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Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

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?