tales were essentially horror stories.), "Gretel and Hansel" is less a movie, but more of an art-house experience that you leave wondering if you were actually meant to enjoy it or not. Turning fairy tales into horror movies (Or again, returning them to their horror status) isn't anything new. However, it's not really a full blown horror film, with director Osgood Perkins (Known for low budget horror films I've never heard of), treating the film as a dark fantasy that focuses on a slow paced showcase of unsettling imagery and surreal visuals. The screenplay by Rob Hayes is limited in some places in terms of dialogue, with the film stopping to give time to strange sequences of visual gothic beauty and other spooky images that I can only assume are meant to symbolic. (Sort of a coming of age story, mostly in part for Gretel reaching womanhood. I think.) The film is shot in an aspect ratio that presents the film in a square-like format, allowing a lot of single shots of weirdness as the focal point. It's all an odd mixture, which isn't helped by the seemingly intentionally out of place score credited to a French musician called "ROB". It's oddly techo, and doesn't seem to mesh. Yet, it bizarrely works in some places, and adds to the film's creepy and unnerving atmosphere.   

 Sophia Lillis (Who you might remember as being utterly brilliant as Beverly from "It") is the star of the film, and much like her character, has to carry the film almost completely on her own due to how small the cast is. She's gives a strong performance that relies more on her physicality and emotional reactions. Alice Krige gives off a calming, though delightfully sinister presence, and even adds a little humor to the film. Sam Leakey isn't much of an actor yes, and his performance, while nothing outright bad, doesn't quite work in some places, especially when he's meant to be acting opposite Lillis. 

  "Gretel and Hansel" isn't exactly scary, though that doesn't seem to be the intention. It's disturbing in places (Despite the PG-13 rating, the filmmakers still found a way to up the creep factor), rather original, and strangely mesmerizing, but kind of confusing and not exactly exciting. It's the kind of movie you see your artistically invested friends salivating over, and I can see it gaining a future cult status. It's almost like it was specifically made to achieve that. At least it gave me a little something different after the terrible horror movies this month. While I'm still not sure I liked it, I found myself weirdly immersed in it. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images And Poor Eating Habits.   

The Rhythm Section                                    ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the rhythm section movie"Image: Blake Lively responsibly looks both ways before crossing the street.

 I've been asked this question before, "What is the hardest type of review to write?". You have your different variations of quality in films, whether it be good, bad, great, anything from "Pure Flix", but the absolute hardest movie to write about are what I call the obligation films. Something I just saw because it got released that week, didn't too much time out of my day, and sure isn't bad enough to remember come the year's end. That's especially true when it comes out in January.  

 Based on the novel of the same name, "The Rhythm Section" follows "Stephanie Patrick" (Blake Lively), who has given up on life since the death of her entire family in a plane crash years prior. Having turned to prostitution and drugs, Stephanie is met by a journalist, "Keith Proctor" (Raza Jaffrey), who has discovered that the crash was not an accident, but in reality was a terrorist bombing. Stephanie finds out the name of the bomb-maker, "Reza" (Tawfeek Barhom), and after a botched attempt at vengeance that results in Proctor's death, she's left with nowhere else to turn to except for Proctor's informant, "Iain Boyd" (Jude Law). A former MI6 operative with a shady past, Iain agrees to help Stephanie get her revenge and catch all of the people involved with the bombing by training her to kill. Having Stephanie pose as a deceased assassin, "Petra", Stephanie's morality is tested as she's forced to do things she never would of dreamed of to complete her mission and avenge her loved ones.     

 Directed by Cinematographer turned director Reed Morano (Known for a few episodes of "The Handmaiden's Tale") and written by Mark Burnell (Who also wrote the original novel), "The Rhythm Section" is the kind of movie that could of used a lot more excitement and a sense of investment to make up predictable plotting. When you're left being able to figure out most of what's going to happen (Mostly due to how many times we've seen similar films such as this.), you would at least expect more compelling characters and action setpieces to add a little to the film. However, Morano seems to be attempting more drama, which when the film focuses on that, it kind of works. It's nothing original or even that deep, but it's well paced, atmospherically filmed, and thanks to Blake Lively, occasionally emotional. The action itself when it happens is a bit more iffy. The editing is choppy and the constant shaky cam makes it frustratingly difficult to tell what the hell is going on. After a while, things take a bit too long to get going, and you just start to lose interest. 

 Blake Lively, though her British accent seems to slip from time to time, is a strong presence, especially when the film relies on her expressive performance. You feel a lot for the character, even when she's cold, and Lively's simple stare conveys so much in of itself without the need of dialogue. I do also appreciate the film showing how lacking in capability the character starts out. She's not the best assassin in the world, and it takes a lot of time for her to grow into her own after much failure. Jude Law doesn't end up getting much of a role later on, though he still delivers a typically good performance regardless. In a part that could of been played by anyone, Sterling K. Brown (as "Marc Serra", a former CIA agent, turned reluctant ally), is another reliable actor giving a lot more than necessary. 

 "The Rhythm Section" is competent, yet forgettable. I can't necessarily say it's that bad of a film, but there's just isn't that much to say about it. It's so somber that it's kind of a bore, yet it's not something that deserves any real ridicule. There are some okay moments, though not enough to recommend. It's just a throwaway movie getting a throwaway review. 2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence And Bloody Blandness.     

The Turning                                         ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the turning movieImage: I think this movie "Turned" a long time ago.

 I already saw "The Grudge". I filled my cruddy January horror release quota. You can't do this to me, and you sure as Hell can't do this to all of the good actors involved. It's not fair to anyone.   

 "The Turning" follows "Kate Mandell" (Mackenzie Davis), who has been hired to work as a governess for a mysterious and creepy looking house in the countryside. The old and rather catty housekeeper, "Mrs. Grose" (Barbara Marten), introduces Kate to one of the orphaned children, "Flora" (Brooklynn Prince), who immediately takes a liking to Kate. As Kate learns more about the strange circumstances, such as the deaths of the parents, the relationship between the even stranger eldest child, "Miles" (Finn Wolfhard) and the deceased stablemaster, and the random disappearance of the previous nanny. When Miles returns after being expelled from school, Kate starts to see terrifying visions of the dead, which slowly start to drive her insane. Locked in a house with a bunch of cuckoos, Kate struggles to keep her sanity, discovering the dark secrets that plague the estate and the children.....or does she? The movie is kind of like that....or is it? 

 A more modernized adaptation of a well known 1898 scary story "The Turning of the Screw" by Henry James, "The Turning" has a creepy idea going for it, but a very sadly amateurish way of executing it. Directed by Floria Sigismondi ("The Runaways", along with many music videos), the film's solid gothic atmosphere is wasted on a bland and uneven screenplay by Chad and Carey W. Hayes (Both "Conjuring" films, as well as the much reviled "House of Wax" remake). Like all bad horror flicks, the film relies on cheap jump scares as expected (Random faces appearing in mirrors and down hallways, accompanied by a loud musical cue. You know the drill.), though this time they do seem somewhat half-assed. It's as if Sigismondi couldn't commit to taking things slowly and allowing the mood to set in, or just simply going for the laziest of scares. 

 Mackenzie Davis is a good actress, and even with the material given, she's doing a much better job with it than she should even have to. Her terrified reactions feel real and she carries what she can. Finn Wolfhard continues to show off his versatility as an actor, and Brooklynn Prince (From "The Floria Project") is still terrific, playing up the adorable, yet creepy little girl act. Barbara Marten is almost too over the top with her snooty weirdness, and Joely Richardson (as Kate's mentally ill mother) doesn't do much except attempting to add a late addition twist to the story. The film seems to be trying to make it seem like things may or may not be real, and that Kate could just be crazy. However, when all of the characters themselves are freakin bonkers as it is, with all of them changing completely within the same scene for no apparent reason, it's hard to buy any of it. 

 Like the source material, "The Turning" wants to have some form of ambiguity to itself, but it fails miserably in that department. Once we reach the film's end (Or lack thereof), none of it makes any actual sense. The film may be visually pleasing to the eyes, though it has nothing to offer when it comes to originality to its story right down to an actual conclusion. (It's not like "The Grudge" bad where we saw the literal ending in the trailers, but it feels just as typical and lazy.) You'll be begging the theater to just turn it off before it's all done. Wouldn't be that much different anyways. 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Faces, Hallucinations, Spoiled Rich Kids, And The Terrifying Revelation That Steven Spielberg Is An Executive Producer.    

The Gentlemen                                   ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the gentlemen movie

Image: It's OK, Matt!.I gave it a good review! 

 My experience with director Guy Ritchie ("Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels", "Snatch"), involve his more recent, bigger budget films, such as the two "Sherlock Holmes" films, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Aladdin", and the frustratingly over the top "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword". The quality of his recent work varies, but from what I've learned about his early filmography, I think it's obvious that he hasn't been more at home making a movie until right now.  

 "The Gentlemen" opens with a framing device, involving smarmy private investigator, "Fletcher" (Hugh Grant), on orders from a grudge holding tabloid editor, "Big Dave" (Eddie Marsan), is attempting to blackmail, "Raymond" (Charlie Hunnam), the number two for marijuana kingpin, "Mickey Pearson" (Matthew McConaughey). With his findings all typed up as a screenplay, Fletcher recounts all.recent events that led everyone up to this exact moment, starting with Mickey, hoping to peacefully retire with his wife, "Rosalind" (Michelle Dockery), offering to sell his entire cannabis empire to flamboyant billionaire, "Matthew Berger" (Jeremy Strong). Things start to go off the rails as ambitious gangster, "Dry Eye" (Henry Golding), has plans of his own, and offers to buy out Mickey's operation. When Mickey refuses, Dry Eye arranges for Mickey's operation to be threatened, resulting in a gang war full of bullets, sophistication, and a constant use of the "C" word.      

 With Guy Ritchie directing, producing, and writing, "The Gentlemen" is essentially Ritchie creating a playground of guns, violence, and in your face machismo, and it's quite a delight to watch. It's a very stylish and slick looking film, with an off-kilter, and lets just say, very politically incorrect sense of humor. Pushing the envelope with some English smoothness, mixed in with a level of brash and roughness that just set out to push everyone's buttons. It's very Tarantino-esque actually, especially when the film stops to focus on character interaction, which is where the most enjoyable moments happen. Even when it offends or just plain gets too much to handle, you have to admire how many plot points come together and how cleverly constructed it all is.  

 The stellar ensemble cast deliver their intentionally overwritten and drawn out dialogue, and all appear to be having a ball doing so. Matthew McConaughey, instantly making up for last year's "Serenity", is his usual McConaughey self for sure. Yet, there is a certain relatability and charisma to him that make him a joy to watch. Charlie Hunnam is a blast playing against the usual macho hero type I've gotten used to seeing him as, while Henry Golding is an old school baddie, who may be in over his head, but still a force to be reckoned with. Michelle Dockery is very appealing, while Eddie Marsan and Jeremy Strong have great character roles. Meanwhile, a hilarious Colin Farrell (as "Coach", a gang leader, who finds himself and his crew wrapped up in everything against his will) and a scenery devouring Hugh Grant steal the show. 

 "The Gentlemen" takes the weirdness to a point where it could almost be seen as a parody by the end, and the film's seemingly casual use of racial humor, will not sit well with a lot of people. Even I'll admit it can get pretty uncomfortable at parts, even when the film caught me off guard with a big laugh, I would question if it's something that should be joked about these days. (A running joke involving a guy named "Phuc", along with a big payoff with a pig, the film offers some sidesplitting moments of humor.) It's the kind of film that only someone like Guy Ritchie could make, and one that I could tell he really wanted to. It's an unexpected injection of life in a month where we rarely get any. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Language, Very Bloody Violence, And Very Guy Ritchie-Ness. 

Bad Boys For Life                                   ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for bad boys for life imagesImage: "Let's talk Bad Boys 4!"

 So is this what it takes to save your franchise and actually make something good? Just don't let Michael Bay direct? It worked with the "Transformers", and now here. It's too jarring to not be a coincidence if you ask me.  

 "Bad Boys for Life" follows Miami Police Department officers, "Mike Lowrey" (Will Smith) and "Marcus Burnett" (Martin Lawrence), with Marcus considering retirement, much to Mike's dismay. However, Mike ends up gunned down by an assassin, "Armando" (Jacob Scipio), the son of a vengeful drug lord, "Isabel Aretas" (Kate del Castillo), in a revenge plot that leaves many bodies in the process. After months in the hospital, Mike is back and ready to catch the attempted killer, only to discover that Marcus has retired and the stressed out "Captain Howard" (Joe Pantoliano), doesn't want Mike on the case. The villains have no intention of stopping anytime soon, and after tragedy strikes, Mike and Marcus end up working together for one last time, teaming up with Mike's new love interest, "Rita" (Paola Núñez), and her new generation team of cocky young people, "AMMO", consisting of "Kelly" (Vanessa Hudgens), "Rafe" (Charles Melton), and "Dorn" (Alexander Ludwig). As they get closer to solving the case, Mike and Marcus discover a few unexpected secrets, connecting everything in the process. 

 The third entry in the "Bad Boys" series, with the previous two films both being directed by Michael Bay, "Bad Boys for Life" is this time directed by Belgian filmmakers Adil El Arbi ad Bilall Fallah doing their first American film. While I never took the time to see the first two (Mostly because anyone who knows me personally understands that I will never go out of my way to see a Michael Bay film, let alone two.), this one seems to stand on its own just fine. The film takes its time to establish itself, with the tone balancing over the top action and masculinity fueled comedy, except this time, it's not annoying. In fact, it's shockingly endearing and quite enjoyable. The film is stylish and filled with bloody violence, mixed with lots of explosions, but done well and certainly originally. The film also doesn't so much avoid clichés. It instead has a good time toying with them, such as the obligatory slow motion under shot of our heroes stepping out of a car being interrupted by the door slamming into a fire hydrant. 

 The comedy works best due to the undeniable comradery between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. They work well off of each other, bouncing hilarious comments at each other's expense and at the situations they find themselves in. They're also humanized by their relationship, which serves as the heart of the film. Joe Pantoliano is a lot of fun, while some of the supporting cast members, like Vanessa Hudgens and an awkwardly funny Alexander Ludwig (Playing a tech nerd, who just so happens to be totally ripped). Kate de Castillo and Jacob Scipio are mostly plot devices, but do solid jobs at being villainous. Most of the other characters are secondary compared Smith and Lawrence, who can carry the film on their chemistry alone. 

 While things start to get a little overboard (As you would expect) towards the last act, and it might be a bit bit longer than necessary, "Bad Boys for Life" succeeds at providing crazy and stylish action, with laughs, violence, and machismo in a way that lesser buddy action films (Or these days, I should say most buddy action films) seem to butcher. It's possibly a bit on the dumb side, though smart enough to know what works. Sometimes all you need is the right people involved, the right person NOT involved, and a couple of charismatic actors to inject new life into an old franchise. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence And Unconventional Policing Methods.     

Dolittle                                             ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Dr. Dolittle tries to make sense of his own movie.  

 It's in my expert opinion that what we have here isn't just really a bad movie. It's more like a sad one. It's the chopped up remains of a well intentioned, but misguided cinematic disaster of massive proportions. Audiences will be confused, critics will only live to decimate and ridicule, and everybody involved will just go home really depressed, due to not only will it fail, it will fail in a way that nobody will allow them to forget any time soon. That's probably the worst part about all of this. It didn't need to be this way, and yet, it's not so much surprising that it is. It's did this go so wrong in the worst way possible? 

 "Dolittle" follows eccentric scientist and veterinarian, "Doctor John Dolittle" (Robert Downey Jr.), who has the ability to speak to animals. Previously a famed doctor, known throughout all of England, Dolittle has become a recluse after the death of his wife, closing himself off from the world with his colorful collection of animal companions. "Queen Victoria" (Jessie Buckley) has fallen gravely ill, sending her assistant, "Rose" (Carmel Laniado), to force Dolittle to find a way of saving her. Dolittle, deducing that only a rare and mystical fruit from a fabled island can save the queen, he embarks on an epic journey at sea with his friends. Dolittle's kooky crew consists of a wise parrot, "Polly" (Voiced by Emma Thompson), a worried gorilla, "Chee-Chee" (Voiced by Rami Malek), an Octavia Spencer duck, "Dab-Dab" (Voiced by Octavia Spencer), a bickering polar bear and ostrich, "Yoshi" (Voiced by John Cena) and "Plimpton" (Voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), a feisty squirrel, "Kevin" (Voiced by Craig Robinson), and a plucky kid, "Tommy Stubbins" (Harry Collett), who self-appoints himself as Dolittle's apprentice. The crew faces many obstacles, such as Dolittle's nefarious rival, "Dr. Blair Mudfly" (Michael Sheen), acting on orders of the Queen's traitorous courtier, "Lord Badgley" (Jim Broadbent), who plot to stop Dolittle from completing his quest.  

 Directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana", "Gold"), or perhaps I should say "Partially directed by" instead, "Dolittle" has suffered from an identity crisis, in part thanks for countless reshoots from other directors such as Chris McKay ("The LEGO Batman Movie") and Jonathan Liebesman ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"). It doesn't help that the screenplay, co-credited to Gaghan, really doesn't seem to have the slightest clue who the audience for the film is. Everything feels misguided, and it all results in an explosion of uninspired storytelling, a lack of focus, unpleasant weirdness, and some of the worst editing I've ever seen in a theatrically released movie. It's baffling how this mangled corpse of a family film has been poorly stitched together and tossed into the January dumping ground in an attempt to salvage anything of value. The story's pace moves like a snail, while never letting up in the constant babbling of the many characters and the introduction of various plotlines going on at once. There is so much that happens over the course of what should of felt like a brisk hour and forty minutes, such as a scheme to kill the Queen, Dolittle's grief over his lost wife, Tommy popping up to contribute nothing, the animal characters who appear and disappear when the plot requires, and a whole side quest involving Dolittle's resentful father in law, "Rassouli" (Played by Antonio Banderas), that takes up the entire second act. I haven't even mentioned the part with the dragon (Voiced by Frances de la Tour), who Dolittle gives a colonoscopy to, resulting in a fart in his face. The film keeps going and never slows down, and yet, it feels so long at the same time. 

  The almost random, though still bland and derivative script just brings down all of the talented actors and actresses that have somehow found their way into the movie. (It's a lot like last month's "Cats", though slightly less ugly.) Robert Downey Jr., who is also listed as an Executive Producer, is trying his best to remain dignified. Sadly his accent is contentiously shifting, and while he still finds a way to retain some charm, his performance mostly requires a good amount of mugging. Harry Collett doesn't really do anything by the end, except add an extra few minutes of runtime, the recently Oscar nominated Antonio Banderas is left with an embarrassingly written part, and Jim Broadbent is wasted, having been given three scenes despite being the actual main villain of the film. Michael Sheen at least gets to play over the top evil, which is something he's exceptionally skilled at. The large ensemble voice cast do sound like they're having some enjoyment, such as Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland (as "Jip", a glasses wearing dog), Selena Gomez (as "Betsy", a giraffe), Mario Cotillard (as "Tutu", a french fox), Jason Mantzoukas (as "James", a dragonfly, who just randomly enters the story halfway through). Most of them don't get much of a role, and some feel criminally underused, such as Ralph Fiennes (as "Barry", a violent, but depressed tiger). The more enjoyable voices being Emma Thompson, who will always be welcome no matter what she's in, and both John Cena and Kumail Nanjiani, delivering the closest to what this film has to offer when it comes to actual humor. The CGI effects at times look alright, but mostly don't end up meshing well with the live-action setting. This leads to some awkward and offputting shots and camera angles that you can tell are destined to be mocked for years to come. (The film's prologue, which is made up of a artistically stylish form of animation, only proves that the film would of been better off fully animated)      

 With conflicting tones, weak humor (Most of which is made up of goofy modern jokes, flatulence and antics), and zero originality, "Dolittle" is the kind of filmmakig travesty that you expect at this moment of the year. It's just that this one in particular hits a new low in a depressing fashion. It's one thing for a film just not to work on its own. It's another thing for it to have never stood a chance in the first place. My diagnosis? Dead On Arrival. January 16th. 7:00 P.M. Poor Tony Stark. 1 Star. Rated PG For Rude Jokes, Fart And Poop, And The Unforgivable Sight Of A Gorilla Kicking A Tiger In The Balls.   

Underwater                                       ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for underwater 2020 movieImage: Kristen Stewart stars in "Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots:The Movie". Finally. 

 I think it's time that more movies start acknowledging a fact of life that everyone seems forget. The ocean is a terrifying place, and man was never meant to go there. It's dark and scary, there are some creepy beasts that want to eat you. And, not to mention, T.J. Miller. See? Terrifying.    

 "Underwater" follows the surviving crew of a large drilling corporation after an underwater earthquake cripples the entire station. The remaining crew members include the very capable engineer, "Norah Price" (Kristen Stewart), the captain, "Lucien" (Vincent Cassel), the funny guy, "Paul Abel" (T.J. Miller), the nice girl, "Emily Haversham" (Jessica Henwick), the nice guy, "Liam Smith" (John Gallagher Jr.), and the other guy, "Rodrigo Nagenda" (Mamoudou Athoe). With the station beyond repair, the survivors don their anime-esque diving suits to journey out onto the ocean floor to locate the control base and find a way to make contact with the surface. However, along the way, they find themselves being mercilessly hunted down by monstrous creatures of the sea, whose only mission is to rip the crew members to shreds. Norah and the rest of the crew must find a way to survive, eventually discovering more about what led to this deadly situation in the first place. 

 Directed by William Eubank (Known for more low budget films such as "Love" and "The Signal") with a larger scale and bigger ambitions than before, "Underwater" as you can tell by the plot, is essentially a rip-off of "Alien", except at the bottom of the ocean instead of space. It's funny how Hollywood refuses to avoid the formula that film originally had given us, and nearly completely following through with the most derivative of Sci-Fi Horror plotlines to the letter. You know where it all goes, who lives and dies, and there are sequences that could be seen as carbon copies of other work. The film does at least succeed at having an undemanding, yet oddly exciting watch, that occasionally is quite scary. Eubank takes things at a steady pace, allowing for the underwater atmosphere and tense dark lighting to create a sense of anxiety and dread to make up for the very predictable story. It's a beautifully creepy looking film, with some impressive visual effects. The creatures are especially cool looking, being give some mystery to their monstrous appearance, while also allowing just enough of a glimpse at them to unexpectedly terrify the audience. The film gives in to the urge to rely on jump scares, but they can on occasion be effective and the creatures unique design lends itself to a good enough scare. 

 The characters are tropes of the genre, yet the cast is game enough to make up for it, mostly thanks to Kristen Stewart. Having proven herself to be a great actress time and time again no matter the quality of the film she's in (The days of "Twilight" ended a long time ago people. Let it go already!), Stewart is a badass lead and carries the film in compelling fashion. Vincent Cassel is excellent, despite being obviously overqualified for this kind of material. There are solid performances from Jessica Henwick (Who plays scared witless very well), John Gallagher Jr. (Who is generally good no matter what), and even T.J. Miller, getting a couple admittedly funny lines. (Though his appearance in the film considering recent developments about his personal life makes things a little awkward) Meanwhile, Mamoudou Athie shows up to do well, the most obvious thing his character would be required to do. 

  Nothing original and aside from a minor (And pretty fun) twist, "Underwater" offers very few surprises. What we do get is well made, visually pleasing, and at times, successfully scary. It's the kind of horror that doesn't match the films it tries to emulate, though it fares better than those who fail on a more miserable level. It's nothing, pardon the pun, deep (The attempt at an environmental message aside), but something simple enough to enjoy on a rainy day.. It's the most you could ask for right now. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Aquatic Atrocities, And Lots Of Kristen Stewart Fanservice. Lots Of It. 

Like A Boss                                            ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★           

Image result for like a boss movieImage "So we want a raise....And new agents."

 After a major film achievement like "1917" serving as reminder of how great a year 2019 was for film, moving back onto the rest of the infamous "January Dumping Ground" feels more uninviting than ever. Guess there has to be balance in the universe somehow, right?   

 "Like a Boss" follows longtime best friends, "Mia" (Tiffany Haddish) and "Mel" (Rose Byrne), owners of a well liked, but mostly failing beauty company. Mia is the more brash and open one, while Mel is more careful and tries to keep everything from falling apart. Once they realize that they're thousands of dollars in debt, the besties find hope when a big time cosmetics tycoon, "Claire Luna" (Salma Hayek), offers to buy a share of their company. Little do Mia and Mel know though, Claire schemes to steal the company from under them by pitting the two of them against each other. Mia and Mel must address each other's differences and other contrivances to save both their company and their friendship. 

 Directed by Miguel Arteta (Who has gone from lower scale, less mainstream films like "Chuck & Buck" and "Beatriz at Dinner" to um, whatever "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" was), "Like a Boss" is the kind of comedy that seems to have the idea that if it just spouts out whatever kind of vulgarity, lowbrow joke it can, it will automatically be funny. What we get is an unfocused mess that seems to be stuck trying to pad out a surprisingly short runtime. The movie just seems to stop dead for certain overlong jokes, minor characters riffing, or random shenanigans to distract from how thin the screenplay is. 

 While their characters act in needlessly moronic or selfish fashion whenever the point in the script seems to say so, Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne do at least make up for it with their actually pretty solid chemistry. I buy their almost sisterly relationship, and while you're not laughing at the humor on display, they are still a joy to watch. Salma Hayek is over the top, but she is having a lot of fun, and some of it does occasionally rub off on you. (Plus her accent is always wonderful to me.) There are way too many side characters in the film, from Jennifer Coolidge (as "Sydney", an employee of Mia and Mel, who keeps talking about her vagina), Karan "Dopinder" Soni (as "Josh", Claire's wormy henchman), Jacob Latimore (as Mia's enthusiastic lover), along with Ari Graynor, Natasha Rothwell, and Jessica St. Clair (as a trio of Mia and Mel's friends, who serve no purpose whatsoever). The only standout would be Billy Porter (as "Barrett", another employee, who Mia and Mel are forced to fire), who gets an amusing moment or two. 

 There's nothing wrong with some good comedy to carry how weakly put together plot, even when it's a little immature and bawdy, but "Like a Boss", just feels lost and confused. It's almost as if the filmmakers themselves were uncomfortable with themselves as the film tries its best to push things down a dirtier direction. Saying "F*ck" all the time though, doesn't necessarily guarantee laughs. The film avoids a few predictable narrative pratfalls (No romantic subplot, and the temporary friendship breakup is resolved halfway realistically), but it almost just helps prove that the film is struggling to get to feature length. Not the worst you could do right now. However, you're better off just seeing all of the Oscar hopefuls instead. 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Language, Rude Humor, And Various Gentile Based Jokes

The Grudge                                                 ★ OUT OF ★★★★        

Related imageImage: It's 2020. We don't judge someones preferences.

 Here's how little I actually know about horror movies, I always thought "The Ring" and "The Grudge" were the same thing. Come on, I can't be the only one. Both are based on Japanese films, with scary looking girls with long hair, and only decreased more and more in quality the longer they went on. It's easy to mix them up.  

 A reboot of the 2004 Americanized remake of the 2002 Japanese film, "Ju-On" (This movie is essentially the "Frankenstein" of movies), "The Grudge" follows the recently widowed, "Detective Muldoon" (Andrea Riseborough), as she's partnered up with "Detective Goodman" (Demián Bichir). they investigate a mysterious and brutal death related to a previous case involving a supposedly cursed house, where a demonic spirit was brought over from Tokyo like a virus by a mother, "Fiona Landers" (Tara Westwood). The incident resulted in the gruesome murder-suicide of her entire family. Muldoon goes to investigate further, only to find herself cursed by the grotesque and vengeful spirit intending on driving her to madness. Throughout the film, we are shown flashbacks involving others who have been cursed by the house through the years. The interconnected stories include a married couple, "Peter" (John Cho) and "Nina" (Bett Gilpin), who are expecting a baby, along with a woman, "Lorna Moody" (Jacki Weaver), arriving at the house to lend assist an elderly man, "William Matheson" (Frankie Faison), and his seemingly dementia stricken wife, "Faith" (Lin Shaye), who is in reality seeing the ghost of a little girl. There's also some involvement from Goodman's previous partner, "Wilson" (William Sadler), whose investigation of the house years earlier have made him insane. Muldoon soon realizes that her life is now in danger, and she must find a way to stop the spirit's curse for good.   

 Time to start off 2020 like we start off every previous year, with a bad horror movie that's just going to maybe make back its budget the first week just before fading away into nothingness. Produced by Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead"), "The Grudge" does nothing to separate itself from the average scary demon story (Which should frustrate fans of the series), and does little to explain itself, leaving one who doesn't know about the series confused (Which should frustrate just about everyone else). Director and writer, Nicolas Pesce (who is known for very unique sounding horror films I've never heard of, such as "The Eyes of My Mother" and "Piercing"), seems to have an eye for something halfway decent. The film has a creepy look and appears to be attempting to let some real atmosphere sink in. These little moments are too far and in between, and mostly end up being subverted by a cheap jump scare immediately afterwards. It doesn't help that they're all scares that you've seen before, whether it be in better movies or just more memorable ones.

  A lack of originality and heavy amounts of predictability end up becoming the film's final downfall, ad turn it into something blandly forgettable, except this time in the worst way possible simply because of all the talent that seems to have ruthlessly dragged into the film. Great, versatile actors such as Andrea Riseborough and Demián Bichir are left to do what they can with the flavorless screenplay. The other non-linear storylines, while an apparent staple of this franchise, end up having little to do with each other, and all result in obvious outcomes. John Cho and Betty Gilpin have the best story, mostly just because the actors bring out enough emotional range to make it somewhat work. Lin Shaye plays strange very well, while Jacki Weaver seems to be here to make attempts at humor and William Sadler's storyline exists simply to deliver exposition. 

 Normally with something like "The Grudge", I'd chalk the film up to being just a lifeless, forgettable, cardboard cutout of a basic horror movie......And then the ending happened. You've seen any of the TV spots? You've seen the ending. No rhyme or reason for it to end this way, except because of a lack of imagination. It's a January released horror movie that belongs exactly where it is. We can only go up for here. 1 Star. Rated R For Grisly Images, Jump Scares, And Uncreative Twists.