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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Don't Look Up                                                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: It's the end of the world as they know it. And they feel fine. 

Let's end 2021 wallowing in our own self-pity, questioning where exactly we all went wrong, and dreading our inevitable demises. I do that every day, but now there's a movie to perfectly encompass that unhealthy sense of cynicism. 

"Don't Look Up" opens with Michigan State astronomers, "Kate Dibiasky" (Jennifer Lawrence) and "Randall Mindy" (Leonardo DiCaprio), discovering a large comet, that will impact Earth in six months, causing a cataclysmic amount of damage, thus destroying all life as we know it. Along with the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, "Teddy Oglethorpe" (Rob Morgan), Randall and Kate go to the White House to deliver this incredibly important discovery to the president, "Jane Orlean" (Meryl Streep). Afters lots of waiting, delays, and getting charged for free snacks by an air force general (Paul Guilfoyle) for some reason, the scientists are finally able to present their findings to President Orlean and her buffoonish son/Chief of Staff, "Jason" (Jonah Hill), who basically just shrug it all off because they have more important things to worry about (Elections, political controversies, and it's just too boring). Out of desperation, Kate and Randall leak their findings to the press, going on cheesy daytime talk show, hosted by the never remotely serious "Brie Evantee" (Cate Blanchett) and "Jack Bremmer" (Tyler Perry), which actually makes things worse. Nobody is taking the end of the world seriously, leaving Kate and Randall dumbfounded, with time running out. After President Orlean finally decides to give attention to the comet (Mostly because she has to direct attention away from a sex scandal), things not so surprisingly don't actually get any better, with Randall becoming a celebrity and losing sight of the mission, Kate's frustration with human incompetence getting to her, while humanity continues to make one Hell of an argument that we really do need to be destroyed. It's for the greater good. 

Written and directed by Adam McKay ("Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy", "Step Brothers", "The Big Short", "Vice"), "Don't Look Up" has certainly riled up a lot of people, and it's not hard to see why. Of course those on the right are going to shun it as propaganda, especially since it's a thinly disguised allegory for climate change (And probably Covid too). People on the left too though seem to have had a bad reaction to it, saying that it's too preachy, smarmy, and is basically telling us what we all should already know. (There's also those people in the middle saying "Both sides are to blame, and I don't like to get political", as if they're above it all. I'm assuming they're mad too) This movie is basically aimed directly as those cynical, emotionally off, self-hating weirdos, who think that we've completely screwed ourselves beyond repair and that we're beyond saving, doomed to face a terrible, but thoroughly fitting demise. So yeah, of course I really liked it. The film feels like Adam McKay venting, targeting everything and everyone, from political parties, celeb culture, technological obsession, the bureaucratic process, the media game, and basically anything that makes us the complete morons that we are today. (Which is everything) None of this is anything particularly new and yeah, we always complain about it. However, if we all know about these issues and how they continue to affect us as a society, then why is it still an issue? Why have we not learned anything? 

The cast is pretty massive, packed with loads of familiar faces, with some even just appearing for glorified though still very welcome cameos. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly neurotic, and delivers possibly one of the greatest meltdowns in movie history. Jennifer Lawrence, who I've noticed I haven't seen in a while (And I missed dearly), works well with DiCaprio, but later ventures off into her own fitting character arc. An easy to detest Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and a wonderfully unusual Mark Rylance (as "Peter Isherwell", an eccentric tech billionaire, with plans to mine the comet for rare minerals), make for perfect antagonists, while it adds in the likes of a sweet natured Rob Morgan, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Melanie Lynskey (as "June", Randall's wife), Timothée Chalamet (as "Yule", a shoplifter that Kate takes a liking to, mostly due to the incoming apocalypse), Ron Perlman (as "Colonel Drask", a former colonel, known for questionable thoughts that are simply waved off as "Being from a different time"), and Ariana Grande (as "Riley Bina", a pop star, whose relationship status seems to have everyone's attention more than the comet). There's also quite a few fun cameos, as you would expect. 

Briskly paced and unrelenting, "Don't Look Up" is meant to ruffle up some feathers, and will accomplish so no matter what. It's certainly not for everyone, with the bleak outlook on how a situation such as this would go about, feeling mean spirited and as if it's only preaching to the choir. With that said though, the choir isn't exactly blameless in all of this either. There's nobody left to look down on if we all have had some kind of role to play. And, most importantly, it's just funny. Funny in a thoroughly upsetting sort of way for sure. Absurd in the right places, tragically desolate, and in your face with just how unsubtle Adam McKay has decided to be. Could I just be too pessimistic? Perhaps. Then again though, ask me that again come next election. I feel that this movie might age well, in the worst ways possible, for all the wrong reasons. Prove me otherwise. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Malevolent Memes, Psychotic Breakdowns, And Hardcore Old People Nudity. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth                                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Let's just give him another Oscar nomination and get it over with.

When it comes to William Shakespeare, you can consider adapting his work these days to while be a sort of "Been there, done that" situation, but at least it's a guaranteed actors paradise. It takes a special talent to get this right, and for people to take it seriously, feeling the immense power that the source material itself is known for. So yeah, one half of the Coen Brothers, and some of the best actors working today probably have this covered. 

Based on the play by Shakespeare (On the off chance that you're not remotely educated), "The Tragedy of Macbeth" tells the story of the once noble Scottish lord, turned future tyrant, "Lord Macbeth" (Denzel Washington), the Thane of Glamis, as he along with his fellow lord, "Banquo" (Bertie Carvel), come across three witches (Kathryn Hunter), or "Weird Sisters". They claim that there will be good tidings in Macbeth's future, such as a new title and most importantly of all, that he will become king. After Macbeth is awarded the title of Thane of Cawdor, his ambitions start to grow. The same can be said for his wife, "Lady Macbeth" (Frances McDormand), who convinces her husband to take matters into his own hands to ensure that he becomes king. That means offing poor "King Duncan" (Brendan Glesson), allowing for Macbeth to manipulate his way into power. Of course though, he just can't stop there. Soon the Macbeths find themselves doing whatever it takes to seize total power, falling further and further into madness, while those who oppose them, such as the noble "Macduff" (Corey Hawkins), seek to end their reign of terror.

Written and directed by Joel Coen ("Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "True Grit", and many others), "The Tragedy of Macbeth" frames itself as a cinematic stage production, retaining the budget that normally comes with an "A24" film, though feeling like a grand, haunting spectacle that can only be experienced on the big, silver screen. Presented in black and white, with a more simple set design and a 4:3 aspect ratio, the film is crisp, dark and dreary, feeling like a lucid nightmare of sorts. It seems Joel Coen wants to go against certain previous adaptations (No grand battles. No need for a more modernized setting.), and return to the source material's more simplified roots. The film is almost like a horror movie, where there is this constant sense of unease or dread, making you feel as if you too might be going a little mad just like our main characters. It embraces the story's twisted tone, filling it with imagery that will enchant, entice, and just plain bewilder its audience. Sometimes all at once, and it's damn near magical (In an unnerving sort of way). 

One of the main selling points are the performances, and everyone shows up to bring their all, proving that great dialogue can stand the test of time, especially when it's delivered through spectacularly epic monologues. Denzel Washington looks like he's been waiting for a moment like this, and just tears into what he's given without mercy. It's the kind of performance that this kind of work calls for, commanding that you pay attention to every nuance, every movement, and every expression, as all it plays a part in the role. Frances McDormand is of course as brilliant as you'd expect her to be, relishing this very much demanding role and having a good time doing so. There is a collection of fantastic performances all around, from Alex Hassell (as "Ross", a messenger for Macbeth, with his own motivations), Harry Melling (as "Malcolm", the heir to Duncan's throne), Bertie Carvel, Moses Ingram (as "Lady Macduff", who gets a quiet, soon to be tragic scene), an entertainingly peculiar Stephen Root (as a drunkard, though still eccentrically eloquent porter), and a fascinatingly twisted (Sometimes literally) Kathryn Hunter. A major scene-stealer ends up being Corey Hawkins, who I always appreciated as an actor, but I really had no idea had this kind of screen power. 

"The Tragedy of Macbeth" tells a story that you've either read at some point in high school, have seen it adapted in some way, or even just seen parodied, the film has its own distinct way of conveying that classic tale. A visual masterpiece for sure, featuring spellbinding performances and a subtle sense of brutality. It feels like this was what was envisioned within William Shakespeare's head when he first wrote the play. A feverish, unrelentingly unearthly descent into derangement. It's beautiful, terrifying, and gives one the same captivating experience of the most prestigious theater sound stage, except you know, in the grandest of cinemas. 4 Stars. Rated R For Shocking Violence, Human Thesauruses, And Crazy Contortion. 

The Matrix Resurrections                                                                               ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So, in this reality, are there any transmissible viruses we should know about?" 

After all these years, I had never actually seen any of the "Matrix" movies until a little over a month ago. Maybe that's a good thing, because after going on a binge of the franchise, I got to look at them with fresh eyes. I never saw the brilliance that others did with the original (Though there were always hints of something special), and never understood the hate for the sequels considering that they had some of the same flaws as the first. Overall to me, they were big, bombastic, occasionally smart, rather silly, and exceptionally fun blockbusters, and it shouldn't be too surprising that this newest and shiniest entry is exactly that. Flaws and all. 

Years after the original "Matrix" trilogy, "The Matrix Resurrections" opens with the One, "Neo"....or in this case, "Thomas Anderson" (Keanu Reeves), is living a rather humdrum life as a famous game designer, years after the release of his cutting edge "Matrix" video game series. Mr. Anderson has been going through a stressful time, plagued by strange images of a past he's sure he's lived, dealing with his snarky business partner, "Smith" (Jonathan Groff), pining for a woman that he's never met named "Trinity", I mean, "Tiffany" (Carrie--Anne Moss), seeing a therapist (Neil Patrick Harris), and taking loads of blue pills to keep himself in line. Mr. Anderson is then confronted by the white rabbit tattoo wearing "Bugs" (Jessica Henwick) and a new "Morpheus" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who explain that he's once again living a lie inside this much more deadly form of The Matrix, with the war with the Machines having become much more complicated in recent years. Mr. Anderson, once again becoming Neo, has to unite the resistance against a much more powerful threat, while hoping to be reunited with Trinity. Weird how relatively short that plot description is compared to how complicated it later gets. That's how you know it's a "Matrix" movie. 

Directed by the returning Lana Wachowski, who also co-wrote the screenplay with David Mitchell and Aleksander Hemon, "The Matrix Resurrections" doesn't waste time with those philosophical questions meant to both enlighten and intentionally befuddle. It's as frustrating and preposterous as ever, and yet, boy is it the stuff that movie theaters are made of. The movie retains the insanely imaginative and excessively choreographed action that you've come to expect, and these wild sequences are like elaborate, violent dances, always happening in the most unconventional of places. There are also some captivating ideas that show signs of the franchise growing and leaving itself open for more, such as some slight meta-commentary on the franchise itself, along with an evolutionary state for the machines and the programs within the Matrix (Such as zombie-like bots that are randomly activated to tear apart anyone in sight). The dialogue though, as usual, can be a bit too much at times. Sure there's some humor sprinkled in there (And it works more than it doesn't), but it's so overwritten in parts that it can become hard to follow. A good portion of the second act is when the film gets the most confusing, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I was straight up lost in parts. However, none of that is at all shocking considering all the previous films would do that to, and regardless, I still wanted to go along for the ride. 

Keanu Reeves really brings his A-Game here, saying so much with a simple expression, and just proving how great an actor he can be in the right role. This movie also features some of the best chemistry between him and an equally excellent Carrie-Anne Moss, which was a relationship I could never fully get into before until now. They don't even share too many scenes together, though you can see the sparks between the characters and how comfortable the two actors are. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is solid, though doesn't quite reach the same level of gravitas that Laurence Fishburne was able to achieve, while Jessica Henwick is a great new addition to the cast of characters. While it's hard to top Hugo Weaving's scene-stealing performance, Jonathan Groff is still a delight and doesn't waste any time hogging the spotlight, while Neil Patrick Harris looks like he's having a damn good time smarming it up. There are quite a few other returning actors and characters, such as Jade Pinkett Smith (as "Niobe", who has now become a general for the human resistance) in old woman makeup, though some work better than others. Um, who exactly was clamoring for the return of Lambert Wilson (as "The Merovingian", who has become a deranged hobo since the last film for some reason)? Of course there are things that don't add up, no matter how hard the film tries to claim that they do. Still though, that's kind of part of the charm of these movies.

"The Matrix Resurrections" has exhilarating action, some memorable characters, and more than a few rather though provoking themes, along with the typical mumbo jumbo and silliness that comes with it. It's like watching a really cool video game, where the logistics aren't what's really important, but rather the insane, admittedly convoluted road that was taken to get there. It's got nothing on more successful, more mature blockbusters (Seen "Spider-Man: No Way Home" again already? Well, you should!), but it's got the kind of popcorn thrills that one wouldn't mind experiencing again. So long as you take the right pill, that is. 3 Stars. Rated R For Violence And Language, Though It's Pretty Tame By R Rating Standards. Like An Edgy PG-13.           

Sing 2                                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Pigs can stay for Christmas dinner....The rest of you can go. 

Maybe it's the holiday spirit finding its way into my body, or I could just be in a really good mood lately. I'm going to level with everyone and admit that this movie isn't anything particularly special, original, and it sure as heck has nothing on some of this year's far superior animated films. I know this. You know this. Even the filmmakers know this. We all know what this is. It just sets out to be something simple and fun for every age, and yeah, I had some. In fact, I had a lot of it. 

"Sing 2" follows up with the characters from the first one, with showman koala, "Buster Moon" (Matthew McConaughey), having his colorful crew, consisting of singing mother pig, "Rosita" (Reese Witherspoon), teenage pianist gorilla, "Johnny" (Taron Egerton), shy singing elephant, "Meena" (Tori Kelly), and the overly excitable pig, "Gunter" (Nick Kroll), putting on a show at their local theater to impress snooty dog talent scout "Suki" (Chelsea Peretti). Suki however, thinks that Buster's show is cute for the kids, but overall bland and therefore bad (Is this meta commentary? This feels like meta commentary of some kind). Luckily, Buster is a determined little koala, who brings his crew, along with punk rock porcupine, "Ash" (Scarlett Johansson) and Buster's senile iguana assistant, "Miss Crawly" (Garth Jennings), to travel to  "Redshore City" (Think Vegas for animals), where they perform for wolf entertainment mogul/possible mobster, "Jimmy Crystal" (Bobby Cannavale), who only shows interest when Gunter suggests a wildly imaginative space-opera musical, featuring songs by the world famous lion, "Clay Calloway" (Bono), who vanished from the public eye, living in solitude after the death of his wife. Buster, in a moment of desperation, lies to Crystal by saying that he can actually get Calloway to be a part of the show. Crystal gives Buster and his crew everything they need to get the show running, though assures Buster that if he fails to live up to expectations that he'll throw him off the roof (Something Crystal may or may not mean literally). 

Of course the show goes wildly wrong instantly. Rosita is too scared to perform the show's biggest stunt, leading to her role being replaced by Crystal's spoiled daughter, "Porsha" (Halsey), who sure can sing, but sure can't act. Johnny is intimidated by his nightmarish monkey dance instructor, "Klaus Kickenklober" (Adam Buxton), so instead searching for dance lessons from local lynx street dancer, "Nooshy" (Letitia Wright). Meena faces some stage fright having to share a romantic number with ego-centric singing yak, "Darius" (Eric André), though she has formed a crush on another local elephant, "Alfonso" (Pharrell). Not to mention Gunter hasn't even figured out how the show is even supposed to end despite production already starting. Hardest of all is Buster tracking down and finding a way to convince Claw Calloway, who has sunk into depression, to come out of retirement, with Ash possibly being the only one who can convince him. With the show (And Buster's life) on the line, our heroes are once more left to pull everything together at the last minute in hopes of furthering their dreams. 

Written and directed by Garth Jennings (Returning from the first film), and from "Illumination" (The ones with the "Minions", in case you somehow forgot), "Sing 2" isn't too much different from the first film. It's a safe, by the numbers story, with stock characters, pop songs used whenever the plot demanded, and few surprises. The first film was certainly a good time (And yeah, it obviously made a decent amount of money), but nothing that I could see too many people clamoring for a continuation of. It worked for what it was and not much else, and for something that lacks many surprises, the biggest ends up being just how much of a blast this one is. It's not exactly grand or anything all that unique, though that's not the point. Much like its lead characters, it gets by on a charming sense of optimism and child-like wonder, which no matter how much I tried to resist, brought a smile to my face. The animation is bouncy, full of colors, and only gets more showstopping as the film progresses. There are a few delightful song choices (And some "U2" thrown in there, so that's an automatic recommendation), and it leads to some admittedly solid musical sequences, especially towards the end. The big finale is a joy to watch, to the point that I'd actually see a show like this being a massive success. What the film really needs to get right is the heart and humor, and it's very sweet natured. With that said, most of all, it's actually very funny. There's a lot of well timed jokes and slapstick, which should get a reaction out of both the kids and the adults. 

These aren't the deepest of characters, though they are too dang likable, even when some of them feel like obligated returns. An unrecognizable and wonderfully optimistic Matthew McConaughey leads a rather inspired ensemble, which also includes solid voicework from Reese Witherspoon, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, and Letitia Wright. Some standouts include Nick Kroll, Halsey, a hilarious Eric André, an uncredited (And bizarrely amusing) Spike Jonze (as "Jerry", Crystal's coat toady), and actually Garth Jenning's Miss Crawly (Who gets some of the film's biggest laughs). Bobby Cannavale makes for an amusing and rather frightening villain (Whose vicious nature kind of caught me off guard), and the subplot between Scarlett Johansson and a terrific Bono is very heartwarming. In fact, the emotion is a lot more real than a movie like this would normally allow for. 

Making for one of Illumination's more memorable films, "Sing 2" isn't complicated, doesn't offer much unpredictability, and is certainly nothing compared to say, Disney's "Encanto". Again though, none of this is news to anyone. The movie isn't going for awards season. It's going for the heart, setting out to make the family laugh, and offer an imaginative form of entertainment. Lighthearted amusement all around, and it made even the cynical film critic in me wanna join in the merrymaking. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Goofy Humor, Literal Eye Popping Visuals, And Attempted Homicide.....That's Actually Not A Joke. 

The King's Man                                                                                                ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Yes, this really is based on a true story. Sort of. Very Loosely based."

I really have to ask. Is Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass", "X-Men: First Class", "Kingsman: The Secret Service", along with its sequel "The Golden Circle") doing okay? I'm honestly a little worried. He may be a bit nutty.

Serving as a prequel to the "Kingsman" franchise, "The King's Man" follows respectable gentleman, "Orlando Oxford" (Ralph Fiennes), who after the death of his wife, has become determined to protect his son, "Conrad" (Harris Dickinson), at all costs, mostly by keeping him out of current political affairs that have begun to take deadly turns. As a favor to a friend, the renowned British officer, "Herbert Kitchener" (Charles Dance), Orlando and Conrad visit Austria to investigate some suspicious activity, where they witness the assassination of "Archduke Franza Ferdinand" at the hands of "Gavrilo Princip" (Joel Basman). It turns out that Princip is part of a flock of dastardly villains working behind the scenes, including German advisor, "Erik Jan Hanussen" (Daniel Brühl), exotic dancer and spy, "Mata Hari" (Valerie Pachner), and the exceedingly vicious/always horny, "Grigori Rasputin" (Rhys Ifans). 

The baddies are led by a vile, crass, and always shrouded in shadow mastermind referred to as "The Shepherd", who plots to manipulate world leaders/feuding cousins, "King George" (Tom Hollander), "Kaiser Wilhelm" (Tom Hollander again), and "Tsar Nicholas" (Tom Hollander once more), into a great world war, that will decimate anyone caught in the crossfire. Conrad wishes to fight for his country, but Orlando offers a more refined alternative. Orlando brings his son into his own little behind the scenes organization, which includes his skilled butler, "Shola" (Djimon Hounsou), and highly intelligent nanny, "Polly" (Gemma Arterton), who will work in secret to prevent the world from falling into chaos. With their distinguished fighting prowess, eyes for espionage, and always remembering to retain their manners, this group will combat the nefarious villains, save the world from destruction, and become the tailor shop hidden, well dressed heroes that we know them to be today. 

Directed once again by Matthew Vaughn (Who also co-wrote the film with Karl Gajdusek) and based on the comic "The Secret Service" by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, "The King's Man" could possibly be one of the most baffling movies I've seen all year. The film forgoes some of the traditional aspects of the franchise, such as the goofy James Bond-esque gadgetry, the comical storylines, and almost all of the humor, in favor of a legit and rather dark war epic......that still features over the top supervillains, quirky dialogue, and loads of horrifically bloody violence. It's a jarring mix of ideas and themes that feel out of place compared to where the series' roots began. What's even more perplexing is that with everything considered, it's all shockingly well done for the most part. It's a beautifully directed film, where at times the drama does kind of hit hard and the action is as you would expect, gloriously stylized and even a little mesmerizing. (The franchise has always been known for crazy, constantly moving action setpieces) There's a delightfully unhinged battle against a dancing Rasputin, along with a admittedly frightening, down and dirty war scene involving the front lines in the trenches. All of this is so well directed and even a little captivating. It's also really confusing, especially when the film will cut back to the maniacal machinations going on behind the war or some silly exposition. The film is still plenty goofy, yet the film takes itself about 85% seriously, and while I can see how that's meant to be the joke, I can also see how one could look at the film as just violent, inconsistent trash. 

I feel that this film, unlike the first two, doesn't quite have as many characters that stand out as much as they should. Ralph Fiennes is an exception, and he's still brilliant in the film. Sophisticated, charming, and brutally badass when the time comes, Fiennes is perfectly cast and shows that he's not only a great actor, but one Hell of an action star as well. Our other heroes are less memorable. Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, and Gemma Arterton are all very good in the film, though most of the time don't stand out all that much (The latter two especially). The heroes feel bland by comparison to the villains, which is something this franchise has always excelled at (Think James Bond villains, except on crack). Rhys Ifans is a deranged, scenery chewing joy (And he looks like he's just relishing every minute of it), Daniel Brühl is underutulized though he sneers his way through the film with gusto, and Tom Hollander's Wilhelm is amusingly buffoonish. (It's also a lot of fun to see how such cartoonish supervillains are manipulating world history to suit their needs) It's not too difficult to figure out who our true big bad is (Especially when you look at the full cast), but he still makes for a great, cackingly weird baddie and it's quite a sight to see this actor getting to go completely off the rails. 

A befuddling mix of "1917", with "G.I. Joe", with a bit of "Austin Powers", "The King's Man" is a mess, though a wildly entertaining one. It's a film that I can't really completely figure out who I could possibly recommend it to. Maybe to some of the more hardcore fans of the franchise, although those who prefer the off-kilter humor could be left disappointed. Not to mention those who aren't already fans are probably going to be thoroughly detested by this. I'm not sure how much of this actually works, yet it's certainly got that madcap sense of fun that we're accustomed to. It's different, and I gotta give Matthew Vaughn credit for committing to it, even if he may have lost his marbles in the process. (Also, stick around for one of the most inexplicably peculiar post credits scene put to film) 3 Stars. Rated R For Proper Foul Language, Proper Gruesome Violence, And Proper Manners. 

Nightmare Alley                                                                                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "No....We just can't compete with Spider Man....I know it."

It's funny how in "Spider-Man: No Way Home", Peter Parker goes out of his way to avoid having to kill people, when he went and brutally murdered every other movie playing in theaters right now. I know that none of this is exactly surprising but seeing those box office numbers was still pretty shocking (Poor "West Side Story"). Granted, when your new release choices are epic Spider-Man crossover versus seeing Bradley Cooper screw a lot of people (Literally and metaphorically), it's already a given. Still though, nothing else even made double digits this week. Barely $3 million? Yikes! 

Based on the book by William Lindsay Gresham (Which was previously adapted back in 1947), "Nightmare Alley" follows a drifter, "Stanton Carlisle" (Bradley Cooper), referred to as "Stan", who takes a job as a carny at a shady carnival, run by charismatic con man, "Clement Hoately" (Willem Dafoe). Stan works with Hoately to capture poor, homeless guys to force into performing as a geek (Not that kind of geek), learns the art of the psychic clairvoyance act from the drunkard "Pete" (David Strathairn) while fooling around with his wife, "Zeena" (Toni Collette), and trying to get with shy performer, "Molly" (Rooney Mara), who he later marries. Years later after learning all he needs to learn from Pete, Stan becomes a successful psychic act, performing for the rich and conning the Hell out of them. Stan becomes infatuated with seductive psychologist, "Lilith Ritter" (Cate Blanchett), working with her to pull fast ones over the elite. However, when Stan becomes involved with the powerful, though questionable "Ezra Grindle" (Richard Jenkins), he finds himself digging himself deeper and deeper into his own grave. 

Directed (And co-written with Kim Morgan) by Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth", "Hellboy", "The Shape of Water"), "Nightmare Alley" is dark and twisted, just as a love letter to old fashioned film noir should be. It's really quite cool to see this style of thriller  again, considering how few and far between they are these days (And not to mention, the closest in recent memory was early this year's thoroughly meh "Reminiscence"). Now there's a part of me after seeing this movie that fairly understands why we really don't see stuff like this anymore, but it's not to say that there isn't plenty to appreciate. One thing being how much you can tell Guillermo del Toro is in love with every beautifully crafted frame. It's a stunning looking movie, with impeccable set design and a certain moody atmosphere that del Toro excels at. It's visually striking, like a colorfully twisted children's book, except with more sleaze and violence. The movie does however feel a little too enamored with itself when it comes to the look, because the slow pace makes the two and a half hour runtime take quite a bit longer than it should (Been a lot of those lately). Some of this feels that way because of how the story is told (With the main plot not coming into play into about halfway through) and a whole lot of details that the film stops to focus on. It's all fascinating and not without its captivating moments, but there are times when you kind of want to pause it and get back to it later. 

Bradley Cooper is suitably slimy, toeing the line between complicated villain protagonist to just straight up full blown villain. He does an excellent job seeming like he could be decent, before something more immoral starts to seep out. Cate Blanchett is all kinds of dastardly and well, preposterously hot too at the same time. (You can just tell she is having a great time) Richard Jenkins and Rooney Mara are both fantastic, while the film limits the roles of others like Toni Colette, Ron Perlman (as "Bruno", a strongman who watches over Molly), David Strathairn, and a wonderfully nasty Willem Dafoe, along with a few other recognizable faces. However, everyone is brilliant in the film, even when the characters feel as if they're missing a little extra bit of development. Some of that may just be the story structure, but you do feel it especially the more you think about it. 

"Nightmare Alley" does lose some of its luster upon further meditation. Sometimes the screenplay and the tone don't gel the way it should, and it's hard to tell if that's just the genre being something dated or just the film itself just being a little disjointed. There is plenty to appreciate regardless. It's still a tense, very well acted thriller, that offers quite a few demented surprises especially once we reach the rather grisly last act. It's the kind of macabre that Guillermo del Toro relishes and only he can bring to the screen for the right audience. Even when that audience is you know, busy at "Spider-Man" right now. You can feel the morbid love, and that's what matters. 3 Stars. Rated R For Dark Adult Content, Heavy Subject Matter, And For Taking The Term "Knocking Someone's Block Off" To A Gory New Level. 

Spider-Man: No Way Home                                                                        ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "There are Trolls down there, spoiling every detail about my new film....These monsters must be stopped!"

Let's all take a moment to appreciate where we are right now, how we got here, and just comprehend what exactly is happening right now. First of all, a lot of us (Me especially) didn't even think this movie could possibly exist. Up until a few months ago, aside from the onslaughts of rumors and supposedly leaked information, which we all can't exactly take completely seriously half the time anyways, we had nothing to go on. Now we're finally here, and what we the fans are about to witness, this almost doesn't feel real. I'm going to need to leave a lot out of this review, because unlike "Variety", I know how to chill the f*ck out. All I can truly reveal to you guys is that this is the "Spider-Man" movie you've always dreamed of. Seriously, it's not going to get much better than this. 

Following the events of 2019's "Spider-Man: Far From Home", "Spider-Man: No Way Home" opens seconds after with the amazing friendly neighborhood, teenage web-slinger, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland), getting his identity exposed (Along with being framed for murder and terrorism) by the deceased supervillain, "Mysterio" (Previously played by Jake Gyllenhaal). His name and face has been blasted all over New York City and the rest of the world courtesy of the "Daily Bugle", run by the Spider-Man hating "J. Jonah Jameson" (J. K. Simmons). Getting out of the murder accusations aren't so difficult. The bigger issue is that Peter has come to realize that not only has his outing destroyed his life, but also those around him, such as his aunt, "May" (Marisa Tomei), his best friend/guy in the chair, "Ned Leeds" (Jacob Batalon), and his girlfriend, "Michelle Jones-Watson" (Zendaya), or "MJ" for short. To make matters worse, Peter's controversy has dashed his, Ned's, and MJ's chances for college. Out of desperation, Peter turns to the only person he knows that might possibly be able to fix everything, the powerful wizard "Dr. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch). Strange may not be able to change what's happened (No more Time Stone after all. See "Avengers: Endgame" for details), but he offers a solution, the use his magic to rewrite the memories of everyone in the world so that they forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Although Strange's partner/the current Sorcerer Supreme, "Wong" (A quick, but welcome Benedict Wong cameo), warns about the possible consequences. 

Sadly, Peter doesn't consider what extra details he wants to add in until the spell until partway through, resulting in a little magical mishap. Everything at first appears normal, until Peter is randomly attacked by an unknown (But familiar to us), mechanical tentacled assailant, "Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus" (Alfred Molina, reprising the role from "Spider-Man 2"). Turns out the ruined spell brought in a collection of Spider-Man villains from other universes, such as the electrically charged "Max Dillon/Electro" (Jamie Foxx, returning from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"), the reptilian "Curt Connors/Lizard" (Rhys Ifans, from "The Amazing Spider-Man"), the living sandstorm criminal "Flint Marko/Sandman" (Thomas Haden Church, from "Spider-Man 3"), and most deadly of all, the maniacal "Norman Osborn/Green Goblin" (Willem Dafoe, returning from the original 2002 "Spider-Man"). The mere existence of these mulitversal baddies has put all of reality into severe jeopardy, and Doctor Strange has instructed Peter, who brings along Ned and MJ, to track them down and capture them, while he looks for a way to send them back to their respective universes. However, when he soon discovers what dark fates await these villains, Peter cant find himself able to go through it and look for an alternative way of saving the multiverse. This not only puts him at odds with Doctor Strange, yet also causes Peter to face the fateful consequences and sacrifices that come with being a hero.   

Directed once again by Jon Watts, along with returning writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers ("The LEGO Batman Movie", "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), "Spider-Man: No Way Home" feels like the culmination in not just the trilogy set in the still growing and glowing "Marvel Cinematic Universe", but also the culmination in decades of superhero/comic book filmmaking. Similar to 2018's animated masterpiece "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse", there are loads of fan service, references, and multiversal madness. All of which could be a complete narrative disaster, leaving the uninitiated lost in all the chaos. It could also easily become excessive and overly reliant on appeasing the fanbase at the expense of itself. I'm happy to report that none of that happens. With great direction and skillful writing, the film keeps its focus, never getting lost in the wild whirlpool of cinematic callbacks. In fact, the film stands on its own as a conclusion to this trilogy, along with a hint at the infinite possibilities to come. 

Like the first two films, Watts retains the film's low stakes and small scale setting, but that's only at first. The screenplay is still loaded with that Marvel charm and humor, which makes the characters so endearing and likable, feeling light and breezy for only the first act. The film slowly starts to unravel something a bit heavier about its lead character and what he's meant to stand for, heading into completely brand new territory with a compelling and mature look into a more complicated moral dilemma. The film gets more serious as the tone gets darker. In some ways, this may be the darkest of the "Spider-Man" films, due to how the filmmakers compliment what's come before it and tweaks it in unique ways. It also addresses a different look into the complications of a secret identity, seeing how at some point, it more becomes a source of ridicule for propaganda based media, those who just want to use it for their own benefit, and as usual, something that people just lose interest in due to how unremarkable it all now seems (One of the things I love best about the MCU is how real they've made everything feel, complete with how the world no longer seems too fazed by superhero antics). This all leads to a lot of good laughs as expected, but also some truly heartwrenching (And surprisingly all too real) drama. It feels like this is the first of the live-action "Spider-Man" movies to fully grasp the more of the tragedy that comes with this character than ever before, and it feels that everything from the previous films was actually leading up to this all along. 

The film also looks spectacular, though again, when it comes to Marvel, it's hard to even praise that anymore since we're so used to it by now. It's a lot of grand scale effects at work here, which look lively. Where the film's visuals truly excel though are when it comes to the elaborate action sequences, which throw everything than can possibly be thrown in. There's an especially jaw dropping sequence involving Peter and Strange's tussle within the trippy, Inception-esque Mirror Dimension, which in IMAX, completely blows your mind. I can't even get into some of the more insane moments once we reach the third act, which even then, never forgets how human the film's characters are and in the end, that's what sells the film's heart. All the action and fan service is great and all, and yet, if the characters aren't strong enough, this entire ordeal would have felt false. 

Tom Holland IS Spider-Man to me as of right now. Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful iterations that have come before him (Also counting the instant classic PS4 game). However, I feel that he's at this point fully encompassed everything that I've always loved about the titular spider guy. He's funny and full of quips, smart yet so naive and prone to silly mistakes, and so kind-natured almost to a fault. Holland also has amazing chemistry with everyone around him, especially Zendaya (Which yeah, you could tell they are dating in real life even if they hadn't said anything), who is quite adorable, charming, and contributes more than most superhero love interests. Benedict Cumberbatch damn near steals a good chunk of the film, being a great foil to our hero and even reminding the audience about his character's mostly unseen vulnerability. There are some excellent (And still very important) supporting roles for Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, and Jon Favreau (as "Happy Hogan", who still has the hots for Aunt May), who are all characters that you just like seeing and continuously wish to follow. There are quite a few villains and the film has to juggle some screentime between them, though somehow is able to give them their own definitive role without making the rest of the story feel like a mess. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church get the least important roles (Though are both plenty of fun regardless), while Jamie Foxx gets to add a lot more personality to the once divisive baddie, and Alfred Molina once again reminds us why his incarnation of the character is so remembered. Willem Dafoe is once again totally brilliant, taking full command of the scenery, and even adding in a little extra depth than what we've previously seen before (Also, it's nice that the filmmakers realized that he's much scarier without that mask on. Much, much scarier!). It's also very cathartic to have J. K. Simmons back, because he just makes everything better. 

There is so much about "Spider-Man: No Way Home" to get into, and so much that I can't tell you. It would be the ultimate disservice to let you know any more. The film is exactly the kind of cinematic fun that packed movie theaters are made for, and regardless of that, it knows that it's going to have to have something a little more if it's going to stand out or justify its existence. It goes to much more mature places, feeling like the conclusion to the ultimate coming of age story, that's full of heart, humor, and something a little darker. The film has everything that we love most about Spider-Man himself, such as the silly wit, the heroics, and the tragedy, which hits you a lot harder than you would expect. (I swear, I heard grown men sniffling in this auditorium!) Spectacular. Sensational. Superior. Amazing. Pretty much all of the words that would best describe it. One of the Spider's best. One of Marvel's best. It's one of the best movies of the year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Web-Slinging Action, With Great Power Comes Great Depression, And The Pain It Will Cause Your Face To Suffer From All Of The Excessive Smiling. Trust Me. You'll Be Doing That A Lot.   

West Side Story                                                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Now we settle this....Through the power of dance!"

We're going through a sort of Musical Renaissance right now, where my top personal ten movies of the year (At least for right now. Still got a few weeks left in 2021) has quite a few musicals duking it out for a spot on there. They now have no choice but to all get behind this one. Look guys. It's Spielberg, doing a classic story, with the ultimate crew of talented people, and the title for the "Best Movie of 2021" may have just been coveted. (Disclaimer: If something else just so happens to pop up before the year ends to take that spot, this portion of the review should be considered in need of an update. But I probably won't come back and change it because I'm lazy.)  

Based on the 1957 musical created by the late Arthur Laurents, the late Leonard Bernstein, the late Jerome Robbins, and the recently taken from us Stephen Sondheim (As well as the 1961 adaptation directed by both Robbins and Robert Wise), "West Side Story" is set in 1950s New York City, right in the middle of a gang war between "The Jets" (Who are made up of the white working class) and "The Sharks" (Who are made up of struggling Puerto Ricans). The leader of the Jets, "Riff" (Mike Faist), has a distrust of his changing neighborhood, while the leader of the Sharks, "Bernardo" (David Alvarez), sees nothing but racism everywhere he goes, with their feud starting to further escalate. While at a dance, where the Jets plan to challenge the Sharks to a rumble (Big fight to determine who gets complete control of the territory, despite the fact that it's destined to be bulldozed over for the rich and elite), Bernardo's sister, "María" (Rachel Zegler), takes an instant liking to the recently released from prison (But really wanting to start fresh and avoid any kind of conflict) "Tony" (Ansel Elgort). It's love at first sight, but the couple's feelings for give the rival gangs yet another excuse for the upcoming rumble. All the hatred, bigotry, and fear threatens to tear everything apart, with Tony and María caught directly in the middle, and if you know the story (Or if you just know "Romeo & Juliet"), this is going to be an inspiring, happy, crowdpleasing tale that's totally going to end well......Yeah......Happily ever after.....Right?......R-Right?

Directed by freakin Steven Spielberg (You know the guy. I don't need to list that filmography), with a screenplay by Tony Kushner ("Lincoln"), "West Side Story" shouldn't work, or at least, shouldn't necessarily be anything special. I may have never gotten around to seeing the 1961 film (And obviously I've never seen any rendition of the musical), but it's a story that everybody knows in some capacity. It's also one that's so beloved by many critics and audiences. You're left wondering what the point is, and pretty early on, Spielberg lets you know that he has a new vision to bring to the screen, even if you know where it's all going. The film is a brilliant contrast between light and dark, being joyful, colorful, and whimsically romantic, before stepping into more grim, dirty, and woefully tragic territory. It's like the harsh reality of the world just pops up to ruthlessly shiv what first appears as a cheerful romance. It's a credit too to the source material, which is so relevant (And probably always will be) and hits so hard, where you are left frustrated at how moronic many of the characters are acting, and yet, you can totally see this entire ordeal happening. (In ways, it probably already has) The screenplay handles it so well, and knows how to lull you into a state of bliss so that you're unprepared for when the sh*t goes down. Thankfully, the film isn't all gloom and doom. It's no surprise that Spielberg you know, can direct a film beautifully and quite possibly get himself another Oscar nomination out of it. Somehow though, I'm still blown away by what he does here. It's so grand and epic, yet small scaled and even a little claustrophobic. You're left in awe of the musical and dance numbers, in which each and every single one is memorable, and you can see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them. (They're all great, though the wonderfully toe-tapping "America" and the ultra powerful "A Boy Like That" really are something magical)

The film also gathers a rather unconventional ensemble, filled with standouts both big and small. We should probably address the Elgort in the room first though. Taking out the more real life questionable activities that he may or may not have done (He probably did though. That tends to be the case usually), Ansel Elgort is still good in the film, though could be seen as the weakest link. He does a solid job regardless and some of it is because he's likely the least interesting of the characters. It's mostly because everyone else is just too amazing by comparison. Ariana DeBose is commanding in her role, enveloping the screen with her natural onscreen strength. David Alvarez and Mike Faist (Both of which could have so easily have gone wrong, or could be brought down to simple, one dimensional villains), are wonderfully complex and even with their antagonistic flaws, there is something that you like about them. You see why people gravitate towards them, and at least understand how they have found themselves almost intentionally trapped in a deadly situation, but never quite grasping the severity of it until it's too late. Some excellent supporting parts from Corey Stoll (as "Lieutenant Schrank", and his terrifying head of hair), Josh Andrés Rivera (as "Chino", María's would be love interest), and a returning Rita Moreno (as "Valentina", Tony's boss and wise, mentoring figure), just steals the spotlight as she rightfully should. Some actors and actresses appear in small capacities, yet leave their mark. However, the real star of the film is newcomer Rachel Zegler (In her first ever film appearance and who also just so happened to have played María once before at in a school production at the Bergen Performing Arts Center). Zegler is a real life Disney princess, flawlessly radiant, and thoroughly captivating. Whether she's singing, dancing, or otherwise, you can't take your eyes off of her whenever she's onscreen. I can't stress enough how magnetic Zegler really is, to the point where she actually brought me to tears. Actual tears. (Yeah, I'm man enough to admit it!)

"West Side Story" could quite possibly be one of the best musicals that I've seen in theater. It's glorious filmed, with lively songs and dance numbers, a tremendous cast worthy of award appreciation (Rachel Zegler just broke my heart. Completely shattered it), and timeless themes of significance that I really wish people today would take to heart. You can feel the passion that went into this, and you become enthralled by it. It mixes the old, with the new, without ever feeling the need to alienate anyone. (And not to mention, at over two and a half hours, you never feel it) A spellbinding experience that may have been seen before, but stands as its own masterpiece. Spielberg hits it out of the park, and afterwards, you feel ashamed for ever really doubting him. It's gonna be a real challenge to top this one. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Gang Violence, Doomed Romances, Menacing Snapping Of The Fingers, And Corey Stoll's Hair. (I Can't Be The Only One Terrified. That Man Must Always Be Bald!) 

Tick, Tick... BOOM!                                                                                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'll order the Oscar nomination, please!"

I'm a little late on this one, considering it's been on Netflix for almost a month now. It would almost seem unnecessary to do a review of it by this point. However, whenever I give a film my highest rating, I just gotta full duty to make sure these films get the acknowledgement that all great films are in dire need of. I would be a bad critic if I didn't bug you annoyingly to see a movie that you would likely just ignore without me. Fear not! I'm here for you! Ok, that was a little theatrical, but it fits the film.

Based on the semi-autobiographical stage musical of the same name by the late Jonathan Larson, "Tick, Tick... Boom!" follows "Jonathan Larson" (Andrew Gardfield) himself, who at this point is a struggling aspiring writer, who has been working on his passion project, an epic musical rock opera called "Superbia", for longer than he had ever wished to. With his thirtieth birthday coming up (And all the existential dread that comes with it), Jonathan tries to balance out his commitment to making his dream a reality, along with his diner job, his relationship with his soon to be leaving girlfriend, "Susan" (Alexandra Shipp), his more successful best friend, "Michael" (Robin de Jesús), and the fear that he may in fact be working hard for nothing. Tasked to come up with one more winning musical number for his upcoming workshop, suggested by his idol, "Stephen Sondheim" (Bradley Whitford), Jonathan's efforts at keeping his life in check become more and more jaded, especially with his growing anxiety (Described in the form of a constant ticking sound) further threatening to bring everything crashing down. 

Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Seriously, can that man like settle down and rest? No normal, sane person can constantly be this busy!), "Tick, Tick,... Boom!" continues 2021's trend of having some great musicals, that Lin-Manuel Miranda has diabolically unleashed on now both the Broadway and theater-going public. Miranda shows that he has a rather unique way of direction, which gives off the sensation that one would see in a Broadway musical, such as brief intercut narrations sequences and gorgeously put together musical numbers that actual rival earlier this year's "In The Heights" (Something I already gave immense praise for). These are some glorious showstoppers, that range from delightful and funny to powerful and emotional. There's a lot of pain in the film, and it's the kind that hits any aspiring writer where it hurts. The film doesn't hold back in how draining the creative process can be, and how it just doesn't always seem that it's even going anywhere. The screenplay by Steven Levenson ("Dear Evan Hansen". Obviously, this is the superior film right here), juggles a sense of humor, along with tense, very real themes that are handled respectfully. It leads to a few moments that pull at your heart, without being too overly saturated in sentimentality. 

Andrew Garfield shows to be one of those multi-talented actors, with so much more range than I think people give him credit for. He gives the real life subject a soul, to go with the eventual tragedy. We see the brilliance and the joy that accompanied him, along with the flaws for good measure. Still though, even when he makes mistakes, you can see the reasoning behind it and deep down, you do wonder how often you've probably done the same whether it be for your career or just for a personal dream. I also had no idea he could sing. (Spider-Man can sing. Who knew?) Robin de Jesús is also wonderful (And dear God, he gets one of the most heart-wrenching numbers), along with an excellent Alexandra Shipp and a phenomenal Vanessa Hudgens (as "Karessa", one of the performers in Jonathan's play). The film also stuffs in loads of cameos and Easter Eggs that you theater buffs are probably going to lose your minds over, along with a small, but memorable appearance from Bradley Whitford. 

 "Tick, Tick,... Boom!" is a whimsical, fun, musical extravaganza that's equally toe-tapping but also all too real. It shows the wonder and beauty that comes out of the creative struggle, along with the heartbreak and just plain misery that happens to accompany it. It feels like a genuine tribute to the real life Jonathan Larson, and it erupts off the screen beautifully, even though I watched it on Netflix on my pretty mediocre sized TV. Inspiring to anyone still yearning to make their passion a reality, and even more so for those theater nerds, who I bet were moved more than anyone else. To those just curious, please don't overlook this film like so many other possibly great artists already have been. It's worthy of your time. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Harsh Reality, Headache Inducing Stress, And A Late Quarter Life Crisis.

House of Gucci                                                                                                   ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wassa' Matta' For me!!! Wassa Matta for you!!!"

This Thanksgiving week has been a bit of a rough one. Nothing bad's happened and in fact, it was all around pretty nice (After 2020, just being able to see people around the holidays feels like a novelty now). I've also had a lot of working to do, school stuff, exams, essays, loads of movies to see at late times, and the urge to pass out, so I'm kind of having to just dump all of these movie reviews at once. (And I'm not even going to get into all the other award hopefuls that none of you are going to see without me repeatedly pestering you about) Busy guy right here, but I let myself get distracted, even if I have to toss in a few reviews all at once. 

Inspired-ish by true events, "House of Gucci" follows "Patrizia Reggiani" (Lady Gaga), as she meets and falls in love with "Maurizio Gucci" (Adam Driver), the heir to the immensely wealthy luxury fashion house, which is called as you would expect, "Gucci". Maurizio's father, "Rodolfo Gucci" (Jeremy Irons), doesn't approve of his son's intent to marry Patrizia, cutting him off from all financial ties. Patrizia and Maurizio are married, have a baby, and form relationships with others in the Gucci family, such as Maurizio's uncle, "Aldo" (Al Pacino) and the buffoonish "Paolo" (Jared Leto). After some time, Rodolfo starts to fall in health, and makes amends with Maurizio before his death, leaving his estate to his son, along with his role as a major stockholder in the Gucci business. Patrizia's ambitions start to grow, integrating her own ideas into the family business, which Maurizio complies to, though they soon find themselves at a disagreement with Aldo. Through some skillful manipulation and Paolo's stupidity, Patrizia and Maurizio are able to push Aldo out, eventually though, causing more friction to fragile business affairs. Things get more complicated and shady, with Patrizia and Maurizio's relationship crumbling, along with lies, deception, betrayals, and some good old fashioned murder, all about to come to a head. 

Directed by Ridley Scott (Who just released "The Last Duel" a few months ago), with a screenplay by Becky Johnston ("The Prince of Tides"), "House of Gucci" is more based on the book, "The House of Gucci: A Sensual Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" by Sara Gray Forden, and as you can tell, has the making for something very fascinating. It's a crazy story, and knowing the fact that a lot of it actually happened, only makes it more delightfully bonkers. The film isn't without that wild sense of glamorously exquisite insanity, though it's hard to tell what's meant to be campy and what isn't. The film suffers from a lot of odd tonal shifts, which don't always feel intentional. Trying to figure out a film's tone for almost three hours is not exactly the way that one should want to spend Thanksgiving at 11:35 at night. The film gives off a bit of a silly, soap opera-ish feel, and while I'm sure that the real life story lends itself to such a thing, a bit more of a balance would be nice. As for Ridley Scott's eye for direction, the film looks great and certainly luxurious, with a certain scummy sensation in the center. The dialogue can be a bit more hit and miss, with a few lets just say, awkward lines (Mostly from Jared Leto. More on that wackiness later). 

The final product may be inconsistent, but one thing that's certainly deserving of acclaim is Lady Gaga, who shows off just how much range she can have as an actress (Comparing this to her Oscar nominated role in "A Star Is Born", and they couldn't be any more different). Even with the accent (Which really just is what it is), she mercilessly grabs your attention, showing to be a figure that's both terrifying, halfway respectable, and even a little sympathetic at times. (When it comes down to it, she was probably the smartest person in the entire family) She has some good chemistry with Adam Driver, who also plays spineless very well. Al Pacino does his best Al Pacino, while Jeremy Irons doesn't even bother with an accent, though he's so refined and regal that you don't really mind. Salma Hayek (as "Giuseppina Auriemma", a psychic that Patrizia seeks for guidance, and apparently contributed to the later infamous murder. Seriously!) doesn't appear much, though still does a fine job and seems to be having fun. Then we get to the big man himself, Jared Leto. I feel that this role is unintentionally an insane trip down into this madman's psyche, where his character sees himself as brilliant and underappreciated, though repeatedly does weird, idiotic stuff, which nobody even asked him to do. Under the admittedly impressive makeup job, Leto is basically wearing the Italian form of blackface, channeling a bizarre Italian stereotype, that's certainly entertaining to watch. (The Academy should in all honestly consider a new category for "Most WTF Performance" of the year. Let's just say that it makes you think they should reconsider that Chris Pratt's "Super Mario" casting for completely different reasons now)

"House of Gucci" is a lot of fun, but not in the most elegant of ways. For what it is, it's an entertainingly goofy look into the greed and sensationalism that comes with far too much money and hubris. It's also a bit too long, too tonally varying, and just lacks that extra final polish to be something more worthy of awards season. It still features some spectacularly memorable performances from Lady Gaga and Jared Leto (Though for him, it's for a completely different reason), and could make for a good time if you were to see it in the middle of the afternoon. I don't recommend it any later than that though. It's one of those  long, not so great movies that sure can take a lot out of you. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Irresponsible Italians, And Jared Leto's Puzzling Chocolate And Sh*t Analogy. Possibly The Strangest Thing I've Ever Seen Come Out Of A Man's Mouth, And I Live In Austin, Texas.    

Encanto                                                                                                           ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Mucho Gusto.

By this point in a way, it could seem almost like an insult to leave yet another Disney animated musical saying to yourself "Another day, another Disney classic"......but yeah, another day, another Disney classic. What can I really say anymore? When they get it right, they create real magic. It's their gift. 

In Walt Disney Pictures' sixtieth animated feature, "Encanto" follows the "Madrigal" family, who reside in a living, magical house referred to as "Casita", which has also bestowed upon the family unique abilities (Or "Gifts"). With "Abuela Alma" (María Cecilia Botero) as the head matriarch, the family consists of a wide variety of colorful characters, such as our lovable (Though ungifted) heroine, "Mirabel" (Stephanie Beatriz), along with her parents, "Agustin" (Wilmer Valderrama) and "Julieta" (Angie Cepeda), who can heal people with food, and two sisters, the super strong "Luisa" (Jessica Darrow) and the seemingly always perfect "Isabela" (Diane Guerrero), with the power to make flowers bloom. There's also Mirabel's uncle, "Félix" (Mauro Castillo) and her aunt "Pepa" (Carolina Gaitán), whose emotions control the weather, along her cousins, the shapeshifting "Camilo" (Rhenzy Feliz), "Dolores" (Adassa) who has super hearing that can hear everything, and "Antonio" (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), who is being prepped for the Casita to present him with his gift (The ability to communicate with animals). 

There's also the mysterious, black sheep of the family, "Bruno" (John Leguizamo), who had the ability to see the future and went completely insane one day before vanishing (They don't talk about Bruno). Mirabel continuously feels out of place, compared to the amazing things the rest of her family can do, not just for each other but also for the rest of the community. However, Mirabel starts to notice strange cracks within the house, similar to what Uncle Bruno had seen before his disappearance. When nobody else believes her (Or in some cases, doesn't want to believe her), Maribel sets out to solve the mystery behind  what could possibly be causing the magic to die, along with discovering how someone seemingly not to special can do to save it. 

Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush ("Zootopia"), with a co-directing credit to Charise Castro Smith, along with a screenplay by both Bush and Smith, "Encanto" doesn't adhere to the Disney traditional formula. It's a musical and it's plenty magical, but there's a lot of the trademarks of what we've come to expect from the usual Disney fare. There's no princess. No villain. No big stakes. Nothing really fairy tale-esque either. The movie looks like it would follow those tropes, but at its heart, it's a family conflict. It's a family oriented story, that just so happens to have whimsical elements. It's very slice of life, where some characters just so happen to have magical superpowers. Similar to Pixar's "Luca", it's not about how grand it is. What makes the film special is how much it's able to resonate with any kind of possible group of moviegoers out there, thanks to it's memorable characters, stunning animation, amazing songs, and messages that the entire family can learn from. Even though the film never leaves its one simple location, the lush looking animation is full of colorful life, with each character large or small, getting to shine when necessary. They have so much personality even when they aren't speaking, while the setting itself feels like it could be a real place that you find yourself just lost in. 

The variety of music and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Who also contributed to the story because the man is constantly working, apparently), are wondrous and showstopping. Not a single song is too similar to one another, and each serve a purpose, getting across the right emotions, matching when the animators decide to cut loose, and are just plain loads of fun to watch. It's the kind of soundtrack though where you wanna get it for the musical numbers, but also just to appreciate the film's rather soothing score. It's as if Disney can't resist finding new and inventive ways to create the kind of music you feel the urge to listen to simply on its own. 

The film features an unforgettable cast of characters, with Stephanie Beatriz being what carries the film as our easy to identify with heroine. She's funny, charming, endearing, and never wallows in her own problems, even though her situation is very reasonable. It's also cool to see a Disney lead who has to take charge of a conflict completely on her own, though never at the expense of the rest of the cast. John Leguizamo is a scene-stealer, getting some of the film's funniest moments, while his character animation straight up emulates Leguizamo's mannerisms in a delightfully spirited fashion. Lots of the characters have more to them than they at first expect, with María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, and Jessica Darrow being particular standouts. And of course, Disney's new good luck charm, Alan Tudyk gets to appear in some capacity (This time providing um, toucan noises for a toucan named "Pico"). It's a rather diverse cast of characters, right down to the variety of skin tones, which is something that even a lot of our live-action films tend to struggle to allow for. 

Sometimes you don't have to go big to create a real winner for the whole family. "Encanto" is small scale, but filled with everything we already know that Disney has proven time and time again to do wonderfully. It's not so much surprising that it's another great addition to the always growing Disney canon. What's different this time is what the film seemingly does with so little. It has such a timeless feel that it can feel relevant at any time, with any audience, no matter the age. The Disney magic is more subtle this time, yet nonetheless something to bring the family together during the holidays in the most positive way possible. Disney owns our hearts and souls, and we've handed them over willingly. We'll certainly do it again the next time too. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Familial Dysfunction, Though Plenty Wholesome Stuff Overall.  

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City                                                         ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Mother Licker!

Guess what guys? I'm one of you now! I've finally started playing through the "Resident Evil" video games! Well, I played the second and third game remakes (With the second probably being one of my all time favorites), still currently going through "Resident Evil 4", watched a whole bunch of cutscenes from some of the more secondary games, and played some of the original classic.....before I found myself completely lost, screwing myself over on the collecting of certain items, and I would have had to do so much backtracking that I just went and watched a playthrough of it. I dig the franchise though. A lot. Good action/horror is hard to find, and the less said about what Paul W.S. Anderson did to the franchise, the better. 

A hybrid amalgamation of the first two games (Along with a few other aspects sprinkled on top), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" follows "Claire Redfield" (Kaya Scodelario), as she returns to the now doomed "Raccoon City", the soon to be former home of operations for the totally not villainous pharmaceutical giant, "The Umbrella Corporation", headed by the questionable scientist, "Dr. William Birkin" (Neal McDonough). Claire has always known something wasn't right about what Umbrella has been doing over the years, though her brother, "Chris" (Robbie Amell), has never believed her. However, it becomes apparent that Claire was right all along, as Umbrella's years of experimentation on the town have resulted in a zombie outbreak, and now she's caught in the middle of it. Meanwhile, Raccoon City's special tactics group, "STARS", consisting of Chris, "Jill Valentine" (Hannah John-Kamen), "Albert Wesker" (Tom Hopper), and some redshirts, are sent to investigate the infamous "Spencer Mansion", where little do they know, sh*t is about to go down and Umbrella's secrets are just waiting to be let out. Also meanwhile, the Raccoon Police Department is left mostly unguarded, with the exception of rookie cop, "Leon S. Kennedy" (Avan Jogia), and da chief, "Brian Irons" (Donal Logue), who are now trapped as the zombies start to overtake the entire town. Claire makes her way to the police department, where she and Leon try to find a way to the mansion to find her brother, before Umbrella takes it upon themselves to cover up what they've done by leveling what's left of Raccoon City. 

Written and directed by Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" is by far the best of the live-action "Resident Evil" films, completely rebooting it from the ground up, and instead focusing on doing something that actually resembles the game it's meant to be adapting. It's still not very good, but hey, they listened. Then again, they didn't exactly listen in a good way. To get some positive thoughts out of the way, the film seems to have the right idea, toying with the late 90s setting as it straight up goes for late 90s action/horror B movie vibe, complete with a grimy look. Johannes Roberts is one of those guys who I feel is trying to have his own sense of stylistic flair, even when the budget is clearly not up to par. It's a cool looking movie when it comes to the set design, which look exactly like the locations from the game. (The mansion and the police department feel as if they just popped to life on the big screen) Not to mention, loads of references that range from annoyingly Easter Eggy to actually pretty cleverly woven into the story in some capacity (There's a rather great creepy moment where Claire and Leon discover old film footage involving the "Ashford" twins, which is an almost shot for shot recreation of that sequence from one of the games) I'm really glad I've been going through this series because it made really appreciate all of the genuine attention to detail. There's also a couple fun sequences of dark humor, especially when it comes to some of the amusing music cues (A burning man walking into the police station while "Crush" by Jennifer Paige is playing in the background is actually a pretty memorable little moment) and some cool creature appearances (The grotesque "Lickers" are just as terrifying here as they were in "Resident Evil 2")

The film sadly falls apart in a lot of other places, and those end up being the places that matter. The plot structure is all jumbled, trying to throw in whatever it can despite it either not making a whole lot of sense or just not having the budget necessary to do what the games have the capabilities of doing. It's funny how the film seems to have a 90s aesthetic considering how the special effects look like something that would have been considered bad even by 90s movie standards (The CGI feels even more poorly rendered than what you'd see in one of the older games). The dialogue is also subpar, lacking the character and personality that elevate the games past its sillier aspects (Plus some rather cheesy name drops, where every single character is addressed by their full name when they walk into the film). On the bright side, it's about as gory and over the top as the games, just lacking in the fun. The hard work thrown into the details of how the game looks and feels are to be commended, but its at the expense of what actually makes for a good movie. 

There are quite a few solid casting choices, such as Kaya Scodelario, getting the character's tough personality down right (And is probably the only character to actually give a crap about). Hannah John-Kamen isn't a bad choice, though she doesn't get much of a role, while Neal McDonough gets to ham it up as our villain and Donal Logue is actually an excellent choice for his character (Sadly, his role gets cut nearly by 75%). Robbie Amell is pretty milquetoast (Then again, so is Chris. So there's that. Send your hate mail), while Avan Jogia gets turned into a complete and utter moron. Tom Hopper is by far the worst casting choice, with the film trying to give the fan favorite villain some extra backstory, but it all falls flat due to how little screen presence he has (They completely butcher this character). Some characters like "Lisa Trevor" (Played by Marina Mazepa), a deformed girl experimented on by Umbrella, get a little extra depth, though most of the rest of the important players from the games get either cut out completely or serve no purpose (They did "Sherry" wrong!).

"Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" has the fanservice and some potential in parts, making for something that could be halfway enjoyable with the right audience. However, the last fifteen to twenty minutes are absolute garbage, rushing to a quick, almost nonexistent climax, and featuring one of the worst Post Credits scenes I've ever seen. It's rather half-assed, and it's like the filmmakers just ran out of time (And money) to make it work. It feels like there could have been a way to make this all work, though what you've got imagined in your head is probably much better (Plus, if you've already played the games, you already know there's a better version). It's more itchy than tasty. 2 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Gore, Zombie Violence, Random F-Bombs, And A Jill Sandwich. 

King Richard                                                                                                   ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: And 44 combined Major Championships later....

For a biopic such as this, you need to come to an early understanding of a few things. As usual, something is going to be left out. In fact, a lot is likely going to be left out for the sake of drama or just for the sake of the inspiration the story has generated. Nobody should be surprised anymore and if the real people involved are okay with it, none of us have any actual stake in it. This is the story they wanted told, and it all comes down to how well its brought to screen. 

"King Richard" follows the life of "Richard Williams" (Will Smith), the father of "Venus" (Saniyya Sidney) and "Serena" (Demi Singleton). Richard is determined to ensure Venus and Serena's tennis success by any means, though it all has to go according to the plan that he's laid out, even if it doesn't always make complete sense. (Or really any sense at all actually) After some coaching from tennis expert, "Paul Cohen" (Tony Goldwyn), Venus already shows signs of promise in the Juniors Circuit, before Richard signs up both daughters with another coach, "Rick Macci" (Jon Bernthal), before taking his entire family to Florida. However, Richard insists that his way is the way to go, even though it goes against what every expert would say, but against all odds, Venus and Serena prove to be the superstars that Richard somehow always knew they were destined to be. 

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Monsters and Men"), with a screenplay by Zach Baylin, "King Richard" leaves out some details, as to be expected, but wisely makes up for it in other ways. First off, it embraces the themes and trademarks of the standard sports biographical drama, while also competently avoiding some of the genre's pratfalls or just simply remembering why the average audience is generally willing to forgive them. Green's direction is slick and well paced, never dragging, and always keeping itself focused on the subject at the center. It's Richard Williams' story through and through, but there's always something else going on and the film balances these various moments in their lives in a way that feels naturally cinematic, without feeling the need to overdramatize things. It's a story, that spans over a good amount of time, which could be easily made into just another corny, Oscar-baity crowdpleaser. (Far too often these kinds of movies end up doing more of a disservice to the subjects at hand, instead of actually telling their story) It's all edited so well, keeping the pace moving, with a screenplay that keeps the film from going too far. There's drama, humor, character, and even a little sports action, which is all explained in a way that a complete sports idiot like myself can thoroughly understand. 

Obviously one of the selling points is Will Smith, who is just as phenomenal as others have been saying. In fact, it's almost frighteningly uncanny just how much he captures the real Richard Williams' look, voice, and subtle mannerisms. However, it never feels as if he's just copying a real life person. It's a truly transformative performance that reels you in and demands to retain your attention. Equally wonderful are Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who feel like natural teens, while Aunjanue Ellis is a total powerhouse (She gives Richard a rather epic humbling moment partway through). There are also some excellent supporting parts from Tony Goldwyn (Who you can really feel the frustration for) and a scene-stealing Jon Bernthal (And his award worthy mustache). 

"King Richard" intentionally leaves out a few details that hold it back from reaching top tier greatness, though it's not to say that the film doesn't occasionally find its way to at least emulating such a standard. It's still an inspiring, touching story that can be related to anyone of any demographic, with memorable performances worthy of award season, and slick, pitch perfection direction, that knows how to appeal to an audience looking to cheer, without going for schmaltz. A family drama that definitely has a place among lists of movies to take your kids to during the holidays. Everyone's gonna get something out of it in the end. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Drama And Poor Sportsmanship. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife                                                                                     ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Mother Puss Bucket!" 

We can all agree to be civil about this one right? The last time we talked about "Ghostbusters" (With the Paul Feig's 2016 attempt at a reboot) a certain madness took over the internet. Downvoting trailers on YouTube, death threats, lots of unbridled nerd anger, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.....Mass Hysteria! (Sorry, I had to work that reference in there somewhere). So let me address to the true fans who have just been clamoring for a proper continuation that you're gonna get much of what you wanted. Let me address to the sexist dudebros that there are in fact penises in this movie, so don't you worry about that. And to also address to those just looking for a fun family movie night this weekend, yyyyeah, this actually works better for you guys than anyone else. 

Decades after the previous two films, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" follows the young and socially awkward "Phoebe" (Mckenna Grace), as she, along with her single mother, "Callie" (Carrie Coon) and brother, "Trevor" (Finn Wolfhard), are evicted from their home, with nothing else to their name aside from a small, run down farmhouse located just outside of a rural town in Oklahoma, that was left behind by their mysterious, recently deceased grandfather. The town is very simple, where nothing appears to ever be happening, with the exception of the occasional random (And somewhat questionable) earthquake. Phoebe decides to do some investigating around, discovering some of his grandfather's secrets, such as a certain car with a ghost logo, a mechanical trap with something otherworldly contained inside, and some familiar looking proton packs. Teaming up with her new school buddy, "Podcast" (Logan Kim) and their fanboy teacher, "Gary Grooberson" (Paul Rudd), Phoebe discovers that her grandfather was in fact a "Ghostbuster". Our new heroes also learn that the earthquakes, as well as other strange occurrences are all connected to a terrifying apocalyptic event decades in the making just ready to unleash literal Hell on Earth. With the threat of ghosts, demonic terror dogs, and a certain familiar ancient evil, all ready to put an end to the world of the living, these new Ghostbusters must step up to the challenge, prove that they ain't afraid of no ghosts, and save the world. All good stuff. 

Directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Up in the Air", "Tully"), the son of previous "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is a legacy film of sorts, with a lot to live up to, and lots of ready to pounce fans ready to attack if things go remotely wrong. (I mean, I grew up with the original too and regularly quote it, but not all of us nerdy fanboys need to be dicks about it) The film has its flaws and seems to intentionally fall short of greatness towards the end, but nonetheless remains a cleverly done, fast, funny, and all around heartwarming smaller scale adventure that can really just appeal to anyone. For any gender, age, or movie preference, there's something that can appeal to a general audience regardless. That's something the film does rather brilliantly. It's never too adult, but with just enough of an edge so that the entire family can have a good time. The film starts off incredibly strong, easing the audience into the already established franchise by exploring it through fresh eyes. The references are kept to a minimal, the new characters are all endearing, and the atmosphere only builds. The screenplay by Reitman and Gil Kenan ("Monster House") is fast and smart when it comes to its humor, but sincere and calm when it comes to its drama. Its a slow, but charming buildup that works more than it doesn't, though some later issues become more apparent in the third act. The quieter story seems to go for broke when he reach the near hour and a half portion, delivering loads of fan service and easter eggs, resulting in a chaotic and slightly rushed finale. A lot happens over the course of twenty or thirty minutes, with a lot of it being difficult to process. We get some creatures from the first film making appearances, our big bad revealed, some familiar plot points getting rehashed, a random character actor cameo, and it culminates in an explosive, CGI heavy climax. The essentially starts off as "The Force Awakens" (Introducing the new, while also honoring the classics), before taking a dive into becoming "The Rise of Skywalker" (Just giving the audience what they want, even if it doesn't always add up simply because the fans need to be made happy) It's not to say that there still isn't plenty to enjoy, because there certainly is. The effects are better than solid, with plenty of good laughs, and our obvious last second cameos that I'm sure all the fans have been dreaming of for years. You kind of have to take the good and great, with the mostly meh.

The cast is utterly fantastic however. Mckenna Grace is just a talented little actress, and I'm continuously amazed by her wide range of roles, along with how convincing she always is no matter what it is. Finn Wolfhard gets to snark it up, while Logan Kim's overly excitable attitude is instantly lovable. Celeste O'Connor (as "Lucky", Trevor's crush and the fourth member of the group), gets the smaller part, though still gets just enough time to prove herself as part of the new team. Paul Rudd is of course charming as Hell, and has some better than necessary chemistry with Carrie Coon (Both of which appear to be loving the entire experience). As for the ghosts and monsters, they're fine and look cool. However, I'd say something the reboot had over this one was more originality and creativity when it came to its creatures. (Although a sequence involving homicidal/suicidal mini-Stay Puff Marshmallow Men is quite hilarious). And yes, the cameos from returning franchise cast members (I don't think I even have to mention them by name), are a delight for sure, yet also rather sincere, even if their inclusion feels a bit last second. 

While it eventually descends into nostalgic appeasement and slight pandering (You know, the climax really is just "The Rise of Skywalker" with Ghostbusters), "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" offers plenty of likability, wit, and family friendly wonderment throughout, even if it falls short of greatness almost purposefully. The film clearly means something special to the filmmakers and it's most apparent once we reach a certain major, rather impressively done reveal. Is it cloying and maybe a little manipulative? Sure, but it still feels genuine. It's so heartwarming and sweet that I'd have to be a complete dick to not give this a positive review. The film is just fun, and the perfect time for longtime fans, while also bringing in a few new younger ones. It's "Ghostbusters." Whaddaya want? 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Humor, Scary Images, And The Brief Splitting Of Human Flesh. Not To Mention All That Marshmallow Carnage. Still Pretty Tame Stuff For The Kids Though.

Home Sweet Home Alone                                                                            No Stars out of ★★★★

Image: Kyle Rittenhouse prepares to take the law into his own hands.

I haven't the slightest idea what in the name of the good grace of God was the plan here. Remake? Sequel? Reboot? Reinvention? Desecration? How about an obliteration of the goodness that's meant to come out of the holiday season in some kind of desperate attempt to make a little extra money off of a beloved property? I'm not mad here. I didn't pay for this, and who can mad at film studios trying to make money like they always do? It's just that this one is fascinatingly vile. 

A continuation of sorts of the modern Christmas classic "Home Alone" that nobody in the world wanted, "Home Sweet Home Alone" follows a selfish little sh*t, "Max Mercer" (Archie Yates), who is frustrated that his really worn out mother, "Carol" (Aisling Bea), has invited the whole family over for Christmas. While taking a contrived stop at the house of financial struggling parents, "Jeff" (Rob Delaney) and "Pam" (Ellie Kemper), Max is believed to have stolen a hideous, though rather valuable doll from the couple. As usual, the Mercer family departs, accidentally leaving Max home alone for the holiday. Meanwhile, Jeff and Pam plan to break into the Mercer residence to take back the doll, not knowing that Max is preparing to fortify his house into a weaponized stronghold. I actually simplified a bit of this plot, because most of that doesn't happen until almost an hour in. Just know you need to keep your kids away from this one, and just plain avoid it yourself. For the sake of my love of critiquing terrible movies (And the fact that it's actually been a while since I've seen one this bad. Like several months), let me delve more into what's wrong here.

Directed, a term I use loosely, by Dan Mazer ("Dirty Grandpa"), with what's listed as a screenplay by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (Both having written for "Saturday Night Live), "Home Sweet Home Alone" is a movie that only has the wrong ideas on its mind, somehow gets all of those ideas wrong, and just plain all around feels wrong in every sense of the word. Released through "Disney+" (Although the film is quick to show off that "20th Century Studios" logo so that they can take the blame for it), the film is hard to decipher. The already spontaneously cobbled together plot makes less sense the more one thinks about it, and the main selling (Being the various improvised and fairly deadly traps our lead uses to fend off the burglars) doesn't actually come into play until nearly an hour in. What happens first involves some poor excuses for comedy, lazy attempts at holiday time whimsy, and a lot of surprise cruelty. The lack of anything remotely funny is bad enough as it is, but most of the characters, ranging from grotesquely moronic to obnoxiously mean spirited, only make the hour and a half long runtime feel like an eternity. Obviously the humor and heart of the original is nowhere to be found, and it even lacks the basic repeated premise of the sequels. (There were like four of them) 

Archie Yates (Who was previously quite the scene-stealer in "Jojo Rabbit"), is thoroughly detestable and bratty, despite the apparent film not seeming to realize it. Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper are trying and tragically failing at every chance to get something funny out of their roles, coming across as more sympathetic that our actual main character (Though their relentless stupidity make them almost as deplorable). The film features plenty of funny people, such as Chris Parnell (as "Uncle Stu", Max's uncle who gets like two or three lines), Andy Daly (as "Mike", Max's father, who I think only gets like one line), and Kenan Thompson (as "Gavin", Jeff and Pam's real estate agent, who just looks like he's in an insane asylum), getting nothing funny to do. The closest connection this film has to the original "Home Alone" is the very, very brief appearance from Devin Ratray (as "Buzz McCallister", who has become a cop, and a rather incompetent one at that), and even then, it feels tacked on. I also just feel bad for Aisling Bea, who just looks so sad every time she's on screen. 

With full direction, insultingly basic traps and gags, and a predictable last second reveal that makes the whole ordeal even more pointless than it already is, "Home Sweet Home Alone" is the kind of Hell that you can't look away from. No jokes work. No actor can save it. Scenes don't go anywhere. Nothing adds up. Nothing comes together. It's a rare film where anything and everything falls flat on its face, though in a way that almost needs to be seen to be truly believed. It's not just the worst movie I've seen all year. It's gotta be the worst movie I've seen in at least three or four years. To call it an early lump of coal in one's Christmas stocking would be both unoriginal and an insult to the constructive things one could do with coal. It's more as if Santa just left you a massive dump in the stocking instead. You're too befuddled to even get upset, and you're not sure what you did you deserve it. No Stars. Rated PG For Unpleasant Children, Unpleasant Adults, And All Around Unpleasantness. Christmas is cancelled!

Belfast                                                                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wow, this movie we're in is amazing!"

This has been described by Kenneth Branagh himself as his "Most personal film", and it really didn't hit me until the end as to why. It's actually quite obvious when you get down to it, and it puts a whole new perspective on every single frame of the film's bittersweet, semi-storybook like appeal. Not to mention, it's already a wonderfully, beautiful, and warm natured little film as it is.  

Taking place in the real life place of the same name, "Belfast" follows the childhood of a young Protestant boy,  "Buddy" (Jude Hill), during the middle of the Norther Ireland Conflict (Or "The Troubles"), who lives with his brother, "Will" (Lewis McAskie), and their parents, simply referred to as "Ma" (Caitríona Balfe) and "Pa" (Jamie Dornan). Tensions between Catholics and Protestants are growing, while we follow Buddy as he navigates a few awkward moments in his life, such as his crush on one of his classmates, "Catherine" (Olive Tennant), the urging of his more troublemaking cousin, "Moira" (Lara McDonnell), to join a gang that she's a part of, and his loving relationship with his grandparents, simply referred to as "Granny" (Judi Dench) and "Pop" (Ciarán Hinds). Current events though start to make their way home, with Pa, who is always away on work, starting to worry about the progressively deteriorating situation, only worsened by the threatening demands of a Protestant unionist, "Billy Clanton" (Colin Morgan), forcing people to either contribute through payments or by joining in the chaos. (He's basically turning everyone into wannabe terrorists) Pa wants to get his family out of Belfast, though Ma can't even imagine leaving a place that she and her family have lived their entire lives. Buddy, who is only a spectator in these events, soon realizes that the world he knows is about to change, whether or not he's exactly prepared for it. 

Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Belfast" is as you can tell clearly inspired in some way by his own early life, and that feeling of comforting nostalgia remains, even though you know that there's something much darker, that's mostly left offscreen. It's not the film glossing over important details. Instead, it's showing us how life was like during this difficult, rather twisted time, through the eyes of pure innocence. Even if you don't know anything about what's really going on (Honestly, I really didn't know all that much in detail), anybody from anywhere can relate to at one point in their youth. You don't have to know what's going on to know that it's something serious. Branagh takes a more unique approach to the subject, filling the film with intentionally misplaced child-like whimsy, simple slice of life storytelling, and most shockingly, a lot of humor. It's actually a pretty funny at times, with charming characters and witty dialogue that are meant to put a happy mask over the situation. It's never cloying in that regard, taking a simplified route, but also never in the slight way. The decision to be presented in black and white only enhances that, giving off a classical feel (Though moments of color seep through at rather fascinating moments. I don't even know why, though it's certainly aesthetically appealing). You're lulled by the sense of wonder, which instead of focusing on the bad at hand, you're able to see the odd beauty that many of the characters see, along with why many of them would rather stick it out and stay in spite of the violent times. 

The film features a remarkable cast, with an outstanding Jude Hill, carrying the film through his winning smile and impossible not to love attitude. This kid amazingly can carry this film, even though it's also got several other top notch performances. Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan have winning chemistry, making for one of this year's best onscreen duos. You totally get where each of their perspectives are coming from, and sympathize with the fear of what will be lost whether or not they actually leave their little hometown. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are also both worthy of recognition, providing emotional sincere supporting roles (While I can't say I cried at all during the film, there is a rather moving, yet still humorous exchange involving Ciarán Hinds, that honestly got me a little choked up. Maybe it's because I remember having conversations like this with my own grandpa). Colin Morgan does an excellent job playing the kind of would-be gangster that you fear ever getting into a position of power, while Jude Hill's mini-subplot with Olive Tennant is just too precious not to love. There are also rather brief roles that each result in something memorable. You don't know everybody's name, but you feel like you know the character personally once their part is done, which really brings the setting to cinematic life. 

"Belfast" is a film about finding some light in the darkest of times, hanging onto the way one's always been living, but also being forced to accept upcoming changes. The film can be soft, sweet, and simple, or more grandiose, before possibly getting into a heavier area, though remains tonally consistent all the way through. This is best shown through a variety of sequences, such as a terrific sequence involving Jamie Dornan belting out "Everlasting Love", a quiet moment involving Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds recounting their youth, and an incredibly intense standoff in the midst of a violent riot. The film may not appear to say much, but it hits you in unanticipated ways. One of the best films of the year, and one of the most thoughtful in recent memory. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Emotional Material And Lots Of Thick Irish Accents.

Clifford the Big Red Dog                                                                                 ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I don't think there's a ShamWow big enough to clean that up."

With this and "Paw Patrol: The Movie", I refuse to believe that I live in a world where I'm either semi-recommending (Or even straight up recommending it) to people in my age group. The fact that I can say one is legitimately better than the other and can go into more detail than necessary as to why, has made me realize that topics like these aren't exactly something I should bring up on a first date. Maybe the second, if we get there. 

Based on the beloved books by Norman Bridwell (Along with a cartoon that ran on PBS), "Clifford the Big Red Dog" opens with "Clifford" the small red dog losing his family, only to be found by the appropriately named, "Mr. Bridwell" (John Cleese), who runs a semi-magical animal rescue center. One young girl, "Emily Elizabeth Howard" (Darby Camp), feels lonely and out of place, with her mother, "Maggie" (Sienna Guillory), going away on a business trip, leaving her to be watched over by Emily's completely incompetent uncle, "Casey" (Jack Whitehall). Emily and Casey come across Bridwell's center, where she immediately takes a shine to Clifford. The following night, Emily randomly finds Clifford in her school backpack (Did she not open that all day?), and Casey allows her to keep him for the night. Remembering Mr. Bridwell's kind words about how Clifford will grow depending on how much she loves him, Casey wakes up the next morning to find that Clifford has apparently become a miniature Kaiju, capable of all kinds of destruction. (But he's still a total sweetheart, so it's ok) Emily and Casey set out to return Clifford to Bridwell (Who has apparently vanished off the face of the Earth), while a shady genetics company "Lifegro", run by the devious "Zack Tieran" (Tony Hale), schemes to get his hands on Clifford for his own desires, while the dog himself becomes a quick sensation all over New York City. 

Directed by Walt Becker ("Van Wilder", "Wild Hogs", "Old Dogs", "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip".....Yikes....), with a screenplay for some reason written by three people, "Clifford the Big Red Dog" has all the trappings of a grotesquely horrible and thoroughly insulting excuse for a kids movie, which we're used to giving so many others like it a bad name. It's a live-action and animated hybrid, with a more realistically designed CGI makeover for a beloved character, a predictable plot, and of course, a few more toilet based jokes than any of us want. These faults are still there and they still bring the movie down. However, it's either the filmmakers just bringing their A game in spite of it or maybe even a little more love and passion than we're used to, but the final product ends up becoming much better and at least, more likable than I doubt anyone expected it would be. The film actually starts out fairly strong, with a heartbreaking opening involving Clifford's loss of his family, along with a solid setup for a sweet story about a girl and her magical giant dog. Of course the film becomes more generic as it goes along, though it works well for an undemanding family audience. It gives me vibes similar to "Dora and the Lost City of Gold", where is seems semi-catering to those who grew up with the property, having a good laugh to a degree at it, while also embracing what made the source material worked in the past. I'd say that movie is a bit better than this one (It was just more clever and tried to get away from the most basic of kids movies), especially since the screenplay and story don't standout the more the film goes on. This plot doesn't make all that much sense (I'm not exactly sure how the evil corporation was planning on getting away with any of this), and the film has no intention to explaining the details. With that said though, none of this is surprising. You can never get mad at a movie for doing what its intended to, and to give director Walt Becker some credit (Again, considering his filmography), the film is well made and looks like a movie that you'd see belonging in theaters. When one compares it to all those other live-action hybrids (Like "The Smurfs", "Garfield", and all those darn Chipmunks), it's a freakin cinematic masterpiece.

Another thing that stands out about the film is Jack Whitehall, who looks very committed to the film. He gets a lot of laughs, especially with his reactions to the absurdity, while also just being really likable as well. Darby Camp is a solid young actress and does sell a lot of the film's heartwarming moments, while Izaac Wang (as "Owen", one of Emily's classmates, who has a crush on her) is quite the surprise scene-stealer. Some of the supporting cast also gives better performances than I would say a movie like this requires, such as an amusingly despicable Tony Hale, along with a few chuckles from David Alan Grier (as "Mr. Packard", an overly controlling superintendent) and Kenan Thompson (as a veterinarian, who reacts about as realistically as one logically should when meeting a giant dog of destruction, with more confusion than anything). Sienna Guillory doesn't really have a role, which is spent mostly offscreen, while John Cleese is suitably whimsical. Once you get past the mediocre (And sometimes, slightly frightening) visual effects, Clifford is a cute creation, and the movie does address the pitfalls of his massive size in a more realistic setting, which leads to more than a few genuinely funny moments. (That dog's tail will literally send someone flying) 

For a movie such as this, it just has to get two things right to at least stand out in some way (And being good is not one of them), be cute and be quick. Thankfully, the film succeeds there. "Clifford the Big Red Dog" is simple, silly, and isn't without its weaker kiddie moments (Pee jokes. You gotta have em!), but also offers enough warmth and sugary sweetness to make for something good for the kids, and pleasant enough for the adults. (Although since it's available on "Paramount+" as well in theaters, I'd say that's a better place to check it out) I gave this a positive review. We really are in weird times. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For A Couple Jokes That'll Go Over The Kids' Heads, But Still Works As Something 100% Harmless. 

Spencer                                                                                                           ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Literally, a splitting image

Can we cut it out with the "Twilight" jokes now? Yeah those movies were pretty crappy, but it's almost been a decade. By this point, the only one keeping that franchise alive is your needlessly blind outrage. Not to mention, there have been much worse movies since then. I think it's time we moved on. The actors sure did, and now one of them has an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination to look forward to. 

Taking place at Christmas time, "Spencer" follows "Diana, Princess of Wales, née Spencer" (Kristen Stewart), during the final days of her marriage to "Prince Charles" (Jack Farthing). Spending the holiday at the estate of "Queen Elizabeth II" (Stella Gonet), with her two boys, "William" (Jack Nielen) and "Harry" (Freddie Spry), and it is not just strained in her relationship with Charles (Due to him being a cheating pig), but with the rest of the royal family, who have instructed "Major Allistair Gregory" (Timothy Spall) to keep an eye on things.....Mostly her. Mentally and emotionally distressed, Diana struggles to retain herself, while also keeping up the oh so important appearances that the royal family demands and what's expected of her, regardless of fairness. 

Directed by Pablo Larrain ("Jackie"), "Spencer" takes a fascinating real life figure, and crafts a semi-whimsical (And sort of eerie) dramatization about who she was, what she experienced, and what turmoil she kept hidden behind a much loved smile. It's not a biopic. It kind of borders on a psychological horror movie to a degree, with atmospheric imagery, and long, unnerving moments of drawn out dread, which range from artistically bombastic to fairly subtle. This is a very hard tone to balance, especially with a real person and rather heavy themes, involving topics of sexism and mental health. The screenplay by Steven Knight ("Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"), is able to keep things contained and respectful, while also incorporating Larrain's flare for the surreal and dramatic. It's not to say though that there's anything wrong with Larrain's direction. In fact, it's quite brilliant in how it remains glamorous, yet gloomy at the same time, giving the sensation that you too are trapped in a rather lovely, though crushingly controlling insane asylum (That also just so happens to have some cute corgis running around). It does somewhat feel though that this stylistic choice might be offputting to some. There are hallucinogenic moments (Such as Diana seeing an apparition of "Anne Boleyn" in random spots), that will either further distress some as intended, or just leave others completely bewildered.   

Regardless of how certain audiences will react to the overall execution, nobody can logically argue with how stunning Kristen Stewart's work here is. It's a truly beautiful performance that doesn't remotely feel like someone just getting into makeup, putting on a costume, and playing a part that many will recognize. It doesn't even really feel like a performance. You don't see Kristen Stewart. You see Princess Diana. That's just her on screen, and the film wisely knows to always keep her in focus no matter what. That doesn't mean that other players don't get moments to shine. Sean Harris (as "Darren McGrady", the royal chef, serving as an emotional shoulder for Diana) and Sally Hawkins (as "Maggie", a royal dresser, who Diana has befriended) are both warm presences, while Jack Farthing is all kinds of snide. Not to mention a terrific, though really easy to hate Timothy Spall. 

"Spencer" isn't something that I can see being up everyone's alley. The surrealism can be seen as a bit strange, but feels fitting in a way. It only adds to the inner dejection and in spite of it, Kristen Stewart commands the screen so well that it comes across as completely natural. Intentionally offputting, effectively heartbreaking, and in its own way, uplifting. Under the melancholy, there is something hopeful despite knowing where Princess Diana's story would later tragically conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Emotional Abuse. 

Eternals                                                                                                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I think they're a bit overdressed for spring break if you ask me.

Alright guys! It finally happened. The day we all feared. With twenty six films, a couple TV shows, and much more on the way, the perfect streak "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has enjoyed has come to an end. This is the first film to not get a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's especially noticeable when they're used to such high scores that DC fans have assumed that Disney just paid all the critics off. Although it still better than "Batman v Superman". Gotta stoke the fire just a little right there.   

"Eternals" follows a group of super-powered, human-esque beings, from the planet "Olympia", who were sent to Earth thousands of years ago by the god-like "Celestial", "Arishem" (Voiced by David Kaye). These "Eternals" as they're called (I mean, it is the title of the movie after all), consist of their leader "Ajak" (Salma Hayek), along with "Sersi" (Gemma Chan) who can manipulate matter, "Ikaris" (Richard Madden) who is essentially Scottish Superman, "Kingo" (Kumail Nanjiani) the wisecracker, "Sprite" (Lia McHugh) who can make illusions though is forever trapped in a twelve year old's body, "Phastos" (Brian Tyree Henry) the inventor, "Makkari" (Lauren Ridloff) who is gifted with super speed, "Druig" (Barry Keoghan) with the power to control minds, "Gilgamesh" (Don Lee) the most physically powerful, and the warrior goddess "Thena" (Angelina Jolie). These beings have watched over humanity for centuries, and due to Arishem's orders, have never been allowed to interfere with whatever f*cked up thing that humans tend to do to each other. Instead, the Eternals' mission in life is to face off against these reptilian tentacle monsters called "Deviants", seemingly defeating the creatures at some point in history. Now after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" (The whole "Thanos" wiping out half the universe, then the "Avengers" bringing everybody back thing. No big deal), and everyone has moved on in their lives. 

Former lovers Sersi and Ikaris have broken up, leaving Sersi to start a new relationship with perfectly nice guy, "Dane Whitman" (Kit Harrington), along with keeping Sprite around. However, they are attacked by new, more powerful deviants, leading to a reunion with Ikaris. It seems that the Deviants are back as part of some kind of world ending event called "The Emergence", and the Eternals only have a limited amount of time to stop it. Sersi, Ikaris, and Sprite set out to track down the other Eternals, who have all also gone in different directions (Such as Kingo becoming a Bollywood superstar, Gilgamesh taking care of an ailing Thena, Druig refusing to participate in the overly strict rules from the Celestials, etc.). While the Deviants show signs of evolution, such as the more intelligent "Kro" (Voiced by Bill Skarsgård), Sersi discovers more about Arishem's intent and the true purpose of their mission, causing a question of their very existence and their presumed role in protecting the people of Earth. 

Directed (And Co-Written) by the Oscar Winning Chloé Zhao ("The Rider" and the most recent Best Picture winner "Nomadland") and based on the characters by Jack Kirby (Anyone familiar with his work shouldn't be all that surprised), "Eternals" is quite possibly the most original property to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn't always adhere to certain traditions, and takes us through ideas that only those most knowledgeable of Marvel comics lore might possibly know about. And boy, is it a lot to take in. The film is almost too much all at once, with so much story, exposition, and details to iron out, that it's so easy to get lost in all the excess. It doesn't exactly help that the film is told out of order in some places, and while other more recent comic book films (Like "The Suicide Squad" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings") did it much better, it can be a little jarring, especially when most of these non-linear moments involve important plot points that feel oddly explained at times. It can feel a little messy in spots, and it's something that tends to plague many projects with high aspirations for something more. Gripes like that prevent the film from truly reaching the greatness it seems to hope to achieve, but never dilutes what works with the film, and for what actually does work, it's certainly something special. It's rather refreshing to see that Marvel is content enough to try out some new, more bizarre tricks, and a lot of the film feels very much experimental. Anyone familiar with Chloé Zhao's work, knows that she has an eye for beautiful, somber imagery, and while the film has plenty of that, the scope and spectacle that she brings to the screen, is astounding. From the very first shot alone, you can feel her handiwork, and it's only further enhanced by the top notch visual effects. (The introduction to the Celestial, Arishem, is absolutely terrifying in IMAX. He just envelopes the entire screen, making you feel insignificant by comparison) From the terrifying creatures, to the Eternals' powers themselves, look grand, matching well with some unforgettable cinematography and imagery. 

While the screenplay by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, along with Ryan and Kaz Firpo, isn't quite up to par with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (And feels very much standalone. That being a negative and a positive), it still retains that trademark and always needed sense of humor, features some at times really compelling drama, and even takes a few turns that are rather unexpected when it comes to what to expect from a modern blockbuster. Not all the characters are exactly perfect, with a few surprising revelations and even some questionable decisions that do feel human, even with the fantastical elements. Gemma Chan has proven herself to be captivating lead, while of course Angelina Jolie retains her usual star power, making for one Hell of a future favorite Marvel heroine. Some get lesser roles than others, though are all perfectly good, such as Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee, while the most humor comes from, as you would expect, a hilarious Kumail Nanjiani and a scene-stealing Harish Patel (as "Karun", Kingo's lovable manager, who tags along on the adventure). Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan are also major standouts (Being some of the most fascinating of the group, with more distinguishing character arcs), and while Richard Madden does at first appear to be the least interest character of the bunch, there are some later developments that not only make for a more notable character, but also allows him to give a deeper performance. Salma Hayek's role is much smaller, though still suitably regal, while Kit Harrington doesn't get much to do (At the moment at least) aside from be his charming self. Bill Skarsgård's voice is certainly chilling, but he's not much of a villain, and neither are the Deviants themselves. There's a reason for it, though the execution is a little on the sloppy side. As if it were an afterthought. 

Perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good (And towards the end, you do somewhat feel that runtime), "Eternals" has true greatness in places, when it comes to scale, visual wonder, and an overall sense of maturity. Not everything quite comes together as perfectly as it should, despite Chloé Zhao's respectable and thoroughly earnest determination. However, while the characters aren't exactly destined to rank up with some of the MCU's best, they're still memorable. It gives off the feel of something that could resonate with people in the future, and sure, it's lower on my MCU ranking than I wanted it to be, and yet, it does feel like a strange, though beautiful stage in the evolution of the Marvel universe. (The post credit scenes alone leave much to anticipate) It still needs to be seen on the big screen, for both the average movie loving audience, and even more for the true believers. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Tentacle Hentai Monsters, Adult Content (Including A Brief Sex Scene. Disney is Growing Some Balls Lately), And Too Much Respectful Diversity For The Worst Of Reddit To Handle. 

My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission                                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The Suicide Squad is recruiting younger these days.

I take it that this is the review that you non-nerds are going to skip, and it might be the only review that the "Weebs" are going to check out. Don't ask me what that is. Explaining to people what that is to people who don't care, takes up way too much time. And writing can be hard sometimes. Anime stuff. It's best we just jump right in. 

To give a little backstory for those who don't already know, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" takes place in a world of superheroes, with their unique abilities referred to as "Quirks". People with quirks make up a good percentage of the population, and there are now those who fear that humanity is on the verge of extinction. A terrorist group/cult, known as "Humanrise", led by the dangerously powerful, "Flect Turn" (Kazuya Nakai), have planted bombs filled with Quirk triggering gas all over the world, which will result in the deaths of millions of those with Quirks (Though will leave humanity unscathed). So to prevent Flect Turn's plans from coming to fruition, our heroes in training are sent to various locations, such as "Izuku Midoriya/Deku" (Daiki Yamashita), "Katsuki Bakugō/Dynamight" (Nobuhiko Okamoto), "Shōto Todoroki/Shoto" (Yuki Kaji), among the rest of the series' cast (Pretty much everyone else is negated to the background though). However, Deku becomes distracted by the accidental involvement of a fast-talking, local criminal "Rody Soul" (Ryo Yoshizawa), who just so happens to have accidentally gotten a hold of a briefcase that contains something Humanrise doesn't want getting out. After framing Deku for murder, along with Rody as an accomplice, Humanrise sends their enforcers to bring back the briefcase and kill anyone who gets in the way. Now cut off from his friends, Deku partners up with Rody, along with his cute little bird buddy, "Pino" (Megumi Hayashibara), to prove their innocence and prevent Quirk genocide. Along the way, Rody starts to take a few life lessons from the honorable Deku, becoming his own kind of hero in the process.

The third film based on the popular anime/manga/worldwide phenomenon, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission", like many television series based films, plays out a little like an hour and forty minute episode. Unlike like last year's "Heroes Rising", the plot has less characters this time around, with the story focusing purely on Deku and Rody, and while that leaves much the the cast of fan favorites on the sidelines ("All Might" and others, barely interact with anyone really), there's at least more time available for the film's heart to really pull through. There's something sweet about Deku and Rody's relationship (Credit to Daika Yamashita and especially Ryo Yoshizawa, for their wonderfully voice work), and the slower pace makes for more personal moments. The humor is still in tact, and when the film prepares for a cinematic action sequence, they're sights to behold. Fast paced, constantly moving, and animated brilliantly, especially once we reach the explosive finale. On the downside (For some more than others), there aren't too many and it takes a while for the film's reason to be to become more apparent. You are left wondering why this needed to be a movie, since the scale doesn't at first feel all that grand, and it doesn't help that the villains are once again a little less memorable than any of the ones from the series. Granted, none of the "My Hero Academia" movies have particularly had big bads to write home about (There's only so much screentime available for a one and done baddie after all), and while Flect Turn certainly has a cool design and a decent backstory, nothing about him stands out in a way that's all that interesting.   

"My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" is smaller in scope and more intimate than previous films, where nothing particularly groundbreaking happens for a good while until we reach the climax. This one seems to be more interested in telling a solid and overall heartfelt singular story, where the message of hope and accepting of all people no matter their abilities is at its strongest. The animation is top notch as ever, and the film just incorporates everything we love about the series. I'd be surprised if any fan doesn't leave satisfied. I watched it subbed, so I can only assume that the dubbed version is just as solid. I don't judge when it comes to who prefers English dubbing over subtitles. Only villains do that. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Superhero Action, A Little Language, And Quirky Behavior. 

Last Night in Soho                                                                                        ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm getting ready....For all of the 20 movies I'm in this year."

I don't think I've seen a movie all year that looks so beautiful and seductive, while also being completely sleazy and vile at the same time. You're enticed by it the entire time, and then feel the need to scrub yourself after. Maybe that was just the Sixties overall. Stunning on the outside, then disgusting on the inside.

"Last Night in Soho" follows "Ellie" (Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman with a love of old music (The Swinging Sixties especially) and fashion, living with her caring grandmother, "Peggy" (Rita Tushingham), after the suicide of her mother. Ellie is accepted into college to study fashion design in London. Ellie moves to the bright, vibrant streets of Soho, where she gets stuck with a crappy roommate, "Jocasta" (Synnøve Karlsen), and is immediately turned off by the city's seedy underbelly. So Ellie instead finds a new play to stay in a mostly forgotten apartment, owned by a strict but nice old lady, "Ms. Collins" (Diana Rigg). Once Ellie goes to sleep though, she finds herself transported to the Sixties era, where she becomes enamored with the life of a beautiful rising star, "Sandie" (Anya Taylor-Joy), as her career begins to take off with her seemingly charismatic manager boyfriend, "Jack" (Matt Smith). Ellie starts to base her life around Sandie, focusing her fashion school projects on her, and even changing her hair color to match Sandie, unable to wait till the next time she can go to sleep and immerse herself in that world. However, as the story continues, Ellie's fantasy takes a dark turn, witnessing Sandie's life spiral into a much more twisted place. As the visions become more nightmarish, Ellie becomes determined to find out what became of Sandie, as well as prevent herself from succumbing to her own madness.

Directed by Edgar Wright (The "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", "Baby Driver"), "Last Night in Soho" starts off a bit slow, feeling as if it's meant to show a sense of normalcy before the film takes its turn. While I appreciate the idea (And Edgar Wright has done that brilliantly before elsewhere), you do feel the drag just a little bit for the first fifteen minutes or so. Thankfully, the film finds its footing rather quickly, becoming an alluring, though tension filled stylistic experience, that even when you're just as engrossed in this world as our lead character is, there's this constant feeling of dread slowly poking at the back of your skull. This may be one of Edgar Wright's more unique films, only briefly embracing his fast editing technique, and instead slowly pulling you further into a whirlpool of flashy and colorful torment, with images that are genuinely terrifying (And I feel that I can't even delve into the more uncomfortable, all too real subject matter lurking beneath the surface). The screenplay by both Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns ("1917"), keeps you on your toes, never giving away too much into the apparent supernatural aspect (We never know why Ellie is the one to experience these things, though in a way, not knowing works in the film's favor), and giving us a mystery that never plays out in a simplistic fashion. It can be seen as a little sloppy at times, but the various twists and turns make it feel as if it was intentional (For the most part). 

Thomasin McKenzie ("Leave No Trace", "Jojo Rabbit", "Old") is one of those actresses that just keeps getting better and better in everything I see her in. She's thoroughly lovable, super adorable, and plays completely petrified out of her mind like nobody else I've seen. She also has an incredible stare that conveys so much emotion, thanks to long shots where her face is just the focus. Anya Taylor-Joy is bewitching as usual, and perfectly embodies both the beauty and the hidden sadness of the Sixties era. Matt Smith rather skillfully switches between charming, scummy, and chilling, while Michael Ajao (as "John", Ellie's fellow classmate and all around nice guy), is plenty likable. We also get awesome supporting work from Diana Rigg, and a scene-stealing Terrence Stamp (as a mysterious and rather creepy old man that Ellie keeps seeing). There isn't much time for other supporting plays though, like Synnøve Karlsen, who just plays the role of "Mean Girl" and not much else. 

From the beguiling score, Oscar caliber cinematography, and a few ambitious choices worth extra praise, "Last Night in Soho" is a different kind of horror, and one that unlike say, "Halloween Kills", has more to offer to it than the genre usually demands. The final reveal is something I kind of pieced together, but it's still a damn good one, and leads to a particularly insane finale. It's a different type of apprehension in which you feel content and safe one moment, before you discover it's much too late to escape now. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violent Images, And Faceless Abominations.

The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun                                                                                                                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You're right....I can't understand Wes Anderson either."

I think I've probably mentioned this before. If I could choose what film director's world I would wish to live in, it would definitely be Wes Anderson's. They're like candy coated doll houses, where everyone is as deadpan quirky as they can be, and nothing remotely plays out like you would expect. My kind of world right there. 

"The French Dispatch of the Liberty , Kansas Evening Sun", or just simply, "The French Dispatch", opens with the death of the esteemed, matter-of-fact, editor, "Arthur Howitzer Jr." (Bill Murray), whose final wishes are that the newspaper publication come to an end, though with a final issue republishing three articles. The three articles are presented to us in an anthology. "The Concrete Masterpiece", by "J.K.L. Berensen" (Tilda Swinton), follows a tortured, mentally unstable, imprisoned artist, "Moses Rosenthaler" (Benicio Del Toro), becoming a worldwide sensation for his rather perplexing masterpiece, a nude painting of a prison guard/his unrequited love, "Simone" (Léa Seydoux), thanks to a stuffy art dealer, "Julien Cadazio" (Adrien Brody), previously also incarcerated for tax evasion. As the years ago by however, Rosenthaler fails to produce more paintings, leading to a little amusingly eccentric chaos. "Revisions to a Manifesto", by "Lucinda Krementz" (Frances McDormand), follows Krementz as she retains her "Journalistic Neutrality" (Something that everyone is repeatedly confused about), as she becomes embroiled with a student revolutionary, "Zeffirelli" (Timothée Chalamet), during the midst of a wild student protest all centered around chess. Krementz also secretly assists the inexperienced Zeffirelli with his manifesto. "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner", by "Roebuck Wright" (Jeffrey Wright), is told via a television interview, where Wright recounts the events of his dinner with the "Commissaire" (Mathieu Amalric), which just so happens to be the night where the Commissaire's son, "Gigi" (Winston Ait Hellal), has been kidnapped. The dinner instead becomes a standoff between the police, with Wright being brought along, and the kidnappers. 

Written and directed by Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "The French Dispatch" is Wes Anderson unleashed. That's the best way to describe it. It takes everything that you would traditionally see in one of his films, and like a kid with his toy box, sprays it all over the floor and just goes nuts with it. Due to the anthology structure, Anderson is allowed to resist the temptations of holding back, doing everything in his power insert every single one of his colorful trademarks somewhere in the film. Now that may be a bit much for some, but for me, I'm kind of in heaven. His trademark off-kilter sense of humor is also on full display, and I'd go as far as to say this might be one of his straight up funnier films, ranging for cartoonishly goofy to even a little on the macabre side (Not to mention a brilliant little sequence shown to us through the use of stylized animation). The three stories, while they aren't meant to have an overt connections, certainly feel like they could have stood on their own as full length films, especially with the hodge-podge of your usual Wes Anderson favorites making appearances, in both small and larger capacities. 

Each story, and even more so, each character (All based around real life journalists in some way), are filled with Anderson's delightful aesthetic, and the cast is remarkable as always. The first vignette might be my personal favorite of the three, featuring a weird, though still thoroughly compelling Benicio del Toro and a hilarious Adrien Brody. Some excellent parts also come from Léa Seydoux, quick surfacings of Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban (as Julien's uncles, who only appear together in each scene), and the very much welcome Tilda Swinton. The second one benefits from the bizarre, though still rather spectacular chemistry from Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet, along a great Lyna Khoudri (as "Juliette", a fellow, more strict revolutionary), and a quick cameo from Christoph Waltz. The final entry takes a little bit to get going, though once the point of the tale becomes clear, it offers something more bittersweet. Jeffrey Wright is wonderful here, as are Mathieu Amalric and Stephen Park (as "Lt. Nescaffier", a police officer/famous chef). This one also features Edward Norton (as one of the kidnappers), Liev Schreiber (as a talk show host), Willem Dafoe (as an imprisoned accountant), and Saoirse Ronan (a showgirl, who is also part of the kidnapping). The framing device has a perfect Bill Murray, as well as Owen Wilson (as "Herbsaint Sazerac", a traveling writer, who gets the focus in the opening prologue), and a narration from Angelica Huston. There's actually a few too many people to mention, and we don't exactly have all day here. It's just one of those casts where every familiar (Or not so familiar) face stands out in some way. 

"The French Dispatch" could alienate those not acquainted with Wes Anderson's work, or even those teetering on the edge. It's also not quite the best of his films that I've seen (Though the bar is very high). It's still a blast through and through, and serves as a touching tribute to the art of professional journalism (Something that so often can be ridiculed for even existing these days). Funny, whimsically weird, and by the end, with a little bit of a sweet side. It's Wes Anderson in his element, and it's always something to see. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Artistic Graphic Nudity, Rebellious Youth, And Dangerous Food. 

Ron's Gone Wrong                                                                                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So what do I do when I have to pee?"

Somewhat off topic, but not really. Is it weird that we're just now accepting the whole Facebook taking our data thing? Manipulating our lives? Allowing for the distribution of dangerous propaganda? I'm still on there. A good chunk of us are. The whole recent testimony really didn't tell us things that we didn't either already know, or at least expect. And we're just going to accept it. I mean, there's a good chance you might be reading this review on Facebook. Kind of scary isn't it? We're so willing to throw our lives away online so easily, even though we know the dangers and don't really care......Oh well, here's a movie about a cute little robot. 

"Ron's Gone Wrong" opens with the introduction of a revolutionary, technological marvel, a robotic buddy for kids called the "B-bot", created by the tech giant, "Bubble", run by the well intentioned "Marc Weidell" (Justice Smith) and his less well intentioned partner, "Andrew Morris" (Rob Delaney). The B-bot is meant to serve as a friend, that will also connect one to other friends all over the world via the internet. In a small town, everyone but poor "Barney Pudowski" (Jack Dylan Grazer) has been able to get one. Barney, who doesn't have any friends aside from his widowed, always busy dad, "Graham" (Ed Helms) and his offbeat grandma, "Donka" (Olivia Colman), desperately wants a B-bot for his birthday, and feels more ostracized by his fellow students now more than ever due to not having one. However, Graham and Donka are able to get their hands on one (Although it did fall off a trunk and has some clear damage), which Barney happily activates, only to instead get introduced to "Ron" (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike other B-bots, Ron gets everything wrong, is always apparently malfunctioning, and repeatedly finds himself in some kind of danger. With that said though, Ron starts to grow on Barney, discovering something rather unique about the eccentric bot, leading to the duo become the best of friends. When Ron's malfunctioning personality becomes known to the public, resulting in mass chaos with other B-bots downloading his all over the place code, the higher ups at Bubble become determined to send Ron to the crusher and save some face. Ron and Barney embark on a wild journey to escape Bubble and learn the true meaning of what real friendship can be in our more modern, tech-heavy era. 

Released through 20th Century Studios (Poor Fox), and the first feature film from "Locksmith Animation", "Ron's Gone Wrong" seems to understand that to make an old fashioned, been there done that formula work, you either reinvent it in some way, or you just treat your audience with enough respect.  Directed by Sarah Smith ("Arthur Christmas") and Jean-Phillppe Vine, the film chooses the later, fashioning a pretty standard in terms of plotting, but makes up for it in a whole lotta charm. The screenplay, by Smith and Peter Baynham ("Arthur Christmas", "Hotel Transylvania"), is smart about its fairly predictable story, offering some safe, but plenty chuckle worth humor, while the pleasant animation makes for more impressive visuals than you would expect from a non-major animation company. The film has its own identity (Although the robots do look suspiciously like Baymax from "Big Hero 6", but we'll move past that one), with a elaborate, expressively lovable animation style. The film's themes and messages are always handled in a mature manner, never talking down to the little ones, and even gives something for adults to consider. It never demonizes technology and points out the good intentions behind it, though still warns that it can be so easily abused, sometimes for nefarious purposes or just all around human cruelty (You know, like bullying or allowing it to determine your part in so called social hierarchies.)

Jack Dylan Grazer is an endearing lead, while Zach Galifianakis is as well cast as one can possibly be, with hilariously upbeat delivery. (Some of the funniest moments involve Ron's attempts at getting people to friend Barney, such as essentially kidnapping them, along with a baby who he describes as a small, balding man) Ed Helms and a wonderfully peculiar Olivia Colman, are great supporting roles, while Kylie Cantrall (as "Savannah", the seemingly generic Instagram obsessed girl) and Ricardo Hurtado (as "Rich", the seemingly generic prankster bully), prove to have more dimensions to them than what would first appear (Something that's just refreshing to see). Our main villain is on the other hand pretty one dimensional, though that's to be expected, and Rob Delaney is having a good time. 

Things get a bit rushed in the final act, though that's where the film's heart really shines, "Ron's Gone Wrong" takes a few familiar themes (We even saw some of them in more recent films like "Free Guy" and "The Mitchells vs. The Machines"), and just does a competent job with them. It's nothing all that remarkable, nor is it actually trying to be. It's a simple narrative and one that works with the right people telling it. Classic family friendly fun. Never gets old. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Questionable Use Of Technology, Robotic Shenanigans, And Poop Girl. 

Dune                                                                                                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Our unvaccinated heroes finally arrive in the one place free of those so-called unconstitutional mask mandates.

It is quite the struggle to create what we would refer to as the next "Star Wars", or the next "The Lord of the Rings". Whether it be an original property or otherwise, to create a new world in the eyes of the general moviegoing public, in hopes that they will clamor for more, is a hard task. Sure we have book adaptations all the time, but it's kind of a flip of a coin to see if they'll find success, and the next big epic rarely can even find anyone with enough ambition to give it the time of day. Enter Denis Villeneuve. Even if I still can't pronounce his name.

Based on the classic, revolutionary novel of the same name by the late Frank Herbert, "Dune" (Or "Dune: Part One", since it covers the first half of the book. Literally, I think) opens in the far future, where the desert planet, "Arrakis", has been given to the highly respected "House Atreides". Arrakis is barren, with the only source of life being the mysterious "Fremen" people and the monstrous, giant sandworms, but is also home to a sought after drug, called "Spice". (Which is worth an apparent priceless amount of money) "Paul Atreides" (Timothée Chalamet), the son of "Duke Leto" (Oscar Isaac) and "Lady Jessica" (Rebecca Ferguson), has been experiencing dreams of Arrakis, with most of which focusing on a girl, "Chani" (Zendaya). Paul has been mentored in not just military and political knowledge, by the easily agitated "Gurney Halleck" (Josh Brolin) and the charismatic "Duncan Idaho" (Jason Momoa), but he's also been gifted some rather unique abilities by Lady Jessica, against the will of her own religious superiors. Duke Leto, who knows that the higher ups seemingly want an excuse to get rid of his family by sending them on a possible doomed mission, hopes to make their operation on Arrakis work regardless by befriending the Fremen (Who as you would expect, aren't a fan of the offworlders taking what doesn't belong to them). 

It doesn't take long for things to go wrong, as a deadly conspiracy involving the more ruthless, rather barbaric "House Harkonnen", led by the repulsive "Baron Vladimir Harkonnen" (Stellan Skarsgård), who previously ran the operations on Arrakis and really wants it back. House Atreides becomes a target of an evil alliance, resulting in Paul and Lady Jessica to flee into the unforgiving desert. Paul is forced to take charge and hone his abilities, to become the so called hero that he's apparently destined to become, if he's going to save both his family and the Fremen people from absolute destruction.

Directed and co-written by Denis Vileneuve ("Prisoners", "Sicario", "Arrival", "Blade Runner 2049". How's that for a filmography?), with screenplay credits also going to Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus", "Doctor Strange") and Eric Roth ("A Star Is Born", "Forrest Gump"), "Dune" has been a franchise that was deemed unfilmable, despite the source material having a role in establishing what many of us see as modern Science Fiction. David Lynch tried with his 1984 film to not particularly favorable (And rather bizarre) results. The novel, while certainly long, is also apparently very intricate and difficult to fully translate, especially in a way that the every day audience can comprehend (Think less nerdy). It basically has the word "Disaster" written all over it, and that's not even considering the budget needed. Big budget franchises do need to make money after all. Vileneuve's determination to make this seemingly impossible task into a profitable reality. Well time will tell in terms of the profitable part, but for what the film accomplishes, it's an enlightening, purely cinematic experience that serves as a reminder of the worlds that only the movies can fully immerse us within.

"Dune" is a extraordinary looking film, with more attention to endless amount of details, which help further establish how this world works without the need of exposition. Granted, it can make the film a bit jarring to the unitiated, or even a little hard to full follow at first. However at a rather early moment everything just clicks, then you're full engaged to the point that you feel that you just feel that you're there on Arrakis. From Villeneuve's clear passion for the story, and the overall the big screen experience, just give off those nostalgic feels of say a "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings". It definitely looks like nothing you've ever seen before, with some beautiful cinematography, focusing on the endless desert (Which looks harsh, uninviting, and just plain haunting), the futuristic technology (Such as dragonfly-like ships and holographic shielding devices, making for some clever action scenes), and a little time given to explain the political ramifications of the situation, without getting remotely boring about it. We also get a heart pounding score by the great Hans Zimmer (Who has had quite the year, with this and "No Time to Die"). The visual effects are flawless, and almost too real. There were times I couldn't remember what was actually physical, and what was just created through spectacular special effects work. The scope of the film, which even on the more basic movie screen I saw it in (Sadly, I couldn't see it in IMAX), still showcases a miraculously indepth art design and more than a few unforgettable setpieces. 

Where the film may be a little more detached is with some of its characters. They're certainly likable and plenty of them stand out, but due to the way the story is told (And perhaps, how it rather needed to be told), some just feel as if their roles are just yet to be expanded (I mean, this is only the first half of a rather large novel. So that's not shocking). Timothée Chalamet's role may be one of those performances that I feel some people might not completely get. It's not about what's obvious when it comes to his emotions (Or what appears to be a lack of emotion). It's all about the subtleties and the way the character reacts to the situation he's been thrust into, especially when he's repeatedly told that he's going to be a messiah-like hero, whether he likes it or not. Something I always like about Chalamet is that his eyes sometimes just say everything, even when you don't at first get it. Oscar Isaac is his usual terrificly charismatic self, while Rebecca Ferguson is stunning once more, getting some of the more complex, yet still warm feeling, character growth. There are some great supporting roles for Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley Henderson (as "Thufir Hawat", a loyal ally to House Atreides), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (as "Dr. Liet-Kynes", a scientist sent to assist House Atreides on Arrakis), Javier Bardem (as "Stilgar", the leader of the Fremen, who doesn't remotely hide his distrust of the colonizers), an unrecognizable Charlotte Rampling (as "Gaius Helen Mohiam", the eccentric Truthsayer), and especially awesome Jason Momoa. Some get more development than others, but everyone gives the material everything they got. Stellan Skarsgård is a suitably vile, revolting to look at villain, while Dave Bautista's role (as "Glossu Rabban", the Baron's fanatical nephew and general) feels like there's more to come. I do also just love seeing David Dastmalchian (as "Piter De Vries", the Baron's creepy servant), in basically anything he's ever been in. Zendaya's role is rather small, though vital, and she's certainly perfectly cast as a character that has the kind of mystifying allure, leaving you wanting more. Again, maybe in the sequel.....If it happens. 

"Dune" is a lot of movie, even though it's not the full story. It's flawed in places, and where the film ends, it's not really an ending. There's not even really a climax actually. (The way the film cuts to the credits, you expect a "To Be Continued...." tagline to make an appearance) Still though, at over two and a half hours, it breezes by quickly, and you're already so engaged in the worldbuilding that you're more sad that this part of the journey is already over. Villeneuve never lets his love for the project alienate the average audience, being something that anyone should be able to become invested in. I wouldn't call it the next "The Lord of the Rings", but it has the potential to be. A sweeping epic, that demands the big screen treatment, and I hope that the box office numbers are enough to make that possibility an actuality. Be a shame to just end the adventure right there. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Science Fiction Violence, Spice Abuse, And Giant Butthole Worms. 

The Last Duel                                                                                                 ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Remember....Save a little bit for the rematch."

Once you strip away the vibrant colors, the chivalry, and all the sophisticated talk, medieval times were pretty freakin barbaric and scummy as Hell. All those knightly tales really lied to us. 

Based on true events, or rather based on the novel "The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France" by Eric Jager, "The Last Duel" opens with the entire kingdom showing up to witness a duel to the death between a knight, "Jean de Carrouges" (Matt Damon) and a squire, "Jacques Le Gris" (Adam Driver). "Marguerite de Carrouges" (Jodie Comer), the wife of de Carrouges, claims that Le Gris (Who is also the former friend to de Carrouges), raped her, and according to medieval law, this sanctioned duel is what will decide what the truth is, and if de Carrouges dies, so will Marguerite (Quite painfully too, I might add). The film is then told in three chapters, focusing on the supposed truth according to our three main characters, detailing the events that led everyone to this moment, though as expected, our leading men are going to leave out some key details or boast themselves up a little. The three perspectives are revealed before returning us to that fateful duel, with an innocent woman just being caught right in the middle of a dick measuring contest. To the death. 

Directed by Ridley Scott (Who has another movie, "House of Gucci", coming out next month), with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon (All three of them serving as producers as well), "The Last Duel" is a fascinating, culturally appropriate tale, that's rather brilliantly told in a rather clever way. The decision to break the story up into sections, from different perspectives, really drives home what can be manipulated as the truth, and Ridley Scott does a terrific job making these perceptions change as the film progresses. In one version, we might see a scene being portrayed in a somewhat more comedic light, while in another, we witness it in a more horrifying way. One character at first appears heroic, before being shown to be incompetently stupid, and then even being portrayed as someone more monstrous. There are subtle tweaks to the dialogue and the score within similar scenes depending on who is being focused on, and how that character appears to wish for the audience to view the scene. It's something that could warrant a repeat viewing, so one can see all the tiny details and how they further play into later developments. It's a gorgeously constructed film, with the once whimsical or regal setting being brought down to this dark, grey, dirty, and thoroughly savage this time period can truly be. 

We get a top notch cast, all of which are allowed to play against their traditional types, with some portrayals varying between flattering or otherwise, well, not. Matt Damon goes through some of the biggest shifts in his characterization, along with Adam Driver, going from charismatic and smart, to repulsive and cowardly. Both characters are certainly human, and at times, you're left wondering how much of their perceived accounts are actually what they believe or something that they are just making up to gain sympathy. Jodie Comer is the one who stands out the most, giving a powerhouse performance that only truly gets to shine once we reach the final act. Just from her eyes alone, you feel every emotion, even when they aren't exactly obvious in the moment. Ben Affleck (as "Count Pierre d'Alencon", who immediately takes a shine to Le Gris, inviting him to his drunken parties and orgies), steals most scenes that he's in, embracing the kind of sleazy scumbag that you take a sick delight in seeing. The film incorporates a few moments of humor, with some of it coming from how bizarre the time period is, or just how plain horrendous it could be. It also adds a lot of character, especially to some supporting players like Harriet Walker (as "Nicole", Jean de Carrouges' mother, who is always disapproving), and Alex Lawther (as a rather odd "King Charles VI"). 

"The Last Duel" is unrelenting and cruelly honest, yet still shows signs of hope and that something better can eventually come out of this. It leads to a grueling climax that will have you on the edge of your seat, especially if you know nothing of the story. The execution of the narrative might be jarring to some, but feels necessary when you think more about why it's told the way it is. It serves as a compelling drama, as well as a fitting allegory for our current state when it comes to what we choose to believe as truth and how the women at the center might still not have as much of a say, even when it concerns them more than the rest of us. I'm not saying that we're still burning them at the stake, but you gotta admit, a lot of the arguments here are eerily similar, like how the men in power treat the rape more as an insult to the man than anything, or repeated questioning on how it technically couldn't be a rape because of religious/science mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense. It's a powerful, unsettling, and wonderfully uncompromising tale that sadly went mostly ignored at the box office. Lets hope next year's Oscars don't forget it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Violence, And An Especially Uncomfortable (Though Necessarily And Uniquely Explained) Rape Scene.  

Halloween Kills                                                                                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: OK, so I admit, it looks incriminating.

What's been impressive about the "Halloween" franchise (Aside from completely ignoring everything after the 1978 classic by John Carpenter in favor of the 2018 soft reboot/sequel) is that underneath all the slashing and stabbing, there's something more frightening. Considering slasher films rarely scare me, the thought of an unknown shape, with no known motivation or reason, going around and killing without remorse, while also incorporating characters that you actually care about, can at least put me a little more on edge. Most films in this genre seem to miss that, or at least their sequels do.

Taking place literally seconds after the last film still taking place on Halloween night,  "Halloween Kills" opens with survivors "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter "Karen" (Judy Greer), and granddaughter "Allyson" (Andi Matichak), leaving the silent, mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers/The Shape" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), to die in a burning house. Sadly though, the fire department arrives and unintentionally gives Michael a means of escape, after brutally slaughtering everyone in sight of course. Meanwhile, while Laurie recovers, along with the revealed to be alive "Deputy Frank Hawkins" (Will Patton), Allyson and Karen learn of Michael's survival. Previous survivors from Michael's first rampage, including "Tommy Doyle" (Anthony Michael Hall), "Marion Chambers" (Nancy Stephens), "Lindsey Wallace" (Kyle Richards), and "Lonnie Elam" (Robert Longstreet), also find out about Michael's return, leading to Tommy organizing his own angry mob with the intent on putting an end to Michael's reign of terror for good. Determined to get her own vengeance, Allyson joins Tommy's group, along with her ex, "Cameron" (Dylan Arnold), setting out to track down Michael. Meanwhile, Michael continues to butcher various innocents, with little rhyme or reason like before. Gruesome deaths ensue, along with all the townsfolk themselves now starting to create even more chaos, creating all out anarchy. 

Directed once again by David Gordon Green, who also participated in writing the screenplay with Scott Teems and Danny McBride, "Halloween Kills" serves as a bridge film, wrapping up loose ends from the first and setting up things for next year's final entry in the franchise (Unless they reboot it again). Sadly, this means that there is likely going to be a good amount of filler, and the film rather disappointingly indulges in its worse aspects. Not to say that they aren't plenty of things to enjoy on a popcorn level, and even some legit greatness mixed in here, but when it comes to it, this unlike the last film, feels exactly what I would expect from a slasher movie. In fact, it feels rather by the numbers. 2018's "Halloween" felt like a solid drama that just so happened to have a serial killer in it, where time was given to every single character (Even ones just being set up to meet grisly ends), and you feel for them. This time though, aside from the main leads (Who remain engaging) and maybe like one or two side characters, that emotion is lacking. It doesn't help that more of the characters are a lot dumber this time, making your typical horror movie mistakes to set up bloody deaths. Now it's not to say that some of these kills aren't clever or even a little frightening (Michael's massacre of the firefighters is a highlight). There just sadly isn't much effort to elevate itself above the simplest of genre thrills. David Gordon Green is a good director and can frame an unnerving shot or two. It's the screenplay that drops the ball in character development and heart, which again, the last film had a lot of. The only heart here is bleeding profusely. It's a rather disjointed story, stopping for kills along the way, and while it gives its target audience what they came for, you know the filmmakers can do so much better.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends almost all of the runtime in a hospital bed, is still terrific here, along with endearing performances from Judy Greer and Andi Matichak. These are three great leading ladies,and you still hope for their survival. It's also nice to have Will Patton back (Who was one of the smartest characters in the first film), and he's given a little extra backstory that I can assume will lead into the next entry. I did also enjoy Omar Dorsey (as "Sheriff Barker", who is trying and miserably failing to keep the peace), who does a good job at just looking completely worn out. These are characters that I  like and feel for, but where the film falters is just about with everyone else. Most of the characters don't receive the same level of thought that our main leads do, popping up to predictably die. Most of the time because of their own stupidity. The film also stops to give a little focus on a few probable victims, such as Scott McArthur and Michael McDonald (as "Big John" and "Little John", a gay couple living in the Myers house), but you don't care near enough about them as the film intends. For how drawn out some of these scenes are, you want the film to just kill them already and move onto the next ghastly setpiece. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to embrace the idea of the audience yelling at the screen for people not to make poor decisions, and while I can see the enjoyment, the previous films didn't need to do that. One part where I give a little leeway would be the angry mob subplot, where the stupidity is not only addressed, but also part of the point the film is trying to make. They are irrational, disorganized, and only become more violent as the film progresses, showing how a being like Michael Myers could basically turn an entire town into lunatics in a desperate attempt to end his carnage. While it goes where you would expect, it's still a brilliant and necessary concept that I'm surprised hasn't happened sooner. As for Michael himself, he still remains a menacing presence, and the film remembers not to give us too many details about just what he even is. He appears human, feels pain, and seems to at times enjoy his butchery of the innocent, and yet, his true motivation appears to remain somewhat of a mystery. Just the shots of that lifeless mask staring down at a helpless victim as life leaves them, is frightening enough on a psychological level, and to constantly be in a state of confusion as to how one can be this evil for possibly no reason, it shows why this character can remain a horror icon.

Overall, "Halloween Kills", doesn't have much in terms of actual scares, going for all out gore, and adding little to a genre that's already been in a serious need of a shakeup. There's a decent amount that works, and I do love how tightly woven this continuity is, feeling like you can watch all these movies as one continuous narrative. However, the last film was willing to add more depth, while this one feels as if it's just there as an obligation, leaving you to wonder if this and next year's final entry (Appropriately titled "Halloween Ends") would have been better off just as one movie. Time will tell on that one. Aside from a tragic death or two (And an abrupt ending), the film doesn't stand out in a way that it should. It gets the job done and offers plenty of savagery for the more blood lust filled fans, but abandons much of what set it apart from other films like it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Eye Gouging, Knife Fights, Head Stompings, And The Persecution Of Perfectly Innocent Escaped Insane Asylum Patients. 

No Time to Die                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: He looks pretty shaken. But not at all stirred.

It's been one Hell of a road coming here. In a way, I doubt many of us thought we would even get this far. It's felt like it's taken forever, but we powered through it and we're finally here. "No Time to Die", one of the first movies (And maybe the first really major one. Don't quote me on that!) to get delayed, is at long last released. And yeah, it's very much worth the wait. 

"No Time to Die" MI6 agent, "007", aka "James Bond" (Daniel Craig), who after the events of the last film, has decided to retire from the spy business, and settle down with "Madeleine Swan" (Léa Seydoux). Now Bond is living the happy life, enjoying the peace and tranquility, along with all the steamy sexy time with Madeleine. However as one would expect, these joyous days are not to last. Bond finds himself under attack from a one-eyed freak, "Primo" (Dali Benssalah), working for the still active crime syndicate, "Spectre", run by Bond's incarcerated foster brother/arch-nemesis, "Ernst Stavro Blofeld" (Christoph Waltz). Bond has become convinced that Madeleine had a role in this attack and has betrayed him (Granted, it doesn't look good), refusing to listen to her before sending her away, and vanishing off the grid. Years later, a questionable scientist, "Valdo Obruchev" (David Dencik), is kidnapped, along with an experimental bioweapon, "Heracles" (Made up of little nanobots, creating a virus that can touch and kill, based purely on DNA alone).

 It also doesn't help that MI6 head honcho, "M" (Ralph Fiennes), approved for Heracles' existence in the first place, and now one wonders what could be done if it were in the wrong hands. Meanwhile, Bond is approached by his CIA buddy, "Felix Leiter" (Jeffrey Wright), informing him of Obruchev's kidnapping and the weapon, and since Bond isn't exactly on the best of terms with MI6, especially the new 007, "Nomi" (Lashana Lynch), he agrees to help Leiter in tracking the scientist down. However, there is something much more nefarious and dangerous at the center of it all. This leads to Bond being reunited with Madeleine, along with a disfigured, Rami Malek-eyed maniac from her past, "Lyutsifer Safin" (Rami Malek), who is manipulating all sides in a diabolical plan to kill millions, get his hands on Madeleine, and shape the world in his own demented image. 

Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Beasts of No Nation"), "No Time to Die" is a bold, and almost completely unheard of entry to the long running "James Bond" franchise. Based on the character created by Ian Fleming back in 1953, with twenty five films (And the fifth/final one starring Daniel Craig), this entry is especially epic and feels like an eye-opening end of an era. Not just for Daniel Craig, but it changes the game so much that I can't see a logical reason for anyone wanting to go back. I'm not even sure it's physically possible by this point. The Craig Era (as I like to call it, made up also of "Casino Royale", "Quantum of Solace", "Skyfall", "Spectre"), moved away from some of the more campy elements in favor of a darker, more real, and more human-centric version of the character, acknowledging some of the character's more dated aspects, without ever feeling the need to bash and most importantly, never losing sight of what made the character so iconic in the first place. Even when the films couldn't quite reach the heights of greatness we know they're capable of, there was always something special about them. These were also the first of the character's long filmography where I actually felt really attached to things, with some of that benefiting from a more serialized approach. 

Flaws and all, this movie feels like a fitting, thoroughly exciting, and immensely moving conclusion. One that I would almost consider it to be a solid stopping point overall. Clocking in at almost three hours, the film never feels like it, rarely dragging, and it's a credit to Fukunaga's slick direction, which balances out the hard hitting, grounded feel, while also embracing hints of something a little more science-fiction. It all could have felt so out of place, and yet, it could be seen as just a natural progression of where this franchise's form of warfare would go. It's also pretty scary too. What timing to have a villain plan involving a deadly, incurable virus, that specifically targets certain people, without affecting others, which could also result in the complete and utter collapse of all human society. (You know there's someone out there thinking about it, and there's a good chance that someone you politically contributed to at least knows about it.) The action sequences themselves are particularly elaborate on their own, along with a few sequences of tension building, such as an intense scene at a club in Cuba, where the build up to the close quarters sequence is just as exciting as the payoff. It's bolstered by an epic score by the great Hans Zimmer (The "Dark Knight" trilody), and the perfect for IMAX cinematography by Linus Sandgren ("La La Land", "First Man"). The screenplay by Fukunaga, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Who have both been a writer for the franchise since "The World Is Not Enough"), along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag"), the film feels grounded, though makes way for some more fantastical elements, while balancing deeper character moments and even a little humor. I'm pretty sure that Phoebe Waller-Bridge contributed most to the more self-aware moments, such as the fact that Bond is repeatedly ready for an intimate moment, only to get realistically denied. 

This also translates to the characters, each and every single one having identifiable traits and even though some getting more screentime than others, they're certainly unforgettable. First and foremost, there's Daniel Craig, who I think has proved himself as one of the greats by this point. Considering last we saw him he was playing an eccentric though still brilliant detective in "Knives Out" (Robbed of so many Oscar nominations), the man has so much more versatility than anyone gives him credit for. Craig has the charm and the quips, but also the brutality and badassery, while also showing more humanity than any other Bond. (Granted, I haven't fully seen too many of these films, so don't go crazy on me, fanboys) Craig makes sure to end his time as the character one that's definitely going to stick with you, even after the film's credits roll. The hypnotically lovely Léa Seydoux takes a few unexpected turns for what's usually given to a Bond love interest, even participating more in the grander plot than they traditionally do. Lashana Lynch has some great semi-antagonistic/semi-friendly banter with Craig, while remaining a cool new character on her own, while Ralph Fiennes shows a few more complicated layers to his character (Even the supposed good guys can make a few rather morally questionable decisions). Rami Malek plays a perfectly creepy, and suitably eccentric villain, though compared to some of the others in this series (And considering this film is meant to cap off the current saga they've got going), he feels a little small by comparison. You do expect something a little grander. Christoph Waltz is still a devious delight despite his limited appearance, and Dali Benssalah is a great offputting henchmen that you immediately love to hate. There are some other returning faces, like Ben Wishaw (as "Q", MI6's quartermaster and tech guy, still full of so much excellent snark), Jeffrey Wright, and Naomie Harris (as "Eve Moneypenny", a close ally to Bond), though she doesn't get as much to do as before. Other supporting players like Billy Magnussen (as "Logan Ash", Felix's fellow CIA agent, always wearing a rather dumb smile on his face), a rather detestable David Dencik (He's a nusance, but he's supposed to be), and a fantastic, completely scene-stealing Ana de Armas (as "Paloma", another, seemingly inexperienced CIA agent), who participates in the film's best action scene. You wish she was in it more, but regardless, she leaves a major impression. The film also takes a turn around the last act, with something that's rather unheard of in the "James Bond" franchise, and I'm actually shocked that until now, nobody has ever thought of it. All things considered, you would think that he would have had something like that happen to him a long time ago. 

"No Time to Die" has a lot going on, and some smaller aspects may or may not fully work. Yet, they don't detract from a film that knows how to give the audience what they want, and maybe a little bit of what they need. "James Bond" is a character that in recent years, has been questioned in terms of if he is truly a heroic character. Now some of that's a little harsh, considering he has his flaws and the character seemingly is knowledgeable of them. However, this is the one where he shines and by the end, I was inspired as Hell. The film culminates in a finale that showcases the character at his absolute best, leading to a moving conclusion that even though I sort of expected it, I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little lump in my throat when it was all over. My mind is still attempting to process what ends up being the endgame here. This one feels really special, as if the franchise is ready to grow further, and only opens the door to infinite possibilities. Is it perfect? Not quite, but I loved it regardless, and am eager to see where they take this next. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Espionage, And Mind Blowing Watches.  

The Many Saints of Newark                                                                            ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm going to see to it that this kid is going to grow up to become a well rounded, kind, decent, peaceful and honest human being....And I stake my life on it!"

I tend to drop a lot of bombshells on people when it comes to things I still haven't seen yet. "The Sopranos" is one of many that are on my "List" (The never ending document I have saved on my phone, filled with the many, many television shows that I say I'm going to watch, but likely will never get around it). So I'm going in completely blind, knowing little to nothing about the series (At least I know how it ends....or doesn't end...I guess...), and judging the film on its own. Like a film critic should anyway. 

Set long before the events of the original series, "The Many Saints of Newark", follows the story of the man who helped shape "Tony Soprano" (Played by William Ludwig as a child, then by Michael Gandolfini). That person being his uncle, "Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti" (Alessandro Nivola). Tony sees Uncle Dickie's rise to power in the midst of the 1967 riots in Newark, New Jersey. After taking over the crime family business from his father, "Hollywood Dick Moltisanti" (Ray Liotta) after his um, timely demise (Let's just leave it at that), Dickie proves to be a role model to Tony, along with an important part of the community. While Dickie tries to hold everything together, he also has rivalry with a former associate, "Harold McBrayer" (Leslie Odom Jr.), which becomes more deadly. The gang war starts to escalate further, setting the stage for future characters in the series, that I bet fans are losing their minds over. I'm just here to go with the flow, and probably shouldn't spoil too much. 

Directed by Alan Taylor ("Thor: The Dark World", "Terminator Genisys", along with a few episodes of the show), with a screenplay by series creator David Chase, along with Lawrence Konner (Who also wrote for the series), "The Many Saints of Newark" needs most of its plot points left out, because the film itself plays out almost like a true story biopic. It gives off that vibe, following different character interactions, their connections, and of course, the inevitable conclusion. On one hand, it makes the film rather predictable, and perhaps even a bit messy in storytelling. I also can't really say that I completely get everything, but for what the film is in the end, it makes for a perfectly solid, and overall just fascinating mobster drama. Nothing here is exactly new and some of the basic plot points are easy to deduce, especially for those who are more genre savvy. It's all very well put together though, in a briskly paced, morally questionable fashion, that remembers to add little tweaks here and there to each and every single character, whether it be small, subtle bits of humor or little moments of sparse eccentricity. 

For the most part, Alessandro Nivola is the main star here, playing the classic part of the rising crime boss, who is not directly evil, though sure as Hell isn't remotely good. (Although, he deep down seems to know it, even if he tries to convince himself otherwise). He's compelling throughout, and his relationship with Michael Gandolfini (Son of the late James Gandolfini) is certainly tragic, since whether if you're a fan of the old show or not, you know that this loving familial bond will eventually lead down a darker path due to its problematic nature. The cast is all around excellent, ranging from smaller roles to much more pivotal ones, with some standouts being Vera Farmiga (as "Livia Soprano", Tony's mother, who he has a complicated relationship with), Michela De Rossi (as "Giuseppina", Dickie's stepmother turned mistress), Corey Stoll (as "Junior Soprano", who is repeatedly upstaged by Dickie), Jon Bernthal (as "Johnny Soprano", Tony's jailed father), and Ray Liotta (Who also plays "Sally", the much calmer, more repentant twin brother to Dickie's father). Leslie Odom Jr.'s role feels a bit secondary, though maybe it's possible setup for something else in the future. It's hard to tell. There's a lot in this that I certainly didn't completely get, but I'm sure the fans will be pleased, especially since there's clearly loads of fanservice for them.

"The Many Saints of Newark" is well shot, atmospheric and full of tension, even thought it rarely goes places that any other gangster flick would go (It's also Italian as Hell!). There aren't too many surprises (Although I was caught off guard by a small reveal towards the end. Even some fans apparently didn't see it coming), and yet, I found myself still compelled by it. Even though I don't know the characters (And while I still don't see myself getting around to watching the show anytime soon), I was interested in every single one of them. Maybe I'd get it more if I followed the show. For what is though, it does keep your attention throughout. Could be what worked about the show too in the first place. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gang Violence, Sexual Content, Mobster Pettiness, And Italian Yelling.  

The Addams Family 2                                                                                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I think they need to up the SPF level up a notch.

I'm gonna go out on a limb that people may have forgotten that this was even coming out. The theater was completely empty, the people working at the theater I went to didn't know what it was (Although they may have just been bad at their jobs), and there are as of the moment I started writing this no actual reviews from critics. Maybe it wasn't screened for them, or they too forgot all about it. Not me though. I go over the release date for every film every night before I fall asleep. Which says it all about this film. And more about my life. 

Released both in theaters and on demand, "The Addams Family 2" once again follows the titular creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and all together ooky "Addams Family". "Gomez" (Oscar Isaac) and "Morticia" (Charlize Theron), begin to notice that their somewhat nihilistic daughter, "Wednesday" (Chloë Grace Moretz), has begun to feel a little out of place, especially after a science fair where she impresses a famous scientist, "Cyrus Strange" "(Bill Hader). This gives Gomez the idea to take the entire family, including their equally weird son, "Pugsley" (Javon Walton), and the completely bonkers "Uncle Fester" (Nick Kroll), on a road trip across the country. Before they leave, the Addams realize they're being pursued by an especially pushy lawyer (Wallace Shawn), who implies that Wednesday may actually not be Gomez and Morticia's daughter. While avoiding the persistent lawyer attempting to get a forced DNA test, everyone in the Addams family is going through their own issues, such as Pugsley's patheticly nonexistent love life (Been there buddy!), Fester's rather grotesque transformation into a octopus (Long story. It actually makes sense), and Gomez's determination to connect with Wednesday, who is dangerously growing further and further away from her family. 

Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Both directed "Sausage Party", and are returning from the first film), "The Addams Family 2" is just an idea, and not much else. It has the returning classic characters, a great cast to provide spot on voicework for them, and appealing animation. It just doesn't have a very good script, nor does it appear to have any real direction. It's like a family trip gone wrong. The screenplay by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel (Um, that's a lot of people for something like this...), isn't without some charm and a few funny moments. However, it falls apart thanks to the meandering, almost made up on the fly, storyline, which lacks necessary focus. If it was a standard road trip comedy, that wouldn't be much, but you could get some, pardon the pun, mileage out of that. The film tries to "Spice" things up with the DNA test plotline, which ends up becoming the focus during the last act. It doesn't mesh, even with the admittedly funny gag involving a flashback where Fester juggled a bunch of babies, causing a sense of unsureness about Wednesday's true parentage. It culminates in an over the top finale, which completely jumps the shark during the climax and feels like it belongs in a much different movie. 

The cast is great once again, with Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron relishing their roles. Chloë Grace Moretz is a real standout, along with Nick Kroll, who gets the film's funniest moments. Javon Walton, replacing Finn Wolfhard, has the least important, almost nonexistent, role compared to the others, while we get some other returning voices, such as Bette Midler (as "Grandmama", Gomez's mother, who is left to watch the Addams' house, then throws a wild party) and Snoop Dog (as "Cousin Itt", the unintelligible hairball), along with other amusing characters like the family butler, "Lurch", and the disembodied hand, "Thing". Wallace Shawn is his usual Wallace Shawn self, while Bill Hader thankfully gets to go absolutely nuts later in the film. The quirky animation, while not on par with much superior studios, does lend itself well to the peculiar characters. There just sadly isn't near enough going for it. 

"The Addams Family 2" feels like a waste, only getting by on likability, which the film certainly is. It could appeal to kids, but for something that's meant to be for the whole family, everyone in the end deserves so much better. It pads out its relative length, is quick to forget, and ends with a battle between a giant octopus and a cow/chicken-man hybrid. If you're gonna be nonsensical, at least do it in a clever way. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Macabre Humor, Jiggly Body Parts, Cat Nip Abuse, And The Implication That Wednesday May Have Killed Someone. Seriously, What Happened To That Guy? It's Never Addressed Again. 

Venom: Let There Be Carnage                                                                        ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Look, we both can play with it. Just not at the same time....Well, maybe back to back."

Can we all just take time to appreciate this movie for taking what worked about 2018's "Venom", leaving out all the bland crap, and of course, going absolutely insane? If this "Marvel" property isn't going to reach the same heights of the more successful "Marvel Cinematic Universe", it's best that it just embrace what it is. Plus, the whole "Sony's Spider-Man Universe" (That you know, doesn't have Spider-Man in it....), doesn't quite have the same ring to it. 

Since the events of the first film, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" opens up with washed up reporter and all around loser, "Eddie Brock" (Tom Hardy), continuing to attempt to coexist with the "Symbiote" (Alien race of goo parasites), known as "Venom" (Also voiced by Tom Hardy), who would rather go around New York City, stopping bad guys and eating their brains. Eddie is trying to get his journalist career back on track, though is repeatedly called in to speak to "Cletus Kasady" (Woody Harrelson), an especially unwell serial killer on death row. Venom is able to deduce where Kasady has hidden his many dead bodies, leading to a resurgence of Eddie's career, though to the chagrin of the rather unlikable detective, "Mulligan" (Stephen Graham). Kasady's execution date is moved up, and during another talk with Eddie, bites him, tasting his now no longer human blood. This leads to Kasady beginning his own horrifying transformation, becoming a now even more powerful and bloodthirsty monster, "Carnage" (Also voiced by Woody Harrelson). 

Kasady/Carnage proceeds to track down the love of his life, "Frances Barrison/Shriek" (Naomie Harris), a mentally troubled, scarred woman locked up in the "Ravencroft" Institute (Think "Arkham Asylum" for Spider-Man villains) due to her high frequency scream. Meanwhile, Eddie learns that his own love interest, "Anne Weying" (Michelle Williams), is marrying her doctor boyfriend, "Dan" (Reid Scott), sending Eddie down a spiral of depression. Both now sick of each other's self-loathing, Eddie and Venom breakup, separating from each other and going their separate ways. Unfortunately, now Carnage and Shriek are going around town, causing mass chaos, and seeking out those who have wronged them, with Eddie being one of them. Eddie and Venom now must get their collective sh*t together if they're going to become the lethal protector that the city needs before Carnage is set loose onto the world. 

Directed by the always underappreciated Andy Serkis ("Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle"), with a screenplay by Kelly Marcel ("Venom", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Fifty Shades of Grey"), "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" is only part by the numbers comic book movie, part slightly dark comedy, and more than anything, a bizarre buddy movie that borders on the romantic. In fact, once you get past all the sharp teeth, slimy tongues, and head chomping, it's actually quite adorable. While I'm not exactly the tone that the comics have set up (Well, it's a little hard to tell actually. They tend to range from dark and brooding, to goofy and cartoonish), the film just goes for it, and makes for something far more enjoyable. As far as plots go, it's nothing that you haven't seen before, with some bad guys running wild, culminating in a chaotic CGI-fest. It comes with the territory and unlike some of the better Marvel films, there's little time for dramatic depth here (And it still lacks that big Disney budget). Luckily, the film seems to know what it can do, with a fast pace, a wild sense of humor, and a lot of personality. Serkis gives the film a good look, with some solid enough action scenes (Nothing exactly memorable, but at times clever), and clearly was brought on due to his experience it fully animated characters. That makes for another major improvement over the first, with the creatures looking more lively and are on full display more often. (Though the climax does end up becoming a flood of sewer-like sludge smacking each other around) The film also gets a good amount of strange laughs, knowing that the silliness is what sold the first movie, along with some truly out there images that definitely feel like something you would of seen in the late 90s or early 2000s. The humor ranges from truthfully funny, or so freakin odd that it gets a little awkward laugh out of you. Such as the falling out between Eddie and Venom (It kind of makes for one of the best fight scenes in the movie, believe it or not), which is portrayed like an actual couple breaking up, moments of Venom's hunger for brains (He eats chickens, with the exception of a pair that he's affectionately named "Sonny" and "Cher"), or Venom basically coming out at a gay rave, expressing his freedom before sulking into depression over his ex. Sometimes you're left wondering just what exactly you're watching, and yet, you're thoroughly fascinated by the eccentricity and how earnest it is. 

A lot of what carries the film once again is Tom Hardy, who gives just as brilliantly peculiar a performance as he did before. Whether it be in physical form, or just his voice, he doesn't hold back in any capacity. It's funny how well both his characters work off each other, as something humorous, along with serving as the main heart of the film (Eddie and Venom bond on a sunset lit beach, and it's somehow genuinely sweet). Woody Harrelson, while obviously toned down from the comic character's much bloodier origins, takes sadistic glee in his villain's lust for madness and death, along with Naomie Harris, who looks like she's having a ball (And looking pretty hot, in a crazy sort of way). They make for a great pair of villains, with excellent chemistry, and to give the film a little credit, they're given a little more sympathy than one would expect. (They're monsters, but it's implied that they're monsters that were created) The overqualified Michelle Williams continues to remain so, though does get some chances to do something more than just be the damsel in distress (Well, until she becomes a damsel in distress), while they are fun supporting parts for Reid Scott and Peggy Lu (as "Mrs. Chen", the convenience store owner from the first film, who is now protected by Venom in exchange for Chocolate deliveries). A lot of the focus on Stephen Graham's character feels a little pointless, though it appears towards the end that it might be setup for a future film. (Whether you're excited about it, or dreading it, it's up to you) Subplots are thankfully minimal though and the film really benefits from its barely hour and a half runtime (I gotta admit, that is really refreshing. Not everything needs to be almost two hours)

Weird as Hell, and as silly is it can possibly be, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" appears to be loving every minute of it. It's hilariously bonkers, perplexingly odd, and with off the chart levels of homoerotiscism. The film is not something that I can logically fully recommend (Though fans of the first will likely flock to it). It's essentially dumb nonsense, with little real substance. (There's also plenty of things that don't make much sense.....Like, how old is Kasady supposed to be if he was a teenager in 1996?) However, regardless of how you feel about it, it has its own identity, separating itself from other superhero films and justifying its right to exist. I found it to be mystifyingly wacky, though rather charmingly so. And yeah, stick around for the post credits scene. It's not exactly shocking, but it did bring a big smile to my face, and kind of changes the game more than maybe even the filmmakers realize. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Wild Tongue Play, Tentacles Galore, And The Acceptance That Venom May Just Become A Gay Icon. 

Dear Evan Hansen                                                                                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Can't you see this 27 year old high school student is in pain?

We have a film here that has been causing a little bit of controversy. Now there are some criticisms and some complaints that I totally agree with (I mean, the two star rating should be enough to establish that I didn’t exactly care for it), but some of it has been a little too harsh. The mental health debate is kind of the big one, and while I can’t exactly say that I’m someone who knows enough to form a competent opinion on the subject, I think for what the film is trying to say it does a solid job of it. It’s probably best up to the viewer to decide, but I thought the filmmakers at least had good intentions, were willing to make things more complex, and handled it in a mature fashion. For all the film’s flaws, I feel calling it the worst musical ever (Which either way, come on! We’ve all experienced worse), is a step too far. I felt like we needed to get that out of the way early. 

Based on the stage musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows a socially awkward, and emotionally distressed young man, “Evan Hansen” (Ben Platt), who suffers from severe anxiety and depression, with an always busy mother, “Heidi” (Julianne Moore), and a cast on his arm (He apparently broke it climbing a tree). He also writes letters to himself, instructed by his therapist, as a way of coping with his own personal issues. Evan’s only sort of friend is a family friend, “Jared” (Nik Dodani), who only hangs out with him out of obligation, and has a big crush on the more popular “Zoe Murphy” (Kaitlyn Dever). Evan finds himself having a semi-moment with Zoe’s equally friendless, but more mentally disturbed brother, “Connor” (Colton Ryan), who signs Evan’s cast, though he takes one of Evan’s letters to himself in a moment of unprovoked rage. Evan dreads what Connor might do with the letter, only to get called into the Principal’s office, where he meets Connor’s parents, “Cynthia” (Amy Adams) and “Larry” (Danny Pino), who explain that Connor committed suicide, believing that Evan and he must have been the best of friends. 

Backed into a corner and not wanting to further distress the grieving parents, Evan goes along with it, fabricating an entire friendship that never existed. Soon though, the lie starts to grow, with Evan’s fellow classmate/activist, “Alana” (Amandla Stenberg), who creates a student group to honor Connor’s memory and further inspire those suffering from their own mental illnesses, with Evan essentially becoming part of the Murphy family, while also becoming more close to Zoe. Of course, the lies are going to pile up, get bigger and bigger, all until the truth will need to come out. By this point though, some of these things are going to be a little difficult to walk back. 

 Directed by Stephen  Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Wonder”), with a screenplay by Steven Levenson (Who wrote the book to the musical), “Dear Evan Hansen”, is the kind of story that needs to be told right, risking the possibility of offending or alienating. Like I said before, the film to me does good work with the heavy subject matter, and there are plenty of aspects of the film that really work. It’s that what doesn't work, ends up bringing much of the film down. While the musical score shines, the actual dialogue and story aren’t without its cloying moments, going for overly sentimental when it should be played more naturally. The charm is there at times (Like some light moments of humor, or when the film decides to be more subtle about its emotions), though it tends to get lost in the melodrama. The film also has a feeling that something was lost in the adaptation, with most of the musical numbers being downplayed by the uninspired direction. Most of the songs, while well sung, consist of people sitting down, in bland rooms, and constant reaction shots (Generally of people smiling. A lot) in an attempt to liven things up. I know this isn’t the kind of musical like say “In The Heights”, where everything is more ecstatic and choreographed, but then maybe it was best left on the stage instead of as a feature film to be seen in theaters.

Ben Platt’s role in the film is the kind of distraction that can make or break the film for some, and yeah, it’s a little more awkward than it should be. Having portrayed the character in the original musical, he doesn’t exactly look like a teenager anymore. The make-up applied to him doesn’t always mesh (Sometimes looking like Play-Doh), and during a couple emotional moments, he appears to be melting. (Honestly, I thought he was supposed to be sickly when I first saw the trailer, not knowing that it was just the feeble attempts at hiding his age). He still gives a fine enough performance and obviously has one Hell of a voice, being able to belt out a few of the numbers in spectacular fashion. (To give a little leeway though, nobody in the movie quite looks the age they’re supposed to be) We get some excellent work out of Kaitlyn Dever (Who is proving to be a really talented actress, with more range than people give her credit for), Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani (Who gets several funny sarcastic quips) and an especially wonderful Julianne Moore. Amy Adams and Danny Pino, who have one of the harder jobs in the film and though I'm not sure the screenplay does it quite enough justice (Adams character at times comes off as a little crazy in a couple scenes), there is a reason to some of their actions. They also get one of the more effectively warmhearted moments in the film. 

"Dear Evan Hansen" has a good soundtrack, with the songs clearly resonating, though the direction and screenplay are more lackluster. It struggles with its own tone at times, retains a TV movie-like aesthetic, and can't a few too many cumbersome moments, which more or less would be the fault of the source material itself. The film isn't without heart, and I appreciate that the film never quite sugarcoats things (Such as how people react to those who've died, ranging from only wanting to remember the good or just remember the bad). I can also see fans of the original stage show feeling it was exactly how it should have been. To bash it relentlessly is a bit too far, though with everything being available through streaming services or on demand, it really has no business being in a theater. Good intentions and all. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Subject Matter, Fraudulent Backstories, And Teenage Adults. (Or Is It Adult Teenagers?)

Cry Macho                                                                                                               ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Clint even cries more macho than me.

I have an immense amount of respect for Clint Eastwood. The dude is over ninety years old, and while he certainly looks aged, he's spry as Hell, always working, and still at times can pop out a good film or two. (We don't talk about "The 15:17 to Paris". Nobody does) For what it's worth, I had some high hopes for this movie. Yeah, problematic stuff aside, I consider myself a lenient guy with a soft spot for this kind of simple, humanized filmmaking. Depressingly though, once it ended, I was left questioning if I actually liked it. Then I thought about it some more. Now I really don't like it. 

Released in theaters and through HBO Max, "Cry Macho" follows a retired, completely worn and wither Texas rodeo cowboy, "Mike Milo" (Clint Eastwood), who loses his job and now doesn't do much of anything these days. He's approached by his old boss, "Howard Polk" (Dwight Yoakam), who needs someone to cross the Mexican border to find his estranged son, "Rafael" (Eduardo Minett), or "Rafo" for short. Rafo has been living with his rather unhinged mother, "Leta" (Fernanda Urrejola), and she has no intention of letting him go, despite the fact that she doesn't really even like her son too much. Rafo is always getting into trouble, carrying about his rooster, named "Macho", to participate in cock fights. So Mike is told to leave and return across the border, only to find out Rafo, along with Macho, have stowed away in his car. While avoiding people that Leta has sent after them, Mike and Rafo must make their way across the border, while discovering that their seemingly simple journey is about to take a lot longer than expected. At least it kind of feels that way to me. 

Directed by Clint Eastwood, and based on the book of the same name by the late N. Richard Nash (Retaining a long delayed screenplay credit with Nick Schenk), "Cry Macho" is disappointing not just due to the wanting for Clint Eastwood's success (Personal issues some might have aside, I never like to see legends fail), but also because there is potential for something poignant that could have been done here. The film is slow, like a frail old man, meandering around, searching for a point and only at times ringing true. Sadly for the most part, it's more of a depressingly unfinished and worst of all, completely unfocused. Eastwood's eye for beautiful cinematography is given its due, but the film's pacing takes its sweet time moving forward. The screenplay lacks enough character to make the deliberate pace necessary, and the film's apparent message of ignoring in your face masculinity and machismo (And how more sensitivity and humanity is what really wins people over), doesn't actually go anywhere. Maybe that in the end wasn't the point, yet the film doesn't do a good enough job establishing anything else. Some of that fault also lies with the film's editing, which includes quite a few moments that could have been cut out (Such as an unnecessary prologue and awkward flash forward in the film's opening), or at least would have served better happening in the same scene instead of being drawn out. It's unevenly made, which makes for an offputting tone (That has some kind of comedy and some kind of drama, mixed with something that's just existing), and a culmination that never comes.  

Clint Eastwood, who appears to have accepted his age and wisely has been utulizing that into his more recent films, still has plenty of star power. He's charismatic enough to carry the film, even with the weak dialogue. I give credit to Eduardo Minett, although he's not exactly experienced enough, for still being able to hold his own with Eastwood. Minett still could use a little more work, but isn't without talent. Dwight Yoakam mostly just remains in the same room, not getting much to do. He's good in the film for what little an onscreen role he's given. Fernanda Urrejola and Horacio Garcia Rojas (as "Aurellio", Leta's henchman) are caricature-like villains, who a degree, could have had much of their scenes left out. (I guess it's to add more urgency, though they're so pathetic that they never resonate) Natalie Traven (as "Marta", a widow that Mike and Rafo meet while trying to hide out, becoming Mike's love interest), is a warm presence, though her romantic subplot with Eastwood isn't particularly earned, and everything involving that plotline stops the film in place for a good chunk of the second half. I suppose the most memorable character would be Macho, who is one badass rooster. (Thanos wouldn't have stood a chance. Just saying) On a side note, I only just now read up that at one point, the main star would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger (His involvement being one of the many reasons the novel took so long to get adapted), and I think that would have made more sense. In a way, it might have possibly brought more pathos to the story's themes. 

It's the kind of film that doesn't make one mad, but rather just makes you upset that it doesn't work. It kind of makes you wanna cry actually. I really wanted to like "Cry Macho", and despite some sprinkles of charm every once in a while, the film looks lost and unsure about what exactly it wants to be. It becomes especially frustrating once the film limps towards a mostly nonexistent climax and ends without much resolution. I honestly surprised that the film was even over, turning away for such a moment and turning back to the screen to see credits already rolling. Those worried that the film might have its own more social or political agenda really have themselves bent out of shape over nothing. If it's there, I couldn't see it, and the film isn't good enough to worry about anyway. I'm a bit shocked at how little I found myself caring, and even after thinking about it some more, it's hard to truly grasp what went wrong. A lack of story, personality, or you know, an actual point? I'm not sure. It could just be a bad movie, and I'm struggling to find reasons as to why it isn't. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 Adult Content And Macho Cocks. 

The Eyes of Tammy Faye                                                                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Is it strange that now I have even more of a crush on Jessica Chastain?

One thing that I've learned about faith and religion as I've gotten older, is that people both salvage and ruin it. The ideals and messages of any religion can be interpreted in a variety of ways, for better or for worse. It can create some of the best kind of people, with the biggest hearts. Then there are others who use it to hate or instead profit from, which is the biggest thing that turns everyone off of it. Regardless of my person thoughts on whatever form of faith you take, if it contributes to making you into a good person, that's great. I would never blame one though because of how someone acts, especially since it's all about how they see it. Now the weirdos? Those just make for the best stories. 

Based on true events (And mostly inspired by the 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato), "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" follows the life of "Tammy Faye Bakker" (Jessica Chastain), a somewhat weird (Well, more than somewhat), but overall kind hearted evangelist and singer, as we see her marriage to the charismatic (And rather flamboyant....Just saying) "Jim Bakker" (Andrew Garfield). Despite Tammy's strict mother, "Rachel" (Cherry Jones), not exactly seeing eye to eye with her future plans, Tammy and Jim become famous televangelists, creating their own television network, known as "PTL" (Praise The Lord), which allows Jim to preach, Tammy to sing, among other Christian based charity work, which required lots of donations. So yeah, something is definitely up here, despite the possibly best of intentions. Tammy and Jim's relationship is thrown into turmoil, with rumors of fraud, loads of debt, some adultery, and even some ire from other political Christian groups, threatening to tear their entire empire down.

Directed by Michael Showalter ("The Lovebirds", "The Big Sick"), with a screenplay by Abe Sylvia, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", is a cleverly made, though somewhat off in terms of execution, but still very thoughtful biopic, that remembers where the focus of the story should be regardless of what sadly doesn't get quite enough attention to resonate. The film at first plays out, much like the main focus of the real life story, as preppy, quirky, and colorfully offbeat, with an overly wide eyed sense of optimism and sugary sweetness. It's an inspired creative choice, especially once we reach the second act, where the hard realism oozes its way in, completely derailing what at first looked like the rise to stardom, before plummeting to the very bottom. The film's happy tone crashed rather violently, and takes a hammer to the blindly naive sense of faith. It makes the lead focus sympathetic and you could say, easy to at least forgive, despite the clear flaws. A lot of things really hinge on the lead performance, and if you can get that right, it will be the glue that holds everything together in spite of a few important missing pieces. 

Jessica Chastain, who even here just remains my number one celebrity crush (What? I'd like to think that I'd make it work with a Tammy Faye type! Love conquers all right?), is the kind of spectacular that instantly guarantees an early Oscar hopeful. It's for good reason too. She doesn't underplay it, and for a character like this, you need to go all out, even if you have to steal the limelight in the process. From encompassing the real life inspiration's mannerisms, wide eyed demeanor, and regardless of problematic choices, overall sense of kindness, Chastain refrains from falling into caricature, even for a character that almost could border on it if not for the fact that's apparently what Tammy Faye Bakker was. Andrew Garfield, and those puffy cheeks, is also rather well cast, adding some humanity to someone that quite frankly to me, was a total piece of sh*t (And a godawful husband too! Some of the stuff he does in the movie just really pissed me off). Cherry Jones also brings a softer side to a character that at first appears harsh (Although she was probably the most logical person in the entire movie). Vincent D'Onofrio (as "Jerry Falwell", the renowned and rather repulsive pastor), chews some scenery, though only gets a handful of scenes. 

"The Eyes of Tammy Faye" falters when it comes to a few details (So, did their kids just exist purely offscreen? They're there for small bits, but vanish into thin air) and feels like it's somewhat lacking when compared to other far superior Oscar hopefuls (I wouldn't be surprised if this finds itself a Best Picture nomination, somehow beating out other better films). For all it's faults, it remains an occasionally funny, morally thought provoking, and still very touching look into the life of sympathetic person, though possibly out of slight manipulation. The film boasts some good make-up (Though it takes a lot of work to make Jessica Chastain not look world shatteringly beautiful), a suitably eccentric style, and Chastain's winning performance, elevating what's mostly just solid enough, to something more worthy. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Lots Of Accents, And Eye Popping Mascara. 

Copshop                                                                                                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: All right, I'll give you a good review!

I've been doing this for over eleven years now, and by this point, it's hard to truly surprise me with much. It rarely ruins the filmgoing experience, and sometimes a good twist can get me. What I mean though is that it's rare for a film to completely come out of the blue, with little warning or fanfare, and catch me off guard from start to finish.  

"Copshop" opens with a fleeing, man-bun wearing con artist, "Teddy Murretto" (Frank Grillo), punching a rookie cop, "Valerie Young" (Alexis Louder), before getting tossed in a small town Nevada police station lock-up. During that same night, a random drunk driver (Gerard Butler) is also tossed into the same lock-up, revealed to be a skilled hitman named "Bob Viddick". It turns out Teddy has pissed off the wrong people and Viddick is the guy whose been sent to take him out. Valerie starts to become suspicious, Viddick is waiting for the right moment to get his hands around Teddy's throat, another cop, "Huber" (Ryan O'Nan) appears to be hiding something from his fellow officers, and before long, the night gets a lot of chaotic. The precinct is assaulted by a bizarrely deranged assassin, "Anthony Lamb" (Toby Huss), resulting in a wounded Valerie being stuck in lock-up with Viddick and Teddy, forced to seal the entrance shut. Valerie now has to make some deals with some devils if she's going to survive this deadly situation.  

Directed (and Co-written) by Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces", "the A-Team", "The Grey") with producing credits from Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo, "Copshop" pays homage to 70s style close quarter action films, with a darkly comedic edge, unrelenting levels of blood and violence, and characters that can be just repulsive to be around. It's not exactly insightful, too deep, or something that I can logically recommend to everyone. It's the kind of psychotic, self-aware, and refreshingly original breath of blood soaked fresh air that I have found myself thoroughly fascinated by the more I expand what kind of films that I see. It's a gorgeously shot film, with a grainy, saturated color palette that pops off the screen and is thoroughly appealing to look out, despite how rather filthy everything looks. It's certainly not glamorous, and that fits the tone perfectly. Carnahan does a bang-up job building tension, keeping you guessing constantly about what's going to happen next, and what exactly is it going to be that sets everything ablaze.When the action does happen, it can be a little haunting at times, with the bloody violence almost blinding you with just how red it is. (Not to mention, dirt as well) It's carefully crafted, without being exploitative (Okay, maybe a little bit, but I think that's what they're going for in a homage sort of way). The rather sadistic screenplay doesn't hold back, filled with eccentric, though still captivating characters, each with their own secrets and motivations that aren't always fully clear. 

 It's more or less a character driven film. Alexis Louder, being essentially the main character, is a realistically vulnerable, charismatic, and suitably deadpan action heroine. Her character's lack of experience shows (Whether it be in a gunfight, or having to deal with the manipulations of those she's forced to ally with), but her own natural abilities also shine through, especially as the film progresses. She's a breakout, and holds her own with the veterans. Frank Grillo, and his wild hairdo, is relishing his weasily role, though giving him just enough slight moments of humanity to where you are questioning if he can be trusted in some capacity. Gerard Butler gives his best performance, clearly showing a lot of great enjoyment playing the ultimate smartass, who at least knows exactly what he is and doesn't appear to be too ashamed about it. Toby Huss meanwhile appears to be having a little too much fun here, and doesn't remotely reel himself in (It sure as Hell makes for quite a few hilariously twisted sequences of out of control villainy). 

"Copshop" is the definition of sleazy, madcap, always grinning ear to ear fun. Never taking itself too seriously, whether it comes to the intentionally in your face tough guy (Or tough girl) dialogue, and a sincere appreciation for something a little more old school, if not somewhat forgotten. It makes the kind of colorfully charismatic chaos that's missing from the modern action flick. When the filmmakers are having a riotous time, with characters completely having a ball, you end up caught up in the bewildering bombast, that your inner sicko won't be able to help himself and break free. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Strong And Very Red Violence, Lots Of Language, Clear Mental Issues, And Bloody Balloon-O-Grams.   

Malignant                                                                                                            ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: No wonder she can't sleep. She just watched this film.

You know, I don't think pizza was the best thing to eat during this movie. I mean, it's certainly not a doctor recommended breakfast choice, but how was I supposed to know that just as I started chowing down, I was going to be introduced to some of the best body horror I've ever seen on film? It didn't help that it looked kind of like the pizza too. Still kept eating though. 

"Malignant" follows a traumatized woman, "Madison "Maddie" Mitchell" (Annabelle Wallis), trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband, "Derek" (Jake Abel), and also just so happens to be pregnant (Though has suffered a couple of tragic miscarriages). After Derek hits her again, Maddie locks herself in her bedroom one night, and during that time, Derek is suddenly gruesomely murdered by some kind of black clad, bone twisting entity, who also attacks Maddie, resulting in the loss of her baby. Some time later, Maddie, with some support from her sister, "Sydney" (Maddie Hasson), attempts to move on. However, Maddie starts to be plagued by nightmares, witnessing that same being from before, brutally murdering more people, with each death more violent than the last. Believing herself to have some kind of twisted psychic connection to this bloodthirsty killer, this leads to the involvement of detectives, "Kekoa Shaw" (George Young) and "Regina Moss" (Michole Briana White), who investigate the killings further. Maddie soon discovers that her connection to the killer, or "Gabriel" (Voiced by Ray Chase) as he's referred to as, is much deeper, going all the way back to when she was a child (An imaginary friend brought to life perhaps?). Gabriel has some demented plans of his own, leaving Maddie trapped in one Hell of a nightmare that doesn't seem to have an end. 

Directed by James Wan ("Saw", "The Conjuring", "Aquaman"), with a screenplay by Akela Cooper ("Hellfest"), "Malignant" is a film that regardless of how you feel about its various twists and turns, seemingly intentionally campy tone, and vile sense of blood lust, it's certainly one of the more original and unique films to be marketed as a mainstream horror movie. For better or for worse. I'd actually consider it more of a action thriller in places, that just so happens to have some very macabre elements. It's a wildly unpredictable, and at times, just plain messed up, thrill ride, that at times feels a bit more off than probably intended. Wan is a talented director, and his way of building up tension, framing grisly violence, and creating an unrelenting state of dread, is as usual a sight to behold (Not to mention, his ability to go back and forth from superhero action epics and small scale scary stories, shows a lot of range). He also does create a few elaborate set pieces, that are entirely his own. The film does feel a bit uneven though when it comes to the execution of its story, which is very serious and quite depressing, but still features occasionally out of place creative choices and the way some early reveals are explained, don't quite mesh. There's a major character twist early on that gets dropped on the audience without much build up and is just sort of accepted without question, or a mini-subplot where Maddie herself is suspected of being the killer, though by that point, it becomes obvious that there is most likely something less explainable at work. (I know that supernatural things can be hard for some to buy, but at some point logic goes out the window) I'm not always sure that it has anything to do with the direction or even the screenplay, though rather just something either cut out in editing or just in need of a little more polish. These kind of things are a little on the distracting side, though thankfully aren't enough to ruin what is actually a suspenseful, fairly heart racing tale, which also offers quite a few unexpected surprises and incredible imagery. 

Annabelle Wallis, who has been someone that I wasn't exactly sure ever showed much range, is more than excellent here, really selling the heart wrenching dramatic turmoil that her character is going through, even during what could easily go down a silly route. In a way, when things get more out there, she really sells it. There are also some good supporting parts for Maddie Hasson (Serving as the film's soul), and Susanna Thompson (as "Jeanne", Maddie and Sydney's mother), while the little moments of levity are provided by George Young and Michole Briana White. Also a quick shout out to Mckenna Grace (Who plays young Maddie in a couple integral scenes), who wonderfully delivers one of the film's most shocking moments in a truly terrifying fashion. Then there's our monstrous villain, Gabriel, making for a menacing villain, with a mesmerizing design, and a deranged personality that's just as fun to watch as it is unsettling. I dare not spoil anything else about this character, and where his completely out there story goes. 

"Malignant" doesn't always work, isn't traditionally frightening, and goes places that might leave some audiences perplexed, but the film makes up for the lack of scares with plenty of unrelenting, at times cruel sense of macabre fun. This is especially prevalent once we reach the absolutely nuts final act, where the entire film is busted wide open (Kind of talking about that in a literal sense), revealing just exactly whats going on and doing so in one of the most shocking ways I've seen in a while. The film can seem a little messy in parts, and yet, it all comes together, resulting in some grotesque images, a couple unhinged killing sprees (A sequence involving a police precinct is especially memorable, even with the lackluster CGI), and even adds some extra depth that you don't fully think about the first time. This movie is James Wan embracing his more nihilistic roots, going for some unapologetically crazy, gory thrills. It may be too unique for its own good. However, it's also got the makings of a future cult favorite, with a twist that I'm never gonna forget about. 3 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Images, Gore Galore, And Head Cracking Craziness. 

Cinderella                                                                                                                ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Looks like she's having a ball.

I have questions. Who exactly was this made for? Who wanted this in the first place? Who had yet another, supposedly more modernized "Cinderella" adaptation, on their must see of 2021? This movie might possibly know who its audience is, but I sure as Hell don't. Maybe I'm just old. I am almost 30 after all.....And I've seen a lot of versions of "Cinderella".

Released through "Amazon Prime", this new "Cinderella", as usual, follows "Ella" (Camila Cabello), who lives with her wicked (But not really), stepmother, "Vivian" (Idina Menzel), and wicked (But again, not really), stepsisters, "Malvolia" (Maddie Baillio) and "Narissa" (Charlotte Spencer). Ella, given the nickname "Cinderella", is generally forced to work and isn't exactly treated as an equal among her stepfamily, though they never actually do anything to her this time around aside from being catty. Really catty. Ella doesn't have a friend in the world, with the exception of her mice buddies/CGI abominations (Voiced by James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan, and James Corden). While Ella dreams of changing the system and designing her own dresses for a shop she hopes to run, the prince, "Robert" (Nicholas Galitzine), is being forced by his parents, "King Rowan" (Pierce Brosnan) and "Queen Beatrice" (Minnie Driver), to seek out a future queen, though Robert's early feminist sister, "Gwen" (Tallulah Greive), seems to have more interest and competence when it comes to one day ruling the kingdom. Robert is immediately smitten to Ella, convincing his father to arrange for a ball, open to all kinds of royalty and commoners, so that he can meet Ella there. Ella is denied a chance to go to the ball, but her wishes are granted by the arrival of the magical "Fabulous Godmother" (Billy Porter), who gifts Ella with a dress, a carriage, her mice friends turned into their respective voice actors, and some glass slippers. Ella has only until midnight to enjoy the ball before the magic wears off and.....What am I doing? You know this story already! It's just "Cinderella"! Except it's a jukebox musical! Cinema! 

Written and directed by Kay Cannon ("Blockers"), "Cinderella" is a movie that only has an idea. It's an idea with the best of intentions to flip the script, add in some more diversity, and convert a classic story for the ever changing times. It's just a shame that it not only falls flat, but it does so in a tragically ill-conceived and annoyingly bland fashion. The film never finds a way to justify itself, with an uninspired screenplay, with jokes that never land, and song choices that range from unnecessary to just plain lazy. Songs like "Rhythm Nation", "Somebody to Love", and "Whatta Man", just don't work and waste solid set and costume design. The better renditions would be "Shining Star" (Sung by Billy Porter, along with Camila Cabello), and "Material Girl" (Done by Idina Menzel. Probably the best number in the movie by default), but most of the others don't leave much of an impression. When the songs don't liven up the musical, it makes the overstretched nearly two hour runtime see padded out, with a few noticeable moments of drawn out silence and scenes that are meant to be funny, yet go nowhere. There is a lot of that actually. It's like it's trying to be quirky, stumbling on itself intentionally on a few occasions. It kind of feels like a sitcom, without the laugh track, pausing to get a reaction that never comes. However, I think I only chuckled once or twice, and even then, it was just barely. You just sit there, waiting for the movie to just get to the point before you consider cancelling that Amazon Prime subscription out of spite. (I mean, you'd never dare. You need that subscription, but you'd at least think about it)

It's too bad since the actors are all trying their best regardless. Camila Cabello isn't much of an actress and it shows to a degree, but she has some onscreen presence. The same goes for Nicholas Galitzine, with neither of them given a screenplay with much to offer. The film makes a change for our love interests to have scenes together unlike previous adaptations, and yet, there is even less romance between them. You somehow care less. Billy Porter isn't in the movie near enough, while Idina Menzel isn't a bad choice to play the evil stepmother, she's not particularly villainous. She's tone down to the point she comes across as a slightly jerkish stepmother. Nothing wicked about her. Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan are also trapped with the mediocre writing, but I just can't ever find myself getting mad at them. I love seeing them, and they deserve so much better. The same goes for the charming Tallulah Greive, who just gets to pop up for a couple punchlines. Also, the less said about the horrifically ugly mice, the better. I know this movie didn't cost much, but that doesn't excuse how grotesquely ugly the almost unfinished CGI is here. (James Corden's big head appearing on a tiny mouse body. Not as nightmarish as his role in "Cats".....But that bar is as low as you can go)

Unfunny, unimaginative, and lacking in any kind of magic, "Cinderella" wants to reinvent the old tale, but feels dated already and unnecessary. We've already seen this before, and we've seen it done better. (We got both of Disney's animated and live-action versions. We honestly already peaked right there) Nothing worth revisiting, especially when it's much worse now. I didn't want it. You didn't want it. Nobody wanted it. Sadly, I don't think Amazon will let you return it afterwards. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Very Slight Adult Content, And Lots Of Awkward Silence. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings                                       ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: This man is a Marvel.

We are continuing to enter this fourth phase of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (For those of you who on the off chance don't know, they're the series of films and shows based on the characters and stories from "Marvel Comics". It's been going on for over thirteen years, with some of the most successful films of all time, but I feel that some still don't know). We've had iron men, captains of America, Hulks that are pretty incredible, along with an ant man and a spider man. So many new worlds and characters upon characters, and we're still asking the questions, where else can they possible go? What new hero is going to play a part in this brand new era? 

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" follows a valet in San Francisco named "Shaun" (Simu Liu), who leads a mostly uneventful life with his longtime best friend, "Katy Chen" (Awkwafina), with neither having an intention of doing anything of significance. Then suddenly one day, Shaun and Katy are attacked on a bus by a one armed, steel blade wearing assassin, "Razor Fist" (Florian Munteanu). Shaun reveals to Katy that his real name is "Shang-Chi", and he is the son of a thousand year old conqueror "Wenwu" (Tony Leung), known to some as the "Mandarin" (The real one this time). Wenwu, armed with ten magical rings of immense power, is the leader of an international terrorist group called "The Ten Rings", and Shang-Chi has spent his life attempting to break free from his father's cycle of violence after the tragic death of his mother, "Ying Li" (Fala Chen). 

To escape the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi and Katy, search for his missing sister, "Xialing" (Meng'er Zhang), who also isn't particularly happy with Shang-Chi's purposeful disappearance and is now running her own underground fight club. Wenwu's forces though, are persistent and eventually Shang-Chi is brought face to face with his father. Wenwu is still is despair after the death of his wife, having made misguided plans to find a path to an ancient, mystical village known as "Ta Lo", home to all kinds of creatures and unknown power. Wenwu's actions could result in the release of an evil force of mindless destruction, which threatens the entire world. Now it's up to Shang-Chi to confront his past, to defend the hidden village's secrets, and in time, possibly become one of Earth's newest mightiest heroes. 

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton ("Just Mercy", "The Glass House"), who also wrote the screenplay along with David Callaham ("Wonder Woman 1984", "Mortal Kombat") and Andrew Lanham (A frequent collaborator with Cretton), "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is the first straight forward origin story we've gotten in some time from the MCU (Even more than "Captain Marvel", which had already found itself rooted in the rest of the film universe). This film is almost a complete blank slate, serving as a starting point of sorts for newcomers, though with plenty of already established aspects already integrated for longtime fans. All of this shows that the franchise has the continued potential of staying power, but can stand on its own just as something truly special. The film takes a little time before connecting into the larger MCU, instead deciding to direct most of its focus on where it should be. It's a classic heroic origin story, with that usual superhero flair, that takes a more grounded look at it. Even when things get more fantastical, it always feels as if we're seeing this through new, more relatable eyes. 

One complaint, no matter how much I do love these films, I can see how some critics could ponder how much of these films are truly the work of the directors or just calculated studio decisions. This is clearly Destin Daniel Cretton's film, and it makes for one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best looking films. The action is fast paced, well choreographed, and astonishingly elaborate. Whether its close quarters between fighters, or filled with beautifully rendered CGI monsters, they aren't just up to par with what we expect for the long running franchise, they've actually surpassed what they've already done and set a completely new standard. Plus, everything is clear to the eye, so you can appreciate how much hard work actually went into all of this (Even the most basic action films struggle with that). Underneath all of the superheroics is a deeper story, with complex characters that look and react like, well, people, even though pretty much most of these characters are still remembering the fact that half the universe was wiped out and just recently brought back. Something I love about the film is how it establishes itself within the larger grand scheme of things. It's no longer the same world we're used to. There are superpowered beings and mutated creatures everywhere, and that's apparently normal now. It lends itself to a lot of humor for sure, and a lot of creativity, especially with the film's later developments. It's the first time that we've really gotten into the new status quo.

The film really gets down and personal with its characters, which shows positive representation of Asian culture without feeling as if it's being exploited. Similar with "Black Panther", the film doesn't need to tone anything down or pander to American audiences. (It's especially noticeable early on, when the film's opening backstory is completely subtitled. No need to have people talk in English when it wouldn't be logical for them to do so). At the heart and soul of the film is both our main hero and main villain. Simu Liu has the chops and obvious skill to pull off a realistic action hero, with plenty of charisma and loads of chemistry with Awkwafina, who also serves as great comic relief as well as someone who has much more to contribute than they normally would. Tony Leung is more than just the main antagonist, because he too serves as emotional center of the film. He's subtle, at times charming as Hell, undeniably sympathetic, but always retaining this certain sense of menace, showing that this may be a villain, he's very much a human one. The relationship between Liu and Leung puts an even more complicated spin on the battle between our hero and the big bad, and it never makes it remotely simple. You actually find yourself actually liking the both of them. Meng'er Zheng gets a breakout performance, getting her own little side origin that I'm hoping will get more development in future films. Fala Chen, mostly appearing in flashbacks, is quite wonderful, serving as a graceful presence, while Michelle Yeoh (as "Ying Nan", a protector of Ta Lo), gets to class things up, while she's kicking all kinds of ass. There are also some surprise appearances from the larger MCU, such as the always great Benedict Wong (as "Wong", partner to "Doctor Strange", who is participating in Xialing's fight club), and a certain high profile actor, returning from a previous film to once again steal the show. (How the film ties into one of the more controversial entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite clever and hilarious, which should appease both those who didn't mind and those who did) Also, you will remember "Morris". I won't tell you who or what that is, but you'll fall in love instantly. 

When we reach the final act, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" becomes one Hell of a surreal, visually incredible extravaganza, that may turn off some viewers, though by this point, a grand final CGI heavy battle is basically the norm. Luckily for me, the effects are excellent, the artistry behind the action is mesmerizing, and there's a freakin dragon! I'm sorry, but there is a small list of things that will always win me over, and that's one of them. It's a tale that opens small, then builds to an epic finale, that thankfully, never forgets the heart and humor that's meant to help elevate past the more generic blockbusters. Everything from Destin Daniel Cretton's expert direction, flawless performances, a score (And soundtrack) worth repeat listenings, unforgettable imagery, and characters that you'll find yourself equally invested in and in love with. The film takes what should be basic, and makes it feel brand new again. It shows that the now old school formula still has soul, similar to 2008's "Iron Man", and doesn't show any signs of wearing thin. Also, Dragons! One of Marvel's best for sure, but also, one of their most accessible. It's as if while this universe has been going on for some time, there's still so much more that we're yet to experience. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Martial Arts Style Violence, Family Problems, Soul Sucking, And Faceless, Winged Piggies. 

Candyman                                                                                                      ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: So, he doesn't take a sunrise, and sprinkle it with dew?

Can we give Producer and Co-Writer Jordan Peele ("Get Out", "Us"), an honorary award for saving this franchise before it makes one of horror cinema's most horrifying sins. Despite the success of the 1992 low budget (To some, considered a classic), "Candyman", the series of course had a series of forgotten sequels, with the threat of a crossover with the "Leprechaun" series at some point (The idea that it almost became a reality is scarier than anything in this movie), and what was once meant to mean something at one point, would just become the kind of schlock that snobs like me would use to generalize other horror movies. Eventually, all of those ideas were cancelled and resulted in a newer, shinier, and more relevant straight up sequel (Though also reboot. It's all the rage nowadays) to the first film.   

"Candyman" follows a frustrated artist, "Anthony" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), is living with his art director girlfriend, "Brianna" (Teyonah Parris), in a nice looking condo within Cabrini, which now bears no resemblance to the Cabrini Green neighborhood from the first film due to excessive gentrification. Anthony hasn't been able to create a new piece to display at Brianna's upcoming gallery, so he ventures into the remnants of the old, forgotten neighborhood, to study some of the old urban legends to serve as a subject. One of those legends revolves around "Helen Lyle" (Previously played by Viriginia Madsen in the first movie), who seemingly went mad one day while doing something similar, nearly killed a baby after committing a few other grisly murders, eventually being set on fire by the citizens of the neighborhood (However, those who saw the original know there is more to that little story). 

Anthony's investigation leads him to a local, rather eccentric resident, "William Burke" (Colman Domingo), who explains how this connects to the legend of the "Candyman" (Previously played by Tony Todd in the first film), a man in a coat with a hook for a hand, surrounded by bees, that only appears when you say his name in a mirror five times. This then results in the Candyman proceeding to brutally murder you after. Anthony becomes enamored with the tale, expressing his fascination through his art, which in the end, has resurrected the legend once more. Soon, people begin to meet gruesome fates, while Anthony himself beginning to lose his mind, as he sees the Candyman everywhere he goes. As bodies begin to pile up and Anthony continues to lose control of his mental state, the dark history behind the Candyman starts to come to light, along with Anthony's own personal connection to it, leading to a horrifying, yet inevitable future that's about to unfold.  

Directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta ("Little Woods", along with the upcoming "Marvel Cinematic Universe" film, "The Marvels"), with a screenplay she also wrote with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld ("The Twilight Zone", "BlacKkKlansman"), "Candyman" takes the best aspects that worked from the previous film and either expands further on them, or even just deconstructs them further to the point your perspective on the original gets kind of thrown out the window. It's a sequel for sure, but like "Blade Runner 2049", it definitely feels like something that stands on its own, even with the references to the first movie. The original felt like a movie with a social message of appropriation and how society will seek to intentionally overlook poorer communities in favor of self gain. It also just so happened to have Tony Todd appearing in mirrors to mercilessly gore people to death with a hook. This movie on the other hand has a lot more to say and its going to make sure you get that point even if it has to brutally jab it into your skull. Honestly, the word "Brutal" would be the best way to describe the film. Nia DaCosta's direction, despite being set in as real a world as you can make, has the feeling of a scary story that's being told to you, with some brilliant sequences of backstory and lore being explained via shadow puppets. 

This isn't exactly the kind of horror that makes you jump out of your seat (In fact, there aren't really any jump scares at all), it's a calmer, slower paced kind of uneasiness that makes your skin crawl and makes you feel a sort of emotional pain. Speaking of pain, the kills and body horror in this movie is remarkably done. Nobody dies peacefully, with the scenes being framed around mirrors, where we only see things from a certain angle, and an invisible force ripping someone to shreds (Though the entity responsible still appears in the mirrors performing the kill). There's also a running theme involving a grotesque bee sting that proceeds to basically rot Anthony's entire arm, and it only gets worse the longer the film goes. Its a fantastic make-up job where this goes, and pays homage to older horror films that didn't hold back in the gross out imagery. How the film integrates bigger themes, referencing what came before, and also creating somewhat of a grander history behind it, is all ingeniously done. The screenplay doesn't hold back in not just talking about the current racial divide, it goes further back, detailing how long this kind of thing dates back and how it's only just taken a different form over time. Contrary to belief, racism just doesn't go away, and it takes all kinds of shapes and forms. As dark and as frightening as things get, there are great moments of macabre humor to balance this out. What's refreshing about this is that the characters react just how you would expect them to. People are smart about the situations that they're in and even the dumber characters, destined to die badly, are portrayed as such. There are quite a few big laughs here, and they are intelligently injected into the overall tone. A twisted film needs a twisted sense of humor after all.  

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has started to show a lot of promise considering his variety of performances (From "Aquaman" to "The Trial of the Chicago 7"), is exemplary, going from charismatic and halfway likable, to flawed and a little pretentious, and eventually, completely mad and all kinds of unhinged, in a natural feeling way. Teyonah Parris is equally terrific, while Colman Domingo may be too great of an actor for our minds to handle (That man can literally play anything, and you'll be compelled every minute he's on screen). Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (as "Troy", Brianna's very open and expressive brother), has some well timed humor, and even he too, feels like an actual person with legit reactions to what's going on around him. Vanessa Williams (as "Anne-Marie McCoy", from the first film), makes a brief, but greatly important appearance, while other aspects from the first film are worked into this one in an unpredictable, though incredibly clever fashion. One thing that's going to be rather controversial, though I found it to be very bold, is how the film kind of switches around the races in how they are generally expected to act. (Especially considering horror was known for offing the minorities quickly and without mercy) Lets just say the dumbass white people body count is going to piss off the easily pissed off and whiny, and I love this movie for just going for it. Considering all of the black people that horror films have killed over the past few decades, I think it's only fair. 

With memorable characters, hypnotizing direction, socially significant and important, along with a level of savagery that horror films today are too afraid to go for, "Candyman" is not just superior to the original, it's also miles ahead of its own genre. You want to go back and see what else you could have possibly missed, while also enjoying the suspense and unrelenting terror, that doesn't always affect you at first. Unsubtle in the best way possible (Who needs subtlety these days? Have you seen how intentionally oblivious people are?) and downright depressing in parts, you leave the film in a state of shock. A future horror classic, and just plain a damn good scary story. And like all the best scary stories, it will only transcend over time. Also, stick around during the end credits (It includes a little something to ponder before you go). 4 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Bodies, Hooks Being Ranked Through Flesh In Vomit Inducing Ways, And Bad Bee-Havior.  

Reminiscence                                                                                                          ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Wow, the new Jessica Rabbit is even prettier.

Even I could have told you that this movie, no matter the quality, was not destined for box office greatness. It's odd how much that we want noir-esque, Science Fiction thrillers, but generally ignore them whenever a new one is released. The pandemic also sure as Hell wasn't going to help this time. We all want another "Inception", "Blade Runner", or "The Matrix", and yet, we just can't seem to get this right. 

Set in the near-ish future, where Miami is now partially submerged by water due to climate change, "Reminiscence", where now people prefer to go out at night, and the shady stuff happens during the day since the coastline cities now become ghost towns during this time. We follow "Nick Bannister" (Hugh Jackman), who works with his assistant "Emily Sanders" (Thandiwe Newton), also known as "Watts", administering people a drug, that combined with a aquatic machine thingamajig, that helps people return to their memories. Considering how crappy everything is for everyone at the moment, nostalgia has become the only way to escape, and Nick also uses it as a means of assisting the District Attorney's Office with various cases. Nick gets a surprise visit from a beautiful singer, "Mae" (Rebecca Ferguson), and he's immediately smitten with her. They appear to fall in love over the course of a couple months, before Mae just vanishes out of nowhere. Nick starts to become obsessed with finding her, and his personal investigation leads him down some dark paths, coming across some questionable characters, such as drug lord, "Saint Joe" (Daniel Wu), a shady land baron, "Walter Sylvan" (Brett Cullen), and a disfigured corrupt cop, "Cyrus Booth" (Cliff Curtis). Nick slowly starts to uncover secrets that maybe he was better off not knowing, calling into question how real his relationship with Mae really was.

Written and directed by Lisa Joy ("Westworld"), who produced the film alongside her husband, Jonathan Nolan (Brother of Christopher Nolan), "Reminiscence" shows a lot of promise, and much of that promise doesn't leave the film early on. Every now and then, a new, fascinating idea is introduced, or Lisa Joy shows off her eye for stunning visuals. It's also impressive that despite a more modest budget by today's standards (It only cost $68 million), the effects work is beautiful, like a haunting painting of a perceived future, brought to life before our very eyes. I just wish it was better written, had more originality, and was, well, actually remotely cohesive in any way. The film has the aspirations for a new wave, future cult classic, intending to resurrect the classic noir storylines of old, mixed in with a dystopian feel. The dialogue sadly almost borders on parody in places, with everyone talking as if they just stepped out of the most pretentious detective novel, with poetic metaphors just dropped into what are meant to be every day conversations. All of this is taken way too seriously, and there is hardly any sense of levity to the bleak tone. The story itself is all jumbled, and while it feels intentional, the mystery is more confusing than interesting. Every few minutes, something of interest is introduced, which continues to further over complicate a plot that's meant to be a somewhat tangled web to be unraveled. You start to wonder what else could possibly happen or what other possible twist could be tossed in, even when the film stumbles to its final act (And at that point, you don't quite realize that the movie is almost over, considering how much still needs to be explained or pieced together). I was honestly caught off guard when I realized that we were at the climax. 

The potential is always there, and when such good actors come in to give really good performances anyway, it makes you a little more depressed that the film couldn't have been better. Hugh Jackman is great as you would expect him to be, while the big star of the show is Rebecca Ferguson. Aside from being, well, absolutely smoking hot beyond human imagination, this is one of those flawlessly cast performances that make up for little screentime with a certain graceful and mysterious presence, that's both alluring as it's meant to be, but also hiding something a bit more complex beneath the surface. Ferguson is far too subtle for the screenplay's tendency to go for the more overstated developments. Thandiwe Newton is underdeveloped, yet still has some good comradery with Jackman, Cliff Curtis is menacing (Though the accent given is a little distracting), while an entertainingly sneering Daniel Wu is underused. 

 "Reminiscence" has moments of excitement and intrigue to go with all that flash and flair, but a lot of it comes crashing down towards the end. Once we get down to what's really going on, and what led up to it, I it began to lose me. Then once we reach the very end, it completely lost me. It concludes on such a pretentious note, that just doesn't add up. It feels like the movie wants to say something deep and meaningful, but it's nothing that so many better movies, shows, books, or even video games, have already done and done in a much smarter manner. There just isn't all that much worth remembering, aside from what a waste it was. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Violence, Monotonous Monologues, And Dangerous Levels Of Rebecca Ferguson Attractiveness. 

PAW Patrol: The Movie                                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Can I lick various parts of your body?"

I certainly missed this part of the job. With kids movies such as this, my time in the movie theater is going to go one of two ways. The first will consist of me awkwardly going into a completely empty theater with the theater staff silently mocking me the entire time, or I will be in a thoroughly crowded theater, with families all over the place, and as usual, being the only adult all by himself. It was the second one this time, and sadly I couldn't even hide in the back like I generally try to. Still pretty sure the staff was mocking me too.  

Based on the popular children's show (And the toyline) of the same name, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", follows the titular "PAW Patrol", made up of the child leader, "Ryder" (Will Brisbin), along with his adorable puppy companions, German Shepherd cop, "Chase" (Ian Armitage), Bulldog construction worker, "Rubble" (Keegan Hedley), Cockapoo aviator, "Skye" (Lilly Bartlam), Dalmation firefighter, "Marshall" (Kingsley Marshall), Mixed-breed recycling dog, "Rocky" (Callum Shoniker), and aquatic rescue Labrador, "Zuma" (Shayle Simons). Stationed outside of "Adventure City", which has just elected the up to no good (And totally fabulous!), "Mayor Humdinger" (Ron Pardo) via rigged election. The top hat wearing, mustache twirling mayor has big villainous plans for the city, most of which at the expense of the canine community (He's more of a cat person). The PAW Patrol is called into the big city and is given a brand spanking new base of operations, though Chase is the most uneasy due to memories of his abandonment when he was an even smaller pup. 

With some help from a local, fast talking Dachshund (And PAW Patrol fangirl), "Liberty" (Marsai Martin), the PAW Patrol are able to prevent some of Humdinger's incompetent schemes, which repeatedly endanger the lives of the citizens. Meanwhile, poor Chase has begun to question his bravery due to a string of recent failures and moments of inescapable fear. After Humdinger gets control of an experimental weather studying device, developed by the always ignored scientist, "Kendra Wilson" (Yara Shahidi), and instead tries to use it to make Adventure City always sunny, without caring about the dangerous ramifications. As you would expect, the device malfunctions and now threatens to basically cause an apocalyptic level hurricane. Now it's up to the PAW Patrol to save the day, sell some colorful toys, liberate some poor pooches, and teach the little kiddies a nice life lesson or two.    

To state the obvious, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", is something that no person my age would have any interest in. It's aimed at a young, single digit demographic, and unlike say something from "Disney", has no intention of including much that any adult (Parent or otherwise), would find themselves enthralled by. You gotta get that through your head as early as possible, and once you do, the fact that this ends up being a charming little adventure just on its own, makes it worth it if you just so happen to get dragged to it. From "Nickelodeon Movies", the film doesn't try to overextend its simple plot, keeps it straight forward and right to the point. Director and co-writer Cal Brunker ("Escape From Planet Earth", "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature"), seems to know what the target audience is meant to be, what obligations are necessary (Gotta sell those toys!), but wisely avoids going for anything loud or obnoxious. There isn't excessive amount of noise, and absolutely nothing low brow. (Not a fart joke to be seen. Or heard) The animation, while nothing on par with say "Pixar" or Sony's "The Mitchells vs. The Machines", is still just appealing to look at, with bright, flashing colors and expressive characters. It sure feels cinematic, even if it's not as detailed or unique. The film is also actually relatively well paced and well, just very calm. The stakes are rather low, though never to the point where it talks down to the kids, and the humor, while nothing that will get too big of a laugh out of adults, is worth quite a few more chuckles than you might expect. (I never got anything more than decent sized chuckles, but still, this was not the kind of movie I thought I would get much of anything out of) 

The voice cast and characters are all likable, though the PAW Patrol members themselves are the least memorable. They're cute and all, but unless you're a fan of the series, the movie doesn't get too in depth with them. The only exception being Ian Armitage, who gets the biggest character arc, and it's leads to a good message about conquering doubt and fear, even when you're at your most fragile. Marsai Martin is the one who steals most of the scenes, having her own little sweet side story. Ron Pardo is an amusingly buffoonish baddie (He's basically playing a questionably flamboyant Donald Trump. I know I'm not the only one who sees that!), while there's some good laughs from Randall Park and an unrecognizable Dax Shepard (as "Butch" and "Ruben", Humdinger's bumbling henchmen). Other fun celebrity voices come from Tyler Perry (as "Gus", a perplexed truck driver that the PAW Patrol saves early on) and Jimmy Kimmel (as "Marty Muckracker", a news anchor with amazingly poofy hair). Also, Kim Kardashian West shows up as a shallow poodle. She's only in it for a like a minute and I honestly didn't even realize it was her until the end credits. Being unfamiliar with the franchise because I'm you know, twenty seven years old, a few things I just kind of hand to go with. Like, is Ryder an orphan or something? And does actual law enforcement not exist here? Why do these people rely on little puppies to do all the work? Is that legal? You'll hurt your brain if you get too into it. 

As inoffensive as they come, "PAW Patrol: The Movie", never overstays its welcome and does its job much better than it really even needed to. It's a quick watch for the family, which never gets too heavy, but also never feels like it's jiggling keys at the kiddies. It features some solid animation, a decent amount of charm, and also builds up to a fun, even fairly exciting finale (Well, as exciting as a G rated movie for six year-olds can possibly be). It's just a pleasant movie, and I'm not sure how anyone can walk out of it in exactly a bad mood. We all remember what it was like to have our own hour and twenty minute, theatrical toy commercials posing as children friendly fare. This one just so happens to have genuine effort and an earnest personality to make it worth recommending. I had no real reason to be here other than to write a review for it, but at least I wasn't too embarrassed to admit that I actually liked it. I'm mature enough for that. 3 Stars. Rated G, Despite Some Puppy PTSD. It's Actually Nice To See Some G Ratings Making A Bit Of A Comeback.  

The Protégé                                                                                                        ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Maybe we should be sitting outside on a patio to practice proper Covid safety."

So are trained assassin movies the new spy movies? Of course they're glamorized and Hollywoodized to Hell, with there being a pretty good chance that the adventures of the real life, every day assassin is not near as exciting or as sexy as this. There's probably a lot of sitting around, waiting, lots and lots of surveying, and after a head shot or two, results in a quick trip back to a smelly hotel, where the process begins again, with not a Maggie Q in sight. Not exactly what you wanna see for an hour and forty minutes. 

"The Protégé" follows a skilled, highly intelligent assassin, "Anna Dutton" (Maggie Q), who was found at a young age by another longtime assassin, "Moody" (Samuel L. Jackson), who served as both her mentor and father figure. The two have been fulfilling various contracts for years, taking out bad people, though it's clear that age is starting to catch up to Moody. However, it turns out natural causes are the last thing to be concerned about as Moody is murdered, along with anyone connected to him and Anna, leaving her to find out who is responsible. Anna's mission takes her back home to Vietnam, where she becomes entangled in a web of conspiracies and assassination attempts, along with a game of cat and mouse against a rather charismatic henchmen, "Rembrandt" (Michael Keaton).

Directed by Martin Campbell ("The Mask of Zorro", "GoldenEye", "Casino Royale", "The Foreigner"), with a screenplay by Richard Wenk ("The Mechanic", along with both "The Equalizer" films), "The Protégé" is a movie that suffers from a generic feel for a good chunk of the first act, before settling down and figuring just what it wants to be. It's not that there's anything wrong with something more typical, so long as it's well made, and this film is certainly professionally handled. Campbell is a good director, and knows how to film a good action scene (I've noticed he's especially good with building up the tension to one). The film just doesn't quite grab you at first, giving off that feeling that it's a little on auto-pilot for the for a while before the actual premise of the film becomes apparent. Now I'm not saying that it's particularly original, but it feels like the film finds its momentum here and from that point on veers into a rather violent, somewhat quirky action thriller, that has enough personality to make up for some tough to follow plot points. 

Maggie Q is a registered badass, and she definitely has the charisma to carry the film. She's the kind of character that's flawed and vulnerable, but nonetheless capable and it's always entertaining watching an awesome lady go through some bad guys. Michael Keaton however, almost steals the entire movie away. He's clearly not exactly a character to root for, and yet, he's oddly likable. It doesn't help that he has some great back and forth with Maggie Q. It's one of those antagonistically friendly relationships that only work if the actors can pull it off, and boy do they. The film comes to life beautifully when they're on screen, and even more so when they're together. Samuel L. Jackson brings everything he has despite his limited presence, while David Rintoul (as Rembrandt's boss) and Ori Pfeffer (as "Athens", Rembrandt's rival, who makes an enemy out of Anna) are alright villains. Robert Patrick (as "Billy Boy", a leader of a biker gang, who also happens to be an ally to Anna and Moody), pops up to remind that he's old. 

Despite some narrative woes, "The Protégé" is a fun time that benefits from the remarkable chemistry between Maggie Q and Michael Keaton, who I could have watched banter for two hours straight. They make the wild, occasionally nonsensical ride more worth it, and even elevate to something more of substance, especially once we reach the admittedly tense final moments. I'm not sure how much everything adds up and how successfully it does so, but for what the film gets right, it's just enough to accept those missteps. 3 Stars. Rated R For Some Shocking Violence, Language, And Chronic Backstabbing. 

The Night House                                                                                           ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I've seen enough horror movies to know I probably should leave this place....But I'm not going to." 

The biggest takeaway anyone should get from this movie is that secluded lake houses (Or any kind of home that just so happens to be located in a concealed area by itself) is a bad idea. Whether or not there's something actually there, the entire time you'll feel like something is. If you hear a noise outside, you'll automatically drop everything and take up arms against what's either a intruder with nefarious intent.....or a squirrel (Though it too might still have nefarious intent). It could be something, or it could nothing. With that said, this movie showed me that nothing is pretty damn terrifying. 

"The Night House" follows a recently widowed teacher, "Beth" (Rebecca Hall), who's husband of fifteen years, "Owen" (Evan Jonigkeit), just out of nowhere, took a boat out onto the river near their lakeside home, and shot himself. There were no apparent signs, with Owen not even talking to Beth about it, only leaving a note that reads "You were right. There is nothing, nothing is after you. You are safe.". Beth is distraught, unsure of what to do with herself, and is in an emotionally unstable (And unhealthy) place. While in her now empty home in the middle of the night, Beth starts to hear a mysterious voice that sounds similar to her husband, as well as strange, impossible to explain images, which may pose a threatening presence. However, Beth wakes up, not knowing if what she is experiencing is real or just a dream brought on by her current trauma. Despite others advising her not to, Beth starts to look into some of Owen's secret projects, such as his extensive and articulate work on their lake house. As Beth goes further down the rabbit hole, she starts to uncover secrets that she might wish remained buried, as well as possibly something much darker just waiting to unleashed. 

Directed by David Bruckner ("V/H/S", "The Ritual"), "The Night House" is a seemingly run of the mill ghost story, that instead could be listed more as a drama and psychological thriller, rather than an actual horror movie. Don't get me wrong. There's some genuine terror and unnerving themes, but when you get down to it, the film is actually showing us a woman, filled with all of the stages of grief, ranging from sad, terrified, mad, and desperate for closure of any kind (Even if there doesn't appear to be any), as she slowly may be losing herself to something that may or may not even be there. Under all the spooks and scares, is actually something really sad and probably might hit really close to home for some people. Bruckner focuses on atmospheric dread, preying on our fears of worry and anxiety, leaving us to wonder if we're truly alone in the room or not. The film intentionally uses perplexing imagery, that only slowly starts to come together, though in a way that's thoroughly unpredictable. Yeah, there's a couple jump scares, but even a lot of those are effective. (There's an especially brilliant one where the shot is focused purely on Rebecca Hall's face during what should be a calming moment, only to make you jump at what can only be described as the worst kind of sudden panic attack imaginable) The way the film plays with its always changing imagery, the well timed score, and the visually alluring cinematography is where most of the scares come from, messing with your mind just as much as our protagonist's. You're constantly on edge, and not just because of the worry of an unanticipated fright. You feel like you too are not in the right state of mind, especially thanks to the upsetting subject matter, which is handled in a less glamorous manner. The film never sugarcoats it, and never relents from what effect that kind of grief and mourning can have one someone, who may already be in a questionable mental state. 

This entire movie is a showcase for Rebecca Hall's incredible talent, with little focus given to anyone else, and at times, just placing the camera squarely on her face. We see every intricate emotion (Or sometimes, a mix of various emotions), and Hall beautifully, though also tragically, conveys it, without ever needing to overstate. She can be at times humorous, although uncomfortably so, realistically using a macabre sense of humor to cover her turmoil (There's an especially memorable and awkwardly funny scene involving Beth having to deal with an unbearable parent, who is too enamored with her own, less important frustration than you know, the fact that the woman's husband just committed suicide) These little scenes add hints of levity to the gloomy tone, and feel necessary. Similar to Elizabeth Moss from last year's "The Invisible Man", Rebecca Hall gives a brutally honest performance that shows us the different layers of despair and fear, where the supposed spirit or entity is the least scary thing to worry about. There are some solid supporting work worth mentioning, from Sarah Goldberg (as "Claire", Beth's supportive best friend) and Vondie Curtis-Hall (as "Mel", Beth's helpful neighbor, with a couple secrets of his own). 

A mind bending mystery, with an emotionally resonate core, "The Night House" has some excellent twists and turns, with the surreal nature of the film leaving much in question. Even once we reach the last act, you still are left pondering where it's all going to go. It's the kind of movie that might leave some confused and those looking for a more traditional horror flick with a good body count will definitely be turned off. I can't see myself recommending it to those people. Even with some more overt scares, where the real horror comes from is more on a level that gets into your head. You've got to have felt this kind of fear before, where your worry or even your current sadness, gets the better of you, and you can't help but let those emotions manifest themselves into some kind of dark presence. A presence that isn't there. You may jump once or twice, but you might even find yourself with a couple tears in your eyes. You might also leave that light on in the closet the following night. Just in case. You never know what's there. Probably those damn squirrels. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Unsettling Content, And Depression That Seeps Into Your Soul.  

Don't Breathe 2                                                                                                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Stop! Hammer Time! 

2016's surprisingly successful "Don't Breathe" (Directed and co-written by Fede Álvarez), was one of the first horror films in some time to remind me that they were capable of so much more than just a lot of gore and jump scares. Sometimes fear didn't come from what overly frightened you, but instead came from what you could never anticipate, and stuck with you long after you left the theater. And grossed you out with some sensitive subject material the film probably glossed over just a little bit.

Set over eight years after the first film, "Don't Breathe 2" sees the return of "Norman Nordstrom" (Stephen Lang), a.k.a. "The Blind Man", who was previously the former Navy Seal, turned victim of burglary, and then turned mentally unhinged kidnapper and killer (And also rapist....That's basically what happened with the whole turkey baster thing). Now he's on the path to decency, by taking care of a young girl, "Phoenix" (Madelyn Grace), who Norman claims is his daughter. Norman cares deeply for Phoenix, teaching her to be self-sufficient through survival training, though he has closed her off from the rest of the world in an attempt to hide his dark past. When a group of armed methhead thugs, led by "Raylan" (Brandon Sexton III), storm Norman's hope, with a mission to kidnap Phoenix, Norman has to utilize all of his training and bloodlust to protect her. However, there is something more to the intentions of the violent intruders, and it threatens to unravel the world that Norman has established for Phoenix. 

Directed and co-written by first time director (And co-writer of the previous film and 2013's "Evil Dead"), Rodo Sayagues, with Fede Álvarez also returning as also a co-writer for the screenplay, "Don't Breathe 2" has decided to take up quite the challenge. It's a difficult one that many screenwriters, no matter how good, could fail miserably at. I'm not just talking about making a sequel that last I checked, not many people asked for, felt relevant, or necessary (It doesn't). The real, much harder task, is to see if you can you find a way to redeem someone that we all know has horrific things. In a way, it's completely going to be up to the viewer to decide if this character is truly redeemed, even with his admittedly complicated and tragic backstory. For me, It's fairly close to making this work, or at least making his humanity win out. At least as well as you probably can. (Though I wouldn't say that it's necessarily because of the script) There's something ambitious here, but sadly, the film lacks the genuine terror, the cleverness, and most importantly, the uniqueness of the original. It's not a badly directed film. There's a few well done sequences, such as with Phoenix avoiding her captives by using her wits to stay quiet and stay hidden. Not to mention, the gory kills are impressively detailed, and you gotta kind of commend the film for not holding back in that department, especially since you don't see this level of violence in movies these days. (Never thought eyes could go squish like that) However, the first was brilliant in it's execution of its concept, with sequences that have still stuck with me even though I only saw the original film once back when I reviewed it five years ago. The dialogue is uneven, and leaves too many questions that the film doesn't have the time (Or money) to answer. I mean, did nobody notice the many burning houses in this one area? I know it's supposed to be set in a small suburb in Detroit, but there's got to be some kind of civilian life somewhere. 

The film is ruthlessly dragged down by the filmmakers' inability to justify its existence, and what makes that even more frustrating is that all that ends doing is waste (And I'm not joking here), Stephen Lang's mesmerizing performance. He's giving it everything and selling it wonderfully. He's terrifying when the film calls for it, and yet also, he shows the character's clear pain and regret of what he's been through and even more about what he's done. Everything that works about this film is because of Lang, and he's captivating throughout. Madelyn Grace is also a good young actress, being a real character with justified reasons for some of her actions, though also still really smart and kind of a little badass. They're awesome, and their performances are too good for this movie, especially when everyone else is godawful. Brendan Sexton III is a total cartoon, with no other real personality trait other than he's just greasy and does evil stuff because he's evil. With that said, he's subtle compared to everyone else. Every single one of these villains, with most of them just being here to meet grisly deaths, are all horrible characters, played by horrible actors, trying to overly portray horrible people. It just ends up being horrible.  

"Don't Breathe 2" is a silly little low budget slasher flick, that has aspirations to want to bring some more layers to a dark character, and maybe even a glimpse to if he has a soul to save. Whether that works is up to you. Stephen Lang and Madelyn Grace are both terrific, though the script fails them, and by the end, if this movie never existed, nothing would have changed about the much better first film. It's a sequel that doesn't need to be, and despite spots of something worth it, I doubt anyone is going to be talking about it in the following week. 2 Stars. Rated R For Poor Parenting And Gruesome Gratuitous Gory Grossness.

Free Guy                                                                                                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Super....Uh....Guy.

It's time that many of us atone for our sins. All of those countless lives that we've taken or at least ruined beyond repair. We truly are monsters. I mean, if we tally up how many video game characters we've ruthlessly murdered over the years, I'm pretty sure we could be labeled by any psychologist as homicidal maniacs by this point. 

"Free Guy" follows a guy named "Guy" (Ryan Reynolds), who is an NPC (Non Player Character), in an immersive open-world video game, known as "Free City", from "Soonami Games". In Free City, it's basically "Grand Theft Auto", where players spend their time robbing banks, blowing up cars, causing collateral damage, and torturing all of the other NPCs on a daily basis to the point where they have just accepted it. Guy, who works at a bank with his best buddy named "Buddy" (Lil Rel Howery), which is consistently robbed, though Guy always retains a smile on his face. However, after meeting the girl of his dreams, a player named "Molotov Girl" (Jodie Comer), Guy gets the courage to try something different and gets his hands on a pair of sunglasses, which the other players use within the game to level up. Determined to prove himself to Molotov Girl, Guy slowly becomes an instant sensation, being just an all around lovable person, helping others and being the hero he's always wanted to be. 

With that said, Guy's actions are noticed in the real world, with former game developer, "Millie Rusk" (Also Jodie Comer), who uses Molotov Girl as her avatar, is in a struggle against the bro-tastic boss at Soonami Games, "Antwan" (Taika Waititi). Antwan apparently stole much of the ideas for Free City from Millie to create Free City, while her former partner, "Walter "Keys" McKey" (Joe Keery), who now begrudgingly works for him. Keys assists Millie in attempting to find proof of Antwan's misdeeds, which leads to the revelation that Guy (Who has been dubbed "Blue Shirt Guy" by the gaming community), is not like any NPC. He's becoming something more and could be the key to saving Free City before Antwan releases his much anticipated (And much lazier) sequel, which will result in the deletion of everything Guy knows and loves. 

Directed by Shawn Levy (The "Night at the Museum" trilogy), with a screenplay by Matt Lieberman ("Scoob!") and Zak Penn ("Ready Player One"), "Free Guy" is when you get down to it, probably not quite as original if you consider other films with similar ideas. It really is a quirky mixture of "Wreck-it Ralph" with existential ideas like from "The Truman Show", with the sense of humor of "Deadpool". It's the creativity behind the concept that make it more unique, and most importantly, just how freakin funny it is, to make the whole thing come together. Levy balances the real world with the one within the game, crafting more than a few elaborate sequences that are both exciting and more intricate than you usually find in a straight up comedy. The screenplay is clearly knowledgeable about its subject, poking fun at at various gaming tropes and everyday glitches, with some of those ideas weaved into the story rather brilliantly. There are details all over, and the film knows when to keep them in focus or just leave it as an amusing Easter Egg for eagle-eyed viewers. The fast paced (And rather quotable) dialogue never let up, and makes for one of this year's best comedies, ranging from weirdly charming to surreal and oddly inspiring in some places. Of course there's some obvious shade at certain aspects of this culture. Such as how we all know that there's a good chance that hardly any of the gamers look remotely like they do in the game. (There still are a few big laughs to be had here, such as a couple of young girls, who are taking a little too much glee in the bank robbing mission). The film isn't remotely cynical about it however. It understands why people love these kinds of games, and how a character like Guy would be someone to gravitate towards. 

The very busy Ryan Reynolds is one of the movie's biggest selling points, and boy does he give it everything he's got. Always grinning in an optimistic fashion, and just oozing pure, almost innocently whimsical likability. Reynolds is so damn charming in this that it just puts you in a good mood while watching. Jodie Comer is another one of the film's most shining stars, wonderfully playing essentially two parts of the same role, and just being naturally appealing. (Also, I think I might have a crush now. What? Cute, funny gamer girl? How can a geeky guy like me resist?) An endearing Joe Keery, Utkarsh Ambudkar (as "Mouser", Keys' friend, who for some reason uses a pink rabbit suit as a game avatar), and a hysterically lovable Lil Rel Howery, make for great supporting players. Meanwhile, Taika Waititi goes for inhuman levels of over the top, though still serving  as probably an accurate portrayal of modern gaming CEOs.  

"Free Guy" doesn't take it's concept into any dark places, and in the last act, decides it's better to go into full crowdpleaser territory. Then again though, what's wrong with that? We need to be uplifted, and believe it or not, the film does a rather astounding job of that. Inspired with its references, visually creative, funny as Hell, and so genuinely sweet natured that I would consider it to be the most adorable movie that 2021 has to offer. The movie is full of surprises, and I wouldn't dare to spoil any of them. What I can say is that an overly enthusiastic Ryan Reynolds may be just the thing we need to get us through the rest of the still uncertain year. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And The Horrible Ways That We Treat Our Innocent NPCs. 

Respect                                                                                                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: I wonder what it means to her. Let's find out.

For such an iconic figure, with an incredible life story, you have to under no circumstances make sure that you get it right. You can't half-ass it, pull back when you should push further, and most importantly, give the audience what they came here for. Now getting all three of those objectives right tends to be the issue with Hollywood. 

Based on the life of a legend, "Respect" follows the story of the Queen of Soul herself, "Aretha Franklin" (Played by Skye Dakota Turner as a child, then by Jennifer Hudson as an adult). We see Aretha's already amazing voice as a child, as she sings in her church choir, before setting out for something more professional, though always under the overbearing watchful eyes of her father, "C L. Franklin" (Forest Whitaker). Aretha eventually sets out to break out on her own, after getting into an abusive marriage to "Ted White" (Marlon Wayans), her involvement in social justice, and her inner demons that she has to overcome as she reaches a level of stardom that few could ever hope to achieve. 

Directed by Liesl Tommy (Known mostly for Broadway work), with a screenplay by Tracey Scott Wilson (Known for television work, such as "The Americans"), "Respect" plays out like a Wikipedia page, brought to life in cinematic form. It tells you what you may or may not already know, as quickly as possible, without dwelling too much on some of the more disturbing material. For a movie that's nearly two and a half hours, it's certainly odd to admit that there feels like something important is missing. Aretha Franklin's story is a long and complicated one. It's also a story that's not only impacted by many important African American figures, but also has had such an noticeable impact on race and the music industry. The issue is not so much that the film doesn't actually say anything new to those who already know a decent amount about her life. (I mean, a good story is a good story. It's all about how it's told) It's just not particularly well paced, with some fairly cookie cutter dialogue, and not near enough time given to certain aspects of Miss Franklin's life, which are either trimmed down to adhere to a safe PG-13 rating or just left out due to a lack of time. Granted, I'm not sure how you can just leave stuff out in an already overly stretched out runtime. I don't think Liesl Tommy is a bad director by any means, considering that the film looks solid, and certainly knows how to stage the music based sequences (There are quite a few excellent setpieces, matched to some of Aretha's most iconic songs). It just feels lacking in important ways that prevent the film from reaching the high standards that it has little choice but attempt to reach for. 

You can see the makings of something better, and most of that is due to some terrific performances, which are chock full of impressive little details. Jennifer Hudson is pretty much the best choice we could ever ask for, matching Aretha Franklin's vocals (As you would expect she would), but also her mannerisms to pitch perfection. Forest Whitaker is great, as anyone would expect him to be, while Marlon Wayans is shockingly good, playing a realistically detestable human being. Audra McDonald (as "Barbara Siggers Franklin", Aretha's mother), makes the most of her rather brief appearance, while Marc Maron (as "Jerry Wexler", Aretha's producer), gets the film's moments of humor right. The film falters with some of the supporting players, though it's no fault of the actors. Albert Jones (as "Ken Cunningham", Aretha's road manager and later lover), along with Saycon Sengbloh and Hailey Kilgore (as "Erma" and "Carolyn", Aretha's sisters), aren't bad in the film, but don't have actual roles, only making appearances when the story demands it. Mary J. Blige (as "Dinah Washington", who was a source of inspiration for Aretha), also appears and disappears much too quickly. Other important facts such as Aretha's children, her traumatic experiences as a child, and even her contribution to the civil rights movement, don't feel as important due to a overall lack of attention given. 

When "Respect" gets it right, it's wonderful. The film ends on a heartfelt high note, though it's truly hard to tell if that note feels earned or not. With that said, the film is exactly what those who Aretha inspired wanted. Nothing too sad, dark, or complicated, though addresses what needs to be addressed, while also making for a sentimental watch. It's obligatory in the execution of what is meant to be the more inspirational scenes, but you can't fault the film for doing that. In fact, stuff like that is kind of hard to dislike, even when the movie just doesn't do near good enough a job with them. Fans might love it, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just missing too much of what matters if they were going for anything award worthy. Or even anything worth your time when you could get the same feeling from a documentary. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Abuse, And Uncomfortable Topics That May Be Somewhat Glosses Over, Though Still Warrant A Word Of Warning. 

The Suicide Squad                                                                                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The good guys always win, right?

The story of how this little masterpiece of madness came together has got to be the only smart thing "Warner Bros." has ever done in regards to the "DC Extended Universe". The moment of former director from "Troma Entertainment" (Known for small budget, independent parodies and horror films, which some would consider exploitative), James Gunn, getting temporarily fired by Disney and Marvel for controversial/problematic comedic comments (That he had already apologized for), WB swooped in without hesitation and hired him on the spot. Sure, Gunn is now back at Disney, but after getting free reign to do whatever the f*ck he wanted, I wouldn't be surprised if he had plans to go back and forth between the studios. After all, he's already gotten the taste for blood. Lots of blood. Lots and lots of blood. 

A sort of sequel, but not really (It has absolutely nothing to do with it really) to 2016's "Suicide Squad", "The Suicide Squad" (With a "The" at the beginning) opens with morally questionable government official, "Amanda Waller" (Viola Davis), gathering her collection of supervillains, placing miniature bombs into their skulls, and forcing them into her high-risk black ops team, "Task Force X", or as it's also called, "The Suicide Squad". This newest team, led by soldier, "Col. Rick Flag" (Joel Kinnaman), consisting of a wild, vile, and rather bizarre group of baddies. There's the psychiatrist turned fan favorite clown criminal, "Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn" (Margot Robbie), Ben Shapiro's favorite "Superhero", "Christopher Smith/Peacemaker" (John Cena), the hilariously disturbing, "Abner Krill/Polka-Dot Man" (David Dastmalchian), dimwitted man-eating half man, half shark, "Nanaue/King Shark" (Voiced by Sylvester Stallone), and the daughter of a villain with a power over rats, "Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2" (Daniela Melchior), along with her pet rat, "Sebastian". There's also even more weirdos, such as an intense hacker, "Brian Durlin/Savant" (Michael Rooker), the boomerang throwing wacko, "George "Digger" Harkness/Captain Boomerang" (Jai Courtney), a villain with the ability to detach his arms, "Cory Pitzner/T.D.K." (Nathan Fillion), the javelin wielding "Gunter Braun/Javelin" (Flula Borg), the obviously in over his head "Richard "Dick" Hertz/Blackguard" (Pete Davidson), an alien warrior, "Mongal" (Mayling Ng), and "Weasel" (Sean Gunn, in motion capture), who is just a human sized weasel. Last, but certainly not least, is the heavily armed mercenary responsible for putting "Superman" in the ICU, "Robert DuBois/Bloodsport" (Idris Elba), who is blackmailed by Waller into joining the Suicide Squad, by threatening to have his estranged teen daughter, "Tyla" (Storm Reid) arrested for petty theft. 

The squad is being sent to South American island nation, "Corto Maltese", which is currently in a violent political power struggle, consisting of the new tyrannical dictator, "Silvio Luna" (Juan Diego Botto) and his even more ruthless general, "Mateo Suárez" (Joaquín Cosío), against a group of rebels, led by "Sol Soria" (Alice Braga). The mission is to infiltrate an old Nazi-era laboratory, known as "Jötunheim", which houses a mysterious and deadly experiment called "Project: Starfish", with Luna planning to unleash the frightening creature that hides within. The plan is to track down Luna's head scientist, the intelligent supervillain, "Dr. Gaius Grieves/The Thinker" (Peter Capaldi), and force him to get the squad into Jötunheim, before Project: Starfish is unleashed onto the world. The Suicide Squad must put their many differences aside, their need to back stab each other, and their own dark histories, if they're going to save the world, and you know, do so while keeping their heads perfectly intact. 

Written and directed by James Gunn ("Slither", "Super", and both "Guardians of the Galaxy" films, along with the upcoming third one), "The Suicide Squad", is Gunn unleashed, in the most gleefully violent, outrageously insane, and horrifically hilarious comic book movie to ever grace the silver screen (Or on whatever device you're streaming this via HBO Max. If you feel safer watching it from home). The first ten minutes result in a gruesome sequence that needs to be seen to be believed, and even then, I'm not entirely sure that it happened. It's like a mad fever dream, with the most twisted sense of humor and some memorable carnage. A lot of the action is like that, going for gritty and gory, but also surreal and psychedelic. It's a beautifully directed film, which somehow finds a way to make the most bizarre of images feel natural. Whether it's meant to look cool, scary, or even a little endearing, somehow the film finds a way to make it all work and appear to be real in its own demented way. (We have a fat shark, a guy covered in polka dots, and a clown girl fighting a giant Starfish. Nothing about this movie is normal) It toys with time and structure, to ensure that the audience gets in every little detail, and it does so in clever ways. In some parts, it can almost feel that the film is trolling you to a degree, snarkily subverting any expectations you can possibly have, and it's something that you not only don't see in your average comic book movie, but you just don't see that in mainstream movies in general. You can see the inspirations from old fashioned exploitation films, in terms of the violence, humor, and the overall cruelty behind the absurdity. The film gets down and dirty with it's characters, with a lot of them being truly despicable, and James Gunn truly embraces the Hell out of it. 

There are so many people in this movie, with some getting larger roles than others, but every single one of them, whether they be major or otherwise, leaves an impression. Gunn's skilled and integrate writing gives the smallest of appearances a lot of personality, so that you know just enough about them before they most likely march into the face of death, resulting in a glorious (Or pathetic) demise. I always laugh when the DC fanboys rave about Superman's character arc in the DCEU (Because he has no character! How can there be an arc if there's no character?) In reality, the best character in the entire film universe is Harley Quinn, and Margot Robbie has just perfected this character. It actually feels like she's progressed over the course of her film appearances, while also retaining that unhinged, yet oddly adorable, repertoire of mental insanity. (Harley Quinn has become DC's version of "Deadpool", and the world is better for it) Idris Elba, who by this point is just showing off when it comes to the kind of range he has in terms of his film roles, is the essential possibly redeemable, but still likely a cruddy person, that fits what would realistically be considered the anti-hero. He's not exactly heroic. He's just not quite as bad as some of the others, and even then, you care about him. 

Speaking of caring, Daniela Melchior serves as the heart of the film, along with a hilariously out there David Dastmalchian (In the biggest role I've ever seen him in), and Joel Kinnaman, who makes for an excellent straight man to all the weirdness. John Cena is a riot, playing a violence loving, yet overly passionate about liberty and patriotism, dude bro who has been described as a "Douchey Captain America" by James Gunn himself. Sylvester Stallone is flawlessly cast, and the effects work on King Shark himself is not only impressive and kind of frightening, but also really lovable. Michael Rooker gets one of the most memorable moments, Jai Courtney looks to be having a blast, Nathan Fillion is suitably useless, and Pete Davidson is well, Pete Davidson. Joaquín Cosío is a solidly nasty villain, while Peter Capaldi just embraces pure, unapologetic scum-baggery. Also, everyone give a shout out to our boy, "Milton" (Played by Julio Ruiz), an ally to the squad, who does absolutely nothing, but we love him anyways. Viola Davis meanwhile returns to once again be terrifying as f*ck, portraying someone who could almost be considered the true main villain of the entire film, with no redeeming qualities and yet, you almost kind of respect her for it. You're kind of in awe of her heartlessness. The film also features a certain one eyed, kaiju-esque monstrosity that goes from appearing cartoonishly silly at first, before turning into the stuff of Lovecraftian nightmares. Some actors and characters appear in smaller capacities than others, with some getting even a small amount of character development before a sudden death. However, while yeah, it's a little for shock value, it ends up working more than you would expect. Every single person in this movie,  

This movie has the biggest balls you've ever seen, and I'm only kind of referring to that in a metaphorical sense. With a terrific score, an even better soundtrack, along with top of the line visual effects, and so many unpredictable turns, "The Suicide Squad", doesn't hold back on the occasional cruelty, but somehow underneath it all, finds something actually fairly sweet and heartwarming. There are moments that find a strange sense of pathos that even many more sane films appear to struggle with. There is a man with a polka dot rash in this movie, and I give a crap! There's more humanity in this movie than most Oscar contenders. (Now most of those humans are fairly crappy, but that's what makes it more genuine) Full of cynical carnage, pitch black hilarity, and believe it or not, characters you not only care about, but might even get a little misty eyed when they die. The DCEU finally has its first great movie, and I really hope that this is the start of something monstrously beautiful. More like this, please! 4 Stars. Rated R For Gloriously Grisly Gore, Unspeakable Swears, Starfish Induced Nightmare Fuel, Mommy Issues, John Cena's In Your Face Bugle (Which You Can See. All Of It!), And Dead Eyed, Humanoid Vermin. 

Jungle Cruise                                                                                                       ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wait....This isn't the Tiki room?"

It's the simple pleasures in life that make getting through this whole pandemic worth it. Something that reminds me of a simpler time, where you could just enjoy a pleasant theme park ride, much like "Pirates of the Caribbean", and most importantly, get some damn good puns out of it. That's the thing I miss the most.  

Based on the pun-tastic Disney World (And Disney Land) theme park attraction of the same name and set in 1916, "Jungle Cruise" follows eccentric, but brilliant explorer, "Lily Houghton" (Emily Blunt), who is determined to get assistance from a royal association of explorers, by tracking down the fabled "Tree of Life", where mystical illness curing petals, known as the "Tears of the Moon". Since the group denies Lily's offer (Due to not believing in the legends.....and because they're sexist like everyone one else was back in the day), she steals an ancient arrowhead (Which is said to be the key to finding the tree), and brings along her reluctant brother, "MacGregor" (Jack Whitehall), to mount their own expedition to the rivers of South America. That's where we meet sarcastic steamboat captain, "Frank Wolff" (Dwayne "Is He Still The Rock?" Johnson), who knows the river and jungle by heart, taking tourists on river cruises, where he generally cons them out of money with fake dangers and makes the worst (But also BEST!) jokes imaginable.

 However, Frank owes money to the harbormaster, "Nilo Nemolato" (Paul Giamatti), and in his desperation, he takes up Lily's job offer to venture into the jungle river. Turns out though, Lily isn't the only one searching for the tree, such as a deranged German aristocrat, "Prince Joachim" (Jesse Plemons), and as it turns out, Frank may have his own interests in finding the tree. Frank, Lily, MacGregor, along with Frank's pet jaguar, "Proxima", embark on a wild journey into the dangerous jungle, avoiding all kinds of threats, such as Joachim's forces, the many things that wanna eat you, and cursed, undead conquistadors, led by the no longer human "Don Aguirre" (Édgar Ramírez), who also have their reasons for finding the tree. 

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Shallows", "Run All Night", "The Commuter"), "Jungle Cruise" is rather derivative of some of those late 90s to early 2000s, family oriented action-adventure films, that all in of themselves feel like cinematic theme park rides. That's what the film's intent clearly is, and Collet-Serra does a great job of encompassing that. Once you get past the films lack of ambition when it comes to original storytelling, one can't help but find themselves sincerely immersed within a movie that just intends to give its audience some of those good old fashioned tropes of Hollywood escapism that we're too cynical to appreciate these days. Sure, it does that right up to a fault, but it's too genuine to dislike. It's very CGI heavy, and not a whole lot of it looks particularly real. It looks good, with a sort of colorful and flourishing appeal. You an just tell though that everyone is acting around a big greenscreen during a lot of sequences. However, I kind of feel that the lack of realism is a bit intentional, with the film's screenplay, by Michael Green ("Murder on the Orient Express"), Glenn Ficarra ("Focus"), and John Requa ("Cats & Dogs"), retaining a fantastical tone and a quirky sense of humor.    

A enjoyably snarky Dwayne Johnson and the ever charming Emily Blunt (And also ridiculously attractive too. Blonde hair. Just works for me), are two of those actors who can carry a movie simply by the will on their natural onscreen charisma. Their comedic banter is flawless done, and even when things get more romantic (As you would predictably expect), I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it really worked. It almost pisses you off how well Johnson and Blunt play off each other, and you'll gladly follow them anywhere. Jack Whitehall might appear to be somewhat stereotypical at first, but proves himself to be a good character, getting quite a bit of the film's laughs, and even participates more than what's defined as the comic relief would normally do. Paul Giamatti makes the most of his really brief appearance, while Jesse Plemons is an absolute villainous riot. Édgar Ramírez is also a frightening baddie, with a nightmare inducing design (Complete with snakes coming out of his face for attack), along with some cleverly put together henchmen (Such as one that grows out of the trees, or another that's basically a living bee hive). 

"Jungle Cruise" is the kind of movie where the plot is serviceable enough for one to follow, though really doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. It's all about the rapid paced, creatively whimsical journey, rather than the destination. Aside from a couple unexpected twists here and there, it doesn't lead to any conclusions that you wouldn't expect it it. But you know what? That's perfectly okay. For families looking for a little extra edge to their light hearted trip to the movies (Or a at home movie night, if you instead decide to stream it on "Disney+" via Premiere Access), it offers a delightfully trope heavy trip back to the kind of basics that if done jut right, never get old. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Perilous Peril, Surprisingly Scary Images, And The Kind Of Punmanship That I Would Shamelessly Break Out On A First Date.  

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The saga never ends....Seriously, it never will.

Well, I've already reviewed the first two parts. All that money I've spent collecting robots that change in vehicles, along with an excessive amount of lore and the hours I suffered watching the Michael Bay film, has brought me here. To the end.....Of this series before Hasbro decides to reboot it for another one. 

In the epic conclusion to the trilogy, "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom", brings everything to a head. The heroic "Autobots", led by the still struggling in his position "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee), and the villainous "Decepticons", led by the now slightly more insane "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha), have crash landed on Earth, long before humanity has begun to thrive. Their quest to find the missing "AllSpark", and resurrect their dying homeworld, "Cybertron", has taken an unexpected turn, with the Autobots more defeated than ever and Megatron having gotten his clutches on the mystical "Matrix of Leadership", haunted by a vision of an unknown time traveler, "Galvatron" (Also Jason Marnocha for obvious reasons). The Autobots end up meeting their animal-hybrid descendants, the "Maximals", led by the big bot ape himself, "Optimus Primal" (Justin Pierce), who are on a time displaced mission of their own. The Decepticons meanwhile, meet their own descendants, the "Predacons", led by a tyrannosaurus fanboy of old Megsy, having taken the name "Megatron" (Marqus Bobesich) in his honor. The Autobots and Maximals, who are distrustful of the Autobots since the dark future that they're from is essentially Optimus' fault, are forced to band together to track down the AllSpark, before both Megatrons do, who intend to alter their own future, but making things worse for everyone else. Others take sides during the conflict, such as the remorseful Predacon, "Dinobot" (Krizz Kaliko) just wanting to see an end to the conflict, Megatron's traitorous second in command, "Starscream" (Frank Todaro) seeking to take power for himself, and the arachnid Predacon "Blackarachnia" (Jeanne Carr), plays all sides to ensure her own survival. Little does anyone realize that their eons of endless conflict have been part of something larger, and the vile planet sized being responsible (Wink Wink Fans!) isn't going to let hero or villain change what's supposedly meant to come. 

From "Rooster Teeth" and "Polygon Pictures", "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom" is a flawed, though still a plenty satisfying, if not uniquely bold, end to the trilogy, forgoing a lot of tradition once we reach the final episode. The controversial series may not convert any new fans (Critics may have praised the series, but a good portion of the fanbase wants nothing to do with it), continuing the darker, more detached and bleak tone of the first two seasons, but ends on a high note. However, I would consider it the weakest entry in the trilogy. One aspect that the final season suffers from is trying to get a lot done in a relatively short six episodes, along with a decent sized exposition dump. Unless you're familiar with the lore, I can see someone being a little lost. For longtime fans though, it's all based around a good amount of fanservice, and speaking of which, there is a lot for fans to still love about this finale. More importantly, there's something truly mature about how it comes to a close, which I have loads of respect for. The animation continues to shine, continuing the series' knack for accuracy (They look so much like their toy counterparts, it's almost freaky) and making for some gorgeous imagery. Just seeing the classic "Generation 1" era characters, with the "Beast Wars" era ones, also are worth a recommendation alone, considering it's something that fans have very much longed for. It makes for some great character interactions, such as the classic Megatron being more annoyed by his descendant's fanaticism than anything, the clear difference in the forms of leadership between the two generations of Optimus, and of course, Starscream being Starscream as he fails miserably to play both sides, especially compared to the much more capable Blackarachnia. The characters, even though some have somewhat different personalities than what we're used to ("Bumblebee" is still more of a hot-head, though has the best of intentions), still ring true.   

I think Jake Foushee has come into his own as a more complicated, less competent Optimus, who also appears to have grown towards the end. The real scene stealer is Jason Marnocha, who makes for an amazing Megatron, making the transformation from misguided savior to deranged tyrant. Some of the "Beast Wars" era characters have voices that don't quite match, such as Marqus Bobesich, who doesn't have near the right amount of villainous gravitas the original had. Granted, I think that's meant to be intentional, but it's still fairly distracting. Krizz Kaliko, while once again having a voice that's vastly different from the original Dinobot, still gets the character's jaded side down, making for one of the season's best character arcs. Some characters like "Rattrap" (Voiced by Andy Barnett) and "Rhinox" (Voiced by Frank Todaro) get pushed to the side (Blink and you'll miss "Scorponok"), while other major players get less of a role this time. There are still some that make their brief appearances memorable, such as the return of "Elita-1" (Voiced by Linsay Rousseau), who was one of the best characters throughout the entire series and her story's conclusion is actually quite heartbreaking. It was actually quite cool to see the female characters, like "Arcee" (Voiced by Sophia Isabella) and "Airazor" (Voiced by Erin Ebers), getting much more to do than they normally would have. 

"Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Kingdom" comes to a bittersweet end, with a shocking twist in the final two episodes, that completely changes what we generally perceive as a traditional "Transformers" story. It's not something I can get too into due to spoilers, but I found it to be refreshingly unique and actually very poetic. It makes for some great character moments and maybe even sets up something much more different in the future. Overall, the "War for Cybertron" trilogy has been a flawed, though thoroughly exciting venture, that at least had ambitions to go for something just a little more. Even when the series didn't quite reach the heights of what it was shooting for, I appreciate just how much it tried, while also giving fans some sights that we never thought we'd ever see. Divisive till the very end, and yet, something I can see any "Transformers" fan deciphering for years to come. Not bad for a franchise that originally only existed to sell us some toys. Now they do that, and get us to think a little more. 3 Stars. Rated TV-Y7, Despite Once Again Featuring Some Gruesome Demises. Just Because They're Robots, Doesn't Mean It's Not Violent.  

The Green Knight                                                                                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: When the Black Night isn't available.

So this is what A24, with a budget bigger than a turkey sandwich and a couple of perverse favors, must look like? Don't let the grander than usual scale fool those of you who aren't into artsy fartsy movies. There is a good chance that you might leave this movie thoroughly confused, and as usual, I'm pretty sure that was more than intentional. Oh I'm sure there is a deeper meaning behind every single frame in the film, but it takes a real manly man to admit that when he just may not have fully understood everything. 

Based on the six hundred year old Arthurian poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", written by an unknown author lost to time, "The Green Knight" follows "Gawain" (Dev Patel), the nephew of "King Arthur" (Sean Harris), who is invited to be a part of the Knights of the Round Table's Christmas time celebrating and merriment. However, the part is interrupted by the arrival of a frightening, towering, tree-like humanoid, known only as the "Green Knight" (Ralph Ineson). The Green Knight offers a challenge to whoever can strike a blow to him, will have one year before he strikes the same blow back. Gawain, wanting desperately to prove himself, accepts the challenge and in a moment of brashness, decapitates the Green Knight, who immediately lifts up his head and rides off into the night, laughing and preparing for his and Gawain's future confrontation. A year passes, and Gawain's journey is about to begin, though some such as his lover, "Essel" (Alicia Vikander), tries to convince him not to, Gawain is determined to make a legend out of himself and prove himself as a true knight. Armed with Arthur's sword along with green girdle given to him by his mother (Sarita Choudhury), Gawain ventures into the harsh, cold, extremly lonely world, where he encounters bandits, strange apparitions, horny ass nobles, and a lovable fox companion. 

Written and directed by David Lowery ("A Ghost Story", "Pete's Dragon", "The Old Man & the Gun", proving that he has a decent amount of range), "The Green Knight" Is probably what a more realistic version of a Arthurian legend you'll ever see. Gone are all those colorful sights, romanticized stories, and clear cut characters, who are easy to determine which is good and which is evil. This is not a glamorous adventure. It's brutal, unforgiving, and difficult to decipher in places. It's one of those films that may be entirely left open to interpretation, as little is explained and due to the various amounts of imagery (Ranging from beautiful to nightmarish to just plain puzzling), you're left just like Gawain, questioning what's real or what's meant just to be a metaphorical illusion. Is there a deeper meaning that you need to read between the lines to understand? Is the meaning that you have found the one that the director intended? Is it all just a bunch of arthouse mumbo jumbo that's just odd simply because movies such as this like to be odd? I have my theories, but regardless, it's an immensely enthralling cinematic experience unlike anything you might see in theaters right now. It's also in a way, not like anything A24 has quite given us before. The budget this time looks much bigger, and the scope of the film deserves nothing better than the biggest screen you can possibly find. 

Lowery uses some old fashioned, but very welcome (And refreshing to those who miss this kind of style) techniques, such as a storybook-like set design and an unthinkable amount of detail put into every costume or prop. There is so much to appreciate in the foreground and background, and you're left wondering what certain things could possibly mean, whether it's in the background or foreground. It all fits well into Lowery's intimate and beautifully ghoulish, yet drearily epic direction. Not to mention images that will find their way into your soul, leaving a haunting, though fantastical impression. There's a jaw dropping sequence with some larger than life giants (The sense of scale during this scene is frightening), that's especially memorable, along with some quiet moments involving Gawain's own fears and doubts getting to him, resulting bits of existential horror. Lowery's screenplay is also open to interpretation at times, such as with poem-like dialogue, though I get the idea that everyone is going to have their own version of what they believe everything means. If I had a theory or two, I could see the film as a showcase of what we perceive as traditionally manly. We fight for honor, never show our fear, or more importantly, never let anyone see our shame. The film does an excellent, if not occasionally uncomfortable, job of showing that. 

This is Dev Patel's movie, who continues to shy as both a terrific actor and an always appealing movie star. Much like his character, he goes through Hell, showing his character's inner chagrin and fear, very much going against image of the heroic, chivalrous knight that he desperately wishes to be. A point that the film may appear to be making is about over the top masculinity and the overall horny attitude for well, everything. It's not just entirely about sexual desire, but also the lead character's need to become that honorable warrior worthy of timely tales. However, he repeatedly fails, finds himself outmatched by his surroundings, and outwitted, making mistake after mistake. Even when he has the best of intentions, Gawain isn't without selfishness and the worst part being that it's like he doesn't even realize it. With that said, he's not an unlikable character. These flaws and insecurities feel more natural, and Patel does a great job at portraying those emotions, sometimes just with the slightest expression. There are various appearances from other great performers, like Joel Edgerton (as a Lord that welcome Gawain into his home rather too nicely), Barry Keoghan (as a scavenger who doesn't waste time attempting to steal Gawain's stuff), Eric Kellyman (as a ghost-like young woman named "Winifred", who wants Gawain to find her missing head), an intense, yet warm Sean Harris, and a mesmerizing dual role for Alicia Vikander (Playing both Gawain's love interest, as well as a wealthy lady that attempts to seduce him). Ralph Ineson, though he only appears twice in the entire movie, makes for a towering, truly menacing, and awe-inspiring presence. (That make-up job alone is Oscar worthy!)

"The Green Knight" is the kind of film with great staying power, whether it be because you find yourself wanting to know what it all means out of joyful curiosity, or headache induced frustration. It's nonetheless something that keeps your attention, to the point you find yourself immersed in the world that's being brought to life on that giant cinematic screen, witnessing a classic tale of knightly virtue, except this time, with all the bullcrap cut out of it. It's portrayed as something more human now. It accomplishes what a good legend should do. It's unforgettable, and love it or hate it, you'll be passing that legend off to someone else, who will then pass it on to another. Kind of hard not to appreciate that, even when the confusion sets in.. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Images, Shameful Sexual Desire, People Getting A "Head", And Dev Patel's Excitable Human Goo. 

Old                                                                                                                       ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: They all look great for their age.

I have grown to kind of respect M. Night Shyamalan. From a decent sized filmography, consisting of "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable", "Signs", "The Village", "The Happening", "The Last Airbender", "After Earth", "Split", and "Glass", everyone has a varying opinion on them (Maybe except "The Last Airbender". That one is kind of despised all over), with no in between. The guy is a little nuts, and yet he truly is in a league of his own. I do feel that especially in recent years, he's started to realize what kind of filmmaker he is and play to his strengths. Can't exactly figure out what is yet myself, but it's sure fun to talk about. 

"Old" follows a family vacation to a tropical resort.....from Hell! Protective parents, "Guy Cappa" (Gael García Bernal), and his wife, "Prisca" (Vicky Krieps), are going through a few issues at the moment, but want to remain together for the sake of their charming children, "Trent" (Nolan River) and "Maddox" (Luca Faustino Rodriguez). Guy, Prisca, Trent, and Maddox, are taken to a secluded beach as part of their vacation program, joined with another family, a bigoted doctor, "Charles" (Rufus Sewell), his younger wife, "Chrystal" (Abby Lee), their daughter, "Kara" (Kyle Bailey), and his mother, "Agnes" (Kathleen Chalfant). While on the beach, the vacationers also meet a rapper by the name of "Mid-Sized Sedan" (Aaron Pierce), that Charles is immediately suspicious of, along with another couple, "Jarin" (Ken Leung) and "Patricia" (Nikki Amuka-Bird). When the corpse of Mid-Sized Sedan's girlfriend winds up on the beach (And rapidly decomposes after a couple hours), things start to get even weirder as Trent, Maddox, and Kara, all suddenly start to physically mature (Their older forms being portrayed by Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, and Eliza Scanlan). Other physical and mental changes start to occur with everyone else, such as wounds healing at a fast rate and underlying diseases getting much worse. It becomes apparent that nobody can also leave the beach, with anyone blacking out before they can escape, trapping our unlucky vacationers in an unimaginable nightmare that appears to only end in death.

Both written and directed (Also produced) by M. Night Shyamalan, and based on a graphic novel called "Sandcastle" by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, "Old" is a Shyamalan joint through and through. It all comes down if you're willing to accept that or not, and to be honest, when the film is awkward, it's pure narm in the most cinematic way possible. However, when the film works, it's kind of brilliant and makes for an unsettling, rather memorable family drama. It's got a great setup, taking it's time to build up some tension and slowly explain what's going on in an atmospheric fashion. It also helps that the film is gorgeously shot, with some excellent cinematography. Shyamalan sure can frame an amazing shot, and I'd go as far as to say this may be one of his best looking films. It's the tone where things get a little weird, and by this point, I've come to learn that the shifts are intentional. It's just how M. Night Shyamalan writes his movies apparently. Sometimes I think the movie is awkward and weird for the sake of being awkward and weird. There are moments where one can be left baffled by what's on the screen, whether it be little moments of out of place dialogue or just the overall strangeness of the premise. It will also shift suddenly without warning. Such as a rather detailed incision scene, that both features an intense amount of body horror as well as a character breaking out into a random thought that doesn't have anything to do with anything. The same goes for a sudden impregnation that's almost creepily comedic, until it goes down an uncomfortable and depressing route. The thing about these moments though is that they're meant to be like this. There are reasons for why characters react certain ways, and the twists that happen later, are built up rather well. Shyamalan also toys with how many of the characters experience the aging process, from demented visions, along a loss of sight or hearing, which makes for both frightening and disheartening sequences. 

These are some good actors, giving very committed performances, and even when the screenplay kind of has to cut corners (Maybe for time, budget constraints, or to adhere to a PG-13 rating), I do at least buy them in their roles. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps are very good in the movie, and get some well earned, heartfelt moments that make them characters to care about. Rufus Sewell is perfectly scummy and actually gets a couple frightening moments, seeing that his character appears early on to be suffering from a form of dementia (And when a mentally unwell man with the intense stare of Rufus Sewell comes running at you with a knife, you had better flee in terror). There are some excellent casting choices between the kids and as they get older, with Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie being standouts. These characters go through a few actor changes, and it looks uncanny throughout. Some characters don't quite serve much purpose (Why is Aaron Pierre a rapper again? Or what was the point of Kathleen Chalfant's incredibly minor appearance?), but when the focus is shifted on who really matters, there is a good, bittersweet story there. 

"Old" doesn't exactly lead to a typical Shyamalany twist. It instead slowly hints at what's going on, and once it's all fully explained, it not only makes a weird amount of sense, but it's also something that still feels totally unexpected. I thought the ending was very clever, and it leads to solid conclusion. The movie isn't for everyone. It's needlessly strange in parts, could generate laughs that may or may not be intentional, and just might be too offputting in odd places. It's also original in execution, with some excellent performances, disturbing in the best way possible, and regardless of how you react to it, memorable to say the least. M. Night Shyamalan does what M. Night Shyamalan wants to do, and for better or worse, you really have to respect the man for standing out. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Images, Horny Teens, Pretzel Limbs, And A Seriously Bad Infection. 

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins                                                                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: But his eyes don't look like a Snake at all.

Has anyone noticed that the "G.I. Joe" franchise has kind of vanished in recent years? A popular Hasbro made toyline/cartoon/multi-media franchise with many incarnations , much like "Transformers", there hasn't been much new material from it in a long time. There was that god awful "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" movie, followed by a sort of sequel with the more enjoyable (But still quite silly) "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" a few years later, before everything just stopped. Even my geeky self hadn't really thought much about this series I grew up with. So a reboot was inevitable at some point, with hopes of reigniting that spark to bring in some new kids along with the adults who grew up with the franchise, as well as start a new cinematic universe. Unlike others though (Remember the "Dark Universe"?), this one at least may just have the right idea. And, nerd alert, we might get some new collectibles out of it 

"Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" follows the titular masked ninja (Henry Golding), who after witnessing his father's death as a child, has taken the name "Snake Eyes", as he searches for his father's killer. Snake Eyes is roped into the gangster life by Yakuza member, "Kenta" (Takehiro Hira), who promises him that they will find the man who murdered his father.....Eventually. Some time later, Snake Eyes befriends "Thomas "Tommy" Arashikage" (Andrew Koji), who is in reality the heir to Clan Arashikage, a secret group of ninjas who assist special military unit (And big time PSA provider), known as the "G.I. Joe", in the protection of the world. Tommy, having found a kindred spirit in Snake Eyes, brings him to Tokyo, to partake in the three "Challenges of the Warrior", so that he can become part of the Clan Arashikage, which is led by Tommy's grandmother, "Sen" (Eri Ishida), the "Hard Master" (Iko Uwais), and the "Blind Master" (Peter Mensah) . Tommy sees the potential of greatness for Snake Eyes, though a fellow clan member, "Akiko" (Haruka Abe), is more suspicious of the questionable loner.

Turns out though, Snake Eyes isn't quite ready to become that hero we all know him to be, as he continues to work for Kenta, a former member of Clan Arashikage, with plans to get his hands on the clan's mysterious secrets, such as a powerful jewel that can basically just blow things up real good. The Arashikage soon learn that Kenta is connected to the sinister and seductive, "Baroness" (Úrsula Corberó), an operative of the evil organization known as "Cobra". With Cobra's role in the war between Clan Arashikage and Kenta's gang revealed, this leads to the involvement of Joe member, "Scarlett" (Samara Weaving). Snake Eyes continues to face the challenges, dealing with his inability to let go of the past, facing his own demons, and eventually, becoming the honorable ninja/cartoon character/badass action figure, that a certain film critic looked up to back when he was just a little twerp. 

Serving as a starting point for a hopeful "G.I. Joe" cinematic universe, "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" doesn't exactly have a high bar to meet and sadly doesn't reach the gold standard "Marvel" heights that have already been set. However, it doesn't fall into the same trappings as others have by taking a good bit of advice from Marvel. Play the long game. Now I'm not saying that success is assured, but the potential is there and at times, the film realizes it. Directed by Robert Schwentke ("Red", "R.I.P.D.", and the last two "Divergent" movies. Ew), this is a more grounded approach to the Saturday morning-esque source material. There are still some fantastical elements (Giant snakes, exploding jewels, all Japanese people speaking mostly English despite being in Japan), and yet, the execution is fairly smart. For what it is anyway. There is a good story here, with a couple decent character arcs, and a solid amount of adrenaline fueled excitement. It's also very clever how they incorporate many of the classic elements from the source material in unique ways (I especially like what they do with "Cobra" here, with the group being this unknown organization, offering their resources to lesser criminal empires to eventually grow into something more deadly) Where the film falters is with the serviceable though unremarkable screenplay by Evan Spiliotopoulos ("The Unholy", "Charlie's Angels", "Beauty and the Beast"), Joe Shrapnel, and Amy Waterhouse, along with Director Schwentke's obsession with allowing the camera to be shook around every few action scenes. The thing is that it's not necessary and doesn't quite match the kind of movie this is. It's a slick looking film, with an obvious amount of effort put into the well staged action setpieces. However, the shaky cam just serves as a distraction that didn't need to be there. To give Schwentke some credit though, the film gets away from it later on, and wisely does allow for some slower paced character moments. In fact, it's those moments that give the film a little extra sense of quality than one would expect from it. 

Henry Golding, despite some slight slipping of the American accent (It's very slight actually), is such a charismatic actor, and in the end, it becomes too perfect of a choice for the character. He gives Snake Eyes a bit more of a complex motivation, does some questionable acts, and attempts to hide a lot of misery behind a harsh facade. Aside from the fact that the original character has normally been portrayed as silent and always masked, it's a departure from what fans might be expecting, but a welcome one. Golding also shares some great brother-like chemistry with the equally excellent Andrew Koji, who conveys a lot of emotion even with simple stares, while also hiding his own dark side (Any fan of the franchise is bound to know where his story is definitely going to go, and it's a fine arc). Haruka Abe is a charming presence, while Eri Ishida, Peter Mensah, and Iko Uwais, all get their memorable, fairly badass moments. Takehiro Hira is a smug, though rather forgettable villain, while Úrsula Corberó looks like she's absolutely relishing her part. (She honestly has the character down perfectly) Samara Weaving sadly is very underused, not being given much to do except partake in a couple action scenes, get a few one-liners, and just serve as setup for future films if there are any. It's disappointing due to being such a well known character in the franchise, and she's a good choice for it.  

With flaws visible all over, "Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins" has something that sets it above say, the "Transformers" films, or really any other non-Marvel, Disney, or DC franchise, trying to get off the ground these days. It feels very genuine and most of all, earnest. There was effort to put into this, and it's smart enough to know what kind of risks are necessary if you're going to make this work. It's still a fun action flick, with a few surprises mixed in there, and just enough depth to elevate it above the less remarkable. Not sure if the hard work will pay off, but for what the film gives us, which is a fairly complex, less by the numbers origin story, it gives you just enough to at least be curious about where they could possibly go with it. There's something with potential for something truly great here, or at least something that doesn't feel too similar to other popular properties, and the still excitable young geek in me wants to see it succeed. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Ninja Violence, Scary Serpents, And Jewelry That Makes You Go Boom. 

Pig                                                                                                                     ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: It's both a pet, AND an emergency meal plan.

Okay, bear with me on this one guys. This is going to be a rather short, very vague review. It has to be, because the less you know, the better. You'll thank me later.

"Pig" follows a hermit named, "Robin "Rob" Feld" (Nicolas Cage), who lives outside of Portland, Oregon, deep within the woods, looking for truffles with his beloved (And very adorable) pet foraging pig. Rob supplies his truffles to a very inexperienced and at times irritable dealer, "Amir" (Alex Wolff), but has absolutely no contact with anyone else outside of the woods. One night though, some unknown intruders break into Rob's little cabin, beat him up, and steal his poor piggy, leaving Rob broken. Rob contacts Amir and the two head into the city to find the pig, leading the many revelations about who Rob was before his solitude and how he truly affected the people around him. 

Written and directed by first timer, Michael Sarnoski, "Pig" is a movie that is definitely not what anyone expected. When you hear the premise of the film, with a crazy hobo Nicolas Cage going into the big city to hunt down the evil bastards that stole his lovable piggy, you think a dumb popcorn filled, future meme maker. The turn off your brain and watch an Oscar winning actor once again go nuts on screen, like how we've grown accustomed to. I hate to break it to you guys, but this isn't an action movie. It's not a thriller. It's a slow moving, very arthouse, and melancholy drama. And it's really quite mesmerizing. This has got to be one of the most bizarrely effective films I've seen in years, reaching an emotional level that you don't actually notice is there at first. It's because you are immersed in what's actually a profound, yet subtle character study, that never fully explains everything, but leaves just enough crumbs to where you can piece things together. 

Sarnoski's direction is understated, with a hushed tone that never plays too heavy on overly sentimental. There's no need for an over the top score, or even dialogue to explain to the audience what they can plainly see with their own eyes. Sometimes, just watching a man's blank reaction to what may appear to be either unsettling or even just plain odd, says so much more than any words can ever convey. It's a lot thanks to Nicolas Cage (Who also served as a producer), and from what I've seen from him, I consider this to be his greatest performance. He's not crazy. He's a little eccentric, but in no way does he ever go off like a babbling cartoon character in the way we've seen him at times. This is Cage acting, playing into the character's quiet turmoil, generating poignancy and even a little humor in some aspects. There are small moments of levity, sometimes due to how odd the film can be at times. He does a brilliant job with it, and dare I say, the man broke my heart more than once during this movie. It's the kind of performance that gets the praise it rightfully deserves and shines a brand new light on an actor that we know can truly be great, only will likely get ignored come award season because, well, it's just not marketable enough. Alex Wolff shows his range, being a great foil to Cage both some semi-comedic scenes and the serious ones. There is some great chemistry between the two. There are sporadic appearances throughout, with a standout scene between Cage and David Knell (As a cocky chef, who has clearly sold out), that really needs to be witnessed and deconstructed. 

 "Pig" is like a comedy of errors. It's road trip movie into a city where everything either goes wrong or feels made up on the fly. I mean, one character is basically following a likely smelly guy who lives in the woods all across town, not knowing what's even going on half of the time. That's what's so charming about it. Underneath all the weirdness, is something affectionate, that moves you when you least expect it to, and boy, at times just feels like a hard punch to the gut. There is a lot more to this that I can't get into. You need to see it for yourself. The more you know, the less surprised you will be. Even when things don't quite make much sense in your head at first, you're fascinated by what's going on and the way the film explains it (Or in some cases, doesn't explain it). It's a tale that you find yourself invested in, and will leave with a lump in your throat. This is the biggest surprise I've seen in a theater for quite some time, and I hope people give it the time of day. It's a poetic, quirky, yet moving tale that should touch the heart of anybody. Especially if you're a swine lover. That sure is one cute pig right there. 4 Stars. Rated R For Harsh Content And Subtle Human Suffering. 

Space Jam: A New Legacy                                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Looney bin.

Alright guys, lets rip off that band-aid now. It's time a lot of us admitted to one of those many things you learn as you get older. "Space Jam" is not really a good movie. Blasphemy, right? Just look back at it without the nostalgia goggles. It's very dated, is very forced, doesn't do near enough justice to its beloved characters, and is nothing but one giant ass commercial for anything and everything "Warner Bros." can possibly get their grubby fingers on. It doesn't help that since its release, we've seen much better versions of such a concept with movies like "The LEGO Movie" or "Ralph Breaks the Internet". (Not to mention, we also got "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". The magnum opus of the mixing of animation with live-action, along with the inclusion of many aspects of the childhoods we hold near and dear). It's not to say that "Space Jam" isn't a fun movie. It certainly is, and I got fond memories of it. Just wanted to get that out of the way, so I don't have to repeat the phrase "Well.....So was the first movie...." over and over again. 

"Space Jam: A New Legacy" follows global Basketball star and living embodiment of human likability, "LeBron James" (Played by LeBron James, obviously), who really wants his son, "Dominic "Dom" James" (Cedric Joe), to follow in his Basketball playing footsteps, despite Dom being kind of a child prodigy, having developed his own video game. LeBron is advised by his supportive wife, "Kamiyah" (Sonequa Martin-Green), to find a way of understanding with Dom, leading to LeBron taking his son with him to the Warner Bros. studio. They're shown an experimental form of software, known as the "Serververse", where basically everything Warner Bros. owns has been compiled by the self-aware, and totally not evil, artificial intelligence, "Al-G Rhythm" (Don Cheadle). LeBron shows zero interest in it, insulting Al-G, who has plans of his own to become all powerful. So Al-G teleports LeBron and Dom into the Serververse, where Al-G challenges LeBron to a game of basketball, agreeing to release Dom from his clutches if LeBron wins. However, LeBron will be forced to stay in the Serververse forever if Al-G wins, sending LeBron to "Tune World", home of the "Looney Tunes", which is now only inhabited by "Bugs Bunny" (Voiced by Jeff Bergman). With all of the other Tunes having abandoned Bugs for bigger and better things (Mostly be forcefully integrating themselves into other Warner Bros. properties), Bugs himself has kind of gone loonier than usual. 

With time running out to save his son, LeBron and Bugs set out to gather a team of their own players, which Bugs uses as an excuse to get the old gang back together, such as "Daffy Duck" (Voiced by Eric Bauza), "Porky Pig" (Also voiced by Eric Bauza), "Lola Bunny" (Voiced by Zendaya), "Speedy Gonzales" (Voiced by Gabriel Inglesias), "Tweety" (Voiced by Bob Bergen), "Sylvester" (Also voiced by Jeff Bergman), "Wile E. Coyote" (Played by himself as he should be), and all the others that the filmmakers can fit into this movie. (Except "Pepe Le Pew" because he's a rapist.....I mean, he's pretty borderline. Be honest) With the "Tune Squad" reunited, LeBron enters the game against Al-G, Dom (Who Al-G has been manipulating to joining his side), and with a team of villainous avatars based around real life Basketball players, known as the "Goon Squad", made up of "Chronos" (Voiced by Damian Lillard), "Wet-Fire" (Voiced by Klay Thomas), "Arachnneka" (Voiced by Nneka Ogwumike), "White Mamba" (Voiced by Diana Taurasi), and "The Brow" (Voiced by Anthony Davis).  

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee ("The Best Man Holiday", "Girls Trip"), with producing credits by Ryan Coogler and LeBron James, and a screenplay written by six people (How do both this and the first movie require so many people to write them?), "Space Jam: A New Legacy" has aspects that actually work better than the original film, with some that really don't, and in most ways, is just the same movie. One thing that this movie does better is that the actual plot, while still plenty silly, is a lot less forced and actually has a reason to be there. The story has a sweet side to it, and is paced rather well. If you weren't a fan of the overabundance of product placement in the first movie, you're not going to be able to handle this one. Warner Bros. flexes almost everything it has in its library, which make up a good portion of the gags. Some of them are quite funny  or even clever (Such as Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner in "Mad: Max Fury Road"), while others are just perplexing (Why was Granny in "The Matrix"?), feeling like a reference is being made just for the sake of making a reference. There are also lots of visual cameos from all kinds of copyrighted characters, who don't actually do much, though some get a chuckle or even a small belly laugh (I rather appreciate the use of the Schwarzenegger "Mr. Freeze"). There are a lot of groaners though and when they fall flat, you can feel the physical pain from the face plant. (The Porky Pig rapping as the "Notorious P.I.G." sequence isn't as bad as everyone wants to hype it up to be, but it serves no purpose and feels very much like it was made up by a bunch of old white board members) Even when things aren't quite gelling, the film is visually gorgeous all over. A decent portion of it is completely in 2D animation, which is something that's been sorely missing from theaters over the last decade. The animation in those moments just pop off of the screen and is just plain charming to look at. Even when we enter the more 3D CGI second half, it looks amazing. Dare I say it, the Looney Tunes make the transfer to CGI really well and I kind of want to see more of it in the future. The animation was done by "WAG", or "Warner Animation Group", the people behind "The LEGO Movie" and "Storks", so it looks old fashioned, yet refined for the modern day. 

LeBron James isn't exactly the best actor in the world, but then again neither was Michael Jordan. Regardless, just like Jordan, he's still naturally endearing enough to make up for it. Cedric Joe isn't bad, though he's also not great, while Sonequa Martin-Green is just there to play the role of wife and nothing more. Don Cheadle makes for a fun villain and looks like he's having one Hell of a time playing one. (He ends up being more animated than the actual cartoon characters, and the movie is better for it) Ernie Johnson Jr. and Lil Rel Howery get a few chuckles as themselves, being forced to fill in the roles of the announcers for the big game. The voices are top notch, with Jeff Bergman giving Bugs Bunny a cute little subplot, Eric Bauza getting a lot of laughs as Daffy, and I wouldn't mind Gabriel Inglesias being the new permanent voice actor for Speedy Gonzales (He doesn't get to do much, but it's an inspired choice). Lola actually has a bit more of a character than the original movie, though the casting of Zendaya is almost completely for marketing purposes. Some other beloved Looney Tunes make for small roles, such as "Yosemite Sam", "Foghorn Leghorn", "Marvin the Martian" (Always one of my personal favorites next to Daffy), and Taz, though it's just amusing to see them. There's also a cameo in the last act that actually got a big laugh out of me. It's one of those jokes that I honestly didn't even think of them doing. 

When "Space Jam: A New Legacy" doesn't work, it really doesn't. It's also essentially a nearly two hour commercial for whatever Warner Bros. needs to advertise at the moment (It doesn't help that there are actually much better movies that have done similar things). I also can't stress enough that I'm still waiting on that grand scale Looney Tunes movie of my dreams ("Looney Tunes: Back in Action" had the right idea, but even that couldn't quite crack the code). With all that said though, like I said at the beginning of this review, so was the original. It's already dated, pretty preposterous, and doesn't hold back on the cringe. It's also perfectly harmless, sporadically funny, and is at least affable. We live in a post "Emoji Movie" world. This is a freakin masterpiece by comparison. There's a soul in here somewhere, wrapped up in the excessive product placement. Just like the original. For kids, who I see growing up with this one similar to how we did with the first one, it's not gonna hurt them. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor (Though I can't recall a single fart joke), Pig Rap, And Disregard For The Rules Of Basketball. Granted, I Know Nothing About Sports Anyway, So Maybe That's How It's Supposed To Be Played. 

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions                                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: This "Cards Against Humanity" game is gettiing out of hand.

Back when the first "Escape Room" came out in 2019, it was a surprise success. While I found it to be a rather unremarkable, though solidly entertaining distraction, there was a part of me that wondered if I was just being nice since it came out in January (Home of the last second Oscar hopefuls, along the front runners for every critic's worst of the year lists). It kind of worked, all things considered. I'm glad to report that the sequel, while itself nothing remarkable and flawed all over, has something about it that also just kind of works. Just enough to pass to fill the gap till the next Summer blockbuster. Or I'm just getting generous in my old age. 

"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" catches us up with "Zoey" (Taylor Russell) and "Ben" (Logan Miller), the only survivors of the previous Escape Room turned death trap, constructed by evil organization, "Minos", who believes that humanity craves watching people fight for their lives in an elaborate fashion (Whats funny is that I can see businessmen standing around a boardroom actually considering that idea. It's the most realistic part of this movie). Sadly, nobody believes Zoey and Ben, and Zoey is now determined to make Minos pay for the many lives that they have claimed over the years with their sick games. Zoey is able to convince Ben to go with her back to New York City, in hopes of finding Minos' secret headquarters, only to end up stuck on a train with a group of strangers, such as "Brianna" (Indya Moore), "Nate" (Thomas Cocquerel), "Theo" (Carlito Olivero), and "Rachel" (Holland Roden). It turns out that this is another one of Minos' escape rooms (Except on a grander level), and the other people that Zoey and Ben are trapped with are also survivors of previous rooms. Now thus begins this epic tournament of champions, as our heroes must face even more perplexing puzzles and deadly obstacles, as they hope to finally expose Minos to the world, or die horribly. 

A sort of PG-13 version of the "Saw" franchise (Honestly, it's even structured the same way), "Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" is a nonsensical, somewhat predictable, and not particularly something worth seeing opening night, considering movie ticket prices these days. With that said, as far a quick distraction best suited for a matinee, especially if you need to kill less than ninety watching people get killed, but in a safe, blood-free way. None of the plot really gels, and while the escape scenarios look cool (And visually impressive for the modest by comparison budget), I don't see how they could remotely exist in the real world, except via magic. There are a couple rooms that basically have small worlds created, with their own rules and physics, and the film gives up pretty quickly trying to explain it. It's illogical, and yet, the sequences are regardless pretty intense and at times even suspenseful (Actually a sequence involving acid rain is the most memorable and ends on a rather gruesome note). The puzzles are clever (Though you can figure out the answers yourself without too much trouble) and Director Adam Robitel (Returning from the first one) wisely knows how to keep things constantly going at a fast pace, adding a sense of urgency. 

It also helps that Taylor Russell and Logan Miller are both very likable, and you really don't want anything bad to happen to them. Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Carlito Olivero, and Thomas Cocquerel, don't really have much to work with, being there to either die at some point if the plot demands or just have supporting parts to fill, but they're not bad at all. Something I really have to commend this movie for is that none of these characters are douchebags, like they normally would be with a movie like this. They do try to work as a cohesive team, and don't have any real intention of letting anyone die. While we never actually see the people behind Minos, you can feel the presence of whoever this shadowy group of untouchable beings, and it shows in the traps within the movie. There is a creditable threat to them, making for solidly frightening villains with twisted minds and a dark sense of, uh, humor.       

"Escape Room: Tournament of Champions" goes through a couple obvious motions, even with a few surprise twists or reveals sprinkled in the second half. It's still plenty fun and has just enough smarts to set it above some of the more nihilistic entertainment that it's emulating. Just like the first film, it's an enjoyable, short, and safe watch........and also like the first film, it ends on a really stupid finale note. Maybe setting up for sequels in a sloppy fashion are going to be a trademark for this franchise. Oh well, guess it comes with the territory. Flaws and all (And unless "Space Jam 2" is not your cup of tea), it's something brisk to see with your friends in the middle of the day. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodless Deaths, Corporate Villainy, And Terrible Therapists.  

Black Widow                                                                                                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Uh, ladies....I think I need saving.

Can we all agree that it's about damn time? I'm not referring to this movie's long delayed release due to last year's (And still this year's) pandemic. I'm also not referring to the major Marvel withdrawal that we've been suffering (I'm loving the shows, but there's no topping the big screen cinematic experience). No, it's the fact that Black Widow is finally getting her own movie. It's been over a decade and the character, who previously made her first appearance in "Iron Man 2", before becoming one of the most recurring major characters in several other films, though sadly never as the main star. Then she tragically made the ultimate sacrifice in "Avengers: Endgame". When a beloved character needs to die to get her own movie, that's how you know it's way overdue. 

Set right after the events of "Captain America: Civil War", "Black Widow" opens with the "Sokovia Accords" now in full effect, leaving former trained assassin, turned spy, turned "Avenger", "Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow" (Scarlett Johansson), to flee from the authorities, led by United States Secretary of State, "Thaddeus Ross" (William Hurt, in what's essentially just a cameo). Natasha attempts to go into hiding, only be attacked by the highly skilled, masked assassin known only as "Taskmaster". This leads to Natasha to reunite with her semi-sister, "Yelena Belova" (Florence Pugh), who has recently defected from "The Red Room", the Russian brainwashing and training program that turns young girls into compliant, remorseless killers against their will. The Red Room, along with the sinister mastermind, "General Dreykov" (Ray Winstone), were previously thought to be dead and buried, but has in reality been waiting for the right moment to come out of the shadows to accomplish that age old goal of world domination. 

Yelena has discovered the creation of a dustlike substance, which can cure the other Black Widows of their forced conditioning. However, if Natasha and Yelena want to finally bring down Dreykov, they'll need to find the already impossible to find Red Room. This means Natasha and Yelena are going to have to reunite with the rest of their old spy family, including scientist mother-figure, "Melina Vostokoff" (Rachel Weisz), and their father-figure, "Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian" (David Harbour), who is Russia's less successful, more washed up answer to "Captain America". With Taskmaster, and the rest of the Black Widows hot on their trail, Natasha has to confront her mistakes of the past and bring her family back together if they're going to put an end to the Red Room once and for all.

Directed by Cate Shortland (With this being her first American film), with a screenplay by Eric Pearson ("Thor: Ragnarok", "Godzilla vs. Kong"), "Black Widow" is not as grand as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's most recent entries, nor is it as unique in the grand scheme of things. It's a smaller scale story, that could be seen as a couple episode arc of a television series, serving as a palette cleanser in between bigger films. Marvel has done that before, so it's nothing new. And yeah, it's still really quite excellent regardless. Much like Pixar, what can be seen as middle of the road, still blows others like it out of the water, making for an exciting, action packed tine at the movies, that at least remembers to include the necessary depth to its story and give you a reason to care. There's no end of the world event, or even that much of a connection to the future plans for the cinematic universe (Except for the obligatory post credits scene). It's very much standalone in that regard, but the film wisely uses that to its advantage to make something more personal. It's probably one of Marvel's darker films, with some twisted implications and heavy emotional resonance, which is conveyed through Shortland's smooth-looking, fairly grounded direction. It's filmed like a spy thriller, with more close combat action scenes, only escalating once we reach the more CGI-heavy climax. However, even that looks really spectacular, making for some much needed big screen spectacle that's top notch as usual. Even though things can get quite grim at times, the trademark sense of humor remains in tact, which also further plays into the thing this seemingly never-ending franchise has done best (And something that further proves nobody will likely ever quite reach the same heights). The character work is perfect, and you're on board with every single one of them. 

Scarlett Johansson, finally getting the spotlight to herself after resigned to supporting whichever hero is the lead at the time, gives her character a more restrained sendoff (If this is truly her final appearance). We could tell that there was enough there to make for a movie, with Johansson retaining that Marvel charm, while also implying the inner turmoil that she tries to keep hidden. Florence Pugh continues to shine as an actress with an impeccable amount of range, and her chemistry with Johansson serves as the heart of the film. They're both total badasses, funny, and realistically vulnerable just like any other down-to-earth hero should be. A lof of the humor comes from a terrific David Harbour (I especially adore a running gag with how he sees himself as a rival to "Captain America", while there's a 100% chance that Cap never even knew he existed), while Rachel Weisz brings in some of the film's sweetest moments, going full mama bear. There's also a likable smaller role for O-T Fagbenle (as "Rick Mason", a friend to Natasha, who like most of us guys, clearly has the hots for her). One of the film's weaker elements would be the villains, though most of that is due to a limited screentime and regardless they still get the job done. Ray Winstone is suitably vile and easy to hate (Think a Russian Harvey Weinstein), with there being an intentional point to the offputting way the character acts. Meanwhile, Taskmaster is plenty scary, making for an intense adversary, though I can bet that there are aspects about where the film goes with the character that will be controversial, knowing male nerds with YouTube Channels. (A very predictable species) In the end though, the villains aren't what matter. It's the family dynamic, adding a new layer to a character that we've already seen so much of and know so little about, and even makes you look back on other films with a little bittersweetness. I also appreciate that this is a very female heavy action film, without anyone actually needing to address it, with the sense of empowerment feeling natural and most importantly, earned. 

 "Black Widow" isn't a game changer and could be seen as a more by the book venture for the MCU....and it is. With that said, that's an already well put together playbook. What can be seen as more general by the standards of previous films, still succeeds better than anyone else in the game, thanks to expert direction, memorable performances, a cast of characters that you want to see more of, and a deeper context that feels intimate thanks to the controlled approach. It's still full of all that humor, heart, and sense of quality that really only Marvel can bring, even if to some it could feel as generic (Funny how a film franchise that's given us a talking raccoon, the god of Thunder, magical suburban witches, and an infinite number of Lokis, can now be called generic). It's a warm feeling that I'm so relieved to finally have back. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Heavy Action And Violence, Twisted Russian Experiments, And Thick Accents All Over. 

The Tomorrow War                                                                                        ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Going back to the future....Tomorrow.

I get the idea that what's wanted here more than anything is another "Edge of Tomorrow"-like form of success. While that film wasn't exactly a gigantic financial favorite, it's become one of those major summer surprises that won over a lot of critics and audiences, being something that as time as gone along to become a cult favorite. It helped that despite the plot itself not being anything too different, it was the clever idea that was injected into the middle of it, making the execution unique in its own right and even making others want to emulate it instead. That's what I think what was going through the filmmakers' minds during this, and while I wouldn't call it a 100% success, I did see something more special hidden within what could have been a generic Science-Fiction, alien shoot em up, that normally would just be tossed to the side at the last second to fill in a timeslot. As you should know by now, I think a LOT about these kinds of things at the movies.

"The Tomorrow War" opens in the not so distant future, where people from the actually pretty distant future, arrive to warn humanity about an upcoming war against a deadly alien species, known as the "Whitespikes". The world is at the moment completely doomed, so the future has come to recruit soldiers to travel to the future to fight in the at the moment, losing battle. Former Green Beret turned lame biology teacher, "Dan Forester" (Chris Pratt), is drafted into the future war, being taken away from his wife, "Emmy" (Betty Gilpin) and daughter, "Muri" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), to take part in the battle, that many know very little about. Partnered up with a team of either supporting characters or red-shirts, including our comic relief, "Charlie" (Sam Richardson) and the cancer-stricken, no longer giving a crap, "Dorian" (Edwin Hodge), Dan is dropped right in the middle of the future war, coming face to face with the mindless, very hungry Whitespikes, resulting in heavy casualties. Dan and his remaining team are placed under the command of the codenamed, "Romeo Command" (Yvonne Strahvski), with a mission to find a way to kill the Whitespikes on a larger scale by specifically targeting the rarer (And much stronger) females, in order to prevent the apocalyptic possible future from becoming a reality, while also confronting the inevitable questions that arise when time travel is brought into the equation. 

Directed by Chris McKay ("The LEGO Batman Movie") in his first live-action project, along with a screenplay by Zach Dean, "The Tomorrow War", is a movie with moments that feel too good for something of its stature. It has some ambitions, but suffers from the weak script and a lack of memorability. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of it all, this is just a standard alien invasion, that just so happens to have actual thought behind it. Such as the concept itself, with there being some specific rules to the time travel and a sense of urgency in how desperate the draft ends up becoming (It's apparent that they already lost the best, so they need to scrape the bottom of the barrel). Not to mention, despite the futuristic setting, the technology feels more real and refreshingly flawed (A major malfunction in the first act makes for a clever action sequence). It's grounded and I appreciate that. McKay also shows a lot of promise as a more high budget director, utulizing some solid special effects, a few stunning and even scary sequences, and one Hell of a monster design. (These things are pretty nightmarish). The film's biggest faults happen to come with the story, and most of its execution. A lot of the dialogue isn't all that strong, with some noticeable pacing issues, and too many plot points that don't really make much sense. In fact, it ends up being kind of stupid. There are some twists and turns that sort of work, but others that fall flat and feel much too forced. It feels like that some of these are meant to amp up the apparent derivativeness.    

Where the screenplay crumbles, the actors remain top notch regardless. In fact, this may be one of the best acted mostly mediocre films I've seen in some time. Everybody is really good here. Chris Pratt keeps the film balanced, playing a more human hero, with some flaws, a likable personality, and something that I also commend the film for, actually showing his fear. Yvonne Strahovski is excellent, making the second act twist work, with the emotional payoff only coming together due to her own commitment to it. Sam Richardson gets some good moments of humor, without making him feel overly like a goofball, while Edwin Hodge is plenty intense. Even the more underused, though always welcome actors like Betty Gilpin, and an incredibly swole J.K. Simmons (as "James", Dan's estranged father), leave their mark. There are things that don't really make much sense, especially once we reach the rather rushed final act. With what happens, you're left wondering why nobody thought of this in the first place and why apparent cost seems to be called into question only now. (On a side note though, there is a nice little deviation from a little trope I tend to find a bit annoying. There is more to the so called alien invasion than what we're shown. You always wonder why or even how such mindless, destruction loving beasts would just storm in to take over the world by just killing or blowing stuff up. There is an explanation as to what's going on, and it's different in an inventive way). 

"The Tomorrow War" has merit, better than necessary acting, and blockbuster level visuals, that are brought down by the pedestrian plot, poor script, and an unjustifiable length of nearly two hours and twenty minutes. The pace is felt by the end, and if not for the amiable talent on display, it would feel more like a slog. It's certainly a lot better than I would have expected, though its best qualities make the lesser ingredients a bit more frustrating. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Futuristic Violence, Illegal Aliens, And J. K. Simmons' Distracting Biceps.   

The Forever Purge                                                                                             ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Dude, If you've been vaccinated, you can take off the mask."

One thing I can say about the "Purge" franchise, it's that no matter what, it never held back. Things too crazy for ya? Lets redefine the phrase "Over the Top"! Too violent? Lets paint the entire screen red! Overly excessive and borderline exploitation? Why not? This has been a series that just went for it, and if this is truly a finale, the filmmakers were prepared to go out in a blaze of glory (And maybe, take all of America with them).  

The final entry in the "Purge" saga, "The Forever Purge" takes place sometime after the third film ("The Purge: Election Year"), where it seems the abolishment of "The Purge" (The one night given to the United States, where all crime is legalized for twelve hours, usually resulting in loads of murder and served as an excuse for the government to do away with poor minorities), didn't stick. The "New Founding Fathers of America", are now once again in power and don't waste any time bringing it back to the people. We now follow a Mexican immigrant wife and husband, "Adela" (Ana de la Reguera) and "Juan" (Tenoch Huerta), who try to prepare for their first Purge, going with a friend, "T.T." (Alejandro Edda), to find a place to hide with other immigrants for the upcoming twelve hours. Juan and T.T.'s rich, though pretty nice boss, "Caleb Tucker" (Will Patton), also prepares to take shelter for the night with the rest of his family, such as his fairly bigoted son, "Dylan" (Josh Lucas) and more open minded daughter, "Harper" (Leven Rambin), along with Dylan's pregnant wife, "Cassie" (Cassidy Freeman). The Purge happens, some people are slaughtered, and some do unspeakable acts, with all to hopefully be forgotten the next day. However, it turns out that a lot of people don't wanna go back to the old ways, and just plain love them some killing. A group of wackos and insurrectionists form a group called the "Ever After Purgers", declaring that they are now in a neverending Purge, or "The Forever Purge", targeting whoever they want, whenever they want. (Of course they're going to go after any non-white person first). Adela and Juan partner up with Dylan and his family, to escape across the Mexican border to safety, as complete chaos erupts around them. With the NFFA now unable to control the Ever After Purgers, America becomes Hell on Earth, and the fate of land of the free, home of the brave, being called into question. 

By this point, you're either on board with the eight year old series or you're not (Or offended. That's possible too), and I don't see "The Forever Purge" being the one to convert any newcomers. It's the apparent final film, so even the filmmakers know that doing so would be a lost cause. So I give this film credit for understanding that and sticking to what it knows, which is to be a gruesomely violent, horror-thriller, with a not so subtle political edge. They've been consistently alright so far, so don't break what isn't really broken. What I think makes this final entry to be the best in the series (Aside from actually being a solid hour and forty minutes of suspense and scares), is that the filmmakers not only escalate things further than ever before, they also make the satire razor sharp to the point it could cut the throat of any insurrectionist watching. Director Everado Valerio Gout (In his first theatrical feature), who is clearly inspired by westerns more than your typical escape from the city or country thrillers, doesn't hold back in the point that' trying to be made. While it's still wrapped up in a rather implausible, occasionally trashy outer exterior, you can appreciate how the films have in a way led up to this moment. 

Ana de la Reguera and Tenoch Huerta a serviceable heroes, while there is a fairly cute (If not entirely predictable) subplot involving Leven Rambin and Alejandro Edda. Cassidy Freeman and Will Patton (Despite his obviously brief appearance), give better than required performances. Josh Lucas ends up being the most interesting character in the film, and while it's not exactly as profound as the movie may be going for, there is something fascinating about a character who is a decent person, though does harbor a different form of bigotry (One of those guys who doesn't necessarily look down on anyone, but just doesn't seem to get it and wants various cultures separated because of it). There is a decent redemption story in there. We get a lot of fun, completely cartoonish villains (No killer is freakin normal in these movies. They're always foaming at the mouth and cackling maniacally), though Jeffrey Doornbos (as the gung-ho leader of the Ever After Purgers), doesn't really come into play till the last act and leaves hardly an impression. An interesting scene-stealer ends up being Zahn McClarnon (as "Chiago", a tribal leader who sees all of this coming a mile away), who gets quite a few significant moments. It's always been hard to actually label these films as scary (They generally go for easy jump scares), but the film has it's at least at times rather intense. Such as showing the aftermath of a Purge, where cleanup crews come in to take care of all the bloody corpses littering streets and people attempt to get to their normal lives (All of which is cut short by the out of nowhere arrival of more madness), which is certainly clever and effective, especially considering it's just supposed to be shock value. Sometimes that kind of thing works. 

"The Forever Purge" makes for the best "Purge" movie, despite continuing the franchise's in your face, overly violent attitude. It's still too much for its own good, and it's also definitely not the best written movie in the world. With that said, it's a solidly intense, well put together, and yes, actually political poignant, bit of trashy though relevant political satire. It all comes together once we reach the very fitting (And somewhat scary), grand finale, where the point isn't just driven home, it's shoved right through your skull. Even I was a little surprised they even bothered to go there. We always say that nothing will ever get like "The Purge" or that it's just too unrealistic to exist. Considering recent events, sometimes I wonder though how far off we might actually be. 3 Stars. Rated R For Grotesque Violence, Lots Of Swears, Sweat, And Good People On Both Sides. Or So I'm Told.   

The Boss Baby: Family Business                                                                     ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Which one of you is changing my diaper this time?"

For a movie that many were ready to blast as the most uninspired and laziest of ideas, "The Boss Baby" was not only a surprise financial success (And one that "DreamWorks Animation" really needed at the time), but it was also very, very strange. It wasn't great or anything. However, if you think about the plot in any way, uninspired and lazy aren't the adjectives that come to mind. 

"The Boss Baby: Family Business" opens up years after the first, with "Tim Templeton" (James Mardsen), having grown apart from his former boss baby brother, "Ted" (Alec Baldwin), who has become unnaturally wealthy. Tim now has a wife, "Carol" (Eva Longoria), a smart daughter, "Tabitha" (Ariana Greenblatt), and a baby, "Tina" (Amy Sedaris), who as it turns out has joined "BabyCorp" (Where all babies come from, run also by babies in suits), like her uncle before her. Tina tells Tim that she's on a secret mission for BabyCorp, involving Tabitha's advanced learning school, run by the eccentric Jeff Golblum.....I mean, the eccentric "Dr. Erwin Armstrong" (Jeff Goldblum), and a possible evil scheme that threatens all of babykind. This mission brings Ted back into Tim's life, who feels that Tabitha might like his brother more than him. With the help of a magical formula that de-ages you for a limited time, Tim is turned back into a kid, while Ted is turned back into a baby. Tim and Ted are sent on a madcap adventure into Tabitha's school to find out what Armstrong is up to, rekindling their lost brotherly relationship, and uncovering an even more nefarious conspiracy at the center of it all. 

Directed by the returning Tom McGrath ("Megamind", along with the "Madagascar" films), "The Boss Baby: Family Business" follows the frenetic, bizarrely outlandish footsteps of the first film, though it seems this time the filmmakers have just done a better job balancing that out with a few good laughs for the adults, enough cuteness for the kiddies, and some truly spectacular (And visually unique) animation. Unlike the ironically tame "Spirit Untamed", the animators at DreamWorks seem to have saved up all their creativity for this, making up for a lack of character detail with a fast paced, cartoonishly over the top mix between both 3D and occasional 2D. This makes the slapstick humor very exaggerated (And for some reason, makes almost all of the characters really jiggly). It's a very colorful looking movie that's fun to look at. Maybe it's more of a budget since the first film made so much money, but this one feels more grand this time around. The screenplay by Michael McCullers (The first "The Boss Baby", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", along with the second and third "Austin Powers" movies), isn't exactly deep or offers too much in terms of intellectual humor. It's still full of some solid jokes, especially plenty for the adults to appreciate more than the kids. The plot is once again one of those "Maybe it's best you don't think about it" sort of things. It's very much out there, with implications that don't make a whole lot of sense. (Babies making apps. Evil world domination schemes. All babies coming from an office building in the sky. Pretty wild)

Alec Baldwin's voice does quite match the look, and gets more than a few chuckles, along with a solid James Mardsen. Amy Sedaris is the scene-stealer here, and sounds like she's having a lot of fun (Already seeing talks about a third movie, and would be totally on board if she's made the focus). Eva Longoria is there to be the mom, while Ariana Greenblatt has a sweet subplot. Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow (as Tim and Ted's parents, who didn't really have much to do in the first film), return to more expanded, much funnier roles. Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum gives one of his strangest performances (And that's saying a lot), but it's actually really amazing in a entertainingly peculiar fashion. The movie also has a few hilarious side or background characters (Such as a chubby baby obsessed with glue, a talking Wizard alarm clock, and a creepy little girl, who may or may not be demonic). 

Available in theaters (And in 3D. Probably would have looked pretty good too) and through streaming on "Peacock", "The Boss Baby: Family Business" won't exactly convert any new fans, and when you get past the weirdness of the plot, it's not something on par with anything from Disney, Pixar, or even some of DreamWorks' best. This candy coated family friendly drug trip is the kind of movie that plenty will get more annoyed by than anything, and the frantic pace can get a little tiring. Although, it's not pedestrian in any way. It's also certainly not dull in any way. There's some cleverness to the silly humor, some genuine charm, and by the end, an actually heartwarming message about maturity. It even ends on a moment that makes you go "Awwww", and darn it, it won me over. Something all over the place and colorful for the kids, and hey, it's never a bad thing to see it through their eyes. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Not So Kid-Friendly Jokes To Go Over Their Heads, And Lots Of Jiggling Baby Fat.    

F9: The Fast Saga                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So....Why didn't anyone mention you had a brother in any of the first eight films?"

Can anybody really get mad at these franchise anymore? I find it funny that now that I've grown to accept them for the brainless, yet shockingly well made and solidly entertaining fun that they are (Mostly after being brutally beaten down into submission by them), everyone else is like, "Well now it's just gone too far". I mean, they have, but that was actually about five or six movies ago. I'll honestly be disappointed if they didn't go further. Just go with it and take it for what it is. That's this franchise in a nutshell. 

The ninth entry in the long running franchise (Tenth if you count "Hobbs & Shaw", considering it's a spin-off) and plight on everything we associate with the laws of physics, "F9: The Fast Saga" once again follows everyone's favorite family of street racers, turned outlaws, then turned secret agents. "Dominic "Dom" Toretto" (Vin Diesel), has been living a calm and relaxing life with his wife, "Letty Ortiz" (Michelle Rodriguez) and son, "Brian" (Named after the late Paul Walker's character). However, their peaceful retirement is ruined by a message from intelligence operative, "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell), who reveals that he had captured international cyber-terrorist, "Cipher" (Charlize Theron), before a plane he was on went crashing down. Dom, Letty, along with their buddies, "Tej Parker" (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), "Roman Pearce" (Tyrese Gibson), and "Ramsey" (Nathalie Emmauel), go to investigate, only to discover the return of Dom's forgotten brother turned criminal, "Jakob" (John Cena). Jakon, along with his sniveling associate, "Otto" (Thue Ersted Rasmussen), having taken Cipher captive for themselves, are trying to get their hands on a powerful weapons system known as "Aries", which is separated into two pieces. With only Mr. Nobody's mysterious message to go on, the team splits up, with Dom focusing on tracking down Jakob, while Letty and Dom's sister, "Mia" (Jordana Brewster) looking for a strange connection that leads them to a thought to be deceased friend, "Han Lue" (Sung Kang). Through the use of fast cars, magnets, and rockets, Dom is forced to confront Jakob, in their most destructive, incredibly over the top mission yet.... I know, ridiculous, right? 

Directed by Justin Lin (Who directed the third, fourth, fifth, and six films, along with "Star Trek Beyond"), "F9" continues the series' need to go as crazy as it legally can, doing the things we most likely did with our toy cars when we were children, except with millions upon millions of dollars at its disposal. Regardless of what makes logical sense (Which is about only 2% of it), it looks as good as usual. The money is on the screen, and while the big CGI setpieces are certainly impressive, the stuntwork is actually even more impressive. As amusing as it is to see a car swing from a vine like freakin Tarzan or have indestructible people get tossed around explosions like ragdolls without a single scratch on them, it's the simple stuff like a car chase in the middle of the street against a giant military truck that stick with you. It's mostly because these crazy action sequences are quite original. Lin is really good director, who has taken a "Why the Hell not?" kind of approach to what you can do, but is capable enough to make it look as plausible as one can do really do with a big budget blockbuster like this. 

The plot here is probably the weakest part of the film, with the basic doomsday device as a MacGuffin, a lot of running around and tracking (Not to mention, backtracking), and it doesn't make all that much sense. The plots have been known to be secondary for most of this franchise, but they at least weren't this complicated. It's weird how that most outlandish aspects of the film are, believe it or not, the best explained aspects in the entire thing. Dom having a long lost brother that's never been mentioned before? There is a lot of build up to why things are the way they are, and sure, it's contrived, and yet, there is a reason and it serves as the heart of the movie. Han's unexpected resurrection is explained (Though how it plays into the rest of the movie feels a little forced) and of course, the moment everyone has been waiting for (Space time? Are we getting space time?), is actually the most memorable and well done scene in the film. Even though it's shown in detail as to why this would supposedly work, it's still fairly illogical. Just in a clever way. Something that the filmmakers never even attempted to explain is everything with the magnetic cars. It causes an unprecedented amount of destruction and chaos, and yet, unless you're a villain, nobody gets hurt. None of the heroes. None of the civilians. Apparently everyone just leaves their empty cars around for an occasional pileup, and all sharp objects just conveniently miss anyone that happen to be standing around. Sure it looks cool and all, but it pushes the idea of suspending your disbelief, even by movie standards. It's easily the most nonsensical part of the movie. (Aside from Jordana Brewster being able to lift up John Cena. Yyyyeah that's just asking for too much right there)

 The constantly growing and well, surprisingly well rounded and diversified cast, are still welcome to see, playing characters that are still pleasant to follow (You also gotta give credit to this franchise for actually creating a diverse cast long before Hollywood realized it was profitable, and never felt the need to play it safe like others have) Vin Diesel can still carry these movies on his meaty shoulders, and hey, he does in alright job in the more serious scenes. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster have decent parts, and get time to be badasses as well (Another thing this series did well was improve upon the female characters). Ludacris, the very cute Nathalie Emmanuel, and especially Tyrese Gibson (Who gets the best intentionally cruddy one-liners, and even a few poignant moments), make for some good comic relief. Sung Kang's return is welcome, though doesn't really standout much (Though maybe we can assume they're playing the long game with this one considering the post-credits scene. Yes. There will be more), and his subplot with Anna Sawai (as "Elle", a young girl, with an important connection to "Aries"), feels underdeveloped.

 The movie does give us some good villains, with John Cena making for an intimidating presence (And not to mention, totally outscowls Vin Diesel), Thue Ersted Rasmussen is enjoyably slimy, and Charlize Theron returns in a small capacity, though still retains a sinister recurring baddie (Her dialogue alone, along with her refined delivery of it, feels like the most intelligent aspect o the entire movie). There are some other familiar faces, such as an underused Kurt Russell (Who is basically just a glorified cameo), a much more appealing Lucas Black (as "Sean Boswell", the bland hero from "Tokyo Drift", who now works on rocket cars....I guess), and Helen Mirren (as "Magdalene "Queenie" Shaw", the criminal mother of Jason Statham's "Deckard Shaw"), who got an applause from the audience when she appeared (As she should!). There's also a brief part for Michael Rooker (as an old friend of Dom's family), who despite the corny dialogue, actually gives a pretty compelling performance all things considered. It's honestly better than needed. Cardi B is also in it. Probably the strangest cameo I've seen in a while.     

Just as silly as ever, and it only gets more wacky as it goes along, "F9" is a wild ride that's only a good time if you're on board with it or not. For the fans, they love it no matter how preposterous it is, and for some, that's part of the fun. As for me, they've grown on me despite the clear flaws (More of a "Mission: Impossible" fan personally. Those are just smarter and more artistically done), I see them as solidly made, not too demanding, action packed blockbusters, that also are at least endearing in their own way. I can admit though, this movie does show signs of wearing thin. Maybe it's just a little too long, or maybe it's some slight fatigue. It's an enjoyable entry, with moments that further develop this bizarre world, but with talks about the franchise nearing an end, I feel that maybe the filmmakers might need to get to that sooner rather than later. End on an grand "Avengers"-level high note before it's just too late.....Or just bring in the dinosaurs already. You laugh, and yet, you also know you kind of want to see that. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Lots Of Destructive Action, Reckless Driving, Ruthless Decimation Of Everything We Consider Logical, And For Family!  

Luca                                                                                                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Hitch Hiking is always a safe alternative to biking!"

This feels wrong. So very, very wrong. It was one thing to have no other choice but to see last year's "Soul" only on Disney+ due to a lack of theaters. Now though, they're making a comeback and even Disney has already had a couple theatrical releases (Along with the option for streaming). However, Pixar apparently didn't make the cut. You don't even have to pay for this one, being an exclusive to the site and free for subscribers to enjoy without an extra charge. That's cool and all. Yet, I don't know. the greatest animators and storytellers of our time shouldn't be seemingly pushed to the side. That's what this feels like, and for what some could see as just a Pixar throwaway, is a secret, small scale, cult classic in the making. 

Set outside a small Italian town called, "Portorosso", "Luca", as it should, follows a young sea monster named "Luca Paguro" (Jacob Tremblay), who, like the Little Mermaid before him, is curious about the surface world. Despite the objections of his parents, "Daniela" (Maya Rudolph) and "Lorenzo" (Jim Gaffigan), Luca's curiosity gets the better of him as he befriends another young, rebellious sea monster, "Alberto Scorfano" (Jack Dylan Grazer), who repeatedly visits the surface. When on dry land, it turns out these sea creatures enter into human forms, with their scaly blue skin and fishy attributes perfectly transforming into a human likeness. Luca and Alberto bond over human culture, in particular, Vespas (Which are Italian scooters, for those who don't know. It's ok, we don't judge here unless it's behind your back). Of course, Luca's parents find out about Luca's extracurricular activity, and plan to send Luca away with his deranged, see-through uncle, "Ugo" (A deranged Sacha Baron Cohen cameo). 

Luca decides to run away from home with Alberto, heading to Portorosso to get their hands on a Vespa to travel the world. They immediately find themselves at odds with local bully and Portorosso Cup champion, "Ercole Visconti" (Saverio Raimondo), then befriending a girl named "Guilia Marcovaldo" (Emma Berman). Guilia has her one-armed fisherman father, "Massimo" (Marco Barricelli), take the two boys in so long as they also assist him with his work. Luca and Alberto train with Guilia to compete in the upcoming race to beat Ercole and win the big prize, being an expensive Vespa. While Daniela and Lorenzo travel to the surface in search of their son (Causing some slight chaos as they do), Luca and Alberto also try to prevent themselves from being exposed as the whole town begins to hunt for sea monsters (Which are a source of fear among the townspeople). Soon though, Luca and Alberto also start to drift apart on two very different paths, especially with Luca becoming even more enamored with human life. 

From Disney and Pixar, and released via Disney+ (No pay wall this time), "Luca" is one of the company's quieter, less extravagant films. It may also be one of their most artistically subtle too. Directed by Enrico Casarosa (A longtime storyboard artist, who also gave us the Academy Award nominated short, "La Luna"), the film is as expected, beautiful to look at, and yet, I'm still always shocked at how gorgeous Pixar's animation can get. They are still improving and escalating, changing the game in both low-key and universally subversive ways. This film brings the little Italian town to life, making it feel like an actual place, with stunning backgrounds and a lot of time taken to establish how the world works. The animators poured a lot of heart into how the film looks, and it's obvious that there was a big effort to make sure the setting looked as authentic as possible. (The studio apparently sent a few animators to the Italian Riviera to do the research necessary) It's almost too photo-realistic for the eyes to handle, and the shift to the more exaggerated and expressive character designs never feel out of place. 

Then the film gets a little more weird and oddly surreal, with some spellbinding sequences that completely change up the animation style, similar to how "Soul" would blend in some 2D artistry with the detailed 3D format. For something meant for younger audiences and a staple of Pixar's storytelling style, sometimes the film is slower and lets the audience appreciate the atmosphere, letting things sink without the necessity of loud noises or goofy antics every five minutes. With that said, the screenplay by Jesse Andrews ("Me and Earl and the Dying Girl") and Mike Jones ("Soul"), balances out a lot of good humor, with lovable characters, and a well told, if not a little more traditional than expected, storyline. You've seen before and the film doesn't remotely deviate. However, much like the best of filmmakers, Casarosa doesn't use that as an excuse to be lazy about it. Like I've said before, it doesn't matter how original a story is, but it's about how the storyteller conveys it. It's told in a Hayao Miyazaki-like style (Who is known for rather simplistic tales), and it works to the film's benefit, especially when in the end, the focus is on the dynamics between the characters. 

Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dyan Grazer are both phenomenal, being easy to relate to lead characters. They make for a funny pair, each with their own little arcs, and um, well, they may also be kind of gay. I know the filmmakers keep denying it, but I'm not the only one who sees it. They knew what they were doing! Regardless of the intentions, the friendship is very heartwarming and despite being kid friendly fare, it handles the relationship maturely and show that sometimes the conclusions to such things aren't always want you expect them to be. Emma Berman has her own wonderful little storyline that plays into the main one without feeling secondary or forced. Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan are a delight (And how well their voices match their character designs is a remarkable bit of animation), while Saverio Raimondo plays a mini-Italian version of Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast", that's equal parts detestable and hilarious. There are some memorable supporting characters, such as a devious cat named "Machiavelli", that's immediately suspicious of Luca and Alberto, ruthlessly and humorously attacking them without warning. 

  A small stake adventure, "Luca" is what Pixar-Lite should look like. It takes some trop-ish themes, and expertly adds a fresh sense of life to them. A message of understanding, great humor, state of the art animation, and plenty of those good feelings that only come from Pixar. Disney may or may not quite be showing them the respect they deserve as of late, but I hope families don't see the film's unceremonious release as a reason to neglect the film. A quirky little (And literal) fish out of water story of a summer friendship that's bound to put you into the best of moods. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Fishy Business And Plenty Reason For LGBTQ Shippings. Seriously, They Can't Possibly Be Surprised This Happened. 

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard                                                                    ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You can torture us all you want...You're still getting another sequel."

Ok, I'm still thoroughly convinced that like the first "The Hitman's Bodyguard", these movies are homages to 90s action comedies. Nobody ever says it and acknowledges it, but, come on. It's so obvious. The silly setup, the gleeful levels of horrific violence, and the humorous disregard for what you probably shouldn't joke about. Also, they brought back that announcer guy in the trailer. You know the announcer guy right? Not that one. The other one. You know what I mean?

"The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" once again follows pathetic bodyguard for hire, "Michael Bryce" (Ryan Reynolds), who has lost his license, and has suffered one too many mental breakdowns, but at least after some much needed therapy, has decided to take some time off and find some much needed peace with himself. No guns. No violence. No bodyguarding. Everything seems to be coming up Michael......for about two minutes. He's immediately roped into a deadly shootout with "Sonia" (Salma Hayek), the crazy wife of the hitman that Michael previously bodyguarded, "Darius Kincaid" (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also completely out of his damn mind. Sonia forces Michael to help her find her missing husband, while also admitting that the two of them have been attempting to have a baby, because those two lunatics would make the best of parents. After rescuing Darius, the trio then get themselves roped into another situation, where aggressive Interpol agent, "Bobby O'Neill" (Frank Grillo), forces them to work for him in stopping an evil scheme from a villainous tycoon/criminal mastermind, "Aristotle Papadopoulos" (Antonio Banderas), who is threatening to completely destroy Europe's entire power grid with some diamond drill thingy. So it's up to our bumbling sort of heroes to save the day, while annoying the living crap out of each other, and poor Michael suffers an immense amount of physical or mental trauma.   

One again directed by Patrick Hughes ("The Expendables 3", along with the first "The Hitman's Bodyguard"), "The Hitman's Wife' Bodyguard" intends to replicate the surprise success of the first film, which was one that I know had some issues, but I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a clichéd, buddy action comedy that may have been too much for its own good, but had a lot of big laughs, an old fashioned sense of fun, and some incredibly appealing leads. The sequel is actually for the most part, more of the same. It's just a little, well, "Sequel" this time. It's very heavy with those sequel tropes, and sadly doesn't do anything remotely clever about it. There's more of what audiences like, but sometimes it's just repeating what happened before, with a plot that's essentially secondary. It's one of those things where if you remotely think about it, it comes across as forced, nonsensical, and would be considered almost parody. (It's not too far off from what one of those really cheesy, older "James Bond" movies would do) It doesn't help that the film does some unnecessary retreading simply because the film movie did it. Some of the character beats are either the same or more exaggerated this time. This would all be more damning if the film wasn't so non-demandingly entertaining in spite of the flaws. The screenplay by Tom O'Connor, Brandon Murphy, and Phillip Murphy isn't without some very clever gags, Is well directed, and the returning cast, regardless of slight sequel-itis, are all a joy to watch. 

 Although his character doesn't appear to have learned anything from the last movie, Ryan Reynolds does a great job playing the most pathetic, retroactively wimpy character you'll see in an action movie. (Plus, sometimes I feel that I would likely be him in most of these situations. I'm honest about who I am, and I'm also at peace with that) He has hilarious comedic chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson, who takes his Samuel L. Jackson-ness to new levels previously unheard of. Antonio Banderas is all kinds of over the top, while Frank Grillo is rather useless in the grand scheme of things. Morgan Freeman appears in a part that I probably shouldn't spoil since the joke itself is quite funny. The biggest improvement this film has over the original is the larger role for Salma Hayek, who makes sure that no aspect of the scenery is left unscathed, and she gets some of the most outrageous moments. 

"The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard" is suitably out of its gourd, even though it suffers from predictable beats and offers very little in terms of storytelling ingenuity. It makes up for those shortcomings with a good amount of humor (Though less than the first), decent action, and a terrific main cast, who bring their A-Game. It's an amusing, if not somewhat unimportant hour and a half, that's elevated by one Hell of a final, last second reveal, making for one of the funniest endings I've seen in some time. (It's made better by the fact that it was actually fairly built up over time too.) I can't say it's anything great, yet it's a perfectly good, if not absurd time. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong, Gratuitous Violence And Lots Of Motha-F*ckers!  

Wish Dragon                                                                                                      ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "How about you wish for an end to a global killer epidemic? Or pick something just for you...It's all good."

I feel like we're left with no real choice but to say what every single other film critic out there has been saying about this movie. This is basically Chinese "Aladdin". Same idea. Same plot to a degree. Same moral. Except this time we got a more modernized setting and instead of a blue genie, we got a big fluffy pink dragon. Just need to get that out of the way early. 

"Wish Dragon" follows a poor, working class student, "Din" (Jimmy Wong), who has been skipping his classes in favor of working to afford a suit that will give him a chance to at least appear more wealthy enough to after years of being separated from each other, reunite with his now very rich and famous, childhood best friend/maybe crush, "Li Na Wang" (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Of course, this interferes with the hopes of Din's mother, "Mrs. Song" (Constance Wu), who only wants Din to study hard enough to escape their poverty. Din then just so happens to stumble upon a magical teapot, which releases an all powerful, but easily agitated and annoyed Wish Dragon, "Long" (John Cho). Long has been trapped in the teapot for centuries, and only has to grant three wishes to one more master so that he can ascend to heaven, so he really wants to get this over with as quickly as possible. 

Din uses Long to pose as a person of means so that he can get into Li Na's extravagant birthday party, though like when they were kids, Li Na's father, "Mr. Wang" (Will Yun Lee), is still too busy to give her the time of day. Under the name, "Dan" (So that her father will approve), Din ignores Long's advice that this big lie is just going to blow up in his face, and continues to play the part of a well off elitist to get with Li Na. However, another issue arrives in the form of bald scheming henchman, who always keeps his hands in his pockets, appropriately nicknamed "Pockets" (Aaron Yoo), and his bumbling goons (Jimmy O. Yang and Bobby Lee), that have been hired by an incredibly obvious employer to get their clutches on the magical teapot. While trying to woo Li Na and keep his secret hidden from his mother, Din introduces Long to the modern world and the both of them learning some lessons along the way. 

From "Sony Pictures Animation", "Wish Dragon' was released last year theatrically in China, before being distributed in the United States through Netflix, and in some ways could be seen as one of the studio's most ambitious projects yet. Not in story terms, but instead with its production team (Based in China and aimed for a worldwide audience) and it's incredible animation. This is an absolutely gorgeous looking movie, from the dreamlike artistry and the expressive character design, to the eye popping visuals, even on watching this on my phone at 12:30 at night, it's an experience. There is so much detail put into every frame, and the flow of character animation feel like a fairy tale that just so happens to be set in a time with cars, cellphones, and a contemporary setting. It's an impressive step for Sony Pictures Animation, who has already since proven themselves (And redeemed themselves since "The Emoji Movie"). Where the film isn't as unique is with the stroytelling department, which is quite predictable and derivative of other animated films. Granted, the film does a solid enough job with those tropes, with the screenplay by Chris Appelhans (Who is also the film's director), getting the job done, even if it never takes many risks. It basically doesn't tell its already been there story as well as say something along the lines of "In the Heights", but for a nice family film, It doesn't really take away from the film. 

Jimmy Wong is a charming lead, while Natasha Liu Bordizzo and an especially excellent Constance Wu both do good work. John Cho, who I've said before is just one of those guys whose already just very good no matter the movie, really steals the show here. He gets the funniest lines, does a great job with the more emotional scenes, and has a meaningful character arc. Aaron Yoo is a menacing baddie, though everything involving the villains just show up to move the plot along and lead to a reveal that's just too easy to see coming. Most of the character comes from the voicework, or the animation itself, which incorporates enough to make up for the by the numbers script (Such as the villain's use of his legs and feet to convey his emotions). The humor is simple, but effective, with the best moments involving Long's amazement at modern society, such as a sequence involving his hatred of traffic and how it's even worse than being trapped in a magic teapot for a thousand years. 

"Wish Dragon" is standard and not exactly memorable, and yet, is kind of impossible to dislike. The story, while not exactly one of a kind, is still sweet, with a great message and actually has quite a few things to say about unfair class systems and our obsessive need to use wealth to define who we are. It's got charm to go with its breathtaking visuals, which alone are worth your time of day. I can't stress enough how beautiful the film is and thanks to a good-natured heart, it's a simple, yet entirely rewarding storybook-like adventure you won't mind taking with your little ones. 3 Stars. Rated PG For A Slightly More Perilous Than Expected Climax, But Is Very Tame By PG Standards. 

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway                                                                     ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: They're multiplying like....Cute little Bunnies.

The first "Peter Rabbit", which is based on the adored children stories by Beatrix Potter, was rather divisive for obvious reasons. When something is so loved, there's going to be worry. Then when the reputation that we have for taking those kinds of properties and turning them into, well, "Alvin & the Chipmunks", there's going to be outrage. While I'm not as overtly familiar with the old books as others, I'm still pretty confident that the first "Peter Rabbit" was not exactly what fans imagined a film adaptation would look like. It was basically a live action "Bugs Bunny" cartoon, with a lot more snark, and I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. It's not for everyone, but I thought it was funny, had some heart, and was somehow still pretty sweet. This right here though seems to have taken those complaints people had with the first one and said "Well, yeah we hear you. But what are ya gonna do about it?" 

"Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" follows the titular trouble-making rabbit, "Peter" (Voiced by James Corden), as he comes to terms with sharing his beloved garden and surrogate mother, "Bea" (Rose Byrne), with his former archenemy, "Thomas McGregor" (Domhnall Gleeson). Now that Thomas and Bea are married, Peter and Thomas have agreed to stop trying to kill each other and learn to coexist as a family. Of course, Peter, no matter how much he tries, can't seem to help but find himself in the center of some kind of trouble. With the recent success of Bea's children's book, based on Peter and his sisters, "Flopsy" (Voiced by Margot Robbie), "Mopsy" (Voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), and "Cottontail" (Voiced by Aimee Horne), along with his voice of reason cousin, "Benjamin Bunny" (Voiced by Colin Moody), the book draws the attention of a famous publisher, "Nigel Basil-Jones" (David Oyelowo). Thomas and Bea take Peter and the other rabbits from their farm to the big city to meet with Nigel, who plans to publish Bea's book and further expand on what she's created, though through a more corporate lens. Peter himself, despite appearing to be the star of the story, is saddened to realize that the story portrays him as a mischievous, naughty bad seed (I mean, he kind of is though..).

Peter goes off on his own and meets a magnetic, thieving rabbit, "Barnabas" (Voiced by Lennie James), along with the rest of his crew of animal criminals, such as a pair of cats, "Tom Kitten" (Voiced by Damon Herriman) and "Mittens" (Voiced by Hayley Atwell), and a grouchy old rat, "Samuel Whiskers" (Voiced by Rupert Degas). Peter, believing that he should just be what everyone already thinks he is, becomes part of Barnabas' crew as they plot out an epic heist at the farmer's market. Peter proceeds to bring in the rest of his friends and family from the farm to pull off the heist, though he's in danger of further damaging his relationship with Thomas and Bea (Who are also at odds due to Nigel's shady promises of stardom). However, when his friends find themselves in trouble, Peter must take it upon himself to change his ways if he wants to save them. 

With returning director (And co-writer) Will Gluck ("Easy A", "Friends with Benefits"), "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" appears to have taken its god-tier smartassery to the next level, acknowledging just what it is and doing it with a sly smirk. There is a lot more self-awareness this time around, taking potshots at itself more than a few times, while also still going through some of the more standard sequel tropes. The thing is though, the film is very intelligent about it. The screenplay by Gluck and Patrick Burleigh, is fast paced, really funny, and even when it divulges into the usual sequel clichés, it not only pokes fun at them, but it also actually does a much better job with them than others. The visual effects, done through "Animal Logic" (Who have been a part of several big budget films, as well as responsible for animated ones such as the "LEGO" movies and "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole"), blend in rather seamlessly despite the animated characters being more cartoonishly expressive. It works to the film's benefit since they are just so appealing to look at. It's very impressive for something that could have just lazily slapped on a cartoon character and not even try to make it look like it could remotely exist in the real word setting. It's also bolstered by an excellent cast, which includes both major and supporting players.

 Rose Byrne and a still hilariously over the top Domhnall Gleeson, are both thoroughly dedicated to the silly nature of the film, and yet somehow have some great chemistry at the same time. David Oyelowo looks like he's having a lot of fun as well. James Corden, who also doesn't seem to mind taking a few humorous shots at himself (There's a running joke about the mixed reaction to if his voice is annoying or not), really does a great job making the character endearingly delinquent. Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Aimee Horne, and Colin Moody are a ton of fun, with the supporting voice cast getting much more to do this time. Lennie James is suitably gruff, with some of the funniest (And strangest) lines coming from Rupert Degas. There are also some other fun parts for Sia (as "Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle", a flirtatious hedgehog), Sam Neill (as "Tommy Brock", an old badger), Ewen Leslie (as "Piggly Bland", a snooty pig), and Stewart Alves (as "Mr. Tod", a fox who fights off his carnivore instincts with cardio). It's just a delightful collection of quirky characters that come and go, but also leave a memorable impression. 

In what you could call the "22 Jump Street" of talking animal movies, "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" is charmingly snarky about its status, knowing that it can't escape some typical sequel mistakes. It instead decides to have fun with them, but in a smart way. It makes for a hilarious time for the family, while also providing some not overly sentimental heart underneath all of that self-aware sarcasm. The first was no "Paddington", so it stands to reason that this is certainly no "Paddington 2". However, while I understand the plight of the fans of Beatrix Potter's classic stories (The actual filmmakers seem to understand it too apparently), I had a ton of fun and so did the kids. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Rabbit Thievery, And A Poor Rooster's Existential Crisis.  

In The Heights                                                                                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I wonder what would happen if we just burst into an elaborate musical number.....Nah, that's crazy."

So, is Lin-Manuel Miranda just determined to save us from the loathing of the real world through the magical power of musical theater at least once a year from now on? After last year's "Hamilton" in "Disney+" made last year's depressing summer much more eventful and full of joy, it's seems only fitting that another musical favorite reminds us why these kinds of things must be witnessed on the big screen (Or you know, "HBO Max", if you're not vaccinated yet). 

Based on the popular stage musical of the same name, "In the Heights" follows a collection of dreamers in Washington Heights, New York City, as their stories are told by charismatic bodega store owner, "Usnavi de la Vega" (Anthony Ramos). Usnavi , who takes care of his teenage cousin, "Sonny" (Gregory Diaz IV), dreams to finally move out of New York and return to the Dominican Republic in memory of his deceased father. Usnavi's longtime friend, "Benny" (Corey Hawkins), has big ambitions of making it big, working at the local dispatch for "Kevin Rosario" (Jimmy Smitts), who is also delighted at the return of his daughter/Benny's ex girlfriend and still love interest, "Nina" (Leslie Grace), from Stanford University. However, Nina's time away from home hasn't been the best and she has no intention of going back to college. Usnavi's crush, "Vanessa" (Melissa Barrera), also has plans of her own to leave to become a fashion designer, while the tightly knitted community is held together by the beloved "Claudia" (Olga Merediz), also known to everyone as their "Abuela". With the intense heat only getting worse, a missing lottery ticket worth more than most people's houses, and the threat of an upcoming blackout just around the corner, Usnavi's dream, along with the rest of the community, are forced to change in ways that they couldn't have anticipated. 

Another one of 2020's many delayed films, "In the Heights" is the kind of musical that takes tropes that we by this point will never truly ever get tired of seeing (They are very much ingrained into our blood by now), and instead of reinventing any of them, the film boldy plays them 100% straight and relies on talent to tell them in a confident fashion. Directed by Jon M. Chu ("Step Up 3D", "G.I. Joe Retaliation", "Jem and the Holigrams", and eventually the shockingly wonderful "Crazy Rich Asians". Talk about progress), the film is the kind of visual, toe tapping experience that lull you into a state of bliss. From the extravagant opening number, to the more quieter personal ones, and of course, the epic show stoppers, every song resonates, and how it's conveyed through various visuals, it's a very one of a kind, modern musical. The screenplay by Quiara Alegria Hudes (Who also wrote the book for the original musical as well), knows how to well balance a sentimental premise, with a grand assemblage of great characters, humor, and heart that refrains from schmaltz, feeling completely genuine without needing to force the tears. 

The wonderful ensemble is led by the incredibly likable and immensely talented Anthony Ramos (Who already starred in the regional production of the original stage show), while there are excellent performances from Corey Hawkins and Melissa Barrera, who does have some good chemistry with Ramos. Leslie Grace is a particularly noticeable standout, getting a couple of the best musical numbers in the film. (One with Corey Hawkins during the last act is jaw droppingly beautiful). Gregory Diaz IV and Jimmy Smitts are both terrific, while we get some humor from Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, and Dascha Polanco (as "Daniela", "Carla", and "Cuca", a trio of hair stylists, who pretty much always appear together). There is also a brilliant and completely moving role for Olga Merediz, whose big moment in the film is a flawless example of how you convey a variety of emotions through song, production design, and an emotional performance, without the need to dwell. Star of the original show/producer of the film, Lin-Manuel Miranda also makes a funny and very odd appearance as a guy selling Piragua. 

Like all of the best tales, "In the Heights" isn't about how completely original it is, but instead how you tell your story. From a unique perspective, memorable performances and characters, songs you just want to hear over and over again, and Jon M. Chu's dazzling direction, which can't possibly be fully appreciated watching on a tiny screen. Again, if you're not ready or vaccinated, maybe staying at home to watch it on HBO Max would still give you the basic idea. It's still just kind of hard to beat a theater experience quite like this. One of the best movies of the year, and one that's sure to just simply get you in the best mood possible. I think we deserve this. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Along With Careless Singing And Dancing In The Streets. 

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It                                                   ★★★ out of ★★★★    

Image: She found the Devil....It WAS in the details.

The other entries in the "Conjuring" universe (The Conju-verse if you will), might just be typical run of the mill horror flicks to scare the teenagers, but the main series (The first two being directed by James Wan) has been the gold standard for how to craft truly spine-tingling horror, with deeper lore beneath the surface and a great, memorable scary story at the same time. Sometimes terror requires the human touch, especially if you want give your audience nightmares that they won't be getting rid of anytime soon. 

Inspired by True Events (So you know, liberties will be taken, especially with a story quite like this), "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It", follows the continued adventures of real life paranormal investigators and demonologists, "Ed and Lorraine Warren" (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Warrens lend their services to the "Glatzel family", where their young son, "David" (Julian Hilliard), ends up possessed by a vile demonic entity. The exorcism takes a turn with Ed suffering a serious heart attack, but the demon seemingly being defeated. However, it turns out that the terror is only just beginning, with the Glatzel family friend, "Arne Cheyenne Johnson" (Ruairi O'Connor), becoming the new host for the evil being. Ed recovers, but he and Lorraine are unable to prevent an unspeakable act, with Arne brutally murdering his landlord by stabbing him twenty-two times. Arne is arrested, though claims that he was under demonic possession. That obviously doesn't quite fly in court as Arne faces the possible death penalty. Ed and Lorraine, who has the ability to sense and speak with the dead, set out to prove Arne's innocence, though soon find themselves wrapped up in a more sinister conspiracy. They discover that the Glatzel family has been cursed by an unknown person, which the Warrens' old friend and former priest, "Kastner" (John Noble), believes to be a satanic cultist, referred to only as "The Occultist" (Eugenie Bondurant). Fearing that Arne may still be in danger and an even greater evil just waiting to for a chance to cause some blasphemous chaos, Ed and Lorraine, despite Ed himself still struggling with his health at the moment, dig deeper into the mystery, investigating a similar sounding possession/homicide, and facing their most deadly challenge yet. 

Directed by Michael Chaves ("The Curse of La Llorona"), with James Wan serving as a producer and a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick ("The Conjuring 2", "Aquaman"), "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It", follows the whole stereotype that the third entry in a trilogy ends up being the weakest. (Time will tell if this will even just be a trilogy quite yet) It's lacking a certain level of quality that the first two film have, such as most importantly, not being anywhere near as scary as they were. However, it's still an effectively creepy, thoroughly unsettling fun house of horrors, featuring quiet a few twisted setpieces while also making for a solid drama as well. As usual, the truth in the story is obviously a little stretched, being based around the basic premise of one of the Warren case files, adding in a little more suspense and ghoulishness along the way. While I don't find it to have the extra gravitas that the first two had, there are some fascinating details to the true aspects of the event, as well as a recording played at the end (Which you know, may or may not be also fabricated. Most likely it is), that send a slight shiver down your spine. Michael Chaves' direction doesn't quite reach the heights of James Wan's more experienced hands, but it's not without merit. Chaves loves to toy with sound, visual cues, and embraces the macabre imagery (A sequence where Lorraine recreates a murder in the woods, which is cut back in forth with the actual murder, is a standout). 

When it comes down to it, the heart of these films have always been the Warrens themselves. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are both excellent and once more have wonderful chemistry. It's always nice to see a more positive looking representation of religious lead characters, in a horror film no less, and they fit the role as heroes to really root for. They're just so damn cute and lovable, and you want absolutely nothing bad to happen to them. Ruairi O'Connor is solid, though he really doesn't have that much of a major role when the plot gets moving. Most of the trial is fast and happens off screen, with most of the focus being on the larger (And well, less likely to be true) themes at hand. John Noble is suitably creepy, and while Eugenie Bondurant doesn't rank up with some of the franchise's best villains (That freakin Nun man!), there is something still chill inducing about what evil can come from someone who may actually just be a disturbed human being, rather than the supernatural. The other freaky creatures or hallucinations work in the moment, but aren't all that memorable. 

"The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It" doesn't measure up to what the first two were able to accomplish, leaving you without that feeling that you need to keep the lights on the following night before bed. However, aside from being better than all of the spin-offs (Not that hard to do), it's not without some good scares, a captivating enough story, and our two terrific leads. Despite all of the fear on display, the film still retains that there is hope somewhere within it all, whether it being from faith or loved ones, and I always love how these films always remember to give you that feeling. You know, after you've already sh*t your pants. 3 Stars. Rated R For Scary Images, Prosecuted Possession, Terrible Extracurricular Activities, And A PSA Reminding Everyone That Water Beds Are Terrible. 

Spirit Untamed                                                                                                       ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "It's OK, boy....You'll calm down when you're castrated."

I had no idea this existed. Scratch that. I had no idea that the show this movie is based on existed. I had no idea there was even a continuation to DreamWorks Animation's 2002 traditionally hand drawn animated "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". I didn't even know it had a cult following either. So why did this get a Thursday night screening, but the new "Conjuring" movie didn't? Are they expecting big box office numbers for this? 

"Spirit Untamed" follows "Fortuna Esperanza "Lucky" Prescott" (Isabela Merced), a young girl, who after the death of her famous, horse-riding mother, "Milagro" (Eiza González), leaves her small, open frontier home and her emotionally broken father, "Jim" (Jake Gyllenhaal), to live with her aunt, "Cora" (Julianne Moore). Despite her namesake, Lucky has a tendency to get herself into trouble, to the point in which, despite being away for years, is taken by Cora to return to her father and old hometown. It's an awkward reunion between Lucky and Jim, and she struggles to adapt to the setting, though she does find some friendship in the form of young local horse-riders, "Pru" (Marsai Martin) and "Abigail" (Mckenna Grace). Lucky also forms a special bond with an especially wild Mustang, who she names "Spirit" (Not voiced by MATT DAAAMON!), despite Jim not wanting her to end up like her mother. However, when a group of horse wranglers, led by "Hendricks" (Walton Goggins), arrive to capture Spirit's family, it's up to Lucky and her friends to save the day. 

Based on the Netflix animated series, "Spirit Riding Free" (Which is more of a spin-off I guess of the original film), "Spirit Untamed" is I guess a re-imagining of the series, except with a slightly bigger budget. You kind of got to get past a lot of questions and confusion to finally accept what this movie actually is, and what the film ends up being is a very harmless, very well intentioned, and very forgettable small scale feature only for the littlest of the little. Directed by first timers, Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan Jr., the film's animation is lesser than some of DreamWorks' usual standards (It's certainly not on par with the "How to Train Your Dragon" or "Kung Fu Panda" series), but it's still DreamWorks animation. It's still lively, colorful, and most importantly, just pleasant to look at. It's charming to say the least. The screenplay by Aury Wallington (The creator of the original series) and Kristin Hahn isn't without it's moments, but feels entirely watered down, especially when you remember that the original film had some sense of peril or edge despite the G rating. This movie on the other hand is far too soft to the point it loses any sense of urgency. It's too bad considering the heart is in the right place and while it's not an exactly original story, it's certainly a well told one. The direction is solid and the characters are likable enough that it would make up for any derivative flaws if only there was a bit more to it. 

Isabela Merced (aka Dora the Explorer) is a talented, endearing actress, easily making for a protagonist to care about, while Marsai Martin and an especially entertaining Mckenna Grace (Whose character actually looks just like her) round up a diverse main cast, who take up most of the screentime and for good reason. Spirit himself is a cool creature, though he is a bit of a secondary character once you get down to it. Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, and Andre Braugher (as "Al", Pru's stable owner father), all could have just phoned it in and nobody would have faulted them for it, and yet, they give it their best regardless like professionals should. Walton Goggins is just there to fill out the role of the bad guy who does bad guy stuff and Eiza González just shows up to well, die and that's about it. 

"Spirit Untamed" will be perfectly suitable for the kids. That's recommendation for some, and even while the film never elevates enough to truly bring me in, I was considering giving it a higher rating regardless. However, the film gets lost completely during the last act, with the good pacing being abandoned in favor of a rushed, inconsequential ending, with the final conflict being resolved with little struggle. I get it's a kids movie and all, but while I like all of the main characters, there isn't near enough reason to worry or even show much investment. It's a sweet story that works to satisfy the young ones, while the rest of us wait for the next "The Mitchells vs. the Machines". Kids movies are okay for the kids but family movies are for everyone. 2 Stars. Rated PG, Though That Doesn't Mean Anything. Could Have Been G.  

Cruella                                                                                                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Cruella applies for a job with PETA.

Boy, when everyone demanded that Disney do something different, they did so with a rather evil smile didn't they? 

"Cruella" follows the origins of that spider waiting for the kill, "Cruella de Vil", or as she was originally known as, "Estella Miller" (Played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as a child, then by Emma Stone). Born with black and white hair, Estella is a very bright young girl, though retains a certain wickedness to her, which her mother, "Catherine" (Emily Beecham), refers to as an alternative nickname, "Cruella". After Estella's disregard for authority gets her kicked out of school, Catherine plans to move to London. Before they can get there though, Catherine makes a stop at a party being hosted by the famous, incredibly wealthy, and completely cold, "Baroness von Hellman" (Emma Thompson), where Estella ends up seemingly causing the Baroness' vicious CGI Dalmatians to cause the death of her mother. Now orphaned, lost in London with her dog, "Buddy", and with nowhere else to turn, Estella befriends a pair of hooligans/her future henchmen, "Jasper" (Played by Ziggy Gardner as a child, then by Joel Fry) and "Horace" (Played by Joseph MaCDonald as a child, then by Paul Walter Hauser), along with their one eyed Chihuahua, "Wink". 

Years later, the now redheaded Estella and her thieving companions roam the streets, stealing from whoever they feel like. Developing dreams of fashion design, Estella ends up getting a job for the Baroness, who despite her vile personality, does take somewhat of a liking to her or to be more exact, her designs. Estella makes a discovery that prompts her to make destroying the Baroness her one goal in life. Donning her Cruella persona (And becoming even more ruthless along the way), Estella challenges the Baroness, showing up at every event to upstage her with a more wild fashion design after the other. Cruella becomes famous, and the Baroness declares war. Estella further embraces Cruella, and eventually, will become that vampire bat....That inhuman beast that we know as Cruella de Vil.

Directed by Craig Gillespie ("Fright Night", "I, Tonya"), with a screenplay by Dana Fox ("Isn't It Romantic") and Tony McNamara ("The Favourite"), "Cruella" is not a live-action remake of the classic "101 Dalmatians", nor is it along the lines of something like "Maleficent" when you get down to it. This isn't a story we've seen told from a different perspective, where the villain was actually completely good all along. This is a bit more twisted than you'd expect from the House of Mouse. It's not to say that there aren't a few missteps along the way, but the film isn't without its brilliance. The first thing you need to understand though is that this is basically its own thing, barely resembling the original animated film in any way (If the darker tone, the race changes, and less G rated themes, weren't already a dead giveaway). It's not a real prequel, since there isn't a way any of this could be one, with significant character changes such as making our titular villain protagonist less villainous. I wouldn't say that she's exactly heroic and I'd go as far as to say that she's still a villain, but just not quite as much as we're used to. (I mean, the original Cruella de Vil did try to make a coat out of the skin of puppies. Nothing too complicated there) If you can get past just how detached this is from the animated version, you can enjoy it on its own slightly macabre merits. 

The film doesn't look like a Disney film, and a lot of that is in part because of Craig Gillespie's direction, which heavily and eagerly embraces the 1970s setting. The film does falter when it comes to certain effects, where it becomes obvious that the money didn't go into the CGI effects, but Gillespie knows how to create a visually stunning aesthetic. The movie has a bit of a punk rock, rebellious sense of symbolism that also plays into the film's execution of its story and how its presented. The way the movie flows feels more adult, even when things get bizarre. A lot of that is because of the warped sense of humor the movie retains. It's very funny, with some eccentric sequences of madness, mixed in a ore realistic world that just so happens to feature a well known Disney villain. The time period is also a great chance for the filmmakers to include a badass soundtrack (There may be a few too many music cues, but they all actually do have a point to them and are quite clever) to go with the excellent score by Nicholas Britell ("Moonlight", "If Beale Street Could Talk"). 

You can wonder how necessary it was to water down the titular baddie, but you can't deny how brilliant Emma Stone is. It's not exactly a rehashing of Glenn Close from the 1996 remake. This is a much more complicated character, shifting from likable and unsure of herself, to overconfident and maliciously outrageous. I've heard some complaints that her shift is too quick or doesn't have explanation. Here's the thing, it's actually set up since the start of the film. She has somewhat of a split personality, where the more nasty side coming out the more she delves into it. Even though, aside from being an absolute delight to watch, there is a tragedy to her that does at least establish where possibly the original character could come from this. Stone is wonderful, but even more so when she's paired with an outstanding Emma Thompson. Their back and forth game of cat and mouse is exciting to watch, and Thomspon, who chomps down on the scenery, might be one of the most evil Disney villains in recent memory. (She makes the original Cruella de Vil seem tame) Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser are perfectly cast in presentation, with Fry giving a bit more depth to the character and Hauser stealing the show (That guy, much like he did in "I, Tonya", just has flawless delivery). John McCrea (as "Artie", another accomplice in Cruella's schemes), is a fun addition with a relatively decent sized role, although if Disney could stop overemphasizing their still very few openly gay characters in their marketing, that'd be great. (You end up irritating both sides, with the bigots already being mad, and those wanting representation feeling like you're exploiting them. Just let the character exist.) There is great small, but important part for Mark Strong (as "John", the Baroness' butler, who also knows all of her secrets), while we get some familiar (And yes, very adapted) appearances from other characters from the original, such as Kirby Howell-Baptiste (as "Anita Darling", who is now a childhood friend of Estella, reporter, and future Dalmatian owner) and Kayvan Novak (as "John Dearly", the Baroness' lawyer, and also future Dalmatian owner). In terms of darker material, it's jarring to see most of this coming from what's being advertised as family entertainment. There's vandalism played for laughs, less than respective role models, drinking, bad driving, and you know, the many talks of murder (Some of which actually happen too!). 

Flawed in some technical aspects and being so deviated from such a classic film to the point it becomes increasingly difficult to buy it as a true prequel, "Cruella" on its own merits, is a ton of deranged fun. Deviously funny, stunningly constructed, and while the film never has the intention of taking things too far, there is a bit of a meaner streak to it, giving the film an extra edge you would never imagine seeing in a Disney movie. The fact that they committed to this, and did so with so much confidence, is quite commendable. Wildly unhinged and enjoyably dastardly. If we're going to be getting more remakes (Or re-imaginings) in the future, we need more like this. It's insane, but authentically so, and I kind of love it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Sinister Schemes, Canine Killers, And Poor Parenting. 

A Quiet Place Part II                                                                                      ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Please refrain from making any noise throughout the film.

I feel like this movie is a sign of what we were able to accomplish. We may finally be getting out of the pandemic at long last. Sure, it took a lot longer than expected, and I'm still not sure how logically anyone can listen to the people who either claimed that Covid wasn't that bad or just plain wasn't real (It's been over a year people! Anyone saying that was either lying or was just completely stupid!). I was scheduled to see this literally the week that that it all began, with the film being pulled just before release, signalling what became the rest of 2020. Despite all the heartbreak we've had to endure for the past year and the horrifying uncertainty of what was to come, it's little things like this that make me feel that we're getting somewhere. To see a really excellent movie on the big screen the way it was intended. You don't quite understand how special that can really be until it's ripped away from you for nearly an entire year.  

"A Quiet Place Part II" opens seconds after the first part, with the now widowed mother, "Evelyn Abbott" (Emily Blunt), her deaf daughter, "Regan" (Millicent Simmonds), traumatized son, "Marcus" (Noah Jupe), and newborn baby, having discovered that the blind, but very violent alien invaders have a weakness. Sound, or to be more specific, high frequency sound, in the form of feedback from Regan's hearing aid, which stuns the creatures long enough for someone to attack their fragile, exposed ear lobes and kill them. With Evelyn's husband, "Lee" (John Krasinski) gone (It shouldn't be a spoiler, considering you have time to watch the first part during the year long pandemic), the grieving family abandons their home to search of any remaining civilization.  Along the way, Marcus is wounded by a bear trap, which attracts the attention of more of the creatures.

 The family is rescued by an old friend, "Emmett" (Cillian Murphy), who has lost everything and has given up on the world, seeing the creatures as unbeatable and the humans that remain as beyond saving. However, a radio broadcast is discovered, which Regan tracks down to an unknown location, meaning that there are possibly more human survivors out there. Not wanting to risk anyone else, Regan takes it upon herself to track down the source of the signal alone. Unable to leave the baby and the still wounded Marcus, Evelyn begs Emmett to find Regan and bring her back. However, once Emmett realizes what Regan plans to do and having not been able to do much himself since the loss of everyone he loves, he agrees to go with Regan to find the signal source, avoiding the deadly creatures waiting for them in the outside world.  

Once again written and directed by John Krasinski, "A Quiet Place Part II", much like the first one, could so easily bank completely on its premise to get by. It could feel gimmicky in the wrong hands, or could just get old very quickly. The original "A Quiet Place" was a surprise to everyone, serving as something unique, scary, and incredibly well put together. To get this right once again is a challenge, considering how known for going wrong horror movie sequels tend to be, and no longer having that element of shock to catch us off guard. Krasinski expertly crafts a compelling continuation, that revs up the action, while never forgetting the terror that made the original work so well in the first place. It expands on the first film, proving more context, but not too much to the point where it would feel overly forced or exposition heavy. You'd think that the inclusion of more characters and dialogue would cause the filmmakers to lose sight of what worked so well in the first film, but they only use it when necessary, still generating that extensive sense of dread as before. Krasinski's very articulate and high intelligent screenplay knows how to balance out a human drama within a frightening creature feature, where you care about every single character on screen, feeling their hopeless when backed into an unnerving situation, and exhilarated when they find a way to overcome it. The use of sound here is nothing short of Oscar worthy. It's always toyed with in some way, and due to the characters always needing to remain quiet no matter what happens to them, you'll left on edge, fearful of anything that could be lurking around the corner. (Those damn clicking sounds from the creatures end being the stuff of nightmares) 

The suspense can only do so much of the heavy lifting, and it's only further elevated by a small, but very strong cast. Emily Blunt is wonderful once again, but the movie pulls somewhat of a twist that makes the point that she may not actually be the main character of the story. Millicent Simmonds, who was a breakout in the first film (And is also deaf in real life), is more upfront and center this time. She comes into her own as a certified badass, taking the role of the lead protagonist for a good portion of the film. Noah Jupe also goes through a good amount of development and does an excellent job conveying both fear and excruciating pain. (He really gets put through the ringer more than anyone else) Cillian Murphy is terrific, with one of the most complicated characters, while John Krasinski's cameo makes for one of the film's most memorable sequences. In the first film, we only really got a good look at the creatures up close and personal towards the end. While the film no longer has the mystery, their unsettling design still generates enough fright and now that they're no longer in the shadows, they can appear at any moment without much warning. It also makes for more action heavy sequences than the first, but it feels like a natural for a good sequel. 

For what was once such a small scale film, "A Quiet Place Part II" may have more in it now, and yet, it does so to progress the story, further the characters, and better develop the world around them. There are a couple story moments that could use more future expansion (Such as the involvement of feral humans), though I appreciate how the films haven't felt the need to over explain itself when it at the moment isn't all that necessary. (We are sill yet to know exactly what the creatures want, but there might be subtle hints at their motivations hinted here and there) For as scary as everything is, the film at its core is a family drama and in the end, a coming of age story. These genuinely heartfelt moments are what help you gravitate further to the action and leave you not just on the edge of your seat due to the suspense of yourself getting frightened, but also because you just don't want anything bad to happen to anyone. Seriously, your anxiety is going to be off the charts with this one. True unrelenting horror, mixed with memorable characters and heart. Krasinski brings it all together just as brilliantly as he did in the first one, and I can't be the only one excited for Part III. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Successful Jump Scares That Will Make You Flinch Every Time You Hear Any Kind Of Clicking Sound, And That Damn Bear Trap. 

Army of the Dead                                                                                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I don't think mastering the ability of standing so incredibly still will save you from Zombies. 

I'm not sure how to put this into words that your usual well spoken, grammatically intellectual film critic normally would. Ahem, there's a Zombie Tiger in this movie. A freakin Zombie Tiger! An killer Tiger, with missing pieces of skin, fur, and partial skull exposed, ripping people apart in violent fashion. That's all you need to know. 

"Army of the Dead" opens with a military weapon getting unleashed right outside Las Vegas, Nevada, with the weapon being.....a genetically enhanced Zombie. Before anything knows it, the entire city is infected with a wide variety of monstrous undead, all hungering for the taste of human flesh and the complete destruction of civilization as we know it. Only a few are able to escape the carnage, with even the military failing to prevent the situation from escalating, resulting in the government sealing off the city from the rest of the outside world. Some time later, shady casino owner, "Bly Tanaka" (Hiroyuki Sanada), who approaches former mercenary, "Scott Ward" (Dave Bautista), with a job, that will require Ward to lead a team into the quarantined off Vegas to liberate $200 million from his abandoned casino vault. With the military planning to nuke the city in a matter of days, Ward is given a limited time to do so. Ward, a survivor of the Las Vegas Zombie attack, gathers his old teammates, "Maria Cruz" (Ana de la Reguera) and "Vanderohe" (Omari Hardwick), along with a tossed together crew of probable Zombie food, consisting of eccentric safecracker, "Ludwig Dieter" (Matthias Schweighöfer), snarky helicopter pilot, "Marianne Peters" (Tig Notaro), sharpshooter, "Mikey Guzman" (Raúl Castillo) and his friend "Chambers" (Samantha Win), and Tanaka's equally shady right-hand man, "Martin" (Garret Dillahunt). 

Of course things take a rather unexpected turn before the mission even begins, such as the inclusion of a skilled smuggler, "Lily" (Nora Arnezeder), known as the "Coyote", who randomly brings along a local vile security guard, "Burt Cummings" (Theo RossI), for her own reasons. Ward is also forced to let his estranged daughter, "Kate" (Ella Purnell), come on the mission as well, to find a missing friend, "Greeta" (Huma Qureshi). With time running out, the team must make it past the hordes of Zombies, including the super Zombies, led by the terrifying and surprisingly intelligent, "Zeus" (Richard Cetrone), to make it to Tanaka's casino, break into the safe, get the money, and escape the city with a helicopter waiting at the top of the building, before the military blasts the city into oblivion.   

Directed and co-written by Zack Snyder ("Dawn of the Dead", "300", "Zack Snyder's Justice League"), who abandons his superhero plans to return to his undead roots, "Army of the Dead" is as old fashioned as they come. The plot is essentially a video game, and with relatively stock-like characters, but similar to early this year's "Godzilla vs. Kong", it clearly knows what it is and knows exactly how to play this. The film is smart enough to never overstep itself and while you're not going to get much depth here, you'll instead get exactly what you were promised, with a few surprises as well. This is Zack Snyder deciding to just let loose in an outrageously violent, completely excessive, and rather cleverly manchild-esque way. The movie feels like that zombie epic that you've always dreamed of, with insane action setpieces, a little bit of horror, and a devilish grin. The story itself is nothing too new, but the execution is completely unique, with a variety of Zombies that are explained just enough (Yet also not too much), to where you can accept what they are without having to shut off your brain (Movie fun doesn't have to require you to do so). There are so many intricate details and the story's flow, while preposterous, feels natural and only escalates. For Netflix and a rather modest by most standards budget, Snyder knows how to make it all feel grand, like a demonic theme park, with crazy action setpieces, better than expected special effects, and a totally game cast that bring extra gravitas to the bloody escapades. 

Dave Bautista has really proven himself to be a damn good actor, doing well with comedic moments and obviously fitting in with a well made action scene, but there is this soft spoken, more subtle likability during the more dramatic moments, which only work because of how natural he feels. Matthias Schweighöfer becomes one of the most memorable characters, serving as great comedy relief, while we get good work out of Omari Hardwick, Ella Purnell, Tig Notaro (Who was seamlessly CGI'ed in at the last moment to replace Chris D'Elia, on account of him being an apparent rapist), Raúl Castillo, and all too brief appearance from Hiroyuki Sanada. Some characters are a bit more useless than others, while some also just play typical parts that I've seen them play before, such as Theo Rossi playing scumbag and Garret Dillahunt playing douchebag. You do care just enough about a good amount of the characters, especially once the film reaches it's intense last act, which does have a few shocking deaths and even a few sad ones. 

"Army of the Dead" is Zack Snyder's showing everyone his favorite toys, going for broke when it comes to bonkers Zombie action and thankfully, is never taking things too overly seriously. For what is basically just a big B-movie blockbuster, the film has intelligence, is well directed and structured (Even at the two and half hour runtime, you barely even notice it), and sets itself apart from the worn out zombie genre, proving that there is still some fresh meat on those bones. And also, you know....Zombie Tiger. Come on guys. How is that NOT awesome? 3 Stars. Rated R For Gorey Violence, Zombie Nudity, And Not Near Enough Social Distancing. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead                                                                             ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Angelina Jolie, contemplating what an awesome badass she still is.

As I grow older, I've grown to appreciate a good throwback. I can admit when the flaws are present, or when you really get down to it, it's not something entirely original. (Although if you can avoid making it as bad as "The Woman in the Window", I'd say you're halfway there). Either way, I just really love it when good filmmakers just get it right enough.

Based on the book by Michael Koryta (Who co-wrote the screenplay), "Those Who Wish Me Dead" follows a few plotlines that culminate together, with the most focus being on a troubled smokejumper, "Hannah Faber" (Angelina Jolie), who is still traumatized by her failure to save a group of innocents during a forest fire. Hannah is stationed at a fire lookout tower in Montana, when a lot of crazy sh*t is about to go down. An accountant, "Owen Casserly" (Jake Weber), discovers that his boss and family were recently murdered (In an explosion no less), realizing that it was most likely because of something that he was never meant to know. Owen and his son, "Connor" (Finn Little), attempt to flee to Montana, to hide out with his pregnant sister, "Allison Sawyer" (Medina Senghore) and her Deputy Sheriff husband, "Ethan" (Jon Bernthal). However, Owen and Connor are immediately pursued by a pair of deadly and very meticulous assassins, the "Blackwell" brothers, "Jack" (Aidan Gillen) and "Patrick" (Nicholas Hoult), with Owen being able to pass off the information he knows to Connor before being murdered by them. With Connor missing and the fear of exposure, Jack and Patrick enact a plan to hunt the boy down and start a fire in the Park County forest to keep the authorities busy. Meanwhile, Hannah comes across Connor, and is determined to protect him from the brothers, while also avoiding the forest flames that threaten to overtake the entire wilderness area. 

Directed and co-written (With Koryta and Charles Leavitt) by Taylor Sheridan (Who directed "Wind River", while also writing "Hell or High Water" and "Sicario"), "Those Who Wish Me Dead" pays homage to 90s action-thrillers to a degree that at times can prevent it from elevating past a good popcorn flick. However, it's also a damn good one. Some predictable plot developments aside, the suspense and overall intensity keeps the movie going and is unrelenting till the very end. Even when the film slows down for some character interactions, there is this sense of turmoil that's always present. As usual with Sheridan's work, characters are never simple, each with their own little quirks or hints at a larger backstory. They're also further humanized by a very natural sense of humor that add levity to the film. I can admit though that things aren't particularly deep this time around, and because of that, the film doesn't exactly stick with you in the way Taylor Sheridan's previous work would. With that said, you could make the argument that this is all intentional. (The movie never addresses what exactly the villains are after, but in the end, that's not what the story is about)

There are a lot of plot threads going on at once, but they do come together and you get the basic idea every single character, especially when the screenplay gives them plenty of personality. Angelina Jolie is totally badass, and yet, retains something a little deeper. Finn Little is solid, though he's best when paired with Jolie, with the two of them having some great back and forth comradery. Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen make for despicable, frighteningly desperate villains, Jon Bernthal plays a more unique, vulnerable role than what I'm used to from him, and Tyler Perry (as the Blackwell brother's boss) appears briefly for a quietly cold cameo. The film's secret weapon ends up being Medina Senghore, who takes part in a few memorable scenes and is just all kinds of awesome. 

 Making up for what I can assume is relatively small budget (Some of the CGI is rather lackluster, though thankfully never focused on) with clever direction and some stunning cinematography, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" is a flawed film, that follows its structured playbook to the letter. That does prevent the film from reaching greatness. As a homage, it does a brilliant job emulating them without feeling derivative and makes for a thrilling, if not entirely undemanding to a point, time at the movies. Or at home, if you watched it on HBO Max. You know what I mean. I got a soft spot for these kinds of movies. 3 Stars. Rated R For Violence, Language, And Tough Guy Talk.....And Tough Woman Talk.    

The Woman in the Window                                                                                    ★ out of ★★★★

Image: I'm ready for my close up, Amy 

This movie is peppered with actual images or scenes of classic mystery thrillers, such as "Rear Window" and "Laura", and the entire time, I just really wish I was watching those movies right now. Good old fashioned mysteries are so few and far between. However, capable filmmakers taking great actors and shoving them in crap? That happens once every couple of months. 

Based on the book by A. J. Finn, "The Woman in the Window" follows divorced psychologist turned shut in, "Anna Fox" (Amy Adams), who suffers from agoraphobia, never leaving her house. Anna has her sessions with her therapist, "Dr. Landy" (Tracy Letts), gets calls from her ex husband, "Ed" (Anthony Mackie), has awkward mini-conversations with her hipster tenant, "David" (Wyatt Russell), and watches her neighbors from her window. Anna takes a special interest in her newest neighbors, the highly antagonistic "Alistair Russell" (Gary Oldman), along with his unsettled son, "Ethan" (Fred Hechinger), and wife, "Jane" (Julianne Moore), who Anna briefly befriends. After a nice talk with Jane, Anna starts to question the Russell family, noticing how abusive Alistair is, along with a lot of yelling coming from their home. While watching from her window, Anna sees Jane being murdered. Of course, nobody believes her. To make things even weirder though, Anna seemingly meets the real "Jane Russell" (Jennifer Jason Leigh), calling her entire sanity into question. With there being many suspects and unanswered questions, Anna is determined to get to the bottom of things, even though she's yet to come to terms with her own mental issues. 

Directed by Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice", "Atonement", "Pan", "Darkest Hour". One of these is not like the other), with a screenplay by Tracy Letts, "The Woman in the Window" was previously filmed back in 2018, was then meant to get released in 2019, before getting pushed to 2020, and then because of Covid, getting sentenced to a 2021 Netflix release. Throughout that time, there were apparent issues behind the scenes, with poor test screenings, rewrites, and reshoots, resulting in something that at first only seems like a bland, rather boring and forgettable misfire, but actually gets worse and worse the more you think about it. In fact if you think about it at all, the film is a total filmmaking disaster. There are plenty of obvious issues, but it's the more subtle ones that drive it home, only really hitting you when you take the time to reflect on them. Much of the plot and characterization if lifted from much better movies, and while the film seems to want to emulate them through various homages and references, it borders on feeling like more of a rip-off than a tribute. The mystery isn't all that interesting, especially when you can figure out that there are only a coupe routes where this film can go with it, resulting in some predictable developments. There is a minor twist towards the last act (Which is the most interesting part of the movie), and yet, while it's meant to throw the audience for a loop, you know pretty quickly that film is not going to go down that road. You can't exactly buy when the film tries to imply that something is all in a character's head, when you know damn well it's not. It doesn't help that nobody acts normally because of it, straight up ignoring lots of glaring holes that any normal person would at least somewhat question. 

Amy Adams does what she can, and walks out completely unscathed, with a few solid dramatic scenes and moments of heartache. One of the most annoying parts of the movie are how nobody seems to believe her, and even though she is not entirely mentally sound, it's undeniable that something weird is going on here. It's not all that far fetched. It doesn't help that Gary Oldman acts like a supervillain the entire time, looking guilty as Hell the entire time. (No spoilers here, but he looks and acts evil right before anything nefarious seems to be happening) Wyatt Russell's role doesn't end up meaning all that much, Anthony Mackie gets probably the easiest paycheck he's ever had to get (Mostly appearing via voice over on the phone), and Julianne Moore only appears briefly, showing more personality than most of the characters in her one scene (She's very much missed once she's gone). The always welcome Brian Tyree Henry gets nothing to do, and poor Jennifer Jason Leigh, she has no role in the movie at all. (Seriously! How dare you! Literally anybody could have played this part!) 

Poorly paced, with uninspired direction, "The Woman in the Window" is as flat as they come, which probably explains why the movie just loses its mind in the finale, which becomes a rather bloody, slasher flick. It's not that hard to figure out what's going on, and the way it's executed is unbearably poor. It doesn't make all that much sense, and the way the film wraps up most of this offscreen just makes it worse. You walk away uninvested, and then you take the time to look back, realizing that almost none of that actually worked. It always makes you sad when you see a movie with so much talent backing it fail. It makes you mad when it fails this bad. 1 Star. Rated For Random F-Bombs, A Violent Climax, And Poor Parenting. 

Spiral: From the Book of Saw                                                                       ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Chris Rock can't believe what he just....Uh....Saw.

To prepare myself (And because I never had any interest in seeing them), I went through and binged watched every single one of the "Saw" films, a horror franchise that basically dominated every Halloween box office for a good six years straight (Along with 2017's somewhat attempted revitalization, "Jigsaw"). It probably was one of the poorer decisions I've ever made, with the franchise starting off with an interesting idea (Though being too graphically indulgent in gross out gore and torture), before slowly getting worse and worse for a bit to the point of it being more torturous for the viewer than the actual victims. ("Saw 3D: The Final Chapter" is one of the worst I've seen. Hands down!) It's never been my kind of horror and I feel like there's something better under the surface that the filmmakers just can't seem to grasp. Now I must ask the age old question.....Is Chris Rock the hero we need? I mean, I'm sure somebody has asked that. 

"Spiral: From the Book of Saw" follows loose cannon police detective, "Ezekiel "Zeke" Banks" (Chris Rock), the son of the highly respected veteran, "Marcus Banks" (Samuel L. Jackson). Banks, wait for it, doesn't like to play by the rules, goes rogue whenever he pleases, and is constantly at odds with the rest of the department. Much to Banks' dismay, his incredibly attractive captain, "Angie Garza" (Marisol Nichols), arranges for him to get a new rookie partner, "William Schenk" (Max Minghella). Banks and Schenk investigate a gruesome corpse down in the subway, discovering that not only was the victim a cop, but he was also arranged to meet a grisly end in a trap designed similar to the now infamous serial killer, "John Kramer" (Previously played by Tobin Bell), also known as "Jigsaw". It's deduced that the culprit is a copycat killer, leaving behind the trademark red spiral, using pig masks, and even right down to having his own little puppet (A pig, dressed as a cop). Banks is put in charge of the case, which the rest of the department is none too happy about. As Banks starts to dig further into the killer's sick new game, bodies start to pile up, blood runs wild, and flesh is ripped to pieces, with an even bigger mystery just waiting to be uncovered. 

Directed by the returning Darren Lynn Bousman (Who did the second, third, and fourth "Saw" films), with Chris Rock having a hand in the film's creation, "Spiral: From the Book of Saw" is somewhat of a jumbled mix of conflicting ideas that don't always mesh, though more than any of the previous entries in the franchise, I feel that this was the closest they've ever come to being actual movies. The movie is just paced differently, trying to tell a full story with developed characters and genuine mystery, while only on occasion divulging in gratuitous torture and gore. It doesn't fully work exactly, but I not only appreciate the attempt, I kind of commend it. Bousman shows some improvement as a director since his overly flashy, somewhat intentionally trashy looking work on the previous "Saw" films, letting the film have a little time for levity and atmosphere to sink in. The gritty, grainy, and slightly sweaty look to the film does add an extra sense of discomfort. The screenplay by Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger ("Jigsaw", "Piranha 3D") however is a bit more of a mixed bag. While there are kills aplenty, the film is seemingly going more for a police procedural thriller with some horror elements, which is something I would very much prefer, though on the downside, they struggle with tone at times and throw in every single last freakin cop movie cliché in the book. In fact, they basically just throw in the entire book at once, along with some clumsy exposition. It gives off the feeling that the filmmakers might not be completely used to a more focused approach, considering most of these films just rely on random bloody kills and a vague essence of what one would call a story. It is though a welcome change of pace to the franchise and as mentioned before, this is trying to be an actual movie. 

Chris Rock doesn't exactly help the moments of unevenness, especially early on. He drops a lot of quips and jumps into random moments of standup, that while at times funny, feel out of place. As the film progresses though, Rock shows off better acting chops and does fairly well once we reach the rather dramatic climax (More on that in a bit). Samuel L. Jackson, though his role is limited, does bring some extra gravitas to the film that you rarely ever saw in any of the other entries. (There is however a rather unintentionally hilarious flashback where the filmmakers apparently cheaped out and figured that tossing a glued on goatee on Chris Rock and a caterpillar looking mustache on Samuel L. Jackson would make them look younger. It's one of those cases where not doing anything would have looked better) Max Minghella is a likable presence, Marisol Nichols gets stuck with the generic captain role, and other supporting players serve mostly to either fade into the background or become rotten flesh piles. As for the major selling point for most of the fanbase, the traps are more restrained this time. Oh don't get me wrong, they're excessively violent and border on torture porn (An opening sequence involving a train and a man hanging from his tongue, pretty much sets the stage), but they feel less over the top than the later films' traps did. They do at least look like something an average person could build, even if the logistics concerning time still don't make much sense. There is a rather unique one involving the firing of shards of glass, that's more unnerving than expected. 

With the typical flaws rearing their ugly heads, and yet, with some solid mystery and poignant themes, "Spiral: From the Book of Saw" is the best movie in the "Saw" franchise, even if it's almost completely by default. The film does truly come alive in the last act, which is shocking and actually rather thought provoking. It's something the other films always seemed to want to be but never could grasp. While I was able to successfully guess who the killer was, the reasoning behind it and how it all comes together is genuinely unexpected. The admittedly suspenseful final moments culminate in an ending full of shock value, but instead of the usual senseless violence that some have grown accustomed to, the shock comes from the point the film is trying to make and how brutally it does so. There is something deeper here, and it's pretty brave for the filmmakers to even consider going there, especially with a franchise such as this. Still not a fan of this series. With that said, I did like to see that there was some kind of growth here. The newfound maturity and social relevance is very much needed if any franchise is to survive to play another game or two in the future. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Jumpy Pig Squealing Scares, Flesh Contorting In Ways It Shouldn't, And An Obligatory Samuel L. Jackson Mother F*cker. 

Wrath of Man                                                                                                     ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Jason Statham cracks a smile during a humorous moment of levity.

My introduction to Guy Ritchie were the "Sherlock Holmes" movies, and while I thoroughly enjoyed those, I wasn't particularly sure that was where his unique talents should be put. (And not to mention, "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" was just a mistake all around) Nobody I can think of at the moment can shove this much gunfire, swears, and tight shirt machismo into under two hours like he can.

"Wrath of Man" follows an unknown, quiet, though seemingly normal-ish stranger named "Patrick Hill" (Jason Statham), as he's hired by a armored, cash truck company in Los Angeles, with this hiring being not too long after a recent, rather brutal robbery that led to the deaths of a couple previous drivers. Partnered up with snarky tough guy, "Bullet" (Holt McCallany), who nicknames him "H" (As in the bomb. Or Jesus), Hill's first day on the job ends up being one to remember, with the truck being held at gunpoint. Hill proceeds to take complete command of the entire situation and kills every single one of the would-be robbers, without getting a single scratch, single-handedly. Turns out Hill is here for personal reasons, and while the company loves him, especially when his reputation starts to grow, the other drivers are curious as to where Hill came from and his intentions. When the organized gang that previously attacked prepares for an upcoming score, everything starts to fall into place involving gangsters, former veterans, and a whole lot of scheming. Motivations and allegiances are revealed, and everyone in the movie ruthlessly flexes in both a physical and metaphorical way.  

Directed (And Co-written with Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) by Guy Ritchie, "Wrath of Man" is based on a French film appropriately titled "Cash Truck" (Which was directed by Nicolas Boukrief), and while I can't exactly say how well the film compares considering I didn't know it was based on anything until I saw the mention during the opening titles, there's a whole lot of intensity and solid intrigue to help the film past what's actually a rather lacking plot. Ritchie's bro-tastic, yet oddly refined gangster style is on full display, creating an elaborate web of death, overly detailed planning, and so much weaponized testosterone that you'll feel like the film has you in a constant chokehold. There's lots of flashing backwards and forwards in time, to fill in the gaps to the puzzle that Guy Ritchie has intentionally left incomplete. The thing is that it's not a very big puzzle and once you figure out how little there is the plot, it can take away from the film, making it seem lesser than other films like it (It certainly has nothing on Ritchie's previous film, "The Gentlemen"). With that said, it's immensely entertaining to watch and not as entirely predictable as you might think. There are moments where you can get the idea of what's going to happen, but it's the execution that gets you, to the point I think it's best not knowing too much about what the plot truly is. 

 Jason Statham is the star of the show, though he doesn't always hog the spotlight. His stoic performance fits the Ritchie tone, which actually does make way for small moments of humor and well, admitted coolness. (The quick bit of him adjusting his uniform in the middle of a shootout, before charging headfirst into it, is one of the most memorable moments) When more of the character's intentions and backstory are revealed, Statham does a good job with it, remaining stone faced, though you can see the hints of something much darker hidden beneath the seemingly blank look. There are a whole collection of recognizable actors who either appear in large or small parts, though all almost have an important role to play. From Holt McCallany, Eddie Marsan (as "Terry", Hill's boss), Jeffrey Donovan (as "Jackson", the leader of a group of former soldiers), Scott Eastwood (as "Jan", a rather crazed looking member of Jackson's squad),  Josh Hartnett (as "Boy Sweat Dave", one of the drivers, who doesn't do well under pressure), Niamh Algar (as "Dana", the only female member of the security team, and one of the only female characters in the entire movie), and Andy Garcia (In a role that's actually a little confusing the more I think about it). 

"Wrath of Man" is a movie that constantly builds up tension, with every single one of the cogs twisting and turning throughout until everything explodes on screen in violent fashion. The finale is rather spectacular, and even when some plot developments are less than surprising, it's an edge of your seat kind of experience that only keeps escalating till it just can't go on for any longer (The film wraps up pretty quickly once the action is all said and done). It's nothing all that grand, but the film makes for a solid action flick, with a little extra sense of fun tossed in there to give it that Guy Ritchie personality. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Swears, Bloody Violence, And That Statham Stare. 

Star Wars: The Bad Batch - Aftermath                                                     ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Charlie Sheen leads his weary men into battle.

Happy "Star Wars" Day everybody! And May the Fourth be with you! Er....well, it's actually the day after now. So Happy Revenge of the Fifth. It's like the fourth, except with more Jedi killing. It's perfect for what is essentially supposed to be good old fashioned, family friendly entertainment. 

Almost serving as the first episode (Or standalone movie, considering the hour and fifteen minute runtime) for an eighth season of the now classic "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", "The Bad Batch" opens in the final moments of the war, following our titular band of defective clones (Also known as "Clone Force 99"), the leader, "Sergeant Hunter" (Dee Bradley Baker), the expert sharpshooter, "Crosshair" (Also Dee Bradley Baker), the brains, "Tech" (Once more, Dee Bradley Baker), the explosion loving, "Wrecker" (Mr. Bradley Baker), and the newest recruit, "Echo" (Sir Dee Bradley of Baker), who have garnered a bit of a reputation compared to the rest of the clone army. On the planet, "Kaller", the squad witnesses the execution of "Order 66" (Which compels all clone troopers across the galaxy to turn on their Jedi generals), such as their fellow soldiers out of nowhere firing upon "Depa Billaba" (Archie Panjabi) and her young padawan, "Caleb Dume" (Freddie Prinze Jr.), later known as "Kanan Jarrus" from "Star Wars: Rebels" (In case you didn't know). Despite their clear orders, the squad's defects allow them to resist the order, resulting in Hunter allowing for Caleb's escape. The Bad Batch returns to "Kamino" (The water world that the Republic cloning facility is stationed), where they discover that "Chancellor Sheev Palpatine" (Ian McDiarmid) has appointed himself "Emperor", declaring the "Galactic Republic" (and the Jedi), are no more, being replaced by the "Galactic Empire". One of the Imperial higher ups (And future killer of millions), "Admiral Wilhuff Tarkin" (Stephen Stanton), arrives to convene with Kaminoan Prime Minister, "Lama Su" (Bob Bergen) and his head scientist, "Nala Se" (Gwendoline Yeo), and evaluate the effectiveness of a clone army now that the Clone Wars are over. (Not sure if replacing them with those "Stormtroopers" are a good idea. They never seem to hit anything). Tarkin takes a special interest in the Bad Batch, who have the skills that the Empire would love, but they lack the blind, cult-like, brainwashed loyalty that the job requires. After befriending a young girl at the facility named "Omega" (Michaelle Ang), the Bad Batch find themselves unable to follow the Empire's new tyrannical orders, though infighting within the group threatens to tear them apart.

After first being introduced in the final season of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", "The Bad Batch", with this first episode being appropriately titled "Aftermath", seemed like a bit of a surprise idea for a series, though after watching the first episode (Which was prolonged to the point one could consider it a movie), I don't know how anyone could have ever doubted it. It idea alone is already quite brilliant, showing a different side to the fallout from the Prequel Trilogy, which has only been hinted at or barely touched upon in the current "Star Wars" canon. (In a way, it was somewhat glossed over in the original "Expanded Universe" as well) We never did see how many of the clones, who many fans really got to know and care about through the "Clone Wars" series, reacted to the sudden change from the Republic to the Empire. It's also cool to see a group that, due to their own programming, are able to go against the Empire, while also giving us a look at my personal favorite Era in all of "Star Wars". There are so many opportunities here, and it's clear that Dave Filoni (Creator of many "Star Wars" shows, including "The Clone Wars", "Rebels", and "Resistance", along with his work on "The Mandalorian") has every intention to further bridge the saga more than he already has. The animation and rather stunning visual art style carries over from "The Clone Wars", and even includes the return of the much loved Tom Kane narration (Never gonna get tired of that). The flow feels so natural, giving the fans of course what they want (Though thankfully this time "Lucasfilm" doesn't feel the need to you know, bow to racists. You did Kelly Marie Tran wrong!), while also making it feel like it still fits. 

The story is not something that's all together original, but it's more about how it's told. During the short runtime, you know all you need to know by the end of it. It's all about the character work, as well as the continuously excellent voice work, especially from the multi-talented and very much underappreciated Dee Bradley Baker. He actually has to do even more now than before, instead bringing a little extra to each character's voice. The Bad Batch are a great collection of characters, with fan favorite Wrecker stealing most scenes, though my personal favorite might be Tech. There is some depth given to Crosshar as well, which takes an unexpected darker turn. We get the returns of fan favorites, such as the villainous Tarkin, the return of "AZI-3" (Voiced again by Ben Diskin), "Saw Gerrera" (Voiced again by Andrew Kishino, sounding a bit more like Forest Whitaker), and a surprise appearance from the young Kanan Jarrus, though the continuity might be a little off with that one. (We'll let it slide and it doesn't necessarily affect the story of the terrific "Kanan" comic series. Still a pretty big retcon though) Omega ends up being a wonderful addition to the always expanding cast of characters, with the story not taking too long to point out the little twist (Fans figured that one out a while ago) and she proves to be a capable future member of the team. No matter how dark things can get (I mean, this does take place moments after what was essentially a galaxy-wide genocide), there's a lot of good humor and moments of added heart, which was something the original series did on an expert level.

The first episode of "The Bad Batch" is already good enough on its own, with some exciting action, deep character moments, and a compelling company of main characters, with loads of story potential, that will appeal to the hardcore fans such as myself, as well as the more casual ones just curious about something other than the "Skywalkers". Back when the franchise first began, George Lucas introduced us to a whole galaxy of characters, worlds, and ideas, and I feel that even after all these years, we've only scratched the surface of it all. "The Bad Batch" is a fantastic starting point, serving as the next act of an already great animated series and a jumping point for anyone just a little bit interested on what that galaxy far, far away has in store. 3 1/2 Stars.  

Without Remorse                                                                                                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Is this your king?!"

Those Tom Clancy adaptations, despite the source materials being apparent gold standards for spy, espionage, military based thrillers, have the tendency to be as generic as they come. Not sure why that keeps happening, but I guess if you want to pop out a by the book action movie, that's your go to. It sucks because there's always potential there.  . 

Based on the novel of the same name by John Clancy, "Without Remorse" follows US Navy SEAL, "John Kelly" (Michael B. Jordan), as he returns home to his pregnant wife, "Pam" (Lauren London), after a strange mission involving a hostage situation with supposed ISIS members. It turns out those were Russian military forces, and they're not exactly happy. The rest of Kelly's team are all assassinated by trained Russian killers, while he witnesses Pam's death at the hands of the presumed dead "Victor Rykov" (Brett Gelman. No, that's not a typo). Kelly wants revenge, and despite support from his superior, "Karen Greer" (Jodie Turner-Smith) and the Secretary of Defense, "Thomas Clay" (Guy Pierce), CIA officer, "Robert Ritter" (Jamie Bell), reiterates looking for less violent options considering the current discourse with Russia at the moment. Kelly has no intention of letting things go, and proceeds to go rogue to track down the ones responsible for his wife's death. After causing a little more havoc along with straining the US and Russia's relationship even further, Kelly, after giving assurance that he will go to prison for what he's done, becomes part of a mission to find Rykov and bring anyone involved in his operation to justice. However, there's something more nefarious going on here, and a big conspiracy just waiting to be uncovered. 

Directed by Stefano Sollima ("Sicario: Day of the Soldado"), with a screenplay by Taylor Sheridan ("Sicario", "Hell or High Water", "Wind River") and Will Staples, "Without Remorse" is the kind of movie that even though it looks like the kind of story you've seen more than a few times, it at least be salvaged by a compelling cast, a capable director, and a screenplay by talented writers to inject enough emotion and personality to overcome predictability. Yeah, something really went wrong here. There is very little character in the film, which is shocking considering Taylor Sheridan's eye for balancing your usual tough guy talk with well placed humor while still retaining a grim tone. The movie is completely missing anything like that, taking things 100% seriously, without actually giving us any levity to the characters so that we can actually give a damn about them. Sollima makes the film look really good, and sure can shoot a good action scene, but considering how elaborate and stylish we can make those these days, it doesn't feel like anything all that special. The lack of interest only makes one think during the rather stupid storyline, which is full of moments that don't make much sense or lend itself to mockery (There are a few moments where Kelly is meant to appear badass, but realistically, those moments could have gone so wrong so quickly, making them unnecessarily dumb). 

I can always appreciate Michael B. Jordan and how much range as an actor he really has, and even while his character is more on the forgettable side, it's not like he isn't believable in the part. Jamie Bell also does a fine job (And might be the only character with much of an arc. Not a complete one, but it's something), while Jodie Turner-Smith is for some reason totally robotic. Brett Gelman's appearance is jarring to say the least, though he does an alright actually despite the weirdness of the casting. Guy Pierce is.....okay, what do you guys think his role in this? It's not a damn spoiler! If you don't know where this movie is going then you must have never seen a movie in your entire life! Or you just don't know who Guy Pierce is. What makes the movie the most frustrating is just how unoriginal the character development or plot is. There are no surprises here. 

"Without Remorse" makes for a bland, boring entry into the action genre, and while all the ingredients for something more are there, the filmmakers don't appear to have any intention of reaching for anything greater. All it does is waste what's right in front of it. It's weird to see source material so long running and ripe for a future franchise, just sort of becoming something more mediocre and easier to neglect. There are worse made movies out there, but at least they give you more memorable badness. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Language, And The Dumbest Interrogation Tactics You'll Ever See. 

The Mitchells vs. the Machines                                                                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wow! Is this....A real movie theater screen?" 

It only just hit me. I haven't given a single four star movie review all year. We've had a decent amount of films so far and plenty of good ones too. I just haven't really thought about it too much, since nothing has quite really grabbed me as of yet this year. Maybe they're all being saved for later, when the pandemic finally reaches its conclusion (It is going to end, right?) So its surprising to say the least when the heroes of the 2021 would be a weird little family and their chubby dog/pig/loaf of bread, as they face down villainous smart phones. 

Released through Netflix by "Sony Pictures Animation", "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" follows the titular "Mitchell" family, consisting of quirky teenage aspiring filmmaker, "Katie" (Abbi Jacobson), the technologically incompetent father, "Rick" (Danny McBride), the protective and supportive mother, "Linda" (Maya Rudolph), the dinosaur obsessed son, "Aaron" (Mike Rianda), and their obese doggo, "Monchi" (Voiced through grunts, snorts, and heavy breaths by social media celebrity pug, Doug the Pug). Katie, who has been drifting apart from Rick in recent years due to a lack of understanding, is ready to leave home and head to college to study film with people just like her. Rick isn't quite prepared for this, and Linda fears that they might be running out of time to mend their father-daughter relationship. So Rick comes up with the brilliant idea to cancel Katie's plane tickets and instead have a family vacation, driving Katie to college. 

Of course things don't go entirely as planned, though the family finds their chance to bond one last time and finally work together as a cohesive going up against the robot apocalypse. At the same moment, Tech creator, "Mark Bowman" (Eric Andre), has announced that his current virtual assistant, "PAL" (Olivia Colman), is now obsolete, planning to replace her with shiny, new robots. Pal takes control of the robots, as well as the rest of the planet, sending the robots to hunt down humanity so she can create a human free world. Eventually, the Mitchells are all that remain, becoming humanity's last hope for survival, embarking on a mission to save the world, despite not knowing what the heck they're doing. 

Directed by Mike Rianda and produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", "The LEGO Movie", and the "21 Jump Street" movies), "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" (Which was originally meant to be released last year under the name "Connected", before Covid struck) is made up of an amazing team, being the same ones behind the Academy Award winning "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", to create a entirely original, brilliantly made, and absolutely hilarious adventure with something for the whole family (Dog included). With a screenplay by Rianda and co-director Jeff Rowe (Both of which worked on "Gravity Falls"), the film is intentionally chaotic in a rather eccentric fashion, best shown on display in the gorgeously frenetic animation style (Which is given a comic book-like feel, mixing in some occasional 2D animation to go with the 3D), making for some glorious visuals. It's a shame that the film i only available through streaming on Netflix, because this all would have looked even more incredible on the big screen (Watching it on your phone doesn't do it justice). The film also isn't just a lot of sight gags (Such as evil appliances, consisting of a washing machine with a "CARNAGE!!" setting) and doesn't rely on anything lowbrow, with smart, quick thinking dialogue getting laughs out of both adults and kids, whether it be something clever, unexpected, or just weird for the heck of it. It's my kind of humor to be honest. However, the film knows when it's time to settle down and let an emotional moment sink in, never forgetting that there is a more personal, sincere tale behind the wacky tone. 

The voice cast is also rather perfect, with an endearing Abbi Jacobson serving as our relatable lead. Danny McBride is quite wonderful actually, playing the confused dad role flawlessly, while an excellent Maya Rudolph and Mike Rianda (Who also does several additional voices) bring about the right amount of humor and empathy. They have a great, more modernized family dynamic that's interesting to see so well done despite the intentionally exaggerated scenario. Eric Andre plays against the type I'm used to seeing from him, while Olivia Colman is hysterically villainous. There are some fantastic supporting parts for other like Beck Bennett and Fred Armisen (as "Eric" and "Deborahbot 5000", two malfunctioning PAL robots, who integrate themselves into the Mitchell family), along with Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, and Charlyne Yi (as the more connected, ridiculously prepared "Posey" family, that Linda is secretly jealous over). The scene stealer as you would expect would be Monchi, who I demand get the squishiest plush toy possible, so that everyone around the world can hug his adorable plumpness. 

 At times somewhat random, though never annoyingly so (And if you ask me, that only adds an extra layer of personality to the film), "The Mitchells vs. the Machines" balances its craziness with a deeper, relevant message and a heartfelt story. What might at first seem like just another "Phones are bad" or "Technology is good" style theme, ends up being something more. You see both arguments, such as how we all can rely too much on phones and computers or even abuse them to a degree (There's a great moment showing how society would likely crumble seconds after the Wi-Fi shuts down), along with the good and progress that comes with it (With how many inspired young people these days being able to make careers out of such things). You can embrace what the future holds, while also never forgetting how you got there as well as the family that helped shape you in the first place. Full of energized charm and creativity, lots of laughs, a sweet center, and eye-popping animation that once again could actually challenge the mighty Disney at next year's Oscar ceremony. Not bad for a kooky little family. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Fast Paced Action, Killer Furbies, And LGBTQ Representation That's Sure To Offend Those Easily Offended Internet Trolls.  

Vanquish                                                                                                                       ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Literally phoning it in. 

You know I was just thinking to myself that this January didn't feel like the usual January. The Pandemic sort of pushed everything around, and unlike my previous years of reviewing, the beginning of the year is where we get the the scraps of whatever Hollywood couldn't find a place for. The unfinished, unintelligible, and unrelentingly stupid barely existent films that vanish from the box office and due to coming out so early in the year, don't even make most critics' worst of the year lists. I however, never forget. I also never forgive. 

A movie that I really should have opened the year with, "Vanquish" follows a single mother, "Victoria" (Ruby Rose), with a shady past, as her relationship with a disabled, former cop, "Damon" (Morgan Freeman), takes an unexpected turn. Damon, as it turns out, is part of an entire crooked cop operation, and is in need of assistance picking up some bags of cash, due to being stuck in a wheelchair. Damon, having integrated himself into Victoria's life by becoming a mentor or father figure of sorts (I assume. It's not really clear), decides to kidnap Victoria's daughter, "Lily" (Juju Journey Brener), forcing Victoria to work for him. Having a special set of skills (And a much more interesting backstory that's never touched upon), Victoria agrees to perform Damon's pickups, which take her all over town, running into various mobsters with grudges, more unlawful law enforcement, and all kinds of bizarre editing choices, while both Victoria and Damon's actions slowly start to catch up to them. 

From that generic ass title alone, you can tell "Vanquish" is not movie theater material, though it's not even video on demand worthy either. Directed by George Gallo (Someone who has apparently been around for a while, though you could barely tell considering how unremarkable and uncreative this little travesty is), the film is the kind of disaster you stumble upon completely by accident while flipping around channels in the middle of the night. You only end up watching a few minutes of it, wondering what the Hell went wrong or what the filmmakers were thinking, before changing the channel and never going back. It's a thin, video game-like plot, which repeats itself as Victoria goes into a bad guy hideout, things go wrong, we get a little action scene or violent shoot out, and she returns to Morgan Freeman for a little back and forth (Along with a little cut to some bad guys in a diner). It happens like four times in the film, taking its sweet time getting to a rushed conclusion. Gallo's direction is woefully bland for the first act or so, before getting really weird. The film decides to become what I can only assume was meant to be stylish, with odd jump cuts to character reactions and awkward scene transitions to the same exact scene except from a different angle. I guess they realized how boring the film was and attempted to spice things up, but it only makes things worse and that's saying a lot considering the somewhat incomplete feeling screenplay by Gallo and Samuel Bartlett. 

There's some backstory sprinkled throughout, but it's all very quick and never expanded upon, with the movie just dropping the audience right in the middle without much context. I can that despite all of the film's issues, I did enjoy Ruby Rose for what little she's given to do. Yeah, her character is lacking in many aspects (And it's hard, and yet, I at least buy her performance compared to everyone else,) and she injects a little more personality than the dialogue provides. Morgan Freeman, who despite giving an occasional snarky comment, looks like he's only here for a paycheck. While I certainly understand the feeling, he could have at least tried to look like he gave a little bit of a crap. (It must have been the easiest part he's ever played, considering he just had to sit down the entire time) There are other bad guys and scummy characters, who mostly blend together, coming off as incredibly dull or cartoonish, though not enough to make them remotely entertaining. I couldn't tell you any of their names, what they do, and or even what their role is, considering how little the affect the plot when you get down to it. Anything to pad out that runtime. 

"Vanquish" slogs through its incomprehensible plot, dragging its feet the entire time, and literally just keeps going till the last second. However, that's the only moment where the movie comes alive for the first time in the worst way possible. It ends on a hilarious note that would almost be considered infamous if the rest of the movie weren't so forgettable. It's one of those abrupt endings that you almost see coming, but don't fully think it'll go there due to the obvious lack of budget. Then you realize that even without a budget, they go an do it anyway, resulting in the biggest laugh I've gotten from any movie this year. None of it makes any sense, it's all cheap as Hell, and it barely even has enough depth to make for a good mock viewing. Still, at least it went out with a bang. 1/2 Star. The kind of movie made specifically for that score. Rated R For Bloody Violence, Language, And Super-Powered Cocaine.

Mortal Kombat                                                                                                       ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Now THAT'S a Covid Mask!

"Mortal Kombat", one of the longest running, most beloved, and most gleefully violent, fighting based video games of all time, is yet another one of those franchises that I neglected to get into. I've played a little bit of a couple games and watched some of the gameplay, but aside from some of the characters appearing in the "Injustice" games (And the memes. How could I ignore the memes?), I know very little about this series. However, none of that should matter though, right? We got ourselves a fresh start here. A great way to appeal to both the devoted fans and bring in newbies such as myself, bringing everyone together into blood soaked harmony. Well, at least the fans are happy.  

"Mortal Kombat" opens with rival ninjas, "Hanzo Hasashi" (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the ice wielding "Bi-Han" (Joe Taslim), duking it out, resulting in Bi-Han slaughtering Hanzo's loved ones, leaving Hanzo's soul to be taken to Hell (Or "Netherrealm", as it's referred to). However, Hanzo's bloodline as in reality survived, thanks to the intervention of thunder god/protector of "Earthrealm" (Another name for Earth), "Lord Raiden" (Tadanobu Asano). This leads to a prophecy of sorts, being that Hanzo's descendant, a former MMA fighter, "Cole Young" (Lewis Tan), will unite a group of champions to prevent the dark realm of "Outworld" from claiming a flawless victory in the upcoming tournament, "Mortal Kombat" (An epic death match, where warriors from all of the realms do battle). Cole, who bears the dragon mark that all the champions have, becomes the target of evil sorcerer, "Shang Tsung" (Chin Han), who intends to cheat his way to victory, sending in his assassins, such as Bi-Han, now referring to himself as "Sub-Zero", to kill him. 

Cole and his background family are rescued by Special Forces Major, "Jackson "Jax" Briggs" (Mehcad Brooks), who before losing his arms to Sub-Zero, sends Cole to an ally, "Sonya Blade" (Jessica McNamee), to track down Lord Raiden. Cole, Sonya, along with another um, "Champion", the vulgar, obviously untrustworthy "Kano" (Josh Lawson), make their way to Raiden, training with other champions of Earthrealm, "Liu Kang" (Ludi Lin) and "Kung Lao" (Max Huang) to unlock their own special abilities, known as "Arcana". Meanwhile, Shang Tsung readies more of his forces, preparing for the coming battle that actually never really comes. Yeah, most of the plot is just getting ready for a big conflict, before said conflict gets interrupted, and that's about it.......MORTAL KOMBAAAAAT!!!!    

Directed by first time director Simon McQuoid, with a producing credit from James Wan (The "Conjuring" series and "Aquaman"), "Mortal Kombat" starts off with some real promise. The opening fight between Hanzo (Or the future "Scorpion", as fans know him to be) and Sub-Zero, is emotional, well shot, and suitably brutal. It's a well done sequence that tragically doesn't carry over into the rest of the film. McQuoid's lack of experience becomes more apparent as the film suffers from terrible pacing and exposition heavy dialogue, also thanks to the screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham ("Wonder Woman: 1984" and "Zombieland: Double Tap"), that has so much to speed through, forgetting a form a cohesive narrative and develop much character in the process. It veers dangerously close to "The Last Airbender" territory, having so much in so little time, without much of the substance (It's nowhere near on the same level, but it did give me mini-PTSD flashbacks). The film's special effects also lead to mixed results. Some effects look pretty solid, such as a four armed monstrosity named "Goro" (Voiced by Angus Sampson), while others consist of heavy amounts of green screen and unfinished looking creatures that never mesh well into the live-action setting. You can tell the filmmakers are big fans of the game, going to excessive lengths to get every detail just right, but due to the film's inability to slow the Hell down and tell an actual story or populate it with characters to root for, the intricate world building doesn't end up doing anything for someone without a personal attachment to the series. 

Something that other properties such as the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" or to a lesser extent, earlier this year's "Godzilla vs. Kong", have to give you anything to care about. Sadly, the film doesn't do much with its surprisingly large roster of characters. Lewis Tan is a woefully boring and bland lead, barely even contributing to the story. Jessica McNamee does fine, as does Mehcad Brooks (And his unexplained metal, cyborg arms), who gets a good line or two. Tadanobu Asano is essentially useless, while Ludi Lin and Max Huang feel like they should be important, but fade into the background easily. Chin Han is a forgettable villain (Which is made worse knowing that the character is an iconic video game baddie) and Sisi Stringer (as "Mileena", a Glasgow smiling, deranged assassin) is just there to be there. Hiroyuki Sanada (Whose story feels like it was left on the cutting room floor) and Joe Taslim are quite good, despite being negated to supporting players for most of the movie. There's a fun side villain in the form of the snarky, mask wearing "Kabal" (Voiced by Damon Herriman), but nobody really stands out, with the exception of one. Josh Lawson absolutely steals this movie every time he's on screen, and does so in glorious fashion. Kano has always been the character I might have liked the most anyways, but here, he's a laugh riot, being the most hilariously rotten, constantly sh*t-talking, douchebag with the heart full of more douchebag. Lawson gets the best lines by far, injecting some well placed humor, and makes for a memorably vile, yet immensely entertaining character that would almost be enough to elevate the rest of the movie. I'd almost recommend the movie just to see him. He's actually legitimately that good. 

Full of gore-tastic kills and unrelenting violence, though also seemingly undercooked and underdeveloped (Let's just say, these are what actual plot holes look like, YouTubers!), "Mortal Kombat" never can find its footing, feeling like it's still building up, even in the final act. We do get a better than solid final duel, between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, that feels epic, even though none of the investment is actually there. This ends up being one of those video game adaptations that feels more like 2016's "Warcraft", where you can tell the filmmakers have put a lot of care into including every meticulously crafted bit of fanservice, giving the intended audience a look into something that they've always dreamed of seeing on the big screen (Or at least on HBO Max, if you decide to stream it instead). However, while the fans may be getting what they want, a simple novice like myself, without any of the connections to the franchise, is left no choice but the judge the movie on its own merits. Being someone who truly did want to like this movie, the end result just feels like a major disappointment to me. It just doesn't quite strike that perfect balance between fan approval and the inclusion of an uninitiated moviegoer. It's sad because the potential to do both was there, but in the end, not what matters I guess. 2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Fatalities All Over, From Sawed Off Faces, Hearts Being Pulled Out, Intestines Being Spilled, Head Smashing, And More Things That Your Grandma's Nosy Neighbor Claims Is Ruining Our Children. 

Thunder Force                                                                                                        ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: So....Is this the Marvel-Verse or the DC-Verse?

Netflix continues that trend of not knowing exactly what kinds of films they want to become known for distributing. They give us Oscar contenders for sure, but they also occasional pop out a less mainstream animated family venture. Then they go in and throw in a literal movie of the week that you'll probably forget seeing moments after watching. However, one can't possibly forget an age old classic, the straight to DVD release. That's pretty much what this is.  

"Thunder Force" opens in a world, where super powered individuals , instead of using their powers for good, have become seemingly unstoppable criminals. These supervillains, dubbed as "Miscreants", terrorize the world populace on a daily basis. Childhood best friends, the very Melissa McCarthy-like "Lydia Berman" (Melissa McCarthy) and scientist "Emily Stanton" (Octavia Spencer), set out to create a way for others to gain powers and use them to combat the Miscreants. However, the two had a falling out, with Lydia's life not going anywhere, while Emily continues her research. Years later, Lydia and Emily are reunited, due to Lydia accidentally becoming injected with Emily's super soldier serum. Despite their current estrangement, Lydia, having gained super strength, and Emily, giving herself the ability to turn invisible, create the world's first superhero team, known as "Thunder Force". These new heroes become instant hits, though their arrival finds themselves in conflict with the villainous Chicago mayoral candidate, "William "The King" Stevens" (Bobby Cannavale), along with his Miscreant subordinates, the sadistic "Laser" (Pom Klementieff), and a particularly strange and surreal henchman, "The Crab" (Jason Bateman).    

Written and directed by McCarthy's husband (And too frequent collaborator), Ben Falcone ("Tammy", "The Boss", "Life of the Party", "Superintelligence"), "Thunder Force" is an affectionate parody of the superhero genre, that sadly has absolutely no originality to it, and even more damning, a depressing void where what I can only imagine actual humor was meant to fill. The film thankfully avoids the usual pratfalls (Literal pratfalls) that you get from the typical Melissa McCarthy fare, but while it's not annoying or even painfully unfunny, it's just er, regular unfunny. There's a lot of quiet in this movie, and while characters are making jokes or doing goofy things, one's facial expression rarely falters, remaining stone-faced throughout most of it. It's not to say that there aren't any amusing moments, but that's just the thing. There are more moments of amusement than moments that actually get even a chuckle. It doesn't help that the lazily constructed plot is barely relevant and Falcone's direction (Which I swear is only getting worse), continues to look cheap, generic, and not befitting a screen any bigger than your phone. It's one of the reasons why Netflix does feel like the perfect place to release it, though it still doesn't mean it deserves a free pass. 

Melissa McCarthy, as usual too talented to be in as many bad movies as she's been, doesn't do any falling down this time around (Though there are a few overly gross out jokes, such as her love of raw chicken), and has some pretty good chemistry with Octavia Spencer, who is also too good for this. They're likable at least, which means that the film refrains from any mean spiritedness. Taylor Mosby (as "Tracy", Emily's smart daughter) and Melissa Leo (as "Allie", a colleague of Emily's, who immediately despises Lydia), both get very predictable character arcs, while Bobby Cannavale looks to be having a great time as our main villain, though I swear he's played this same exact character in several other movies. (He's good at it, but how about some variety?) Pom Klementieff is quite menacing for what's meant to be a silly comedy (She's usually so cute as Mantis from "Guardians of the Galaxy"), while the most funniest stuff comes from Jason Bateman, mostly due to how fascinatingly strange his entire role is in this movie. (Jason Bateman, with crab claws, doing crab walks while still being very Jason Batemany, is at least an original sight)

 "Thunder Force" is dumb, and seems to know it. However, the lame jokes, cobbled together story, a stretched out length (These movies need to stop being over an hour and forty minutes! I only have so much time!), and a constant feeling of cheapness, aren't enough to make one forgive that. The more I think about it, there is a solid idea in here somewhere, but the direction and screenplay is too uninspired and pedestrian to do anything with it. It's yet another waste of what could have been a cool concept and good, funny actors. This is going to fade into the Netflix rabbit hole, as it likely should. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Raw Food Consumption, And Crustacean Copulation. 

Voyagers                                                                                                                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Colin Farrell volunteers to become the world's first human Tadpole.

The most obvious comparison to make here would be that this is basically just "Lord of the Flies" in space (Or in "Spaaaaace!", to put more dramatic emphasis on it), but as expected, every other film critic in America has already gone and said exactly that. So yeah, this movie is "Lord of the Flies" in space. Now we have a movie!

Set at some point in the near future, "Voyagers" opens with Earth now no longer being able to sustain life due to all the reasons that it likely already can't sustain life. So the decision is made to send a group of specifically bred children with no knowledge of the outside world, who board a spacecraft and head deep into space to find a new home, on a journey that will span decades, meaning that their grandchildren will be the ones to discover the new world. One scientist, "Richard Alling" (Colin Farrell), who feels like a surrogate father to the children, volunteers to accompany them on the voyage, despite knowing he will most likely die up there due to the long journey (And because he's the most high profile actor). Years later, the crew, made up of "Christopher" (Tye Sheridan), "Sela" (Lily-Rose Depp), "Zac" (Fionn Whitehead), and a bunch of others, whose names aren't aren't important or relevant until the plot deems it necessary, goes about their day, carrying out various tasks around the ship and drinking their blue liquid, referred to as "The Blue". 

Christopher and Zac do a little investigating and learn that The Blue is meant to keep them docile, preventing them from feeling certain pleasures (That means no "Nookie Nookie"), and the two decide to no longer drink it. This sparks others to question authority, with Christopher enjoying the new sensations of life that he's been denied and Zac, well, basically becoming a demented, homicidal rapist almost instantly. Once Richard is no longer part of the equation (Look, it's not a spoiler that Colin Farrell wouldn't be here for long), the rest of the crew struggles with their newfound freedoms, with Christopher becoming the new leader, Sela trying to keep her cool among her on edge crewmates, and Zac, like I said, becoming a demented, homicidal rapist almost instantly. Sh*t hits the fan, some start to believe that there's a killer alien onboard, and the entire crew is soon moments away from killing one another. 

Directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless", "Divergent"), "Voyagers" is a concept that could lend itself to solid commentary, mixed with a little science-fiction and suspense, but the movie goes for the simplest approach. While it's likely more welcome and accessible to the average moviegoer (We've all read "Lord of the Flies", so we're used to this story), it also means that it won't do anything original and certainly won't go far enough with its premise. It's even more apparent in how the film's trailer seems to advertise itself as more of a dark erotic thriller, but the actual film itself is a very safe PG-13, only getting that rating because of a minuscule amount of adult content. The screenplay, also by Neil Burger, doesn't break new ground, going about its thought provoking themes of human nature (And whether we truly are just inherently violent beings), by providing less than complicated answers. Characters are either just good guy, bad guy, or nonexistent in purpose, and because of that, the message doesn't gel due to not having much to care about.    

Tye Sheridan is a solid lead, though his character is a blank slate, coming across as the human equivalent of a loaf of white bread. Lily-Rose Depp does show some subtle depth, while Fionn Whitehead might be overdoing it somewhat (I kind of blame the script more, with his transformation from normal to complete psycho being instantaneous), he does get some menacing moments and certainly has that Joker-esque grin down perfectly. Other members of the crew, which include Isaac Hempstead Wright, Chanté Adams, Viveik Kalra, Quintessa Swindell, among others, fade into the background until the story needs them to do something. Colin Farrell, though not in the movie near enough, is still quite excellent to be honest, getting a few heartfelt moments that surprisingly feel earned. 

"Voyagers" has a few scattered instances as substance, such as Burger's time given to establish the scope of the setting, which establish space as something beautiful, yet very intimidating. It does feel rather dull for the most part, with the direction attempting to spice things up with random imagery that comes across as a bit pretentious. (It doesn't help that most of the imagery is repeated) The premise isn't enough, there isn't anything new to say, and the movie doesn't at least have compelling enough characters to compensate. It's another case of been there, done that. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Angsty, Horny Teenagers In Spaaaaaace!!!

The Unholy                                                                                                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Man, what I wouldn't give for a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire."

There's something about religious based horror that I find scarier than anything else in a horror movie. Maybe it's the contradictions, being something meant to instill hope, love, and faith in a higher, caring power, turned into something that will haunt your nightmares forever, whether by destroying your faith in such a power or by further cementing it as something to be feared rather than loved. Something that will forever break your mind and spirit for life is much scarier than a masked dude with a knife. At least he kills you and gets it over with. 

Based on the novel, "Shrine"  by James Herbert, "The Unholy" follows the now discredited journalist, "Gerry Fenn" (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), looking for a new story to pay the bills, no matter how lackluster or fabricated it may be. Gerry visits a small, religious town in New England, where he breaks a creepy looking porcelain doll he found hidden inside an even creepier looking tree. He later witnesses "Alice" (Cricket Brown), the mute, hearing-impaired niece of the local pastor, "Father Hagen" (William Sadler), suddenly speaking, to the tree no less. Thing only get weirder from there as Alice not only speaks clearly, but can apparently heal the weak and wounded, supposedly having the Virgin Mary speaking through her. Some see miracles, while Gerry sees an opportunity to resurrect his disgraced career, though Father Hagen is uneasy about the proclaimed miracle. 

While the also opportunity seeking clergy, "Bishop Gyles" (Cary Elwes), sends in "Monsignor Delgarde" (Diogo Morgado), to investigate the miracles to see if they're the real deal, Gerry does start to bond with Alice, slowly realizing that something just isn't quite right. The people of the world turn to Alice for assurance of their faith, and soon nightmarish images start to plague Gerry's dreams, among other strange occurrences. This leads to Gerry to discover that there are more sinister, Hellish forces at play, which threaten to claim not just Alice's soul, but the rest of the world's souls as well. 

From first time director Evan Spiliotopoulos (Who worked on a lot of straight to DVD Disney projects, while writing some screenplays like "The Huntsman: Winter's War" and the 2014 "Hercules") and producer Sam Raimi, "The Unholy" is the kind of generic supernatural horror that could be written off as bland and forgettable, yet throughout has some shining moments of something different if not for those issues. The cons to the film include a noticeable level of cheapness, which is made up of Spiliotopoulos's rather bland direction (Which relies on awkward slow motion to simulate an action scene) and a serious case of an identity crisis. The film sometimes wants to be somewhat of a drama, with horror elements, or it wants to be just another jump scare heavy monster movie, with some of the worst CGI you'll see on the big screen. A dream sequence involving a demonic entity crawling out of the river, looking like a PS2 video game character, is especially bad. I mean, I watched "Godzilla vs. Kong" on my phone. Something is very much wrong here. It doesn't mesh particularly well. However, you can see hints of a more solid film buried under the weaker elements. Sure the direction is rather basic, nevertheless, the production design is suitably eerie and creepy. I actually found myself a little into the characters and the story, while a little predictable, isn't without merit. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a really good, flawed protagonist, whose motivations are in question for most of the film, though you like the character enough to hope for his redemption. He brings a lot of humor to the character, and by the end, really acts his ass off, even when the film's lack of budget kind of let him down. Cricket Brown is also quite good with a character that demands a little more extra depth, while Katie Aselton (as "Natalie", Alice's doctor/Gerry's maybe love interest) makes the most of her limited character. William Sadler gets a couple deep moments and Cary Elwes oozes slime, while Diogo Morgado is basically the most useless person in the entire movie. Our main villain, whose identity and motives are hinted at throughout, is at times a little spine-tingling, but the execution doesn't make much sense. (If you're trying to pose as a beloved figure, you might want to be a bit more subtle about your evil intentions. Next time, refrain from random jump scares!) 

"The Unholy" is lacking where it matters in terms of a good film, and yet, concepts and themes that the film addresses are not only interesting, but also could be seen as relevant. It shows how those within a religion itself can bastardize it, through the love of money and media attention, forgetting what morals they actually stand for, and selling their own souls in the process. Not to mention, how easily those looking for some kind of assurance, whether it's in the form of celebrity figures (Or politicians. Ahem.....), can find themselves further from what they actually preach than ever before. Taking those ideas and injecting them into a horror setting is something I found to be pretty cool. Sadly, the movie doesn't do the best job bringing everything together. Strong subjects, an engrossing main character, and moments of suspense that actually do work, have to fight it out with lame implementation, predictable writing, and as I swear too many horror films today seem to still do, lazy attempts at scaring the audience. Just gonna repeat the same advice I would have given to the villain. A more subdued approach would have worked better. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jumpy, Scary Faces, Religious Hypocrisy, and Cow Defilement. 

Godzilla vs. Kong                                                                                          ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: You gotta' let bros fight it out.

Let me explain this to those who may or may not understand. We have "Godzilla" (Giant, blue fire breathing dinosaur monster), fighting "Kong" (Giant, muscular axe-wielding gorilla). That alone is going to be worth something. Sure the movie could be total crap (We have the Michael Bay directed "Transformers" to use as examples), but the ideas are something that all of us geeky Saturday morning cartoon lovers just can't get enough of. You wanted it? This is the one that gives it to you, and boy does it not disappoint in any way.    

Released in both theaters and through "HBO Max", "Godzilla vs. Kong" takes place after 2019's "Godzilla: King of the Monsters", humanity has found itself a bit at odds with the gargantuan lizard, "Godzilla", after he initiates a seemingly unprovoked assault on massive scientific corporation, "Apex Cybernetics", run by the obviously villainous, "Walter Simmons" (Demián Bichir). Simmons recruits former scientist/failed author, "Nathan Lind" (Alexander Skarsgård), to lead an expedition to find a new power source located in the fabled "Hollow Earth" (Think "Journey to the Center of the Earth"), which Apex plans to use in their secret, probably unethical plans. Nathan partners up with "Monarch" scientist, "Ilene Andrews" (Rebecca Hall), who has been studying the equally gargantuan ape, "Kong" (He never did get the "King" title), as he's formed a bond with a young deaf girl, "Jia" (Kaylee Hottle). Monarch begins their journey to the Hollow Earth, only to find themselves attacked by Godzilla, beginning a bitter rivalry to end all battles, between the scaly lizard and Kong, both seeing each other as natural enemies. 

Meanwhile, "Madison Russell" (Millie Bobby Brown), the daughter of another Monarch member from the last movie, "Mark" (Kyle Chandler), doesn't believe that Godzilla, who has saved humanity more than once, would just out of nowhere turn hostile and declare war on the world without reason. So Madison, along her nerdy sidekick, "Josh" (Julian Dennison), seek out eccentric podcaster and conspiracy theorist, "Bernie Hayes" (Brian Tyree Henry), who has apparently infiltrated Apex and claims to have discovered what nefarious experiment they have been working on. All of this leads up to one final, climactic showdown between the planet's two remaining titans, Godzilla and Kong, where only one will be declared the one and only king. However, Apex's schemes also start to come to head, which actually might just end up dooming everyone.      

Directed by Adam Wingard ("You're Next", "Death Note", and the 2016 sequel to "Blair Witch") and the fourth entry in Legendary Pictures' "MonsterVerse" (2014's "Godzilla", "Kong: Skull Island", and "Godzilla: King of the Monsters"), "Godzilla vs. Kong" may possibly be the ultimate one on one Kaiju brawl ever put to film. (I know they fought back in the 60s.....but does that really count? Does anyone even care?) I can't think of anything off the top of my head that quite reaches this level, and more than any other movie in the MonsterVerse that truly gets everything this right. I've found this franchise to be plenty enjoyable, with "Godzilla" takes a more grounded, "less is more" style approach, "Kong: Skull Island" being more humorous and adventurous, and "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" going all out for crazy, though out of the series, may be the most divisive for good reason. Flaws and all, they've been fun, and the inner massive monster obsessed child in me still had a blast. With that said, this might be the one that gets something more right than any of the others before it. Regardless of the overall quality, there have always been those nagging little complaints, such as there not being enough of the monsters, or being too focused on the human characters, or just the tone not meshing well enough. Something has always been off, but this film figures out how to take what works in all of these films, further amplify them, and find that right balance between awesome, ridiculous, and of course, ridiculously awesome. It also either leaves out what didn't work before, or at least figures out how to better incorporate the unavoidable issues that always come out of big budget monster movies. 

Adam Wingard, who has never had a budget of this magnitude, really does an excellent job keeping the film together, and proves himself as someone immensely capable with something such as this. The film has massive scope, showing just how big these destructive creatures can be, along with how small (And hilariously outmatched) we are by comparison. The visuals are also spot on, with an impressive amount of detail and personality given to the monsters. It's obvious CGI to be sure as you would expect, but it looks great on screen, and even though I only had the time to stream it at home for the moment, I can only imagine what the visuals and eye catching cinematography would look like on the biggest screen possible. (Not sure the mind can even handle IMAX for this one) The film seems to completely run with the phrase "Give the people what they want", and it doesn't hold back. 

The film has an exceptional ensemble cast, filled with many recognizable performers, and this time, the movie seems a bit more aware of what to do with them than the last one did. Alexander Skarsgård, surprisingly not playing the action hero type as one would expect when he first appears, is the likable human lead (Or the closest the movie has to a lead), along with an excellent Rebecca Hall, and Millie Bobby Brown. Kaylee Hottle tells a lot through simple expressions, while most of the comedic moments comes from a delightful Brian Tyree Henry, along with Julian Dennison. Some others are there just to serve a certain purpose, though pretty do exactly that in a professional fashion, such as Kyle Chandler (Who this time is only in a handful of scenes), Eiza González (as "Maya", Simmons' pretty attractive looking, and pretty evil looking daughter), Shun Oguri (as "Ren Serizawa", the apparent son of Ken Watanabe's character from the previous films, now working for Apex), and a suitably sinister Demián Bichir. Everybody does a good job here, even when their roles are rather basic, but that's to be expected. In the end, the film's focus is on our titular combatants, Godzilla and Kong. When the time comes, the film remembers that they should be front and center. Godzilla continues to be a force to be both feared and respected, while still allowing moments of something deeper to the creature. While the film is more of a Godzilla movie, Kong could be considered to be the true main character, since we see most of the film from his eyes. There's actually a rather touching character arc with him, and while you're here for the big brawl, you give a giant, ape size crap in the end, making the final climax all the more satisfying. 

Clocking in at just under two hours (And never outstaying its welcome), "Godzilla vs. Kong" keeps the plot simple and well, probably a little on the stupid side, though wisely doesn't dwell too long on the details. By this point though, you just kind of have go with it and accept that what happens in the movie is just how the world that's set up works. Luckily, the movie itself seems self-aware enough to know that it's basically a live-action cartoon, yet plays it straight. That becomes more apparent once we reach the epic final act, which not only gives us the big showdown we've been promised, but also takes things further, resulting in one Hell of a crowdpleaser. (Many of the fans, including myself, sort of pieced together what was going to happen, but that doesn't make it any less amazing) The filmmakers just know what makes movies like this work. From big special effects, badass monsters fighting each other, a little moral about how humanity shouldn't toy with what it doesn't understand, and the kind of imagery that many of us never thought we would be able to witness on screen quite like this. The MonsterVerse may not quite have a future at the moment (The franchise has sort of petered out in terms of profitability by studio standards), and it's too bad since I think this entry seems to have found the fight balance everybody has been looking for. With that said, if this is truly the last one we might be getting, it's a fantastic sendoff. Out of all the movies I've had to watch via streaming due to the pandemic, this one probably makes me the most sad. This definitely needs to be witnessed on the biggest screen you can find, and with the most energetic audience you can gather. The epic blockbuster that fans have been waiting for. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Monster Violence, Wanton City-Wide Destruction, And Initiation Of Fanboy Cries Of Joy.   

Nobody                                                                                                           ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The next Jason Statham?

Bob Odenkirk. Action Star. Yeah. I never saw it coming either. 

"Nobody" follows mild-mannered, mostly ignored, and seemingly unimpressive father and husband, "Hutch Mansell" (Bob Odenkirk), who goes about his humdrum life, repeating the same mistakes, doing the same routine, and leaving absolutely no mark on anything or anyone. One night though, Hutch's house is broken into, and despite being given the chance to stop the robbers, he's unable to do so and lets them get away. This leads to Hutch feeling even more distanced from his family, such as his wife, "Becca" (Connie Nielsen), and kids, "Blake" (Gage Munroe) and "Sammy" (Paisley Cadorath), and becomes a source of passiveness and mockery by those around him. Turns out though, Hutch has a hidden past and a suppressed darkness inside him just waiting to get out. 

After attempting to confront the robbers, Hutch ends up facing off against some drunk delinquents harassing people on a bus, and violently (And skillfully) beats them near to death, before returning home as if nothing happened. One of the guys Hutch attacked though, is actually the brother to lunatic Russian gangster, "Yulian Kuznetsov" (Aleksei Serebryakov). Kuznetsov swears revenge on Hutch and his entire family, sending his enforcers after him. Hutch, to protect those he loves, is forced back into the game, that he's secretly been wanting to be a part of again.  

Directed by Ilya Naishuller ("Hardcore Henry"), with a screenplay by Derek Kolstad (The "John Wick" series), "Nobody" is a rather unconventional action thriller, as it should be and is all the better for it. It's a unique perspective given to the old concept of the apparently average guy, with or without a violent history, finding himself at the center of an onslaught of merciless killers, and much like the "John Wick" franchise, it does it with a pitch black sense of humor. The film wisely doesn't rely too much on dialogue or exposition, and never goes too into detail about the backstory of our main character, only giving little hints throughout. Quite humorless, every time Hutch attempts to explain his situation, he's interrupted in some way or the person he's talking to just up and dies before he can really get into it. The action, while tightly compacted, is stylishly off the rails, and much like the main character, utulizes everything it has to add to the bloody assaults on display. Guns, knives, and blunt objects, as well as whatever other item that can be used to puncture human skin, are used in several over the top, yet detailed to the point of feeling halfway logical, setpieces that are entirely original and surprisingly sold by its capable lead.

 Bob Odenkirk (Also a producer to the film), is the definition of an unorthodox action hero, but he sells it quite brilliantly. He of course can do the humor without any problems and has also proven himself to be a great actor overall. However, he truly does shine in the action scenes, coming across as a very vulnerable (He gets the absolute sh*t beaten out of him more than once), but also a force to be reckoned with (The soon to be infamous bus scene is a thing of beauty). He's a very human action hero, and I love how the film intentionally contradicts his violent persona with his overall nice guy qualities. Aleksei Serebyakov is an oddly quirky villain that's a nice combination of menace and all around bizarreness, while Connie Nielsen brings a lot more depth than what I think might have been given to her. This is the most I've ever liked RZA (as "Harry", Hutch's half brother, who has been in hiding), there's a great brief appearance from Colin Salmon (as an information dealer known as "The Barber"), and a scene stealing Christopher Lloyd (as "David", Hutch's father, who has his own mysterious backstory), looking like he's having the time of his life here. 

Some by the numbers plot points aside, "Nobody" is fast paced, funny, wisely lacking in explanation (Sometimes the less you know, the better), and outrageously violent. There is actually a bit of a point to it all in its own strange way, and keeps a tongue in cheek tone about it, knowing that it's not meant to be taken all that seriously. The film embraces full weirdness once we reach the insane climax, which is as exaggerated as an action film can possibly be, but too damn entertaining, making for a future cult favorite. Just a bit excessive. But glorious. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Guns, Blood, Painful Injuries, And Kitty Cat Bracelets.  

Zack Snyder's Justice League                                                                     ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wait...What do you mean the movie theater isn't showing this?"

Part One: How We Got Here 

I feel like I need to address what in the Hell is going on here for those who don't know. Now we've seen Director's Cuts before, but not one quite like this. So to recap, the "DC Extended Universe" (Based on the DC comics universe, that I happen to be a massive fan of) began with Zack Snyder ("Watchmen", "300", "Sucker Punch") and 2013's "Man of Steel" (A movie I remembered being a little bit better than it actually is...), then was followed up by the sadly less than mediocre "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" (There's also the three hour "Ultimate Edition" of this film that's actually a worse than the original version), and was all meant to result in the first in a trilogy, "Justice League". However, Snyder experienced a very personal tragedy in real life, with the suicide of his daughter, Autumn (Who the movie is dedicated to), and had to leave the already troubled production of the film. This lead to Warner Bros. to hire Joss Whedon (Only because he directed the first "Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), to finish the film, and by finish it, mostly trim it down, lighten it up (Zack Snyder's DC films had been almost obnoxiously dark at the time), and make it as simple as possible. It wasn't that good, but I found it to be enjoyable enough, especially by comparison. It also began a somewhat better route that this films were going to take, focusing on singular stories instead of building everything a film universe (From the first "Wonder Woman", along with "Shazam!" and "Birds of Prey", the less connected, the better). However on the downside, it wasn't what Zack Snyder envisioned and was made with rather not so good intentions, screwing some people over and possible creating an even bigger mess in the future (Plus, Whedon is a total dick). So, through the power of nerdy fan intervention (Ranging from good, bad, and unbearably toxic), HBO Max gave Snyder an extra $70 million (To go with the already $300 million budget), to finish what he started in an four hour comic book epic that, regardless of what you think of it, will be unlike anything you've ever seen before.  

Image: Born to be wild.

Part Two: The Same, But Different. Kind Of. 

"Zack Snyder's Justice League" in some ways follows the basic structure of 2017's "Justice League" (Or "Josstice League", as some have preferred to call it), but with a much larger scope. It opens with the death of the Man of Steel, "Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman" (Henry Cavill), at the hands of that abomination of computer effects that they called "Doomsday". His death results in a bellow heard around the world, and felt by those who wish to destroy it. Cube shaped, living devices used for world conquering, called "Mother Boxes" have been awakened, leading to the arrival of ruthless general, "Steppenwolf" (Ciarán Hinds), a servant to the brutal wannabe god, "Darkseid" (Ray Porter), who attempted to dominate the world centuries prior only to be stopped by a united army of heroes. Steppenwolf, hoping to get back in Darkseid's good graces after his own previous failures, intends to find the Mother Boxes and bring about the apocalypse, preparing Earth for his evil master's arrival. With the rest of the world in mourning of Superman, such as the grieving love of his life, "Lois Lane" (Amy Adams), the orphaned billionaire bat lover, "Bruce Wayne/Batman" (Ben Affleck), has begun to prepare for the coming darkness. Working with his faithful, though snarky butler, "Alfred Pennyworth" (Jeremy Irons) and Amazonian warrior, "Diana Prince/Wonder Woman" (Gal Gadot), Batman seeks to find more individuals with unique abilities to combat Steppenwolf and his forces. 

First there's the Atlantean half-blood soon to be king, "Arthur Curry/Aquaman" (Jason Momoa), who rejects the offer to join their alliance as well as his own destiny (For more, see 2018's "Aquaman" movie if you have the extra two and half hours). Then we have the Scarlet Speedster, "Barry Allen/The Flash" (Ezra Miller), an awkward nerd with superspeed, looking to prove the innocence of his imprisoned father, "Henry Allen" (An uncredited Billy Crudup). And last, but this time not least, there's "Victor Stone/Cyborg" (Ray Fisher), who was rescued by his scientist father, "Silas Stone" (Joe Morton), using a Mother Box to turn his son into half man and machine. Alone, our heroes don't stand a chance against Steppenwolf, and even together, they can't even seem to prevent him from getting his hands on some of the Mother Boxes. With no other choice, the choice is made to come together and play with the laws of nature to resurrect Superman. Thus the "Justice League" is formed.....again. That's not a spoiler, or at least it shouldn't be. You either saw the original theatrical version or you don't care. 

Image: FLASH!!!! .....A-AAAAAAAH!!!!!

Part Three: The New, But Also Old, Perspective

You're probably wondering by now why did I decide to arrange my review like this. Aside from being a sarcastic reference to the film itself, it's the only way I can talk about a film such as this. Although, calling it a film might be a bit of a stretch and to call it an experience would be clichéd. What to truly label it would be Zack Snyder's magnum opus. Now that might not be something for everyone, and to a degree, I'm not a hundred percent sure that's a good thing, but it's definitely the film that the guy wanted to bring into creation. Zack Snyder, working with the screenplay by Chris Terrio ("Argo", "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"), "Zack Snyder's Justice League", has been given full control, which means it's going to be the most Snyder-iest movie ever made. All of his tropes are here, from the slo-mo, the toned down color, operatic musical cues, angst and edginess, and allegory upon allegory. He brings his entire arsenal, and wastes nothing, in the ultimate four hour lightshow. It's too much, like it always is, and yet (And it feels weird saying this), it kind of works here. Dare I say, it works very well here, and even when it doesn't, you can't really get mad at it.       

Given a boxed in, 4:3 aspect ratio (Think an A24 movie, except superheroes and with an actual budget), the movie looks really good, and more than any of Snyder's previous DC entries. Maybe it's the grander scope or just a simple improvement in style, the film does grab you and you are in awe of the spectacle. Snyder's style still has its annoyances to be sure, though in ways he seems more restrained. It's a lot of style to be sure. However, there's more substance here than in both "Man of Steel" and "Batman V Superman" combined. It you don't really fully understand what were Snyder's ideas and what were Whedon's (Or more likely, what were the corporate decisions of Warner Bros.) Believe it or not, there is a decent amount of humor, and even more shockingly, it's well placed and brings a level of humanity that's been sorely missing from the previous entries. It also though, doesn't feel like it's trying to copy the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" like the theatrical cut seemed to be attempting to do. For all we know it could have just been Snyder knowing what wasn't working and what was necessary to make his vision finally succeed. 

This does bring up a good question, what was lost from the original version. As you would expect, it's a little more complicated than good fixes bad, or good being made bad. The best way to describe it is that this new cut takes out what didn't work in the original and replace it with stuff that is so much better, while replacing what worked with well, more of the same frustrating material we've come to know. What we sadly lose are a few good character moments (Like that scene with Batman giving the Flash a quick pep talk about saving people), the shorter runtime obviously, and basically all of Superman's personality (More on that later). It also, much to my aggravation, makes everyone a lot more violent. Nothing entirely wrong with superheroes killing a few villains in the heat of the moment, especially when saving some innocents, but the body count can get a little ridiculous at times. One example being an opening scene with Wonder Woman rescuing some children from a terrorist group and their leader (Played by a memorably chilling Michael McElhatton), by smashing the terrorists' heads in or blowing them up, then immediately stopping to inspire a little girl. (You know those kids are traumatized for life right?) By this point, this does seem like a bit of a nitpick in the grand scheme.  

Image: Well, of course he wasn't gonna' stay dead.

Part Four: What We Were Missing

If there was ever a moment when you thought that we were just going to get a longer version of the same film, with maybe a few stretched out sequences and a cut cameo or two, all of that goes out the window in the first few minutes. The overall Justice League teaming up, bringing back Superman, and facing off against Steppenwolf storyline as it turns out has a little extra depth to it than the theatrical cut did. First there's the clear upgrades to the special effects. Sure, the CGI is still at times kind of lackluster, though that's to be expected. I'm not sure there was ever going to be a way to make all of it look any more seemless. (Still an improvement over how bad the threatrical cut's effects were) It's not without its moments, where the details are more noticeable. Where the effects really shine are in how they are presented. Most of it is thanks to the admittedly spectacular cinematography, which is something Zack Snyder has always had an eye for. Even when the effects don't look great, they do look, well to put it bluntly, cool. From the brief look at Darkseid's hell-like dominion in "Apokolips", to a bloody battle between Steppenwolf and the Amazons, and most of all, a grand flashback to the previous war with Darkseid, complete with human warriors, Atlanteans, Gods, and a "Green Lantern". It's something we only got a glimpse of in the Whedon version, but this time, are allowed to see it in its fully glory. It also features a sweeping (And completely recomposed from scratch) score by Junkie XL, 

Bigger visuals would be nothing without story and character, and this version does actually bring something new to the table. The extra long runtime allows for every little detail to be explored. It may not have been necessary to what a Mother Box is (Does any non-comic book fan really care all that much?), but we are given a full backstory, which does weirdly tie things together in a more fluid fashion, along with time given to each of our main characters and their own arcs. Before, unless you were Batman or Wonder Woman, everyone else were mostly given moments, rather than full blown character development. Now the team all have a role to fulfill, along with even our villains and a couple side characters. Toss in a little humor and really likable character interaction, and you now have something to root for. They may not exactly be the characters that you may have grown accustomed to from the comics, nevertheless, their souls are there. That was never something I could have predicted myself saying about most of these films.   

Image: I wonder what his lighter side looks like.

Part Five: Loads And Loads Of Characters

There are a lot of characters to unpack here and a lot of actors, whether they be major or supporting, who make the most of the time given. I always thought Ben Affleck brought a different look to the Caped Crusader that we'd never seen in live-action before. He's rough, but human and seeks to make amends for his previous mistakes, and even shows moments of light within his dark exterior. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman, as I've said before, while Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller steal their scenes, with Momoa being the straight man in several ways to the chaos presented to him and Miller being the sense of humor. (While I personally have only been able to see Grant Gustin from the "Flash" television series as the character, I see potential with Ezra Miller's portrayal and can't wait for his future standalone movie) Jeremy Irons delivers on the intellectual mockery, Amy Adams mostly just shows up to mourn (She does a great job at that, but you know, this is a bit beneath her), Joe Morton is excellent, and Diane Lane (as "Martha Kent", Clark's widowed adopted mother) does get a rather wonderful moment partway through the film, even if it is negated by an awkward little twist. We also get a return appearance from Harry Lennix (as "Calvin Swanwick", the army general from "Man of Steel" and "Batman V Superman", who is hiding his own little fanservice heavy secret.), which while interesting, means nothing to the uninitiated.    

The film's biggest successes come from unexpected places. Firstly, there's Ray Fisher, who got the short end of the stick during the theatrical cut more than anybody despite having originally meant to have played the most important role. He has to carry more of this movie than anyone, serving as the heart of the story, and even under loads of CGI, his humanity shines through. Another surprise improvement is Steppenwolf. While I still find his new design a bit over the top (He looks like someone went overboard with the character customization in "Injustice 2"), the character is much more this time around. Ciarán Hinds' menacing performance, the character's expressive eyes, and much more screentime, give us more awareness to the character (Even more than in the comics actually. I always saw him as Darkseid henchmen #2). He's not so much more sympathetic now, but rather looks more desperate, which makes him more of a compelling and dangerous baddie. On the downside, Henry Cavill's Superman no longer has any of the personality that the Whedon version had, and it's very much missed. Cavill brings more to the table than the script provides, but the character is once again reduced to being the moping, boring, and completely misinterpreted non-character that the Snyder films have made him into. Once you get past the immense power the character has, he is still yet to come across as heroic and feels the most out of place when you see the League together. The comradery works all around, except when it comes to him. This is also more migraine inducing because we have a much better version of the character on "Superman & Lois". How is it a show on the "CW" can get it right, but a multi-million dollar movie can't? 

There are an onslaught of supporting players all over the film, with most of them returning from previous films or just given a bit more time in the spotlight. We get familiar faces like Connie Nielsen (as "Hippolyta", Diana's mother, who faces off against Steppenwolf), J.K. Simmons (as "Commissioner James Gordon", one of the Batman's greatest allies), Amber Heard (as "Mera", Arthur's love interest, who is for some reason British now....That's just weird), Willem Dafoe (as "Vulko", Arthur's mentor), and a thankfully short appearance from Jesse Eisenberg (as "Lex Luthor", Superman's archenemy, who is still very miscast). Some of the newer additions include Zheng Kai (as "Ryan Choi", a scientist at "S.T.A.R, Labs" and the future "Atom"), Peter Gjunness (as "DeSaad", Darkseid's cloaked servant, who really has a hate-boner for Steppenwolf), and Kiersey Clemons (as "Iris West", Barry's soon to be love interest). Ray Porter's Darkseid only has about ten minutes of screentime (And he's certainly no "Thanos"), but he does make his dark presence known, sending a certain chill down your spine and showing what kind of evil our heroes are yet to face. 

Image: I guess the joke really was on Jared Leto. 

Part Six: It's Over, Go Home. Go! 

The long, and maybe still excessive length, goes by without much notice, never dragging for too long and giving fans the epic superhero adventure from these beloved characters we've been waiting to see. The movie isn't perfect though and doesn't get everything right. Case in point? The epilogue and this is the one part of the review where I feel the tone I've set up is about to completely drop like a bomb. This is where we get into somewhat spoiler-ish territory, so I'll try to be as vague as possible. I just need to point out how unnecessary this whole thing is. The battle is won, the movie is wrapping up, and the film sets up some little loose threads for possible future installments. Then the movie just cuts to the "Knightmare" timeline, where the world has been destroyed by Darkseid and an evil Superman. We get Batman and with a few other heroes dressed in Mad Max outfits, along with a couple villains, such as mercenary "Slade Wilson/Deathstroke" (Joe Manganiello. A great choice that never got the chance to do anything) and Batman's archenemy, "The Joker" (Jared Leto). 

My one positive about this little sequence is that we finally get to see Affleck's Batman and Leto's Joker together for the first (And possibly last) time. Sure it doesn't actually mean much with all things considered, but it doesn't detract from the admittedly cool fanservice and allows Jared Leto to show off what his take on the character could have been like if "Suicide Squad" hadn't wasted him. Everything else though is not only not needed and also just reinforces Zack Snyder's love for excess, it also detracts from what is a very well done cinematic endeavor in a couple of ways. If it's supposed to just be a possible timeline, then what's the point? It doesn't actually add anything new, especially since we likely will never following up on it. Even worse, it could also backtrack on both Batman and Superman's development. We've already seen plenty of the whole "What if Superman was evil" thing, in other properties (Like "Brightburn" or "The Boys") and also in other DC media (Like  in the "Injustice" games and we may even be getting hints of it in "Superman & Lois"), so it doesn't feel new anymore. It also completely ruins everything Batman fought for up until this point, making the entire movie pointless. So was he right to fear him? Make up your mind! It doesn't help it's followed up with yet another last second twist that should have also been left on the cutting room floor. It's like an entirely different movie just decided to jump in right before the credits roll. You can just stop the movie before this entire last fifteen to twenty minutes and it would be all the better for it.

Image: She's every woman.

Part Seven: DC's Best Movie Yet? 

To answer the question......No. It's not DC's best movie. Not even close. (I might actually even personally like "Wonder Woman 1984" more than this one, but I'm not sure the internet is ready for that conversation, so I'll keep that to myself) It is however, the most ambitious one, which from time to time, reaches the levels of amazement that Zack Snyder wishes to achieve. It also can't help but indulge in some occasional groan inducing elements, such as his use of dramatic, sad covers of old songs ("Hallelujah" will forever be associated with the weird sex scene from "Watchmen" and "Shrek") and too much, er, well, everything. Yet, even with all the bad, I see the odd beauty of it all. This is the most artistic superhero film that's ever been made, and while I will still have to wait for DC to reach the heights of say an "Avengers: Endgame", I felt the emotions within it all. As usual, something is missing, though the heart this time, is most certainly not. I don't like all of the creative choices (And if someone could cut out most of that Epilogue, that would be great), but even then, I can respect the ideas behind them. Not the best DC film, nor the best to come out of the "DC Extended Universe". It is though Zack Snyder's best entry in the series and maybe even his best work, at least from a technical standpoint. It's amazing what was accomplished here. Flawed, mildly irritating, and could only make things worse for future films, yet it also remains epic, well paced (Somehow!), loads of fun, and immensely endearing. I guess if I learned anything from "Zack Snyder's Justice League", it's that faith to overcome the rough patches may not be rewarded in a final victory, but is still something to cherish and strive towards. "Man of Steel" tried to fabricate that feeling, and "Batman V Superman" just straight up lacked it, but here, it feels genuinely moving. That was not something I thought I would be taking with me after watching this. Clearly Zack did something right. And he really did have a vision. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For A Couple Odd F-Bombs And More Blood, But Is Basically Just A Glorified PG-13. 

Yes Day                                                                                                                    ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Please stop the car and turn this movie around.

You can never fault a movie for playing towards an undemanding audience looking for something inoffensive, not too long, and basic in terms of actual conflict. It is what it is. Still, did you have to be so, well, annoying about it?  

Released through Netflix, "Yes Day" follows dedicated parents, "Allison" (Jennifer Garner) and "Carlos" (Édgar Ramírez), who used to be more adventurous before they became parents. Now they have begun to notice that they have become accustomed to saying "No" to their kids, "Katie" (Jenna Ortega), "Nando" (Julian Lerner), and "Ellie" (Everly Carganilla), coming across in the eyes of their children as oppressors. No longer wanting to seem like the bad guys, Allison and Carlos are given the idea to have a "Yes Day", where they will say "Yes" to whatever wild idea their children have. No matter how completely crazy it is. Allison and Carlos then take Katie, Nando, and Ellie out for the most epic Yes Day ever, with all kinds of goofy little rules set up by the kids. As you would expect, things are going to get out of control at some point, with everyone learning some kind of familial lesson. Yadda Yadda Yadda. 

Well, that was definitely not enough plot to fill out an hour and a half. Directed by Miguel Arteta ("Like a Boss", "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day") and based on the book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, "Yes Day" follows the sitcom format, stretched out to barely movie length, and even then it doesn't really get there. The movie is padded out by goofy side characters and unimportant cartoonish antics, made more meaningless due to the lack of anything all that funny. It's made more frustrating by how annoying the film is about it. Everything feels like it could be solved easier than how the characters present it, and if it weren't for characters either acting stupid or selfish, there wouldn't even be a movie. Again though, all of this is somewhat to be expected by a movie such as this, but there's something especially irritating about this one. 

An aspect of that could be how the movie seems to try to bring down capable actors, who still give everything regardless even though nobody would actually fault them for phoning it in. Jennifer Garner is as adorable and charming as she ever is, and it's nice to Édgar Ramírez, (Who last I saw him in "The Last Days of American Crime", stuck playing stone faced serious the entire time), showing a more humorous side and look like he's having fun. They also have pretty good chemistry together. Jenna Ortega, Julian Lerner, and Everly Carganilla aren't exactly bad young actors, but their characters don't always feel as endearing as the film tries to show them to be. There are a few out of place side characters, such as Nat Faxon (as "Mr. Deacon", a weirdo who gives Alison and Carlos the idea for "Yes Day" in the first place), that pop up to make unfunny jokes. The only one who gets a couple chuckles is Arturo Castro (as "Officer Jones", a slightly neurotic police officer). The plot is made up of little skits and distractions and some of which would be more forgiving if they were actually getting any laughs. 

"Yes Day" lacks humor and only towards the end does the heart shine through. It's not a mean spirited movie particularly. It's just tonally off, feels dragged out longer than necessary, and is infected with the stupid. There's something well intentioned here, but the pedestrian direction, weak script, and poor pacing make for a pretty bad migraine. Not exactly a good day. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For A Lack Of Maturity All Around. 

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Uh, whatever Squidward is paying you, we'll double it, Mr Wick." 

Ah, "SpongeBob Squarepants". Where would my childhood have been without you? And most importantly, where would I have gotten all of those quotes and references that I find ways to cleverly (And not so cleverly) weave into every conversation? 

Dedicated to the series creator, Stephen Hillenburg and the third full length movie in the series (Following "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie" and "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water"), "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" follows the titular yellow sponge, "SpongeBob Squarepants" (Tom Kenny) that everyone knows and loves. SpongeBob happily lives in "Bikini Bottom", fools around with his starfish best friend, "Patrick Star" (Bill Fagerbakke), annoying his neighbor, "Squidward Tentacles" (Roger Bumpass), working as a frycook at the "Krusty Krab" for his cheap crustacean boss, "Mr. Krabs" (Clancy Brown), and adores his meowing pet snail, "Gary" (Also Tom Kenny). However, SpongeBob's existence alone continues to get in the way of the scheming "Plankton" (Mr. Lawrence) as he attempts to steal Mr. Krabs' secret formula for his coveted "Krabby Patty". When the ruler of the "Lost City of Atlantic City", "King Poseidon" (Matt Berry), desires a snail to use their slime to fix his slightly imperfect complexion, Plankton arranges for Gary's snail-napping in a plot to get rid of SpongeBob. Plankton arranges for transportation for SpongeBob and Patrick, along with a robot driver, "Otto" (Awkwafina), that he's gotten his tiny stubby hands on from underwater living squirrel, "Sandy Cheeks" (Carolyn Lawrence), sending the two friends on their way to Atlantic City while he steals the Krabby Patty secret formula. While SpongeBob and Patrick embark on a bizarre little journey, encountering a talking tumbleweed named "Sage" (Keanu Reeves), who is made out of sage and is a sage (So it works out pretty well), Bikini Bottom itself is now without SpongeBob to cook Krabby Patties for the citizens, resulting in mass chaos. 

When you look at that plot synopsis, you think to yourself "Yup! That's a SpongeBob movie alright!". Released through "Paramount+" (Or available on "Amazon Prime", if you don't want yet another streaming service to pay for) and directed by Tim Hill ("Alvin and the Chipmunks", "The War with Grandpa". This is easily his best movie), "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" is the long running, beloved series at its most kooky and while the plot may be well, totally meaningless, the charm is still there. Not handrawn this time around, the animation is computer generated, but has been modified to give off the feel of the zippy 2D style that the show was best known for. Every frame is actually quite a sight to behold. Even though it lacks the detail of many of the best animated films out there, it makes up for it in shear personality and color. Characters are constantly moving in over the top fashion, with imagery varying from vibrant and surreal to just plain out there for no real reason (There's a live action sequence that's especially odd). The screenplay, also by Tim Hill, is much like the show, tossing everything it can at the most random of moments, which are so fast sometimes that you can't even process some of whats happening. It's very funny, often hilarious, but when you take a moment to really think about it, you can see someone arguing that the film is just trying to pad out the runtime with weirdness. In fact, it might just be too much strange for some, especially those who aren't exactly fans of the show. 

The returning voice cast is as spectacular as ever. Tom Kenny is so lovable even after twenty years, continuing to remind the world why this character has lasted so long (And will most likely continue to last). Bill Fagerbakke, Roger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, the great Clancy Brown, and the always hysterical Mr. Lawrence (Plankton is still my favorite character), are all still pros. We have some fun newer additions, such as an enjoyably fussy Matt Berry, Awkwafina, Reggie Watts (as "Chancellor", Poseidon's aide), Keanu Reeves (I don't even know how to describe what this plot point is), along with a few out of nowhere cameos. A bit of a big debate has been made about how this movie is meant to serve also as a showcase for the upcoming, somewhat controversial, spin-off "Kamp Koral" (Featuring younger versions of the characters in summer camp). While it's off-putting at first and just kind of unnecessary, the film does actually find a way to work it into the plot rather cleverly and even makes it a little heartwarming. 

Not quite as good as the first film, though maybe slightly more focused than the second, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" boasts unique animation, a lot of strangeness, and more than a few moments of hilarity to go with all of the nautical nonsense. It's nowhere near on par with the show at its absolute best (Which I can't stress enough has affected me growing up), but retains the spirit at least. There's still a certain sweetness to it and you can't help but admire the imagination, even when it's just being bizarre for no other reason than it can. Whether you're a kid just getting into it, or a longtime fan (In his late 20s like myself), you're likely going to walk away feeling happy. Are you feeling it now? 3 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Fish Puns, And A Couple Future Memes. Knowing The Internet, It Won't Take Long.     

Raya and the Last Dragon                                                                          ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So...Which vaccine am I getting"?

We continue our quest into the new era of cinema, where our movies are both in theaters and available online (For a fee or otherwise) on the same day. "Disney+" has taken more of the "HBO Max" route, releasing their newest major animated extravaganza from "Walt Disney Animation Studios", on their streaming service (Just in time to watch right after "WandaVision". It was amazing by the way!), though they're still charging $30 for their "Premier Access" to the film much like last year's "Mulan". Once again, I'm not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it's a bit of decent sized bill for something that could just as easily be free on the service, though the convenience of watching it from home at any point, the prices for theater tickets these days, and the governor of Texas declaring that face masks are no longer mandatory (Apparently the pandemic is over....or at least, over enough I guess), give off the feeling that maybe the extra charge isn't such a bad thing. Something to watch at home with the entire family. It's what Disney does. 

"Raya and the Last Dragon" opens with some backstory, detailing the beautiful land of "Kumandra", where monstrous spirits, known as "The Druun", created from the discord of humanity, threatened to wipe out everyone by turning people into stone. The world was saved by the mystical dragons of the land, who used their magic to create a powerful orb-like gem to keep the Druun at bay, though it resulted in all of the dragons themselves being turned to stone. It also resulted in the people breaking off into separate tribes (Such as the "Fang", "Heart", "Tail", "Spine", and "Talon"), as they all attempted to claim the gem's power as their own. Hundreds of years later, the chief of the Heart tribe, "Benga" (Daniel Dae Kim), has been training his daughter, "Kaya" (Kelly Marie Tran), to protect the gem from invaders. Benga makes an attempt to find peace among the other tribes, but a betrayal leads to the shattering of the gem, with the other tribes stealing its fragments. This also unleashes the Druun back onto the land, claiming Kaya's father. 

Some time later, Kaya, along with her armadillo/roly-polly hybrid steed, "Tuk Tuk" (Voiced by Disney's good luck charm Alan Tudyk, just making little animal noises), have embarked on a journey to summon the dragon that supposedly created the gem, "Sisu" (Awkwafina) and take back the missing gem pieces from the other tribes. However, it turns out that Sisu isn't exactly what was advertised. (She's very you know, Awkwafina-esque) With both the Druun, along with a longtime rival of Kaya's, "Namaari" (Gemma Chan), member of the Fang tribe, hot on her trail, Kaya, Sisu, Tuk Tuk, along with some other colorful characters, such as a child shrimp chef, "Boun" (Izaac Wang), a lonely, deranged warrior, "Tong" (Benedict Wong), and "Little Noi", a baby con artist and her trio of monkey-like partners in crime, come together to find the gems and bring back peace to the land. 

Directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh") and Carlos López Estrada ("Blindspotting"), with co-directing credits to Paul Riggs (Known for work on "Zootopia", "Big Hero 6", and others) and John Ripa (Longtime Disney animator), "Raya and the Last Dragon" is a much different fairy tale from the mouse house. There aren't any songs or princesses, but there's plenty of magic, a strong female lead, and the always appreciated family friendly morals of life that should connect with both children and adults. The world created is brought to life through the smart screenplay from Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim ("Crazy Rich Asians"), and the gorgeous animation, which somehow only continues to improve as years ago on. I have no idea how Disney has repeatedly outdone itself with its stunning visuals, lively characters, and jaw dropping attention to details. From the various South Asian inspired landscapes to the smallest little quirks added to a character's hair (Sisu's flowing hair alone is a sight to behold), everything is unique, inspired, and feels more real than most live-action films. This also lends itself to several thrilling action sequences, which also further display how this world operates, without the need of overwrote exposition. (It's still there, though it kind of has to be, but it's just the less noticeable things that really drive it home) 

Kelly Marie Tran may have given one of those truly remarkable voice performances, ranking up there with some of the absolute best. She's a brilliantly realized heroine, full of humor, skill, and even some flaws that only add to her character development. I think, much like Moana, Mulan, and Elsa, Raya is going to become an instant favorite for young girls, and not to mention, a totally badass one. Awkwafina is also equally wonderful, getting some of the best laughs, but also serving as a thoroughly lovable sidekick, with even a few terrific emotional moments (She also has one of the best character designs to come out of the studio, in both her dragon and human form). The supporting cast is excellent, from Gemma Chan (Making for a complicated antagonist), Sandra Oh (as "Virana", the leader of the Fang and Namaari's mother), Izaac Wang, and an especially hilarious Benedict Wong (Who is slowly becoming one of my favorite actors). The film, while at times a bit darker than you'd expect, retains a lot of well timed humor, such as pretty much everything involving Little Noi and her simian sidekicks or Tuk Tuk (You know you're going to see more than a few stuffed toys of this character soon). 

At times the filmmakers may appear to get a little too sucked into world-building, but that's a minor gripe considering the audience will only find themselves just as enamored. "Raya and the Last Dragon" follows the traditional and reliably capable Disney formula, though mixes it up and further modernizes it, while never forgetting what always makes it work so well in the first place. Strong themes of trust and compromise (Boy will that never not be relevant), spellbinding animation, a sweeping score, and of course, a cast of unforgettable characters, the ingredients are all there and work together perfectly. Another Disney win, and another family favorite. Can't complain about what works. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Scary Images, Action, And Dragon Sass. 

Coming 2 America                                                                                             ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So...Not a lot has changed in the last 30 years?"

I'm personally very much open to a big Eddie Murphy comeback. He used to be one of the biggest comedic actors out there before falling under a few too many um, questionable career choices. ("Norbit" is something that I wish I only dreamed up) After "Dolemite is My Name" though, which he deserved an Oscar nomination for, we got a showcase for his talents and a reminder for how great an actor he can actually be. Doesn't always need a fat suit.  

Released a day early via "Amazon Prime", "Coming 2 America" follows "Prince Akeem Joffer" (Eddie Murphy) of "Zamunda" as he lives happily ever after with his wife, "Lisa" (Shari Headley) and daughters, "Omma" (Bella Murphy), "Tinashe" (Akiley Love), and "Meeka" (KiKi Layne), who wants to prove herself as a worthy future ruler. Sadly, Akeem's father, "King Jaffe Joffer" (James Earl Jones), is dying and Akeem, about to be crowned prince, doesn't have a son, meaning there's no heir to the throne afterwards. This puts him at odds with the leader of "Nextdoria", "General Izzi" (Wesley Snipes), who wants Akeem to make amends for that whole making his daughter jump and bark like a dog thing from the first film. (Apparently she's still doing it) Before King Joffer's death, he also reveals that thanks to the meddling of his aide, "Semmi" (Arsenio Hall), Akeem had a drugged up one night stand with an unknown woman, "Mary Junson" (Leslie Jones), when they previously traveled to America, and fathered a son, "Lavelle" (Jermaine Fowler). Akeem, hoping to adhere to his father legacy and traditions, sets out once again to America with Semmi, to find Lavelle. With the promise of riches beyond comprehension, Akeem is able to convince Lavelle and Mary to come over to Zamunda, where he will properly prepared to become royalty and prevent further conflict with Nextdoria. 

A sequel to the 1988 cult favorite and directed by Craig Brewer ("Dolemite is My Name"), "Coming 2 America" is one of those sequels that serves as a solid follow up, a slight rehash, and a source for more than a few belly laughs to make it worth your time, especially if you're a big fan of the original. Much like its predecessor, you can tell that the filmmakers from time to time can get caught up in a joke or let a moment go on to the point it feels more like an improvisational sketch than a cinematic narrative. Luckily, it's still quite humorous and even when the joke takes the wheel for longer than necessary, it doesn't exactly wear out its welcome. Most of the joke comes from how absolutely bizarre the world created is, and the film expands on that in a unique, though still hilariously strange fashion. One aspect that this film has over the original is that there does seem to be more focus, with most of that thanks to Brewer's direction. The plot gets moving early and remains on track, though stopping to have a little fun along the way. Even when a joke or two are basically just redoing what worked before (There are lots of callbacks to the most quoted sequences from the first film, along with lots of returning characters), you have to hand it to the filmmakers on how well they find a way to make it gel in its own cartoonishly goofy way. 

Eddie Murphy is great, returning to the really likable character, while providing lots of well timed reactionary laughs and giving the movie its heart. Arsenio Hall's role is more limited this time around, though still gets a handful of scene-stealing moments. (They both also return as their many background characters, though everything involving the Barbershop characters gets me every time they appear) Jermaine Fowler (From "Sorry to Bother You"), Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan (as "Reem", Lavelle's uncle who is basically just Tracy Morgan), are all a delight. And I appreciate that more of the women are given bigger roles than before, such as KiKi Layne (From "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "The Old Guard". She has a lot range as an actress. Hope to see her in more soon), Shari Headley, and Nomzamo Mbatha (as "Mirembe", the royal groomer who also becomes Lavelle's love interest). There are some more returning faces, like James Earl Jones, John Amos (as "Cleo", Lisa's father and owner of "McDowell's"), and Louie Anderson (as that one employee at "McDowell's"), and a especially deranged performance from Wesley Snipes, which needs to be seen by everyone. I also dare not spoil the many cameos, some of which are quite brilliant. 

"Coming 2 America" isn't all that original, relies too much on what came before it, and sure as Hell isn't one for plot. Neither was the first one though. It was countered by the humor, the weirdness, and a certain sweetness that at least gives you something to care about. Even with the more toned down rating, fans are going to get exactly what they want, and a little bit of heart to go with it. It's the kind of diversion you don't mind in the least. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Royal Bathing, And Sexual Chocolate.    

Chaos Walking                                                                                                    ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Let's just blame the whole thing on Covid."

Good lord this movie could not catch a break. Announced back in 2011, with screenplay rewrites having gone through a few recognizable names, such as Charlie Kaufman and John Lee Hancock, and actual production beginning back in 2017, we have another YA novel adaptation that most definitely won't be getting a sequel. Starting to think that this fad has come to an end. Hey, at least we got "Harry Potter" out of it. 

Taking place in a Young Adult dystopian world, "Chaos Walking" opens with "Todd Hewitt" (Tom Holland), discovering a mysterious girl, "Viola" (Daisy Ridley), the only survivor of a small crashed ship. Humanity has since colonized an alien planet, dubbed "New World", where all the thoughts of all men can be heard and displayed at any moment, which is called "The Noise", while all the women were apparently murdered by the planet's inhabitants, "The Spackle". Viola is discovered by the leader of Todd's hometown, "Mayor David Prentiss" (Mads Mikkelsen), who appears to have more nefarious plans for her. Todd, with help from his adoptive fathers, "Ben" (Demián Bichir) and "Cillian" (Kurt Sutter), and his cute little doggy, "Manchee", is able to help Viola escape from Prentiss and his cult-like followers. Todd and Viola must venture away from Todd's home to get her to safety, while encountering deadly aliens, Prentiss' forces, and Todd's raging horniness. They later discover that there has been much that Todd doesn't know about Prentiss and his followers, and a dark secret just waiting to be uncovered as Viola hopes to contact her people. 

Based on the "Chaos Walking" book series (Mostly the first book, "The Knife of Never Letting Go") by Patrick Ness (Who also performed rewrites to the screenplay among many others), "Chaos Walking" is directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Edge of Tomorrow"), or at least somewhat is, considering the apparent reshoots by Fede Álvarez ("Evil Dead", "Don't Breathe"). As you can tell by all of those production troubles, something kind of went wrong here and it would have taken quite a miracle to save it all. What's most tragic about it all is that there really is something pretty cool somewhere hidden in this chopped up, somewhat hard to follow final product. Sure I missed the first two minutes (Hey! I ran late! There was traffic!), but there should still have been more time given to make more sense of things. The weak dialogue can't seem to make it gel, and the predictable twists don't exactly help in that regard. However, even with that said, you can see the makings of a fascinating science fiction epic, complete with unique ideas and thought provoking, rather relevant themes. Every now and then, the potential comes through, but it's bogged down by the film's inability to see what ingredients and spectacular actors that it has, and understand what to do with them. 

Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland still find a way to overcome the screenplay's shortcomings. They're likable leads, and very charming, much better than the film deserves, bringing depth and humor to roles that don't actually seem to have that. To have these two together in the same film is something that hopefully will happen again, except in something more decent. Others like Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo (as "Hildy", the leader of another settlement on "New World", who opposes Prentiss), Nick Jonas (as "Davy", Prentiss' sniveling son and henchman), and David Oyelowo (as "Aaron", a radical, religious zealot, who serves as a preacher for Todd's hometown), don't have anywhere near enough to do and depressingly so. On the bright side, no matter the quality, Mads Mikkelsen is still all kinds of intense and terrifying as Hell as our villain. 

Despite the solid chemistry between Ridley and Holland (Making up for what little is given), "Chaos Walking" fails to live up to what it can possibly be. Some aspects don't go anywhere (The Spackle only appear briefly, then vanish from the narrative entirely), and you can tell that the last act has been likely been redone more than once. It never builds to an actual climax, leaving much open ended, though also never actually setting much up for a supposed sequel. I'm thinking that the original draft was going to leave more to be expanded upon in future films, but the filmmakers went back and changed everything at the last moment to make the film feel more definitive. What we get is just a mess of a film, and a tragic waste of good ideas. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Space Rednecks, And The Dirty Thoughts That Dudes Can't Keep To Themselves. 

Tom and Jerry                                                                                                        ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "No, you can't chew up the little mouse, gag him back up, throw him up on the floor and lap it all back up before you lick your balls. Not in my hotel!"

The fact that I can say that a live-action "Tom and Jerry" movie isn't total garbage, considering how often live-action adaptations of beloved cartoon characters have been, that's something worthy of celebration. I mean, it's still not very good, but at least this was an actual movie instead of a trainwreck. The train just sort of petered out, came to a sudden halt, and you had to walk the rest of the way. That's a compliment! 

Released through both "HBO Max" and in theaters, "Tom and Jerry" follows the titular warring animated cat and mouse, "Tom" and "Jerry" (Unlike the 1992 "Tom and Jerry" movie, they thankfully don't speak this time), as their conflict brings them to New York City. At this same moment, the jobless "Kayla" (Chloë Grace Moretz), lies her way into a job at the most expensive, very regal and sophisticated "Royal Gate Hotel", despite the immediate antagonism from her new boss, the events manager, "Terrence" (Michael Peña). Kayla has been instructed by the hotel manager, "Mr. DuBros" (Rob Delaney), to work with Terrence in planning the extravagant wedding of popular Instagram couple, "Ben" (Colin Jost) and "Preeta" (Pallavi Sharda), but of course, Jerry shows up, looking for a now pimped out crib, which puts the hotel's reputation at risk. Kayla's attempts to catch Jerry fail, which leads her to hiring Tom, who as we know has an "Excellent" track record with this, to finally bring the mouse down. With their cartoonish antics threatening to ruin both the wedding and cost Kayla her job, she has to find a way to make Tom and Jerry put their differences aside if they both want to continue living the good life.  

Directed by directorial king of mediocre filmmaking, Tim Story (The original "Fantastic Four" movies, The "Think Like a Man" movies, and the "Ride Along" movies. So much nothing!), "Tom and Jerry" already has one thing going for it that separates it from any other nostalgic cartoon adaptation like it. It's the lack of nightmare inducing imagery. The titular characters, along with every other animal in the film, are brought to life in a more traditional form of stylized animation (Think "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam"), instead of giving them an overtly terrifying, realistic looking CGI makeover. (You know, like "Scooby-Doo", "Alvin and the Chipmunks", or "The Smurfs") Sure they don't exactly look real, feeling out of place in the live-action human world, but it's made up for by them just being appealing to look at. They're very expressive and bouncy, and it's hard not to find some moments of amusement out of that. However, that level of charm isn't exactly enough to make up for the generic, if not thinly written story, the bland direction style, and hardly any real laughs. There are some chuckles and I always get a kick out of hearing Tom's bloodcurdling scream of pain ("Tom and Jerry" always was the most painful looking of cartoons), but nothing particularly unique about it. The plot is just there, kind of meandering around to a quick climax despite a relatively long runtime. (I feel like I've asked this question a few times, but why is every movie over and hour and a half? This should have been eighty minutes at best)

Chloë Grace Moretz is reliable as usual, carrying lesser material and making it work simply because of her natural appeal. She's adorable, funny, and full of her own personality to add a little extra gravitas. Plus, you gotta give credit to someone who is such a great actress and not doesn't feel overly above something like this, but also gives it everything she has regardless. Michael Peña is an over the top antagonist, with a silly accent, and in a way, doesn't really contribute much when you think about it. Most of the human characters don't add much, such as Jordan Bolger (as "Cameron", Kayla's love interest) and Ken Jeong (as "Jackie", the Ken Jeong-esque baker). Tom and Jerry themselves are plenty fun still, and you would have to try really hard to make them not work. (I also give credit to the filmmakers remembering what a mischievous little sh*t Jerry can be. He's actually the instigator in all of this!) There are also some good voice work from a couple supporting characters, such as Bobby Cannavale (as "Spike", Ben's dog, who we all remember always showing up to beat up Tom), and Lil Rel Howery (Who voices both Tom's shoulder Angel and shoulder Devil), who get some okay laughs. There's also a bizarre little cameo from "Droopy". 

"Tom and Jerry" feels pedestrian when it comes to plot, and isn't near funny enough to detract from it. The film thankfully does have its heart in the right place, and at least appears to you know, get it. It knows what major mistakes to avoid, and while it can't help but fall into other trappings, they're not near damning enough to make the film a struggle to sit through. I can safely say that at least for the kids, they'll probably have a good time, and that's all that really matters in the end. The film accomplishes that, though you do wish that such loved characters could have gotten something more. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Too Much Hip Hop, And A Little More Focus On Chloë Grace Moretz's Noticeable Legs Than You Would Expect From A Kids Movie. What? Can't Be The Only One Who Noticed. 

I Care a Lot                                                                                                          ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""A toast....To all the old farts who I ran over when they got in my way.."

We really have a fascination with truly despicable characters. Not so much villains per se in the traditional sense. They're not maniacal baddies trying to do some kind of over the top crap like take over the world or even quite have the intention of hurting someone (Though someone most likely will be). It's the kind of character that is perfectly willing to endanger those around them and perform cruel, heartless actions that you can see every day people doing, but do so with such a deliciously sinister smile and charm to spare, resulting in you unable to really look away. You kind of want to see them succeed, in spite of their lack of a soul.  At least in the movies.

"I Care a Lot" follows cunning con woman, "Marla Grayson" (Rosamund Pike), who works as a legal guardian, using the legal court system to get appointed guardianship over elders living on their own. She will convince the courts that these targeted can't take care of themselves (Whether or not that's actually true. It doesn't necessarily matter to her), and after committing these people to assisted living facilities, Marla and those associated with her, such as her girlfriend, "Fran" (Eiza González), can sell everything they own and make a profit. Marla's newest target, a woman named "Jennifer Peterson" (Dianne West), seems to be the perfect score. After arranging for Jennifer to be moved into a home however, Marla finds herself now prey to Jennifer's vengeful, gangster son, "Roman" (Peter Dinklage). With the discovery of some priceless diamonds in Jennifer's possession, Marla must engage Roman and his mother in a battle of wits and ruthlessness in hopes of finally achieving the wealth she's always felt she deserves. 

Released through Netflix, and both written and directed by J Blakeson ("The Disappearence of Alice Creed" and...."The 5th Wave"? Well, they can't all be winners), "I Care a Lot", is a sort of dark comedy, with hints of a thriller vibe. To balance that kind of tone can be a bit of a challenge, and for what the film gets right, ti does so in a well paced, and very entertaining manner. It's not a predictable film to say the least. There's some little twists and turns, along with small character quirks, which make them hard to read at times. Sometimes they could just be a little odd, or they could be more sinister than we're first led to believe. They're a lot of fun to watch, even when the film's excessive use of plot twits and turn arounds don't always do the final product many favors. At some point, it does become somewhat difficult to believe, which wouldn't be noticeable if the movie wasn't for the most part pretty well grounded. Still, it's not enough to completely bring the movie down, especially with this cast. 

Rosamund Pike is outstanding, and almost scary, coming across as a special kind of vile, yet kind of badass, at least you know, for a terrible human being. She's a remarkable, captivating character that holds your attention, and it's a credit to both the screenplay, but most of all, Pike's confident performance. Peter Dinklage is hilariously dastardly, and oddly human for someone whose implied to be a total monster. We get some excellent performances from Eiza González and an at times, unrecognizable Dianne West. There are also some great secondary roles for Isiah Whitlock Jr. (as "Judge Lomax", the judge who Marla frequently manipulates), a slimy Damian Young (as "Sam Rice", who runs the living facility and is part of Marla's scam), and a scene stealing Chris Messina (as "Dean", Roman's shady lawyer). 

More of a character study than a particularly constructed narrative, "I Care a Lot" is a look at how one can somewhat legally manipulate the system for their own profit under the guise of philanthropy, along with how it's really not that different from mobster-like tactics. This makes for a very dark, twisted experience that takes a lot of glee in how cruel it is, though the film's intentionally detestable nature might be grating for some. For those looking for something a little more wicked however, it's almost joyfully evil, and it's near impossible to resist. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And Exploitation Of The Elderly. 

Willy's Wonderland                                                                                           ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So you want me to play a wild, offbeat, and neurotic character? Sign me up!" 

Crazy ass Nicolas Cage going up against killer animatronics. That was the pitch. That is what's been advertised. That's exactly what you get. How can you get mad at that?  

"Willy's Wonderland" follows an unnamed, almost completely mute (Aside from grunts and yells) drifter, credited only as "The Janitor" (Nicolas Cage), as he breaks down in a small town in Nevada. To pay for some repairs, the Janitor is offered a one night job from "Tex Macadoo" (Ric Reitz), at his longtime abandoned family entertainment restaurant, "Willy's Wonderland" to clean up so that the town can eventually reopen it. Little does the Janitor know, there's something nefarious afoot. As soon as the Janitor gets to work cleaning up the place, the restaurant's animatronics attack, led by the bloodthirsty "Willy Weasel". The Janitor proceeds to kill one, take a break, drink some grape soda, play some pinball, and then get back to work, only to be attacked once again. Rinse and repeat. At the same time, a determined teen, "Liv" (Emily Tosta), who wants revenge on the restaurant for the deaths of her parents years earlier, brings along her collection of disposable idiotic friends, "Chris" (Kai Kadlec), "Kathy" (Caylee Cowan), "Bob" (Terayle Hill), "Aaron" (Christian Del Grosso), and "Dan" (Jonathan Mercedes), to burn it all down. Eventually, Liv and her friends end up getting locked inside the restaurant with the Janitor, and have to work with him to survive the night, while also revealing the dark, bloody history behind Willy's Wonderland.   

Basically "Five Nights at Freddy''s" (Is that ever going to be a movie?), "Willy's Wonderland" is directed by Kevin Lewis (Known for not much of anything I've heard of) and written by G.O. Parsons (His first full length feature screenplay), and as you can tell, doesn't bother to hide what its intention is. It's not very original, no remotely insightful, and serves up an endless supply of horror clichés, all of which only forgivable if the movie gives its intended audience what they're clamoring for. To give the movie credit, it does so with a straight face, though it's obviously tongue in cheek. The joke is how seriously everything is supposed to be, despite being absolutely ridiculous. Unlike last year's "Fatman", it works a little better here due to the filmmakers never allowing the film to wear out its welcome (It's not even an hour and a half) and offering more than a few stupid laughs, though I can't say that makes it well, good.....Because it's not. It's not supposed to be though. If that makes sense. 

Nicolas Cage is certainly well cast in this off-kilter role. He never speaks, engages in amusingly strange rituals (The running gag of his need to take a break to drink soda and play pinball no matter what, makes for the best chuckles), and brutally (If not hilariously) kills the murderous animatronics in amazing fashion. It's all the side characters however that only distract from the enjoyment. Emily Tosta seems to fair the best, though mostly because she's the only one with anything resembling an actual personality. The others range from one-note stereotypes or are just plain annoying, and either way, their deaths don't exactly come soon enough (Despite how gory the film is, the human kills are much lesser than the animatronic ones). Most of these characters make dumb decisions for no other reason than horror tropes demand for them. Some better performances come from a suitably smarmy Ric Reitz and Beth Grant (as "Sheriff Lund", Liv's caretaker, who knows more about what's going on than she advertises), who is probably doing a better acting job than the film requires. The animatronics themselves are somewhat creepy, though that's negated by the film's obvious and at times intentional cheapness. 

"Willy's Wonderland" is a homage to old grindhouse horror films, with gallons of gore and the glorification of trashy content. If that's not for you, this is most certainly something that you should avoid by any means necessary. For the target audience though, they'll be darkly grinning ear to ear the entire time. It's fun in the moment, but nothing of substance. Just as one should expect. I can never fault a film for know what it is and clearly enjoying every second of it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Swearing, Arbitrary Sex Scenes, And More Than A Few Blood Baths (And Oil Baths).

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar                                                                                  by James Eagan                                                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Florida....Covid party!"

I feel like I just got back from the most insane little trip. I have no idea how I got there, where it was going, or why I was even there in the first place. And yet, I feel in a much better mood after going.  

"Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" follows the extremely talkative middle aged best friends for life, "Barb" (Annie Mumolo) and "Star" (Kristen Wiig), who after losing their jobs feel that they are in need of"Soul Douche" (I mean, don't we all?). So they decide to take a vacation to Florida's Vista Del Mar, where at that very moment, an evil scheme is about to go down. A mad, extremely pale supervillain, "Dr. Lady" (I suppose it's best not to reveal who plays her actually. It's better to be as shocked as I was and only adds to the weirdness), plans to unleash deadly mosquitoes to destroy Vista Del Mar, sending in her henchman, "Edgar" (Jamie Dornan), to arrange everything. Edgar, who only wants to be in an "Official Couple" with Dr. Lady and feeling neglected by her, winds up getting drunk off his ass with Barb and Star, resulting in him losing an important microchip. Barb and Star then find themselves wrapped up in the kookiness, with Star and Edgar falling in love and Barb finding her more adventurous side, though possibly threatening their longtime friendship at the same time.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum, while being written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (They also served as producers along with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell), "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" is a weaponized form of oddness that would be considered dangerous if it weren't so effectively delightful. The movie doesn't feel the need to explain, even during its opening moments before jumping right into the most random live-action cartoon you'll ever see. To add to the general strangeness of the film, it's shockingly well made and directed for something that's intentionally supposed to be cheap looking. The awkward, obviously fake looking effects, mixed in with the all over the place plotting, should make for a good headache, but instead, feels more than fitting (There's something very appealing about it). It's helped by the quick, surprisingly fairly intelligent, and totally unsystematic dialogue, which might get side-tracked on occasion or lost in a drawn out joke, though generally gets some bigger than expected laughs. 

The lovable chemistry between Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo is to be admired. They're a pair of goofy caricatures to sure, but are also very endearing to watch, and of course, very funny. One of the biggest surprises is the laugh riot (And I'm not joking here) that is Jamie Dornan. Playing completely against every kind of role I've ever seen him partake in, he fully commits to the stupidity with glee, most of which because of his straight faced delivery of even the most ridiculous of scenarios. (His out of nowhere musical declaration of love, surrounded by seagulls, is something that I can't see a single other comedy this year topping) Other scene-stealers would be a hilarious Damon Wayans Jr. (as "Darlie Bunkle", another one of Dr. Lady's henchmen, who desires to remain private, but constantly can't helped further exposing himself) and Reyn Doi (as "Yoyo", Dr. Lady's evil child minion). There's also a few more bit parts for some familiar faces, bonkers cameos, or surreal character moments all appearing at unexpected moments. (Such as a Morgan Freeman-like crab or a guy singing about bosoms. It kind of makes sense in context. I think.)

While sometimes you get the idea that the film is just weird for the sake of being weird (And might start to lose some steam towards the end), "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" is the kind of movie that you can't help but admire for how far out there it wants to go. Very original, laugh out loud in places, and just plain charming, It's a lighthearted good time for anyone that may just so happen to be stuck inside at the moment due to the record breaking freeze going on outside at the moment. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Tragic Pale Woman Backstories, And Culottes.   

Judas and the Black Messiah                                                                      ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Fight the power.

I'm a little bit lost at the moment. Being someone who prides himself on the organization of films, allowing every single one of them, whether they be good or bad, the chance to earn a place on my end of the year lists. It also helps when it comes to Oscar consideration and my own personal picks as to what should win. However, 2020 threw everyone for a loop, and after the recent Golden Globe nominations (No love for Spike Lee? What the Hell man?!?!), our Oscar contenders are getting later releases. (Apparently, I won't be able to see most of them until maybe even March!) While I get the idea to allow some films time to prosper in the public eye, even if it is later than usual, but on the downside, a lot of great films from both last year and also this year, are going to be pushed down unfairly.   

Based on True Events that transpired within the late 1960s, "Judas and the Black Messiah" follows mostly unnoticeable criminal, "William "Bill" O'Neal" (Lakeith Stanfield), who would pose as an FBI agent to steal cars. O'Neal ends up caught and comes face to face with FBI agent, "Roy Mitchell" (Jesse Plemons). Mitchell, along with his fellow agents, have been instructed by FBI Director, "J. Edgar Hoover" (Martin Sheen), to find a way to bring down, "Fred Hampton" (Daniel Kaluuya), the current chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton, who has amassed quite the following due to his charismatic personality and passionate words, and has been deemed a radical threat to the United States (There's fear that he may be considered, according to Hoover, "A Black Messiah" of sorts). 

Mitchell offers O'Neal a chance to work off his criminal record (Along with making some cash on the side) to infiltrate the Chicago Black Panthers, and serve as an informant to the FBI. O'Neal slowly gets in good with Frank Hampton and his followers, eventually becoming the head of the chapter's security, while also delivering important information that Mitchell can pass off to his superiors. However, O'Neal can't help but gravitate to the Party's intentions and goals, though also liking the rewards that the FBI is giving him. When things are in danger of not quite going the way that the narrative was originally proposed (Well if someone is apparently a terrorist, or at least listed as one, is it wrong for our government to do whatever is deemed necessary to stop it?), a later act of betrayal will result in a rather horrifying, and worst of all, very unnecessary, conclusion. 

From first time director, Shaka King (Known mostly for TV work), who also served as a co-producer with Ryan Coogler and a co-screenwriter with Will Berson, "Judas and the Black Messiah" struggles only momentarily in the opening act, due to having a lot of story to tell and not quite enough time to set it all up. However, once the film finds its footing, what we get is a well paced, tightly packed, and deeply moving drama that's framed like a classic tragedy tale, especially when you consider a few somewhat similar looking current events. The film has a mesmerizing grainy look to enhance the time period, and the screenplay  occasion incorporates little moments of humor and levity to the real life story, which makes the characters feel much more real. It's fascinating to watch how such a good speaker could inspire so many, while also absolutely terrify others at the same time. The film does take time to also address some of the more questionable aspects of the Black Panther Party, though it more focuses on what they would do for poorer communities as well as how Fred Hampton in a strange way, found a form of common ground with unlikely people. There's an amazing moment  where Hampton is able to sway some white southerners parading around a Confederate flag, to his cause, simply through due to his force of personality, which is all kinds of surreal to watch. Whether or not you're 100% on board with some of their actions, there is a reason why people would gravitate towards them, and in the end, would see them as revolutionaries, rather than the terrorists that some would prefer them to be. 

Daniel Kaluuya, through calm intimidation, a mournful gaze, and lot of intellectual charm, gives an unforgettable performance. Whether he's acting with his words or his striking stare, Kaluuya is at his best here, deserving of award recognition. As brilliant is Lakeith Stanfield, who continues to demonstrate why he's the kind of actor I think of when one mentions range. It would be so easy to make his character out to be a straight up villain, but the film doesn't take the easy way out here. You can see why he makes some of the decisions he does even if some of those decisions are cowardly, and you can see the rather heartbreaking guilt in his eyes when he's forced to come to terms with his actions. There is some fantastic supporting work from Jesse Plemons and Dominique Fishback (as "Deborah Johnson", Hampton's pregnant girlfriend), along with a menacingly unrecognizable Martin Sheen. 

"Judas and the Black Messiah" is the kind of film that you can't help but see certain elements that feel more than relevant. You can talk about how violence isn't the answer or how harsh rhetoric could insight possible bloodshed (Though that doesn't mean anything anymore considering what just happened at the capitol recently, along with how few people have actually seen repercussions for it), but in the end though, the weaponization of fear by our own government, especially when it comes to minorities speaking out against inarguable injustice and the lingering hatred that will never go away (Doesn't help when you refuse to acknowledge it's still here), is something that you should never have allowed in the greatest country in the world. It doesn't help that we're still doing it. Black Lives Matter, or even Antifa (Some people are really trying to make them out to be the next big terrorist group), weren't the ones who armed themselves and tried to demolish our democracy because their hate spewing, mentally incompetent reality star turned President didn't win. I guess because they weren't a bunch of angry dark skinned people, they just weren't that scary. The film provides great performances, compelling dialogue, and a relevant story, that you would think that we wouldn't need to hear anymore. I feel like a broken record with this! The film sidelines a few details to be sure (What biopic doesn't?), but the themes of empowerment and the fight for civil justice are something that you would think that we as Americans would all connect with. Sadly, too many would rather choose to be afraid and hate, rather than deal with the real issue hidden beneath the surface. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Racial Injustice, And Fear Mongering (Just Not From The People Fox News Is Telling You Is Spreading It).  

Bliss                                                                                                                               ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "See out there? That's where all of the good scripts are."

I always like to think that if one doesn't have anything of importance or poignancy to contribute, then you probably shouldn't force yourself into a debate, especially one that's too complicated for simple answers. This is a movie that seems to want to elaborate on themes of what we perceive as human emotion, what's truly real or just simulation, and what humanity can lose to technology. At least that's what I think may have been the point the filmmakers were trying to make. Part of me just thought it could have been just total bullcrap. That is a likely possibility.    

"Bliss" follows "Greg Wittle" (Owen Wilson), a recent divorcee, who spends his time at his office job doodling a dream home and a very pretty woman who looks a lot like Salma Hayek, which leads to him getting fired and accidentally killing his boss. In panic, Greg attempts to hide out in a bar, where he meets a mysterious woman, "Isabel" (Salma Hayek), who assures Greg that everyone around them, along with the world itself, isn't real. She claims that the both of them are inside a simulation of sorts, and with the help of some colorful crystals, they can actually manipulate the world in ways that amuse them (Or at least, it appears that they do). Greg, being you know, a dumb guy, totally believes everything Isabel is saying, especially the part about them being soulmates, and runs away with her, abandoning his family in the process. Greg and Isabel plan to find a way out of the simulation, though Greg's daughter, "Emily" (Nesta Cooper), is determined to find him.  

Written and directed by Mike Cahill ("Another Earth", "I Origins". I guess he's a fan of philosophical Science Fiction), "Bliss" a misguided mess of a film, that has a lot of big ideas and absolutely no clue what the Hell to do with any of them. The exposition heavy screenplay appears to be almost intentionally convoluted and overly intricate in an act of desperation to make sure that one doesn't poke holes. It's solid logic when you think about it. How does one make sense of something that overtly is trying not to make sense? The movie repeatedly stops completely dead to explain itself, and yet, the rules that the film establishes are either always changing or don't actually have a part to play. It's based around a premise that doesn't have much originality, introducing mindbending concepts that don't amount to that much. Greg and Isabel seem to have Jedi-like powers, which also look as if they're going to play some kind of role as the movie goes on, but like many of the film's surreal ideas, they're abandoned partway through. There's a second half kind of twist that feels like we've jumped into a completely different movie, only adding to the confused narrative.

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek are both trying their best, and occasionally give decent performances. Sadly, due to terrible writing and even worse direction, Wilson's forced to just act perplexed the entire time, while Hayek's motivation (And sanity) is always changing. The subplot involving Nesta Cooper and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (as "Arthur", Greg's son, who I guess may or may not be real either), is one of those aspects that one would leave entirely on the cutting room floor, especially considering how it only undercuts the mystery the movie is trying to establish. The most fascinating thing to appear in the movie would be the appearance of Bill Nye the Science Guy (as himself, I think, considering his bow tie), which is made even more unintentionally hilarious because his role plays a minor role during his out of nowhere, oddly extended cameo. 

Nonsensical, awkward, and worst of all, so damn boring, "Bliss" may not be particularly long, but dear God, does it feel like it is. Under the belief that it's somehow smarter than it actually is and won't shut the Hell up about it, any kind of message that the film is trying to make gets lost in all the pretentiousness. This is even more noticeable during the climax, where things seemingly get more comical (An innocent guy may be dead, but not only does nobody seem to care, but it's made into a joke) and result in a rather forced ending. Nothing blissful about it considering the massive headache you're left with. 1 Star. Rated R For Language, Crystallized Drug Consumption, And Loads Of Rotten Bologna Passed Of As Science Talk.  

Earwig and the Witch                                                                                           ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""He was feasting on human remains behind a dumpster....Can I keep him?"

Even the greatest of the greats can have their off days. The kind of day that just has you repeating to yourself "Man, this is really not working". 

From Studio Ghibli (Who brought us many, many classics such as "My Neighbor Totoro", "Princess Mononoke", and honestly, too many to list. You should know most of them by now), "Earwig and the Witch" follows a young, weird little orphan girl named "Earwig" (Taylor Paige Henderson), who is given the name, "Erica Wig", by the matrons. Earwig has since become the apparent ruler of the orphanage, ever since being left at the orphanage's doorstep by an unknown woman, who may or may not have been a witch. Loved by everyone around her, Earwig has no intention of getting adopted. However, she surprisingly finds herself picked by a large, frightening woman, "Bella Yaga" (Vanessa Marshall), and her even more frightening companion, "The Mandrake" (Richard E. Grant). Earwig discovers that Bella Yaga is a witch, with the Mandrake being a mysterious being of possible even greater power. Despite asking to be taught magic, Earwig is instead forced to slave away and perform all kinds of depressing tasks under Yaga (Who says she only wanted "An extra pair of hands"). Unable to flee her new home, Earwig schemes, along with Yaga's cat familiar (Magical demon in animal form, who serves under a witch), "Thomas" (Dan Stevens), to avoid Yaga's punishments and take over the household. While enacting her plan, Earwig takes an interest in a band conveniently also named "Earwig", led by an unknown singer (Kacey Musgraves), which you know, may or may not have a connection to this entire ordeal in some shape or form. 

Released through HBO Max (And in some select theaters) and directed by Gorō Miyazaki (Son of the great Haya Miyazaki, who also directed "From Up on Poppy Hill"), "Earwig and the Witch" is the beloved studio's first ever fully CGI animated film. In a way, it feels more like an experiment than anything, and by the end, it's a small tragedy to report that it never truly comes together in a satisfying manner. It's more awkward and kind of frustrating. The talent is there, and every once in a while, you see hints of potential, but the film is lacking in the heart and charm that we've come to expect from Studio Ghibli. What we get is a somewhat convoluted and mostly plot free series of quirky little setpieces that offer occasional mild amusement, yet not much of substance and very little worth remembrance. It's one thing for a Studio Ghibli movie to not be very good, but it's another entirely for it to just be forgettable. It's a shame because while the animation can be jarring at times (Having watched the English dub, the more detailed and expressive faces look a bit more awkward at first, considering the mouth movements not always lining up the same way they would in traditional 2D animation), it's not without its charm. The designs are fun and the movements entertaining, with some eye popping visual flair. The real fault lies with the story and screenplay, which feels aimless and overly simplistic in characterization. 

Despite a very solid voicecast, I wouldn't say many of the characters are anything to write home about. Taylor Paige Henderson incorporates more of a natural sense of charm than the actual character, who really isn't interesting enough to carry an hour and twenty minute movie. Dan Stevens is a decent amount of fun, while Vanessa Marshall is a veteran voice actress, so you know she'll give it her all. Richard E. Grant easily steals the show, making for the film's most fascinating aspect, and the closest thing the film gets to something genuinely heartwarming. I'm not sure if everything involving Kacey Musgraves is meant to be part of some kind of twist or not, because if it was, it was very obvious to figure out. The film has a catchy music score, and gets an occasional laugh (Most of them revolving around sight gags), though just slogs along for most of its runtime. It would be more forgivable if there was just more to gravitate towards. 

"Earwig and the Witch" is just a bit of a misfire. Not bad by any means, considering you can see hints of something unique somewhere within the film's thinly written narrative. Sadly, the magic isn't there. It feels pointless and while maybe something that could keep the youngest of children entertained for a bit, this studio has already made a name for themselves for making films that anyone of any age can enjoy, so I don't think its entirely ungrateful to fairly ask for something more. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Slightly Frightening Images, Worm Related Punishments, and Lax Child Labor Laws. 

Malcolm & Marie                                                                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Yeah, but how about that supporting cast?

Can a movie do its job too well? If the end result was meant to frustrate and exhaust, the filmmakers have truly done a spectacular job. Imagine the big argument from 2019's "Marriage Story" (The one that's been memed into oblivion), except that's the whole hour and forty minute movie. That makes for a very unpleasant, though undeniably successful cinematic experiment that I can only assume was a success. It serves as a good reminder as to why I fear emotional confrontation. 

Released through Netflix, "Malcolm & Marie" follows a film writer/director, "Malcolm Elliott" (John David Washington), and his former actress girlfriend, "Marie Jones" (Zendaya), as they return home from Malcolm's new film premiere, which has begun to earn Malcolm the praise he's been seeking. However, something is clearly off about Malcolm and Marie's relationship at the moment. After some passive aggressive comments and the eating of macaroni and cheese (On an unimportant note, that looked really, really good in black and white. Not sure how or why, but it just did), an argument erupts between Malcolm and Marie, which spirals further as the night goes on. Throughout the argument, there's some light talk, discussions about the current state of the film industry and film criticism, and how it seems to find a way to force itself into the heated debate between the two lovers, slowly revealing more about what really is getting under their skin. 

Written and directed by Sam Levinson ("Assassination Nation", "Euphoria") and filmed during during our still going pandemic, "Malcolm & Marie" is a small scale, close quartered, and seemingly never ending wild ride of mixed emotions and constant mood swings. The film rarely takes a break from the nearly headache inducing back and forth between our only two characters, which only pauses to lure the audience into a false sense of security before diving right back into barely hidden outrage. The claustrophobia really kicks in at the harshest moments, which even makes for some slight suspense, especially as you're left in awe of where exactly it's all going to go next. Shot in black and white, the film is gorgeously directed, with a lot of clever camera angles and most importantly, much focus on the two compelling leads, who more than anything else, are the main attraction. 

John David Washington and Zendaya (Who both also served as producers) are a special kind of spectacular in the film, portraying three dimensional characters, each with their own flaws and endearment. You like them to a certain degree, and they both get their equal amount of time in the limelight, such as a scathing speech from Zendaya towards the film's climax and a rather impressive rant from Washington that begins with a critic's review. As much praise as I can give to the screenplay however, I can't help but also feel that for as well done as it is, it detracts from the film in meaningful ways. It's somewhat repetitive in nature, and due to the film's longer than necessary length, at some point you feel like intervening. Be honest with yourself, you shouted "Will you two shut up!" at least once or twice. 

Intensely passionate and occasionally profound (Levinson is most likely a cinema buff), "Malcolm & Marie" doesn't exactly build to much, with the argument at times treading the same already covered ground. I guess that makes it more realistic, but still, it makes for a film experience that I can definitely see resulting in a divisive audience reaction. If somebody told me that they found it to be excessive, overindulgent, and well, just too much for too little resolution, I to a certain point kind of agree. However, I feel that it's necessary. It is painful at times and you want it to just end, much like how a real quarrel such as this could possibly go. The dialogue is insightful, even when it drags on, and the leads are too captivating to ignore. It makes for a film that might be doing too good of a job portraying a broken romance, but one that I was thoroughly invested in despite never again wanting any part of it. Happy Early Valentines Day everyone! 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And For Dangerously Spiking My Anxiety Repeatedly. 

The Little Things                                                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So....How'd you spend your quarantine?"

This is truly one of those fascinating movies where it's not because of the actual mysteries within the film, but instead because of how many great ingredients have gone into it and yet, it just doesn't work. At first you're wondering why you're watching a film starring three Academy Award winning actors in January of all places, and it have nothing to do with Oscar season. Then you watch the movie and it all kind of starts to make sense. There's always at least one every year. Even on streaming. 

Taking place during the 1990s, "The Little Things" follows Kern County deputy, "Joe Deacon" (Denzel Washington), also known as "Deke", who is sent on a case to "Los Angeles", where at that moment, the LA Police Department is having their own trouble solving another case involving the grisly deaths of young girls. Despite the best efforts of their best detective, "Jim Baxter" (Rami Malek), there isn't a single suspect to go after. Deke also has some history with the LAPD, and hardly anyone appears happy to see him. Baxter, at first seemingly just out of pity, allows Deke to assist on the case, but as they dig deeper, the two eventually find a possibly suspect in the form of local, greasy weirdo, "Albert Sparma" (Jared Leto), who also happens to be a self proclaimed crime buff. Sparma looks like the most obvious choice, though something doesn't quite fit into the narrative. Meanwhile, Deke's obsessive desire to solve the case conflicts with Baxter's, calling everything into question. 

Released through HBO Max and both written and directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side", "Saving Mr. Banks", "The Founder"), "The Little Things" is a dark, slow paced thriller that isn't without its moments of high creep factor and emotional drama. The film looks really good, filled with dark atmosphere and an eye for the setting without needing to overstate itself. (The subtle 90s references do add a little extra life to things)  However, the film doesn't remotely meet the standards that the filmmakers appear to have set, and is most certainly not as good of a movie as the screenplay seems to think it is. John Lee Hancock's script lacks the depth necessary to make such a dour film such as this really work, and in spite of his apparent best efforts, some of the mysteries aren't near as interesting as we're told. To make things worse, the payoffs (Or in some cases, the lack of a payoff), don't leave the intended impact. 

The great actors involved are stuck with mediocre material, though do their best to give good performances. Denzel Washington is his usual, commanding self. However, there are aspects about his character's storyline that don't get the reaction that I believe is needed. We're left wondering what exactly his character did to become so detested, but when it slowly starts to come together, it ends up being pretty obvious. Rami Malek appears to have been told to play his character in a detached fashion at first, though he does start to get the chance to show off the range we know he's capable of. Jared Leto meanwhile generates a lot of unpleasantness, and does so in expert fashion. He's easily the most fascinating character in the film, with it always being in question whether he's actually guilty or if he's simply just a weirdo with strange hobbies. Leto becomes the most memorable part of the film (And also happens to have the most personality as well), but doesn't come into the film until about halfway through. The pacing can really be felt if you don't have anything to gravitate towards. 

"The Little Things" builds up the suspense in the last act and offers a little last second excitement. Sadly, the final conclusion becomes predictable and not particularly original. I swear I've seen things like this done much better in both TV and movies, and with the talent behind the film, it feels rather uninspired. There's potential here and frequently it shines through. I just get the idea that the filmmakers thought they had enough to carry the film in spite of the lack of originality, and the final product could have used a possible rewrite or two to add a little more personality to make up for it. January really was the perfect time to release it. 2 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Imagery, Ghostly Foot Massages, And The Fact That You Can Basically Smell Jared Leto Through The Screen. 

Our Friend                                                                                                           ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""So then Seth Rogan dropped his pants....Oh, wait....This isn't that kind of movie."

2020 didn't give us much to work with, considering how many movies were delayed, became difficult to find, or just faded away from existence, the new year has already begun to continue the previous year's trend of pushing everything back. This time I plan to be more prepared to get back to seeing things that I might not normally see on my own, allowing myself to continue to expand on what I watch and later recommend, while also giving time to smaller, more personal films. 

Inspired by a true story, "Our Friend" follows "Matthew Teague" (Casey Affleck), along with his wife, "Nicole" (Dakota Johnson), as they struggle with her cancer diagnosis, which only gives her a limited amount of time to live. They find some much needed help getting through this from a dear friend, "Dane" (Jason Segel), who has never gotten far in life, but happens to be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Dane helps his friend's daughters, "Molly" (Isabella Rice) and "Evie" (Violet McGraw), through this distressing time, as Matthew and Nicole's cope with their dwindling time together, as Dane's presence helps make their difficulties bearable. Really, the plot is just how goodness, while it can't make pain go away, at least dilutes it and reminds you of the joys of life. 

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Blackfish", "Megan Leavey"), with a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby ("Out of the Furnace", "The Way Back") that adapts the "Esquire" article by the real life Matthew Teague, "Our Friend" isn't a particularly exciting, original, or even all that important a film. It's something that will easily be forgotten by the year's end, and if not openly sought out, would probably go under most people's radars. What the film really end up being is just very sweet, simple, and exactly the kind of thing you might need to give a look to on the chance that you're feeling a little depressed. The film does a solid job of balancing an off-kilter sense of humor to go with some heavy drama, which is handled in a realistic and mature fashion, without needing to overstate itself. Now that isn't to say that the movie isn't without its predictable beats or moments of unnecessary conflict (There's a late sort of twist that can be seen a mile away, and adds nothing), but in a way, some of that comes with the territory. The filmmakers at least find ways to counteract it with how likable it is, with the audience understanding or even relating to the flaws of the characters, giving off the feelings of knowing people in real life who might seem similar. (Some might even see a little bit of themselves in it) 

Jason Segel is quite wonderful, generating a lovable warmth and sense of humor, yet also inhabiting a hidden sadness that perhaps many people like this try to keep out of sight from others. There are some fantastic performances from Casey Affleck (He's generally excellent) and an especially affecting Dakota Johnson. However, the film doesn't do much when it comes to supporting characters, who sort of just come and go throughout, though there is a brief standout moment from Gwendoline Christie (as "Teresa", a woman that Dane ends up taking a random hike with), who gets a very insightful little scene. There's a little forced conflict at some point, but thankfully, it's looked over quickly and avoids tossing in some kind of antagonist. It wouldn't have been necessary to do so, and I appreciate the filmmakers never forgetting what the movie in the end is truly meant to be about. 

"Our Friend" is a rather straightforward sentimental film, that doesn't do anything too new, nor is it really meant to. It's just sincere and heartwarming, generating some mild, good natured laughs in the process to go with the human oriented drama. It's a movie that I see a lot of people just kind of ignoring, though could find an audience with those seeking a bit of a pick me up right now without much consequence. Considering this January's lack of cinematic content at the moment, we could all use it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language And Heavy Themes. 

Outside the Wire                                                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Falcon", helping to stop an attempt at a violent insurrection to stop the American democratic process.

What is the whole deal with Netflix and their love of low budget, only somewhat science fiction, that to be perfectly honest, all kind of look the same? It's almost like Netflix is their go-to distributor when they're not certain if a big screen release will draw much of a crowd. Not to mention with the lack of theaters being open at the moment and the many bored souls that spend their days searching through Netflix to escape their real life problems, the movies truly have found a to flourish as best they can. At least until "Disney+" releases more Marvel stuff. 

Taking place sometime in the not so far off future, "Outside the Wire" where the United States creates robotic soldiers, known as "Gumps", to combat Russian mercenaries led by "Victor Koval" (Pilou Asbæk). After disobeying orders (And getting a couple Marines killed), drone pilot "Lt. Thomas Harp" (Damson Idris), gets moved to Ukraine, where the US has their main base of operations to combat Koval's forces. Now disgraced in the eyes of his fellow soldiers, Harp is commanded by his new superior, "Eckhart" (Michael Kelly), to work under "Captain Leo" (Anthony Mackie), who as it turns out, is an artificially created, very advanced, and incredibly skilled android, created to be the perfect super soldier. To prevent Koval from getting his hands on nuclear missiles, Leo and Harp embark on a secret mission into Ukraine, where Harp begins to suspect there's something Leo isn't telling him. They encounter Koval's enforcers (Which also includes his own versions of the Gumps), a resistance group led by the almost equally ruthless "Sofiya" (Emily Beecham), and America's need to fire a drone strike first and ask questions later, while everyone's true motivations start to reveal themselves. 

Directed by Mikael Håfström ("Escape Plan") and released through Netflix, "Outside the Wire" is a relatively small scale action flick with moderately high ambitions, but with one simple goal to be your average science-fiction thriller of the week. It'll be entertaining in the moment, with aspects that might even lend itself to something even more fascinating, but at the end of the day, the filmmakers have no intention of taking things as far as they possibly can go. The film borrows a lot of elements from various well known properties, though "Terminator" seems to be the most obvious one. That isn't a bad thing, and what keeps the film from being something completely forgettable. Topics about what humanity is willing to sacrifice during warfare, what technology and weaponry we should be allowed to use as we please, and the many that will always be caught in the crossfire no matter who is actually in the right throughout the conflict, are all addressed and given a somewhat unique spin. However, the movie also wants to be an explosion filled video game, and the two can only work with the absolute best working behind the scenes. What we get is decently made enough, but fairly bland and most of all, not near as good as it actually could be. 

Anthony Mackie is still excellent in the film, generating a lot of charisma, mystery, and occasional intimidation, making for a very interestingly complicated character that keeps you guessing to what his true motives are. Damson Idris also does a good job playing the audience surrogate, and goes through a steady character arc. Some supporting characters add little, such as Emily Beecham's surprisingly inconsequential (And intellectually lacking) character and especially Pilou Asbæk, who is barely even a character. The special effects are solid for what they are, with the Gumps appearing rarely and not getting much focus, though the best use of CGI ends up being on Anthony Mackie's Leo. (His body is made up of a synthetic, gel like substance, which gives off a distinctive and original robotic design)

 "Outside the Wire" has potential and only occasionally know its, but would rather give its audience the simplest of pleasures that usually come from a low budget action thriller. It's fun in the moment, with a few well crafted action sequences and drama that's enhanced by good performances. It's also unmemorable and when you really get down to it, just kind of weak. Not near enough has been invested into anything I can fully recommend except to quell those early January woes. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Language, And Military Machismo. 

Locked Down                                                                                                     ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Are they the ones who stole the election?

I'm officially starting to forget what normalcy looks like anymore, and it's not helping when movies are also referencing the pandemic. I'm having trouble remembering what the world was like before we had to wear masks everywhere we went. In just a few months, we will be reaching the anniversary for when it all went to sh*t, and I'm starting to feel like this might be the new normal. We already know things are going to be different and in others, are never going to be the same. When all of our movies are going to start referencing it, I don't think there will be any going back for quite a while.   

"Locked Down" follows disgruntled married couple, "Linda" (Anne Hathaway) and "Paxton" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), on the verge of separation. However, before the two of them can leave each other, COVID-19 happens, initiating lockdown in London. Now stuck with each other and working from home the best they can, Linda and Paxton's relationship continues to deteriorate. Paxton, desperate to move up in the world, having been trapped in a job as a delivery truck driver due to a felony, finally gets his boss, "Malcolm" (Ben Kingsley), to allow for a chance a promotion. Due to Paxton's felony, he will be required to do deliveries with a false identity (The identity being "Edgar Allen Poe", since Paxton's boss is a moron). Meanwhile, Linda, who runs a fashion company, is tasked to fire some employees and clear out a "Harods" department store (One of the items to be cleared out being a rare diamond). Their schedules end up overlapping, with Paxton's last run being at Harods, making Paxton's job more difficult. Then the two get the wacky idea that since there is also a replica diamond at the store (And because of COVID restrictions, security will be lacking), to um, permanently borrow the diamond, with nobody being the wiser. 

Released through HBO Max (Movie theaters? Who needs them?), "Locked Down" is a movie that might be construed as "Insensitive" or "Too soon", much like last year's horrifically offensive and insultingly stupid "Songbird", but I can assure people that it's nowhere close to that level. Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Edge of Tomorrow"), with a screenplay by Steven Knight ("Hummingbird", "Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"......Not that "Serenity". The bad one), the film actually has something to say, and is a lot more competently made. Aside from the questionable timing, it's a fairly likable sort of romantic comedy, that while a little off in terms of execution and pacing, makes up for it with a somewhat eccentric, mostly dialogue heavy charm. Due to the fact that the film was in production right in the middle of the whole pandemic, there aren't many locations, secondary characters, or even much real movement at all. Most of the film focuses specifically on our leads, or maybe sometimes the people they talk to via Zoom calls, which are complete with constant freezing and sound issues. (It's nice to see a movie actually address that kind of thing) It just takes a while for things to really get moving, which is especially noticeable when the actual main plotline doesn't fully come into play into about halfway through. It's subtlety hinted at throughout, but if you didn't already know about the film's premise, it would almost feel out of nowhere. 

 What carries the film more than anything would be the flawless chemistry, and delightful onscreen presences of Anne Hathaway (Looking cute and endearing as usual) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Who it's nice to see doing a comedy, considering how great a dramatic actor he is) are hard not to like. They get some great banter between each other, and even though their characters are meant to be strained, you can still see these characters really do have a connection. Most of the movie is just focusing on them, though it does leave room for rather brief appearances from Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller (as Linda's boss), Stephen Merchant (as the head of security at Harods), Mindy Kaling (as a former co-worker of Linda's), along with amusing parts for Dulé Hill (as "David", Paxton's half-brother) and Jazmyn Simon (as "Maria", David's wife, who Linda may or may not have had a sexual experience with). 

Brought down a bit by possible poor timing and an execution of style that will either make or break the film (It's not boring, but it's not exactly an "Exciting" film), "Locked Down" isn't a movie that will find itself appealing to everyone. It is however, quite fun, and despite the romantic comedy aspect to the premise, it defies a lot of the standard tropes that many films of that genre tend to overly rely on. Also, unlike "Songbird", the film has a bit of a point to itself, addressing that in a way us being in lockdown could be seen as a positive, aside from the obvious protection from the virus. It makes you think about what exactly you've been doing in your life and now you're forced to contemplate the future, especially when we as a species really took a lot of things for granted. Very fitting to think about considering how things in real life are very much going to be different from now on. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language And Pieces Of Fabric, Worn Over Your Face That Violate Your Constitutional Rights In Ways That Nobody Has Been Able To Actually Explain To Me. 

Shadow in the Cloud                                                                                        ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wait....This isn't  prequel to 'Gremlins'?"

What's the best way to start off the new, hopefully better year? Aside from allowing deranged, bigoted loonies to storm our Capitol and attempt to overthrow democracy (Now that twist I did see coming years ago), it's to make way for something of little consequence, but enough good old fashioned cheesy entertainment value. It makes the January dumping ground much easier to get through. 

Set in 1943, and after an amusing little animated PSA assuring that so called "Gremlins" aren't sabotaging war planes, "Shadow in the Cloud" follows a supposed British Flight Officer, "Maude Garrett" (Chloë Grace Moretz), who boards a B-17 bomber plane, "The Fool's Errand", with a mysterious package that she claims contains secret documents and must be delivered without question. Most of the bomber's crew is immediately antagonistic and sexist towards Garrett, with the captain, "John Reeves" (Callan Mulvey), sending Garrett to sit in the ball turret, forced to leave her package with the nice guy, "Walter Quaid" (Taylor John Smith). After the plane takes off in the middle of a storm, Garrett notices something is off about the flight, especially when she notices a terrifying looking shadow on the side of the plane. When parts of the bomber plane start to fall apart, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. With the sudden arrival of Japanese fighter planes, and the revelation that there is in fact a bloodthirsty gremlin on board, it's up to Garrett to take command of the situation, while her true mission slowly starts to become apparent. 

Directed by Roseanne Liang, who also rewrote the screenplay previous written by known douchebag, Max Landis (He was completely removed from the project due to sexual misconduct and misogynistic comments, only receiving a legal credit. I'm assuming the feminist message was not the original draft), "Shadow in the Cloud" is not the kind of movie that will make any best or worst lists. Granted, the filmmakers know that. It's not supposed to. It has one simple job to do, which is provide silly, tongue in cheek popcorn flick fun, that also has a surprise sense of empowerment and believe it or not, a few unexpected twists. The movie is rather original in execution. It doesn't fully explain everything right off the bat, unraveling things as it progresses. The film spends a decent chunk of its short runtime focusing on the main character as she's confined to the ball turret. 

Chloë Grace Moretz is the star of the show in more ways than one. Aside from being the lead, we see everything from her perspective, meaning the other characters are mostly heard through voice over, and the same goes for the creature itself. What we learn about her character is hinted at, but not explained right away. Moretz is also quite the badass in the action scenes, providing a showcase of her versatility as an actress, which is not something you expect to see in what's essentially nothing more than a B-Movie creature feature. The rest of the cast mostly serves their purpose, with Taylor John Smith playing the nice guy, Nick Robinson (as "Beckell", the rookie gunner) playing the inexperienced one, Byron Coll (as "Finch", one of the more antagonistic ones) playing the dick, and Callan Mulvey playing the stern captain, but the film is almost completely focused on Moretz, who makes up for the film's lack of depth with the supporting cast. As for the creature itself, it's a creepy looking, though not exactly realistic looking creation, that still manages to make for a scary threat. 

"Shadow in the Cloud" is a cleverly directed (Liang makes great use of cinematography and seemingly intentionally lackluster visual effects), effectively suspenseful thriller, that's part monster movie, part war drama, and part female empowering epic. While it gets somewhat more hard to believe as it goes along (Considering what's revealed to be inside the package and what it goes through, how is it not damaged in anyway by the end of the film?), it's very entertaining to watch and has the makings of a future cult classic. Not a bad way to start off the new year. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Sexist Dudes, and Violent Winged Monkey Rats.