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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Avatar: The Way of Water                                                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: No....Flying, thingymabob was harmed in the filming of this movie.

2009's "Avatar" (Not to be confused with "Avatar: The Last Airbender". Seriously, I don't think enough people actually comprehend how weird it is to have two franchises sharing the same name), was James Cameron's epic passion project, and went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time at that moment. Surpassing Cameron's other massive success, "Titanic". In fact, it's still the highest grossing movie of all time (Not even "Avengers: Endgame" could beat it in the end). It had groundbreaking special effects, game changing 3D, and took us to a world that may have all been fake, but felt like it was completely real and lived in. And yet, nobody can agree on the film. There's a fanbase for sure, but while they're out there, they're not in the open. It's not like anything from "Marvel", or "Star Wars", or any other massive franchise. Nobody goes around quoting it, cosplaying as their favorite characters, talking about how great it is, or just even acknowledging it. Some hate the film. Some are just like "Meh". A lot just plain don't remember it. Honestly, I couldn't even pinpoint what my own thoughts were on it until seeing it for the second time only recently. Thirteen years. We don't know how this is going to work, or even what to expect. This could easily be the riskiest Hollywood move of the year, regardless of the film's quality.  

Set over ten years after the events of the first film, "Avatar: Way of the Water" returns us to the beautiful, blue alien world of "Pandora", where former soldier and former human, "Jake Sully" (Sam Worthington), who has become a full "Na'vi" (aka a tall, blue cat person), settling down with "Neytiri" (Zoe Saldaña). Jake and Neytiri now have three growing children, the strong eldest "Neteyam" (Jamie Flatters), the misunderstood "Lo'ak" (Britain Dalton), and the young daughter, "Tuk" (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), having also adopted the rather mysteriously born, "Kiri" (Sigourney Weaver), the daughter of the Avatar belonging to the deceased "Grace Augustine" (Played also in the first film by Sigourney Weaver). At the same time, Jake and Neytiri's kids have also closely bonded with a teenage human orphan, "Spider" (Jack Champion), who has adapted to the ways of the Na'vi, choosing to be one of them, despite having other fellow human sympathizers being around. However, peace isn't destined to last, with the "Sky People" (aka, the humans of Earth), return to once again set their sights on colonizing Pandora, whether or not that will result in countless destruction. 

This also leads to the return of Jake's old nemesis, the deceased "Colonel Miles Quaritch" (Stephen Lang), whose memories have been placed within a new Na'vi body, and now he has only one thing on his mind. Good, old fashioned, gung-ho revenge. Jake realizes that to keep his family safe, they will need to leave their forest home, journeying off to find refuge with the water tribes. While the chief, "Tonowari" (Cliff Curtis) is willing to accept Jake and his family, his wife "Ronal" (Kate Winslet), is much less welcoming. Now Jake's family have to adjust to a completely new lifestyle, becoming one with the very water itself, while Quaritch ruthlessly hunts them down. 

Directed once again by James Cameron, who also co-wrote the film with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("Jurassic World", "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), "Avatar: Way of the Water" has a lot going against it, despite being something made entirely out of pure, almost crazy directorial passion. We can start off by me admitting that the original "Avatar" is actually a fine, dare I say, good film, with lots of cinematic greatness (In terms of spectacle especially), that just so happens to falter when it comes to its derivative story, basic characters, cookie cutter dialogue, and lack of anything all that original outside of the visuals. It works for the most part, though I, like many, don't quite see what the big deal was outside of the incredible effects and world building. It's my pleasure to say though that while the new film still can't quite fix all the problems of its predecessor, it improves where it counts and also further embrace what worked the first time around. 

First things first, how does the film look in terms of visuals, scale, and effects? It's all brilliantly crafted, surpassing the original (Whose effects still hold up actually), from the jaw dropping amount of attention to detail, beautiful imagery that just sucks you in, and unbelievable 3D. This is literally the only movie that you have to see in 3D, on the largest screen possible, so that you can truly appreciate all of the love and care that's been taken to make Pandora look even more real than ever before. The motion capture is flawless, from the skin, the water, the water splashing on the skin, every hair, scar, blade of grass, all the creatures, everything. One could just go on and on about how amazing it looks, making just all other effects in film look subpar by comparison, but also just making real life look kind of crappy too. It's so unbelievable to the eyes that you don't want to go back to what limitations reality itself has to offer. The sheer scope of James Cameron's vision ignites the audience's imagination and results in what I can only describe as life itself being created before your very eyes. (On a side note, I heard lots of talk about an extreme frame rate, and I'm not sure if I actually got that during my screening. Either it wasn't a high frame rate, or my eyes just didn't notice it) The cinematography from the Russell Carpenter ("Titanic") and the powerful score by Simon Franglen (Who worked with the late James Horner, composer of the first film), also enhance the film's grand feel. 

In terms of characters and story, it's still fairly simple stuff, though there's a little more depth to it now. It's more than just "Pocahontas" in space this time around. Sam Worthington is no longer the bland, blank slate he was before, having settled into the struggling dad role, while Zoe Saldaña adds a few more complex layers to her character that we hadn't seen in the first one. Arguably, they're not even the main characters, with the film focusing on the newer cast, who prove to be far more interesting. Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, and Bailey Bass (as "Reya", the chief's daughter and Lo'ak's love interest), are all very endearing, while Sigourney Weaver (Who plays both the teenage Kiri and a quick cameo as Dr. Augustine) is absolutely wonderful. There's a lot more compelling work from our main characters that I don't recall quite getting from the first one. 

Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis are great, while Jack Champion is essentially White Aladdin, with dreadlocks. Stephen Lang, who was as generic an army villain as you could get in the first film, really gets to dive more into his character, providing a little extra backstory and depth that was missing. Lang genuinely makes for a villain that's still plenty evil, though just oddly more complex (I actually can't tell if this is just Lang showing how much he's improved as an actor, or James Cameron addressing a mistake from the first film. Either way, it works). The rest of our villains are pretty one note, from Edie Falco (as "General Ardmore", the new big boss in charge of Earth's military) and her evil coffee drinking ass, along with a suitably vile Brendan Cowell (as "Captain Mick Scoresby", the head of a group of humans, hunting Pandoran whales). The creatures and the world of Pandora are characters themselves, particularly a large, scarred space whale called a "Tulkun", who is a remarkable, brilliant creation. Not only does it look real beyond belief, but also is such a lovable creature that you're immediately invested in Lo'ak's sweet subplot of befriending the animal and hope nothing bad happens to it. (I was repeatedly muttering "Don't hurt the space whale. Don't hurt the space whale.") All the cast really deserves all kinds of credit for having to perform so much motion capture, while also having to learn how to do so underwater as well. 

"Avatar: The Way of Water" isn't without some uninspired dialogue, that's delivered with 100% seriousness. (I know that it's basically supposed to be the alternative to Marvel's more self-aware, snarky sense of humor, but it just feels a little silly here. Charming, but silly) It is still a stronger film than the film, that's not without more than a few emotional moments, more complicated characterizations (Seriously though, how did freakin Miles Quaritch turn into an actually captivating character?), and awe-inspiring effects that make for the most pure of movie magic. It's a long haul (Over three hours), but stands on its own as a fine blockbuster that even with some of the usual gripes, I can't in good conscience tell somebody not to go see it. And yeah, the 3D is also completely necessary. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Science Fiction Violence, Traumatic Imagery, Excessive Blueness, And More Hot, Steamy Tail Sex. 

The Mean One                                                                                                      ★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Jim Carrey sure looks pissed this time.

I'm in a bit of a conundrum with this one. This film only announced its existence two months ago, somehow found itself released into a decent amount of theaters on what I can only assume is an almost nonexistent budget, and seems completely intent on being purposefully bad. So what can I say? It succeeded? Because it's not good. Did it fail? Well, I've seen much worse. Did it do its job? Um, I guess. It just is what it is. Cinema, man!

An unauthorized horror parody of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" by Dr. Seuss, "The Mean One" opens on Christmas Eve in the mountain town of "Newville", where a young "Cindy You-Know-Who" (Played by Saphina Chanadet as a child, then by Krystle Martin as an adult), witnesses her mother's horrific death at the hands of a Santa suit wearing, green skinned, Grinchy character referred to as "The Mean One" (David Howard Thornton). Years later, Cindy returns to town with her Christmas loving father, "Lou" (Flip Kobler), in hopes of some closure, discovering that the town has seemingly outlawed Christmas altogether. Cindy also seems to have antagonist relationships with the local sheriff, "Hooper" (Eric Baker) and the selfish town mayor, "McBean" (Amy Schumacher), though appears to hit it off with the nice deputy "Burke" (Chase Mullins). However, after Lou is brutally murdered by the Mean One for setting up Christmas decorations, Cindy sets out to prove his existence, learning more about the green menace from the local kook, "Doc" (John Bigham). Determined to put an end to this once and for all, Cindy readies herself for a final showdown with the Mean One before more bodies start to pile up, and worst of all, he steals Christmas!

Directed by Steven LaMorte (Who according to IMDB, directed a fan made, adult "Powerpuff Girls" movie), with a screenplay by Finn and Flip Kobler (Known for more straight to DVD Disney sequels than you would expect. Hint: It's more than three!), "The Mean One" is a cheaply made, straight to DVD or SyFy television film, put on the big screen, where one can only further tell just how poorly made it is. The sound design and ADR is less than TV quality, with home movie style direction, and effects work that anyone on the internet can do with enough time and effort. Don't even get me started on the camera work and the basic photography. This is a bad movie. As it's supposed to be. It just isn't, well, that kind of bad. I mean that as both a compliment, as well as an insult. It's obvious from the premise alone, which leans more into comedy than horror (Though only to a degree), that nobody is supposed to take any of this seriously. It's completely ridiculous in execution, with predictable plotting, a terrible script, and bizarre editing choices, likely due to a lack of budget. When the film goes wrong in ways that aren't intended, it's due to how it can't really decide what's actually supposed to be legitimately funny, and what's meant to be so bad it's funny. There are some clever jokes, mostly around how the filmmakers had to tip-toe around copyright infringement (The name "The Grinch" is never said where the audience can hear it), and bits of dark humor, such as the Mean One slaughtering a bunch of partying Santas, while still channeling Jim Carrey-esque cartoonish energy. There are far too many long portions of the ninety minute film that don't have much to chuckle at, in terms of humor or badness. 

David Howard Thornton, previously seen earlier in this year's "Terrifier 2", is still an impressive talent, with a remarkable amount of physicality despite being covered in make-up and prosthetics. Speaking of which, the costume is solid for what it is, though most of the credit has to go to Thornton's performance, which is just full of life. More than this movie really deserves. I feel bad for Krystle Martin (Known for her stuntwork), who is trying her very best. She's not exactly succeeding, but you can tell she's earnest. Most of the acting is pretty terrible, though I found Amy Schumacher to be creepy in a surreal fashion (She reminds me of a certain, specific couponer when I worked at CVS. Always smiling ear to ear, nearly cracking every time she heard something she didn't like, and always on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Looks almost exactly like her. Now that was truly scary). Easily the best performances come from John Bigham, who lives up to his name by hamming it up in charming delight, and Christopher Sanders (as the voice of the rhyming narrator), who sets the tone much better than the film itself can. 

 "The Mean One" could have benefited from either upping the carnage and gore (Instead of relying on lame CGI blood, that feels tacked on at the last second), or going more for broke in how far they could take such a bizarre idea. Despite some amusing and even clever moments, the film just isn't near fun enough, especially to see in a movie theater. It's not that fun in a good way, nor is it enjoyable enough in a bad way. (It's no "The Room", or "Birdemic") It doesn't have a pretentious bone in its body, and is over and done with quickly. I gotta commend the film for that. Just not exactly the bloody good time it could be, regardless of what kind of quality you're looking for. 1 1/2 Stars. Apparently Not Rated, Though Easily Could Make For A Light R Due To Language, CGI Blood, And Devious Copyright Infringement. Again, Probably The Smartest Thing About The Film. 

Violent Night                                                                                                     ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image:  I knew that Santa has been going through some sh*t....But geez!

I can't be the only guy suffering from Christmas fatigue, can I? After suffering a horrendous Christmas last year (Working retail on Christmas day, with all kinds of crappy people popping up to shop for literally nothing, kind of brings you out of it), and now having to deal with the holiday being shoved in my face even back in September, I've had some trouble getting excited. It's the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, it's not all that special when it's become so bitter and commercialized to the point one becomes desensitized to it all. Thankfully, the sight of Sheriff Hopper, dressed as Santa Claus, stabbing the absolute f*ck out of bad guys with a sharpened candy cane, just might be what I need to get into the Christmas spirit. Come on, you know you cracked a smile just reading that. 

"Violent Night" follows a washed up, worn down, and now completely cynical "Santa Claus" (David Harbour), who on Christmas Eve, spends his breaks from delivering gifts to all the good children of the world to get drunk, peeing while flying on his reindeer powered sleigh, and complaining about how things just aren't the same anymore. Having lost his Christmas spirit, Santa just half-asses it nowadays. Meanwhile, estranged couple, "Jason" (Alex Hassell) and "Linda" (Alexis Louder), agree to come together for the holidays, taking their sweet daughter, "Trudy" (Leah Brady), to visit Jason's absurdly wealthy mother, "Gertrude Lightstone" (Beverly D'Angelo), and the rest of his terrible family. While at the family gathering, which also brought in Jason's neurotic sister, "Alva" (Edi Patterson), her annoying influencer son, "Bert" (Alexander Elliot), and Alva's current, moronic movie star wannabe husband, "Morgan Steele" (Cam Gigandet), tensions are already running high enough a sit is. It only gets worse when a group of mercenaries arrive, kill all of the staff, and take the entire family hostage. 

These Christmas themed murderers, led by the especially vile "Mr. Scrooge" (John Leguizamo), wants access to Gertrude's secret vault where she happens to be storing millions of dollars. At this same time, Santa just so happens to be stopping by the Lightstone estate, and winds up caught in the crossfire. Now without his reindeer and with Trudy, armed with a walkie talkie, being his only ally, Santa must go to town on these dangerous villains, and save Christmas, along with reigniting his own holiday spirit at the same time. All in incredibly violent fashion. 

Directed by Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow", "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), with a screenplay from Pat Casey and Josh Miller (The "Sonic the Hedgehog" films), "Violent Night" is a monstrous hybrid of "Home Alone" and "Die Hard". The film is damn near unsettling in just how over the top the violence is, and yet, it's undeniably creative about it as well. This badass Santa uses whatever he can find to massacre our baddies, such as jabbing Christmas stars into people's eyes, giant hammers, choking with Christmas wreaths, and whatever other yuletide themed item he can possibly use. Wirkola, who I can see from his filmography just loves wildly cartoonish gore, looks to be having a blast with the carnage, creating a few elaborate action scenes, and tossing out loads of pitch black comedy while he does it. On the flip side, in terms of plotting, it's fairly generic stuff, even with the inspired premise. There aren't many surprises where the story goes, and could be seen as entirely derivative of other Christmas centered products. That doesn't in any way detract though from a film that seems to be fully immersed in its own mutilating mayhem.     

David Harbour completely commits to our drunken Santa, who despite his cynicism, does deep down only wants what's best for the children of the world and displays plenty of jolliness. You know, when he's not blowing the crap outta people with grenades or sending their heads to be chopped up inside lawn mowers. The relationship between Harbour and Lead Brady is legitimately cute and gives the film some surprise. Alex Hassell is enjoyably dorky, while it's nice to see more of Alexis Louder (Who previously had her breakout performance in last year's "Copshop"). Some of the supporting characters aren't much more than caricatures, though Beverly D'Angelo looks to be enjoying herself spouting out all kinds of vulgar language, and there are some good laughs out of Cam Gigandet (Whose character is literally introduced talking about how different 9/11 would have gone down if he had been there). Meanwhile, John Leguizamo is terrific here, playing a villain that's hilarious, easily detestable, and shockingly villainous in the most despicable of ways. (You really do love to hate him here) There's also some fun to be had with some of the extra villains, such as Brendan Fletcher (as "Krampus", an especially sadistic henchmen), who is one of those guys that really morphs into anything, along with Sean Skene and Mitra Suri (as "Frosty" and "Candy Cane", who both are amusingly quick to believe that they're actually fighting the real Santa Clause). 

"Violent Night" might be too crude, absurd, and nihilistic for some, but even in spite of all that and unlike say those disposable "Hallmark" and "Netflix" Christmas cash grabs, the film is too genuine about itself that you really have to commend it. Somehow it even finds a way to bring out a solid and sincere Christmas message, which believe it or not, is quite heartwarming despite all the goofiness. It's a fun, fast, preposterous, and yes, horrifically bloody holiday treat. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Nutcracking, Body Dismembering, And Santa Slaying.       

The Fabelmans                                                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Boy, I sure respect the role of Film Critics now, more than ever!"

When you ask someone what director got you first interested in film, I know that Stephen Spielberg is the easiest, most obvious answer that anyone can make. It's too mainstream and unoriginal. I'm sure you pretentious film bros would look at such an answer with a scoff and simply turn away in a rude fashion. (It happens) Yet with me, yyyeah, Spielberg really was that director for me. It's not the most unique of choices, but it's the one that rings true for me. Aside from being introduced to such films as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Jurassic Park", "E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial", it just always astounded me that someone can create major blockbusters one moment, then do something more personal the next. It really set the stage for how I look at movies and while I don't see myself getting into the business anytime soon (I'm in my late twenties, so that's gonna quite the challenge), my mind is still filled with wonder from what can be crafted on the big silver screen, and Spielberg was the artist that I gravitated towards. When I think of pure movie magic, his name is what comes to mind. (We just won't talk about "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". Can't all be winners.)

Based somewhat on the life of Stephen Spielberg, "The Fabelmans" follows, er, well, the "Fabelmans", a Jewish family in the 1950s. We follow "Sam "Sammy" Fabelman" (Played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as a child, then by Gabriel LaBelle as a young man), who takes an instant interest in the world of cinema and how it's made, encouraged by his former pianist mother, "Mitzi" (Michelle Williams), and not fully understood by his engineer father, "Burt" (Paul Dano). After having to move to Phoenix, Arizona for Burt's new job, taking Sammy's sisters, "Reggie" (Played by Birdie Borria, then by Julia Butters), "Natalie" (Played by Alina Brace, then by Keeley Karsten), and "Lisa" (Sophia Kopera), along with family friend, "Bennie Loewy" (Seth Rogen), Sammy's passion for filmmaking goes from hobby to something that he wishes to do with his life. However, after the death of Mitzi's mother and some interesting words of wisdom from his great uncle, "Boris" (Judd Hirsch), Sammy starts to discover that his art, his maturity, and the structure of his family are about to clash into each other, especially once the family moves to California. 

Directed by Stephen Spielberg, who co-wrote the film with Tony Kushner (Having worked with Spielberg on "Lincoln", "Munich", and "West Side Story"), "The Fabelmans" could so easily have become somewhat of an overly sentimental, glossy fantasized version of one's own childhood. However, the film feels a bit darker than expected, seemingly poking a hole into that kind of fairy tale-like storytelling, and instead showing us the harsh, confusing, and always uncomfortable feelings that rear their ugly heads when confronted with the matter of fact truth of how things aren't always exactly like the movies. It's the kind of film that doesn't exactly take the cheap route, but instead shows us a more biting path. One that may seem colorful and picturesque at first glance, but is actually at times a bit hard to watch in places. With all that said though, this is by no means a cynical film. In fact, it's still an uplifting, whimsical coming of age story, that remembers to incorporate humor, heart, and whatever else makes people feel real. The screenplay is excellent at that, balancing out such tones without it ever feeling jarring, except for the ways that are intended. 

The race for Best Actress only continues to grow to the point that somebody is going to sadly get left out. Michelle Williams is phenomenal, conveying a sort of innocence to mask her character's emotional pain. Paul Dano, who was terrifying early this year in "The Batman", is endearing, being a bit flawed in how his ideology clashes with our main character, yet is still very well intentioned. (The man rocks a bow tie!) Gabriel LaBelle gives a breakout performance, carrying his character throughout the years, and to give Spielberg credit, he never portrays himself as a flawless person, making numerous emotional mistakes throughout. Seth Rogen proves once again that he has both the potential for comedy, as well as drama, while Judd Hirsch, who only appears for one long scene, is so brilliant that it would feel kind of wrong if he didn't get some kind of award recognition. The cast is rounded out with excellent performances all around, whether or not they're actually major parts, with Julia Butters, Jeanie Berlin (as "Haddash", Burt's grouchy grandmother), Sam Rechner (as "Logan", a bully to Sammy, who has a rather interesting reaction to seeing himself portrayed in a school film), Oakes Fegley (as "Chad", an especially anti-Semitic bully), Chloe East (as "Monica", Sammy's first girlfriend, who lets just say, really loves her some Jesus), among others, each having at least just a moment to stand out. 

 "The Fabelmans" has everything you want from a Stephen Spielberg production, from the purely cinematic feel, the jaw dropping cinematography by Janusz Kamiński (You can just tell that a lot of frames from this movie are going to be appearing in future film school textbooks), the music score from the great John Williams, and a certain kind of movie magic that we've all associated with the director. It's a beautiful love letter to the art of filmmaking, ingeniously crafting a semi-biographical story around it that feels honest and true, while also leaving the audience to be just as inspired by it. It allows us to peak inside the mind of someone that many of us see as a movie making genius, and shows us the person beneath. It's another instant classic. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Uncomfortable Content, Harsh Adulting, And One Of The Best Placed F-Bombs In Cinema History. 

Strange World                                                                                                   ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "My God! We've floated into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!"

It's frustrating when Disney, freakin Disney, isn't even taking time to promote their own animated films, which is what built the entire company, something is very much wrong. We do not appreciate animation these days, seeing it as something for the kids instead of just another form of cinema, worthy of praise from all ages. And I mean, all ages.

Set in the city of "Avalonia", "Strange World" proud adventurer "Jaeger Clade" (Dennis Quaid) has a falling out with his son, "Searcher" (Jake Gyllenhaal), who finds more of an interest in a bizarre plant with energy based capabilities. Determined instead to discover what's on the other side of the mountains that surround Avalonia, Jaeger disappears, while Searcher uses the plant, called "Pando", to create a new way of life for the people, using the plant to power their city. Years later, Searcher is a farmer, with a wife "Meridian" (Gabrielle Union), and a son "Ethan" (Jaboukie Young-White), who is slowly trying to find his own calling. When the president of Avalonia, "Callisto Mal" (Lucy Liu), discovers that the Pando appears to be dying, thus putting the entire supply in danger, she appoints Searcher to be a part of a expedition into a giant sinkhole beneath Avalonia to save it. With Meridian, Ethan, and their three legged dog, "Legend", tagging along, the crew discovers a strange world (Get it?) of baffling creatures just beneath their feet. Along the way, Searcher is reunited with Jaeger, who is still determined to traverse the other side of the mountains. With some aide from Ethan's new blobby friend, "Splat", the crew travels deeper into this bizarre land, discovering unimaginable secrets that could change their entire way of life, as well as a possible rekindling of the seemingly lost father-son relationship. 

Directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh", "Moana", "Raya and the Last Dragon"), along with co-direction from Qui Nguyen, who also wrote the screenplay, "Strange World" isn't anything new in terms of screenwriting or story. The film is quite predictable and doesn't stand out from some of the studio's best work. It also certainly won't become an instant classic. However, it doesn't always have to be. The film just needs to check all the boxes of the traditional family film, though maybe it doesn't hurt to spice things up to match with the times. We got our standard, though likable characters, along with beautiful, energetic animation that feels ripped right out of an old pulp comic (Which served as inspiration for the film itself). All of which, mixed in with a great sense of humor, are riddled with a certain Disney charm that, while doesn't change the game, is plenty fun. One thing that the film does both differently and wonderfully, is how it naturally just incorporates more diversity and representation, without having to stop and draw attention to itself in a backhanded fashion. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly dorky, while Gabrielle Union is limited in her role, though she makes much more out of it simply because of her natural charisma. Jaboukie Young-White is excellent, playing a character who is stated as gay early on, and no big deal is made out of it. He's our main character, who just so happens to be gay, and the world didn't implode. (If the only downsides are that it will probably result in your kids becoming more accepting and decent people, or allows those who rarely get equal representation their chance, then there's only good things to come out of this) Dennis Quaid and Lucy Lui are very unrecognizable, vanishing completely into their voice performances, while we get some funny moments from Karan Soni (as "Caspian", one of the eager crew members) and Alan Tudyk (as the crew's pilot, who gets eaten seconds after the journey starts). The creatures are all creative and weird, with Splat being an obviously easy to market critter, though the dog Legend is quite the scene-stealer. (Something about how Disney animates animals always gets some big laughs out of me)

Lesser than what we have come to expect from Disney (And not on par with many of the animated films we've gotten this year), "Strange World" is still a sweet, funny, and delightful family treat that's perfect for a Thanksgiving movie day. Even when it doesn't explore anything new in terms of story, it instead at least incorporates good characters, magical visuals, and strong representation that at some point will become so normalized that the easily triggered slowflakes won't even have time to complain. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Contant, Epic Wokeness, And For Good, Decent, Open Minded And Understanding Individuals. Could Have Been G Actually. 

Disenchanted                                                                                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I SHALL have my Oscar!"

Before we get started, can we all take a moment to look back on how well the first "Enchanted" genuinely holds up? It's funny how I know everyone seems to like the film, and yet, it doesn't get as included along with Disney's modern canon as much as say "Tangled or "Frozen", when it's just as well done and wonderful for the whole family. It's still really funny, with an Oscar worthy (And super cute) Amy Adams, and both toys with the classic Disney formula while giving the audience just what they pay to see. It just took this long to make a sequel? And only release it on "Disney+" too? I think it deserves a little better than that don't you think?

Set ten years after the last film, "Disenchanted" follows former princess of the animated world of "Andalasia", "Giselle" (Amy Adams) and her one true love, "Robert" (Patrick Dempsey), after their supposed happily ever after, moving away from New York City to the small of "Monroeville". Giselle is having difficulty connecting with her now teenage stepdaughter, "Morgan" (Gabriella Baldacchino), and adjusting to her current fairy tale-free lifestyle, such as contending with "Malvina Monroe" (Maya Rudolph), the scheming head of the town council. After receiving a magic wand as a gift from "King Edward" (James Mardsen) and "Queen Nancy" (Idina Menzel), Giselle decides to use the wand to make her new town just like her fairy tale home. At first, everything seems perfect and colorful, though with Malvina becoming a more villainous queen. However, Giselle soon discovers that she is slowly becoming a wicked stepmother herself, and once it becomes permanent, it could bring about the end of Andalasia, as well as trap her in her new villainous state. 

 Directed by Adam Shankman ("Hairspray", "Rock of Ages", "What Men Want"), with a screenplay by Brigitte Hales ("Once Upon a Time"), "Disenchanted" is not as good as the first one. Let's get that out of the way early. It's almost completely unnecessary simply because of execution. It didn't exactly have to be that way, with the film's premise showing some promise early on. It incorporates some amusing ideas and clever takes on classic Disney tropes, especially when it comes to old perceptions of the natures of good and evil (Lending itself to some of the film's most humorous moments). The film looks good for the most part, and yet, the story and screenplay are predictable and weak, and the same goes for the forgettable songs from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, returning from the first film. Aside from a show stopping duet from Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph, along with an excuse to allow for Idina Menzel to show off her powerhouse voice, the songs feel bare bones and nowhere near up to par with what we know Disney can give us. 

In spite of the film's faults, one quality shines through regardless, and that's once again Amy Adams. Aside from being as adorable as ever,  Amy Adams is outstanding and wonderfully reminds the audience why she deserved to be included with the rest of Disney's iconic princesses. Going into full mom mode, Adams generates laughs and so much sugar sweetness, that you're sympathetic to her despite the mistakes she makes, and is even quite mystifying when her character shifts back and forth into villainy. She still has great chemistry with Patrick Dempsey, who has a funny subplot involving himself being tossed into the typical hapless hero role, while Griffin Newman (as the voice of "Pip", Giselle's chipmunk friend, who is transformed into a stereotypical evil tabby cat due to the spell) and Alan Tudyk (as the voice of talking scroll) also get quite a few laughs. Gabriella Baldacchino is good, though many of her character's actions are too derivative to the point of frustration. (Yes, they actually do pull the whole "You're not my real mother" line. That one needs to die already!) Maya Rudolph is fine, though makes for an unremarkable villain, while Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays (as Malvina's bumbling servants) look to be having fun. Others don't get that much to do, such as Idina Menzel, Oscar Nunez (as a coffee shop owner, turned into Malvina's magic mirror), and James Mardsen, who while still hilarious, sadly only appears for about five minutes in the entire movie. 

"Disenchanted" boasts a once again superb Amy Adams and moments of magic, yet is bogged down by a cut in half budget and a lack of real magic, giving off the slight feeling of one of those straight to video Disney sequels that we have long gotten past. It's not terrible, but just not needed in the end despite the potential that was just sitting there for about fifteen years. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Moments, Budget Constraints (So Much Offscreen), And Villainous Hotness. That's Always The Case.

The Menu                                                                                                     ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Welcome to Flavortown, Beyatch!"

I gotta admit. Even though I saw the trailer for this movie at least once a week for five months straight, nothing could have possibly prepared me for the kind of bonkers ride I was about to take. In a way, seeing the trailer so many times actually made me think that the film was going to be something else, so it all sort of worked out in the end. And it made for one of my personal favorites this year.

"The Menu" opens with a boat dropping off a group of elitist people at a private island, where an exclusive and extravagant restaurant called "Hawthorne" is located, run by the renowned celebrity chef, "Julian Slowik" (Ralph Fiennes). The group consists of pretentious food critic, "Lillian Bloom" (Janet McTeer) and her stooge of an editor, "Ted" (Paul Adelstein), washed up actor "George Diaz" (John Leguizamo) and his annoyed assistant "Felicity" (Aimee Carrero), grouchy married couple "Ralph" (Reed Birney) and "Anne" (Judith Light), a trio of business bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr), along with Slowik fanboy "Tyler" (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, "Margot Mills" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Over a series of strange courses, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something just off about this specific menu, which just might ensure that nobody is getting off of the island alive. The one thing that just might be able to bring everything down is the mysterious appearance of Margot, who doesn't quite seem to fit into what Slowik has planned for his esteemed guests. 

Directed by Mark Mylod ("Succession"), with a screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy (Who also worked on "Succession"), "The Menu" matches the titular menu within the film, in which you really don't know where the Hell it's going to go, but you know it's going to be both scathing and super weird. The film drops you in quickly, coming across as if it's the start of a horror film, introducing us to an ensemble of unlikable characters, heading over to a secluded area where they couldn't possibly have any way of escaping. It's a slow burn, incorporating the titular menu's courses in a humorously describable fashion. This idea only proceeds to get more absurd as the film goes on, matching the craziness that's about to unfold. The satire isn't exactly new, but that doesn't make it any less razor sharp, targeting the most woeful of the culinary world, which can also lend itself to other comparisons. The rich, the elite, those who step on or look down on those with less, etc. The way that Mylod, along with the pitch black screenplay, brings everything together, lends itself to always relevant themes, along with a large amount of twisted laughs. This also doesn't prevent the film from being a genuinely suspenseful thriller, where you're pretty much on edge for a good chunk of the film's runtime (With Ralph Fiennes' theater shaking clap snapping you out of any moment of comfort). 

The cast is made up of a commendable company, with Ralph Fiennes playing things completely straight faced, which makes him both funnier and actually even more terrifying. It's a rather brilliantly complicated (Where one questions directly calling him outright evil), yet all too noticeably unhinged performance that the man deserves more Oscar nominations than he's gotten. Anya Taylor-Joy is perfect as usual, playing off against Fiennes in a captivating fashion, where you're also not entirely sure where her character is going to go either. Janet Teer and Paul Adelstein are suitably pompous, while Nicholas Hoult is hilariously annoying in the most buffoonish way possible. John Leguizamo is also quite excellent (And just might actually be poking fun at himself in some ways here), while Hong Chau (as "Elsa", Slowik's always stern and straight faced second in command) is an intense scene-stealer. 

"The Menu" is a biting satire, with a terrific cast, smart dialogue, and an aura of delightful wickedness. It also serves as a good thriller, that just so happens to be at its core, so ridiculous that you just have to laugh at the insanity. Thus making it both delicious and quite nutritious. It might be a bit too weird for some, though I can see something that can cater to those looking for intelligence in their movies, along with those just looking for a diabolical good time. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Violence, Stuffy Rich People, And For Tyler's Bullsh*t. 

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: "I'll bet the stuff that comes out of there is delicious!"

How in the world did we have three "Pinocchio" movies in one year? We had Disney attempt to remake their own classic to mixed results, along with a poorly animated Russian one where Pauly Shore said "Father, when can I leave to be on my owwwwwn?", and now we have a passion project from the great Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy", "Pan's Labyrinth", "Pacific Rim", "The Shape of Water", "Nightmare Alley") that he's been working on for over a decade. It's strange that even though Disney already made their own definitive version over eighty years ago, that we still have filmmakers trying to tell what appears to be the same story over and over again. However, it takes a lot of hard work, passion, and imagination to make it truly feel new again. And to maybe even give the once definitive version a run for its money in the process.  

Based on the classic tale, though with a few rather interesting tweaks, (And distributed by "Netflix" and "The Jim Henson Company") "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" opens at the rise of Fascism in Italy, with loving father and woodcarver, "Geppetto" (David Bradley), losing his son, "Carlo", in a bombing and going into a deep depression. In a drunken rage, Geppetto cut down a tree, that just so happens to be the home of our insect narrator, "Sebastian J. Cricket" (Ewan McGregor), and uses the wood to craft a wooden puppet. In the middle of the night, a magical, blue being, known as the "Wood Sprite" (Tilda Swinton), brings Geppetto's puppet to life and deputizes Sebastian as his conscience. The little puppet boy, named "Pinocchio" (Gregory Mann), is immediately fascinated by life and the world around him, though he is an instant troublemaker and isn't exactly the same good boy that Geppetto wanted him to be. In hopes to earn the love of his father, Pinocchio attempts to be like a real boy, go to school and obey the rules. 

However, Pinocchio finds himself sought after by many outside, less than noble forces, such as the evil "Podestà" (Ron Perlman), who wants to turn him into an example for his child soldiers, and the greedy "Count Volpe" (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey, "Spazzatura" (Cate Blanchett, making mostly monkey noises), who schemes to force Pinocchio into his puppet show. Pinocchio also learns a shocking truth, that he actually can't die. Pinocchio then sets out to make his father proud, thus learning lessons of love, humanity, life, and death, while Geppetto, realizing his mistakes, takes off after him.  

Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson (Known for his animation work, such as "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is yet another "Netflix" release that thankfully, due to early acclaim from festival screenings, has gotten some early, limited theatrical screenings. This allows audiences willing to seek it out and get the chance to witness what may be the most impressively made stop motion, animated film on the big screen. Just as it should be seen. The film is an incomprehensible achievement in animated storytelling, where much like "Wendell & Wild", you can see how much love went into carefully and intricately bringing this fairy tale to life like never before. It's a more mature, quite dark, and surreal take on the story, filled with frightening and uncomfortable images of oppression, themes of loss, and most surprising of all, points out the positives that come with our mortality. Despite all of that though, the film is still a funny, whimsical, and delightful, family friendly, musical adventure with something for everyone. The animation alone is worth it, with each character's intricately constructed models and designs showcasing both incredible levels of movement and personality at once. The world is beautiful, even when it's frightening to look at, and feels completely original even though it's based on one of the oldest properties we all know. The screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale ("Adventure Time", "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack", and creator of "Over the Garden Wall") is full of complicated characters and an anomalous sense of humor, that goes from quirky and cutesy, to kind of twisted, then veers even into a little political satire too while it's at it. (Mussolini's Italy is portrayed as a place of pure evil and persecution, yet also pokes necessary fun at the absurd levels of blind fanaticism)

The voice work is top notch and they all perfectly embody their characters (Right down to some even kind of resembling them too), with Gregory Mann portraying a more troublesome and flawed version of the character, who is still plenty charming, with room to improve, while a terrific David Bradley (Who you nerds might recognize as the caretaker, "Argus Filch", from the "Harry Potter" films), brings extra dimensions to Geppetto that we never really see. Ewan McGregor steals a lot of the movie, proving once again that the man is way too talented an actor to rarely get the recognition he very much deserves. Christoph Waltz oozes despicable villainy, along with a menacing Ron Perlman, while Tilda Swinton (In two roles actually) is as magnificent as ever. The rest of the cast consists of a few of del Toro's regulars and other standouts, such as Burn Gorman (as a priest, who looks like his voice actor so much that it's scary), Finn Wolfhard (as "Candlewick", the Podestà's abused son), along with Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro in a pair of unrecognizable parts. Also, I don't know whose idea it was to cast Cate Blanchett as a spitting monkey, but it's both odd and brilliant. The score from Alexandre Desplat ("The Shape of Water", "Little Women", and quite a few Wes Anderson films) is almost a character in of itself, which also features a few rather memorable songs too while it's at it. Special mention also go out to how the film takes the time during the credits to thank every single one of the animators that worked on the film, considering how often stop-motion is overlooked, and how they never get the appreciation they deserve for so much hard work.

A unique, peculiar, and all together charming future family favorite, "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is a touching, often hilarious, and magical masterwork of classic storytelling. It's a wondrous look into the bleakness of death and somehow finds the beauty in all of it. It never offers easy answers, yet still finds ways to be a fanciful feast of fun. It just might be the most thought provoking film you'll see this year, with messages for all ages (Proving that all of us still have plenty of growing up to do) and could even bring out a tear or two. A genuine labor of love. The best animated film of the year. Disney might need to step up their game a little next year. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Disturbing Images, Menacing Mussolini Militants, And Sebastian Stomping. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever                                                              ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "He lives....In you!"

I remember back in early 2013 when I first saw the late, but very great Chadwick Boseman for the first time in the movie "42", and immediately knew that he was destined to become a star. Not just a star, but a tremendous actor, soon to be a household name. That's exactly what he became, especially after he became the "Black Panther", based on the comics from "Marvel". After 2018's monster hit movie, and one of the best to come out of "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (An Oscar nominated film, I might add), it was a gut punch when we lost Boseman to colon cancer in 2020. It's clear what we meant to everyone, and we were left wondering what exactly Marvel could even do with this. Not to mention, what should they do with this? How can you continue something that's lost its heart and soul, and do it respectfully? How would he have wanted it? These were questions that I couldn't answer. None of us could. It shows that once you get past the whole mega-franchise, there is that special sense of humanity that's always attracted moviegoers, and the ability to deliver us Earth-shattering, masterful cinema that also just so happens to be under the guise of a pretty looking comic book movie.

With the events of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" having come and gone, yet still buried deep in everybody's memories, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opens with the highly advanced, once secret but now in the open African nation of "Wakanda", suffering a tragic loss. "T'Challa/The Black Panther" (Played previously by Chadwick Boseman), has died, leaving the country without a king and a protector. This sparks debate among other countries as they attempt to pressure Wakanda and T'Challa's queen mother, "Ramonda" (Angela Bassett) to relinquish their "Vibranium" (A powerful, rare metal, that anyone, good or evil, would love to get their hands on). The loss of T'Challa has affected everyone, such as "Dora Milaje" general, "Okoye" (Danai Gurira) and T'Challa's spy lover, "Nakia" (Lupita Nyong'o), though his death has taken a very negative turn on his sister, "Shuri" (Letitia Wright), who has lost faith in her country's spiritual traditions as well as herself. Meanwhile, an American research team, using a device that can track Vibranium, uncover some underwater, only to end up slaughtered by the blue skinned, underwater dwelling people of "Talokan", led by their frightening, centuries-old king, "Namor" (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). 

Namor then approaches Romonda and offers an alliance against the rest of the world who might threaten their combined power, although this alliance can only come to be if they assist him in finding and killing the one responsible for the Vibranium tracking tech, revealed to be a young, genius inventor named "Riri Williams" (Dominique Thorne). Shuri and Okoye set out to get some assistance from their CIA ally, "Everett K. Ross" (Martin Freeman) in finding Riri to protect her from Namor's followers, only to draw themselves closer into war with the equally powerful, underwater nation. When Namor's offerings slowly become threats, seeking to completely bring down Wakanda, as well as the rest of the surface world, the people of the still grieving nation must come together as one and a new Black Panther must rise to the occasion. 

Directed once more by Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station", "Creed", "Black Panther"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole (Also returning from the first "Black Panther"), "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" wastes no time setting the tone, especially with the film's heartbreaking, powerfully silent opening. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't going to be like much of what we've seen in the rest of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the last couple films have been lighter in scope, more humorous in tone, and most focused either future setup or bringing about epilogues of sorts for certain characters, this one feels as if it's both a conclusion and a fresh start at the same time. For a good chunk of the film, it comes across more as a drama, with time taken to showcase how our characters (And perhaps, the actors themselves) are forced to come to terms with their hero's passing. It gets right down to the heart of the matter, portraying grief, suffering, loss, and acceptance in a respectful, and all too real fashion. It's not to say that this still isn't a comic book movie, but Ryan Coogler is poised to make sure that the audience understands that this is much more than that. 

The action and visual effects are top of the line, making for compelling imagery, especially during the film's intentionally murky, yet stunning underwater sequences (Which feel like it could exist in the real world and sets itself apart from the otherworldly and bright "Aquaman"). The epic scope is matched by the heart-racing score by the great Ludwig Göransson ("Black Panther", "The Mandalorian", "The Book of Boba Fett"), which is paired perfectly with the likes of Rihanna and others. The sights and sounds are beautiful to witness, and are brought to seamless life in the way we've come to expect from million dollar blockbusters. This isn't in the end though the usual fanservice delivering extravaganza as many fans would come in to expect. Whatever happens, whether it simply be part of this one story or serves a later purpose, has a role to contribute in a way that feels natural and without the need for studio mandated necessity. 

Chadwick Boseman's presence is still felt throughout the film, with the actors and actresses on screen doing marvelous jobs keeping his spirit alive. Letitia Wright is especially outstanding, showing how much her character has grown and changed since the first film. Her emotional plight elevates what one would see as simple escapism, and brings it to a place that many of us lively have found ourselves in after the death of a loved one. Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who I can see becoming a much more recognized name after this, is a terrifying, yet complex figure. He's given more backstory than your average comic book villain to the point where there are moments where you question his villainy, only to realize that his depth only ends up making him a much more imposing threat. We get some powerful work from Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett (Who gets more than a few scenes that shake you to your very core), along with necessary comic relief from Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, and Winston Duke (as "M'Baku", T'Challa's warrior former rival). We also see the return of a few familiar supporting faces from the MCU, such as Florence Kasumba (as "Ayo", one of the most frequent appearing Dora Milage) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as "Valentina Allegra de Fontaine", the new CIA director, whose ambitions are starting to become less morally ambiguous). Special mention also must go to a few new additions to still growing universe, such as Michaela Coel (as "Aneka", one of the less traditional members of the Dora Milage), Mabel Cadena (as "Namora", Namor's second in command), and Alex Livinalli (as "Attuma", a Talokanil warrior, with an instant rivalry with Okoye), continuing Marvel's trend for creating a universe, packed with major, supporting, and even minor characters that are equally memorable. (Also, can we take a moment to notice the awesomeness of water bombs? They're literal bombs that explode with water, and they're both cool and thoroughly frightening to see in action)

Not remotely sticking to the usual status quo, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is a touching tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, as well a very different entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet still, even more than some entries in the rest of the current phase, remembers what we adore most about this franchise. Not the big action. Not the numerous comic references. It's the humanity that's brought to the characters, and only gives us more incentive to see where they go next. It's a dramatic, exciting, and empathetic look into how loss can both break us and also put us back together. Much like the first film, it provides much needed representation, as well as political themes that are sure to get under the skin of the easily offended, and while it's still rooted in the lore of the larger MCU, it stands out on its own as just a great film. And of course, stick around for a post credits scene. One that might not be the next big reveal that some nerds might be looking for, but the one that's needed. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodier Than Usual Violence, Political Discourse, And Winged Feet (You Laugh Now, But Wait Till You See Them In Action). 

One Piece Film: Red                                                                                      ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Fan reactions when "One Piece" finally ends.

It's great when a movie that's based on a show, especially one that happens to be based on one of the longest running anime of all time, can actually stand on its own perfectly well as just a solidly made film. It tells you everything you need to know in context of the story and its characters, generating humor, heart, and a classic sense of adventure. Anyone can get behind that, even when it's as weird as something like "One Piece". 

With the "Great Pirate Era" raging on, "One Piece Film: Red" continues the adventures of the infamous "Straw Hat Pirates", made up of the rubber skinned captain "Monkey D. Luffy" (Colleen Clinkenbeard), the three sword carrying bounty hunter "Roronoa Zoro" (Christopher Sabat), perky navigator "Nami" (Luci Christian), long nosed marksman "Usopp" (Sonny Strait), lovestruck cook "Sanji" (Eric Vale), talking little reindeer with a blue nose "Tony Tony Chopper" (Brina Palencia), straight faced historian "Nico Robin" (Stephanie Young), super speedo wearing cyborg "Franky" (Patrick Seitz), panty loving afro skeleton "Brook" (Ian Sinclair), and the newest addition, fishman "Jimbei" (Daniel Baugh). The crew decides to make a stop at an extravagant concert for world famous and much beloved singer, "Uta" (Her speaking voice provided by Amanda Lee, and her singing voice provided by Japanese singer Ado). It's revealed that Uta is not only a close childhood friend of Luffy's, but also is the daughter of Luffy's hero, the famous pirate "Red-Haired Shanks" (Brandon Potter). However, the ongoing conflict between the pirates and the "World Government", along with the many casualties caught in the crossfire, has darkened Uta's heart. Now Uta intends to use her own "Devil Fruit" powers (aka, fruits that grant individuals bizarre abilities) to bring about a new era that will end all conflict and create a fantasy world of peace. However, that dream of her's might also just bring about the end of the world as well.  

Based on the anime and manga from creator Eiichiro Oda (Who claims that the series will be reaching its conclusion in only a matter of years), "One Piece Film: Red" isn't just an overlong episode of the series. Nor does it feel like fanservice driven filler. It's actually a well told, heartfelt tale that's equally action packed, really funny, and just like the series itself, so full of life. The animation and visuals are beyond breathtaking, taking the series to epic new heights that need to be seen on the biggest screen you can possibly find. This is also most stunning during the film's musical sequence, with Ado's rather hypnotic singing voice perfectly matches the film's memorable and plenty catchy songs. The characters and voice work are excellent as usual (I watched it Dubbed, but I can safely assume the Subbed version is just as great), with Luffy's off-kilter, though still very moral perspective carrying over from the show. The rest of the crew gets their moments, with most of the humor coming from Usopp and Brook, along with a few returning recurring characters such as "Trafalgar Law" (Voiced by Matthew Mercer), Luffy's biggest fan "Bartolomeo" (Voiced by Tyson Rinehart), and an interesting subplot involving Luffy's old marine friend "Koby" (Micah Solusod). (There's also loads of other small parts and cameos that longtime fans will be delighted to see) Amanda Lee is quite compelling, giving her character a certain cutesy charm, mixed with the character's well intentioned villainy and turmoil. And yes, Shanks gets his biggest and most important role yet after nearly two decades of waiting.

A bit darker than expected with a plot takes a few turns than you would normally see coming, "One Piece Film: Red" is an epic addition to the Straw Hat crew's seemingly never ending journey, and makes for their best movie yet. It's an exciting, heartwarming musical spectacle filled with good humor and spellbinding animation. It's a treat for anime fans, as well as really anyone ready to set sail for some high sea adventure. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Content, Shonen Violence, And The Squeeing Of Both Male And Female Anime Fans All Over. I Joined In A Little Too. 

The Banshees of Inisherin                                                                           ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So, Colin.....You're saying you gained 60 pounds to play a Penguin?"

Have you ever just been so immersed within a film, entranced by the world created, and so fond of the characters, that you never want it to end? Like as if you could just watch the rest of their lives on screen simply because you don't want to leave? You're actually upset that it's over and that you can't see what happens next? That is this fecking movie in a nutshell. 

Set on a small Irish isle in the early 1920s, "The Banshees of Inisherin" follows "Pádraic Súilleabháin" (Colin Farrell), who makes the shocking discovery that his longtime best friend and drinking buddy, "Colm Doherty" (Brendan Gleeson), has just decided that he doesn't like Pádraic anymore. Pádraic isn't given any real explanation or reason other than him just being too dull to be around Colm, who would rather instead focus on composing his music. Pádraic, despite being liked well enough, doesn't have too many friends on the little isle, aside from his sister, "Siobhán" (Kerry Condon), the town pariah "Dominic" (Barry Keoghan), and his beloved donkey, "Jenny". Pádraic's futile attempts to win back Colm's friendship result in Colm providing him with an ultimatum. Stay away from him or else Colm will cut off his own fingers with his sheep shears. Sadly, rejection still doesn't sit well with Pádraic, whose desperation to win Colm over only get progressively worse as his life on the isle is about to take some drastic changes. 

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges", "Seven Psychopaths", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a change of pace from his usual work in some ways, yet feels entirely like something that could serve as a defining masterpiece of his career. It's a calm, dreary, exceptionally melancholy tale of friendship, fragility, and the abrupt changes to the statis quos that many of us so easily find ourselves wrapped up in. McDonagh's trademark way of twisting tones around is at its absolute best here, where the film is often really funny, though that is mostly there to hide an underlying sense of sadness that anyone can resonate with. At its core, it's a very human film that just so happens to be set around a situation that from a distance, sounds quite ridiculous. However, everyone's motivations all kind of make sense in their own quirky way. 

Colin Farrell, who is having a bit of a renaissance as of late with scene-stealing performances such as "The Batman" and "The Gentlemen", is positively compelling in a role that's at times hilarious, moving, and much more complicated than what we are first introduced to. Brendan Gleeson is also wonderful, with another character that expresses just as much in simple glances or expressions as he does with dialogue. The entire cast feel real, from a terrific Kerry Condon and an amusingly awkward Barry Keoghan, to an easily detestable Gary Lydon (as "Peader Kearney", Dominic's abusive cop father) and Sheila Flitton (as "Mrs. McCormick", the strange town elder, who is either psychic or just crazy). The dialogue is whip smart, delivering some of the most Irish Irishness that you will ever see on screen, showing us an aspect of humanity that feels so natural. It's not hard to get wrapped up in the lives of every single character on screen. It will be a crime if this somehow doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. (It might even deserve to win too now that I think about it)

Beautifully bleak and almost hilariously depressing to a degree, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a gorgeously shot portrait of full blown, masculine pettiness. The cinematography from Ben Davis ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") feels like true art coming to life, and is so engaging that I just never wanted to leave. It really connects to the soul in a way that you would never expect and you are just left with so many questions once it's all over. Perfect cinema, and quite possibly the best film of 2022 (So far. Still time to change). 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content, Killer Bread Trucks, And Lots Of Fecking Language. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery                                                          ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Guilty....All guilty.

Allow me to explain the series of circumstances and coincidences that led us to our current situation, which is how in the world I was able to see this movie this early. I mean, the movie doesn't get its Netflix release until December 25th, and even the early limited release isn't until Thanksgiving. So this is the earliest that I have ever seen a movie before the average viewing public. Let's all give a special round of applause to my Lyft driving dad for picking up the right person at the right time, charming the Hell out of them, and maybe performing a few favors or two (I don't ask), resulting in me getting a pass to the Austin Film Festival, allowing myself and my little sister a chance to go to this incredibly packed screening at the Paramount theater. Probably one of the best experiences I've had in the 12 years I've been doing this site.  

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" once more reunites us with Southern gentlemanly detective, "Benoit Blanc" (Daniel Craig), who like the rest of us, wasn't having a good time during the 2020 COVID Pandemic. With no mysteries to solve (And only "Among Us" to play every hour of the day), Blanc jumps at the chance when he finds himself out of nowhere being invited to an island mansion (Shaped like a giant glass onion) in Greece, owned by famous tech billionaire, "Miles Bron" (Edward Norton), who Blanc has never even met. Bron has also invited his collection of colleagues and friends, such as Connecticut governor, "Claire Debella" (Kathryn Hahn), ultra men's rights activist and influencer, "Duke Cody" (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend "Whiskey" (Madelyn Cline), scientist "Lionel Toussaint" (Leslie Odom Jr.), along with controversial model (Who refuses to think before she speaks), "Birdie Jay" (Kate Hudson) and her frenetic assistant "Peg" (Jessica Henwick). Everyone is also shocked to see Miles' former business partner, "Cassandra "Andi" Brand" (Janelle Monáe), who previously had a huge falling out with the group, has also shown up. It's also revealed that Benoit Blanc apparently was never meant to receive an invitation, having possibly been brought in by an unknown party, just at the same time Bron plans to stage a murder mystery party where his friends must deduce who "killed" him. Turns out though that everyone has a real motive to want to see Bron dead and when an actual murder does occur, it's up to Blanc to solve the mystery. One that is in some ways much more complex than anyone could possibly imagine. And in other ways, actually based entirely all around pure stupidity. 

Written and directed by Rian Johnson ("Looper", "Knives Out", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which is still awesome and one day all of you will realize it too!), "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is a brilliant second installment to 2019's equally fantastic comedic, murder-mystery, which in a year of great films, was probably the best one not to get a Best Picture nomination. Distributed via Netflix, the film is yet another wonderful tribute to the classic whodunit, with a modernized, relevant spin, that also stands on its own perfectly as if it were just another entry in an ongoing series of a detective's many adventures. This chaotic and intentionally convoluted caper is filled with many pieces moving around at once, where your mind is so focused on one thing that you don't notice what could be staring at you right in the face. Johnson crafts so much intrigue and packs in so much character that you really don't want it to end. It really grasps the awkward mindset that I'm sure many of us were going through during the pandemic, along with some social commentary and fun poked at in terms of the absurdity of it all. 

Daniel Craig returns in all his Foghorn Leghorn drawl fueled glory, remaining an eccentric, yet thoroughly ingenious anomaly. Craig also retains a certain sense of mystery about himself, allowing for small hints into what exactly makes this man tick. The ensemble, which also includes a few delightful cameos and bit parts, is much like the first one in how intricate and defined each and every single one of them are (There's also a certain appearance that I feel definitely needs to be a recurring gag throughout future films). Not to mention, everyone also plays very unique roles that I've never seen them play before. Edward Norton is a marvelously dick-ish Elon Musk-esque dirtbag, while Dave Bautista is the total embodiment of the douchey, bro YouTuber that's corrupted so many. Kate Hudson is absolutely hilarious, while Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick (Who does a flawless American accent), Madelyn Cline, and Kathryn Hahn are all standouts in of themselves. However, the one that everyone will be talking about is Janelle Monáe, who is remarkable in ways that I dare go into. Not just in terms of spoilers, but also because I just plain can't explain it in a way to do it justice. The film plays with old tropes and twists that pay homage to the classics, while reinventing them further for today. 

Hilarious, poignant, unpredictable from start to finish, incredibly intelligent, and most of all, so much freakin fun, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is the definition of a good time at the movies. It needs to be seen in theaters, and we deserve to see what other possible cases that our friend, Benoit Blanc, gets himself involved with. Just like the original, it's sure to be an instant classic, and considering that I already purchased my tickets for the one week showing before I somehow found myself able to see it so early, I feel that I have no other choice but to attempt to solve this puzzle yet again. (Who knows what I missed the first time?) Mr. Johnson, Youdunit! Again! 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Rich People Privilege, And The Most Buffoonish Murder And Cover-Up Scheme In Cinema History. 

Till                                                                                                                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: I hope people are still listening.

Some might wonder why by the year 2022 are we still feeling the need to go back and revisit some of our country's most monstrous of mistakes, and yet, I always felt that it's almost always going to be necessary. The American dream as we know it, isn't exactly a real thing if you take a moment to think about it. Absolute equality and freedom are something that we as a people should always strive towards. Continuously and without ever achieving that goal. That's because it can't possibly ever be perfect, but we should want it to be and never give up the fight to make it so. We can't just say to ourselves "Yup, Racism is dead. Everything is good now. No need to improve anymore." That way of thinking only causes us to find ourselves slowly de-evolving back to our old, misguided ways. 

Based on unfortunately true events, "Till" tells the story of "Mamie Till" (Danielle Deadwyler), and her young son, "Emmett" (Jalyn Hall). Living in Chicago, Illinois during the mid-1950s, Emmett is allowed to go to Mississippi to visit his cousins, though Mamie is very much worried since her son has never truly experienced the real evil that comes from racism, especially in the South. While out with his cousins, Emmett whistles at a local shopkeeper, "Carolyn Bryant" (Haley Bennett), which results in him being kidnapped in the middle of the night by a pair of white men (Along with black men that were hired to assist), resulting in Emmett's horrific death at their hands. After Emmett's body is discovered in a river and sent back to his mother, with the young man's corpse being almost completely unrecognizable due to what his murderers did to him. Mamie, having before not wanting to get involved with the Civil Rights movements, decides that true change can't be achieved unless people are forced to see just what this kind of hatred looks like in the real world for themselves. Emmett's funeral is an open casket, and Mamie, who has become an opportunity of sorts for the NAACP to hopefully start to affect real change, travels to Mississippi to testify in a trial against Emmett's killers. A trial that most likely isn't destined to result on the side of American justice.  

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu ("Clemency"), who co-wrote the film with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp ("The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till"), "Till" isn't a shallow, whitewashed, overly sentimental dramatization of real life tragedy so that filmmakers can get themselves some Oscar buzz. That isn't even close to what this actually is. The film is harsh in its commentary, and heartbreaking in its drama, portraying true grief in a fashion that's free of Hollywood saturation. Chukwu shows us the harshness of the story, much like the way Mamie Till would have wanted it to be told, and entirely from the perspective of the African American viewpoint. No white saviors here. They're not even part of the equation. 

Front and center is Danielle Deadwyler, who has got to become an instant household name after this and very much deserves award recognition. It's a performance that could easily have been seen as too stagey or even misguided in execution, but Deadwyler commands the screen in a way that I really haven't seen a performer do in some time. (Chukwu also wisely keeps lots of long shots that focus only on her face) It's a excruciatingly raw and powerful performance that should become legendary, even if the Academy finds some bullsh*t excuse not to nominate her. Jalyn Hall's appearance is brief, though memorable in giving us even the tiniest glimpse into the unworldly, yet charming life that was wrongly cut short (We never see the murder, though we hear it and bear witness to the inhuman aftermath) The rest of the ensemble includes Tosin Cole and Jayme Lawson (as "Medgar and Myrlie Evers", famouse Civil Rights activists), Frankie Faison (as "John Carthan", Mamie's father, who accompanies her to Mississippi), Sean Patrick Thomas (as "Gene Mobley", Mamie's supportive future husband), John Douglas Thompson (as "Moses Wright", Mamie's uncle, who fails to prevent Emmett's kidnapping), an unrecognizable Whoopi Goldberg (as "Alma", Mamie's mother), and many others who, even in small parts, stand out. Also, Haley Bennett, who is actually a much more talented actress than people give her credit for, is suitably repulsive playing one God-awful human being. 

"Till" is a well paced, captivating drama that grips you from the word go, with the tension only rising before we reach the film's bittersweet conclusion (Although it's more bitter than sweet, considering we all know the outcome). It's a painfully honest look into the kinds of evil that society would allow, that's both heartbreaking, yet inspiring. Relevant, maddening, and beautiful in spite of harsh sincerity. It shows that the fight for justice and equality is in itself unfair and never ever truly ends, but one must never give up in pursuing it, even when it just seems like you're always destined to fail. It's the most American movie you'll see this year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Images, Southern Racism, And The Whitest Jury You Will Ever See (I Swear It's As If Someone Just Swapped Out Haircuts With These People). 

Wendell & Wild                                                                                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "The 'Key' here is to 'Peele' away the skin."

We've only come further and further to the point where people today just don't seem to appreciate the art of Stop-Motion animation. Oh, I hear plenty of praise towards it all the time, growing up with such works as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (My all time favorite movie. Animated or otherwise), "Wallace & Gromit", "Coraline", and such, but none of these properties are by any means huge. In fact, most stop-motion films seem to bomb at the box office on a frequent basis. Now it looks like streaming is the only place you'll find them getting released, and that can either mean a chance at a wider audience at home or more of an excuse for others to neglect them. It's an art form that requires more blood, sweat, and tears than any other and we never will give it the justice it deserves. 

Released through Netflix, "Wendell & Wild" follows "Kat Elliot" (Lyric Ross), who after the deaths of her parents (Gary Gatewood and Gabrielle Dennis) when she was a little girl, is forced to return home to the now almost completely dead town of "Rust Bank". Having been tossed in and out of Juvie over the years, Kat has become cynical, refusing to connect with anyone, and is now transferred to an all girls school "Rust Bank Catholic" (or "RBC"), run by greedy priest, "Father Bests" (James Hong), having brought her in simply for profit reasons. Meanwhile, deep in the underworld, two demon brothers, "Wendell" (Keegan-Michael Key) and "Wild" (Jordan Peele), work for the towering demon, "Buffalo Belzer" (Ving Rhames), applying hair cream atop his massive head while the unfortunate souls of the dead are sent to the amusement park covering Belzer's body. After casually ingesting the hair cream, Wendell and Wild see a vision of Kat, scheming to use her to make their dream of their own fairground for the dead. Kat continues to alienate herself from anyone who attempts to befriend her, such as a quiet trans boy, "Raúl Cocolotl" (Sam Zelaya) and the posh, "Siobhan Klaxon" (Tamara Smart), daughter of the evil Klaxon Corp" heads (Maxine Peake and David Harewood). The Klaxons also plan to thoroughly demolish the town in favor of private prisons, even murdering Father Bests due to him being a loose end in their plot. 

When Kat makes the discovery from the mysterious "Sister Helley" (Angela Bassett), that she is actually a "Hell Maiden", she is contacted by Wendell and Wild, who promise to resurrect her parents so long as she summons them from the underworld so that they can make their "Dream Faire" a reality. Through some mishaps, Kat is able to summon the two demons, though they end up instead resurrecting Father Bests via Belzer's magical hair cream. Wendell and Wild now find themselves part of the Klaxons' corporate villainy, resurrecting more of the dead and putting Rust Bank on the brink of destruction, leaving only Kat to be the one to stop them. 

Directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach", "Coraline"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Producer Jordan Peele ("Get Out", "Nope", "Key & Peele"), "Wendell & Wild" is an eccentric combination of talents that feels like a surreal dream come true. It's a mix of unique ideas, visual storytelling, and glorious animation that needs to be seen to be believed, making for a vividly strange and thoroughly charming treat that might actually attract a more of a mature audience. Selick, who hasn't directed a film since 2009's cult classic, "Coraline", gives us a clear reminder as to why he's truly a master of this craft, proving the film with his usual distinctive style, while also embracing the drawbacks that come with stop motion. He said that he wanted to avoid looking too much like computer generation, and instead allows for noticeable details behind the animation, which only further showcases just how much hard work went into this project. 

The characters and their designs tell so much story on their own, with their movements encompassing their personalities. There are also plenty of unconventional stylistic decisions, such as slowed down frame rates and shadow puppet animation, that instead of taking one out of the film, only further draw you in. It's as if you're experiencing the most bonkers dream that you don't really want to wake up from. With the film's PG-13 rating, you can tell that the filmmakers are going for a slightly older audience this time around, with an even more macabre sense of humor. There are also some more mature themes, involving family, loss, and overcoming grief, along with something a bit more political, such as the intentional unfairness surrounding private prisons and the corporate greed behind them. It's complicated stuff and the film at times can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but everything does end up coming together by the end.   

The film features a terrific and very inclusive cast, that seems to go against perpetuated stereotypes in favor of crafting a world that very much feels lived in (Fitting, considering all of the topics of death involved). Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele once again reunite in magically hilarious fashion, delightfully playing what are essentially exaggerated, animated versions of themselves. Lyric Ross makes for a perfect straight face to much of the anarchy, along with an excellent Angela Bassett. There is hilarious work from Ving Rhames (Having a Hell of a time) and the always great (And clearly going to live forever) James Hong. The supporting cast is also commendable, from Sam Zelaya, Tamara Smart, Igal Naor (as "Manberg", the wheelchair using janitor, with his own demon hunting history), along with David Harewood and Maxine Peake, who are all kinds of over the top in just how evil they are. 

With "Wendell & Wild", Henry Selick's eye for spooky, quirky, and a very on brand sense of weirdness is pushed farther than ever, though that doesn't mean that the film isn't without heart and sincerity. At its core, there is a sweet story that should resonate with families, along with mesmerizing visuals and memorable characters to go with it. Think of it as a modern day "Alice in Wonderland", where not everything is meant to make sense as you descend into colorful insanity, but are too entranced to complain about it. Perfect timing for a Halloween movie night. And for God sake, Henry! Please don't wait thirteen years for your next film! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Catholic Chaos, And Bearz-A-Bub.

Prey for the Devil                                                                                                  ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: You know, I'm not sure the power of Christ is compelling her.

How does it feel knowing that the movie that's going to win Halloween weekend is going to just be "Black Adam" again by default? Step it up people! Everyone already started setting things up for Christmas a month ago! Where's your Halloween spirit? And someone explain to me that in a year of great horror, why did they decide to release the most meh one of them all on Halloween weekend?

"Prey to the Devil" follows a young nun, "Sister Ann" (Jacqueline Byers), who in a time of growing possessions and demonic activity, takes a further interest into the occult than her superiors would like. Due to her own history involving her deceased mother (Who she believes was possessed by a satanic entity), Ann proves to be uniquely talented, as she has developed a connection of sorts. Not to God, but the Devil himself. Despite women not being allowed to perform exorcisms, a professor, "Father Quinn" (Colin Salmon), decides to teach Ann further. As Ann bonds with a possessed young girl, "Natalie" (Posy Taylor), she struggles to prove her worth as the forces of Hell take it upon themselves to target Ann personally.  

Directed by Daniel Stamm ("The Last Exorcism"), with a screenplay by Robert Zappia ("Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" and......the "Kung Fu Panda" rip off, "Chop Kick Panda". Seriously. Look up this guy's filmography. It's completely bonkers!), "Prey for the Devil", or "The Devil's Light" as it was once called, is a movie that I have been getting the same trailer for since the later half of 2020. It's been pushed from an early 2021 release until now, with the same damn trailer finding its way into at least one of my weekly theater visits. I guess the studio just really had faith that this would be a surprise success, though clearly not one critically (Considering that as I'm typing this, there still are hardly any other professional critic reviews). The movie is fairly competent in terms of production, though completely generic in terms of story and screenplay. It's one of those films where you can predict not just everything that's going to happen, you can also just repeatedly tell what every single character is going to say. It's the most basic of dialogue to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible. Not to mention a good chunk of the film feels chopped up and rushed through, especially once we reach the final act. 

Much of the cast is doing what they can, with Jacqueline Byers especially making for a solid protagonist and someone severely deserving of far better material. The same goes for Colin Salmon, who doesn't appear much, yet remains thoroughly profound and professional no matter what. Posy Taylor is doing fine work, though she gets rather neglected the longer the movie goes along and by the time a lame third act twist occurs, none of it quite adds up. You also start to forget about other supporting players, such as Christian Navarro (as "Father Dante", a fellow student that apparently has a possessed sister that he hasn't told anyone about) and Virginia Madsen (as "Dr. Peters", a psychiatrist that works at the school), and little subplots that get resolved in unremarkable fashion.

"Prey for the Devil" boasts a positive message of faith and overcoming guilt, and is overall fine for what it is. Simple scares to go with a simple story, and breezes by in an hour and a half. It's not scary or unique in any way, and serves as a perfectly inconsequential last second movie rental, although putting it in theaters feels a bit sacrilegious. In a time where horror films have been making up for some of this year's very best, this kind of horror needs to just die out already. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jump Scary Faces, Satanic Sadism, And Good Old Fashioned Religious Based Sexism.   

Ticket to Paradise                                                                                             ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "You know....I don't think we've ever realized just how beautiful we really are."

It's odd. I grew up during a time where a George Clooney and Julia Roberts movie, no matter what genre, was immediately destined to be the biggest hit of the week, though now it's just the extra movie of the week. ("Black Adam" is a big superhero movie, so that's expected and all, but that doesn't make it feel any less jarring) 

"Ticket to Paradise" follows two divorced parents, "David" (George Clooney) and "Georgia" (Julia Roberts), who are forced to put aside their differences when seeing their daughter, "Lily" (Kaitlyn Dever) off as she leaves on vacation to Bali after she graduated from college. During their time apart, David and Georgina have become especially bitter towards each other, though come to realize that they might yet again need to come together when Lily contacts them a short time later to announce her engagement to a local guy, "Gede" (Maxime Bouttier). David and Georgia travel to Bali where they hatch a scheme to prevent their daughter from making an assumed horrible mistake and prevent the wedding from coming to be. 

Let's keep this one short and sweet. Not by any means an insult to the film. It's just not meant to be anything that one needs to get into aggressive details over. Directed and co-written by Ol Parker ("Mama Mia! Here We Go Again"), "Ticket to Paradise" is a pleasant, fairly funny, and most importantly, thoroughly charming romantic comedy. It does an excellent job bringing together both sides of the age spectrum, without ever feeling the need to stereotype or exaggerate either one of them. Doing so would have been such an easy, and completely lazy, task that too many other less capable comedies would have gone for. That doesn't stop it from being beat by beat in terms of predictability, but hey, that's all part of the show. Our terrific cast is plenty game, with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both clearly having a blast, and are equally wonderful together (While also eagerly savoring their characters' extra dash of cynicism). Kaitlyn Dever and Maxime Bouttier are a cute couple that have a little more to their characters, which also feels like something that lesser films wouldn't have bothered with. Meanwhile, we get some pretty hilarious supporting work from Billie Lourd (as "Wren", Lily's best friend) and Lucas Brav0 (as "Paul", Georgina's complete dweeb of a new boyfriend). 

Short and simple, "Ticket to Paradise" offers no surprises for those who want to go see it. Well shot and likable enough to make for a good date night, and nothing loud, bombastic, or more of all, devoid of anything harmful. Granted, that also excludes anything too exciting or suspenseful. Very plain in a way, and like I said before, that's not really a bad thing. It's funny enough to overcome simple plotting, and full of too much charm to dislike in any way. Like a breezy vacation. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Dastardly Divorcees, And Good Old Fashioned American Tourism. Nobody Wants Us Around. 

Black Adam                                                                                                        ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Man, he really had to start working out for this role.

This has been quite the "DC Comics" dream project for quite some time now, even before they began to bring together the "DC Extended Universe". At least fifteen years ago, the once villain, turned anti-hero (And rival to "Shazam"), "Black Adam" was also something of a dream to Dwayne Johnson too, who was cast at the time for a movie that never got made. Now after quite a few twists and turns (Mixed reviewed films, Superman's mustache, Syder Fan cultists, etc.), the long awaited shift that the DC film universe has finally come to fruition.

"Black Adam" opens in the ancient country of "Kahndaq", where a champion, "Teth Adam" (Dwayne Johnson), is granted the powers of "Shazam", though he vanishes after apparently liberating the enslaved people. Cut to the present, the country is now under the control of the high-tech crime syndicate, "Intergang", despite the world now being full of superheroes. Archaeologist and resistance fighter, "Adrianna Tomaz" (Sarah Shahi), along with her brother, "Karim" (Mohammed Amer) and the obviously traitorous "Ishmael Gregor" (Marwan Kenzari), seek out the powerful "Crown of Sabbac", which will supposedly unleash the powers of Hell or something evil. After Intergang attempts to kill them, Adrianna releases Adam from his prison, setting the ancient champion loose onto Kahndaq, where he is seen as the country's savior. 

This attracts the attention of the outside world, and hardcore government official, "Amanda Waller" (Viola Davis Cameo!), decides to send in "The Justice Society of America" to bring Adam down out of fear of what he can do. The collection of heroes consist of their flying, mace-wielding leader, "Carter Hall/Hawkman" (Aldis Hodge), the size-changing "Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher" (Noah Centineo), the wind controlling "Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone" (Quintessa Swindell), and a master of illusions and sorcery "Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate" (Pierce Brosnan), who with his gold, magical helmet can see the future. However, Adam isn't going to go down easy, and when he insistence on killing members of Intergang goes against the Justice Society's no killing policy, it puts both forces at odds with each other. Meanwhile, Ishmael has plans of his own to achieve the crown and if he is going to be stopped, the Justice Society is going to have to form an uneasy alliance with Adam, who may be harboring a few dark secrets of his own.  

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Commuter", "Jungle Cruise", "Run All Night"), serves as the eleventh entry into the DC Extended Universe, continuing to show signs that studio appears to be making its way into adding a little more cohesiveness to the franchise. Sadly, it's only a little more. Even after all the buildup, we're still not quite to the point where they can match what the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has been able to accomplish, though steps appear to have been taken. The film is actually a lot smaller than you would expect, with a plot and screenplay, provided by Adam Sztykiel ("Rampage"), Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, that really doesn't bring anything too new to the table. The biggest exception being that the film does seem to embrace the character's darker side. Sure, they straight up take out the character's original villainous tendencies, but that doesn't stop him from being a rather brutal force of destruction and harsh justice that veers far away from what you see from your average comic book protagonist. It's a well told action packed spectacle, full of all the usual superhero tropes, with just hints of something possibly more political (Basically nobody even in a comic book world seems to want to get involved with a non-white country under oppression unless they get something out of it). At its core though, the movie seems to know what it is, and delivers on what's promised, with some big, special effects heavy action scenes, and a showcasing of the titular character's immense power. 

Dwayne Johnson really brought this whole thing together and perfectly embodies his character's harshness, along with a certain vulnerability and lack of understanding that quickly shows that despite many of his decisions, he's by no means a villain. Aldis Hodge makes for an excellent foil to Johnson's Adam, playing the good guy who really needs a reminder as to why he is in fact the good guy. Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell are a lot of fun as the new recruits (And provide necessary humor) while Sarah Shahi and Mohammed Amer make for good audience surrogates. Bodhi Sabongui (as "Amon", Adrianna's son, who quickly takes a shine to Adam) is likable, though not exactly the best young actor in the world, while Marwan Kenzari essentially just plays "Jafar" again (And even turns into yet another giant, red CGI monster) and makes for a pretty bland villain. Pierce Brosnan, in a surprise to nobody, steals the show, being another one of those perfect comic book castings that fans are just absolutely going to fall in love with, remaining both classy and charming as Hell, while fully committing to the superhero aesthetic. 

"Black Adam" isn't the big game changer that many of us would want it to be (And it isn't up to par with some of DC's most recent material like "The Suicide Squad" and "The Batman"), yet it still accomplishes its goal of being a grandiose, edgier blockbuster, and gives us hope that possibly this shared universe can be salvaged in some way. It's essentially a better version of "Man of Steel", with some actual personality. The effects are solid enough (Though the less said about "Sabbac", the better. Think of the old "Steppenwolf", yet somehow worse), with a diverse cast of characters, and a couple unique statements to make to set it apart from your average superhero movie. While the film gives into the usual trappings during the final act (It's predictable stuff and by this point, you really can't get mad at it anymore), it does culminate in a satisfying, if not a little derivative, origin story worthy of the gods. Plus, a post credits scene that did admittedly bring a pretty big smile to my face. (And hey, he also had a smile this time too for once. You'll see what I mean) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Anti-Heroic Action, Severe Head Splitting, And Scrawny Dwayne Johnson. (He Is Real. And Very Unsettling) 

Halloween Ends                                                                                                 ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: " Ugh...I just can't handle having family over for the holidays."

Horror has continued to thrive this year, with original ideas, great stories, memorable heroes and villains alike, and of course, genuine terror. From "Nope", "The Black Phone", "Scream", the surprise hit "Smile", both "X" and "Pearl", and "Barbarian", which I consider also to be one of the year's best films overall (Also, lets throw in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" too while we're at it. Bet ya never expected a Marvel movie to make you jump, huh?). The "Halloween" franchise, created in 1978 by John Carpenter, seemed poised to be a part of the new horror renaissance with 2018's surprisingly well received sequel/reboot (Also titled "Halloween, which ignored all of the other more questionable sequels), but only sadly went on to disappoint last year with "Halloween Kills". A lot is riding on the proposed grand finale to the entire franchise as a whole, and yeah, it's sufficient to say that expectations weren't exactly as high this time around.

Bringing the "Halloween" saga to its bloody conclusion, "Halloween Ends" takes place a few years after the previous entry, with Shatner mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), aka "The Shape", having completely vanished. The small town of Haddonfield is still forever plagued by his nightmarish murders, though three time survivor, "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), seems to be on the road to recovery, having grown closer to her granddaughter, "Allyson" (Andi Matichak). Meanwhile, a troubled young man, "Corey Cunningham" (Rohan Campbell), who was accused of murdering a kid he babysat (In an incident that was genuinely a complete accident), forms a relationship with Allyson, though he can't seem to escape the town's ridicule and assumptions. Following an attempt on his life by some truly evil teenagers, Corey stumbles into the sewers of Haddonfield, where he comes face to face with Michael Myers himself, now weakened and clearly aged. However, evil finds a way to seep itself back into the world, thus culminating in a climactic final showdown between Laurie and her seemingly unstoppable, almost inhuman nemesis. 

Directed and co-written once again by David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express", "Stronger"), "Halloween Ends" does a rather alright job as bringing everything to what's actually a fitting end. Frustratingly though, the road there is filled with admittedly great ideas, loads of potential, but too many aspects clashing into each other at once until it all spirals out of control in a messy fashion. The film opens strong, introducing a new storyline into the fold that could take the series into darker, more unexpected territory. Unlike the last film, this one doesn't quite seem as enamored with all the gore and the kills (And has much less stupidity), but instead spends its time setting up its characters and story, with some very harsh drama that only just so happens to revolve around a homicidal monster in human form. The film also seems to be deconstructing how people can deal with trauma and grief in both positive and negative ways, along with how this can possibly influence the evil that may be resting inside all people. It's something that the last film tried and didn't quite grasp, but here, it makes for a fascinating concept and a twist that puts a slightly different perspective on how we look at certain characters. It's also a really good looking film, with good cinematography and a moody buildup. There are signs of greatness in there. The biggest issue is that it's all too much for a film that's under two hours, goes at a break neck pace, and doesn't quite stick the landing when everything is resting on it 100% doing so. 

 In spite of the screenplay's shortcomings, Jamie Lee Curtis (Who thankfully is not resigned to a hospital bed for the film's entire length this time) is still phenomenal, showcasing why she's a iconic horror based heroine and gets the grand ending that she deserves (Especially after the character had been killed off twice already in the previous, now non-canon sequels). Andi Matichak and Rohan Campbell are both giving good performances, with their character arcs making for what should be compelling drama, but the film has so much to cram in despite having so little time. It's essentially a doomed romance that takes problematic turns due to just how damaged they truly are, and while that sounds pretty great and even poetic for what's in a way, just a slasher franchise, the execution is very sloppy. (I'm assuming that the film only took place over the course of a couple days and I'm not buying how quickly this all went down) It's not a jump the shark moment as such would lead you to believe (I mean, one of the other "Halloween" entries had Busta Rhymes beating up Michael and shouting "Trick or Treat Motha-F*ckah!". This is automatically much better), but it makes one realize just how pointless the last film was when that time could have been used to develop this film's erratic structure. Will Patton (as "Frank Hawkins", the deputy with a connection to Laurie) sadly gets sidelined, though does have rather cute chemistry with Jamie Lee Curtis in a couple scenes. As for Michael Myers himself, he's still a frightening force despite getting a little less screentime than you would expect. I very much appreciate that the film takes time to address that this is a dying old man, and that the legend behind who or what he is could instead only exist due to what others see him as, rather than what he actually is in the end. 

"Halloween Ends" is less about kills (Though they are quite gruesome and even a little memorable) and more interested in atmosphere, which captivates early on, until about halfway through when it starts to stumble over its own convoluted structure. It crams too much and drops the ball too often despite having the makings of a horror film with unexpected depth (Which is what the 2018 film was able to successfully convey). The climax comes rather quickly and rushes to the finish. It's not to say that as an ending, it's a bad one. In fact, this feels exactly how this story should probably conclude. You just wish the blade was sharp enough. It can still make a brutal, bloody cut, yet you know damn well it could do better. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence, Barbaric Band Geeks, And Bad Baby-Sitting (Although If You Ask Me, That Kid Had It Coming!).

Amsterdam                                                                                                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "It's all right, audience....We started dozing off about halfway through ourselves."

David O. Russell's reputation appears to have finally caught up with him, and for good reason. It seems that acting like a total dick around your stars, fellow directors, and other colleagues (And ahem, that um, other thing with his niece that really hasn't been acknowledged by anyone), can only be tolerated for so long. The time of directors acting like they're too much of a genius to be decent went away a long time ago. Not to mention, Russell's newest film appears destined to disappoint at the box office, as well as end up on the bad side of critics.

Inspired loosely by true events, "Amsterdam" follows two World War I veterans, the glass eye wearing "Dr. Burt Berendsen" (Christian Bale) and "Harold Woodsman" (John David Washington), and an eccentric nurse, "Valerie" (Margot Robbie), who all form a close bond while staying in Amsterdam after the war, before Burt departs back to New York City to be with his uncaring wife, "Beatrice" (Andrea Riseborough). Valerie also departs without a word, despite she and Harold having fallen in love. Years later, Burt continues to work as a doctor and Harold has become a lawyer, with the two reuniting when Burt is brought in to do an autopsy on their old military commander turned senator. The senator's daughter, "Elizabeth Meekins" (Taylor Swift), swears that there is something suspicious behind her father's death, and the moment Burt and Harold start to look into it, Elizabeth is killed by an unknown figure (Timothy Olyphant), and they are blamed for the murder. Burt and Harold's attempts to prove their innocence end up leading them to once again cross paths with Valerie, revealed to be the sister of the wealthy "Tom Voze" (Rami Malek) and his wife, "Libby" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Now the trio become embroiled in a strange conspiracy, leading them to former general, "Gil Dillenbeck" (Robert De Niro), and whatever actions they take next will determine the future of America as they know it.

Written and directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings", "The Fighter", "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle"), "Amsterdam" is his first film in about seven years, and looks to have failed to win people over. After lots of negativity in terms of critical reactions, the film doesn't reach the level of badness that one has been led to expect. In fact, there's plenty to enjoy about it. However, much of where the film goes wrong rests with David O. Russell himself, making for a disjointed mess with glimmers of charm. The plot is a constantly shifting web that feels far too convoluted for its own good, with the screenplay suffering from over-written dialogue that goes for quirky, though might end up just annoying people more than anything. There's some funny and even insightful moments, but every once in a while you find yourself begging for the drawn out dialogue to just shut the Hell up and tell the damn story, which is also fairly fascinating. The truth behind the film's narrative is centered around a real life, rather poorly planned conspiracy that could have easily turned disastrous, and it takes a few little turns that certainly were built up over the course of the movie. A lot of the other twists are fairly predictable and take too long to reveal themselves.

Our main cast is perfectly game, with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington making an excellent trio,  (Bale is especially wonderful, considering how completely different he was in "Thor: Love and Thunder", the man really is one of those actors you can rely on to give a unique performance). The ensemble is overall good, though many of the cast members don't get much to do or just play a certain obvious type that they've already played before. Chris Rock (as "Milton", an army buddy of Burt and Harold) is funny, Rami Malek is creepy. Anya Taylor-Joy is hot. An unrecognizable Timothy Olyphant is the bad guy. Andrea Riseborough is underused. Taylor Swift is basically a cameo. Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola (as a pair of detectives investigating the murder) are there. And Robert De Niro appears due to being a frequent David O. Russell collaborator. Some more noticeable standouts would be Zoe Saldaña (as "Irma", a nurse and love interest to Burt), along with an unconventional and amusing duo of Mike Myers and Michael Shannon (as "Paul Canterbury" and "Henry Norcross", mysterious benefactors who work with Valerie). 

"Amsterdam" looks well produced, features a big cast, and high ambitions, though all of which can at times feel excessive and overblown. Too many moving parts at once and continuous detours via monologues or various oddities, detract from what actually works well. It's too much of a director thinking he can just do anything, losing sight of his own distinct talents in the process. Not terrible or even bad by any means, just disheartening. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Meandering Monologues, And Eye Popping Investigations. 

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile                                                                                           ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Man, would he make some beautiful boots....Just saying.

There really is something so earnest when kids movies just go bananas and embrace the full blown absurd with a happy go lucky smile on its face. It's the kind of whimsy that leaves you both bewildered, yet oddly charmed. Most of all though, it'll make the kids happy, and that's always a good thing. I mean, if you like kids and all.

Based on the children's books by the late Bernard Waber, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" opens with charismatic, but rather aloof  and always in debt to someone showman, "Hector P. Valenti" (Javier Bardem), coming across a crocodile named "Lyle" (Whose singing voice is provided by Shawn Mendes), who is gifted with the ability to sing and dance. Hector prepares Lyle to join him on stage, but the poor croc has terrible stage fright and isn't able to perform. Completely broke, Hector departs from his New York City apartment on his own to pay off his many, many debts, promising Lyle that he will return. Over a year later, Hector is still nowhere to be found and a new family moves into the apartment, consisting of young "Josh Primm" (Winslow Fegley), along with his parents "Katie" (Constance Wu) and "Joseph" (Scoot McNairy). Josh is a timid kid, who isn't great at making friends, and stumbles upon the now full grown Lyle. After seeing how special Lyle truly is, Josh forms a bond with the lovable crocodile, and it doesn't take long for him to slowly strengthen the rest of the family as well. Though after Hector returns, with plans to continue his dreams of stardom and the constant nuisance of the next door neighbor, "Mr. Grumps" (Brett Gelman), Lyle will have to decide between possible fame or if this new family is where he is destined to be.

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon ("Blades of Glory", "Office Christmas Party") with a screenplay by William Davies ("How to Train Your Dragon"), "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" is another sort of live-action cartoon that's in its own, weird little world, following some predictable beats and cheesiness, similar to last year's "Clifford the Big Red Dog" or 2019's "Dora and the Lost City of Gold". Much like those other kids films though, it's very genuine in how it conveys its bizarre creativity. It's certainly nothing on part with the "Paddington" films, but it's a sincerely sweet and charmingly goofy feature that has plenty to offer for the kids and will leave the parents having a little more fun than they expected. It's a screenplay that goes for silly, both in terms of its narrative and humor, which is matched by solid direction. The film looks like a small children's book, with bright, unsaturated colors and mostly unconvincing yet still appealing CGI work. (All the animals in the film, not just including Lyle himself, are all made up of special effects that don't look real, but feel at home with the film's quirky tone)

One of the film's most engaging aspects is just how into it the cast appears to be. Anyone could have normally just taken the paycheck and sleepwalked through the entire thing, but the cast looks to be having a really good time. Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy (One of those really underappreciated versatile actors), and a likable Winslow Fegley, make for a cute family, that doesn't fall into the usual family troubles tropes that you see in these kinds of kids movies (Really the main conflict with them is that things just aren't quite gelling together in their new environment. That's actually pretty refreshing to see). Meanwhile, Javier Bardem looks like he's having almost too much with this, having fully immersed himself into the film's eccentric personality, while Brett Gelman is an amusingly nonthreatening antagonist. Shawn Mendes' singing voice adds little to Lyle, who is an adorable green, scaly creation, though Mendes does fine, and it leads to quite a few surprisingly delightful music and dance numbers. (It feels like this is where most of the film's budget went into)

"Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" won me over rather quickly once it became apparent what kind of movie it actually is, though it does lose some steam during its rather rushed final act. (Granted, this isn't anything new for some kids films and it just stops it from becoming anywhere close to one of the great ones) It's a nice movie that the young ones can have a good time with, that's plenty harmless, yet still occasionally fun and so peculiar that you can't find a good reason to hate it. Welcome your peculiarity. Anyone can get behind that. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Maybe A Few Quick Adult Jokes And Lyle's Not-So Cat Friendly Diet, Though Still Really Tame Stuff As Usual.  

Blonde                                                                                                                           ½ out of ★★★★

Image: She deserves better than this.

It wouldn't be the Oscar season without some controversy, and there's always one film that more than any other generates the biggest reaction from both sides of the critical spectrum. Everybody has something to say, and won't hold back in saying it. Some will see it as true art that tells it like it is, with nothing but the harshness that stories such as things must be told, with imagery, terror, and cinematic fantasia. Others will see it as a grotesque, mean spirited, wallowing mess of a director being so madly in love with himself that he can only feel good so long as someone, anyone, is left suffering from his supposed genius. There are only two kinds of opinions apparently..........And if you ask me the second one is completely right. Usually I'm the guy landing right down the middle with these things, but this is a pretty easy answer for me.    

Based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates, "Blonde" tells the very much dramatized (And pretentiously so) story of "Norma Jean Mortenson" aka "Marilyn Monroe" (Ana de Armas). Struggling with never having known her father and her abusive relationship with her mentally unstable mother, "Gladys" (Julianne Nicholson), Norma Jean slowly becomes one with her Marilyn persona, becoming an instant icon. However, the darker aspects of fame and fortune only further bear a heavy load on her already traumatized mind. Beneath the so called sex symbol is in actuality a graceful, terrifically smart, and vulnerable soul, looking to prove herself to the world, as well as herself. Apparently that makes for almost three hours of depression porn.  

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik ("Killing Them Softly", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), "Blonde" is a rather ambitious feature, changing up the typical biopic playbook by crafting its own, and one that is the living, breathing definition of one director's vision. Right on. I can get behind that. With that said, that vision is one of pure evil, filled with a sense of distaste for its own subject and just plain angry at the world around it. Shifting from black and white to color, then back again through a couple different aspect ratios (Don't ask me details on which is which. I'm not paid to know those things), the film claims to be telling Marilyn Monroe's life story in all its brutality, except it seems far more interested in how great it thinks it is. The visuals, while impressive for the most part, come across as more distracting and repetitive than engrossing, similar to last week's "Don't Worry Darling", except where that film just didn't seem to understand the point it was trying to make, this one appears to be intentionally missing it. Once you get past the artistic razzle dazzle, you start to see the ugliness beneath the surface. You also start to see that it's also just not really a well made movie when you get down to it.

The screenplay still tells a narrative that's derivative of almost every biopic concerning a tragic figure, especially an iconic one based in stardom. "Elvis" just did this, and yet, you really do appreciate what that film did with it, showcasing stylish whimsy and oddness to portray its excess, before eventually settling down into the darker reality and eventual devastating downfall of its subject. This movie never settles down, with bizarre sequences of surrealism to portray heavy subjects of child abuse, spousal abuse, drug abuse, rape, miscarriages, abortions, more rape, sexuality, suicide, and exploitation. I'm not saying all these themes can't be done in such a way, but Dominik only proves how he might be the absolute worst person for the job. He prefers to wallow in the pain and misery, though not entirely in a fashion that feels sympathetic. It's damn near gleeful in how much it revels in the torture, such as showing us an abortion from the perspective of Marilyn's vagina or a horrifying nightmare of her experiencing a miscarriage, all nude and covered in blood. It's unnecessary for sure, and downright repulsive. It's also, and this is the most offputting part, all something we've seen before. In fact, one has seen it enough in these kinds of movies to expect it.

The biggest and most unanimous praise has been for Ana de Armas herself, and despite all of the film's shortcomings, it could almost guarantee award recognition (And God help us, maybe even some Best Picture nominations. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but it's not out of the question). However, and trust me it feels a little weird to be the odd one out in this conversation, she's not full Oscar worthy here. She certainly looks the part and in theory does a damn fine job, and yet, the film just drags her down, with the ostentatious dialogue and Dominik's in your face direction. It makes her come across as a caricature, especially once the film reaches its lowest point, reducing her to a crying mess, constantly pleading for "Daddy". None of this is remotely her fault, though it makes the film just as annoying to watch as it is disrespectful. The film doesn't do near enough with its cast, though some such as Adrien Brody (as "Arthur Miller", credited only as "The Playwright") and Toby Huss (as "Whitey", Marilyn's close makeup artist, who vanishes from the film far too often) standout much more than the script allows them to. Others like Bobby Cannavale (as "Joe DiMaggio", credited only as "Ex-Athlete"), along with Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams (as "Cass Chaplin" and "Eddy Robinson Jr.", who Marilyn had an apparent polyamorous relationship with) are stuck in typical, underwritten roles.. Speaking of abuse, Julianne Nicholson is especially over the top in the film's opening act, which is far more uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. There's also the now infamous scene involving Caspar Phillipson (as "President John F. Kennedy", credited only as "The President), in a drawn out fellatio scene with extra rapey overtones, and boy, if you're going to make bold accusations such as this, there's gotta be more to it than simple shock value. 

Much of what "Blonde" ends up becoming is little more than shock value at its most detestable, and since most of these controversial topics became known before I was even able to see the movie for myself only points out just how pathetic it is. Maybe if I'd been able to see it during its initial release like all the professional critics, I could have found myself so caught off guard by the film's mean spirited nature that I would have been almost hypnotized by it. Thankfully, I can see through the film's facade and witness it for what it really is. It's an unremarkable biopic that only does the same as others have done before it, except with a gross sense of self-satisfaction and a good amount of glossy makeup to trick you into thinking it's high art. I'm not mad at it. It's more laughable in how much it thinks its getting you to feel such intense emotions, when in reality is nothing more than an excuse to talk about how horrible everyone else is though never saying anything new about it. It's so angry, but for no distinguishable reason. For something like "The Passion of the Christ", you at least knew that movie was being antisemitic (At least, I knew. I stand by it). It's not remotely right, but you knew what it was being angry about. (I never thought I would be typing those words to be honest) It's either mad at Marilyn Monroe, mad at the Hollywood system, or just mad for the sake of it. Just an excuse to show some suffering, even at the expense of someone who already suffered enough in real life as it is. Technically it might be the most offensive movie I've seen this year, and considering how I couldn't in a good conscience award "Redeeming Love" anything higher......1/2 Star. But hey, at least Casey Affleck thought it was beautiful. Rated NC-17 For Hardcore Nudity, Abuse, Implied Rape, Real Rape, And Whatever Else Gets You Sickos Off. 

Bros                                                                                                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So the 300,000th anti-gay, anonymous post says...."

This is truly a big deal, and that's why people are so afraid of it. Sure, some people just want to troll for the sake of trolling, but the fact that they're willing to take time out of their apparently unproductive day to do so only proves that even when romantic comedies decide to change with the times, they're as easily agitated as ever. It's a major step forward for a film to focus specifically LGBT characters, with a prominently LGBT cast, about LGBT problems and having absolutely no shame about it whatsoever. 

"Bros" follows New York museum curator and strong LGBTQ personality, "Bobby Lieber" (Billy Eichner), who is currently struggling to get his LGBTQ history museum off the ground. Failing to find love and claiming to have little to no interest in it, Bobby finds himself connecting with the most unexpected of guys, the much more bro-tastic "Aaron" (Luke Macfarlane). Despite seeming like an odd fit, Bobby and Aaron apparently make for quite the couple, attempting to find reasons for why their relationship shouldn't work and yet, somehow it just does anyway. More or less, that's really the plot right there. 

Directed by Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek", "Neighbors", "Storks"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eichner, "Bros" as one can tell takes the rom-com playbook and at first, only appears to put a different spin on it without ever really going against it. That's the basic intention of the filmmakers, before the movie later reveals itself to have other motives as well. It's about full blown representation, without the need to repress or hold back, which means that this movie is as gay as humanly possible and it's all the better for it. What should be fairly predictable and conventional, instead takes what works and turns it into something more, while also being suitably sweet and most of all, really hilarious. It's a rather honest film that doesn't hold back in mocking societal trends that we've just sort of grown to accept, while also embracing a sense of absurdity with its own meta commentary on gay culture in a way that doesn't seem to feel the need to hold the audience's hand. Regardless of sexual orientation, you understand it because of how relatable it is.   

Billy Eichner, showing off some more of his other acting talents along with his already known comedic ones, utulizes his usual stage persona, while also getting a bit deeper both humorously and even dramatically when the film calls for it. His chemistry with Luke Macfarlane is commendable in how it just showcases this kind of relationship in a more normalized manner. It's not the butt of the joke here or pushed to the sidelines like many of us have just become accustomed to. They're also just plain adorable together and immensely endearing, which is what the best romantic comedies need to successfully accomplish (And frustratingly most of the time end up failing). The film also includes Ty Madison, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Jim, Rash, Bowen Yang, Dot-Marie Jones, a scene-stealing Debra Messing (as herself), among others, popping up in places in a variety of supporting parts.

Heartwarming, funny as Hell, and unabashedly true to itself, "Bros" is a well directed, well written exploration of what can be very tired tropes and enhancing them for the modern audience to fall in love with. It's loads of fun and makes for the perfect date movie, regardless of who you love. Really, it's just for anyone looking for someone to love. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Sexuality, And Fascinating Abraham Lincoln Accusations. I Saw "Lincoln". I Can Believe It. 

Don't Worry Darling                                                                                             ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: As it Was....

Ego is a powerful thing. It's your first time as a film director, bringing to the screen a unique comedy that makes a profit thanks to a small budget, garners critical acclaim, and most of all, gets you a massive following of people who just can't wait to see what you do next. Then you find studios from all over clamoring for your next project, which will be bigger than your first by a long shot. An ensemble cast, a sizable budget, and early Oscar predictions showing up before we see a single frame of the final product. It's your magnum opus. Unfortunately then that movie turns out to be "Don't Worry Darling" and all of the behind the scenes drama sounds like it would have made for much better cinema. 

"Don't Worry Darling" follows a loving housewife, "Alice Chambers" (Florence Pugh), who does what any 1950s wife does. She cooks and cleans, waits for her always working husband, "Jack" (Harry Styles), and gossips with the other housewives within their colorful, seemingly perfect town of "Victory" (Located literally in the middle of nowhere). Founded by the charismatic "Frank" (Chris Pine), Victory has a few rules, such as all the men working on this mysterious project outside of the town, along with nobody being allowed outside the borders, being told to stay where it's safe. After one of Alice's friends, "Margaret" (KiKi Layne), suffers a mental breakdown after venturing off outside the town, Alice also starts to get a little curious about what Frank is really doing, discovering that her so called perfect life is in reality a terrifying nightmare that she may not be able to escape from. 

Directed by Olivia Wilde ("Booksmart"), with a screenplay by Katie Silberman (Collaborating with Wilde once again), "Don't Worry Darling" has been plagued with controversy (Actor disputes, actor removals, divorces, and um, people spitting on each other?), going from one of the year's most anticipated movies to one that's become a source of much internet mockery. The film has ambitions and Wilde doesn't seem to hesitate at letting the audience know that, with grand sets, elaborate costumes and psychotic imagery. And while it's certainly all glossy, it still feels incredibly hollow. Dare I say, obnoxiously so. It feels over-produced for a story that isn't quite as deep as it seems to think it is, with a concept that we've seen done elsewhere and twists that lack much inspiration. The very self-serious screenplay doesn't really develop a good chunk of its characters, with many of them fading into the background, leading to a less than cohesive story that takes far too long to get to the punchline. 

Regardless, one can't deny just how wonderfully talented Florence Pugh is, as she capably carries the film without question or delay. She's continuously compelling, even when the film itself isn't. This is particularly offputting though when she's paired with Harry Styles (Current boyfriend to Olivia Wilde), who despite being talented in his own right, feels frustratingly miscast. Styles, who shifts randomly with his accent in odd places (That makes less sense as the movie goes on), isn't a terrible actor. He just really isn't one at all. It's too big of a part for someone without the experience (And possibly the acting chops), going up against such a powerhouse like Pugh. The chemistry just doesn't work. Chris Pine though is a very creepy presence, along with Timothy Simons (as "Dr. Collins", Frank's second in command, keeping tabs on the "well being" of the locals), while the film doesn't actually make much use of Gemma Chan (as "Shelley", Frank's wife) and Nick Kroll (as "Bill", Jack's co-worker). Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde (as "Bunny", Alice's gossipy best friend), comes across as fairly over the top, even for a movie that just seems to thrive on surreal weirdness. 

"Don't Worry Darling" is a good looking movie, with the exception of a poorly cut together final car chase climax, with good looking people, and that in the end, makes it all the more shallow. It treads familiar territory, without much to say of its own, wasting all kinds of potential and anticipation. It's so predictable that I just assumed a lot of things were just known simply by watching the trailer, only to find out that those aspects were meant to be surprising. It generates more unintentional comedy than titillating drama (The film's sex scenes and a couple late flashbacks are especially silly), and annoys the audience with its pretentiousness rather than captivating them. It's a major disappointment that leaves one with plenty to worry about who could possibly be affected the most by the final product's already diminished reputation. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Sexual Content, Freaky Images, And Moist Harry Styles. Trust Me Ladies. This Ain't Gonna Get You As Hot And Bothered As You Think.

Pearl                                                                                                               ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: You know, I bet I could make it work still. 

Director Ti West, only a few months ago released his twisted, satirical homage to the slasher genre, "X". It was a fun, grotesque feature that would have felt right at home during a late night drive in movie. Production on a prequel also began almost immediately once the film was finished, continuing a classic trend of old fashioned horror, grindhouse features. In Ti West's own words "You can't make a slasher movie without a bunch of sequels", and to see it happen not only so quickly, yet also done so cleverly in a way that actually surpasses the films that its inspired by, showcase yet another filmmaker with a promising future ahead of him. A very bloody one probably, but it seems that he might be relishing that part.  

Set during 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic as well as World War I raging on, "Pearl" follows the murderous villainess from "X", simply only referred to as "Pearl" (Mia Goth). With her husband away fighting in the war, Pearl is stuck on her family's farm, with her strict and overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) and her sick, wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl's dreams and ambitions to become a star just like those fancy picture shows only grow as she develops a crush on a projectionist (David Corenswet), plans to take part in a dancing audition with her sister in law, "Mitzy" (Emma Jenkins-Purro), and partakes in some, lets just say, strange hobbies (Screwing scarecrows, killing geese, feeding her alligator, etc.). Pearl's temperament and resentment about not getting the life she feels she's owed start to fester, resulting in her inner madness being set free in one Hell of a bloodbath. 

Directed by Ti West ("X", "The Sacrament", "V/H/S"), who co-wrote the film with Mia Goth, "Pearl" is almost a complete departure from the previous film, both in tone, style, and execution, yet keeps this extra layer of devilish darkness waiting and demanding to be unleashed onto the screen. The film feels like a colorful, whimsical, 1950s coming of age story that just so happens to be out of its freakin mind. For a genre that didn't seem to be taking chances as of late, the horror-slasher flicks have begun to toy further with the audience's expectations. You come in for simple slashes and blood splats, but find yourself immersed in this saturated world. It makes for a lot of dark humor for sure, yet also adds to the film's sense of dread. The whole time whenever the film appears overly happy and bouncy like an old live-action Disney movie, you are just waiting for something to go horribly wrong. There are intentional tonal shifts between the bright and joyful to dark and unpleasant. West makes the film feel so genuine that you get lost within it, and that makes the moments of terror really jump out at you. 

Much of what really carries this film, aside from West's eye for batsh*t imagery, is Mia Goth. She's proven to be a multi-talented actress already in "X", but now, she's more front and center than ever. With those expressive eyes of her's, she is a terrifying wonder to behold, going from adorably eccentric to tragically dejected, then to creepily paranoid before jumping off the slippery slope into a nightmarish rabbit hole of uncontrollable rage. From a hauntingly delivered monologue (Which I think went on for like five to eight minutes straight) to one of this year's most memorable final shots, Goth's performance is very much deserving of praise, recognition, and hopefully, only more to come from her in the future. The other performances are also excellent and played completely straight in what could have gone into a place that's hard to take particularly seriously, even with the filmmakers keeping a tongue in cheek tone throughout. Tandi Wright is an imposing presence, with David Corenswet and Emma Jenkins-Purro portraying characters that have just a little more depth than what we at first see. Matthew Sunderland, who spends the entire movie in a wheelchair, neither speaking or moving in the slightest, conveys so much with just the simplest of looks. (I'm not even sure how to describe it, but whatever he did, it was effective!)

Surpassing "X" (And continuing the weird connection between the development of the porn industry), "Pearl" is an extra dose of derangement that offers a dazzling execution of once tired tropes, with Ti West's unconventional direction and Mia Goth's hypnotizing performance, making for another late night trip to the pictures. It's another savagely gory, all kinds of wrong, and most of all, just plain tons of fun in the most devious of ways. (Also, be sure to stick around again this time after the credits) Talk about yet another "Goddamn F*cked Up Horror Picture". 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Violence Of The Bloody And Gruesome Variety, Firey Familial Fights, Forking People Up, And A Smile That Will Forever Haunt You Every Time You Shut Your Eyes       

The Woman King                                                                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I'm putting $50 on her.

From the clear inspiration that the "Dora Milage" from "Black Panther" took from these historical amazon-like warriors, further demonstrating how even when world history seems to want to skim over or exclude whatever it can, some legends live on one way or another, whether they like it or not. 

Inspired by relatively true events, "The Woman King" follows the "Agojie", a protective unit made up of only female warriors, serving their West African kingdom of Dahomey. During the 1820s, the Agojie general, "Nanisca" (Viola Davis), who has become a close confidant of the king, "Ghezo" (John Boyega), prepares her warriors for upcoming conflict with Oya general "Oba Ade" (Jimmy Odukoya), as well as hoping to get their people out of the slave trading business. A young woman, "Nawi" (Thuso Mbedu), under tutelage from "Izogie" (Lashana Lynch), shows incredible promise, along with a disregard for certain traditions. As Nawi sets out to complete her training and her relationship with Nanisca deepens, the conflict only escalates, with the Dahomey's entire future hanging in the balance.   

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Secret Life of Bees", "The Old Guard"), with a screenplay written by Dana Stevens ("The Nightingale") and a story credit to Maria Bello, "The Woman King" as one would expect, likely left out some facts, dramatized others, and repurposed itself for the movie loving public. This has always been the way of things. The purpose behind the film is more to showcase these real life, extraordinary warriors in an action packed, crowdpleasing epic. It's a beautifully cinematic story, with spellbending sequences of action and harsh training that despite the PG-13 rating, are still plenty brutal and merciless. (You damn near feel those cuts, bruises, and stabs, without needing to see much blood at all) The worldview showcased is also very unique, in part because the filmmakers never feel the need to whitewash things. (I mean that in the literal sense too) The film never turns away from some of the more complicated aspects of the story, such as the Dahomey kingdom being willing to participate in the slave trade themselves, as well as the wealth that their king was able to accumulate. One could argue that the film still doesn't dive deep enough, yet to see this kind of conflict being told as more than a simple good guy vs bad guy sort of story, is both commendable and necessary. It's a true tale of redemption in that way, as many of the heroic characters are shown with their flaws and mostly unsugarcoated. 

Viola Davis commands the screen more than she ever has before, with a grueling, yet sincere performance that proves how she really can do anything. It's not just her movie though. Thuso Mdedu is equally powerful, making for an unexpected breakout role, while Lashana Lynch provides heart and humor, along with a wonderful Sheila Atim (as "Amenza", Nanisca's close second in command). All the women are commendable regardless of how large of a role they play. Having gone through some real life training to prepare and look the part, they are a true force to be reckoned with. John Boyega is charismatic and regal, while retaining a commanding sense of authority. As for our villains, they're plenty despicable, if one note, with Jimmy Odukoya snarling his way through and Hero Fiennes Tiffin being all kinds of slimy (Much like his character from those "After" movies, except this was intentional). Jordan Bolger (as "Malik", Santo's mixed race friend, who becomes a love interest for Nawi) is fine, though I'm probably guessing that this plotline likely didn't happen this way in real life (Or at all) and it feels pretty unnecessary as usual. 

"The Woman King" falters when it comes to some of its more overly thematic moments that you can probably get a historian to thoroughly unravel. The film still brings the story to life in a grandiose way, with well put together action scenes, complex characters, and the chance to give these mighty warriors the kind of cinematic treatment they deserve. It's sure to enlighten, somewhat educate, and maybe even inspire. All great things if you ask me. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Enslavement, And For Probably Scaring The Crap Out Of A Bunch Of Bigoted White People. You Know Damn Well They Have Nightmares About This Kind Of Situation.     

Barbarian                                                                                                        ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Nothing bad ever happens from pulling on a harmless little rope."

This right here! This is what "The Invitation" should have been. Sure, the trailer didn't have much choice than to state that this is a horror movie, but the way so much is kept hidden from the audience is how you make true horror work. One second you think it's one thing, before something out of your worst nightmares takes it down a completely different route, only for the rug to get pulled out from under you once again just for fun.   

"Barbarian" opens with "Tess Marshall" (Georgina Campbell), on her way to a job interview, having booked an Airbnb outside of Detroit, located in a run down, almost completely abandoned neighborhood. Tess finds out that someone else, "Keith" (Bill Skarsgård), has also rented out the small house. Looking like both were accidentally booked at the same time, Tess and Keith agree to stay together for the night and sort things out the next day. Despite some awkwardness, the two seem to hit it off pretty well. However, when Tess discovers something under the house, it begins an unhinged descent into Hell that nobody could have suspected. Meanwhile, a bro-ish, piece of sh*t actor, "AJ Gilbride" (Justin Long), who actually own the Airbnb, is having some trouble with some sexual assault allegations. Since he's got nowhere else to go at the moment, AJ decides to stop at the house, finding himself also roped into the bloody nightmare that's about to unfold. 

Written and directed by actor Zach Cregger (Whose only other directing credit is listed as a co-director for "Miss March". Talk about a step up!), "Barbarian" is nothing that's been advertised. Whether you go in blind or otherwise, it might be one of the most original films I've seen in some time. Expectations and what we see as cinematic norms are thrown out the window in favor of a grindhouse inspired mishmash of tones, terror, and even a couple of twisted laughs. Cregger's direction is ingenious, managing to shift between various styles depending on what kind of genre the movie wants to be at the moment. Going in, if you didn't somehow know that this was at its core a horror movie, you'd almost think it was just the simple story of a woman trying to make her way through life, possibly meeting a nice guy, and getting the job of her dreams. It's a pleasant start, with this slight sense of uneasiness that slowly creeps its way into the story. Next think you know, you find yourself trapped in a torturous and sadistic playhouse that you never could have imagined seeing on screen. Before you even have time to comprehend what in God's holy name is going on, the film pulls another twist that lands you once again inside another movie that I can only describe as comedically abhorrent. The film only continues to lose its mind in the most grotesquely awesome way. This is the definition of an edge of your seat thriller, where your mind struggles to keep up, suffering intentionally done mood whiplash. 

The direction and screenplay, which is also so clever in how it chooses to tell its story without feeling the need to explain right away (Like a puzzle, made out of sliced up body parts), can only be fully brought to life by the committed performances onscreen. Georgina Campbell is excellent in what should be ranked up along with other legendary heroines of horror. You immediately like her, care about her, and want her to survive, as she avoids typical horror movie mistakes and provides heart where you wouldn't even know it to be necessary. Bill Skarsgård, who we all know as Pennywise from the "It" movies, also gets to show off more of his acting chops in a role that plays against the audience's assumptions. Meanwhile, Justin Long is more than just brilliant here. I would consider him Oscar worthy in how much of an ass he can be, in a way that you wish was a caricature. He's a riot, even though you just hate his guts, and even then, his story isn't exactly predictable. Also, gotta give a special shoutout to Richard Brake (as "Frank", a man that the film stops in the last act to follow during one long sequence), for providing the kind of predatory menace that you can't look away from. 

There is so much about "Barbarian" that I can't possibly get into. So many twists and turns, both in terms of narrative and filmmaking structure. It's a demented, scary, at times actually pretty funny, and all together memorable masterwork of pure evil, with shock and fear at every corner. Beneath the gory surface though, is something far more intelligent than you would really even normally need. Classic frights, with a diabolically deranged mind and the insight to do something than stands out from everyone else. It's possibly even one of the best horror movies I've seen in theaters. If this doesn't become an instant classic in the eyes of horror fanatics, I'm going to do something possibly barbaric myself. 4 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Violence, Unpleasant Themes, Maximum Droopage, And Motherly Love.     

Pinocchio                                                                                                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: If you ask me, he's giving a very wooden performance.

Not the most eventful "Disney+" day was it? We're greedy for all those "Star Wars" and "Marvel" reveals, along with maybe a couple unexpected surprises or two. Unfortunately we didn't get much this year. Just a remake of one of Disney's earliest and still greatest features via Disney+. Seems that this whole re-imagining of nostalgic, great animated films might be dying out. Especially since, after stuff like "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella", or even "Cruella", going to add more to the story than what we knew, instead we're just getting the same thing except not quite as good. I've been easy on some of these. "Beauty and the Beast" worked, while "The Lion King" was a visual marvel and "Aladdin" was just a fun, weird little time. So why is the one that actually could have added possibly a little extra substance to an eighty year old film, ends up being Disney's weakest one yet?

Based on the 1940 animated classic, which itself is based on the beloved fairy tale, "Pinocchio" opens with lonely woodcarver, "Geppetto" (Tom Hanks), who longs for more of a family aside from his CGI cat and fish, "Figaro" and "Cleo" in a workshop full of Disney Easter Eggs. So one night Geppetto makes a wish upon a star for a son, which a traveling cricket, named "Jiminy Cricket" (Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), happens to witness. That wish results in his recently constructed wooden marionette puppet, "Pinocchio" (Voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), is magically brought to life. He's then visited by the magically "Blue Fairy" (Cynthia Erivo), who deputizes Jiminy as Pinocchio's conscious and tells the little puppet that if he truly wants to be become a real boy, he will need to prove himself as brave, truthful, and unselfish. Geppetto, ecstatic over little Pinocchio, allows him to go to school, where he's immediately swept up into a series of adventures. Pinocchio comes into contact with a shady duo, the fox "Honest John" (Voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and his mute cat companion "Gideon", who make promises of fame and fortune, before allowing him to be abducted by the vile puppeteer, "Stromboli" (Giuseppe Battiston). Then Pinocchio finds himself roped into the devlishly wild carnival of juvenile delinquents called "Pleasure Island", run by the pure evil "Coachman" (Luke Evans). All of this results in a quest to rescue Geppetto from the jaws of a giant, man eating monster, tentacle whale, "Monstro".  

Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Cast Away", "Forrest Gump", and one of my all time favorites "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass", "Cinderella", "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"), this brand spanking new "Pinocchio" doesn't do too much new in the end. That's not unexpected though and Disney charm is its own beautiful, corporately constructed, and generally effective dose of love and magic that always finds a way to shine through almost every time. Some of the magic is there and the film isn't without a few changes, but unlike some of the more successful live-action remakes, this feels much more rushed. It follows the same exact story structure, only once in a while making a few changes, cutting stuff out, and updating minor aspects. Sadly, not only is the original not really in need of much of this, what we get is more offputting than whimsical. What brings it down more than anything is Zemeckis' direction, which is all over the place. It's already a weird tale, which in animated form is easy to go along with. At times Zemeckis is able to convey that kind of child-like wonder, with visually appealing colors and imagery. Then other times, the effects are god awful and undercooked. Possibly Zemeckis wanted to go for something that didn't look entirely real, but it's kind of hard to look at in places. The green screen is always at full display in both the background and foreground, and it only gets worse as the film progresses. Despite being a small scale story, it's still grand in execution, yet the budget doesn't look up to the task. I know I shouldn't expect the high standards of 2016's "The Jungle Book", which was visually incredible, funny, and still told a classic story with added emotion. Still, with how much these remakes just seem to get under people's skin, this is the first one where I think I kind of get it to a degree. 

The cast thankfully really brings their all, even when just re-doing a lot of what we've already seen before. Tom Hanks is wonderfully cast and too wholesome to dislike. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is solid, conveying the character's wide eyed likability well, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an inspired choice for Jiminy Cricket, doing a fantastic job. Keegan-Michael Key is also perfectly cast, getting some of the funniest lines, though sadly gets only one long scene, with the character getting cut out pretty quickly. (Honest John and Gideon were my favorite characters! Shame on you!) Cynthia Erivo doesn't get much to do here either, while Luke Evans on the other hand, who is completely unrecognizable, quite steals the movie with one Hell of a creepy performance. Some new additions like Kyanne Lamaya (as "Fabiana", a puppeteer working for Stromboli, who befriends Pinocchio) and Lorraine Bracco (as the voice of "Sofia", a talking seagull), who are both fine, though inconsequential. The effects on the animated characters veer back and forth between charmingly weird to unsettling for the wrong reasons. (So easy to throw around the whole Uncanny Valley argument these days, but yeah, there's a lot of that. We're not even going to get into the donkeys) The film also needlessly seems to get the idea that it needs to tone itself down, such as the kids drinking root beer at Pleasure Island instead of actual beer. This is a PG rated movie and it somehow feels tamer than the older G rated one. 

While the film isn't without some magic and even adds a more unique, rather ambiguous ending than before, this "Pinocchio" doesn't hold a candle to the original. That's not unexpected. However, it also feels more like a kids movie, rather than one that's meant for the whole family. The heart is there, though less prevalent. While even the other remakes have at least felt like events, this feels right at home only on streaming. Not at all terrible. Just a nonentity. Of course, none of this helps when the original animated version has aged so well and is still worthy for anyone, child or otherwise, to enjoy and resonate with. When Disney disappoints, it kind of hurts more than you expect. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Dark Imagery, Smoke Monsters, Wacky Italians, Juvenile Jackasses, And Bigotry Against Good Hardworking Wooden People.  

Medieval                                                                                                                  ★★ out of ★★★★

Image:  "This had better be important. I have a better movie to get to."

A dark, violent, gritty and unforgiving Medieval epic is so hard to come by right now. You either flop hard like last year's "The Last Duel" or end up coming across as incredibly silly and dated. It's seen as old cinema or the things of fantasy, which is also hard to get right these days. Such a cool, classical, legendary time period. This needs to be on the big screen. Not this movie of course. I just mean the subgenre as a whole. Bring it back! 

Inspired by the legends of Bohemian military commander, "Jan Žižka" (Ben Foster), "Medieval" follows him before his later, great battles. During the fourteenth century, the current king of Bohemia, "Wenceslaus IV" (Karel Roden), is sure to also become the emperor of Rome, though the kingdom is in political turmoil at the moment. Due to the machinations of the greedy "Henry III of Rosenberg" (Til Schweiger), "Lord Boreš" (Michael Caine) devises his own plan, which involves Jan Žižka, who was a mercenary at the time, and his band of merry psychopaths to kidnap Rosenberg's soon to be bride, "Lady Katherine" (Sophie Lowe), to force his support of the king. However, after Žižka and his group take Catherine, they soon realize that they've been lured into an even more deadly scheme by the king's sinister brother, "Sigismund" (Matthew Goode), to claim power. After Sigismund has his bloodthirsty enforcer, "Torak" (Roland Møller) goes after his family, Žižka must gather a new band of rebels to save the kingdom from tyranny. Eventually, Žižka and Katherine become what stands between the kingdom falling into chaos, with Žižka becoming a hero of knightly legend.

Written and directed by Petr Jákl (In what I'm guessing is his first American theatrical release), "Medieval" is actually the most expensive Czech Republic film ever made at the moment. While the $20 million budget may seem small here, you can tell there was work put into this. A lot of it. You can also see the potential for a brutal historical based epic that incorporates old fashioned tale telling with the harsh, gruesome reality of just how down and dirty it really was. Hell, one might even be able to find inspiration from it in how good can triumph over evil in the neverending fight for freedom. Great stuff! It just frustratingly doesn't come together. The film doesn't have many original ideas, substituting them for grisly violence, predictable plotting, and a pretty poor script. Generic is the biggest word that comes to mind. What stands out about the film more than anything is how violent it is. The film takes the barbarism of the middle ages to new heights, where not one single death is remotely pleasant or painless. Faces are smashed or sliced clear off, while heads take several hits before decapitation and everybody is in nothing but pure agony as they see what their bodies look like turned inside out. At a point however, it gets a little over the top with it and damn near cartoonish. Sometimes during an action scene, the film will even stop dead to showcase soon to be dead people screaming outrageously over their missing limbs and it comes across as more humorous than disturbing. (Think that scene from "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller's arm blown off, except taken seriously)

The film is short on character, and it's most apparent with Ben Foster himself. First off, Foster, despite being a really good actor, feels so miscast in a distracting fashion. He's the one that looks as if he's doing medieval roleplay, and none of this helps when the character is by far the least interesting person in the entire movie. Most of his depth happens either offscreen, in flashbacks, or is just told via backstory, yet we barely see any of it. Much of the supporting characters also don't amount to much, with several subplots and schemes going on at once to the point it gets so jumbled together. The movie isn't without some solid performances, such as Michael Caine (Albeit barely in it) being the respectable, sophisticated actor we all know him to be. Matthew Goode is great as our slimy, conniving villain, along with an intimidatingly psychopathic Roland Møller. Sophie Lowe is also quite compelling, even when the script fails her. (The last second romance between her and Foster though is completely out of nowhere and unnecessary)

There is some fascinating intrigue and the makings of a great knightly saga, but "Medieval" wastes good storytelling ideas on a poor screenplay that leaves much unearned. The pacing is off due to constant plot juggling and the tone is unable to figure out if it wants to be a real, hardhitting action/drama, or something more chaotic and over the top (Apparent most in an unintentionally hilarious sequence involving a horrendous CGI lion). The sword is willing and ready, yet sadly, just too dull. 2 Stars. Rated R For Countless Cut Off Limbs, Head Smashing, Throat Slicing, Bone Breakings, And Ben Fostering.  

Me Time                                                                                                                      ★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "It's OK....Our careers might still recover from this."

6% on Rotten Tomatoes? With an 29% audience score? Not to mention it being the #1 movie on Netflix despite this. Also, I don't really have anything to review this week anyways. What? I've been dealing with forgettable, unremarkable bad movies, that are either just boring or lame. I need more of the in your face badness like "Redeeming Love". I live for this crap! At least, I thought I did....  

Released via "Netflix", "Me Time" follows "Sonny Fisher" (Kevin Hart), a dad who stays at home, while his architect wife, "Maya" (Regina Hall), is generally away at work, leaving him with little time to do anything of excitement. However, when Maya decides to take a trip with their kids, "Ava" (Amentii Sledge) and "Dash" (Che Tafari), that leaves Sonny with some "Me Time". Since Sonny literally doesn't do much outside of his family, he reunites with his old, totally bro-ish best friend, "Huck" (Mark Wahlberg) for his upcoming birthday. Turns out though that Huck is still a reckless, buffoonish manchild, taking Sonny, along with a bunch of people they don't know onto a bus to the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, Huck also owes a loan shark, "Stan Berman" (Jimmy O. Yang), who gives him a day to pay him back or else. Then to make matters more worse, Huck convinces Sonny to engage in random debauchery, such as breaking into the house of Sonny's one-sided rival, "Armando" (Luis Gerardo Méndez) with their chaotic Uber driver, "Thelma" (Ilia Isorelys Paulino). And then to make matters even worse, they throw a house party. Also, to make matters even worse still.... this f*cking movie is longer than an hour and a half. 

Both written and directed by John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly", "I Love You, Man", "Why Him?"), "Me Time" is another one of those Netflix movies of the week, that most of the time is too bare-bones that I usually don't even end up reviewing them. (Yeah, I saw "The Gray Man" and it was perfectly mediocre. "Red Notice" too.) This time though, they take it to a whole new level of blandness. If we're being completely real here, I went into this expecting something offensive, stupid, and bad in a way that makes for one of those epic, ten paragraph reviews for the ages. Well.... it is stupid. They got that one right. It's certainly not funny. It's also so uninteresting and uninvolving, leaving one to wonder what exactly the intent was for it in the first place. It's a cheaply made film, that goes for easy jokes such as farts, ass, dicks, poo, and the usual stuff. However, it's not even gross out anymore. It's too lazy to be lazy by this point. When a comedy is funny, you're willing to forgive some shoddy filmmaking to a degree. Sadly, since there aren't any laughs to be had, you're left baffled by the film's inability to decide on what the plot even wants to be. It keeps changing throughout, with random subplots that pad things out and a disturbing lack of creativity. Everything revolves around whatever joke is being set up at the time, cobbled together to pose as a movie. Whether it be running over a turtle or Kevin Hart getting mauled by a PS2 level CGI Mountain Lion (The only time I got a laugh, mostly due to how poorly done it is), the movie doesn't have near enough of a story to justify itself. 

Kevin Hart is playing the most underdeveloped version of himself. It's the kind of shtick that we've become accustomed to, and yet, at least sometimes you can get a laugh or two out of him. Something feels off this time though. Sure, he's screaming a lot and flailing his arms around. It's a bit insincere this time. Most of which is because he has absolutely no chemistry with Mark Wahlberg, who is also actually kind of terrible in this. He's meant to be the dumb loser that just parties his way through life and aside from being obnoxiously dumb, but he isn't playing this right. His stupidity is inconsistent (Borderline inhuman), and too unbelievable. Both Hart and Wahlberg have their talents, though none of it is on display here. Many of these plotlines either don't go anywhere of importance or end up resolved in a predictably moronic fashion. Regina Hall is at least thankfully charming, but you expect that from her. 

While I can get behind the film showing stay at home dads in a positive light (Jokes aside, it's usually something that movies mock and it's cool to see one that's saying it's a respectable thing), "Me Time" isn't bad in any kind of fun way. The direction is flat, while the screenplay comes across as made up on the fly, with characters that are too imbecilic to be likable. It's one of those toss whatever you can at the screen kind of comedies, that sure, doesn't so much offend, but rather drains you of any sense of passion. You're not angry watching it. That would require investment. I can't assume that the filmmakers didn't give a sh*t, though nothing about the movie indicates that they did. If they don't care, you don't care. Waste of perfectly good "me" time. 1 Star. Rated R For Juvenile F Bombs, Bed Poopings, Animal Abuse (CGI or otherwise), and Marky Mark's Funky Bunch.

Three Thousand Years of Longing                                                              ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "For the last time....I'm not Will Smith!"

Unpredictable storytelling is hard to come by these days, and that's because we feel that we've gotten so used to what we perceive as a standard narrative structure. It's hard to be surprised when you've seen so much and know most of the techniques. It's not something that bothers me. I'm just used to it and have accepted it. So believe me when I say that I legitimately had no idea where this was going, how it would get there, or what it even was for nearly all of the runtime.  

Inspired by the short story "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" by A. S. Byatt, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" follows an intelligent, though seclusive narratologist (Person who studies narrative structures and their impact on perspective), "Alithea Binnie" (Tilda Swinton), as she takes a trip to Istanbul. Alithea finds herself in possession of an old bottle, which unleashes a "Djinn" (also known as a Genie), named er, "Djinn" (Idris Elba), who offers to grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom. As the two talk in her hotel room, Alithea doesn't quite see herself in need of wishes, since she's already seemingly content with life. This prompts Djinn to recount to her some stories involving his past, along with the wishes he'd granted along the way, leading up to ending up in her possession. 

Directed by  George Miller (The "Mad Max" series, such as the Oscar nominated"Mad Max: Fury Road", along with "Happy Feet". Also Oscar Nominated!), who co-wrote the screenplay with Augusta Gore, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is a fairy tale gone completely mad with eccentricity. Miller crafts a topsy turvy carnival of chaos and surrealism, and doesn't seem to remotely care if you're on board or not. From the stylish and outrageous visuals, bizarre sense of humor, and indescribable tone, the film is almost in its own genre, mixing in magical fantasy, human drama, and sincere romance into a blender of bewilderment. Does this make any sense? To be honest, not really. A lot of this doesn't add up in a cohesive way that one can explain to a thoroughly comprehensive mind. If you're looking for logistics and explanation, your head will be tilting so much from confusion that it might snap your neck. Somehow though, at least to me, I feel that all of this is precisely the point. 

Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are the only characters that we actually get to know, with others being left to brisk appearances. What we know about them is what's told to us through narration. In the end, Swinton and Elba are who we're supposed to focus on and their chemistry is quite beautiful. Their back and forth is a joy to watch, and it develops into a more personal, quite compelling arc that weirdly warms your heart. I could have almost watched three hours of just the two of them talking, and that leads to a glaring, if not unconventional issue with the film. It's too short. The film clocks in at around an hour and forty-eight minutes and breezes by, yet seems to leave so much unsaid and under developed. I guess it could be seen as a positive on how you're left wanting more, but the story comes across as chopped up, even though I'm just assuming this was all what George Miller wanted. The visual effects aren't by any means real looking, with loads of obvious green screen and CGI that never blends into the real world in a seamless manner. This does feel fitting, adding to the otherworldly storybook-like cinematography. Miller's eye for unique imagery is also on full display, creating moments where you just don't know where you are or what you're seeing. (Side-note: It's also interesting to see people walking around, wearing masks. Most films these days don't really seem to mention Covid unless it's of plot relevance)

"Three Thousand Years of Longing" seems to be intent on breaking down what we seem to identify with as narrative storytelling, and it's hard to tell if the final outcome is brilliant or just plain sloppy. It's a puzzle that doesn't completely come together, though remains a fairly compelling, and admittedly unforgettable attempt at creating the kind of cinematic experience of beauty, love, loss, and wonder, that could go into a genre all its own. There's offbeat humor, along with some heart that comes through into the film's final, less extravagant act. George Miller's flawed, divisive, artistically wondrous, and awkwardly charming little fantasy is quite the story to watch unfold, even if you're not sure what in the Hell you just saw. 3 Stars. Rated R For Adult Themes, CGI Nude-Ish Idris Elba, Loads Of Jiggling Body Fat, And Whatever That Guy With The Big Mouth Was Supposed To Represent. 

The Invitation                                                                                                        ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "So looking forward to having you for dinner."

Don't you just hate when you watch a movie and you repeatedly think to yourself how easily all of this could have been better. First off, you feel like a total dick for thinking that you could remotely handle the complications and tribulations that go into filmmaking. Then you get over it and remember how much easier it is to critique than do it yourself (At least I admit it), and continue to put together more ways how an interesting interpretation of old fashioned vampire horror could not only be original, but also might even be something thoroughly its own. Also, don't show the whole damn movie in the trailer. 

"The Invitation" follows "Evie" (Nathalie Emmanuel), who after losing her mother to cancer, takes a DNA test, where she discovers a second cousin (And an entire family) that she never knew the existence of. After meeting her new, very British cousin, "Oliver" (Hugh Skinner), he invites her to meet the rest of his family at an upcoming wedding, being held at a beautiful, though eerily Gothic mansion in the English countryside. The wedding is being arranged by the devilishly handsome and charismatic "Walter" (Thomas Doherty), who Evie quickly takes a shine to. Despite some antagonistic behavior from Walter's smarmy butler, "Mr. Fields" (Sean Pertwee), along with a pair of bridesmaids, "Viktoria" (Stephanie Corneliussen) and "Lucy" (Alana Boden), Evie and Walter begin to grow closer. Little does Evie know, something more sinister is going on beneath the surface, ready to ahem, sink its teeth into her. 

Directed by Jessica M. Thompson ("The Light of the Moon"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Blair Butler ("Hell Fest"), "The Invitation" takes a modernized, feminist approach to vampire mythology, with some twists that could have been made more special if only the filmmakers had just taken a slightly different approach. And when I say slightly, I mean, very slightly, since the film feels so close to getting to something that could stand out from the usual, crowded horror fare. It just missed the mark, though in ways that you feel could have easily been avoided. The film boasts some atmospheric production design, though it is directed like it should be on TV instead of on a theatrical screen. There's this sort of strange level of cheapness that gets in the way, and it's especially distracting when it comes to the god awful special effects work, which really are unnecessary. They're vampires. You could really just give them sharp teeth and we'd accept that. All the CGI jumping around and demon faces just look silly when you clearly don't have the budget for it. These moments are only here for cheap jump scares and fake outs. It's typical PG-13 horror movie stuff and feels rather studio mandated. 

Nathalie Emmanuel is regardless, very charming and very lovely. She and Thomas Doherty also have solid chemistry together, and it brings me to something that really would have elevated the film. It should have been played straight, saving the reveal that it's a horror movie for later in the film (Not to mention, the big moment from the trailer basically happens almost an hour in anyways). It would have been a jarring, though enjoyably campy surprise, especially when Doherty gets to chew the scenery (Literally) and looks like he's having a blast. Others like Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, and especially Hugh Skinner, play up that camp, along with a scene-stealing Sean Pertwee (Essentially playing an evil version of Alfred from "Gotham"). Everybody is good in the movie and make the most of the tonal shifts. This could have come together, if only the filmmakers (Or possibly the studio) had just taken a different route.

"The Invitation" ends up being a playful take on a certain story, and it doesn't take long to figure that out. Clever, though fairly annoying once you notice how often the film stops dead for an Easter Egg or forced reference every chance it gets. The ideas behind the film are commendable and could lead somewhere fun, though maybe there wasn't much confidence behind them or last second reshoots, and what we are left with feels more outdated and ancient than the monsters on screen. Throw in a terrible, poorly cobbled together epilogue (Okay, that definitely had to be a reshoot! Doesn't even feel like the same movie), and you get generic dullness that will fade from memory pretty quickly. It's best to save yourself the trouble and decline the invite. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Blood And Rich White People Just Being Rich White People.  

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero                                                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Purple Headed Warrior....AWAY!!!!"

My knowledge of "Dragon Ball" is still um, pretty much nonexistent. Sure, I saw 2019's "Dragon Ball Super: Broly", which despite my lack of intel on the franchise (Aside from how awful the live-action "Dragonball Evolution" was for everyone), I genuinely enjoyed as a good time. It wasn't anything that made me think about converting into whatever Dragon Ball fans call themselves (Dragonites? Wait, that's a "Pokémon"....). Now while I can't say that I'm planning that anytime soon after this movie, I am going to give it more consideration. Why? Well, because I think I get it now. I get why this is a thing. 

Continuing from where I assume the long running anime franchise currently is at the moment, "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" opens with corporate villain, "Magenta" (Charles Martinet), plotting to resurrect his "Red Ribbon Army" to take over the world with superpowered androids. He partners himself up with a bizarre scientist, "Dr. Hedo" (Zach Aguilar), who has a love for superheroes and agrees to work with the baddie due to some old fashioned villainous manipulation. Meanwhile, "Piccolo" (Christopher Sabat) spends his time watching over "Pan" (Jeannie Tirado), the powered up daughter of "Gohan" (Kyle Hebert), who Piccolo worries has become unfocused with his training. After he learns of Magenta's scheme, which involves Hedo's recently created androids, "Gamma #1" (Aleks Le) and "Gamma #2" (Zeno Robinson), and with both "Goku" (Sean Schemmel) and "Vegeta" (Also Christopher Sabat) busy training elsewhere, Piccolo has to make due with what he has if he's going to stop the Red Ribbon Army from unleashing an unspeakable, highly dangerous evil onto the world. 

Those completely unfamiliar with the concepts of "Super Saiyans" (God-like, Monkey Superman People), will stuck in a state of confusion while watching "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero", and normally I would be too if not for what little of the lore I've absorbed through osmosis (I got nerdy friends). By this point, I've accepted that this world runs on a cartoonish mix of comic book and video game logic. With edible power ups, over the top abilities, oddly specific weak points, and the fact that everyone is rather blasé about an end of the world level threat. Now that I can understand it, I can also see just how fun it really is, and credit to the filmmakers on crafting a well put together story that for the most part remains focused. The set up is quite simple and to the point, yet remains fairly unpredictable, action packed, and most surprisingly, very funny. It's this that adds a lot of charm to the characters, and even when the movie seems to stop to just give focus to other recurring players simply because they either usually participate in larger roles in the anime (Or are just plain popular with the fanbase), they're also so damn likable that you really don't mind it all. 

Major characters like Goku and Vegeta are left on the sidelines, leaving the film to really focus on Piccolo. He's an overly serious character, which makes for a good amount of humor, but also makes him quite endearing. Christopher Sabat plays him hilariously straight, and the relationship between him and Gohan is both funny and even kind of sweet. The Gammas are scene-stealers (And go through more character development than your usual one-off character would), while Charles Martinet (The voice of Mario from the "Super Mario" series) is a delight as our main villain. Minor appearances or not, everyone is chock full of anime-esque personalities and you just like watching them. The animation can be a bit jarring at first (The film is completely done in a CGI style meant to emulate 2D animation, despite actually being 3D), but it retains its identity, and once we do reach the action packed final act, it's pure, explosive animated spectacle at its finest. (Plus, it's just nice to see someone appreciating what you can do with animation.....Unlike "HBO Max" apparently right now)

"Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" is absurdly bombastic, just as it should be, and never takes itself too seriously. Major exposition dumps and backstory are explained in a tongue in cheek fashion, and yet, none of this detracts from the film's epic ambitions for crafting one Hell of a superhero extravaganza. For the fans, I'm sure they're gonna have a great time. As for a non fan like myself, I found myself entranced by its wild, appealingly energetic aura. It's a total blast, and I mean that almost in a literal sense. And you know what? Maybe I might finally give this whole "Dragon Ball" thing a try. I'm only like a few decades or so late. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Saiyan Power Action, Lots Of Wide Open-Mouthed Screaming, And Pervy Kitty God People. I Think It Makes Sense In Context. 

Beast                                                                                                                    ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I am aware of the effect I have on Lions."

This is the lion equivalent of a shark attack movie. Short and sweet. Let's get to the point, shall we? 

"Beast" follows a family on a trip to South Africa. The recently widowed "Nate Samuels" (Idris Elba), brings his daughters "Meredith" (Iyana Halley) and "Norah" (Leah Sava Jeffries), to meet with an old family friend, "Martin" (Sharlto Copley), for a tour around a game reserve. Nate also wants to use this as a chance to bond with his daughters, following their mother's death. However, due to the actions of a group of greedy poachers, an especially bloodthirsty and violent lion is currently on a rampage throughout the reserve. The lion soon has Nate and his family in its sights, and now everyone must band together if they are to survive.

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur ("2 Guns", "Everest", "Adrift"), with a screenplay by Ryan Engle ("Rampage"), "Beast" is not a particularly complicated film. Stop me if you've heard this story before. An estranged parent, following the death of a loved one, has to reconnect with his kids, and they get stuck somewhere involving a scary monster, creature, or entity intent on brutally killing them. Maybe it's a shark (It usually is), but maybe it's something else. The tropes are all there, go through some predictable beats, and maybe get some matinee-level thrills. Does this movie do all of that? Yeah. Right down to the letter. It fulfills its duty, without going for anything more. That makes the film something that doesn't necessarily demand a big audience, yet is sure to give anyone looking for a ninety minute sort of horror, creature feature what they pay for. As far as these kinds of movies go, it's solidly made. The movie looks good, with some cool drawn out shots meant to keep the pace moving, and takes a little time at least trying to set up its characters. It's nothing deep, though it's enough to make you care. The horror aspect sadly comes from a few too many cheap jump scares, which feel even less necessary when the movie doesn't exactly lack genuine terror. Watching a large, feral, and highly intelligent being that can rip a man to shreds, is already frightening, especially when it can either just get the job done without mercy, or take its time to toy with you a little. Because of this, when the film goes for the easy scares, it feels extra lazy. 

 What isn't lazy is how dependable the actors are. Idris Elba is pretty wonderful, elevating disposable material simply with his professionalism. Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries are solid young actresses, while Shartlo Copley, not playing a villain for once, takes what could be a predictable role and makes it into something more worthy. I appreciate the film not demonizing the killer lion in any way or trying to make more of the situation than what it is. (It's not a mutated lion, or anything like that) In the end, it's a remarkably smart, very pissed off animal, that retaliates against some of humanity's most needlessly cruel. (This is what happens when you disrespect nature) That actually makes the lion even more scary if you ask me.

"Beast" is short on depth, but also short on its runtime. A quick film, with low aspirations, yet capable people in front and behind the camera, crafting a perfectly fine, eventually forgettable thriller. With some nice cinematography, fine effects work (Everything is CGI, but I mean, come on. How else are you supposed to do a movie like this?), and maybe a few okay scares, it's something you can only recommend on a rainy day and still get your money's worth. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Animalistic Brutality And Poor Vacation Destinations. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies                                                                                   ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "We're starting to run out of bodies."

What happens when a bunch of toxic young people, with probably too much to drink and a little too much cocaine to snort, shack up during a hurricane? Oddly, exactly what you think and not at all would think at the same time. 

"Bodies Bodies Bodies" follows new couple, "Sophie" (Amandla Stenberg) and "Bee" (Maria Bakalova), as they travel to a mansion owned by the family of Sophie's best friend, "David" (Pete Davidson), right before a hurricane is scheduled to hit. The so called "hurricane party" also includes more of Sophie's old friends, such as "Jordan" (Myha'la Herrold), "Alice" (Rachel Sennott), David's girlfriend "Emma" (Chase Sui Wonders), along with Alice's older new boyfriend "Greg" (Lee Pace). Tensions and old grudges are already a little high, but while stuck inside during the hurricane, Sophie suggests playing a game called "Bodies Bodies Bodies", where one person will pretend to be a killer in the dark and the others have to find out whodunit. However, when somebody actually turns up dead, paranoia starts to take over and nobody is sure who to trust anymore. 

Directed by Halina Reijn, with a screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, "Bodies Bodies Bodies" is a tribute to the worst that the future generation has to offer, and one that things like TikTok and Twitter have inexplicably allowed to fester into physical being. It's a sort of slasher about truly terrible people that you may even have talked to online or might even know in person, and it's as obnoxious as you would expect. That's also what kind of works about it. The entire movie is based around both self-righteous and self-centered stupidity, which continuously spirals out of control until the bodies start to pile up. The levels that the film goes to are hilariously extreme, yet if you actually take a moment to think about it, as over the top as it may seem, it's not really that far fetched. Characters will break into unimportant arguments about held back grudges or personal grievances even after someone drops dead, or will inject themselves into a situation that really has nothing to do with them in the slightest. They pretend to be knowledgeable, though repeatedly make moronic mistakes that could end up being deadly. It's basically typical horror movie logic, except intentionally made even more dumb than it usually is. Even with the darkly humorous tone, the film isn't without legitimate suspense, with Reijn's direction playing pretty straight into what appears to be a slasher flick, with a tense, escalating score. It's a very smart move, that only further highlights when you start to piece together what's really happening.  

The cast is excellent, playing off each other well and conveying just enough to make up for the quick runtime. Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova (Recently Oscar nominated for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm") are terrific leads, who have superb chemistry with each other and serve as the most complex of the characters. There are times you do genuinely like them, but also know that just like everybody else, there is something of a negative influence somewhere in there. Myha'la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace (Always unrecognizable even when he's supposed to be more normalized), and an especially great Pete Davidson are all delightfully unsavory, though Rachel Sennott in particular quite steals the movie, suitably finding ways to become the center of attention even in the most dire of situations. 

"Bodies Bodies Bodies" does border on grating, which is what it's meant to be, but that also can make it the kind of movie that many would come out of annoyed by. Sure it's purposeful, yet this much negativity in one place mixed with the recurring sense of discombobulation just isn't for everyone to enjoy. The satire is sharp, with laughs being both loud and awkward, and it culminates in a later twist that I'm actually pissed I didn't see coming earlier. It's too perfect a reveal that you think back afterwards on how you just should have known from the start. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language, Adult Content, Bloody Images, And Dim-Witted Debauchery.  

Prey                                                                                                                 ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: To catch a Predator.

I always felt that the "Predator" series never quite understood the real potential that's just sitting right in front of our very eyes. They always seem to get close, yet always miss that certain mark that I've been waiting for. One of the best parts of the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger led "Predator" was that last half hour, when the titular creature went face to face with our lead, in one final, brutal hunt that's equal parts frightening, tribal, and absolutely compelling. Now imagine that, except for the entire runtime. That's this movie. 

The fifth entry in the "Predator" franchise (Though chronologically now the first), "Prey" opens in the early 1700s, following a young Comanche woman, "Naru" (Amber Midthunder), who wishes to prove herself to the rest of her tribe. Naru dreams of becoming a great hunter like her older brother, 'Taabe" (Dakota Beavers), though their mother "Aruka" (Michelle Thrush), sees her as more of a healer than a hunter despite her skills. After Taabe kills a rogue mountain lion, Naru and her loyal dog, "Sarii", venture out to perform their own secret hunt, only to discover that there is something far more deadly currently stalking the area. This violent hunter, or "Predator" (Dane DiLiegro), is looking for sport and glory, relentlessly pursuing anything that crosses his path before horrifically gutting them, and now it's up to Naru to finally prove if she's truly worthy of becoming the hunter before, you know, she becomes the hunted. 

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg ("10 Cloverfield Lane"), with a screenplay by Patrick Aison, "Prey" is the "Predator" movie that I've always wanted. No longer constricted by tightly wound, rather incomprehensible timelines of the current movies, the film embraces the idea of a more anthology inspired story. It stands on its own as just a damn good creature feature, while telling a story that even without the inclusion of a homicidal, armed to the teeth alien, is very much engrossing. The film really showcases the Comanche heritage, doing so with respect and without feeling the need to, ahem, "white" it up in any way. Sure the characters are speaking English throughout the film (Although it's apparently also been dubbed in the Comanche language, so in case you'd rather watch it that way), but the film does seem to address that it's simply just the Native characters speaking to each other, while any other characters (Such as a villainous group of French hunters) are left untranslated. Not to mention, there are long sequences where dialogue isn't necessary, relying on the performances and the gorgeous cinematography to do the storytelling and character building. The movie has been released exclusively through "Hulu", yet feels perfectly cinematic, working with what has to be a small budget to still find a way to achieve big screen level thrills. 

What carries a large portion of the film is the performance of Amber Midthunder. She, along with her incredibly expressive eyes, is powerful, without ever needing to overstate herself. A strong lead, who is shown to struggle plenty throughout, only playing more into her intellectual skills as a hunter rather than physical. She's a heroine to root for, and nonetheless a badass warrior. The Predator himself (Who is less evolved and more feral than the ones we've seen before) is a terrifying presence. His true tribal instinct is best shown in a scene where he takes on an army of French hunters in a foggy clearing, providing a look into the creature's violent nature and even a little of his personality at the same time. (There's a little dark humor when the hunters have to pause to reload their guns, before getting slaughtered in suitably gory fashion) The dog Sarii is also quite the adorable scene-stealer (And brings some much needed levity to such a dark film). As for the visual effects, they blend in almost seamlessly, and it's a credit to Trachtenberg's direction, knowing when to show our villain and how. In a remarkable change of pace, the film doesn't feel the need to shoot everything in darkness to hide the fakeness. Even in bright daylight, it's all beautifully shot and on full display. 

"Prey" is a short-ish movie by comparison, coming in at just an hour and a half, taking its time before really getting into the nitty gritty of what exactly is going on. The slow burn I feel is welcome and only adds to the atmospheric setting, but I can see some fans craving more action. However, when the film reaches its more savage second act, with the Predator's eye for creative kills becoming more prevalent, you get your money's worth and then some. Toss in a close quarters, down and dirty epic final fight between two intelligent, unyielding warriors, you got yourself the best "Predator" movie yet. It shows that with a little imagination, you can do wonders to a once scrambling franchise. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody, Gory Carnage And One Ugly Motherf*cker.     

Bullet Train                                                                                                         ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Always remember to hydrate after your 20th kill."

The whole trained killer, smartassed, semi-quirky assassin thriller seems to be slowly becoming a genre in itself. There's always been the Guy Ritchies or Quentin Tarantinos, with their wisecracking, dialogue heavy gangsters and hitmen, but now ever since "John Wick" (And maybe "Deadpool"), there seems to be this new colorful, somewhat smarmy, anime-ification of what we perceive as another run of the mill action blockbuster.   

Based on the book, "Maria Beetle" (Or "Bullet Train" as it's known in English) by Kōtarō Isaka, "Bullet Train" follows a worn down assassin, referred to as "Ladybug" (Brad Pitt), who after suffering much bad luck in his life, just wants to take simple jobs now and move on from the killing business. His handler has given him a pretty standard mission, which is to board a bullet train on its way from Tokyo to Kyoto, where all he has to do is grab a specific briefcase and get off. Sounds easy, right? Obviously it never is. At the same time, two other assassins, "Tangerine" (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and "Lemon" (Brian Tyree Henry), are escorting the son (Logan Lerman) of crime boss leader, "The White Death", while also transporting the exact briefcase that Ladybug just so happens to have been sent there to grab. Also at the same time, a grieving father (Andrew Koji) boards the train to find the person who attempted to kill his son, only to end up caught in a game orchestrated by a seemingly innocent, yet clearly sadistic girl, "The Prince" (Joey King). All of these various assassins and more have their own plans, resulting in all out chaos onboard the train, with poor Ladybug, who really just wants to relax, caught right in the middle of it. 

Directed by David Leitch (Co-Creator of the "John Wick" series, along with directing "Deadpool 2" and "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw". So again, very fitting), "Bullet Train" is as over the top a cartoon as they come, and I can't exactly say it's not derivative of other similar works. Characters have weird code names instead of actual ones. There's intentionally excessive banter, along with piled on flashbacks and loads of little background items that you just know are going to come into play much later in the film. Also, we won't even get into the logistics, considering physics and gravity are made meaningless once we reach the exhausting finale. When I say that though, I don't fully mean it as a bad thing. It may not be original, but it's entirely earnest and creative. It results in a thrilling ride that doesn't make much sense and makes up for that in a rather irresistibly snarky way. (No car on the train is just a simple train car, with each one having its own sort of kitschy tone) Leitch obviously knows his way around an action sequence or two, where anything and everything is used as a weapon. These elaborate sequences are exhilarating, hilarious, and unique to set the film's more imitative elements more forgivable since you're having too much fun to let it bother you. 

The cameo-filled cast (Most of which I think it's best I don't spoil) gives everyone their moment in the limelight, and most of all, everyone involved appears to be having an absolute blast. Brad Pitt is an especially brilliant lead, being literally just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pitt shows off his star power, while also mocking the typical action hero archetype in a nuanced fashion. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry make for quite the duo, supposedly being twins despite the fact that they um, clearly aren't. There is some compelling work from Andrew Koji, the reliably great Hiroyuki Sanada (as "The Elder", the father to Koji's character), and a memorable appearance from Benito A. Martínez Ocasio a.k.a. "Bad Bunny" (as "The Wolf", an out of nowhere assassin who has it out for Ladybug). Joey King, who also rocks the accent, is one Hell of a scene-stealer in one of the movie's most vile characters. Plenty more show up along the way, partaking in the colorful fight scenes, deliver constantly snapping dialogue, and leave an impression, even if they're only onscreen for a couple minutes.

Not everything quite comes together with "Bullet Train", in which if you've seen enough movies like this, you're bound to probably even figure out a few of the twists without much trouble. There is so much going on at once, and to such a ludicrous degree that some might be more annoyed than enthralled. A lot of this is meant to be that way, but it's not hard to see how it could become grating. The movie, which is over two hours and really doesn't feel like it, breezes by, with characters that you find yourself captivated by, an offbeat sense of humor, and the kind of gonzo adrenaline fueled madness that's so damn cheerful that you really have to appreciate it for commitment. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence Beyond Reason, Sneaky Snakes, Panda Punching, And Thomas The Tank Engine Trivia.  

DC League of Super-Pets                                                                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'll bet Batman can't lick himself where I can."

Can we all take a moment to soak up the fact that in just a couple years, this will be the one of the only forms representation that the "Justice League" will have gotten theatrically aside from 2017's version of that movie, while Marvel will apparently be moving onto their sixth "Avengers" movie by 2025? I mean, we DC fans need to take what we can get, but that is one of those little tidbits of geek knowledge that keeps me up at night. 

Based on the characters from "DC Comics", "DC League of Super-Pets" follows "Krypto, the Superdog" (Dwayne Johnson), the ever loyal canine companion to the man of steel himself, "Superman" (John Krasinski). Having been with Superman his entire life, Krypto starts to worry about him being replaced by Superman's new love interest, "Lois Lane" (Olivia Wilde). After another run of the mill battle with evil billionaire supervillain, "Lex Luthor" (Marc Maron), a crystal known as "Orange Kryptonite" ends up in a pet shelter, giving powers to a maniacal, hairless former test guinea pig, "Lulu" (Kate McKinnon), who now plots for world domination in hopes of impressing Lex. The crystal also gives powers to a group of shelter pets, including a cynical dog "Ace" (Kevin Hart), an excitable potbellied pig "PB" (Vanessa Bayer), a fidgety squirrel "Chip" (Diego Luna), and senile turtle "Merton" (Natasha Lyonne). After Lulu defeats Superman, along with the rest of the "Justice League", and strips Krypto of his powers, Krypto is left to turn to these new superpowered pets in hopes of saving his owner and the world itself from Lulu's madness. 

From "Warner Animation Group", or "WAG" (The "LEGO" movies, "Storks", "Scoob!"), "DC League of Super-Pets" is very much a corporate move kind of film, bringing in well known properties, and cobbling them together into a fairly predictable story for kids. Directed by Jared Stern (One of the writers of "The LEGO Batman Movie"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Whittington ("Sonic the Hedgehog 2"), the movie is safe and all kinds of fluffy, which is appropriate considering the titular leads. The typical kids movie gripes are there and feel very much telegraphed. So it's a credit that the final product, despite the lack of originality, is still a lot of good fun, filled with charming characters and good laughs meant to entertain the entire audience. Not just the kids. What the animation lacks in aggressive detail, it makes up for in personality, with expressive character designs and fluid movement that's certainly appealing to watch. There's also a couple decent action scenes that find their way in. There's plenty of easy chuckles meant for the young ones, though the film has clearly been made by people who know their comic booky source material, filling the movie with loads of humorous references and sight gags. Stuff like this is what should keep the parents entertained especially since that, regardless of the popularity of superhero films today, not many over a certain age would likely go to see this on their own. (Even us geeks would either wait till DVD or forget about it) None of that matters though so long as the kids are happy, and the movie does its job, without feeling the need to dumb itself down. 

The film features a large, and actually rather excellent voice cast, where everyone brings their A game, even when in smaller parts. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, who actually fairly plays against type this time, work very well with each other. They've done so in the past, and show that even in animated form, that kind of star chemistry has a tendency to shine through. Vanessa Bayer, Diego Luna, and a hilarious Natasha Lyonne, are all delightful, while Kate McKinnon completely steals the show, relishing a villain that's equal parts preposterous, funny, and malevolent. John Krasinski makes for a really likable Superman (And unlike the Zack Snyder version, has a little thing called "Personality"), while Marc Maron makes his Lex Luthor feel like a no-brainer. Other smaller parts include Jemaine Clement (as "Aquaman"), John Early (as "The Flash"), Jameela Jamil (as "Wonder Woman"), Daveed Diggs (as "Cyborg"), Dascha Polanco (as "Green Lantern". The "Jessica Cruz" version. My personal favorite!), and a flawless Keanu Reeves (as "Batman"), which feels so right on both a comedic level and just overall the more I think about it. 

While the story is nothing special and even when you're left getting more than chuckles, you do wonder how much of it is genuinely clever or just corporately constructed, "DC League of Super-Pets" never outstays its welcome. It's fast paced, silly entertainment that should still offer more to any of you looking to take your kids to something safe, though thankfully not pandering. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing that talks down to anyone. It's just a really good boy. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Doggie Doo Doo Jokes, Killer Kittens (Probably The Hardest Laugh I Got In The Entire Movie), And Trash-Talking Turtles. 

Nope                                                                                                               ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Nope, there's no way we're keeping the spoilers from getting out."

Jordan Peele strikes me as one of those filmmakers that clearly has taken so much inspiration from a number of places, yet uses that inspiration to not copy, but craft something completely original in every imaginable way. Thus, he has given something that possibly will inspire a future filmmaker to do just the same. Movies like "Get Out" and "Us" are so unlike anything I've seen from any other fimmaker working today. It's very Hitchcock-esque, right down to the confusion that it might send some audiences into, while also playing out in a way that should logically bring everyone in. 

"Nope" opens with Hollywood horse trainer, "OJ Haywood" (Daniel Kaluuya), witnessing the death of his ranch owning father, "Otis" (Keith David), via random, unexplainable falling debris. Trying to keep things moving with his sister, "Emerald" (Keke Palmer), or "Em", as she's called, OJ notices a strange occurrence one night, with all electronics going out (Phones included), the horses being sent into a frenzy, and the sudden appearance of what can apparently only be an alien UFO. So of course they have to get footage of it. With some help from a curious Fry's employee, "Angel" (Brandon Perea), OJ and Em plan to to find a way to get the UFO on camera, though soon realize that maybe there are certain creatures or entities that man was not meant to toy with. That seems like enough plot for you guys. Being surprised is always more fun. 

Written, produced, and directed by Jordan Peele, "Nope" isn't what the trailer might be leading some of you to believe. Is it a horror movie? Well, yeah, but not completely in the way you would think. There is something quite frightening about it, yet also atmospheric and magical at the same time. Think a classic Spielbergian summer blockbuster, that pulls you into an epic, though at its core, is also a fairly simple character driven story. Peele creates a slower, more down to Earth form of tension (By the way, that pun was totally accidental), which takes quite a bit of time before allowing the audience to grasp what's really going on. You're basically in the shoes of the characters, deducing the possible motivations, abilities, or even the very existence of the so-called invaders. And where it goes, you'll never expect. It's a gorgeously shot, visually haunting experience, that incorporates more than one genre at once. There's Sci-Fi horror, mixed with a little dark comedy, and some genuine drama, that also just so happens to have more than a few freaky images that might even keep you up at night. Peele's eye for scope, especially when you wouldn't expect it, are grandiose, exploding off the big screen. This isn't the kind of movie where you'd usually see something of such scale, and it looks beautiful, blending into reality without question. This also makes for some suspenseful sequences, ranging from what we could consider traditional horror, to leaving so much to our imagination that we end up scaring ourselves. (Just knowing so little about what this supposed UFO is going to do in the moment is actually pretty frightening itself). 

Daniel Kaluuya, who might be a good luck charm for Jordan Peele, is somber and sympathetic. He plays off rather wonderfully against the more bouncy and charismatic Keke Palmer, who really needs to 100% be more of a star after this movie. There's a lot of great humor that comes from them, as well as empathy, where you truly buy them as brother and sister. Brandon Perea brings out most of the humor (And also contributes more than just what the comic relief normally does), while Michael Wincott (as "Antlers Holst", an eccentric cinematographer, who OJ and Em later convince to join them) is quiet and compelling. Meanwhile, Steven Yeun (as "Ricky Park", former child star, turned theme park owner), gets to steal a couple scenes, along with wearing one fancy looking cowboy hat. I can't go into too much detail about the extra-terrestrials, but the design is rather inspired and almost incomprehensibly otherworldly. 

"Nope" is the kind of summer flick that offers fear and wonder, along with a little something to say about humanity's need to take control over the uncontrollable to fill the cravings for spectacle even at the expense of others or even themselves. Peele's direction and screenplay, mixed with incredible cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema ("Interstellar", "Ad Astra", "Dunkirk", "Spectre") and a memorable score from Michael Abels ("Get Out", "Us"), elevate what could have just been old fashioned B movie thrills to one of the Summer's must see blockbusters. Scary, darkly hilarious, and in a league of its own. It's got the makings of something that we're going to be talking about for quite a while. 4 Stars. Rated R For Language, Bloody Rain, And Hardcore Monkey Business.    

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You're getting fixed one way or another!" 

One thing that I got a little too used to during Covid was certain movies getting both a theatrical and streaming release on the same day, meaning that sometimes a trip to the theater wouldn't be necessary. It makes perfect sense for the big budget blockbusters and crowdpleasers to get the big screen treatment, but the convenience of it all when it came to films that were just, um, not exactly necessary, to be available at any time. (Especially when some streaming services are producing theater quality stuff as it is) It just kind of worked, and some perfectly okay films just found their place there. 

A animal filled, animated remake of "Blazing Saddles" (In fact, the movie was previously titled "Blazing Samurai",) "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" opens in a completely cat populated Japan, where evil official, "Ika Chu" (Ricky Gervais), is preparing for the arrival of the "Shogun" (Mel Brooks). One small issue is that Ika Chu's view is plagued by a small, poor village resting just outside his palace, and plots to do away with it in hopes of future expansion. After the village's previously samurai flees in terror, Ika Chu is forced to appoint a new one, though intentionally picks out the worst possible person for the job, which is a dog named "Hank" (Michael Cera). Since the cat villagers are incredibly racist (Or speciesist?), Hank is immediately shunned, though he finds some help from a worn down, former samurai, "Jimbo" (Samuel L. Jackson). Jimbo agrees to train Hank to be a samurai, while Ika Chu continues to scheme for the town's destruction, such as sending in the massive sumo cat, appropriately named "Sumo" (Djimon Hounsou), to destroy Hank. As Hank's training continues, his ego starts to grow, and he eventually has to learn that there is more to being a samurai other than swinging a sword around. All while throwing in so many cat and dog puns. Not that you would expect anything less.

Directed by Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King", "Stuart Little", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman") and animator Mark Koetsier, with an extra credit to Chris Bailey, "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" has clearly gone through many changes, shifts, and production issues for years, considering it's been in development since 2014. The screenplay has a collection of writers, such as Ed Stone, Nate Hopper, and even a credit to Mel Brooks (Who served as Executive Producer), and it feels as if the final product is not exactly what was once envisioned. With that said, for all those troubles and its questionable place on so many theater screens, what we get is by no means a disaster. In fact, it's not without its charms, though nothing particularly special or memorable. At both its best and its worst, it's a serviceable and occasionally funny, though mostly lackluster and safe bit of fluff for the kids. The animation is by no means terrible, but it's also not up to par with anything from Pixar. There is life to it however, and some of the physical gags get some okay laughs (Such as Ika Chu's henchmen just randomly using an old cat woman as a punching bag or Sumo's excessive jiggling). There are some good meta jokes, fourth wall breaks, and references to the modern day, like the character running right into the movie's opening title or phone conversations being made via just an incredibly long line of cats just repeating everything one by one. Sometimes these jokes are so absurd and even a little cleverly so, that you find yourself having a bit of fun. Sadly, when the jokes fall flat, they're major groaners. Some pop culture references, cheap butt jokes, and other such bodily function humor find their way in, and they make the film seem even more kiddie than it needs to be. (There is a major fart joke that got a chuckle out of me, though it is pretty lowbrow and serves as another "Blazing Saddles" reference) It's also such a basic story, with cookie cutter characters, that don't stand out in a meaningful way.

Michael Cera and Samuel L. Jackson was quite good however, injecting a lot of life into their characters, without just seeming as if they're nothing more than celebrity voice castings. Others like Ricky Gervais, who still gets a funny line or two despite this, and George Takei (as "Ohga", Ika Chu's minion), are kind of phoning it in as villainous versions of themselves. Djimon Honsou and Mel Brooks sound like they're having fun, while Michelle Yeoh (as "Yuki", one of the cat villagers) is criminally underused. A couple standouts would be Aasif Mandvi and Gabriel Inlesias (as "Ichiro" and "Chuck", a pair of bumbling villagers), who just pop up and get a few simple chuckles. For the most part, that's what the movie is. A few simple chuckles. 

Released through "Paramount Pictures" and "Nickelodeon Movies" (Which even more makes me wonder what harm would there have been if it had just been released on "Paramount+"), "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is a lot better than expected, though nothing that surpasses mid-tier kid friendly amusement. The messages of bigotry and doing the right thing are simple, yet still serve as important lessons overall. It's good for a little fun for the most part, but in an unremarkable way that still makes you think that doesn't quite do it for the whole family. At least not to the degree that much better family films have already done this year. Streaming or not. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Titanic Toilet Trouble, And Doggie Discrimination.

Where the Crawdads Sing                                                                                   ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "These singing Crawdads sure are good for bait."

You know something? Two hours of slow paced, melodramatic dullness is not something that a certain unpaid film critic previously diagnosed with severe anxiety needs right now. 

Based on the book by Delia Owens (Did you hear about that whole "Killing of a poacher" story? Does nobody talk about that?), "Where the Crawdads Sing" follows "Catherine Kya" Clark" (Daisy Edgar-Jones), also referred to as the "Marsh Girl", due to her secluded lifestyle within the North Carolina marsh. After the body of a local guy, "Chase Andrews" (Harris Dickinson) is found within the swampy marsh, Kya is automatically assumed to be the prime suspect by the townspeople. Kya is arrested and put on trial, where her kind lawyer, "Tom Milton" (David Strathairn) are put up against an unforgiving opposition. Throughout the film, we're shown Kya's life leading up to this moment, from the loss of her family and mother (Ahna O'Reilly), growing up with her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt), and her friendship and romance with "Tate Walker" (Taylor John Smith), who teaches how to read and write. Sometime later after Tate leaves for college, Kya meets Chase and forms a secret romance with him as well, though it quickly takes a turn as you would expect. With almost the entire town out to get her, Kya's struggles lead her up to this very moment, as she must prove her innocence and get the life that she never knew she wanted. 

Directed by Olivia Newman ("First Match"), with a screenplay by Lucy Alibar ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), "Where the Crawdads Sing" is a "Been there, done that" sort of drama that doesn't quite justify a trip to a theater when it just as easily (And more appropriately) could have been released through one of the many streaming services. The film is competently made, with decent direction for what it is, solid cinematography, and quite a few good performances. The tired and predictable story, uninspired screenplay, and milquetoast execution, are what bring the film down, wasting its good qualities. It's based on a well known source material, though I've never read it, but doesn't do anything to separate itself from others like it. The character motivations and twists you see coming very quickly, right down to the final scene. Derivative storytelling can be overcome, but not when the pacing is so sluggish and drawn out, you're left demanding either something to liven up things or a speedy wrap-up. These characters don't stand out, and there are a few extra mini-plotlines that just sort of come and go (Such as Kya trying to earn money to pay off her property, which I completely forgot about until its abruptly ended). 

Daisy Edgar-Jones, regardless of the screenplay, does show signs of someone with much to offer. She is definitely a captivating presence, and successfully carries the film, even when it lets her down. Taylor John Smith is fine, though fairly bland, while Harris Dickinson, despite it being very obvious where his character is going to go, does a solid job with it (And like Edgar-Jones, hides his accent flawlessly). There are also some warm performances from Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer, Jr. (as "Mabel" and "Jumpin", wife and husband shop owners, who immediately sympathize with Kya), along with an especially great David Strathairn. There are moments when the drama works (Especially in the courtroom scenes, though I do personally have a soft spot for those in movies), with themes of prejudices and sexism always being relevant, and you just wish it was all mixed into a much better movie. 

"Where the Crawdads Sing" takes too much time to overindulge itself in its own dramatic weight, despite not being exactly anything original. By the end, I was standing at the door, waiting for the film to get to its apparent conclusion, while it just runs out that clock till the credits roll. You've seen better. You've seen worse. You definitely don't need to see it in theaters. Sometimes I think we need to go back to having at least certain movies released both through theaters and streaming at the same time, because sometimes the theater-going process just isn't worth it. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Human Ignorance, And Marshy Murders.      

Thor: Love and Thunder                                                                              ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm sorry....I was looking for a little fellow named Harry Potter."

A common complaint about the current Phase Four of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", is that it's starting to feel a little bit like Phase One all over again. It's a complaint that, even though fatigue is yet to set in for me (I'm a comic book nerd. It's going to take a lot for that to happen), I completely understand. For every "Spider-Man: No Way Home" or "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (Which either give you all that fanservicey goodness or provide a new, expanded look at the still growing universe), there's something like "Eternals" or "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Which are both solid films, though don't have the same kind of quality that we've come to expect). The plan for where everything is going right now isn't apparent like before, and everything feels as if we're just watching some continuous movie-length epilogues. While Marvel's shows have certainly been going for something different ("Moon Knight", "Ms. Marvel". Love em!), the films have been more uneven as of late. For a cinematic universe that for a while was constantly firing on all cylinders, repeatedly proving naysayers wrong, and finding new ways to change the game every chance they got, maybe the cracks are starting to show for some. The moment Marvel finally loses that charm that moviegoers have grown accustomed to, it will be a sad day. It's not today though, but it's gonna come at some point.  

Set after the events of "Avengers: Endgame", "Thor: Love and Thunder" reunites us with that incredibly muscular, and lovably somewhat oafish God of Thunder, "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth), as he's still along with his rock buddy, "Korg" (Voiced by Taika Waititi), traveling the universe with the "Guardians of the Galaxy", made up of, ahem, "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), "Mantis" (Pom Klementieff), "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), "Nebula" (Karen Gillan), "Kraglin" (Sean Gunn), "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel), and "Rocket Raccoon" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), all in glorious cameo form. After losing all his depression weight, Thor is back in shape, armed with his magical ax "Stormbreaker", gets him some screaming goats, and ready to perform his usual heroic duties. Meanwhile, Thor's human ex, "Jane Foster" (Natalie Portman), has gone through some changes of her own, having acquired Thor's previously destroyed hammer, "Mjolnir", having become a newer, much prettier Thor herself. When "New Asgard" is attacked by the relentless and vengeful, "Gorr the God Butcher" (Christian Bale), who kidnaps some children in his quest to eradicate all of the gods of the universe, Thor partners up with the new Jane, along with Asgard's current ruler, "Valkyrie" (Tessa Thompson), in a quest to save the kids, defeat Gorr, and you know, learn a little bit about love in the process. 

Directed by returning director Taika Waititi (Who previously gave us the last entry, "Thor: Ragnarok". An MCU favorite), having also co-wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, "Thor: Love and Thunder" continues the Phase Four trend of letting directors apparently just do whatever they want. Has it always worked? Not perfectly. It's the kind of entry that could be too much for some, and seem more like filler in the grander MCU. Is it still a completely hilarious, heartfelt, action packed summer blockbuster that you'd be insane to miss? Hell yeah! It's got plenty of those Marvel trademarks, while retaining a lot of the freshness that helped people gravitate towards "Thor: Ragnarok" in the first place, with more attention to the humor as well as the old school, 80s comic aesthetic. That means loads more of color and even when the visual effects are obvious CGI work and green screen, it's very lively, leading to quite a few masterful sequences, such as a mind blowing battle between our heroes and Gorr in a dimension that's almost entirely black and white, only to occasional burst with hypnotic color. It also continues a trend that I've loved from the rest of this phase in which how he continue to see every day life adapt to the rest of the Marvel universe, such as Asgard becoming a pretty cheap tourist attraction (As it would). There's still so much personality that you're willing to forgive an occasional hiccup when it comes to minor storytelling moments, which are also easy to ignore when you're getting more laughs than not. This does lead to some big tonal shifts that personally never bothered me, though I can see how it can be off-putting in places for others. Despite the lighthearted sense of humor, the film isn't always light. Things get dark and heavy pretty quickly, even with what appear to be lowered stakes. The drama even leads to some tearjerker moments that later end the film on an unexpected bittersweet note. 

Luckily as usual, the characters are a joy to watch, and the performances are pretty much all perfect. Chris Hemsworth, of course, remains excellent in the part, being the sort of likable buffoon, who is certainly a badass, though also has a good nature to him. This movie, even more than the first two, makes better use of his chemistry with Natalie Portman, who is given a much grander role this time around after sitting the last film out. (The movie is essentially a romantic comedy of sorts between the two of them....along with Thor's hammer and ax. It makes sense in context) Their relationship ends up being where most of the film's heart lies, and it feels much more personal now than before. Taika Waititi is a delight, as is the equally scene-stealing Tessa Thompson. There are some quick cameos, returning characters, and surprises along the way, though the Guardians of the Galaxy appearance is predictably brief and leaves some anticipation for their next movie. Russell Crowe (as "Zeus", the king of the Olympians, who also seems more interested in his orgies than he does Gorr's plans of genocide) is quite amazing, looking like this probably the most fun he's had in some time and gets some of the film's biggest laughs. Christian Bale, despite some limited screentime, is marvelous, making for a terrifying villain, with a creepy design, a frighteningly understandable motivation, and a haunting presence. Bale is very much committed, and makes his villainous stand out from your usual MCU baddie. 

 "Thor: Love and Thunder" takes a lot of inspiration from the Jason Aaron run in the comics (The one I just finished reading recently and see as the definitive version of the comic), and the movie obviously can't quite reach that storyline's level of greatness. The film has its issues, though its best aspects work too well to ignore. It's still a vibrant, funny, and overall heartfelt blast of summer fun (With also a couple solid post credits scenes that you might wanna stick around for). It may not be all the way up to par with the MCU's best entries, though it shows that the special spark hasn't quite been snuffed out just yet. Still a classic "Thor" adventure if you ask me. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor, Asgardian Action, Screaming Goats, And Rock On Rock Lava-Lovemaking. 

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "You're just a shell of your former self."

When it comes to critiquing film, it's all a matter of opinion in the end. Sure, somebody can have one that's the opposite of your own could be (And to be honest, you can be left questioning why repeatedly after), but it's not too hard to see how someone can come to a different conclusion, even if the reasoning isn't exactly something that makes a whole lot of sense. However! There are just some things that are physically impossible to dispute! To put this into the kindest words possible, if you do not at least like this movie, you are an absolutely heartless, soul-free husk of a human being, that's clearly never enjoyed any form of love or joy in their entire life. Nothing personal. You're just a monster. Just in my opinion. My factual opinion....You monster.

Based on the YouTube released short films, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" follows the titular shell, with shoes on, "Marcel" (Voiced by Jenny Slate). The little shell lives with his grandmother, "Nanna Connie" (Voiced by Isabella Rossellini), being the remaining two of their kind to live in an Airbnb after losing track of the rest of their friends and family. A divorced documentary filmmaker, "Dean Fleischer-Camp" (Played by himself, who served as both the creator of the original shorts, as well as the director of the film itself), takes an interest in Marcel, and decides to film little videos surrounding him, uploading the videos onto YouTube. The various videos simply show how Marcel lives, along with his innocent outlook on life, which all become instant sensations. As Marcel's popularity grows, this sparks a search to find out where his old family has gone. With a possible interview coming up on his favorite show, "60 Minutes", Marcel has to face his fear of change if he has any hope of reuniting with his loved ones. 

Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, who also co-wrote the screenplay with co-creator Jenny Slate and Nick Paley, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is a short, simple tale of family, love, bravery, and life itself, though never once tries to overplay itself. It's not some pretentious schlock that lets ambition convince itself that it's smarter than it actually is. It's 100% sincere in every way, utilizing a small budget, old school stop-motion special effects (Or at least, giving off the feel of it anyways), and the documentary aesthetic, to craft an instant classic of a family film that not only has something of profound nature to say, though also has an irresistible personality to boot. It's genuinely really funny and smart, with weaponized levels of cuteness that instantly win you over. The film has some of the best use of the mockumentary style, which never breaks once throughout the quick runtime, with Fleischer-Camp retaining a sense of something personal. Much of the film rests on the tiny shoulders (Um, you know, metaphorical shoulders) of its tiny, lovable little star. Marcel is a character for the ages, which both adults and children will find something to resonate with. The literally wide eyed shell showcases a certain warm purity, that you want to follow along with, and Jenny Slate's spot on voice work only further enhances the aroma of charm that Marcel constantly expels. Isabella Rossellini is also absolutely wonderful here, portraying a kindly parental figure, and conveying so much heart, where anyone with a close relationship to a grandparent will find themselves shedding a tear or two. 

"Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is pure joy and a wonder throughout, with a moving outlook on the positives, and even the negatives, of life itself through the lens of someone who hasn't been beaten down by harsh cynicism. It makes you take a moment to appreciate that outlook, and contemplate your own views. Packed with heart, but also a lot of laughs and a lack of any sense of pessimism whatsoever. It's a masterpiece of likability and pure delight, where if you don't at least smile once, there clearly must be something wrong with you and you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. That little shell, with shoes on, is quite possibly the greatest hero of our generation, and he deserves nothing but your admiration. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Slightly Adult-ish Humor, Though It's Tame Enough For All Ages. 

Minions: The Rise of Gru                                                                                 ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'm sorry, but this is America, damn it. The language barrier is going to be a problem."

Those Minions. They certainly became a cultural phenomenon haven't they? Back when the first "Despicable Me" came out in 2010 (Hey, when I started reviewing movies! Has it really been twelve years? And three Batmen?), I doubt anyone predicted how much of a pop cultural success they would be. Love them or hate them (Because the internet never allows for there to be something in the middle), they're here to stay and remain as popular as ever. Also, they're pretty funny guys. I mean, you've gotten a few chuckles out of them from time to time, right? Don't lie.  

Set in the 1970s (And a good while before the previous "Despicable Me" trilogy), "Minions: The Rise of Gru" opens with a couple of dastardly villains, known as "The Vicious 6", consisting of the aging leader "Wild Knuckles" (Alan Arkin), the afro-sporting "Belle Bottom" (Taraji P. Henson), lobster-like "Jean Clawed" (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the nunchuck wielding nun, "Nunchuck" (Lucy Lawless), the rollerscating "Svengeance" (Dolph Lundgren), and the metal handed "Stronghold" (Danny Trejo), as they steal a stone of magical power. After Wild Knuckles is betrayed and kicked out of the group, the Vicious 6 set out to bring in a new member, just in time to unleash the stone's power onto the world. This immediately catches the attention of young future supervillain, "Gru" (Steve Carell), and his army of cheesepuff, nonsensically balling, and meme-making "Minions" (All voiced by franchise co-creator, Pierre Coffin). Sadly, the rest of the Vicious 6 don't take Gru very seriously, prompting him to steal the stone for himself, only to have one of his minions lose it. After firing the minions for incompetence, Gru is kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, who is seeking revenge on his former partners in crime. The minions are determined to rescue their former "Mini-Boss", with a trio of the little puffballs ("Kevin", "Stuart", and "Bob") heading to San Francisco to find him, while another minion, "Otto", tries to recover the missing stone. With enemies such as the Vicious 6 and Wild Knuckles' henchmen to deal with, the minions find a surprising ally in the form of a wise Kung-Fu fighter, "Master Chow" (Michelle Yeoh), while Gru gets the chance to bond with his all time favorite villain/captor. 

Directed by animator and co-director of "The Lorax", Kyle Balda, and from "Illumination Entertainment" (One of the few semi-new animated companies to find success in the Disney-run world), "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is a direct follow-up to 2015's "Minions" film, and continues that film's more zany style compared to the main installments in the franchise. The story is pretty secondary, feeling like a means to an end for silly gags. This one is a bit more focused however, embracing the time period and loading the film with more connections to the rest of the franchise. The filmmakers aren't going for smarts, but it's clever in execution. Not to mention the animation is wildly creative, leading to some of the biggest laughs, which make up for some of the less inspired stuff (Anything to do with butts and farts). Some of the best material in the entire franchise come from the series' love for that old fashioned, cartoon-style villainy, where everything is so absurdly goofy, that you're willing to just go with certain plot developments (The stone is just another magical MacGuffin. Nothing more). Sequences such as the Minions going through Kung-Fu training or essentially hi-jacking a plane for no necessary reason, don't always feel important to the story, but they get quite a few laughs. If you're already here just to have a little quirky fun, the film delivers even when it just doesn't add up. Granted, if you're asking too many questions, you're in the wrong theater. 

Character and excellent voice work have been one of the franchise's stronger aspects, with Steve Carell returning, having only tweaked his voice slightly to make the character sound younger. He's still a likably despicable delight, and the minions certainly get plenty of chuckles, with Pierre Coffin's incomprehensible chatter being a bit much to take for some, though it comes with the territory. A lot of the supporting voice cast is pretty excellent, from a terrific Alan Arkin (A character that gets a surprise amount of depth, becoming the film's source of  heart later in the last act) and the always great Michelle Yeoh. Our big bads are amusing, though mostly just pop up for sight gags, though Taraji P. Henson sounds like she's really having a good time here, being as over the top of a cartoon as she possibly can. There are some good cameos from returning characters, being given a little extra backstory, such as Julie Andrews (as Gru's neglectful mother) and Russell Brand (as "Dr. Nefario", Gru's future mad scientist).

Made for a less demanding young audience, though with an occasional joke thrown in the keep the adults smiling, "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is childishly innocent fun, though with a refreshing mean streak (They are villains after all), much like pretty much all the other films in the franchise. it's nothing groundbreaking, and it feels much lesser compared to other animated family films that have come out this year, from "The Bad Guys", "The Bob's Burgers Movie", and "Lightyear" (Which for some reason isn't doing that well). It's also a guaranteed hit, that offers a brisk, barely hour and a half of wacky insanity to pass the time. Just as a Minions movie should be. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Crude Jokes, 70s Style Choices, And Plenty Of Partial Minion Nudity. Fanservice For Somebody Out There! 

The Black Phone                                                                                           ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "And as you can see, I'm a lot happier"

You'd almost swear that this was a Stephen King movie. All those trademarks are there, from the suburban setting, the late seventies to eighties time period, young people being advanced for their ages, bullies, scary stuff, unexplainable supernatural elements, and that grim, grainy look that we all associate with King's work. Hell, it might even be a coming of age story....that just so happens to be going on during a horror-thriller. That's essentially what "It" was.  

Based on the short story by Joe Hill (Son of Stephen King. See?), "The Black Phone" is set in 1978, where a Denver suburb has been plagued by various child abductions, from an unknown maniac known only as "The Grabber". One kid, "Finney" (Mason Thames), is frequently bullied. Not just at school, but also at his home by his depressed, alcoholic father, "Terrence" (Jeremy Davies), who takes out his sadness on both Finney and his sister, "Gwen" (Madeleine McGraw). While Finney has plenty of awkwardness to deal with, Gwen also appears to have inherited some sort of ability from her deceased mother, where she happens to witness visions of the Grabber or his victims in her dreams, which has brought on the attention of local detectives, "Wright" (E. Roger Mitchell) and "Miller" (Troy Rudeseal). While walking home from school, Finney comes across a bizarre man (Ethan Hawke), who dresses in all black, drives a windowless black van, and carries black balloons. Turns out this obvious psychopath is the Grabber, who proceeds to kidnap Finney and lock him inside a soundproof, dungeon-like basement, which has a bed and a mysterious, disconnected black phone. The Grabber, who wears a frightening devil mask, with interchangeable facial expressions, has Finney trapped as part of some kind of sick game, with no hope of escape in sight. However, while Gwen tries to use her dreams to find out where her brother is, Finney starts to hear supernatural calls from the black phone, which all come from the spirits of the Grabber's previous victims, giving Finney advice on how to escape from the Grabber's clutches and return to his family.  

Directed by Scott Derrickson ("Sinister", "Deliver Us from Evil", "Doctor Strange"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborator C. Robert Cargill (A former film critic. So, there's hope for me yet?), "The Black Phone" is a tense, unsettling spooky story, that also feels a very effective drama at the same time. The film wisely takes its time, developing its main characters, setting up the mood and atmosphere, and establishing this grounded world with the more unbelievable before getting into the advertised terror. It's not really a traditional horror movie, where the intention is to get you to jump in your seat and spill your popcorn everywhere. It's the kind of horror I appreciate, where the fear comes from your uneasiness and the ambience. It makes for one of those edge of your seat kind of thrillers, which is helped by Derrickson's direction, as well as the solid screenplay, that offers up character, humor, and heart, to go with the twisted narrative. The film also relishes in its time period, using it effectively to create a time capsule of sorts. 

The film is carried well by the very talented Mason Thames, who showcases a lot of potential here. He's obviously frightened, but never whiny. He makes mistakes, but learns from them and proves to be much smarter than your average horror movie protagonist. The chemistry between him and Madeleine McGraw is where much of the film's soul lies. Speaking of McGraw, she's also quite the find, being full of so much personality and natural charm. Both are terrific young actors, who I hope only go up from here. Ethan Hawke is a nasty, uncomfortable piece of work, generating the kind of evil that you dread taking human form, yet you know deep down has to exist somewhere. The lack of insight into his motivations or even his goals add to the creep factor, leaving much to the imagination (Plus there's something about that mask that just feels unnatural). Jeremy Davies brings more to what ends up being a more human character than these kinds of films give time to. The film takes moments to show that there is a human being to him, and maybe even something redeemable. There's also an amusing part for James Ransone (as "Max", an incompetent boob, who insists that he's actually helping on the missing kids case, despite his lack of insight on anything), and I appreciate that the police this time aren't exactly portrayed as bad at their jobs, but rather stuck without some important details.

With some brilliant sound design (The film toys with various sounds that you hear from the phone during a few sequences), along with clever filmmaking techniques that I wish more films would utulize (There's an excellent scene where one character finds themselves right in the middle of a flashback, without at first advertising it) "The Black Phone" is a disturbing, yet still oddly uplifting scary tale, that features the kind of human warmth to get you caring about its characters. It never needs to dwell on details when it comes to its supernatural elements (It feels better actually just going with it, letting yourself draw your own conclusions), but instead tell just a well paced story, that offers likability and maturity to go with the terror. It's a breath of fresh air for the genre, that captures the fear of both young and old, along with the possible wonders and even the sense of hope that comes with it. It's a film about maturing in the end, and even while you may be cowering in the corner at one moment, you might find yourself growing into more of an adult than you already thought you were. 4 Stars. Rated R For Some Disturbing Images, Subject Matter, And Improper Praying. 

Elvis                                                                                                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: If you ain't never caught a Rabbit, you ain't no friend of his.

Baz Luhrmann doing an Elvis biopic. That's either got to be the best combination you could dream of, or the worst possible disaster that makes yearly worst movie lists. It seems like a perfect match that can so easily go off the rails, especially since Luhrmann, love his work or otherwise, is known for intentionally going off the rails in flashy fashion. Icons don't deserve that, and thankfully, this combination feels just right, in all it's showy, bombastic, glittery glory. 

"Elvis" follows the true story of widely known, much beloved singer, actor, and incredible performer, "Elvis Presley" (Austin Butler), with said story instead being told by his former manager, "Colonel Tom Parker" (Tom Hanks). While insisting that he's in no way a villainous figure in this tale, Parker details Elvis' career, from his beginnings as just a secondary act, before convincing him to go bigger. Elvis, along with both his incredible voice, eye for showmanship, and extreme onstage gyrations, become an instant success, though this complicates his relationship with his worried mother, "Gladys" (Helen Thomson). As Elvis' popularity grows (As does the controversy he causes), Parker's influence further sinks itself in. Even after his time in the army and his marriage to his wife, "Priscilla" (Olivia DeJonge) Parker attempts to control Elvis' career his way, leading to soon to be tragic results. 

Directed by Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge!", "The Great Gatsby"), who co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborators Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce, along with Jeremy Doner ("The Killing"), "Elvis" gives the regarded real life figure the semi-epic, excessively colorful, and explosively showstopping treatment, that even when you question how much this truly should be working, it's rather unarguably effective. It's also shockingly fitting. Luhrmann's eccentricities are all on full display here, with his usual bombastic flair, modern music choices against a dated backdrop (Mostly covers of Elvis' work), and off-kilter editing choices. It's a dream-like state that the film lures you into, and you too find yourself captivated by its surreal beauty, only to have it all ruthlessly shattered the further the film goes along. It's a very clever way of telling the story, showing off all the fame and fortune first, with some colorful visual appeal, before letting the story's darker subtext eventually take over. Despite an almost three hour runtime, you never feel it, since the filmmakers wisely tell you all you need to know like a biopic should, but in a more unique way that doesn't just feel like an overproduced Wikipedia entry. On the downside though, obviously the film is going to leave out some more questionable details, though by this point, you feel like an idiot to even complain about that anymore, since nearly every single biopic about anyone does the same thing. 

Austin Butler is given quite the task here, having to portray a person that we've seen impersonated, parodied, and imitated so many times over, and make them feel like the real deal. It's not an easy job to do and could have easily fallen apart, though Butler proves to be a natural choice. Honestly, he might be the only choice. He's terrific, showcasing the real life figure's larger than life onstage personality, as well as his more innocent worldview as well as his depressing later life. The music sequences are of course outstanding, and Butler really sells the living Hell out of them. Tom Hanks is one that somewhat borders on caricature, though like much of Luhrmann's signature style, it doesn't feel out of place. Hanks sure does bring a certain uneasy menace to the character, in a way that you could almost see yourself trusting him despite how obvious of a conman he really is. Some excellent supporting roles come from Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh (as "Vernon", Elvis' weak willed father), Luke Bracey (as "Jerry Schilling", a close member of Elvis' band), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as "B. B. King", who served as one of Elvis' inspirations and friends), and Dacre Montgomery (as "Steve Binder", a director for one of Elvis' most famous specials). Olivia DeJonge is also pretty wonderful, and though the film doesn't quite address the um, uncomfortable age gap, if the real life Priscilla Presley has nothing but praise for this portrayal, I guess I really have no real say in the matter. (At least in terms of how it's shown here) 

"Elvis" does address how African American culture influenced much of Elvis' work, along with the cultural impact that he had on the country (Not to mention how it just drove girls completely wild). It starts off by showing the golden, compelling side of fame, before taking a dark turn into the scheming, scummier side of the entertainment business. It takes the usual biopic structure, toys with it, yet remembers to show the human being at center, along with why he became so awe-inspiring in the first place. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Ghastly Gratuitous Gyrations.  

Lightyear                                                                                                        ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I should have used the litter box before we left!"

I've been personally going through a bit of a rough time as of late. After suffering a couple of panic attacks (Stress, work, overall frustration and severe anxiety. You know the drill!), I've been trying to recover and get back to the things I love. Of course, reviewing movies is one of those things and I don't want anxiety to ruin that for me. Especially when it's a "Disney" or "Pixar" movie, since those are supposed to fill you with good, positive feelings. Positive feelings would be good right about now, and it would be nice if Anxiety could just, you know, go away and let me enjoy things again! 

Essentially supposed to be the movie that Andy from "Toy Story" saw back as a kid, which in turn made him want a "Buzz Lightyear" toy in the first place, "Lightyear" follows the origin of the titular Space Ranger of "Star Command", later turned Tim Allen voiced toy, "Buzz Lightyear" (Chris Evans). Buzz, along with his commanding officer and best friend, "Alisha Hawthorne" (Uzo Aduba), land their turnip shaped ship full of fellow rangers, travelers, and explorers, on a seemingly habitable planet, only to discover just how dangerous it is (Giant bugs, man-eating vines, etc.). As they attempt to flee the planet, Buzz is unable to successfully pilot the ship away, resulting in heavy damage, leaving the entire crew to be stranded on the deadly planet. A year later, the crew has formed a struggling, but functional colony, though preparations are made for Buzz, who seeks to redeem himself, to use an experimental form of hyperspace fuel to possibly get everyone back home. However, Buzz's test flight isn't successful and also results in four years having passed in between flights. Buzz is still determined to make it work, taking repeated flights and getting a little emotional support from his robot kitty, "Sox" (Peter Sohn), leading to even more time passing before his very eyes. 

Now the new officer in charge, "Commander Burnside" (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), plans to shut down any future test flights, believing them to be no longer necessary due to the colonists continuing to adapt. Buzz, along with Sox, take matters into their own hands, steal a ship, and perform one final flight, which jumps them even further in time. One that just so happens to be even more perilous. Now the colonists are under attack from an alien ship, filled with robots led by the mysterious "Emperor Zurg" (James Brolin). Separated from the rest of Star Command, Buzz and Sox have to rely on a crew of misfits and untrained rookies, including Alisha's granddaughter "Izzy" (Keke Palmer), a paroled convict "Darby Steel" (Dale Soules) and the hyper clumsy "Mo Morrison" (Taika Waititi), if they're going to stop Zurg's robots and finally complete their mission. 

From Disney and Pixar, inspired by the "Toy Story" saga (The rare perfect four entry film series. Seriously!), "Lightyear" isn't exactly up to par with some of the company's instant classics. Let's just get that out of the way as early as possible. It's not one of Pixar's absolute best (And it raises a few amusing questions, such as how are we to believe this is a movie that came out in the 90s? It's far too progressive for that time. It might even be too progressive for now) and that's okay. Just because it's not in the top ten, doesn't mean it's still not excellent animated filmmaking. On its own, it's actually a pretty legitimately well thought out Science-Fiction story, with great universe-building, mesmerizing visuals and action, and fascinating, rather mature themes that provide a little extra depth to your usual family entertainment. Pixar's animation somehow continuously finds a way to improve, and in ways that you never fully anticipate. It's a flawless looking film, with an aggressive amount of attention to the little details (Such as the skin, sweat, and expressions). This makes for a few energetic action scenes, proving once again the kind of action-oriented setpieces that you can only get with animation. (Seriously, why don't we have more of these?) The scope alone is epic, with a grand scale that almost feels like a major blockbuster (And considering "Jurassic World Dominion" last week, it's even better than some major blockbusters). Director and Co-Writer Angus MacLane (Who has been with "Pixar" since "A Bug's Life" and served as a Co-Director for "Finding Dory"), gives the film that big, summer movie feel, and it's also helped by score from the always great Michael Giacchino ("Spider-Man: No Way Home", "The Batman", "War for the Planet of the Apes", and quite a few Disney/Pixar projects). 

Chris Evans is essentially the only choice that could have come to mind to play what's meant to be a more real version of the character, staying true to the toy we all know and love, while also providing him with his own usual Captain Americany charm. Keke Palmer is terrific, along with some good comic relief from Dale Soules and Taika Waititi, who plays um, Taika Waititi (Or at least a fully animated version of himself). Uzo Aduba is wonderful in a small-ish, though emotional vital part, while James Brolin is a menacing presence, with a few unexpected reveals that take the film down a darker territory that might even freak out the kids a little. Meanwhile, Peter Sohn almost single-handedly steals the show (With his kitty cat eyes and paws), getting some of the biggest laughs, while also most likely selling a whole lotta toys in the process. (I mean, I kind of want a Sox plush too, and I'm twenty-eight years old!). 

 "Lightyear" tells a straight-forward story that doesn't stand out in the way you expect from Pixar, but the humor, emotion, and most importantly, the fun is all still there. It's the kind of movie that I definitely could have seen myself watching and adoring as a kid, mostly because it gives you everything you could ever want. It's more conventional than your usual Pixar film, though it works well when it matters. It's a cool summer movie for the family, filled with more references than one can count, taking things to infinity and beyond if you will. (From other Pixar movies, to the "Toy Story" movies themselves. It warrants a second viewing to catch them all). A big heart, with a likable cast of characters, and game-changing animation, it further showcases how far this company has come since the original "Toy Story". Possibly even the beginning of a future franchise? You know you'd watch it. No matter how old you are. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Sci-Fi Action, Time Travel Twists, And Meat Sandwiches.  

Jurassic World: Dominion                                                                                    ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "We've finally found our Creator....Steven Spielberg!"

Where to begin with this one? It all started with a scary science-fiction novel by Michael Crichton, which Stephen Spielberg took and crafted "Jurassic Park" into an epic blockbuster, semi-family oriented horror flick, thus creating a phenomenon. Kids, like me, grew upon it, loved it, quoted it, and geeked out over it (Plus we loved dinosaurs. Who doesn't love dinosaurs). Then we got the sequel "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (Critchton also sh*t that sequel book out. Almost literally), which disappointed, followed by "Jurassic Park 3", which is a lot of fun, though nothing to write home about. After years of nothing, The franchise got its anticipated reboot, "Jurassic World", which made mountains of cash, resulting in "Fallen Kingdom", which was all kinds of stupid. But now, both generations are coming together in a grand finale, that will tie up any loose ends, bring back in the naysayers, and give all the longtime devotees their just rewards. Be a shame for all that Dino legacy to end in fossilized shame. 

Set a few years after the events of "Fallen Kingdom", "Jurassic World Dominion" reveals to us a world where humans and dinosaurs no have no choice but to coexist, if any of these species are to survive. Dinosaurs are everywhere, and humans are forced to cope, even though it's starting to become increasingly obvious who the future dominant species is soon to be. Now former vet, "Owen Grady" (Chris Pratt) and former "Jurassic World" manager "Claire Dearing" (Bryce Dallas Howard), are raising cloned (Maybe part raptor), "Maisie Lockwood" (Isabella Sermon), in secret in the woods, along with keeping an eye on lovable man-eating blue-coated Velociraptor, "Blue". It's discovered that Blue has somehow given birth to a baby raptor, "Beta", which is something that's supposed to be unheard of. This discovery leads to both Beta and Maisie getting captured by mercenaries, with Owen and Claire traveling all around the world to save them, meeting an Air Force pilot seeking some redemption, "Kayla Watts" (DeWanda Wise). Meanwhile, "Dr. Ellie Sattler" (Laura Dern), has been tracking down a pack of killer locusts that are decimating crops and further upsetting an already fragile ecosystem, and it all leads right back to the shady organization, "Biosyn", along with its head, "Lewis Dodgson" (Campbell Scott) (Dodgson? Dodgson? We have Dodgson here?!) Ellie teams up with her old, worn out friend, "Alan Grant" (Sam Neill), to get themselves into Dodgson's compound with some help from "Ian Malcolm" (Jeff Goldblum), where Beta and Maisie also just so happened to have been taken. Trapped within a sanctuary full of dangerous lizards, ranging from "Tyrannosaurus Rex", to the even bigger "Giganotosaurus", our heroes of both generations must come together, prevent Dodgson's machinations, save Maisie and Beta, and not get eaten by whatever sharp toothed creature is lying in wait for them. 

Directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow (Returning from the first "Jurassic World", and "The Book of Henry". Remember that?)  with Emily Carmichael ("Pacific Rim: Uprising"), "Jurassic World Dominion" continues down the full blown "Fast & Furious" route, where brains and logic have been tosses out the window in favor of what looks cool, makes for a nice future theme park ride, and big special effects that are obviously top of the line. The film starts off with a bit of promise, showing off the new world order, with humanity being forced to try to live among larger than life creatures, changing the very laws of nature as we know it, and possibly heading us towards the possible apocalypse unless we can find a way to cope or evolve. Sadly, all of that gets dropped early on with the inclusion of the killer locusts and the evil corporation, leading to yet another park for our characters to get trapped in, resulting in more Dino chases and well, just more of the same. It makes for an occasional fun action setpiece, such as a chase in the middle of a Mediterranean city (Complete with a guy on a scooter getting eaten, which is the funniest thing ever!), an admittedly scary sequence where some of the characters are trapped in the darkness with spinned, bloodthirsty dinosaurs, and yeah, old Rexy comes back to engage in a climactic finale. It's the characters, the dialogue, and most importantly, the plot that doesn't work. The entire situation feels contrived and coincidental, needlessly complicated where it shouldn't be, and goes over the same themes we've already heard many times before. It's too far out to be as grounded as the original "Jurassic Park", and not even as crazy as "Fallen Kingdom", instead feeling bland and fairly boring. 

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both good again, and Isabella Sermon shows decent promise, especially since the film wisely tries to retcon some of the character's more questionable reveals in the last film (I mean, she still did also unleash all the Dinosaurs onto the world, but hey, she was a little girl at the time). It's also great to see the OG cast members, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum return, and their chemistry is still pretty spot on. (Goldblum obviously gets in a few good one-liners) BD Wong (as "Dr. Henry Wu", head Dino-geneticist, who has come to realize the errors he's recently made) is a great actor, who gets pretty underutulized. Campbell Scott gets some funny lines, but just comes across as more awkward than villainous (And considering that he's essentially supposed to be the big bad of this entire franchise? Talk about a letdown) Some new characters like DeWanda Wise and Mamiudou Athie (as "Ramsay Cole", an assistant to Dodgson, who is also a fan of Ian Malcolm) are good, but you just wish you could see more of them, and a lot of the newer villains, such as Scott Haze (as "Rainn Delacourt", a tattooed, sneering henchmen) and Dichen Lachman (as "Soyona Santos", the sexy looking, smuggling villainess) both just kind of peter out. The same goes for other returning faces like Omar Sy (as "Barry", Owen's buddy from the first "Jurassic World"), Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda (as "Franklin" and "Zia", Claire's friends from the previous film), to just pop up and dip out when the film no longer needs them. Poor Blue also, despite being one of the main faces of the franchise, only appears twice, being sidelined throughout the entire film. 

"Jurassic World Dominion" doesn't have, and the pun is completely intended here, the usual bite that the franchise has been known for. Sure these have usually been kid-friendly, but all ages like seeing people get chomped up real good PG-13 style by giant lizards. When is that not awesome? There actually is very little of that this time, giving off a rather watered down feeling. (Aside from a pretty solid reference to the infamous Dilophosaurus scene from the original, this is a very tame movie. However, that also makes it a very unremarkable one. It serves as a not as terrible version of the last "Transformers" movie or along the lines with the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, where this doesn't feel as if "Yeah, we've all been building up to this moment". It instead feels like "Well.....That's about all we got folks. At least it looked cool, huh? Buy our toys!" Remind me to thank Colin Trevorrow for an underwhelming weekend. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Lousy Locusts, Dangerous Dinos, Silly Science, And That's, That's Chaos Theory. 

Downton Abbey: A New Era                                                                           ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Jolly Good Show Everyone! Jolly Good!

I may be a professional, unpaid and if you ask me, underappreciated film critic, but I too deserve a little vacation every now and then. Plus my other, actually paying, and only slightly more stressful job is paying for it. I haven't had the time for any other movies, and also, there just aren't any other movies out. (I'm also binging "Stranger Things" like everybody else, and there's a lot of it this season!) So why not just give time to the most calm, collected, and very English of cinema? It's literally the most relaxing movie I could watch right now. 

Based on the very popular British series, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" returns us to the "Downton" estate, reuniting us with the loads and loads of characters that inhabit the place. The basic plotline follows the Dowager Countess of Grantham, "Violet Crawley" (Maggie Smith), revealing that she's come into the possession of a villa in France, left to her by a possible former flame. Meanwhile, due to the estate needing the money (I guess. I mean, they're pretty damn rich still), "Lady Mary Talbot" (Michelle Dockery) agrees to allow for movie director "Jack Barber" (Hugh Dancy) to finish shooting his upcoming silent film at Downton, bringing along his entire crew, along with famous actors, "Guy Dexter" (Dominic West) and "Myrna Dalgleish" (Laura Haddock), though Violet's son/Mary's father, "Robert" (Hugh Bonneville), wants nothing to do with it, and uses this as an excuse to check out the villa and sort out some legal mumbo jumbo. Meanwhile, Robert, his wife "Cora" (Elizabeth McGovern), former head butler "Charles Carson" (Jim Carter), and um, the rest (Bare with me. There's a lot of people in this!), venture off to the villa and become part of familial mystery surrounding it, Mary struggles to keep everything together, with Jack's film production in constant turmoil, and her own marriage problems with her always away husband (Matthew Goode wasn't available at the time I think).

Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week with Marilyn", and also Elizabeth McGovern's real life husband), with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (Writer and creator of the series), "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is more something that will please fans of the series, and not much for someone whose just a casual moviegoer. Having only seen the first movie, I've had to judge both of these movies on their own. It has typical television series turned movie flaws and too many characters and subplots to juggle, and that's all perfectly fine. Especially since on its own, it's quality entertainment to say the least. In the sense of something that just calms the nerves and makes you feel good, the film succeeds there with flying colors. It's a well directed, gorgeously shot, fairly simple little story, that at least provides us with a likable cast, playing likable characters, overcoming predictability and slight aspirations. 

There are exquisite performances all around, from the wonderfully classy Michelle Dockery, to the always great Maggie Smith. Everybody remains professional and equally terrific no matter how minuscule their role. You can't really single anyone in particular out, with Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Laura Carmichael (as "Edith Pelham, Marchioness of Hexham"), a charmingly confused Kevin Doyle (as "Mr. Molesley), Laura Haddock (Who has a lot of fun with her character's out of place accent), Hugh Dancy, a lovably adorable Sophie McSherra (as "Daisy", one of the estate's assistant cooks), along with a rather heartwarming subplot involving a devilishly charismatic Dominic West and Robert James-Collier (as "Thomas Barrow", the head butler, who might still be my personal favorite character). If somebody hasn't been mentioned, it's no fault of their own, since nobody is sleep-walking here. There just might be too many to mention, which also can be a bit of a minor issue within itself. I give credit to the filmmakers for how everything is actually well wrapped up in a nice bow (Or as well as a two hour film based around an ongoing series with piles of characters with their own arcs to complete). Still, it can feel like overload in places for those who aren't fans of the series, and maybe it can feel the same way for the fans as well, since they're more used to a few episodes of the show being used to bring everything together, instead of a brisk theatrical runtime. 

Flaws and all, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is a lot of fun. It's nothing explosive, big on summer oriented special effects, or action of any sorts. It's not that kind of movie. It's more therapeutic. It's a movie that brings down the blood pressure, warms the heart, offers some good natured humor, and also prevented this guy from having another panic attack. I learned a lot about myself during this vacation. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Mild Adult Content, Though Mild Is Really Putting It.....Um.....Mildly. 

The Bob's Burgers Movie                                                                            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Is this what it takes to turn you on, Bobby?!"

"Bob's Burgers" is one of those great shows that you kind of tend to forget is great. It's always on, no matter the channel, with twelve seasons, the series is the closest we've gotten to another "Simpsons". It's edgy enough, though really tame by adult animation standards, which works for the whole family to enjoy, with lovable characters, loads of big laughs (Ranging from the obvious to something in the background), plenty of sweetness, and surprising rewatch value, where sometimes you notice little in-jokes that you didn't notice the first time. I rarely watch it consistently, yet when I do catch it, I always remind myself "Oh yeah, I love this show. How can I not?", and this movie makes an excellent argument as to why I need to get back to doing so as soon as possible. 

Based on the decade old television series, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" follows the "Belcher" family, as they continue to keep their always struggling burger restaurant afloat. The parents, "Bob" (H. Jon Benjamin) and "Linda" (John Roberts), plan to offer a complimentary burger over to the bank in hopes of convincing them to extend their loan, while the kids, the always awkward "Tina" (Dan Mintz), the always weird "Gene" (Eugene Mirman), and the always bunny hat wearing "Louise" (Kristen Schaal), plan out their upcoming summer. Of course, problems arise, with the bank refusing to extend the loan (Giving the Belchers a week to pay them off), Tina unable to drum up the courage to finally get her crush "Jimmy Jr." (Also H. Jon Benjamin) to be her summer boyfriend and give him her bread bracelet, Gene's dream of getting his almost nonexistent band "The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee" to headline at the upcoming "Wonder Wharf" (The town amusement park) anniversary getting constantly shot down, and Louise starting to question her maturity, being called a baby by some mean girls due to her bunny hat ears. It gets even worse when a random sinkhole just appears outside the restaurant, which literally just blocks off the entrance. 

In an attempt to prove her bravery, Louise accidentally stumbles upon a dead body in the sinkhole, belonging to a dead carny named "Cotton Candy Dan". The prime suspect ends up being the Belchers' aloof, eye-patch wearing landlord, "Calvin Fischoeder" (Kevin Kline), thus putting the Belchers even closer to losing everything. While Bob and Linda, with help from their buddy, "Teddy" (Larry Murphy), who never has anything better to do anyways, Louise takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of things, believing Fischoeder to be innocent. So she, Gene, and Tina set out to uncover the mystery of who really murdered Cotton Candy Dan and save the restaurant, though uncover some unexpected twists and turns along the way.  

Directed by series creator Loren Bouchard (Who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nora Smith) and Bernard Derriman, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" doesn't hide the fact that it's essentially three or four episodes smushed together, and doesn't exactly scream for a necessary big screen viewing. However, what sets it apart from other animated television shows turned theatrically released movies, is that the film overall is so much better than it has any real right to be. It never feels like a cash grab. It just feels like a longer, more cinematic version of the much loved show, and it's still so charming beyond belief. The movie is jam packed with the usual character and the offbeat humor that fans of the series will have most likely come out to see in the first place, making for a wonderful time for the whole family to enjoy. It's not big in scope, though the animation budget has clearly increased, and looks rather beautiful on the big screen (Not everything needs to be Computer Generated). Even without the grander storyline, it feels pretty perfect that the movie keeps things smaller in scale, which has always been part of the show's appealing nature. It instead relies on the comedy and the likable cast to carry things. Both of which are still remarkably strong even though the show has been going on since early 2011. 

The returning cast of characters include major, supporting, guest, and everything in between, giving roles or appearances to almost everyone that the filmmakers can. H. Jon Benjamin, John Roberts, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, and the show's typical MVP Kristen Schaal, are as delightful as ever, along with Larry Murphy giving Teddy a hilariously and intentionally usefully useless subplot (Where he convinces Bob and Linda to take a burger cart onto the Wharf, mostly just so he can hang out with them). Some other major supporting roles go to the recurringly odd Kevin Kline, Zach Galifianakis (as "Felix", Mr. Fischoeder's more inept brother), Gary Cole (as "Sgt. Bosco", who is convinced he's important to the case, despite doing absolutely nothing of use), David Wain (as "Grover", Mr. Fischoeder's lawyer/cousin, that repeatedly gets pushed around), and a few other surprises from fan favorites all around. The overall mystery as to what's really going on isn't too hard to figure out, though it's still a lot of fun nonetheless and takes some creative twists. The only real complaint I have is that while the film features a handful of musical numbers, you wish that there were more because they're surprisingly solid.   

For what it lacks in scale, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" makes up for in every other department, with colorful animation, lovable characters, irresistible heart, and nonstop hilarity, which much like the show seemingly, doesn't get stale. It offers plenty for fans of the series to go bananas over, yet also works well on its own, serving as a great time for any audience. Meaty, juicy, and full of big buns, it finds a way to earn its place on the big screen, which may even prompt one to take more time to appreciate the show on the smaller screen too. Genuinely good natured and imaginative silliness like this will never go out of style. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Occasionally More Edgy Jokes, Though It's So Tame That It Could Have Earned A PG Rating. Again, Everyone Will Have Fun With This One. 

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?