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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Top Gun: Maverick                                                                                      ★★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: He feels the need.....For safety!

So THIS literally came out of nowhere. I saw the original "Top Gun", directed by the late Tony Scott, and I liked it just fine, though it's a pretty dated, cheesy, and flawed old school blockbuster. Aside from some still very impressive visuals, I can't exactly say I see why to some it's kind of a phenomenon to some. Hell, the fact that it was a big hit at the time is a bit of a surprise. Yeah, "Danger Zone" is catchy as can be, but the movie doesn't strike me as something that demands a thirty plus year later sequel. And then I saw it. So, how did you guys take THAT and turn it into possibly one of the best movies of the year? Like in terms of just modern blockbusters, along with genuinely top notch filmmaking?

"Top Gun: Maverick" reunites us the highly skilled, though reckless test pilot, "Captain Pete Mitchell" (Tom Cruise), aka "Maverick", as his most recent insubordination gets him into hot water with his superior, "Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain" (An Ed Harris Cameo). Due to the involvement of his former rival, turned close friend and wingman, the now four star Admiral "Tom "Iceman" Kazansky" (Val Kilmer), Maverick gets transferred to back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, also known as "Top Gun". Maverick is tasked by the antagonistic "Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson" (John Hamm), to train a group of young pilots for a mission to destroy a uranium enrichment facility controlled by an unknown enemy (And by "Unknown", I mean that the film intentionally leaves it vague to who exactly the enemy is here). 

The group includes a bunch of cocky, top of the line fighter pilots, such as "Jake "Hangman" Seresin" (Glen Powell), "Natasha "Phoenix" Trace" (Monica Barbaro), "Robert "Bob" Floyd" (Lewis Pullman), "Reuben "Payback" Fitch" (Jay Ellis), "Mickey "Fanboy" Garcia" (Danny Ramirez), "Javy "Coyote" Machado" (Greg Tarzan Davis), and "Bradley "Goose" Bradshaw" (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick's deceased best friend and former wingman "Goose" (Played by Anthony Edwards in the original), who is immediately at odds with Maverick. While making time to get cozy with an old flame, "Penny" (Jennifer Connelly), Maverick has to make this unlikely team ready for a seemingly impossible mission, which may even be almost designed to be a one way trip, hoping to prepare them for the unexpected, beat the odds, and make it back home. 

Directed by Joseph Kosinski ("Tron: Legacy", "Oblivion", "Only the Brave"), with a screenplay by Ehren Kruger (A handful of "Transformers" movies and "Ghost in the Shell"), Eric Warren Singer ("Only the Brave", "American Hustle") and Christopher McQuarrie (Writer and director of the most recent "Mission: Impossible" movies), "Top Gun: Maverick" being just better than the original isn't exactly something that would be unheard of. It's just....Nobody expected it to be this much better. The film either eliminates, or just does a better job at executing, some of the first film's more frustrating flaws (The cheese especially being one of them), and instead crafts a visually masterful experience, making for the perfect argument why some movies just need/deserve to be witnessed on the best IMAX screen imaginable. The filmmakers first off raise the stakes, with an admittedly vague (I feel it's necessary though), but dangerous mission that would certainly call for this level of training. (The first film's main goal was basically just a dick measuring contest when you get down to it) The characters are more fleshed out, taking what first appear to be stock personalities, but making them feel more real, while also incorporating genuine humor and drama into the mix. Every action feels of vital importance. Kosinski, who has always had an eye for good visual work, proves how tremendous a director he's become. The cinematography is awe-inspiring and almost too good to be true. It's impossible to tell what's practical or just really good CGI, and it's most apparent when things get more intense during the flight scenes involving aerial combat. These sequences explode off of the screen, with a sense of scope that makes you feel as if you're right there in the cockpit with the pilots, which of course for me, is quite terrifying considering my fear of heights. 

The dialogue among characters has improved, sprucing up some of the usual tough guy speak, with sprinkles of awareness. The film seems to acknowledge some of the film's flaws in a way, though remembers what worked with it as well. Tom Cruise is phenomenal, reminding everyone why he's a movie star, who just finds a way to command the screen with a simple smile (That freakin charisma is infectious.) However, despite his character remaining as rebellious as ever, he's shown to have been humbled and has matured into the kind of more unorthodox hero that anyone can get behind and be inspired by. Miles Teller is perfectly cast, along with Jennifer Connelly having excellent chemistry with Cruise and adding a lot more depth to what could have been just an average, run of the mill love interest. Jon Hamm is a great foil to the characters, while others in the main cast, such as  Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, and a suitably jock-level jerkass Glen Powell keep things entertaining.. As for Val Kilmer, he has only one scene in the movie, and man it's one Hell of a scene. I dare not spoil it. It's just a moment of powerful filmmaking that might invoke tears and applause. 

"Top Gun: Maverick" is blockbuster cinema at its most magnificent. Sure, I love me some comic book movies or any major franchises as much as the next guy, but it's pretty refreshing to see something more human and real, reach those same levels of grandeur. It gives those pulsating thrills, audience pleasing humor, epic scale, and soft-spoken drama, that the best kinds of summer movies can give us, resulting in cheers from the crowd that feel rightfully earned. You can grab your popcorn and enjoy the model of a major theater outing, though still get something whip smart and sincere at the same time. Takes your breath away. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Hotshot Hotshots, And Some Sweaty Beach Football.

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers                                                                   ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: "f heard if we pay extra, they'll gladly crack our nuts!"

There are a handful of things that will always win me over, even when the film I'm watching has more than a few noticeable flaws. Varying animation styles for one. Excessive background and in-jokes that warrant repeat viewings. And then, some good old fashioned, cynical corporate satire. Base it around a beloved children's property that many near thirty year-olds grew up with (Such as myself), and you got yourself a winner in my eyes. 

Set in a live-action/animated hybrid world, similar to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" follows the titular chipmunks, "Chip" (Voiced by John Mulaney) and "Dale" (Voiced by Andy Samberg), who were once at the top of their stardom in the early 90s, with their hit show "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" (Even if you don't remember the show, you sure remember that theme song. Don't you dare lie about it!). However, Dale wants to branch out, planning to make his own solo career, which results in the series' cancellation and the estrangement between the once best friends. Years later, Dale, having gotten some CGI surgery, has nothing going for him, going to cons where nobody acknowledges his existence, while Chip has become a successful, though lonely insurance salesman. The duo end up being forced to reunite once their old friend and former co-star, "Monterey Jack" (Voiced by Eric Bana), whose serious cheese addiction has gotten him into trouble with some dangerous people. 

When Monterey Jack vanishes, and the local authorities, in the form of the Gumby-esque "Captain Putty" (Voiced by J. K. Simmons) and the human "Ellie Steckler" (KiKi Layne), can't seem to find the kidnappers, it's up to Chip and Dale to get back into the game and solve the case. Their investigation leads them into the clutches of crime boss, "Sweet Pete" (Voiced by Will Arnett), the former "Peter Pan", turned overweight, middle aged gangster, who has been taking once famous toons, giving them them surgical changes, and then forcing them to become part of those unsettling bootleg animated films that somehow stumble upon while going down the internet rabbit hole. Chip and Dale's friendship is put to the test as the two avoid Sweet Pete's minions as they attempt to save their friend, and maybe rekindle their once close relationship. 

Released through "Disney+" and directed by Akiva Schaffer ("Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" has the makings of something that could go so very wrong in the absolute worst of hands. It could have just been references for the sake of references, hoping to get some nostalgia points, and pop out lowest common denominator jokes that might either only appeal to the youngest and least demanding, or leave them just as annoyed as their parents will be. Luckily, this is not that kind of disaster. What the film does is cleverly embrace what it advertises, which is the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" aesthetic for sure, along with a certain sarcastic, slightly cynical streak. The filmmakers put a lot more thought into something that should have been a streaming based throwaway, packing the film with loads upon loads of Easter Eggs, though either doesn't stop the movie dead to focus on them or even actually has some of them play a role of some sort in the overall story. It's not the most complex of plotlines and even has a few predictable beats, but what's brilliant about the film is how uniquely it tells it, such as by basing around animation based satire, which is bound to delight any nerd with love for the craft. It's actually very well directed all things considered, even when the CGI shading on some of the 2D characters doesn't always look the best, but it could be tossed up to budget constraints.

 It's a streaming level budget, with a theatrical level screenplay, which is smart, original, and yes, thoroughly hilarious. There are far too many fantastic gags to count, from the mocking of more questionable animation styles (Such as overly photo-realistic characters and their lifeless eyes), to the bizarrely legal ripoff films that blatantly plagiarize without remorse, and some of the smaller details that only animation dorks can appreciate. The world created is also genius, such as how cartoon characters just exist in the real world, whether as every day people, celebrities, or some inhabiting a seemingly bright and colorfully happy side of town, where literally everyone is apparently doing something shady, such as illegal muppet fighting or underground cheese houses filled with mouse addicts (The cheese being a substitute for Crack in case you haven't figured it out).  

It's a great voice cast that the film has gathered together, with John Mulaney and Andy Samberg making for a perfect duo, who don't just inject new life and character to the beloved animated chipmunks, but give them a little extra depth than I think they've ever gotten before. Will Arnett is a dastardly, humorously vile villain, while we get some scene-stealing parts from J. K. Simmons, Seth Rogen (as Sweet Pete's henchman, "Bob", a motion capture Viking, who just, you know, sounds like Seth Rogen), an unrecognizable Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key (as "Bjornson", a muppet cheesemonger, who works for Sweet Pete), and a few other surprises in the form of cameo after cameo in which some play bigger roles than you would expect. The biggest surprise comes from Tim Robinson, voicing a hideous version of a certain blue blur and his disgusting human teeth, which repeatedly made me burst out laughing. I'm not sure how Disney pulled off a lot of these bit parts and in-jokes, but that one? Someone snuck that in there somehow, and whoever did deserves an honorary award for surreal comedy. The weakest stuff would be with KiKi Layne, who is cute and likable, though just serves the role as the bland human character.

"Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" features many sight jokes that warrant repeat viewings (Was that "Dobby the House Elf" selling "Gucci"?), along with a certain amount of fun that may give the kids some bright and brisk entertainment, though will more likely have the adults (Say late 20s, early 30s. My people!) rolling on the floor with laughter. It should have been little more than a gimmick (Or at least say, another "Space Jam". Both of them!), but instead offers something much smarter than it really has any right to be. It certainly made a certain unpaid film critic, working fifty hours a week at an understaffed CVS a much needed smile to his face. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Some Crude Jokes, Cheese Addiction, Disney-Fied Dismembering, And Those Human Teeth.....Those Hideous, Unnatural Human Teeth. 

Men                                                                                                                     ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'm positive you won't find me even the slightest bit creepy." 

This is a twisted little film that takes an important subject that should bother all of us. It's one that has repeatedly been ignored or watered down by the more ignorant, who refuse to see the truth. It's a theme that affects everyone and I'm glad that this is the film to at long last acknowledge it. That theme being that Rory Kinnear is really, really creepy. I'm sure he's a lovely person in real life, yet I've never trusted him. Finally, a movie just embraces it and gives us pure, unfiltered, and unapologetic Rory Kinnear based nightmare fuel. You will be seeing that face tonight while you sleep. 100% chance of that. 

"Men" follows the recently widowed "Harper Marlowe" (Jessie Buckley), who decides to take a holiday to a quiet, more secluded English countryside house after the death (Possible suicide?) of her husband, "James" (Paapa Essiedu). All the circumstances and the lead up to James' demise have prompted Harper to seek out some kind of tranquility and peace, being greeted by the slightly off, though seemingly still friendly caretaker "Geoffrey" (Rory Kinnear), who rents out the house to her. Everything seems normal at first, until Harper takes a stroll into the forest, where she encounters a screeching, nude man (Also Rory Kinnear), who stalks her all the way back to the house, only to have him apprehended by the police (One of which too is played by Rory Kinnear). Harper continues to struggle with her husband's death, and the other dudes in the town (Again, all played by Rory Kinnear), don't seem to be helping. Things further escalate as Harper finds herself in a nightmare that yeah, I can only assume will turn up any woman's anxiety up to the highest level. 

Written and directed by Alex Garland ("Ex Machina", "Annihilation"), "Men" is the definition of a divisive film, and it seems that even Alex Garland himself apparently knew it. Aside from the lack of subtlety in terms of its themes and certain allegories (I see a lot of easily poked and proddled dudes going ballistic over this one), It's also one of those films that doesn't tell you everything, whether it be immediately or even at all. There are very few explanations, though the execution, while at times muddled, is nonetheless suspenseful, captivating, and at times, just plain freaky. The movie is loaded with outlandishly unsettling imagery, that only escalates as it goes along, getting more and more wild and disturbing until we reach a truly baffling climax. It's a credit to Garland in how he at first makes the film seem rather normal, with a hint of something being just slightly off in the sense that if you were in that situation you would just blow things off as just, well, odd. The oddities though all lead somewhere, and yeah, it doesn't always quite make sense, but holy Hell, the images you will be subjected to will stick in your head regardless. Narrative-wise though, I can see some getting lost in how the film presents itself, and even I'm not fully sure I get it all. The film's structure is intended to frustrate and it can probably do more than that to certain audiences. 

Whether or not the film connects with you in a positive manner, the performances are not to be overlooked. The recently Academy Award nominated Jessie Buckley (Always thought she was great!) is sublime here, having to convey trauma and terror in equal measure to a character attempting to overcome both psychological dread, as well as the living Hell unfolding right in front of her. Meanwhile, Rory Kinnear, all jokes aside, is actually quite brilliant, playing a variety of roles who are all uniquely creepy, detestable, terrifying, and all together immensely entertaining, in perfect measure. The film's budget both adds and takes away though in some respects, with the visual effects work (And yes, there is a bit more than expected. It's too spoiler-ish to get into right now), being a little less than convincing. Sometimes that adds to the creep factor (There's a little bit of de-aging work that lacks polish, though somehow it does make it work in a way), but most of the time it's just distracting. Honestly, the film's more practical effects (And that is including the silly wigs given to Rory Kinnear), which at least look so bizarre that it enhances the craziness. 

"Men" doesn't always work in the way it should, yet when it does, it's hauntingly effective. It's a weird mix of psychological horror, old school jump and scream frights, and an on the nose gender-based bit of commentary, that's difficult to argue with despite being incredibly obvious. It's a wild experience to say the least, and though it kind of loses sight of its goal once we reach the end (It's one of those movies where you leave telling yourself that you totally understood that simply to sound smart), the road taken is too unforgettably bonkers that you just gotta see it for yourself. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Rory Kinnear Penis (And Other Body Parts.....You'll See What I Mean), And Men Just Being Men. (I Mean, Yeah, Some Of Us Are Pretty F*cked Up Guys. Don't Get All Defensive). 

Firestarter                                                                                                               ★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: I'd advise not putting her in timeout.

We have a brand new adaptation of a popular Stephen King novel (Not to mention it's already a remake of what's sort of considered a 1984 cult film), and literally nobody anywhere seems to care. There were more people at "Family Camp" than this movie. (Well, one other person, but that makes it even sadder) Getting to see any more on opening night in a completely empty theater is always tragic, especially when in the end, it's not bad enough to deserve it, yet still too forgettable to say it doesn't. 

"Firestarter" opens with government experimentation, where college students are brought in for all kinds of terrifying tests that intend to give the subjects superpowers. Years later, telekinetic father, "Andy McGee" (Zac Efron) and his wife, "Vicky" (Sydney Lemmon) raise their daughter, "Charlie" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has developed pyrokinetic abilities that she is unfortunately unable to control. The family has had to constantly move and change their names in attempts to hide from the government agency intent on finding them and exploiting their power. "Hollister" (Gloria Reuben), having taken over the operation, is determined to bring Charlie in, sending relentless bounty hunter "John Rainbird" (Michael Greyeyes), to track the family down. Rainbird attacks, leaving Andy and Charlie on their own, with their chances of escape starting to slip away. Left no other choice, Andy decides to help Charlie harness her gift, hoping to prevent the young girl from going nuclear and harming both herself, along with the rest of the world. 

Directed by Keith Thomas ("The Vigil"), with a screenplay by Scott Teems ("Halloween Kills"), "Firestarter" rather frustratingly takes an already been there done that premise, and instead of attempting to reinvent it, refresh it, or even just do the bare minimum with what's already come before it, just exists on screen for barely an hour and a half. There are moments where something of value might have been able to find its way out, though sadly whether it be a limited budget or uninspired direction, the film is actually quite boring despite such a rushed pace. You don't get enough time to connect with anything the way you should. When it's supposed to be scary, it falls flat, though the film's surprisngly detailed level of violence does deliver some decent shock value (Let's just say people burn good in this movie). The drama and heart that's supposed to be where the film's center lies is squandered, along with a pretty tense musical score from John and Cody Carpenter, along with Daniel Davies. 

None of the acting is bad here, it's just underwritten where it matters, leaving the performances to do pretty much all of the heavy lifting. While some of her dialogue is lacking ("Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire" should never have left the writers room), Ryan Kiera Armstrong is a talented young actress, whose big break here hopefully doesn't drag her down. I actually need to give credit to Zac Efron, who is also solid, for willingly stepping to the side to give Armstrong her time to shine. Others like Sydney Lemmon (I know nothing of the source material and I knew exactly where her story would go), Kurtwood Smith (as "Dr. Wanless", the remorseful scientist behind the experiments, who only appears for a one and done scene), and a very committed John Beasley (as "Irv", who gives Andy and Charlie a ride and a temporary place to stay), are all giving good performances, despite how little they have to work with. Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben are however pretty generic in the villain department. The film oddly lacks extras and background characters, with empty backgrounds and bland looking sets. 

Unimpressive from the get go, "Firestarter" actually gets a little worse the more I think about it. It's one of those more upsetting wastes of potential, that serves as a theater filler until the next big blockbuster comes out. A few good performances and even a little jaw dropping gore don't make up for the film's shortage of inspiration. It's a whole lot of nothing that just plays on screen for an empty auditorium. Short and painless, yet boring and completely unremarkable.It crashes and burns pretty hard. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Burnt Bodies, Crispy Kitties, And Pre-Teen Pyromania.   

Family Camp                                                                                                               ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Uh...I'll spend my summer wherever they're not, thank you."

To any devout Christians who either regularly read my stuff, or just so happen to have stumbled upon this by accident, I have a very serious question to ask you. Do you actually like this crap? If I were Christian, I would be pretty offended here. I would ask for more than just pandering, simplified, uninspired, insultingly lame loaves of stale white bread, posing as apparent cinema. 

"Family Camp" follows the usual sitcom family tropes with a little extra Christian flair. We got workaholic dad, "Tommy" (Tommy Woodard), along with his frustrated wife, "Grace" (Leigh-Allyn Baker), their cellphone obsessed daughter "Hannah" (Cece Kelly) and weird son "Henry" (Jacob M Wade). Grace notices how dysfunctional their family is at the moment, so she convinces them to take a trip to their church run family camp, to become closer with each other, God, and all those privileged white people problems. Immediately, Tommy finds himself a new rival, the overly enthusiastic (And almost demonically Christian) "Eddie" (Eddie James), who along with his wife "Victoria" (Gigi Orsillo) and their creepy twins, always win the camp's series of competitive games. Several pratfalls later, Tommy and Eddie find themselves lost in the woods and have to rely on their wits (And you know, God's divine plan I guess) to find their way to safety. Personally I think God has other things to worry about than a couple of idiots without any sense of basic survival skills. 

From "The Skit Guys" (The Christian based comedy duo of Tommy Woodard and Eddie James, which means it's as boringly bland as humanly possible), "Family Camp" is directed and co-written by Brian Cates (In his first ever theatrical film, which found its way into a pretty decent amount of screens somehow), and is only being review by me because, well, I kind of live for this kind of garbage. On the downside, there's nothing all that offensive about it (Aside from the stupidity on display). On the upside, the only real comedy comes from just how horrifically made it all really is. It's the kind of cheap, quickly cobbled together, waste of a perfectly good giant silver screen, that never gets an intentional laugh, features unlikable characters, and a special breed of ineptitude that you almost need to see for yourself. It's not the worst made thing in the world, but it's par for the course. It would be nothing to write home about, and also something that I probably wouldn't have even seen (But still would have totally mocked) if not for the impressive amount of showtimes it appears to have acquired. Even with "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" pretty much taking up most of the auditoriums in every theater, this seems to have found itself a decent amount all things considered. Now I'm betting most of those screenings are completely empty, but that's still quite shocking. Especially for something that would look horrible even by television standards. It's a very blasé looking film, giving off that whole studio backlot sort of look, with the most basic forms of film editing and an oddly grainy palette. It's so unimpressive to look at, and the film offers zero laughs to make up for it. The jokes are as stale as they come, with lazy gags and a nonexistent story that only exists when the film's runtime requires it. It also takes an oddly dramatic turn towards the last act that feels rather privileged. (Nobody here was suffering in any way. Except for me, maybe) 

Tommy Woodard comes across as a dollar store Ed Helms, while Eddie James is not only obnoxiously annoying, his character ends up being more of a terrible person than the film acknowledges (This is most apparent with a confusing later reveal that's kind of unforgivable if you ask me). Leigh-Allyn Baker, Gigi Orsillo, and Robert Amaya (as the camp counselor, who I swear to God is gay. This is my headcanon and nobody can tell me otherwise) are all stock stereotypes, along with just about everyone else. The closest thing to resembling an earnest performance would be Mark Christopher Lawrence (as "Dave", the kindly pastor), who at least drops some religious knowledge of making time for faith and family, while balancing out work life in a way that you can't exactly argue with. It's a little hypocritical considering the film wants to have it both ways in that regard with something that only wasted everybody's time and even then, I don't recall anything about Tommy's big business deal actually going anywhere. (Did he make partner? I don't remember) 

"Family Camp" is boring, lousy, pretty annoying, and clocks in at almost two hours, with so much that could have been cut down. You're not an epic! You're "Family Camp" for Christ's sake! It also features possibly the worst CGI effect I've ever seen on a big screen in my life, centered around some weird Beaver that just keeps popping up for no reason. It's so hauntingly ugly and visually vomit-inducing that I feel the need to take back any sort of complaint I've ever had about lackluster CGI. I know you guys don't have any money, but that thing was damn near blasphemous if you ask me. Pandering and pointless. You Christians deserve better, and should ask for more. 1 Star. Rated PG For Crazy Christian Chaos, Moronic Mustached Men, Several Attempts At Homicide, And As Usual, God Awful Religious Rock Music. (Again, Do You Guys Actually Like This? How?)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness                                           ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: You know, Stephen. Bronco Henry wouldn't have let this happen. Just saying.

I really think we need to give the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" credit for what they've been able to do over the last decade. From humble beginnings with 2008's "Iron Man", with their films getting only bigger (And even better in some cases), retaining an ever-expanding cinematic universe that the average moviegoer can get invested into just as much as my fellow comic book nerds. So I mean, who could blame them for having so much confidence in themselves to just say "Screw it! Let's get WEIRD!" and expect everyone to just go with it?  

Following the events of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and Disney+'s "Wandavision" (Oh! And "Loki", and maybe "What If...?" too. Oh! And a whole lotta of other stuff also...), "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" once again follows former neurosurgeon turned Master of the Mystic Arts, "Doctor Stephen Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch), as he attends the wedding of his former flame, "Christine Palmer" (Rachel McAdams), claiming to be happy with how his life has since turned out despite that obviously not being the case. Strange then rescues a teenage girl, "America Chavez" (Xochitl Gomez), from a demonic squid, discovering that she has the power to jump between universes and someone is sending monsters after her. Along with the current Sorcerer Supreme (Due to some technicalities), "Wong" (Benedict Wong), Strange vows to keep America protected from whatever else the ever changing (And always quite frightening) multiverse has to offer. Knowing that witchcraft is involved, Strange turns to former Avenger turned recluse, "Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch" (Elizabeth Olsen) for help in containing the threat. When greater, more powerful threats reveal themselves, Strange and America find themselves on the run across the multiverse and face even more insanity along the way, such as winding up in a universe where a mysterious group, known as the "Illuminati", sees Strange himself as the multiverse's most dangerous enemy. I'm actually leaving a lot out of this because it goes into a lot of spoilerish territory and if there's one thing this movie does best, it's shock value. Something I didn't expect to say about a movie advertised on Disney Channel.   

A sequel to 2016's "Doctor Strange", though really serves more of a continuation from the character's continuous appearances over the course of other movies, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is directed by Sam Raimi, and he wastes no time letting you know so. With a screenplay by Michael Waldron ("Loki", "Rick and Morty"), the has all of Raimi's trademarks, showing that apparently Marvel is okay with letting directors just do their own thing. We get a macabre sense of humor, almost intentionally offputting special effects, that weird zoomy slanty thing that he does with the camera (You know the thing!), and his weird infatuation with his background extras. It's always been quite charming to me, and it gives the film a gleefully over the top personality that makes for a ton of popcorn fueled fun at the movies. The thing is though, I've kind of gotten used to Marvel being about a bit more than that lately. ("Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" are legitimately great movies on their own that just so happen to be big blockbusters) It also just might be a little too much Raimi for some. Be honest, a little Raimi goes a long way. We have "Spider-Man 3" to prove that. 

 It's a lot going at once, with weirdness piled on upon more weirdness, and to my surprise, a little more terror than I was expecting. It's a genuinely frightening adventure, with unpredictable twists and turns (One theory I was able to deduce a couple weeks ago, but it's still quite jarring to see in action), and more than a few moments that are going to leave the audience speechless. (Probably not best for the youngest ones) I really gotta respect Marvel for allowing it, and Sam Raimi seems to be having a blast, embracing the odder side of the Marvel universe. The biggest issues are with how quick the film is to just jump right in, leaving out some of the depth that we generally get from some of the more superior films in the MCU. It's all a little off in places and I feel that it lies with the direction. Pardon the pun, but the film is strange and not always in a way that feels entirely right. It's not confusing or lacking in cohesion. At least for me anyways. I actually found it  pretty easy to follow. It's just that the film crams in a lot in a rather short amount of time, and tops it all off with Raimi's own unique and appealing, though divisive and often perplexing style. Such as with the visuals, which are pretty mind blowing (Especially in IMAX), but even then, sometimes they don't always look great. The thing is though, it feels like it was meant to be that way. Sort of cheesy and bombastic, feeling like a "Hammer Horror" film more than a superhero movie. It's cool, and entertaining as Hell. Yet, it lacks the usual amount of charm that we want from these movies. Not to mention, it also makes for a bit of a messier story. 

Benedict Cumberbatch is great as usual, perfectly encompassing the flawed hero to the point that I can never imagine anyone else ever playing this role anywhere else. You know he might be a bit of a danger in some ways, but you also know that there's a good person in there worthy of becoming something better. He also gets a chance to devour some of the scenery as a more "Sinister Strange" variant, who engages with the one we know in a brilliantly done magical musical note duel (Where they literally bring the music notes to life and attempt to kill each other with them). Benedict Wong is reliably great, while Xochitl Gomez is also a solid up-and-comer, making up for some of her character's underutulized potential. Not to mention, she does have a good bit of friendly banter with Cumberbatch. Chiwetel Ejiofor (as a variant of "Karl Mordo", Strange's former mentor turned archnemesis) doesn't get much to do, though always has screen presence, and the same goes for Rachel McAdams, who will never not be charming. Elizabeth Olsen meanwhile is just outstanding as she's ever been (You know, maybe she should have won that Emmy for "Wandavision") and gets the role of the lifetime here, making for an even more complex character than what we already know her to be. (Plus, no matter what anyone says, she's officially the strongest Avenger. Sorry dudebros!) I also find it funny that Michael Stuhlbarg (as "Nicodemus West", Strange's old work rival) gets a major credit in the cast, despite only appearing for a minute or two (I mean, he's always great, but it just caught me off guard) There is a collection of cameos (Honestly, their roles are a little bigger than that) that will get a desired reaction out of the audience, and it leads to one of the film's most memorable sequences. I also can't get too into who or what the villain really is, but it makes for possibly one of Marvel's best in terms of menace and nuance. The film further continues something that I've really loved about this current phase of the MCU since "Avengers: Endgame" in how the world has just accepted the current way of things. It makes it all feel more real and lively. On a side note, the score by Danny Elfman (A frequent collaborator with Sam Raimi, along with a few Marvel properties) is perfectly composed.  

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is exactly as advertised. Madness. It goes hog wild towards the end, and has a lot of great things going for it (I will stan Zombie Strange!). The writing just isn't up to par with what we've seen before and while much of the film's stylistic choices make for plenty of cinematic entertainment value, it somewhat dilutes the impact of something I feel is supposed to mean more. It's a Sam Raimi movie for sure and the one he wanted to make for sure. I can appreciate Marvel Studios allowing for a director to just take the keys and go wherever they pleased, while he grins a devious grin the entire time. (And maybe hits a pedestrian or two along the way) It also does make for one of the weaker entries to come out of the MCU in a while (Next to last year's "Eternals", which had a similar flaw actually). It's still a damn good time at the movies, and sure as Hell is a lot more brave than naysayers might want to admit. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, and Head-Exploding, Slicing And Dicing, Neck Snapping, Character Killing Cruelty.   

Memory                                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I've been trying to forget 'Taken 3' for a while now."

So? Um, is "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" out yet?

"Memory" follows an aging hitman, "Alex Lewis" (Liam Neeson), who knows that his time is almost up, suffering from Early-onset Alzheimer's, and really wants to retire as soon as possible. Alex gets tasked with another job to take out a couple of targets from a dangerous, fairly hidden organization with high connections, and seemingly is prepared to get the job done as usual. However, his next target ends up being a young teenage girl, but can't bring himself to complete the contract, demanding that it be called off. Suddenly though, Alex finds time missing and he's now being pursued by the organization, hoping to silence him before he exposes their entire operation. Meanwhile, a cynical FBI agent, "Vincent Serra" (Guy Pearce), along with his partners, "Linda Amistead" (Taj Atwal) and "Hugo Marquez" (Harold Torres), had just gotten the now dead girl (Who was a victim of Mexican cartel sex trafficking) into protective custody and seek justice, though have to contend with a bureaucratic and corrupt system that also seems to just want this case to go away. With everything connecting to respected philanthropist, "Davana Sealman" (Monica Bellucci), Alex struggles to retain his further deteriorating memory loss as well as his own health, taking the law into his own hands, though soon learns that Vincent might be the only one who can help him finish his mission, preventing the real villains from getting away scot-free once again. 

Directed by Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") with a screenplay by Dario Scardapane ("The Punisher"), "Memory" is both based on the Belgian novel, "De zaak Alzheimer"  by Jef Geeraerts, along with being remake of the film version "The Memory of a Killer". It boasts a fascinating idea, some heavy and relevant themes, and interesting moral questions with no real easy answer. It's a competently made film that's just missing something that would warrant a trip to the movie theater. It's not really an action thriller. It's more procedural, and even then, it's a very convoluted, slow one at that. It very much gives off the feel of an old people movie, where the filmmakers don't want to make things too exciting to overstimulate its audience. Even with dark material and some strong violence, the film is fairly safe in terms of execution. Martin Campbell is a good director and he does a solid enough job with the film, but it's not particularly glamorous to watch, feeling smooth and shiny, without much extra finesse to add to much excitement or suspense. It's incredibly lacking in that department, and it's sad because the film doesn't always fall flat. There are some okay twists, moments of intensity, and good questions for the audience to ponder, especially revolving around how justice can sometimes fail. Sometimes terrible things will happen, the people involved will get away with it, and there's no reason for it. It can just suck and possibly, some rule bending could be necessary under the right circumstances. 

Liam Neeson is also very good here, knowing his age and limitations, and conveying some genuine tragedy with his complex character. His actions are never condoned, though we do see a real human being in there, especially as his illness and humanity starts to catch up with him. Guy Pearce's accent is inconsistent, though he does fine, along with Taj Atwal and Ray Stevenson (as "Danny", the harsh detective, determined to bring Alex in). Subplots involving others, such as Harold Torres (In a last second reveal that you see coming a mile away), only overcomplicate things. Monica Bellucci is as gorgeous as ever, playing a villainess that doesn't always act like one directly, though understated, which is the best way to play a character such as this. There is actually a lot going on at once, with a bunch of other characters appearing in parts both larger or smaller, leading to underwritten results. 

I'm not going to say that "Memory" is exactly forgettable (Because that would be insanely obvious), but it is irrelevant. It's not bad, with some good performances and a cool premise. It also stumbles when trying to juggle a bunch of stories and characters at once, failing to grab its audience with anything that demands a big screen viewing. It feels like a rainy day movie, where you don't exactly lose anything by watching it, yet you don't have a reason to do so unless there's literally nothing else to do. You know, except wait for "Doctor Strange" next week. It's gonna be crazy, isn't it? 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Harsh Violence, Harsh Themes And Situations, And Geriatric Justice.        

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent                                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I knew it! My talent is massive!"

It's high time we finally answered a question that's plagued mankind for, um, about say thirty or forty years. What exactly IS Nicholas Cage? 

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" follows the story of Nicholas Cage as "Nicholas Cage", as he struggles to keep his fading career afloat. While his Nic Cageyness seems to get in the way of him finding new roles, it also has begun to interfere with his family life, straining his relationship with his ex wife, "Olivia" (Sharon Horgan) and daughter, "Addy" (Lily Sheen). Completely broke and with nowhere else to turn, Cage decides to call it quits, agreeing to take a job suggested to him by his manager, "Fink" (Neil Patrick Harris), which will involve him being the guest of honor at a billionaire's birthday party for $1 million. The billionaire, "Javi Gutierrez" (Pedro Pascal), it turns out is a massive Nicholas Cage fanboy, obsessing over his work, and demanding that Cage not keep his miraculous talent from the world. It turns out that Cage actually quite likes Javi, with the two becoming fast friends. However, Cage ends up abducted by a pair of CIA agents, "Vivian" (Tiffany Haddish) and "Martin" (Ike Barinholtz), who reveal that Javi is apparently one of the most dangerous men in the world, being a violent arms dealer that's kidnapped a politician's daughter and they want Nic Cage to find her. Cage is forced to further bond with Javi to track down the girl, though is now torn between his duty and his new friendship. 

Directed and co-written (With Kevin Etten) by Tom Gormican ("That Awkward Moment"), "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is a total farce, completely devoid of realism, based in the most surreal, screwball cinematic of worlds. However, beneath all of that, is something a little deeper and a bit smarter than advertised. This truly is the kind of movie where the filmmakers are really embracing the stupid. And not just stupid, the most gonzo form of stupid. Basically the kind of stupid that I love. The weirdness is almost weaponized, especially as the film only gets more and more crazy. It's absurdly brilliant in a way, though also just brilliantly absurd. At its heart, there is both a rather heartwarming buddy story, along with an unconventional (And at times, kind of sad) character study. 

Nicholas Cage is terrific, playing a version of himself that's either completely exaggerated or even more likely, only somewhat exaggerated. It's certainly hilarious to watch, especially when he goes full Cage in over the top insanity that we've come to know him for. There is a little levity in places and the film does address how this method of acting (Or even if it might just be the way he is) can alienate those around you, further leading to poor decisions and a lack of appreciation for the craft that you once loved. This isn't just his movie though. An even bigger scene-stealer comes in the form of an ingenious turn from Pedro Pascal. This is a man that has already played a variety of roles, from comedic, action based, or dramatic, and yet, still finds a way to always surprise me. The chemistry between the two of them is where the film mostly focuses, and it's not just hysterical, it's also kind of sweet in its own buffoonish sort of way. It's mostly their movie, so others like Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, and others are mostly secondary. They're all good in the movie, but just not given as much to do by comparison. Paco León (as "Lucas", Javi's obviously demented cousin) is a creepy villain, though as usual, the bad guys for comedies such as this are more of a means to an end. There's also some impressive (And fairly jarring) effects work on a certain character that I won't spoil because the complete shock of what's on screen should come as a complete surprise. (The less you know, the better)

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is often deeper than it first appears, riotously funny more often than not, and pretty much always incredibly weird. It gives off the feel of a more classic screwball comedy, and just makes for an immense, rather immeasurable amount of fun. Even when it narratively lacks cohesion, the film is so meta about it that you get the idea that it's all intentional and regardless, you're too seduced by the insanity to really care. Nic Cage's infectious levels of wacko are kind of impossible to not to enjoy. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Hardcore Bromances, And Manly Appreciation Of The Masterpiece Of Cinema We Know As "Paddington 2". 

The Northman                                                                                               ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The January 6th Insurrection has begun!

You know something, Vikings were terrible people. Sort of with pirates, we kind of sugarcoated that one. Killing, conquering, raping, pillaging, failure to wear proper clothing and shave when necessary. I appreciate how this movie just jumps right in, presents things as they are, and basically has no intention of really redeeming anyone because, well, vikings were terrible people. That's just how it was, and you're gonna deal with it for about 137 minutes.

Based on the Scandinavian legend of "Amleth" (Which is itself what inspired "Hamlet"), "The Northman" follows "Amleth" (Played by Oscar Novak as a child, then by Alexander Skarsgård), son of "King Aurvandill War-Raven" (Ethan Hawke) and "Queen Gudrún" (Nicole Kidman). Fearing his death and that Amleth will not be ready to lead, Aurvandill begins to teach young Amleth in his ways of the warrior, though all of that is cut short by the sudden betrayal by Aurvandill's ironically named brother, "Fjölnir the Brotherless" (Claes Bang). After witnessing the death of his father, the capture of his mother, and the slaughtering of his people, Amleth flees his traitorous uncle, swearing revenge. Years later, Amleth has become a viking, engaging in many of their violent acts of shirtless terrorism before learning what has befallen his uncle. Since Amleth's escape, Fjölnir has lost his kingdom, having to flee with Gudrún, his family, along with a collection of followers and slaves to become a farmer in Iceland. After receiving a vision from an eyeless "Seeress" (Björk), claiming that Amleth will finally have his revenge after a fated duel to the death, Amleth brands himself and poses as a slave to be taken to his uncle. There he befriends and falls in love with another slave, "Olga" (Anya Taylor-Joy), and plots out a scheme to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill Fjölnir. This will involve a mystical sword, along with his own will to resist any temptations of detouring from the fate he's decided for himself. 

Directed (And Co-Written with Icelandic poet/novelist Sjón) by Robert Eggers ("The Witch", "The Lighthouse". He really likes to have "The" at the beginning of his titles), "The Northman" is easily his most accessible film to the average moviegoer, though that's not by any means an insult. His uniquely surreal and occasionally offbeat style of direction is still on full display, except this time with a bigger budget and a more straightforward story. It's a classic tale of revenge, that does offer a few clever twists and turns, and most remarkable of all, never feels the need to water anything down. It's ungodly brutal, in terms of violence and intensity, with everything and everyone being realistically filthy, cruel, and more complex than you might expect. The cinematography by the Academy Award nominated Jarin Blaschke ("The Lighthouse") is drawn out in places, and jaw dropping in how these sequences flow into each other, with unrelenting violence and an exquisite attention to detail. You're allowed to see every single minor factor of a battle sequence, from whatever is going on in the background or what else could possibly contribute to what's about to happen in the foreground. It's not a particularly glamorous epic for sure, with nobody dying easily, and yet, the visuals are hauntingly stunning to look at. It's a little more old fashioned in that sense, coming across as a retelling of the "Hero's Journey", complete with little sidequests (Such as having what I can only describe as a boss battle with a skeletal warrior where the reward is a mystical sword), and the lead-up to a climactic (And very nude) showdown inside a volcano. Except this time, the hero isn't always heroic, the villains aren't always villainous, and the whole world seems to live by a more accepting feeling of both the warrior-like savagery and what may or may not be truly something supernatural.

Alexander Skarsgård, who is looking rather painfully ripped in this movie, is thoroughly mesmerizing to watch, with little dialogue in places, having to rely on his body language and expressions to convey his character's trauma, turmoil, and brutality. He's human, but barely. Anya Taylor-Joy is her usual spellbinding self, while Nicole Kidman is relishing what ends up being a much more important role than at first hinted at (It's not exactly a shock where this goes, but she hits it out of the part regardless). Claes Bang is also a frightening, though also impuissant presence, being more than just the antagonist waiting to be defeated. Others such as Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe (as "Heimir the Fool", Aurvandill's court jester), and an otherworldly Björk, all appear briefly, though leave important impressions that carry on throughout the rest of the film. 

There are a couple surprises that aren't exactly all that unique and the lack of rootable characters could turn off some audiences searching for something a bit more amiable, though that I think is makes "The Northman" much stronger. There's no sanitation here. In more ways than one. It's like a rabid wild animal, tearing into everything in sight, but with a sense of tragedy behind its barbarity. Regardless of how you feel watching it, you can't look away and you're entranced in Robert Eggers' visual masterwork on display. Unrelenting. Unforgiving. Unforgettable. It's a true legend of old in cinematic form. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence And Loads Of Masculine Nudity. For The Ladies. I Think.

The Bad Guys                                                                                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Those Veterinarians won't be neutering anything, anymore."

You know what? It's about dang time! Kids today deserve their anti-heroes just as much as we do. Enough with those white bread, goody two-shoes main characters. What is wrong with giving the kiddos some lovable lawbreakers to look up to? Come on, we do it all the time as it is, and at least these bad guys don't kill anyone. Ok, maybe one likes to eat guinea pigs, but some of them have it coming. 

Loosely inspired by the Children's books by Aaron Blabey, "The Bad Guys" follows a group of animal criminals known as you guessed it, "The Bad Guys". Led by the charismatic "Mr. Wolf" (Sam Rockwell), this group of baddies, which also consists of Wolf's best friend and cranky safecracker "Mr. Snake" (Marc Maron), their hacker "Ms. Tarantula" (Awkwafina), their so-called master of disguise (Which everyone somehow still falls for) "Mr. Shark" (Craig Robinson), and their rather manic muscle "Mr. Piranha" (Anthony Ramos), have been listed as the villains of every story by society, so they've just decided to embrace it. Having always been able to stay one step ahead of the chief of police "Misty Luggins" (Alex Borstein), the Bad Guys make a go for the unobtainable Golden Dolphin award, which is about to be presented by respected, but kind of pompous guinea pig philanthropist, "Professor Marmalade IV" (Richard Ayoade) by the fox governor, "Diane Foxington" (Zazie Beetz). The attempted heist goes south, but before the Bad Guys can be put away once and for all, Mr. Fox suggests that if they were given a chance to go good, that they might be able to become upstanding, beloved members of society. Professor Marmalade takes the Bad Guys up on this offer, coming up with a social experiment of sorts that will see if they can go from bad to good, though this is actually at first just a ploy so that our "heroes" can avoid prison and eventually steal the Golden Dolphin from right under everyone's noses. However, as time goes on, Mr. Fox starts to realize that he might actually like being a good guy (Especially since it makes his tail wag), and though that might put a rift between him and the rest of the crew, who are more family than just friends. 

From DreamWorks Animation, "The Bad Guys" is directed by animator Pierre Perifel, with a screenplay by Etan Cohen ("Tropic Thunder", "Men in Black 3", "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"), and serves as a rather unique entry into the studio's pretty massive and already rather diverse animation catalog. The animation is less realistic, and much like Pixar's "Turning Red", the fimmakers seem to have taken some notes from "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse". It's stylishly combining a 2D frame rate, mixing it with 3D models, and outrageously expressive characters. The film affectionately embraces this look and thrives off of it. Aside from just plain being incredibly appealing to look at, it allows for a sporadic sense of personality that tells you everything you need to know about a character or the world established itself, without anyone needing to say anything. It's not to say that the film doesn't have a smart script on its hands, which appeals to all ages, and in some cases, offers more for the adults to enjoy. It's a clever, intentionally over the top and cartoonish parody of heist comedies such as "Ocean's 11", though also has the often charmingly drawn out dialogue that you might find more in a Tarantino film (The film literally opens with two characters seemingly talking about essentially nothing that would have any effect on the plot before performing a robbery). It's often laugh out loud, and it offers a lot for everyone in the family circle. The plot follows some of the essential points of your usual caper film, which makes for one or two reveals that you can see coming rather easily, though some of that is part of the fun. There's some double crosses, last minute switcheroos, and the film actually does a better job at handling them than a decent amount of films that it just so happens to be paying homage to. 

The film features a memorable cast of characters, each voiced to utter perfection. The star is Sam Rockwell, channeling his inner "Clooney" (Something that's even referenced at one point), and remains charismatic and cool while also being more vulnerable and funny at the same time. Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, and a wildly loony Anthony Ramos are all excellent matches for their characters, while Marc Maron is an especial standout and sounds very much at home, dripping with so much snakelike sarcasm. Zasie Beetz and a hilarious Alex Borstein are both a delight, while Richard Ayoade, who sounds like he's having a blast, is a scene-stealer. It's one of those films where you like everyone so much and you're having too much fun to bother with certain questions, such as why some characters are anthropomorphic animals and others aren't (In fact, most of the background characters are actually human), and the whole last act involving a mind control meteorite (Though that does not in fact come out of nowhere. It's actually hinted at throughout the entire movie).          

Aside from one or two lowbrow gags and some easy to predict plot points, "The Bad Guys" is one of those films that, even where the flaws become noticeable, you can't necessarily fault the film for having them since they play a part in the tropes that the film is satirizing. It just works in the most creative of ways, full of big laughs to go along with the sweet message. The film has a big heart, yet retains its snarky sense of humor. It's the kind of animated film that will delight children, but is also fun enough that any adult that just so happens to be going in alone won't feel out of place. Just as a good family film should. Brisk, hilarious, gorgeous to look at, and devilishly charming. The Bad Guys are pretty darn great. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Rude Humor, Cartoonish Thievery, And The Henchman Ironically Referred To As Cuddles. Terrifying. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore                                           ★★★ out of ★★★★        

Image: "Make me NOT Johnny Depp!"

It feels like so much time has passed and soooo much has happened since the last "Fantastic Beasts" film. While the original "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was a solid success, the second entry, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" was a disappointment for both critics and fans, and just didn't have the staying power that was expected. Since that film, we've had a resurgence of all that Johnny Depp/Amber Heard discourse, endless delays, attempts to keep this franchise at five films somehow despite nobody wanting it to be, Ezra Miller went on to terrify all of Hawaii, and then J. K. Rowling just decided to wake up one day and announce herself as a transphobe on Twitter for literally no reason. It's been about four years, and overall interest in the series has been turned upside down. Unfairly? Maybe in some cases. Who knew just watching the adventures of wizards and witches, along with their "Pokémon" animals, would end up being so complicated? 

Continuing our journey into the prequel for the "Wizarding World" of the beloved "Harry Potter" franchise, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" returns us to eccentric magic zoologist turned reluctant hero, "Newt Scamander" (Eddie Redmayne), as he witnesses the birth of twin adorable creatures known as "Qilins" (Think Bambi, except with scales and the ability to determine the pureness of one's soul, along with predict the future). Sadly one of the creatures is captured by the fanatical followers of dangerous dark wizard, "Gellert Grindelwald" (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp and his silly hair), who plots to use the Qilin (Or a dead one if necessary) for his own ends. Grindelwald, much like how J. K. Rowling is with transgender people apparently, hates non-magical people (aka "No-Majs" aka "Muggles"), and wants to raise an army to attack their world so that pure-blood wizard-kind can rule over all. To do so though, he'll need to basically become the president of the magical world first. Since Grindelwald now has the ability to track everyone's movements (And is on the verge of being acquitted of all of his crimes due to popular demand), Newt and famed influential wizard/Grindelwald's former flame, "Albus Dumbledore" (Jude Law) have to try out a new plan of attack. To add more complications, Dumbledore can't directly act against his ex-lover due to an old enchanted blood pact, which will result in the both of their gruesome and painful demises if broken. 

Since it would be a little odd to just ask Dumbledore to take one for the team, Newt gathers an unlikely crew to enact an ingenious, though still nonsensical plan to keep Grindelwald busy. The team includes Newt, his lovable fantastic beasts, Newt's super serious brother "Theseus" (Callum Turner), quirky schoolteacher "Eulallie "Lally" Hicks" (Jessica Williams), famous wizard of an old family "Yusuf Kama" (William Nadylam), Newt's even more awkward assistant "Bunty Broadacre" (Victoria Yeates), and Newt's Muggle friend, "Jacob Kowalski" (Dan Folger), who is still pining for his own ex-love, "Queenie Goldstein" (Alison Sudol), despite her switching allegiance to Grindelwald. While embarking on their perilous adventure, the team must avoid Grindelwald's followers, including the artist formerly known as "Credence", "Aurelius Dumbledore" (Ezra Miller), who hasn't taken to discovering that he's a long lost relative of the Dumbledore family very well at all. With an upcoming election that will determine the fate of both magical and non magical people, Newt and his friends must find a way to prevent Grindelwald's rise to power, while also discovering some of Dumbledore's own baggage as they do. 

Directed by David Yates (Who has directed the previous films, along with the last few "Harry Potter" films), with a screenplay by J. K. Rowling and Steve Kloves (Screenwriter for almost all of the "Harry Potter" films, as well as "The Amazing Spider-Man"), "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" still can't quite capture the magic that many of us grew up with and narratively continues to struggle in places, but thankfully, seems to be more focused on its endgame this time around, and more or less remembering to give time to what worked before while also sidelining what doesn't. Sometimes that can be at the expense of certain storylines, though when the film gets it right, it's pretty spectacular for the most part. Most of the issues remain early on, with the overall plan being a bit hard to follow, even though it's explained to have been made intentionally so. You are left wondering for a bit how necessary some of the lingering story arcs from the previous films are, along with new ones that inject themselves into what's already fairly complicated as it is. Not too long though, the film starts to settle down, tells you what it's all about, and why it's happening, while doing so with humor, likable enough characters, and obviously, wondrous visuals. The effects work here is quite stunning to look at, with Yates' direction making for a few elaborately clever setpieces, such as a frightening escape from a wizard prison that's protected by man-eating crabs or a mind-bending duel between Dumbeldore and Credence. The epic score by the great James Newton Howard also just captivates you, further adding to the experience. While the last film seemed to lack much memorability (I actually forgot they killed off Zoë Kravitz, and rather unceremoniously so), this one has more than a few moments that stand out, ranging from the grand spectacle and some of the film's more quieter, character moments. 

Eddie Redmayne is a suitably and appealingly nerdy hero, whose awkwardness makes for a relatable everyday guy that just happened to have found himself at the center of attention. Jude Law is one of those perfect castings that while the last film never fully used near enough, this one makes up for by allowing him to fully embody the character. Law really says a lot with simple glances and momentary quips of humor, showing that underneath that wise and genial mentor that we all know, is someone quite sad and even tragic. Despite the title, we still don't learn too much more about Dumbledore and that actually ends up being the better, retaining some of the mystery that made him already such a fascinating character to begin with. Johnny Depp's recasting ends up being the better in the sense that while he played it up as a little too scenery chewy when he should have been more restrained. Mads Mikkelsen on the other hand, gets this character right, making for a villain that feels charming, manipulative, and frighteningly real. It's a sense of menace that subtley gets under your skin and remains even when he's not on screen (Similar to how Voldemort was in the original films). Not to mention, the chemistry between Law and Mikkelsen is undeniable (No matter how much they apparently try to edit it out in China. You can't pass them off as just "Good Friends").

There are a few standouts when it comes to the supporting characters, such as a delightful Jessica Williams, a menacing Poppy Corby-Tuech (as "Vinda Rosier", Grindelwald's evil, though obviously very sexy, second in command), Alison Sudol (Despite getting much less screentime sadly), a well cast Richard Coyle (as "Aberforth", Dumbledore's brother), and actually Callum Turner, who went from rather bland and boring to fairly charming between films. Ezra Miller does a fine job, though his entire plotline, which carried on from the first two films, still doesn't always gel with everything else, and the same goes for the more predictable arcs go for William Nadylam (Whose character is sent as a spy, with obvious results) and Victoria Yeates (Who is almost completely secondary until she's not). The biggest scene-stealer once again is Dan Fogler, serving as both excellent comic relief, but also someone who carries much of the film's heart. I've seen some compare him to Ewan McGregor in the "Star Wars" prequels, in which no matter what happens, whether it be weak dialogue, a dumb plot, or whatever amount of convolution, he's consistently wonderful and you remain invested simply because out of everyone, you just want to make sure at least he makes it out okay. Also, Katherine Waterson (as "Tina", Newt's love interest and Queenie's sister), does still thankfully make an appearance, though it's very minimal. As for the titular Fantastic Beasts, they get much bigger roles now (Another improvement over the last film), such as "Pickett", Newt's trusty "Bowtruckle" (Think an expressive stick bug) and "Teddy", Newt's shiny thing loving "Niffler" (Think a Platypus, with a never-ending Kangaroo pouch).

Much like the rest of the trilogy, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" still feels overcrowded in places and doesn't leave the impact that the world of "Harry Potter" once did. However, the film feels more balanced than the others, with David Yates' beautiful direction, an impressive score, a few characters to love (Especially Mikkelson's memorable villain), and concludes on a satisfying, rather heartwarming note. It's not a grand finale, but it feels better this way. It's even somewhat poetic if you think about it.  Disjointed, though still charming and fun, while only occasionally reaching the captivating levels of what came before it.  As a whole, these films have never been well, fantastic. Just some compelling moments sprinkled around something you feel could have been so much more. Still, the ending is strong and serves as a good wrap-up. (Plus considering those box office numbers, they probably should stop here anyway) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Wizarding Wallops, The Slitting Of Magic Bambi's Throat (Okay, That Was Just Upsetting!), And J. K. Rowling's Inability To Realize That She Truly Is The Villain Of Her Own Story. 

Father Stu                                                                                                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm telling you, I'm not shooting or blowing up anything on this movie."

This is gonna go one of two ways. We're either going to get a well meaning, though uninspired, frustratingly generic, and thoroughly dull sermon only designated to the choir, or we'll get ourselves an offensively cruel, mean spirited, and creatively horrific insult to both the religious and the unconverted. That's how these faith based films play out. Oh okay, sometimes they might be pretty decent. That's few and far between. Sadly, what we get here is the former. "Redeeming Love" reminded me how terrible these can be, and for it to just be miraculously meh, that's no fun. 

Based more or less on a true story (It's really hard to tell these days), "Father Stu" follows former boxer, "Stuart "Stu" Long" (Mark Wahlberg), who after being forced to quit boxing due to an injury, he gets the nonsensical idea to go to Hollywood to become a movie star. Despite his mother, "Kathleen" (Jacki Weaver), thinking that this is a horrible idea, Stu is determined to make his new dream happen. It doesn't. While working at a deli mart, Stu spots a woman, "Carmen" (Teresa Ruiz) and is immediately smitten, but considering that she's a devout Catholic, Stu decides to do the same. Stu gets baptized, realizes that he actually likes him some Jesus, and despite a few hiccups, seems to be on the right path to righteousness. And then he gets into a horrific accident, and after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, Stu once more makes a rather irrational decision, to become a priest. An idea that even his estranged, angry at the world father, "Bill" (Mel Gibson) thinks is absurd. However, as Stu gives up everything to make his new goal a reality, he finds himself diagnosed with inclusion body myositis (And given no hope for a cure). In spite of all these setbacks and bad hands being dealt, Stu is by no means intending to give up, with his newfound faith carrying him through. 

Written and directed by Mel Gibson's current girlfriend, Rosalind Ross in her directorial debut, "Father Stu" is very much a faith based movie, though there seems to be more of an R rated edge. Not in terms of violence (This isn't like "The Passion of the Christ" or "Unplanned"), but very much so in language and subject matter. I am a fair guy, and I really have to give credit to where it's due in how the filmmakers never back down from that. For a good chunk of the movie, it's kind of a comedy with just a religious message wedged deep inside. This means that the usual schmaltz gets nudged to the side, and there are some humorous bits of dialogue that find their way out. It's also a fairly inspiring and refreshingly honest story, that even shows some of the more questionable bits of faith (Along with how you can be tested in ways that are both unfair and impossible to explain). The film is competent, and I freakin hate that about it. Where the film falters come from some sloppy direction, a lack of story focus, and the tone is constantly shifting all over the damn place. No matter how much the film seems to want to be open to a broader audience, it has to pander to its audience in ways that are more laughable than inspiring. (The cheaply done vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to a dying Stu, is a standout in terms of lameness) 

Mark Wahlberg thoroughly commits to the role, right down to pouring in some of his own money into the project, and aside from his hard to decipher accent (God, movies need subtitles), is quite good. He's kind of jerkish, but never mean spirited and open minded. It is cool to see someone just at first coming to realize that he might actually just enjoy going to church, without the need for a come to God moment (That happens later, but still. He was already down for it). Jacki Weaver brings a lot to what could be a thankless role, and the same goes for Teresa Ruiz, who is plenty cute and charming. There are some solid secondary performances from a playing against type Malcolm McDowell (as the uptight Monsignor), Cody Fern (as "Jacob", Stu's roommate and sort of rival), and a brief appearance from Niko Nicotera (as a mysterious barfly that gives Stu some random good advice), in a part that could have been so cheesy if not for how sincere his performance felt. Aaron Moten (as "Ham", Stu's supportive, always smiling black friend) is just the supportive, always smiling black friend. Meanwhile, Mel Gibson, who continues to become more bearlike as he gets older, feels as if he might be phoning it in. He gets some growls, smartass lines, maybe an offensive-ish joke or two (Because the character getting called out on a racist joke doesn't suddenly make it okay), and then the movie in the film act seems to imply that this was just as much his story as Stu's, despite the screentime being nowhere close. 

"Father Stu" has its heart in the right place and doesn't feel the need to bring anyone else down unlike many other faith based films, along with having production values miles ahead of anything from "PureFlix". It still doesn't feel theater worthy. Disjointed and inconsistent, the film squanders some potential in hopes of drawing in a big religious crowd and telling them the same ol same ol, in as simplistic a way as possible. It didn't have to be this way, though I have to remember that it could have been worse. Granted, you kind of wish it was. At least you have more to talk about. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Unsettling Images, And Petty Priests. 

Ambulance                                                                                                          ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Bro! It's a Michael Bay movie! We gotta' have more Bro-Ness!"

This is a frightening time that we're in right now. It's a sign of the end of days. The apocalypse! Or it's just me acknowledging when somebody does something right. Bottom line, I liked a Michael Bay movie, and I don't know what to do with myself right now. 

An Americanized remake of the Danish film of the same  by Laurits Munch-Peterson, "Ambulance" follows a pair of step-brothers, the former soldier "Will Sharp" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and the wealthier, though through not so legal means, "Danny" (Jake Gyllenhaal). Will is desperate to afford an experimental operation for his wife, "Amy" (Moses Ingram), so he turns to Danny, who just so happens to have an upcoming job that will bring in $32 million in cash. The job however is a good old fashioned bank robbery, and seemingly at first, everything is running 100% smoothly and Danny's crew of red shirts just might be able to pull it off. However, an average cop, "Zach" (Jackson White), just so happens to be stopping by the bank to ask out one of the tellers at the absolute worst moment, resulting in the situation getting blown out of control, leading to a shootout, with all of Danny's crew getting killed, and the Special Investigations unit of the Las Angeles Police Department, headed by the one-liner delivering "Captain Monroe" (Garret Dillahunt), arriving on the scene. After Zach is short and left for dead, Will and Danny attempt to escape, only to find out that their only way out is to hide inside an ambulance, where an EMT, "Cam Thompson" (Eiza González), is attempting to treat the wounded Zach. Once LAPD discovers Will and Danny, having taken Cam and Zach as hostages, trying to flee the scene in the armored ambulance, it becomes a wild chase all across the city, where despite Danny's insistence, there doesn't remotely appear to be a way of getting away this time. 

Directed by Michael Bay (The "Transformers" films, "Bad Boys", "The Rock"), with a screenplay by Chris Fedak (Known for TV work like "Chuck" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow"), "Ambulance" is what a more restrained, held back version of your usual Michael Bay action thriller. It's not to say that there aren't some of his usual trademarks, such as some implausible leaps of logic, tough guy talk (And some tough girl talk too!), sweaty people, hyperactive editing, and a whole lot of needlessly insane zooming around of buildings as if something just threw the camera into the sky. Some of his more agitating aspects are straight up eliminated (Not much racist comedy this time), and even though of his usual shortcomings find their way in, the movie works more than it doesn't. For starters, it's very straightforward, keeping everything contained, moves along at a fast pace, and makes for a surprisingly, if not unremarkable, bottle film. The action setpieces are pretty clever, spanning all across the city as both our "heroes" and the ones giving chase are forced to adapt to each other's constantly changing plans for either escape or capture. The film keeps you on the edge as it rarely slows down, except only to make room for better than average character work and even a little humor. (This is actually saying something since I usually can't stand the attempts at humor in Michael Bay films. Remember the Twins from "Transformers 2"? Never forget!) Of course some cars blow up real nice, but there's at least some tension to build up what's coming, along with some spectacular sound design, which almost shakes the back of your seat. You're sucked in more than you might want to admit. 

Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are both really great together, feeling like actual brothers at times, and each have a bit more nuance than even would be necessary for what could just be a simple action movie. Gyllenhall is especially good as a character who could seem friendly and reasonable one moment, before turning ruthless and out of control almost without warning. Eiza González is also kind of excellent here, not falling under the creepiness that comes with many of Michael Bay's films, where the camera unsettling has to focus on the woman's figure in increasingly pervy detail. She's not just here to be hot....I mean, she's still really hot (But that's just Eiza González). She's also a compelling character who gets just as much focus as our leads. In some ways, this might even be more her story than theirs. There are a variety of supporting roles, such as a terrifically understated Garret Dillahunt, Keir O'Donnell (as "Anson Clark", an FBI agent, who knows Danny personally), Olivia Stambouliag (as "Dhazghig", the smartassed tech expert tracking the criminals), and a few rather unnecessary villains (It's mostly made up of pretty stereotypical Mexican cartel types). Moses Ingram, who I've learned is very talented actress, is frustratingly used only as a sympathetic prop. Some later developments don't always mesh, though the film's sense of humor finds a way to humanize the characters and you feel a little saddened when the film suffers a death or two. 

Not everything adds up the way it should, and Michael Bay can't seem to resist certain baffling filmmaking urges (Seriously, why did the camera do a loop-the-loop?), though "Ambulance" makes for a serviceably fun, often decently compelling ride. There isn't much to write home about (I mean, why else did you think it took me this long to write this review? Aside from me playing "LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga" every chance I get), though to admit that I actually found myself recommending a Michael Bay film unironically, even going as far to say that it's just a good movie (And trust me, it still doesn't feel right saying that). You did good Mike. Never forgiving you for what did to "Transformers" though. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Untrained Surgery, And Maniacal Mexicans.   

Sonic the Hedgehog 2                                                                                 ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: For the very, very, very lightweight Hedgehog championship of the world.

Look! I know what you're thinking. You see how relatively high that score is and think to yourself that I've clearly lost my mind. I assure you that I have not! No! This is a special case right here. You have no idea what we "Sonic the Hedgehog" fans have had to go through. The memorable ups, and the many, many, many, many, many painful downs that have plagued this franchise, let alone what we fear the first live-action movie could have been. Not to mention that first character design before the filmmakers were basically bullied into doing the right thing and completely re-doing it. (God, can you imagine an entire movie with that first design? It probably would have been unwatchable) So the first movie being a solid ride was one thing, but this right here? We need this. Just let us have this!

Based on the much beloved video game series (Especially by a certain, easily impressionable film critic right here), "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" follows the titular blue blur, "Sonic the Hedgehog" (Voiced by Ben Schwartz), who after the events of the first film, has decided to use his speed based powers to become a superhero, only to constantly fail miserably. Still living with his adoptive human parents, "Tom Wachowski" (James Marsden) and his wife, "Maddie" (Tika Sumpter), Sonic has pretty much integrated himself with the human world, though yearns for the big day to come when he finally proves himself as a hero. When Tom and Maddie leave for Hawaii, for the wedding between Maddie's sister, "Rachel" (Natasha Rothwell), who still hates Tom, and her new husband to be "Randall" (Shemar Moore), Sonic is left alone to get himself in all kinds of possible juvenile havoc. 

Meanwhile, the maniacally evil "Dr. Robotnik" (Jim Carrey), has not only gotten himself a brand new stache and a whole lotta crazy, but he's also returned with a new ally, a strong red Echidna, "Knuckles" (Voiced by Idris Elba), who intends to destroy Sonic by any means necessary as part of a long, ongoing feud involving their ancestors. Sonic finds himself his own new ally/future best friend, a flying yellow fox, "Miles "Tails" Prower" (Voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey). Tails has come to Earth to help Sonic prevent Robotnik and Knuckles from getting their hands on a mystical, powerful artifact known as "The Master Emerald", which will allow anyone to turn their thoughts into power, meaning of course Robotnik is going to use it for galactic domination. Sonic and Tails go on an adventure all around the world to find out where the Master Emerald is hidden, with Robotnik, Knuckles, and an army of mechanized menaces right behind them, with Sonic (And maybe even Knuckles too) proceeding to fulfill their ultimate destiny.   

Directed once again by Jeff Fowler, with a screenplay by Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Wittington ("The LEGO Batman Movie"), "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" is one of those films, along with the first one too, where if you take a moment to think about it, you realize just how horrible everything could have been and appreciate just how much the filmmakers actually seem to genuinely care. The movie doubles down on what the fans specifically want to see, and while there are some typical kid movie obligations here and there, they're nothing that bring the film down and even for some, they're things that audiences seem to honestly like anyways. The film is a fast paced, funny, and wildly lovable adventure that packs in all kinds of references for us nerds, along with just enough to stand on its own as just a good choice for a family movie night. It's certainly silly and could be seen as pure, sugary nonsense by anyone completely uninterested in the ongoing exploits of the speedy blue hedgehog.

 It's the kind of movie where I can see some of the more stuffy, older crowds just shrugging it off, and I can't necessarily argue with them. I'd just be personally lying if I didn't admit that I had an amazing time, grinning like I would have as a kid would be watching this. There is a genuinely solid, sweet family oriented story here, with Jeff Fowler getting to show off more as a director, particularly in the more animated sequences, which are surprisingly stunning. Sure the visual effects aren't exactly realistic looking, but they shouldn't be (I mean, you do remember what happened when they tried to go for more realism with that terrifying original design). Everything is very expressive, full of personality, and constantly moving in a visually appealing fashion. It's an immense amount of fun, especially when fans of the games are given plenty of Easter Eggs to keep an eye out for without the film feeling the need to stop itself to make a point of them. The plot is pretty safe, with little surprises in terms of predictability, though there are some great reveals that will have any longtime Sonic fan absolutely losing their minds. There are some aspects that you kind of have to deal with when it comes to family movies such as this, and yet, it's quite shocking how much of it works more than it doesn't. The best case being an almost unnecessary dance number involving Sonic, Tails, and a violent Siberian tavern, that still ends up being rather amusing in its own simple way. (Plus "Uptown Funk" is a really catchy song, so you pretty much have your audience engaged against their better judgement) It's not like "Alvin & the Chipmunks" or "The Smurfs". There's a certain charm that keeps it from ever becoming annoying, and some of that is because the filmmakers seem to be smart enough about knowing how to play this sort of game that Hollywood requires, without feeling like anything of worth needs to be sacrificed in favor of the least common denominator. 

Ben Schwartz is a wonderful pick to voice the character, channeling a kid-like innocence, mixed with a smart mouthed attitude, but still retaining a good heart regardless. (Think Spider-Man, if he was a furry) More classic characters from the games start to make their big screen appearances, with Tails' current voice actress, Colleen O'Shaughnessey remaining as endearing as always. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is perfect in more ways than anyone could have anticipated. He's intimidating, totally badass, yet naively delightful and often hilarious, due to the character's overly self-serious nature, which clashes with the goofy tone spectacularly. The film wisely decides to focus more on these characters than the human ones, though that's not to say I have anything against the human characters. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are still really likable, with their storyline as Sonic's surrogate parents serving as the main heart of the film. The choice to make them secondary is just more fitting, though thankfully they're not removed entirely. There are still some other fun human characters, like Natasha Rothwell (In a subplot that kind of goes nowhere, yet has some of the film's funniest moments), Adam Pally (as "Wade", Tom's incompetent friend, who serves as a temporary sheriff), and especially Lee Majdoub (as "Stone", Robotnik's minion, who is very much in love with the evil doctor and the film doesn't even try to hide it). Now we get to Jim Carrey, who is phenomenal in every kind of over the top way imaginable. He embraces more of the "Eggman" persona, bringing the love to hate villain to life in a way that's both outrageously funny, bizarre, and even a little scary at times (He's got to be one of the most frightening versions of the character yet) Plus it's just great to see Jim Carrey having a time of his life. It's just so wholesome. 

Not perfect. Not by any means. You're either in or out, especially if you don't think a movie called "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" needs to be about two hours (I never felt the runtime, but I can see how others might). The film understands its audience in ways that many video films (And even just any type of film with a dedicated fanbase) rarely seem to, offering some big laughs, along with charming characters and an enthusiastic, rather infectious heart. For the fans like myself, you're gonna love it. Applauding when necessary and quite possibly leaving thinking it could be the best video game movie ever made (You know, that might actually be true. The bar isn't that high after all) For others, I'd say no parent probably would be at home here. With that said though, as a family movie night? It's kind of perfect, being something that will thrill the kiddies, while giving the adults some more amusement than they would expect (Mostly Jim Carrey related). Am I being a little biased? You're darn right I am. It's a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, through and through! P.S. Stick around for that post credits scene. You won't regret it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Speedy Action, Excessive Jewel Grabbing, Exquisite Mustache Twirling, And The Future Furries That Will Be Created Simply Through The Theater Pounding Sexiness That Is Idris Elba Voicing Knuckles. I'm Sure He's Aware Of The Effect He Has On Women.    

Everything Everywhere All at Once                                                          ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Yeoh, she looks mad!

You ask me, what is this movie? What's the specific genre? Where does it fall? The answer is.......Yes. And it's amazing! 

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" follows an aging Chinese-American woman, "Evelyn Wang" (Michelle Yeoh), who is at what she feels is the lowest part of her life. While preparing for a community Chinese New Year party, Evelyn's world is in a complete rut, such as her strained marriage to her husband, "Waymond" (Ke Huy Quan), her even more struggling relationship with her daughter, "Joy" (Stephanie Hsu), the arrival of her elderly father, "Gong Gong" (James Hong), and an upcoming audit on her family owned, relatively meak laundromat. While on their way to speak to a rather stern IRS inspector, "Deirde Beaubeirda" (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond's personality suddenly shifts, transforming him into "Alpha Waymond", an alternate, more agile version of Evelyn's husband from another universe. Alpha Waymond explains that all of the many universes are in danger from a powerful being known as "Jobu Tupaki", and through the power of mind transferring technology (Which can allow other versions of other selves to inhabit the bodies of their variants), has come to this Evelyn, believing she's the only one who can save the multiverse. Probably best I don't explain any further. Not just because that would get into semi-spoilerish territory, but also because I legitimately have no idea else how to describe this in written detail. Maybe another version of me could have. 

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as "Daniels" ("Swiss Army Man"), along with some producing credits to Anthony and Joe Russo (Known for their work in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", so all the multiverse shenanigans are pretty fitting), "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is the most on the nose title in cinematic history. It could also possibly be the most "Movie" movie of all time. Anything and everything that can possibly be imagined, within any scenario, at any given point in time, is literally just thrown on screen, almost seemingly at random. It's a wild sense of imagination that the filmmakers showcase, with vividly batsh*t visuals, that range from surreal, bizarre, both at once, and something in-between. They're ferociously intricate and unrelenting, and the same goes for what's taken to get to them. The very concept is out there, with our lead character having to perform random acts of nonsense to connect to another version of herself and take on their abilities. These acts vary between causing yourself physical harm in some way, out of nowhere confessions of love, shoving whatever object you find up your ass, or whatever else comes to mind. Not to mention the onslaughts of nonsense involving the alternate realities, like one where Evelyn is a famous kung-fu star, one world where everybody has hot dogs for fingers, or one where everyone is just a rock. I can't fully describe all of this in a way that does it justice. Where the film goes and how it gets there isn't exactly what matters. In the end, that's not really the focus. Beneath all the crazy displays of seemingly randomness, jaw droppingly out there surrealism, and straight up nonsense, is actually a compelling character study and a heartwarming, often hilarious family based drama. 

Michelle Yeoh gets the time in the limelight that she's most assuredly deserved for some time, and gives, lets just say, several amazing performances all wrapped in one. It takes a special kind of talent to pull off these many emotions, reactions, and feats of bombastic insanity with so much grace and beauty. Whether she has disgusting hot dog fingers, gets into a fight with a talking raccoon, or just has to convey the most real of human sentiment, she's more than captivating. She's a complex character that doesn't always say or think the right thing, though you understand that it doesn't come from a heartless place. She's not the only one who gets to prove her real worth, a rather endearing and kind natured Ke Huy Quan and a total breakout performance from Stephanie Hsu, all work well with Yeoh, feeling like a natural dysfunctional family that you obviously want to work through their problems. The great James Hong also gets probably one of the biggest roles I've ever seen him get, while a rather intentionally unglamorous Jamie Lee Curtis is a notable scene-stealer. 

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" doesn't hold back in its weirdness, nor does it care if it always makes sense. It's a hysterical, mentally certifiable ride that takes on every single genre it can, while never forgetting its humanity and the touching (And very necessary) story that just so happens to be encompassed within. Unforgettable imagery, with characters you just adore, and a fantastical sense of lovable, unrestrained chaos that the big screen is made for. It's some of the most fun you're bound to have in a theater this year, and who knows, you just might take something of note with you home after. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Weaponized Googly Eyes, Fanny Pack Fighting, Passionate Hot Dog Rubbing, And Raccacoonie.

Morbius                                                                                                                   ★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Un-dead on arrival.

Things were never looking up for this movie from the start, were they? Originally scheduled for a relatively early 2020 release before Covid made sure that never happened, the newest entry "Sony's Spider-Man Universe" (That is what it's called right? Even though it has nothing to do with him so far) based on the "Spider-Man" villain from the comics referred to as "Morbius the Living Vampire", seemed to imply some kind of multiversal coming together of some kind. There were shots in the trailers of "Oscorp", some graffiti of "Spider-Man" with the word "Murderer" on it (Referencing the events of "Spider-Man: Far From Home"), some connections to "Venom", and of course, an appearance from "Adrian Toomes/The Vulture" (Played amazingly by Michael Keaton in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"). Since this film's many delays though, we've had not just another "Venom" movie, but also the absolutely awesome in every way "Spider-Man: No Way Home", which culminated in some beloved heroes and villains from other franchises coming together in a multiverse-based epic, that also concluded itself as possibly the greatest "Spider-Man" origin story ever told. So it's pretty obvious that LOTS of changes were made.    

"Morbius" follows respected, though eccentric scientist, "Michael Morbius" (Jared Leto), who suffers from a rare blood disease that's been slowly killing him over time, leaving him weak and unable to walk without crutches. Dr. Morbius' experiments are funded by his childhood friend, "Milo" (Matt Smith), who also suffers from the same disease, which may be heading down some questionable territory. Now through the use of some vampire bat DNA, Morbius and his fellow doctor/I guess love interest, "Martine Bancroft" (Adria Arjona), begin their testing on a cargo ship in international waters (Because I'm pretty sure the government wouldn't sanction that), only as one would expect, for the experiment to go all kinds of wrong. After injecting himself with this unstable bat serum, Morbius becomes a "Living Vampire", slaughtering and draining the blood of everyone on the ship except for Martine, before going into hiding. Morbius starts to gain new abilities, such as increased speed, strength, some abs and muscles, and a trusty sonar power, though he fears what monster he will become if he isn't able to control his blood lust. This leads to Morbius attempting to fend off the beast by consuming artificial blood, even though the effects rarely last. Meanwhile, Milo, desperate to save himself, also takes a special interest in what his friend has become and is totally down with the whole killing and eating people to stay alive thing. Framed for murder and now being hunted by a pair of FBI agents, "Simon Stroud" (Tyrese Gibson) and "Alberto Rodriguez" (Al Madrigal), Morbius must hone his vampireness, prevent Milo from becoming an even more unstoppable monster, and work his way into a cinematic universe of some kind, no matter how much story and character development has to be sacrificed to make it happen. 

Directed by Daniel Espinosa ("Safe House", "Child 44", "Life"), with a screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless ("Dracula Untold", "The Last Witch Hunter"), "Morbius" has clearly been poked, prodded, chopped up, and rung out all over, and while it's not exactly the complete disaster that fans were fearing......It's just a plain old, generic disaster. It's basically the kind of film that makes any Marvel hater think to themselves, "You know, it really could be so much worse". The film goes through the early 2000s motions, with a basic origin story, along with the usual stop the bad guy with the same exact powers, and predictable plot points, that mostly don't have the intended impact due to how underdeveloped things are. It's an uninspired screenplay, with cookie cutter dialogue that lacks that Marvel charm that you get from films in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". Little humor, weak drama, and not much characterization aside from what's on the surface. The budget, while smaller than what Disney provides the MCU, isn't exactly small, and from time to time, the effects look solid enough. Even when the CGI is obvious, they're not bad looking (Morbius and Milo's vampire forms are cool-ish, even when they look cartoonish). Too bad most of the action either relies on too much slo-mo, or remains too out of focus in darker settings, wasting the potential that could have been had with them. The plot is rather rushed through, with most of Morbius' harnessing of his powers being left offscreen, while certain elements feel underwritten (Such as many of the film's relationships), lack much cohesion (How did nobody notice Morbius hanging out a crowded hospital? Were they even looking for him?), or are just straight up dropped from the film completely (Such as a little mini-plot with a little girl being put into a coma, who vanishes from the film at some point and is never mentioned again). You can tell there have been over two years worth of cuts and re-editing done here, and most of the time, it feels like something important is missing. 

Jared Leto, who we all love to mock and joke about (For good reason too), is actually quite held back this time, playing things somewhat aloof, but straight. It's nice to see, even if the character isn't the most interesting of protagonists. Adria Arjona is lovely, but trapped in the lamest of love interest roles, which is something that the genre has long been able to get away from in recent years, while Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal are both almost completely useless and damn near unnecessary (They shockingly contribute little, and only discover what the audience has already seen for themselves). Meanwhile, Jared Harris (as "Dr. Emil Nicholas", a kind mentor and father-figure to both Morbius and Milo), is criminally underutulized with a formulaic role that could have been filled by anyone, with most of his scenes from the trailer seeming to have vanished. The real savior of the film is Matt Smith, who is literally sinking his teeth into the role, being a source of both humor and horror, generating delightfully unhinged villainy with a malicious grin (Plus, it's rather refreshing to see a villain who openly wants to become a monster from the beginning and embraces it without much reasoning besides "Hey, it looks pretty cool!"). It's one of those cases where the villain easily outshines the hero, and you're left wondering if we're following the wrong person.

Despite a semi-promising start, "Morbius" loses track of its narrative, whether it be to basic filmmaking ineptitude, or probably more likely, a whole lot of editing and cutting down, resulting in a rushed final product. Characters die, but there isn't any time given to mourn them, and once we reach the underwhelming climax, you're left shocked at how quick the film is to get to its own end credits. It's not absolutely horrendous, yet you almost wish it were. Whenever Matt Smith isn't on screen, the film drags and prods along, seemingly trying to lead to something at every turn yet never fully taking off. (Hey, at least the "Venom" movies have their own identities  that make them stand out in some way) The only really terrible aspect would be those post credits scenes, and dear God, they're even worse than you've probably been told by now. You're either left confused and uninterested in what the film appears to be setting up in a half-assed fashion, or praying to God (Or Disney! Same thing!) that it never comes to pass. Now that's the kind of evil that deserves a stake right to the heart. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Blood Guzzling, And What Happens When Sony Isn't Contained.

The Lost City                                                                                                      ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "All right, Channing...We need to fashion a rope of some kind.....You need to take off all your clothes."

Too many comedies these days seem to rely on star power and maybe some slight ad-libbing to make their films work, forgoing things like plot, screenwriting, and coherence in favor of them. I guess it all boils down to if this plan pays off, with the stars working well and these comedies being, well you know, actually funny. If you can criticize when it doesn't work, you should admit it when it does.  

"The Lost City" follows a frustrated, widowed ex-archaeologist turned cheesy romance novelist, "Loretta Sage" (Sandra Bullock), as she finds herself in a rut, with a bit of writer's block. While promoting her newest novel, "The Lost City of D", continuing the adventures of the hunky and heroic "Dash McMahon", along with her cover model portraying Dash, "Alan Caprison" (Channing Tatum), who is all looks, but little brains, Loretta considers killing off the character to move on. However, Loretta finds herself kidnapped by manic billionaire, "Abigail Fairfax" (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes that the lost city in Loretta's book is not only real, but as are the treasures supposedly hidden within. Since Fairfax isn't taking no for an answer, he forced Loretta to accompany his team to the island where the lost city resides in search of it. Alan and Loretta's determined publicist, "Beth" (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) learn of Loretta's kidnapping, leading to Alan to hire a former Navy Seal, turned agent and full blown action hero, "Jack Trainer" (Brad Pitt), to go in search for her. Of course Alan comes along, and of course things go horribly wrong, leading to Loretta and Alan to venture off into the jungle to escape Fairfax and possibly discover the previously undiscovered city. 

Directed and co-written by Adam and Aaron Nee ("Band of Robbers"), "The Lost City" is definitely one of those silly semi-romantic comedies that has its plot and does what the script requires to make way for its stars. It does exactly what's necessary to keep it from falling apart, and never really aspiring to do more. No normal person can get mad at that, especially when the final product is the right amount of light-hearted movie night fun. Much of that is thanks to the film's star power, but the filmmakers do deserve some credit. It's got some decent laughs, with an occasional moment of solid inspiration, along with a brisk, though still silly, story that at least tries to have some depth where it's most needed. The characters are certainly likable, and while the budget clearly wasn't spent on the effects work (That's a lot of noticeable green screen), it's a pleasant looking film, even in spite of that typical studio-made feel. There's a lot of boxes the film seems to have to check off, such as the bickering couple that will eventually fall for each other, the kooky sidekicks and subplots, and the many conveniences, though the film has a couple slight curveballs thrown in or just aspects that are better done here than in what I would consider weaker, yet similar films. 

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum don't let predictability get in the way of their usual cinematic charm, and certainly make for an excellent pairing. They just bounce off each other naturally in terms of both humor and heart. The characters grow without needing to force it, and the romance is about as believable as a film like this could be. Our supporting cast is very much there just for support, though everyone is plenty enjoyable to watch, such as Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Oscar Nuñez (as a questionable cargo plane pilot), and Patti Harrison (as "Allison", Loretta's social media manager who just pops up to say strange lines that are mostly funny because of how bizarre they get). Everything involving Brad Pitt is pretty hilarious, and while you can probably tell exactly where that's going to go, I still bursted out laughing when it happened. The biggest scene-stealer is Daniel Radcliffe, who makes for a much more memorable villain than a lot comedies tend to offer, that's equally comical and even a little menacing in places.

While nothing special for the most part, "The Lost City" is sweet, fast paced, and most importantly, actually funny. Sure you can tell that possibly a lot of the heavy lifting was left up to the cast, but you can't argue with some pretty good results. It does everything it sets out to do, without really going for anything more, though, just so happens to do it very well. Nothing to be in love with, but still something to like plenty. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Shocking Violence, Leech Lapping, And The Defiling Of Ancient History. 

X                                                                                                                       ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: I think a porn set looks like a fun place to hang out on. Where do I sign up? 

If you haven't by any chance seen the trailer for this movie, I suggest you don't. Avoid it by all means. It doesn't necessarily spoil anything, but it's so much better to not know what in God's holy name is about to unfold. That's how you get real shock value right there. 

Set in Texas 1979, "X" follows a group of pornographic filmmakers, such as the ambitious actress, "Maxine Minx" (Mia Goth), her producer boyfriend, "Wayne Gilroy" (Martin Henderson), Maxine's fellow actors "Bobby-Lynne" (Brittany Snow) and "Jackson Hole" (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi), along with their artsy director "RJ Nichols" (Owen Campbell) and his more sheltered girlfriend, "Lorraine" (Jenna Ortega). The group has arranged to stay and film their movie at a cruddy guesthouse, located in the middle of nowhere next to an even cruddier farm owned by the decrepit and very easily agitated elderly "Howard" (Stephen Ure). Wayne insists on not telling Howard what the filmmakers are actually doing, considering most of the folks in the area are very religious and disapproving of their work, while Howard's wife, "Pearl" (Played by [REDACTED]), seems infatuated with the young group. Once night falls and the filmmakers start to bring their cinematic masterpiece together, it becomes quickly apparent that not everyone is going to be making it out alive, if anyone at all. 

Directed, written, and produced by Ti West ("The House of the Devil", "The Innkeepers", "Sacrament", "In a Valley of Violence"), "X" is a twisted knife of a slasher flick, that certainly feels more in line with what I believe this year's "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was attempting to do. Something grimy, dirty, sleazy, and pays homage to old school grindhouse horror shows, and clearly having a sadistic ball with it. Released through "A24", it's an unsettlingly shot film, with West loving the grainy style, relishing in drawn out moments of uneasy suspense and toying with the expectations of the genre. For a good chunk of the film, you wouldn't even realize what exactly is about to happen, but you're pretty confident that it's not gonna be remotely pleasant. The screenplay embraces some of that A24 weirdness, with a twisted sense of humor, and a slightly meta edge, though never really becoming a full blown comedy. It starts off intentionally slower, before the blood splatter hits the fan, with the excellent cast playing everything as straight as possible, which actually adds to the terror and the film's still thoroughly disturbing nature.

The cast is thoroughly committed to the insanity, as they definitely should be. Brittany Snow and Martin Henderson especially are standouts, getting some of the most quotable dialogue and just fitting into the film's surreal, bloodthirsty tone. Scott, Mescudi (Who shows off almost everything in this movie let's just say), Owen Campbell and Jenna Ortega, who is having quite the year I noticed, are perfectly cast, along with a very small, though instantly memorable James Gaylyn (as the town sheriff, who may be showing up a little too late to the carnage). Stephen Ure is all kinds of unsettling, along with Pearl herself (Again, I can't reveal who plays her, but it's gotta be one of the best make-up jobs I've seen next to "The Batman"). The real star of the show is Mia Goth, who I always thought had a lot of potential, really proves herself here in more ways than the film at first advertises. Nobody is particularly complex for the most part, and that's precisely the point. It's something that could have been just a glorified gorefest, but just so happens to have talented filmmakers behind it. 

Occasionally hilarious, preposterously plotted, and rather grotesque (And I'm not just talking about the violence here), "X" is a good, gory popcorn munching time, with stylish flair and a hidden intelligence that thankfully doesn't overpresent itself. You can tell everybody involved is having just as much fun as one of those late night audiences will, and I'd advise sticking around during the credits. You can really appreciate what they're trying to do and how successfully they accomplish it. Horrifying. Horny. Heinous. Sounds like one goddamn f*cked horror picture right there. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For All Kinds Of Partial And Frontal Nudity, The Splattering Of Flesh, Geriatric Groping, And Gruesome Gators.  

Deep Water                                                                                                             ★★ out of ★★★★    

Image: "So bad news is she cheats on me constantly....Good news is, she looks like Ana de Armas."

I have been in intense pain for the past couple days, and only now am starting to sort of recover. You'd think having unexpected back pain would make it easier to just sit down and watch some movies to review, but sadly sitting wasn't actually making things better. Now I have to play catch up, and thanks to "Hulu", I can give the people at least something to pass the time. Much like this movie in general actually. That analogy was completely by accident by the way. 

Based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, "DeepWater" follows "Vic Van Allen" (Ben Affleck) and his wife, "Melinda" (Ana de Armas), who are implied to have been married for some time, had a precious little daughter, "Trixie" (Grace Jenkins), and appear to have hit a noticeably low point in their marriage. Vic and Melinda have become antagonistic towards each other, with Melinda flaunting around her possible affairs to all their friends, while Vic just looks depressed and plays with his snails. Everyone is questioning just what's going on between the two of them, and it gets weirder when Vic jokes about having killed one of Melinda's now missing friends, which arouses the suspicion of the nosy neighbor, "Don" (Tracy Letts). While Melinda for some reason just continues to flaunt around her maybe affairs, Vic remains stone faced throughout all of it, while the film eventually decides to reveal just what in the world is going on here. This is actually a hard plot to really get into, and if you're not able to already deduce some of the reveals, then I guess I should just leave everything else for you to find out.  

Directed by Adriane Lyne ("Flashdance", "Fatal Attraction", "Jacob's Ladder", "Lolita", "Unfaithful". I think somebody has a type), with a screenplay by Zach Helm ("Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium". Wait, what?) and the king of not getting to the damn point, Sam Levinson ("Euphoria", "Malcolm & Marie"), "Deep Water" starts with some promise and intrigue, but sadly, once you're able to figure out the twist (Or twists), it becomes less and less so the further the film prolongs itself. A movie being predictable isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be derivative and uncreative, yet still with some merit in terms of filmmaking, writing, acting, etc. The film has things that work well, and even some aspects work better than I think the filmmakers might have intended. However, if they intended for the film to be a frustrating slog, with detestable characters and a pay off that might only work if you don't already see it coming a while away, then they unfortunately succeeded. The film opens by dropping the audience right in the middle of the drama, and it's entertaining for a bit, especially watching Vic intimidate one of Melinda's lovers through smartass comments, passive aggressive threatless threats, and slight mental manipulation. After a while though, thanks to the film's aggressively slow pace, generic reveals, and the fact that you hate both lead characters almost equally (Believe it or not, the character who should logically be more unlikable is somehow much more endearing by comparison), the endeavor becomes monotonous. All of this could have easily been saved by a good script, which the film does not provide in many ways. It's pretentiously written, thinks it's being more original than it actually is, and refuses to let the dots connect, thinking that it's somehow outsmarted an audience that more than likely has already done said connecting. 

Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas have chemistry, whether it be romantic or antagonistic, and you can see it on screen when the dialogue isn't getting in the way (It's always insanely awkward in a weirdly good way considering where that relationship went in real life. I feel that it actually made their performances better). You just can't stand watching them though. Affleck for the most part just sulks for most of the time and acts increasingly moronic, while Armas is essentially a sociopath just randomly bringing in douchebag after douchebag, treating the rest of her family like crap without provocation. Even after things start to come together, both of their behaviors don't always make enough sense. (Also, look guys, I get it. Ana de Armas is goddess-like in attractiveness, but why the Hell would you think about fooling around with her in front of her husband, who happens to you know, look like Ben Affleck? Sure, he's not exactly "Batman" in this movie, but he still looks like he could crack someone's head wide open!) Some extra praise should also be given to Grace Jenkins, who is very much lovable, and makes for a solid little actress. Lil Rel Howery (as "Grant", Vic's friend, who might be the only smart person in the movie) pops up to deliver some humorous lines, while Tracy Letts is actually a lot of fun as one of the only characters who would act they way they do in a situation such as this. (We all know there's that one person who can't help but involve themselves in something that may or may not be deadly for no reason other than to feel important. Be honest. You just might know this person.) There isn't near enough development among other characters though, with both myself and the film itself seemingly forgetting about them at times. Such things as all those secondary friends who have little to contribute, Tracy Letts' character's really attractive wife (Played by Kristen Connolly) that randomly gets acknowledged out of nowhere, and what exactly is everyone's relationship to the main characters to begin with. Something is definitely missing here. 

Attempting to be a twisted up version of "Gone Girl", "Deep Water" lacks that film's needed sense of dark humor, feels bland in direction, and beats you over the head with its overindulgent sense of self-satisfaction. What could have been something of worth ends up drowning in a sea of boredom, predictability, and what I can only assume is the hubris of the screenplay. And that right there, makes for some deep water. See? I at least acknowledge that wasn't in any way clever. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Sexy Stuff, Sensual Snails, Bicycle Car Crashes, And Ahem, Droning On (You'll see what I mean).   

Turning Red                                                                                                    ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: A Panda in her natural habitat. 

This still feels wrong. It felt wrong for their last two movies. Not seeing a newly released "Pixar" movie in theaters will never make any logical sense to me. I get that the previous Covid variant made some film studios reconsider recent releases, though not near as many this time around. Still though, this isn't right! Why only Pixar? "Disney" is still finding ways to release other films, animated or otherwise, yet Pixar keeps getting the "Disney+" treatment. (Not even an extra charge for this one either) It seems that this will be their last film to do get that kind of treatment, but still doesn't quite feel right. Luckily, such as with "Soul" and "Luca", quality is still quality, no matter where you watch it. 

Set in 2002 Toronto, "Turning Red" follows Chinese-Canadian thirteen year old, "Meilin "Mei" Lee" (Rosalie Chiang), who is a bit of a prodigy, such as getting perfect grades, and spends much of her spare time assisting her parents, "Ming" (Sandra Oh) and "Jin" (Orion Lee), in taking care of their Chinese temple. However, Mei's own interests seem to elude her perfectionist mother, such as her closeness with her school friends, "Miriam" (Ava Morse), "Priya" (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and "Abby" (Hyein Park), along with their young girlish obsession with the most boyish boy band to end all boy bands, "4*Town". Being at that age though, Mei starts to experience some uncertain and mature changes.....such as turning into a giant Red Panda. In moments of intense emotion (Such as anger, fear, happiness, um....arousal....well, you know...It happens!), Mei, now red haired, transforms into the panda form, and can only revert back when her emotions are back in check. Mei is explained by her family that the transformation is hereditary, passed down through generations once as a gift for protection, before becoming something more of a nuisance. The only way to cure herself, Mei must take part in a ritual that will banish the panda from her body, and mustn't allow the transformation to continue to persist, lest she be stuck with the curse forever. 

There is a decent amount about where "Turning Red" goes, and what it actually represents, that I don't think it's best I really get into. It's more of a see and enjoy for yourself kind of thing. That's actually something the film does incredibly (And maturely) well. Directed by Domee Shi (Longtime Pixar animator, who also directed their Academy Award winning short, "Boa". The one with the living dumpling that the mother eats. You remember!), the film takes a different approach to the Pixar tradition, even when it follows it in places to the letter. None of that is an issue though, considering that both Disney and Pixar basically invented/perfected their respective formulas. The film just doesn't always present it in the way that you'd expect. The screenplay by Domee Shi and Julia Cho ("Big Love"), is more complex about its subject matter, where nobody is exactly one-note, and touches on some themes or ideas that a lot of films (Not just kids oriented ones) would rather sugarcoat or ignore altogether. Talk of puberty, along with other hormonal issues are rarely brought up in these kinds of films (Or they're at least toned down to nonexistent degrees), but this one just goes all in, though still in a family friendly manner. I never thought I'd see tampons, or even talk about such a thing in a kids movie. This is a very female-centric, and thoroughly unapologetic coming of age story, complete with all the awkwardness and uncomfortableness that comes with it. Domee Shi wisely knows how to tell the story in a comforting and understanding way, yet still never feels the need to be ashamed of it. It also helps though that the film is really hilarious, and has so much personality to spare. 

The animation itself, which Pixar repeatedly showcases whenever they get the chance, is way too gloriously wild and colorful to be left on a small screen. It's amazing how much movement everyone and everything has in the film, from the stunning backgrounds, impressively vivid visuals, and most of all, the intensely expressive character designs. There's almost too much imagination on display to process in places, which matches the film's sporadic tone (It's not to say that the movie doesn't know when to quiet down, and smartly picks the right moments when to do so). The characters are already identifiable simply by how they're animated, along with the terrific voice cast collected to assist in the process. Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh are especially outstanding, bringing together a loving, though very complicated and somewhat rough relationship to light. The chemistry between the two voice performances is perfect, and feels natural, making it more relatable and for some, maybe even a little too real. Ava Morse, Hyein Park, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan are wonderfully cast, along with excellent work from Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho (as "Wu", Mei's even more strict and stern grandmother), and the always welcome James Hong (as "Mr. Gao", the eccentric shaman in charge of the ritual). Also on a side note, 4*Town ain't half bad really, with their songs being written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell, it's always funny when something meant to be closer to parody is actually slightly better than the real thing. 

Delightfully weird, laugh out loud, and embracing a different cultural identity (Oh, but the poor white dude is gonna feel left out. Woe is them!), "Turning Red" is a heartfelt tale that takes what should be considered worn out tropes, then makes them feel more original and relevant than ever. (The filmmakers also make great use of the 2002 setting, though it makes me feel odd that now we're going to be getting nostalgic about the early 2000s. Just a reminder that I'm an adult!) The film affectionately welcomes change, in terms of both its moral as well as never flinching in its subject matter. It's also apparently stirred up some controversy because of it, because too many parents would rather ignore or push away such things, therefore missing the point entirely. Respecting the traditions, while encouraging what makes one unique and original, along with the newfound sense of maturity that comes with it. It's got more of an edge than you might expect, but it's a welcome and most importantly, a necessary, one. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Some Moments Of More Mature Humor, Pubescent Puberty, Frenetic Furriness, And Plenty That Will Make You Do The Worst Imaginable.....Talk To Your Growing Child As A Parent. My God! 

The Batman                                                                                                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I don't feel anything emotionally, except for rage! 24/7! 365! At a million percent!"

When Christopher Nolan's 2008 masterwork of comic book cinema, "The Dark Knight" came out, it was seen as a definitive "Batman" story. Not just in movie terms, but for the long running DC comics character overall. After so many different incarnations in comic, movie, video game, cartoon form, along with a few actor changes over the years such as Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney (We, including him, don't talk about that experience though), Christian Bale, and most recently, Ben Affleck (Who sadly got stuck in a complete mess of a film universe, along with uneven films), you're wondering what can they possibly do with the character now? Is a new movie, and one that's also detached from the still somewhat ongoing "DC Extended Universe", even necessary? Plus, after "The Dark Knight", which could be listed as the darkest of Batman movies, what more do you have to say? The answer to all those questions is "Pain, Misery, and Way More Darkness". I mean, Holy Hell. We certainly asked for this one. 

"The Batman" opens just a couple years into the crime fighting career of the Caped Crusader. Reclusive, disturbed billionaire orphan, "Bruce Wayne/The Batman" (Robert Pattinson), has become a living terror on the criminals of Gotham City, though still hasn't quite found a way to work well with the likely corrupt police department, with the exception of the noble, but very tired "Lieutenant James Gordon" (Jeffrey Wright). On Halloween Night, the mayor of the city is found dead, with his head caved in and wrapped in duct tape, with a riddle and a card left for the Batman himself. This is only the first of several murders of important figures in the city by an especially demented serial killer known only as "The Riddler" (Paul Dano), who continues to leave riddles at the scenes of his crimes, specifically for Batman, with a motivation that seems to be directed at those with power controlling the city. 

With his faithful, though also worn down butler, "Alfred Pennyworth" (Andy Serkis), Bruce's investigation leads him into a deeper, more dangerous mystery, which somehow connects the most despicable Gotham has to offer, such as the feared crime lord, "Carmine Falcone" (John Turturro) and sleazy nightclub owner, "Oswald "Oz" Cobblepot" (Colin Farrell), also known as "The Penguin". The Batman does find an unlikely possible ally in a mysterious and alluring thief, "Selina Kyle/Catwoman" (Zoë Kravitz), who is on a mission of her own to track down a missing friend, and has her own dark past that much like our titular bat, has turned her into what she is today. However, when The Riddler's murders and motives start to hit a little closer to home, causing the Wayne family name is also be called into question, Bruce is forced to face the fact that he might not actually be making things better. Possibly, the very existence of the Batman might just be making things much worse. Plus he needs to find all the Riddler trophies so he can get a 100% completion. Granted, he might need to consult "Batman Arkham Videos" on YouTube like the rest of us did. (My fellow nerds know the pain well)

Directed by one of my new favorite directors, Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield", "Let Me In", "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", "War for the Planet of the Apes"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig ("The Town", "Bad Boys for Life", "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1", along with "Part 2"), "The Batman" certainly makes "The Dark Knight" feel like a light hearted, family friendly romp. It's been a while since a movie like this has caught be off-guard with the kind of unsettling imagery and unrelenting depression that you don't see in what's supposed to be superhero movie. And that's absolutely freakin perfect to me. This is in many ways the "Batman" movie I've been wanting for years. After reading a good chunk of the most important and well known story arcs, I've come to realize that some of my absolute favorite stories involve the World's Greatest Detective being well, you know, the World's Greatest Detective (Remember, DC Comics were once named after "Detective Comics"). There is very little superheroics going on in this movie. It's more of an old fashioned, very twisted, and incredibly grim noir, that actually doesn't always show the Batman in the best of lights. In fact, it heavily criticizes the character and how horribly wrong the very idea of the Batman could go in the wrong hands. It doesn't help that Gotham City is portrayed as a dreary, miserable place, that doesn't actually appear to be getting any better. It's a mix of the more realistic approach of the Christopher Nolan films, and the gothic stylings of of the Tim Burton films, creating a look that's haunting to look at, though oddly beautiful in its own disturbed way. 

The cinematography by Greig Fraser ("Dune", "Rogue One", "Zero Dark Thirty") feels like one of DC Black Label graphic novels come to nightmarish life, with plenty of shots of sequences that feel like something that you could see in a Batman movie, mixed with suspenseful thriller with a dash of a little horror in places. Matt Reeves continues to prove himself as one Hell of a director, crafting together a mystery that's less about who exactly is behind the killing, but who else is involved, in what way, and where it's all leading up to. It's more of a slow burn than you would expect, but that's something I absolutely adore about this film. You see a guy going through the evidence, trying to piece together elaborate little puzzles, and facing up not so much against supervillains, but more along the lines of just plain bad people. There are more than a few memorable setpieces, that benefit from the skillful direction, the heart pounding sound design, and possibly one of the best film scores I've heard in quite some time. The score is done by Michael Giacchino (A frequent collaborator on a few of the "Mission: Impossible" films, along with some "Marvel" films, such as the recent "Spider-Man" trilogy), and it blasts off the screen. It completely shaking you to the core in your very seat, crafting a theme for the Dark Knight that rivals the Keaton and Bale ones (Poor Affleck sadly never got to get one). Sequences such as a wild, destructive car chase between Penguin and the Batmobile (Which is essentially just a rocket strapped to a car, and it's freakin awesome), a chaotic chase involving Batman and a horde of cops, and a climatic showdown that doesn't play out like you would expect. Lets just say this has got to be the worst event to ever happen to Gotham City, and after what happened in "The Dark Knight Rises", that's saying a lot. 

Can we stop talking about Robert Pattinson and "Twilight" finally? The last movie was almost ten years ago, and the man has proven himself time and time again in movies that you likely just haven't seen. He's a brilliant actor, and yeah, he's pretty brilliant here. This is a more flawed, unstable Bruce Wayne, that's honestly more realistic than most interpretations of the character. He's already clearly not of sound mind considering he dresses like a bat and goes around beating up people, but Pattinson really shows how miserable and self-destructive he is. Not to mention how brutal he can during a fight, though plenty vulnerable himself. This is a Batman who doesn't always get the right answer, or make a clean getaway (Shown in a visually spectacular, and all too real moment when he glides off a tall tower in epic fashion, only to make a violent landing), along with taking some rather rough beating himself. Zoë Kravitz is a stunning Catwoman, with some of the character's more kitschy eccentricities taken out in favor of a more broken person. She and Pattinson are wonderful together, and you do really that these two in a way could possibly find some kind of solace within each other despite their noticeable flaws. 

Andy Serkis' screentime is limited, though makes up for it with a sense of sophistication and quiet tragedy, while Jeffrey Wright makes for a perfectly cast Jim Gordon, who just looks so sad and beaten down by both the city and the corruption of his fellow officers that he's desperately trying to redeem. Paul Dano, whose already rather unsettling man/baby face is hidden for a good chunk of the film, has got to be the creepiest version of this character yet. Twisted, darkly humorous in places, and occasionally savage despite relying on his frightening intellect, Dano brings the character into the real world in a way that you pray to God isn't out there somewhere, though you sadly realize he most certainly is. This is best shown in how The Riddler generates his followers via videos uploaded through the Dark Web, consisting of wannabe vigilantes and incels turned terrorists claiming to be fighting for a cause. It would be almost kind of funny, if it weren't so damn scary. John Turturro's Falcone has got to be the scummiest version of the character put to screen, and Jayme Lawson (as "Bella Reál", the optimistic, soon to be mayor) is a welcome, likable presence, while Peter Sarsgaard (as "Gil Colson", the corrupt and panicky District Attorney, who finds himself as one of the Riddler's targets) certainly sells the fear of his predicament, making for another on the edge of your seat segment of pure suspense. Not to mention a bafflingly unrecognizable Colin Farrell (In one of the greatest make-up jobs I've ever seen in a film), steals every single scene he's in, and looks like he is having the time of his life doing it. 

Despite some slight sequel setup towards the very end (Along with a little something that I'm really curious to see how some audiences are going to react), "The Batman" feels like its own self-contained story, setting up its own world, and crafting so many last second twists and surprises that you never notice that the film is nearly three hours long. The script knows when leave things up to interpretation, along when it's time to sit down and explain what needs to be detailed to the audience. It's not always heroic, though even in the darkest moments, there are signs of something possibly hopeful. There are too many unforgettable scenes to mention (That upside down shot of Batman approaching Penguin's overturned car is an instant classic), intense character moments, unexpected terror, and even a little something to ponder once it all comes to, lets just call it, an unnatural conclusion. It's one of the best "Batman" movies for sure, and an all around terrific piece of cinematic comic book lore brought to life in a way that I've truly been dreaming it would. It's hard to figure out completely as to rank it at the moment ("The Dark Knight", along with the 1989 "Batman" are so ingrained in my memory, that it's hard to top), but in more ways than not, it could possibly be the ultimate "Batman" movie. One that will redefine everything we know about the World's Greatest Detective for years to come. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13, Though It Pushes The Rating To The Very Limit With How Ferocious It Can Be. You Don't Need To Have An R Rating To Be Unnerving. 

A Madea Homecoming                                                                                             ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wow, Madea....You look....So, how've you been?"

Lies! Deception! Mr. Perry, I respect the Hell out of you. Not just the fact that I know you can be a really good actor or the fact that you're just a really likable guy, but also what you've accomplished with their film studio. I may not like many of the films you make......I may not like any of the films you make......I may also not understand the process how much money apparently goes into products that look lesser than what I'd see on TV.....I may not think it's really a good thing.......I forgot where I'm going with this. Anyways, I respect you. So WHY did you lie to me? You promise Madea was dead! Dead and gone! Deader than dead, and goner than gone! You can't do this to me! Not even on Netflix! 

Based on one of Perry's stage plays, "A Madea Homecoming" once again brings back the titular "Madea" (Tyler Perry), along with her senile brother, "Uncle Joe" (Also, Tyler Perry), as they gather the family together to celebrate the graduation of his great-grandson, "Tim" (Brandon Black), who also brings along his roommate, "Davi" (Isha Blaaker). As usual, there's some nonsense going on, with drama between Tim's mother, "Laura" (Gabrielle Dennis), his father/Laura's ex husband "Richard" (Amani Atkinson), Laura's best friend "Sylvia" (Genva Maccarone), and there's also "Aunt Bam" (Cassi Davis-Patton), being um, Aunt Bam (There's no other way to describe her). Davi though gets a surprise visit from his Madea-esque, except white grandaunt, "Agnes Brown" (Brendan O'Carroll). As the family prepares a party for Tim, all kinds of sitcom craziness is about to break out, with secrets to be revealed, things that I'm told are life lessons to learn, and since I'm not in a crowded theater watching this, a whole lotta silence for what I'm told is a comedy. (Actually watching it on my phone in my room at 9 in the morning. The way it's meant to be viewed) On the bright side, "Brian" and his evil daughter are nowhere to be seen this time. For that, I thank you. 

Directed and written by Tyler Perry, and released via Netflix like most of his films are these days, "A Madea Homecoming" is more or less what you should expect from a Madea movie. It's overlong, cheap looking, reliant on padding and shtick, rarely funny, and often pretty annoying. Luckily, it's not quite as uncomfortable as it usually would be. Well, maybe just a little. The plot, or what we have written here as "The Plot", is incredibly thin, with some sitcom-esque developments, that only make way for rambling and even some babbling from our goofy characters. Lots of sitting around, listening to Madea or Uncle Joe blurt out some nonsense, with some attempts at social relevance or familial drama sprinkled in a rather out of place fashion. Nothing ever gets too heavy this time, though that would require something of interest actually happening. It's still a bland looking endeavor, with characters that range from underdeveloped or unlikable, and all of which would be forgivable if it were at least funny. The humor is still pretty on the lowbrow side, though there are a few extra F-Bombs tossed in there now, showing that while Tyler Perry really is going for something a bit raunchier, it still feels like more of the same (Just with more dick and sex jokes). I recall only chuckling twice in the entire hour and nearly fifty minute runtime. Once at the character reacting to Agnes' use of the word "Knickers" (Which even then the film ruins by having the joke go on for too long), and again when Madea details an elaborate backstory where she was somehow responsible for keeping Rosa Parks from getting the bus due to knowing that she was fooling around with her man (A joke told in a black and white flashback, that's so surreal that it's almost kind of clever in how illogical it is). 

Tyler Perry continues to sell himself way too short with characters that I don't like seeing, and still border on abusive, yet at least they don't go too far into the latter this time. (Uncle Joe's screentime is more limited than ever before, which is a cause for celebration) I appreciate how Perry likes to gather an almost completely African American cast for his ensembles, but I just wish they were both in something better, or at least given something to do other than to react to whatever the other more cartoonish characters, like Aunt Bam or Mr. Brown (Played by David Mann) have to say. Brandon Black is at least halfway likable (And honestly, I think the film is too harsh on him for how he reacts to a certain reveal partway through the film, which isn't anything damning, but certainly more questionable than the film seems to care), Isha Blaaker is a stone faced robot incapable of human emotion, and Gabrielle Dennis is trying her best to give an actual performance. Then we have everything with Brendan O'Carroll, which is actually an odd crossover between these "Madea" films and an Irish sitcom called "Mrs. Brown's Boys" (Never heard of it), and I don't get what's meant to be funny about any of it. Guys in drag pretending to be old women for the sake of gross out comedy is the kind of joke that might need to die. You can't do much else with it. 

"A Madea Homecoming" is way too long for something that lacks much story until about the third act, but then just gets confusing and tosses in late plot points that feel completely out of the blue. I get that there is a demographic for this, which will inevitably lead to another win for Tyler Perry, and most frightening of all, more "Madea". The fans will eat it up as you would expect, while those who want nothing to do with it, will ignore it as they should. I'm just a damn fool who wanted to believe it was over, hoping that my wanting of her permanent destruction to be real. Somehow, Madea returned. 1 Star. Rated TV-MA (Meaning R, I'm Assuming) For Strong Language, Improper Relations, Uncle Joe's Charming Rapeyness, And Yelling. LOTS OF YELLING!  

Studio 666                                                                                                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: He's got another confession to make.

How does one recommend or even not recommend a movie that's essentially meant to be played at alcohol fueled late night horror movie parties? Nobody is asking for much here, and hey, the filmmakers are about to give you just what they said they would. I think.

In their first non-documentary film, "Studio 666" follows the "Foo Fighters", consisting of "Dave Grohl", "Taylor Hawkins", "Nate Mendel", "Pat Smear", "Chris Shiflett", and "Rami Jaffee" (All playing themselves), as they struggle to bring together their next album. After constantly annoying their frustrated manager, "Shill" (Jeff Garlin), the band is given an abandoned, run down mansion to complete the album, though little do they know, the mansion has a dark, grisly past, along with metaphorical and literal ghosts. Chris is at odds with Dave, Rami is more focused with hitting on the neighbor, "Samantha" (Whitney Cummings), Nate tries to keep the peace, Taylor just sort of goes along with everything, and Pat is....just weird, while Dave is obsessed with finding that one perfect sound, even after one of their sound guys ends up fried by a wiring malfunction. Dave's yearning for this sound leads him to accidentally stumbling upon a devilish ritual, having himself become host to a homicidal demon that has every intention of completing the album, along with brutally murdering everyone else at the same time.  Dave, clearly that Demon got the best of you.

Directed by B. J. McDonnell (Director of a handful of music videos), with a story by Dave Grohl himself, "Studio 666" makes a solid argument for people who aren't exactly looking for something of quality that has no intention of being something of quality, to tell critics to not take things so seriously. Nothing about this movie is taken seriously, with its very existence being a total joke. It's a farce, to be laughed at in a large, possibly stoned out of their mind crowd. It's a moderately okay directed, sloppily told, preposterously violent, and very, very silly waste of time. All of this is how it's meant to be, and you really can't get mad about that. Life's too short, and there are far worse films out there. It's not to say that the film gets everything right in what it aspires for. The humor can have its stale moments and the runtime is longer than necessary. With that said though, the film has such an almost endearingly giddy personality of its own, relishing in the horrific nonsense on screen, such as it went it comes to the gross out elements. I've never seen anything like it. In all my life. They've turned something from nothing. It's not a pretender. And it isn't too everlong. Not in times like these. It's certainly not D.O.A. I could go on.

The kills are pretty damn creative and often hilarious, all of which better than anything in the most recent "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The band, while I can't say with a straight face about them being good actors (Shame shame), aren't without their charm, though Dave Grohl feels like the most natural of the bunch. (He's learning to fly as an actor.) The funniest lines do come from Whitney Cummings though. (She's my hero of the film.) Everything from the effects, to the style of wicked humor, and wherever nutty place to plot goes when it sees fit, it's over the top as Hell and none of it makes much sense. "Studio 666" isn't the kind of movie that's meant to make sense though. It's just a bunch of dudes, having fun and probably too much of it. Whether or not it's for you depends on how long you're willing to stick around with them. I can see plenty (Especially longtime fans of the Foo Fighters and their songs) loving it in an absurdly trashy sort of way, while others will just see it as absurd trash. Or you can be like me and find it to be perfectly amusing, though not near enough to say you need to rush out to see it right now. We got "Batman" next week! Gotta save our money for that! 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Barbecued Buddies, Chainsaw Cock Blocking, Improper Use Of Musical Equipment, Ritualistic Rock, Lionel Richie Jumpscares, And Not Near Enough Fighting Of Foos.  

Texas Chainsaw Massacre                                                                                        ★ out of ★★★★

Image: I don't think he's using that chainsaw responsibly at all.

As a lot of people who know me have come to realize, there are a lot of older horror movies that I have never seen. (I was a pretty sheltered child, okay) So literally today was the first time I watched the original "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", directed by Tobe Hooper. It's a franchise that's fallen on rather hard times (Like "Texas Chainsaw 3D". Remember "Do Your Thing, Cuz!"? I'll never forget that one), and it's become even more of a tragedy to me because, well, the original is actually really great. A brilliantly constructed, nightmarish experience that builds and escalates to haunting images, made better by the amazing direction and unforgettable visuals. Plus, there wasn't really any gore in it, leaving most of it implied. I'm so glad I watched it, and not just because I actually loved the movie, but just so I can see just how wrong this one is. You know, except for the obvious poor filmmaking reasons. 

Serving as a rebooted direct sequel to the 1974 film, "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" follows a bunch of liberal hipster millennials (Which is already terrifying to plenty of Texans), consisting of "Melody" (Sarah Yarkin), her troubled sister "Lila" (Elsie Fisher), along with a fellow entrepreneur friend of Melody's, "Dante" (Jacob Latimore) and his girlfriend "Ruth" (Nell Hudson). The group is on their way to the abandoned town of Harlow, not knowing jack about the horrifying history behind it, so that they can completely gentrify the remains, thought seems that the only people around are some dumb, gun-toting redneck "Richter" (Moe Dunford) and a senile, dying old woman (Alice Krige), who runs a decaying orphanage with a worn out Confederate flag hanging outside. Not to mention a certain hulking figure (Mark Burnham). Dante is having any of this, and has the old woman kicked out, only for her to go into convolutions. She ends up dying in the arms of the silent figure, who is revealed to be the chainsaw wielding "Leatherface". Fueled by anger and his love of killing, Leatherface sets his sights on the group, along with their collection of fellow Gen-Z stereotypes, that your possibly racist, though still definitely cancel culture hating uncle will love to see killed. Viciously. Oh, and I almost forgot. The first film's final girl and sole survivor, "Sally Hardesty" (Olwen Fouéré, replacing the late Marilyn Burns) is in it. It's a bit tacked on in my review, but don't worry, it's more tacked on in the actual movie itself. 

Directed by cinematographer turned first time director David Blue Garcia, with a screenplay by Chris Thomas Devlin, and story credits provided to Fede Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues (Both having given us the "Evil Dead" remake and "Don't Breathe"), "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" like many before it, just plain misses the point. It gets it all wrong, and in a way that gives one the notion that the filmmakers went out of their way to make sure it was done so. The film first off, continues the trend of making things incredibly gory and sadistic, and while I can certainly enjoy a good bit of violence or even cinematic brutality, the original never needed that. Not to mention, at some point, you realize that the film doesn't offer much outside of that. Aside from unlikable characters, piss poor dialogue, and a different kind of uncomfortable feeling that I'm not sure was intended. The film has a mean streak, and feels angry about something, though I can't tell at what. (There's a lot of jabs at the left, though it's so cartoonish that it feels like parody, and then again, there's nobody else to like anyway) 

All of our main characters are stereotypical caricatures of what people think easily offended, self righteous SJWs (Social Justice Warriors aka what those guys on Reddit and YouTube are always complaining about) would act like. They're over the top, get senile old ladies killed, and one of them doesn't seem particularly fazed about it. I feel mostly bad for Sarah Yarkin and especially Elsie Fisher (From 2018's excellent, though neglected "Eighth Grade"), who I can tell are better than this, but are just trapped in a trash movie. Nell Hudson is a non-character, while Jacob Latimore is all kinds of vile and annoying in this. The film does such a crappy job of establishing or explaining anyone though, that I don't know who I'm supposed to root for, like it took me almost halfway through to realize that Moe Dunford is actually meant to be a likable character (Douchebag redneck, who totes around his semi-automatic, and gets mad at a black guy for making him take down a Confederate flag). Everyone is either detestable, or just doesn't do anything, such as Olwen Fouéré, who is meant to be ripping off Jamie Lee Curtis' role in 2018's "Halloween", though in the end, contributes even less that Curtis did in "Halloween Kills". (Others are just slabs of meat to get chopped up real good) Mark Burnham is at least a menacing presence, unless you remotely think about him for a second. While Leatherface was the breakout of the original film, he wasn't the only threat, and this film weirdly doesn't mention any of the grotesque villains from it. All it does is turn Leatherface into just another hulking, invincible monster, who I'm guessing is pushing seventy or eighty in this movie. (It's not as bad as "Texas Chainsaw 3D", which couldn't count to save its life, but these numbers still don't add up) Also, poor Alice Krige. She's trying and at least finds a way out of the film as early as possible.

Aside from a fairly chuckle worthy bus massacre (Where the carnage is livestreamed, complete with unfortunately realistic comments from the viewers), the weird attempts at satire fall flat. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a confused film, that's never scary and just does more of the same from other films it seems to want to retcon or deviate from. (The film also rather offensively tries to work in something about a school shooting in here, and yeah, that has no place in this kind of exploitation) It wastes what could have been solid production design and while the setpieces look good, there's nothing inventive about them. Mean spirited, undercooked, and with a lazy ending that you see coming a mile away (One that gets more confusing the more you think about it), this franchise should have been shredded to bits a long time ago. You really can't imitate the classics sometimes. 1 Star. Rated R For Chainsaw Cutting Through Carcasses, Gallons Of Blood Spraying All Over, And Outdated Southern Ideologies. I've Lived In Texas My Whole Life. You Get Used To It At Some Point. 

The Cursed                                                                                                         ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Let's go toward the horrifying danger, like any normal person would."

Once or twice a year, we get a horror movie not remotely associated with the mainstream. There's less fanfare and hype surrounding its release, mostly due to the lower budget, the lack of advertisement, and there just not being anything that would normally reel in the usual horror fanatics. It's something thoroughly unlike anything else, and even with a few hiccups, you get the sudden craving for more, and feeling a little depressed when you don't from the others.

Previously titled "Eight for Silver" (Before they switched over to something more generic), "The Cursed" opens with the wealthy "Seamus Laurent" (Alistair Petrie), claiming the right to a land previously inhabited by a Roma clan, sending in his forces to brutally massacre everyone in sight when they refuse to leave. The elderly matriarch (Pascale Becouze) is buried alive with a pair of silver teeth, cursing Seamus and his loved ones, while the rest of her people are murdered, with one even having his arms and feet chopped off before being crucified like a scarecrow. Some time later, Seamus' family, such as his really attractive wife, "Isabelle" (Kelly Reilly), and two children "Charlotte" (Amelia Crouch) and "Edward" (Max Mackintosh), experience vivid nightmares, all involving the scarecrow, the slaughtered Roma clan, and those mysterious silver dentures. 

Through a rather twisted circumstance (And another kid getting too curious about those dentures), poor Edward gets his neck chomped, resulting in him being bedridden with a sudden fever. When Edward suddenly vanishes (And someone's mangled, ripped to shreds corpse is found), a visiting pathologist, "John McBride" (Boyd Holbrook), is called in to investigate. Believing this to be the work of a blood thirsty, wolf-like creature and himself having experience with such a thing, John discovers that the entire town has been cursed due to Seamus' actions and there will only be more grisly murders to follow, unless the beast is destroyed. 

Written and directed by Sean Ellis ("Anthropoid"), who also served as the cinematographer, "The Cursed" is a dark, brutal, and quite unsettling feature, that goes against the norm and injects the genre something very original. Not to mention, it serves as a surprisingly excellent, if not uncomfortably savage period piece. To get some negatives out of the way, the film is slower paced, without much overt depth to supporting characters, and sometimes the limited budget shows, though Ellis proves to be talented enough to wisely know how to cover that fact the best he can. The creature we don't see very much, and when it's finally on screen, it's presented in a delirious fashion, as if you're witnessing whatever the victim is, meaning you don't have time to stop and stare at the monstrosity ripping into you. The film also embraces wildly imaginative and very gothic imagery, with some having more meaning to the story than expected, or just some making for solid enough jump scares (It's rare to see jump scares that actually work to the film's benefit). It's a gorgeously shot film, especially evident in a brilliant opening sequence where we witness the Roma massacre in what starts off as a calm, single shot, before getting more chaotic and violent. Speaking of violence, this is a gory film, and one that embraces the color red like no other film I've seen in a while. Lets just say I didn't know the human body could actually look like shredded meat quite like that before. Whoever was responsible for the practical effects work here deserve some kind of award. It's amazingly grotesque.

Boyd Holbrook, who is becoming quite the welcoming presence in whatever I see him in, is an interesting protagonist, being the most logical of the characters in the film. He's the surrogate for the audience, and the film cleverly doesn't tell you everything about him at first, instead letting the performances and visuals give you little hints as the film goes. Kelly Reilly is also great (And the film actually finds a way to not make her and Holbrook a couple, despite the entire time you're expecting that to happen), while Alistair Petrie is just vile in the most human way possible. (In a way, that kind of makes it worse when you can tell they are human beings, who care for their loved ones and just do terrible things for their own benefit) There's some fascinating ideas that go into what could be seen as a worn out mythology. We've seen plenty of werewolf films, or just creature features. However, it takes its time showing how the transformation works, such as the terrifying agony one will go through before it, and of course, the blood splatter, flesh tearing that will befall whoever just so happens to be in the monster's sights.

Not everything works, but "The Cursed" makes up for a couple narrative shortcomings and the obvious lack of funding, with a gripping, atmospheric, and in some cases, unpredictable story, filled with haunting visuals and clever direction. It's a very smart film, posing as a monster movie, and while it's not exactly for everyone, you can definitely feel the ambition and heart of the filmmakers. You can also see that heart savagely ripped out of a helpless British person by a werewolf. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gore, Guts, Internal Organs, And Um, Well Scary Stuff. 

Uncharted                                                                                                               ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: The Funky Bunch.

One has to wonder why we bother adapting certain video games into films, when a lot of those games play out like movies half the time anyways. Then again though, if you are, why not just go for a straight up adaptation? You know, instead of picking out certain nostalgic pieces and shoving them into a couple hours? Look, while this movie is nowhere on the same level of badness, it does have a certain "Resident Evil" approach, which is NEVER a compliment. 

Based on the video game franchise from "Naughty Dog", "Uncharted" follows "Nathan Drake" (Tom Holland), a young bartender and pickpocketer, with an interest in treasure hunting and adventure, inspired by his long missing brother, "Sam". Nathan meets a questionable treasure hunter, "Victor "Sully" Sullivan" (Mark Wahlberg), who claims to have known Nathan's brother and lost track of him while in search of the lost riches of the Magellan Expedition. Nathan becomes Sully's partner in finding a pair of crosses that should reveal the location of the treasure, though this puts them into conflict with the evil, "Santiago Moncada" (Antonio Banderas), whose ancestors funded the original expedition and has claimed the treasure as his birthright. While having to avoid Moncada's hired mercenaries, led by the especially ruthless, "Jo Braddock" (Tati Gabrielle), Nathan and Sully meet up with an old accomplice of Sully's (One of many that dislike him), "Chloe Frazer" (Sophia Ali), leading to an uneasy alliance to find the lost gold of the Magellan, taking them across many locations, involving a few twists and turns, and death-defying levels that I'm sure were somewhere in the original games. I don't know. I never played them. 

Directed by Ruben Fleischer ("Zombieland", "Gangster Squad", "Venom"), "Uncharted" plays out like many other action-adventure types, going for an old fashioned "Indiana Jones"-esque feel, complete with elaborate action setpieces and loads of witty banter. Sadly though, the screenplay by Rafe Judkins (Known for mostly television work), along with Art Marcum and Matt Holloway ("Men in Black: International", "Transformers: The Last Knight"), feels just as lifeless and generic as fans of the games probably feared it would be. Fleischer's uneven direction doesn't exactly help either, only occasionally feeling semi-inspired or at least fun (Such as the heavily advertised crate jumping in the sky sequence, or the climax involving pirate ships being lifted out via helicopter). These moments are far and few, with the story stumbling from location to location, in a manner that feels rushed where it should be taken slow, then shockingly slow when the audience just wants you to get to the point. Not to say that there aren't a couple unexpected twists, or a few pretty clever double-crosses, but there isn't near enough investment in such a bland story that could have honestly come from anywhere, adapted or otherwise. 

Regardless though, Tom Holland is charming as Hell, and it's cool to see him in a slightly more different role than "Spider-Man". While Mark Wahlberg is fine in his role (And gets a couple funny one-liners), the chemistry between him and Holland doesn't quite work. (Mostly because the whole time it looks like Tom Holland is just upstaging him) Sophia Ali isn't exactly a typical love interest, though I feel something important is really missing from this character (Something to add in some extra depth), while Antonio Banderas looks like he's having a blast. The biggest scene stealer is Tati Gabrielle, who thoroughly sinks her teeth into an extra menacing and even more important villainess than first advertised. The film isn't one for originality, and that's also present with its characters, though thankfully most of the cast is game enough to give them what they can. The faults more lie with the dialogue and lack of solid development. There is a pretty solid appearance from voice actor Nolan North (The original voice actor for Nathan Drake in the games), which brought a smile to my face, mostly because it's just cool to see those kinds of actors acknowledged. 

With mixed to solid enough special effects and a good use of the various local beauty, "Uncharted" falls into the same category that many better than the usual video game adaptations, in which it's just more of an unremarkable disappointment than some kind of horrific travesty that ruins the reputation of the source material. There are hints of something more clever, yet the film doesn't embrace them near enough. It's needlessly safe for something that claims to be daring. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Death-Defying Acts And Magical Pickpocketing. They Basically Just Materialize Items Into Their Hands! 

Marry Me                                                                                                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So, J Lo, this makes, what, you're 5th, or 6th....Just asking." 

I want to be the one to let people know, especially the ones who've stuck it out with me for the past decade (And two years), that it's finally happened. After all this time, I no longer feel pain walking into romantic comedies such as this all by myself, surrounded by happy couples and that one creepy, old-ish bearded man sitting in the far right, spilling popcorn all over his beard. I've just accepted that this is my life now, and I shouldn't wallow. I'll just complain about it on my website ad nauseam. Gotta get with the times.  

Apparently based on a graphic novel by Bobby Crosby, "Marry Me" follows international, famous pop singer, "Kat Valdez" (Jennifer Lopez), who despite a few marital missteps, is still a firm believer in the prospects of true love, intending to take her vows on stage in an upcoming concert with her husband to be, "Bastian" (Maluma). Meanwhile, the pretty bland, but sweet "Charlie Gilbert" (Owen Wilson), is a divorced father and teacher, who ends up getting invited against his will to the concert by his friend, "Parker" (Sarah Silverman). During the concert, Kat discovers that Bastian is a cheating bastard, resulting in a moment of grief (And Charlie conveniently holding up Parker's sign that reads "Marry Me"), agrees to marry Charlie. This shocks the world, social media goes wild, and Charlie becomes sucked into the celebrity lifestyle of interviews, picture taking, and all other nonsense. Kat intends to follow through with her decision, at least for a while, staying married to Charlie, though as the two spend more time and start to understand each other, maybe something could actually blossom between the two in spite of the ridiculous circumstance that's brought them together.   

Directed by Kat Coiro ("Life Happens"), with a screenplay by John Rogers ("Catwoman"), Tami Sagher ("Orange is the New Black"), and Harper Dill, "Marry Me" isn't the kind of film that requires much to relay what the audience has asked for, with if it works in any way for you basically being based entirely on your tolerance for this kind of cheese. To give this film some credit, for such an easy to make incredibly frustrating job, it works in more ways than it should, even if it still fails in the usual places. It's all quite predictable, with lame humor, and dialogue you can quote moments before the characters themselves finish their sentences. It's not a poorly directed film though, with a slightly generic feel. That's nothing really to complain about, since it still looks decent for what it is. It also has its sweet side, and unlike the worst of rom-coms, it doesn't feel fake. 

Most of what works about the film is the genuine chemistry between Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. As shocking and as silly as it sounds, they're almost disgustingly cute as a couple, and are plenty charming even on their own. (A sequence where Charlie attempts to get Kat to do things for herself, rather than rely on those around her, actually makes for an inspired and heartwarmingly humorous moment) Other members of the cast come across well, such as Sarah Silverman (Who easily gets the funniest lines) and John Bradley (as "Collin", Kat's caring manager). Chloe Coleman (as "Lou", Charlie's daughter) is also someone who shows signs of decent talent, even with what should be a thankless role. Maluma is an underwritten kind of, sort of antagonist, while I'm not sure what's the deal with Jimmy Fallon (as himself, who constantly mocks Kat's life every chance he gets), but it got a few chuckles out of me. 

With films like "Marry Me", I tend to grade them on what I refer to The "Love Actually" Scale. It's based on if it's better than "Love Actually" (A movie I kind of like in spite of itself and even then, just barely) and worth recommending as a solid enough film with some glaringly annoying flaws, or if it falls under that category into something lesser. Sadly, the film drops the ball about halfway through, where it only realizes how little conflict there's actually been for most of the runtime, spiraling for a finale (Which of course involves something trying to catch a plane). The film is perfectly mediocre, and all kinds of fluffy. It has a job to do, does it as okay as humanly possible, and makes its target audience happy. I can see couples gravitating towards it this Valentine's Day, which is what the film is clearly going for. (Personally, I'd say you'd be better off with "Death on the Nile", which has a similar, though more cynical outlook on the theme of love. Then again, that's probably why I'm still single) 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Mushy, Gushy, Lovey, Dovey Stuff. 

Death on the Nile                                                                                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: He knows, we're all guilty.

You gotta respect the classics, even when they may not fully translate the way they once did, but the earnest sense of dramatic entertainment that they bring just can't quite be replicated the way they once were. The murder mystery is a favorite of mine, and aside from "Knives Out", we just can't seem to get them to the level of the all time greats that once made up a good chunk of old fashioned cinema. However, Kemeth Branagh sure can get pretty close.  

Based on the book by Agatha Christie, "Death on the Nile" follows after the events of "Murder on the Orient Express", the renowned, epicly mustached private detective, "Hercule Poirot" (Kenneth Branagh), has seemingly decided to take some time off for a much needed holiday. Traveling to Egypt, Poirot reunites with his friend, "Bouc" (Tom Bateman), who introduces him to his unimpressed mother, "Euphemia" (Annette Bening). Poirot becomes a part of the festivities of the recently married and extremely wealthy, "Linnet Ridgeway" (Gal Gadot) and her new husband, "Simon Doyle" (Armie Hammer). The gathering also includes Linnet's old friend "Rosalie Otterbourne" (Letitia Wright) and her singer aunt "Salome" (Sophie Okonedo), Linnet's cousin and lawyer "Andrew Katchadourian" (Ali Fazal), Linnet's former fiancé and noble doctor "Linus Windlesham" (Russell Brand), Linnet's godmother "Marie Van Schuyler" (Jennifer Saunders) and her personal companion "Mrs. Bowers" (Dawn French), and Linnet's maid "Louise Bourget" (Rose Leslie). 

The partying and merriment is crashed by Linnet's former friend and Simon's former fiancé, "Jacqueline de Bellefort" (Emma Mackey), who is convinced that Simon still loves her, continuously following the two lovers wherever they go. This prompts Linnet to convince Poirot to stick around, fearing what Jacqueline might do, as well as pretty much everyone else, who all seem to have some kind of beef with her in some capacity. While aboard a luxurious cruise across the Nile River, tensions rise, secrets are uncovered, and apparently love is also in the air all around, leading to an ahem, death on the Nile. Murder actually. So now it's up to Hercule Poirot, being the world's greatest detective and all, to solve the case. However, he may not be completely up to the task, as the case starts to take a turn into much deadlier waters.

 Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Who has just found another Oscar nomination for Best Director with last year's excellent "Belfast"), with a screenplay by Michael Green ("Logan", "Blade Runner 2049", "Murder on the Orient Express"), "Death on the Nile" is one of those films that really generates the kind of fun that those classic murder mysteries of old can bring, faults and all. Does everything fully translate? Probably not. There's a reason it died out, and why so few seem to have it in them to attempt to bring them back (Rian Johnson was just crazy enough to go for it, and succeed). They're not entirely what today's audience will be dropping everything to go out to a theater to see, and there are signs of slight wear and tear, yet you can tell Branagh feels right at home here. Things are slower, with heavy talking, a lack of much of the modern cinematic excitement, and even to a degree, much of the production design feels more old fashioned. It's a gorgeous movie for sure, in terms of cinematography, costumes, and how much mood Branagh can convey in such a tightly quartered setting. However, in terms of special effects, they're not too special (Pretty obvious CGI work, and a questionable attempt at de-aging early on), and the storytelling just doesn't quite pack the same punch that not only superior films, but also doesn't reach the level of what the source material already has. These are expected flaws, and don't remotely drag it down in any damning ways. Much like the first film, it does a great job at lulling the audience into a false sense of security, with some light hearted humor and an almost oblivious sense of whimsy. After the murder is committed though, things take a dark, rather bleak turn, which puts you on edge, even if you already know what's going to happen. (Or at least think you know. I read this book years ago, and I'm pretty confident they changed or at least added in a few things)

The ensemble cast is excellent, even when some get lesser roles than others. Of course, Kenneth Branagh is the star of the show, and he's once again brilliant. Odd, a little quirky, and a bit over confident in his abilities, but nonetheless a genius, with an impeccable way of solving a difficult mystery and God help you if you piss him off. (The entire build up around the climax is a sight to see, and Branagh portrays the character's rather brutal, cold detective skills at work in scary fashion) Tom Bateman makes a delightful (And later, more complex) return, while we get some terrific, scene chewing performances out of Annette Bening, Jennifer Saunders, Sophie Okonedo, and Russell Brand, who especially plays against type here. There are some interesting standouts, such as a stunning Gal Gadot, along with spellbinding turns for both Emma Mackey and Letitia Wright. As to address the elephant in the room (I feel like we're doing that every few weeks now), Armie Hammer is very good, if you ignore the real life sexual abuse and the uh, cannibalistic fetishism.....Seriously, what the Hell man? 

"Death on the Nile" is far from perfect, but gets it right where it's most important. Entertaining in the most traditional of senses, with a great cast of characters, and a reminder that some genres don't deserve to die. (What? We got a dozen rom-coms with the same plot every year. Why not allow for something more classy?) Dark and little aloof, the film can never quite capture the same majesty of the source material, though does a very solid job replicating it, to the point I just wanna see more than a few future Poroit cases. He's too good a character to not keep this going. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Adult Content, Meticulous Murders, And The Dumb, Even Deadly Things Ones Will Do For Love.  

Moonfall                                                                                                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Let's just blow the whole thing up, start all over again."

Roland Emmerich! That maniac! He went and did it! He went and crafted his most Emmerichian film to date! There is no way he's going to top himself here. The moon is trying to kill us now. We have already shot for the stars, and made a direct hit at the very top. There's literally nowhere else to go now. Explosive, nonsensical, trashy popcorn blockbusters like this are the stuff dreams are made of. When your average "Marvel" movie has too much intelligence and depth for you (That's not a knock at Marvel. They actually have all of that and then some), it's nice to see that there are still those with a stiffy for stupid. To him, all I have to say is.....Thank you. You magnificent bastard.

"Moonfall" opens with hero astronaut, "Brian Harper" (Patrick Wilson), despite saving the life of his fellow astronaut and friend, "Jocinda Fowler" (Halle Berry), getting fired in disgrace after a space shuttle mission goes wrong, resulting in the station's destruction and the death of another colleague. Harper claims that the accident was caused by some kind of  mysterious black swarm, but nobody seems to believe him, resulting in Harper becoming a alcoholic recluse and pariah. Years late, nerdy conspiracy theorist, "K.C. Houseman" (John Bradley), through the use of sneaking around and posing as janitors, discovers that the moon is not only out of orbit, but it's nearing closer and closer to Earth. This of course means that gravity, oceans, everything about the weather, will change in drastic, horrifying ways that could potentially wipe us all out. When nobody, including Harper, refuse to listen to his mad ramblings, K.C. goes public, posting his finding online, resulting in mass panic. This also prompts the recently promoted Fowler to do some investigating of her own, learning that whatever is causing the abnormalities with the moon, has been covered up for decades, and now, this entity is about to end all life on Earth as we know it. 

Hoping to protect his estranged son, "Sonny" (Charlie Plummer), Harper partners up with K.C., reuniting with Fowler to be a part of a mission that will send an old, decommissioned NASA space shuttle, along with an experimental EMP device, to fly to the moon and hopefully destroy the deadly swarm. However, Harper, Fowler, and K.C. are forced to become unlikely heroes, piloting the shuttle themselves, while Charlie, along with Fowler's friend, "Michelle" (Kelly Yu) and son, "Jimmy" (Zayn Maloney), try to escape to safety, avoiding the wanton, devastating destruction that the moon is causing. With the military threatening to um, just nuke the moon (Okay, in what timeline did they think that was ever going to work?), Harper, Fowler, and K.C. are in a race against time to complete the mission, while discovering just what secrets that the moon is hiding. Secrets that will change the very way we look at life itself. Trust me, you have no idea just how insane this is going to get. 

Directed and co-written (Along with Spenser Cohen and frequent collaborator, Harald Kloser) by Roland Emmerich ("Stargate", "Independence Day", "The Day After Tomorrow", "2012", "White House Down"), "Moonfall" is the kind of nonsense that takes work. Skill even if you would call it that. Storytelling, screenwriting, dialogue, basic common and logical sense......Don't need it. That's not what the people want. They want massive explosions, annihilating everything in sight, with characters surviving the impossible, and a whole lot of goofiness mixed in there just for fun. Buildings are tosses around, gravity is selectively sending people and other objects flying into the swirling abyss, oceans are turning against us, and the moon even provides a jump scare or two, somehow sneaking up on people to attack without remorse. (I can't even explain how any of that works. It's even harder to comprehend when it happens on screen) To give Emmerich some credit, he knows how to make all of this look good and the money is clearly on screen. The visual effects are obviously CGI heavy, but they look great and grand, especially on the big screen. Even when none of it makes sense, you are kind of awestruck by what's literally thrown on screen. 

Films like this always find a way to rope in better than needed actors, with Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson showing up to do their jobs, do them well, collect their paychecks, and provide the necessary star power to keep this afloat. You know they're better than this (And can tell that they know they're better than this), but you welcome their professionalism. John Bradley is actually a very likable presence, providing more than just silly comic relief, and having a rather heroic character arc. The subplot with Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, and Michael Peña (as "Tom", Sonny's new stepfather, who he hates), is a lot less interesting. Not to mention the film doesn't do the best job establishing character motivations and certain relationships (For the first hour, I could have sworn Halle Berry and Kelly Yu's characters were supposed to be lovers. Nothing indicated otherwise). Some characters seem to die and nobody really has time to care, and even with all the destruction, how could anyone even think to themselves that any of this is remotely worth it if the mission succeeds? (The Earth is screwed regardless of what you do!) Luckily, Donald Sutherland (as "Holdenfield", a former NASA official previously involved in the moon cover up) pops in for about five minutes to add some gravitas.

The plot is where things really don't add up, though again, that actually kind of adds to the entertainment value, especially when we reach the bonkers last act. It's meant to bring everything together and explain everything to the audience, and you have no idea what it is. It's baffling, yet also beautiful to watch. That's "Moonfall" in a nutshell. For all its idiocy, it's also showstopping entertainment, that's quickly paced and believe it or not, so batsh*t that you commend the filmmakers on just how imaginative it ends up being. Is it a good movie? No! Nowhere close! What kind of question is that? However, is it freakin entertaining as Hell? Most definitely! 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Countless Deaths, Unheard Of Decimation, Spitting In The Faces Of All Religions, And Fuzz Aldrin. Warning: If You Major In Physics, Astrology, Or Any Kind Of Basic Science, Do Not See This Movie. For Your Own Safety And Mental Well Being.  

Jackass Forever                                                                                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: You know not to try ANY of this at home....Right?

Imagine this. You work morning to night all weekend, it's freezing cold, and the people can be even colder. It's hard, and sometimes you question how worth it the whole ordeal truly is. You need a break. A mental one. So seeing a bunch of grown men get splattered with the goo that comes out of a giant penis Godzilla is just the cure that you never knew you needed. (I will not explain any of that. You'll see exactly what I mean)

The fourth (And possibly final) entry in the franchise, itself based on the early 2000s MTV series, "Jackass Forever" gathers most of the old gang, such as Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Danger Ehren, and Preston Lacy, along with a few newbies like Poopsies, Zach Holmes, Jasper Dolphin, Rachel Wolfson, Eric Manaka, and even Dolphin's father, Darkshark. This is all excluding Bam Margera, who was fired during production due to legal and liability issues, and the late Ryan Dunn, who the film is dedicated to. The film follows this group of lovably immature, yet oddly creative hooligans as they engage is death-defying acts of bodily harm, bodily fluids, explosive nonsense, and just what kinds of things one can do with their dick. Come on. You're curious yourself. 

Once more directed by Jeff Tremaine, "Jackass Forever" is a series of stunts, pranks, and pratfalls that are equally wild, painful to watch, and absolutely hysterical. They reach levels of insanity that should probably be illegal, but I would be lying if I didn't admit that I'd gotten some of the biggest laughs I've ever gotten in a movie theater in some time. Plenty of these segments are crude and indulgent in gross out humor, such as the crew's journey to light a fart on fire underwater, Steve-O subjecting his poor, innocent testicles to becoming a brand new hive for a colony of bees, and the most amount of pig semen that I imagined I would ever see in my entire life. (You don't even wanna know what they do with it.) Then there are some that are just plain absurd, such as shooting a winged Johnny Knoxville out of a cannon over a lake, everyone marching onto a moving treadmill just because, and brutally abusing Danger Ehren's dick by bashing his protective cup with basically whatever they can find (Ranging from a direct punch from MMA fighter, Francis Ngannou, a swift softball shot from professional player, Danielle O-Toole, a violent puck shot from hockey player, Lance Bangs, and finally, just impaling his penis with a pogo stick!) Then you'll get some rather inspired, and dare I say, incredibly brilliant stuff, with a high speed vomit inducing carousel, an electrified dance, anything involving Knoxville's old man persona, seeing how much some of the crew dressed as mimes can withstand pain without screaming, and one prank referred to as "Silence of the Lambs", which I will not spoil for anyone.   

Too much maybe for some, but for me, it was a nonstop delight from beginning to end. "Jackass Forever" boasts a likable collection of people, who generate wonderfully brotastic comradery with one another, along with some rookies who hold their own, and a few surprises that pop up to either partake in the prank or to be the next victim of one. It's not exactly the kind of movie that you'll see at the next Oscars ceremony (Though when it's somehow better than certain nominations, maybe it's time we question ourselves), but it succeeds in every area it sets out for. It's grotesque and childish, yet gut bustingly hilarious and oddly genius. Such a good time, makes you smile on your worst day, and gives us hope for the future.....after watching a vulture eat cuts of meat off of Wee Man's barely covered genitals. This right here is what heroes do. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Dicks, Semen, Swears, Ass And Anus, Painful Injuries, Ball Sacks, Other Bodily Functions And Juices, Uhhhh, Am I Forgetting Anything? I Feel Like I'm Forgetting Something.    

The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild                                                            ★ ½ out of ★★★★   

Image: "Mad Max: The Animated Series."

You young people today probably don't remember the dark times. Disney was popping out classic after classic, though someone got the idea to make not just sequels to these films, but cheaper, direct to video sequels that may or may not lead to unmade television shows. It went on for some time, and a good chunk of them ranged from alright to really awkward and uncomfortable. Thankfully, they just stopped making these things one day and then there was a temporary peace. Sadly, now that "Blue Sky Studios" has been shut down, I guess somebody decides to give it another go, except for streaming this time.   

Set I'm assuming between the third and fourth films, though also somehow after the fifth film, and with still little resemblance to even the first film, "The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild" return us to the original herd, formed by mammoth, "Manny" (Sean Kenin, replacing Ray Romano), the sinus infected sloth, "Sid" (Jake Green, replacing John Leguizamo), the softie saber-toothed tiger, "Diego" (Skyler Stone, replacing Denis Leary), along with Manny's wife, "Ellie" (Dominique Jennings, replacing Queen Latifah), and her dim-witted adopted possum brothers, "Crash" (Vincent Tong, replacing Sean William Scott) and "Eddie" (Aaron Harris, replacing Josh Peck). This time the focus for some reason is on Crash and Eddie, who are tired of being told that they're too physically and mentally incapable of surviving all on their own. So the duo venture off, winding up back in the lost world of dinosaurs, reunited with the courageous and completely insane, one eyed weasel, "Buck Wild" (Simon Pegg), who at the moment in a conflict with a villainous dinosaur, "Orson" (Utkarsh Ambudkar), with a massive swelling brain. Orson has declared himself the ruler of the dinosaur world and intends to use an army of raptors to kill Buck, then take complete control. Now Buck, bringing along Crash, Eddie, and an old skunk-like friend, "Zee" (Justina Machado), are left to avoid Orson's forces to find a way to stop him.     

After five films, which kind of lost their way after a while, "The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild" feels like the spin-off that some wanted, but eventually forgot about, only for everyone to change their mind once they saw the final outcome. To be honest, this is nowhere near as bad as many of those old direct to video Disney sequels, considering the film seems to have hints of an actual purpose. However though, yyyyeah, it's oddly similar in some of the worst ways. Released via Disney+ (Just like far superior animated films like "Luca" and "Soul"), the animation is lacking in the original franchise's lush, colorful charm. It's not horrible looking by any means, but you can see where the animators cut corners due to the smaller budget. It all matches the bland direction by John C. Donkin (Who produced most of the Blue Sky films), and a weak screenplay by Ray DeLaurentis, Jim Hecht, and William Schifrin, that feels much, much more dumbed down for the youngest of audiences. The film gives the feeling of the remnants of an idea that was just sitting around, gathering dust while Blue Sky met its unfortunate end, only to be resurrected in some capacity for a quick, ahem, buck. The most jarring aspect though is what keeps the film from completely falling under is that there are hints of something that possibly could have worked. It's a fun premise, with good morals and to my surprise, a little extra character development. You just wish it was funnier, better thought out, and most importantly of all, necessary. 

Simon Pegg, the only returning actor, is tremendous as he always was before in the previous films, getting easily the funniest lines, such as an amusingly absurd running gag about him and his pumpkin daughter (Something so nonsensical, it warrants an occasional chuckle). Justina Machado brings more to a rather generic role, while Utkarsh Ambudkar is fine, humorously ineffective villain. A lot of the replacement voice actors don't get much to show off their own talents, with Sean Kenin and Dominique Jennings being the best in terms of impressions. Crash and Eddie have never been anything more than background comic relief and while I don't exactly know who exactly wanted a n entire movie with the two of them so close to the spotlight, I'll give credit that they do at least grow in some capacity. The biggest crime this movie commits though is completely excludes that nut obsessed squirrel, "Scrat" (Who quite frankly should have gotten his own spin-off years ago), and the filmmakers should be ashamed to leave my boy out!

While the film has a few moments of value and Simon Pegg's excellent voice work, "The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild" is nowhere near as bad as a straight to video Disney sequel, though that actually makes it less memorable. Not many laughs or heart, and lots of padding to get to at least the hour and twenty minute mark. On one hand though, it's not better or worse than the last "Ice Age" film, and considering that this was nowhere near a theater, I'm not sure if it's really a compliment. Disney, please leave Blue Sky alone. Let them rest peacefully. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For....Ugh, Nothing really. How Is This A PG? It's As Milquetoast As You Can Get. 

Redeeming Love                                                                                                         ½ out of ★★★★

Image: ""I forgive you....For all the of the dirty,  naughty things that men have always gotten to do....You're welcome."

Ohhh boy! It's been some time since I had a movie like this, and I'll about, I'm a little excited to get into it. You just know that to somebody, somewhere, this was their "Spider-Man: No Way Home". I feel that we need to find that person as soon as possible and get them the psychological that they so desperately need. There is nothing remotely positive to come out of this one. This is what torture porn for Christian people looks like. (Disclaimer: It's been brought to my attention that "The Passion of the Christ" was essentially that. I guess it's on its way to becoming a sub-genre)

Based on the book by Francine Rivers (Think "Fifty Shades of Grey" for evangelical people), "Redeeming Love" takes places during the California Gold Rush (In the mid-1800s, for those who don't know their history), where we follow "Angel" (Played by Livi Birch as a child, then by Abigail Cowen as an adult), a young woman forced into prostitution. After losing her abused mother, "Mae" (Nina Dobrev), Angel is taken in by the villainous "Duke" (Eric Dane), who is so evil that he dresses like the Devil and stabs people with his sword cane after they're already dead. Even as a child, Angel was subjected to live in the Duke's brothel, before she escapes to the town of "Paradise", working under the slightly less evil, though only slightly, "Duchess" (Famke Janssen), where she becomes the most sought after of the prostitutes in the town. Meanwhile, a dreamy, blue-eyed personification of boring white bread, "Michael Hosea" (Tom Lewis), is just so darn Christian and lonely, that he calls to God to send him some much needed companionship. (Sure, when he does it, it's considered cute and endearing. When I do it, it's considered weird and upsetting to the eye)

When Michael sees Angel, he's immediately smitten and won't settle for anything less than her hand in marriage, whether she likes it or not. Angel doesn't believe she's deserving of genuine love (Because she's a deflowered heathen you see), but Michael's earnest cardboard personality just won't quit, as he buys her from the Duchess......Well, he pays off her debt.....and then takes her to his farm......So yeah, he buys her (Kidnaps?). Anyways, Angel still plans to leave so that she can die alone, though perhaps, through the power of God, terrible pop and country music, and titillating PG-13 sex scenes, she will eventually find her sinful whore soul saved by some dude who just knows better. What the Hell man?

Directed by D. J. Caruso ("I Am Number Four", "XXX: Return of Xander Cage"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Francine Rivers, "Redeeming Love" is sick in the head, frustratingly long, and all kinds of grotesque. It's rather hilarious how disturbingly misguided and offensive this movie is, and no matter how boring it gets, you gotta give credit to the source material in how much in doubles down on being needlessly vile. It's a faith based movie for sure, that also just so happens to feature sex, prostitution, violence, rape, adultery, incest, suicide, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, pedophilia, and forced abortions.....Actually that last one isn't too shocking. But still, who is this made for? If I were a devout Christian, I'd find this stupid and just plain insulting. It doesn't help that the religious aspect is so ham fisted, shoved down your throat forcefully thanks to the predictable, uninspired script and wooden dialogue. The film wallows in how horrible it is, while the tone desperately wants to not only be uplifting, but also kind of steamy and sensual. What sick bastard can get it up after watching this? 

The film's message is also all over the place, with every other male character (Except Michael because he's the Christian and he's got abs) being disgusting or rapey.  However, all the women in the film are so victimized, treated like garbage constantly and yet, still the film insists that Angel needs to be redeemed despite the fact that none of what happened to her is remotely her fault. So is it a sin to be raped and forced into prostitution against your will? Does she really need to be married to some guy to really be happy? None of this is exactly empowering here. It's like the film doesn't know what it's trying to say, but damn it, it's going to ensure that you suffer just as much watching terrible people do terrible things for the sake of demented drama. D. J. Caruso himself feels out of place as a director, with a guy known for thrillers and muscle-head Vin Diesel action flicks being an obviously poor match for an aggressively slow paced period piece.    

Abigail Cowen isn't a bad actress by any means and every once in a while, shows potential, though is sadly like many aspiring young actresses stuck in a terrible romance film before her, gets dragged down by the film itself (It's almost as if these movies are trying to ruin an actress' performance no matter how much they try) Tom Lewis on the other hand is the embodiment of bland, with no presence, personality, and always sounds like he has some kind of Southern sore throat (The whole time I just wanted to hear him raise his voice. Just a little bit to see if he could). Famke Janssen shows up and then vanishes without a trace, while Eric Dane is actually kind of amazing as our preposterously evil main villain (He's the kind of guy that wouldn't so much kick a puppy. He'd more bite off its head) Oh and poor Nina Dobrev, who this movie just makes suffer senselessly, and it's tragic to watch for reasons completely different from what the movie intended. The best performances in the film come from Livi Birch, who is trying her heart out regardless of what the source material is, and Logan Marshall-Green (as "Paul", Michael's rather repulsive, though later genuinely repentant brother in law, who has given up on life after the death of his wife), who actually does sell easily the most interesting character in the entire story. 

Vile from top to bottom, "Redeeming Love" has very little eh, redeeming value to it. It's not quite as bad as say "Home Sweet Home" alone, with that movie somehow being more incompetent than this one. This movie is more indecent than anything. Aside from poor direction, lousy dialogue, a weakly told (And rather predictable) story, complete with made for television levels of editing and questionable morals, you just feel gross watching it. The film borders on so bad it's good often, though I can't in good conscience tell anyone that they need to see this movie, even in an ironic way. Plus, anyone responsible for something this dangerously misguided, doesn't deserve any of your money. Problematic all over, grossly careless with it's subject matter, and disrespectful to just about everyone. This movie's going to Hell. 1/2 Star. Rated PG-13, Despite Strong Sexual Content And Unpleasant Subject Matter That Only Deserves To Be Talked About By The Smartest, Most Respectful, And Capable Of People. Basically Not This Movie. Oh, and for Famke Janssen.  

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I bet he'd taste great with garlic!"

It's a little odd considering the top notch animation, crew of well known voices, and the fact that in recent years, the Oscar winning studio, "Sony Pictures Animation", this film would have definitely felt out of place in a theater. There's a real straight to video vibe with this one, and since I never really was a fan of the franchise in the first place, it feels fitting that it should end this way.

The fourth addition to the series, "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" once again follows the residents of the titular hotel, run by the once human fearing "Dracula" (Brian Hull, replacing Adam Sandler). Dracula is considering that it's time to retire with his former monster hunting wife, "Ericka Van Helsing" (Kathryn Hahn), thus leaving the hotel to his daughter, "Mavis" (Selena Gomez) and her human husband, "Johnny" (Andy Samberg). However, Johnny is still sporadically annoying, and Dracula can't go through with it, lying to Johnny about some kind of ancient real estate law that will prevent Drac from giving the hotel away to a human. Knowing how much Mavis wants this, Johnny turns to Ericka's really old, partially steampunk mad scientist great-grandfather, "Professor Abraham Van Helsing" (Jim Gaffigan), who provides Johnny with a crystal that can turn a human into a monster and vice versa. Johnny turns into a green, dragon-esque creature, and through the power of shenanigans, Dracula ends up being turned human (Complete with a gut, balding hair, and all those other attributes that make us miserable). 

With the crystal cracked, Professor Van Helsing sends Dracula and Johnny off on a journey into South America to search for a new one to change themselves back. Meanwhile though, Dracula's whole gang of the usual celebrity voice actors have also been turned human, such as the werewolf "Wayne" (Steve Buscemi) becoming a hairy man, the invisible man "Griffin" (David Spade) being revealed to be totally nude all the time, the mummy "Murray" (Keegan-Michael Key) becoming just an old man, the Frankenstein-esque monster "Frank" (Brad Abrell, replacing Kevin James) becoming um, some dude, and the gelatinous blob, "Blobby" becoming, well, gelatin. When Mavis and Ericka find out about the chaos, they bring everyone along to catch up to Dracula and Johnny, who is slowly starting to mutate further into something even more monstrous.  

Directed by Derek Drymon (Known for his work on "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Adventure Time") and Jennifer Kluska (Known for "DC Super Hero Girls"), replacing Genndy Tartakovsky (Who is given a screenwriting credit), "Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" brings the series to a close, and a rather bland, unnecessary one at that. Originally meant to be released in theaters last year, before the pandemic convinced the filmmakers to instead release it via Amazon Prime, the franchise has never been particularly much when it comes to its plots, though this one in particular feels as if they're grasping at straws. Aside from the runtime not even reaching an hour and a half, we get a very generic, at times uneventful storyline, that's mostly an excuse for a few silly gags and the typically sporadic animation. The animation is as to be expected, very energized, delightful to look at, and you can just tell that the animators themselves are just plain having a good time with how wildly exaggerated their characters can look or act. It's an earnest film when it comes to how it looks, though feels more subpar considering Sony's far superior work with "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse" and "The Mitchells vs. the Machines". The uninspired screenplay is where the film falls flat, with a handful of chuckles, but loads of groaners and little originality. Out of all the films in the franchise, this one feels the most kid oriented. With that said though, that makes the film just kind of boring. (It's certainly not as annoying as "Hotel Transylvania 2")

Brian Hull brings more personality to the role than Adam Sandler ever did, who most of the time was just doing a silly voice without ever actually saying anything funny. Hull at least gives a little extra life to what's just supposed to be a caricature of the Dracula accent. Some voices, such as Steve Buscemi, Keegan-Michael Key, Selena Gomez, and David Spade standout, while others like Kathryn Hahn, Jim Gaffigan, and Molly Shannon (as "Wanda", Wayne's still pregnant wife) are all woefully underused. (Four times in a row you guys did nothing with Molly Shannon. Shame on you!) Andy Samberg is fine, but the character has continuously gotten less and less welcome as time as gone on, leaving one to wonder what exactly is his point for being here. (I also try my best to not think about the fact that Johnny has successfully impregnated anything!) The movie randomly stops dead for a moment to showcase a random, more detailed monster character for ten seconds (Voiced by somebody called "Ninja". Don't know who that is and don't care). Also, no Mel Brooks this time. So that's another reason for this movie not needing to exist. 

"Hotel Transylvania: Transformania" isn't the worst in the series, but it's the least interesting by far. For undemanding kids, it's an amusing, completely harmless bit of cartoonish chaos. For adults, it's something to leave on in the background to keep the peace. Normally I would have been more frustrated by this, especially if I'd seen it in theaters, though there's not enough memorability to the movie to leave that kind of impression. It won't hurt anyone, yet it won't exactly transform into something of value. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Jokes And Lots Of Butts. These Hotel Transylvania Movies Love Their Butts.   

Scream                                                                                                            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Hey, why the long face?

Do you like scary movies? Or do you at least have a tolerance for them? Then maybe the "Scream" franchise could be for you. Created by the late Wes Craven, if you're an obsessive horror fan, or even if you're really not, the films have used humor and a satirical edge, pointing out the various tropes of the genre, while also giving slasher fans exactly what they ask for. While controversial in terms of quality to some, the original and the sequels have had something to say about what comes with the typical horror, slasher flick. However, you are left wondering exactly what could be brought to the table. What exactly could "Scream" even talk about after already deconstructing so much? Not to mention when others have already started to do the same? Let's just say that blade is still pretty damn sharp. 

The fifth entry in the series, simply titled "Scream" (Because all major franchises do that eventually. The movie even points that one out), the film opens like all the previous films in the franchise has before it, with a girl being left home by herself, this time named "Tara Carpenter" (Jenna Ortega), answering a phone call from the murderous, raspy voiced "Ghostface" (Voiced once again by Roger L. Jackson), before a brutal attacking. Things turn out a little differently this time (No spoilers here. It's better to be surprised with this one), as Tara's older sister, "Sam" (Melissa Barrera), returns to the town of "Woodsboro", with her boyfriend, "Richie" (Jack Quaid). It turns out though that this new Ghostface (Or Ghostfaces, considering that there are usually two of them), is targeting those in some way related to those involved with the events of previous "Stab" film (The in-universe movie franchise that was inspired by all the previous Woodsboro killings), including Tara's group of friends, including her friend, "Amber" (Mikey Madison), movie expert "Mindy Meeks-Martin" (Jasmin Savoy Brown), her brother "Chad" (Mason Gooding) and his girlfriend "Liv" (Sonia Ben Ammar), and "Wes" (Dylan Minnette), the son of the now sheriff "Judy Hicks" (Marley Shelton). 

Desperate and with nowhere else to turn, Sam reaches out to someone with a little familiarity with this situation, "Dewey Riley" (David Arquette), who has fallen on hard times after his divorce from reporter "Gale Weathers" (Courtney Cox). Dewey is at first reluctant to help, though knows the game, the rules that follow, and that these murders aren't going to stop. Dewey assists Sam in trying to find out who the sicko is behind the grisliness this time. With everyone being a suspect and nobody to really trust, the original final girl herself, "Sidney Prescott" (Neve Campbell), enters the picture, as the typical horror tropes end up turned upside down, leading to the possibility of the new killer's dream to reigniting the bloody franchise becoming a reality. 

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not") and written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busik (Who have both collaborated with Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett before), "Scream" (Not "5CREAM". Hey, I totally would have let it slide if they really went for that) may be one of the best advertised films I've seen in a while, where the trailers and TV spots have done so much misdirecting and intentional false advertising, that you really aren't prepared for what this film truly is. Yet, while it all may seem a little different in execution this time around, the usual ingredients for what makes this franchise work and how it's been able to survive this long (Over twenty five years. Now that's really something). The film is the first since Wes Craven's passing (And the film is lovingly dedicated to him), Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett honor what he brought to the series, continuing and exploring more of the possibilities that it has to offer, while also putting their own special, very relevant spin on the usual slice and dice routine. I wouldn't say that the film is particularly scary, but it's got style, mood, and loads of suspense, with a, pardon the easy pun here, razor sharp screenplay, which continues to toy with the tropes that we've grown accustomed to when it comes to slasher films (Not to mention poking fun at the difference between old school horror and the modern day, more "elevated" ones). The film has a lot to say and it takes its time to say it, but once everything is revealed, the filmmakers are hilariously unsubtle about it and it's quite brilliant.  

Without spoiling too much here, the focus isn't on the original core three main characters from previous films. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and particularly David Arquette, are all terrific and very much welcome back, but they're more along the lines of supporting players this time. Our new cast of characters are pretty memorable, stand out on their own, and each have a part to play, though some more than others. Melissa Barrera, who carries a good chunk of the film, is outstanding, along with an equally wonderful Jenna Ortega. The two of them also have a handful of moments that are almost too well done for a movie like this. Jack Quaid gets some of the funniest lines, while Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnitte, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Mikey Madison, are all archetypes in a way, though all come into their own. A real standout would be Jasmin Savoy Brown, who gets an amazing monologue explaining what exactly is a sequel, that's also a reboot, though still a direct continuation and reinvention at the same time (Seriously, finally! I literally had no idea how to explain that to people until now). Ghostface (And Roger L. Jackson's demented voicework), remains an at times chilling presence, who still despite his effectiveness at killing people, can't help falling over himself or running into things, like you'd expect a random, not particularly skilled person would be. I will admit that the reveal of who really is the big bad isn't exactly difficult to figure out, but the motivations are truly something that I wish I'd thought of before going into the movie, and boy, is it something that's bound to resonate in a suitably controversial fashion (Being a major "Star Wars" fan, this certainly felt necessary to talk about. We'll leave it at that). It's really smart stuff, and gives the film series an unexpected reason to exist (And possibly even continue further). 

Funny as Hell, maliciously meta, brutally violent, and despite all the vicious stabbings, "Scream" always thankfully retains a certain level of heart to go with all the buckets of blood. It's quick-witted in its execution, well directed, and provides a certain level of nostalgia for the fans, while also doing what a good um, sequel/reboot/thingy, should do. Even the film's occasional predictable beats feel necessary, and regardless, there are still so many clever surprises, especially in the rather epic final twenty minutes. I like the franchise quite a bit, though I wasn't expecting to have as such a good time with this one. It catches you off guard, similar to how the original did for people in the 90s, and personally, I think this might be the best entry yet. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence, Bad Behavior, Satirical Stabbings, And The Worst That Nerdy Fandom Has To Offer.     

The 355                                                                                                                    ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: " Double 00-Wowsers!"

So let me get this straight. We have ourselves a slick, decently budgeted action-thriller, with a handful of awesome women, from differentiating nationalities, offering some nice diversity and empowerment to deviate from your average action flick. Not to mention they're all really, really attractive? Sounds like a win for literally everyone here. If only decent direction and screenwriting found a way into that concoction..... 

"The 355" opens with tough and rebellious CIA agent, "Mason "Mace" Browne" (Jessica Chastain), as she and her partner/on and off again love interest, "Nick Fowler" (Sebastian Stan), track down a rogue DNI agent, "Luis Rojas" (Édgar Ramírez), who has in his possession a computer chip of sorts that allows the user to hack into any system and cause of end of the world havoc. Of course all kinds of terrorists, wannabe dictators, and supervillains, such as our big bad whose name I can't remember (Jason Flemyng), and to make matters worse, other agencies are also searching for the chip, leading to a botched mission, with Nick being taken out and Mace losing track of a German BND agent, "Marie Schmidt" (Diane Kruger). With new orders to take matters into her own hands, Mace partners up with her friend, MI6 agent, "Khadijah" (Lupita Nyong'o), to find the chip before it ends up in villainous hands, while Marie does that same by rescuing Colombian MSS psychiatrist, "Graciela" (Penélope Cruz), who now might be the only one who can find out where the chip is. Mace, Khadijah, Marie, and Graciela soon find themselves with a common enemy and a common mission, forced to all work together for the greater good, while a mysterious fifth agent, "Lin Mi Sheng" (Fan Bignbing), with her own agenda, soon entering the fray. 

Directed by Simon Kinberg (Known for writing most of the "X-Men" franchise, though sadly directed one of their lesser entries, "Dark Phoenix"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Theresa Rebeck (Who has a story credit for....."Catwoman"....ohhhhh), "The 355" has some good ingredients, that could make for a nice January diversion. Sadly, everything feels trapped in the kind of movie that one is used to seeing at this point in the year. Generic. Forgettable. Lackluster. All of these words are what come to mind. There is very little that's actually special about the film, from the shaky cam styled action, along with the very plain and plodding direction. The film's look is also inconsistent. Sometimes it's solid enough, with flashy sets and smooth costume design, though at other times, it definitely feels like something you'd see on Fox or ABC. There is a certain made for television like quality to the film, right down to the predictable origin story of sorts, which also seems more interested in establishing its premise, without actually getting to the point until the last act. 

These actresses are all much better than this material, though they still remain professional regardless of the script's shortcomings. Jessica "Still My Number One Crush" Chastain has the potential to be a kick-ass action star, but between this and 2020's also pretty lame "Ava", you desperately want to find something worthy of her talents. Diane Kruger is the most questionable of the group, supposedly being the hothead who doesn't play well with others, but more comes across as grossly incompetent. Lupita Nyong'o and Penélope Cruz have the most character of the main cast, with Cruz especially giving a performance too good for this movie. Fan Bingbing comes in very late into the narrative and her storyline doesn't add hardly anything at all (I feel that there was a much easier way to go about this, and you instead chose the most contrived path). Jason Flemyng is almost nonexistent as a villain, Édgar Ramírez is seemingly important until he's not, and Sebastian Stan is well....Do I really need to tell anyone what he's doing here? There is a convoluted mess of a plot here, that tries to have some humor in odd places, gets a little too bleak in others, and still suffers from the most stupid of action movie clichés. There is a moment where the villains let the heroines walk away for no reason despite having them at gunpoint, and yet, are still shocked that they return to annihilate them all during the climax. It's a bit of a baffling corner this movie writes itself into and it's almost commendable how it jumps right into plot holes without question.

Predictable from start to finish, "The 355" is such a disappointment considering what they could have had here if only the filmmakers had an inkling of originality. Lame, cookie cutter dialogue, with bland characters, and overly safe violence (I get you're PG-13, but come on. No gunshot is THAT clean). It's more dull and unremarkable than anything, though loses some extra points due to the cobbled together, rushed wrap up that seems to want to set up a franchise of sorts. Sadly, nothing about the film is interesting enough to warrant any sequels, leaving the film to fill up a release slot until we get to something bigger and better in the later year. Start 2022 off with something woefully mediocre, and it only raises expectations for what's to come. If the pandemic allows for it, of course. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Suggestive Content, Very Attractive, Badass Women Being Attractive and Badass, And A Plot Reveal I Saw Coming Months Ago. Again, Who Were They Trying To Fool With That One?