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Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

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 ★★★★


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.