Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

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.