top of page

Bob Marley: One Love                by James Eagan               ★★ out of ★★★★★

Image: Anyone else remember that Cinnamon stick guy from those "Apple Jacks" commercials? Those were pretty racist, weren't they? 

It's sad that this wasn't the one to help me get over my biopic fatigue. If anyone's story was gonna do it, it would have to be such a fascinating figure like Bob Marley.

"Bob Marley: One Love" focuses on the life of famous reggae singer and icon, "Bob Marley" (Kingsley Ben-Adir), during the last act of his life. After performing a unity concert to promote peace in Jamaica (During a very turbulent, violent time), Marley is almost assassinated, along with his supportive wife, "Rita" (Lashana Lynch), prompting him, along with his family and band to leave the country to avoid any more attempts on their lives. Marley and his band, "The Wailers", head to London to work on possibly their greatest album. Marley must face several obstacles along the way, such as a desire to spread his message to the people of Africa and his need to return home to finish what he started, along the inevitable and tragically too soon demise.   

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Joe Bell", "King Richard"), who co-wrote the screenplay from Terrence Winter ("Boardwalk Empire", "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Frank E. Flowers ("Metro Manilla"), and Zach Baylin ("Creed III"), "Bob Marley: One Love" is a pretty safe endeavor, that I suppose will appease Bob Marley's most devoted, though undemanding fans. The movie doesn't do the whole story, going through every moment in his life like a series of cliff notes taken from his Wikipedia page. Instead, it's just one of those cliff notes, stretched out to an hour and forty minutes, which is still obviously taken from a Wikipedia page. The film centers on the last couple years of his life (Though never goes all the way up to his death), with an occasional, very quick flashback to certain moments in his younger days. This decision is different to say the least, though only makes the film feel sloppy and unfocused. Like any weak biopic, it doesn't tell you anything that you don't already know about its subject, while rushing through everything it can with a brisk enough pace. 

For such an inconsequential movie, it's still worth it to give credit to an actor trying their very best to elevate it. Kingsley Ben-Adir continues to show what a real versatile actor he is, from his work in things like "One Night in Miami", "Secret Invasion", and "Barbie", there is a remarkable amount of range to this guy (And he's British too!). He brings the film to life, and even when the film frustratingly leaves you wanting, his charismatic performance is what keeps you engaged. This especially shows not during the dramatic moments, but instead during the moments of humor or heart (Ben-Adir's smile alone just kind of makes you smile right back). Lashana Lynch is another one, who always brings what she can to a part, while nobody else in the cast quite stands out. This isn't any of their faults. They just aren't given much time to do so. Thankfully, when the film gives time to the music, it's beautiful to hear and might even get you tapping your feet a little. Still though, this is yet another area where the film just falls short in which it never gets into how the music and the message both coincided together to become a phenomenon.

The music is great and Kingsley Ben-Adir is giving it his all, but "Bob Marley: One Love" almost feels unnecessary. It doesn't feel like it knows what story it wants to tell. It breezes by too many important events in a few quick flashbacks, while clumsily cobbling together a narrative that doesn't warrant an entire film. In any other biopic, for better or for worse, this would have been just a section of the story rather than the whole thing. Maybe we would have learned more if it had been. Or it could have been worse. However, it would have felt more complete. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Jaimacan Accents All Over!  

Out of Darkness                   by James Eagan                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★★  

1_X1W3oFVtJDqS8L7j983ygQ.jpg

Image: This isn't your average, everyday darkness. This is.....Advanced Darkness....

Oh boy, this is definitely going to be "It's not for everyone" kind of movies. All I can say is that if you've only seen the trailer and you're thinking this is one thing, you probably shouldn't be thinking that. You'll understand what I mean if you see it, which I honestly think you should. Smaller movies, especially ones with bolder visions that got left on a shelf collecting dust after a 2022 London premiere, deserve their time in the light. Pun completely intended. 

Set 45,000 years ago, a group of travels arrive at a new, undiscovered land in their quest for survival. This group includes the overly proud leader, "Adem" (Chuku Modu), his pregnant partner, "Ave" (Iola Evans), his younger brother "Geirr" (Kit Young), his young son "Heron" (Luna Mwezi), the elderly "Odal" (Arno Luening), and a stray "Beyah" (Safia Oakley-Green), that they've picked up along their journey. However, this group proceeds to find nothing but desolation and starvation, with Adem's decision making being called into question. Unfortunately, they have nowhere else to go but forward, only to discover that something more frightening awaits them within the darkness. Soon, they are hunted by some kind of screeching creature, while also having to contend with the very monster that resides in every single one of them. 

Directed by first time feature length director, Andrew Cumming, with a screenplay from the also first timer, Ruth Greenberg, "Out of Darkness" is an atmospheric, semi-horror that's just been hiding in the shadows, waiting to find its audience. Now while I can't say the film will necessarily find it (Granted, nothing is particularly doing that well at the box office right now), I can only commend the brilliance behind the premise and execution, along with the balls to actually commit to it. The film's dialogue is subtitled in a completely made up language that feels just right for the time period the film takes place in, with it convincingly being conveyed by the strong, admirable cast. The film is all about mood and visuals, where things aren't quite supposed to make total sense at first. It's one of those scripts that lets actions speak for the words, and Cumming's intense, ambitious direction does just that. It's incredible how this was pushed into one of the smaller theaters, despite its gorgeous, almost mind-bending cinematography just screams the biggest IMAX screen possible. What the film also just revels in, and quite fittingly so, is the use of darkness itself. There are some suspenseful moments where you can only see the characters illuminated by campfire, while nothing but pure black nothingness surrounding them. It puts you on edge, especially when someone can just as easily vanish into that seemingly endless void without warning. Even when the story shifts to day, there is this gloomy shroud constantly following the characters, as they resort to more barbaric methods of survival. 

The performers are all worthy of praise, but it's Safia Oakley-Green that's a real find. She is so compelling to watch, where you're not always sure what exactly what's going on through her head, especially when her character ends up taking command in places, seemingly willing to go that extra mile that any rational person would never even dream of. However, it also serves as a look into that beast within everyone that can easily come out when it comes to survival. That's where the real terror of the film resides. Those cold, calculating actions that we believe separate us from animals, while slowly killing a bit more of ourselves the further we descend into, er, well, darkness. It's in the title!

"Out of Darkness" won't be everyone's cup of tea. It's not too hard to see some later reveals coming and it might alienate those coming in for an old fashioned horror movie, with jumpscares and a scary monster. However, I feel that only further cements the point that the film is making. Those are just the masks that our fears wear. What we should be more afraid of is what lies behind it. 4 Stars. Rated R For Scary Images, Non-Existent Personal Hygiene, And Jaw Dropping Violence. 

Lisa Frankenstein                     by James Eagan             ★★ out of ★★★★★ 

download.jpeg

Image: Classic Story. Girl likes boy. Boy is a decomposing corpse. You know the rest. 

This movie really has the ingredients to be something for my admittedly questionable mind to gravitate towards. At least younger me more than anything. You got an inspired take on a classic monster story, with Tim Burton-esque set design, a gleefully macabre sense of humor, somebody as cute and charming as Kathryn Newton, and a sense of late 80s/early 90s twistedness that nobody is attempting to make these days. This movie has all those things.......and I really did not like it. 

Set in 1989, "Lisa Swallows" (Kathryn Newton) has never fully recovered from her mother literally getting axed off by an axe-weilding maniac, going into a state of depression where she barely even speaks. Since then, her oblivious father, "Dale" (Joe Chrest), has remarried to the overbearing "Janet" (Carla Gugino), and now Lisa is an outcast in her new school, with the only person willing to be around her is her new, more popular stepsister "Taffy" (Liza Soberano). Ignored by everyone else around her and madly in love with the popular guy, "Michael Trent" (Henry Eikenberry), Lisa's only place of solace comes from the local graveyard, where she hangs around a forgotten tombstone belonging to an unnamed, Victorian era corpse (Cole Sprouse). After a thunderstorm, the corpse rises from the grave and befriends Lisa, who keeps the corpse rejuvenated via a tanning bed. One day, after it becomes clear that the only way for the corpse to become fully human again is through reacquiring his missing parts (Hand, ear, among other shall we say useful appendages), Lisa decides that a little old fashioned murder might do the body some good.

Directed by Zelda Williams (Daughter of the late Robin Williams), with a screenplay by Diablo Cody ("Juno", "Jennifer's Body"), "Lisa Frankenstein" has future cult classic status written all over it. Too bad it's just not going to end up as one of the good ones (Remember, movies like "The Room", "Road House", and "Howard the Duck" are considered cult classics now). While I can definitely see how the film could find an audience (And it's not to say that there aren't some things to admire about it), it just frustratingly has no dick. Which is very ironic, don't ya think? It's a PG-13 dark, horror comedy, that doesn't have near enough horror, fairly weak comedy, and should have been a whole lot darker, especially considering how much on the morbid side it is. There is some humor to find in the premise, such as how our lead character is going around and hacking people up for her own Frankenstein's monster, yet also completely friendzones him in favor of her more traditional crush. The film struggles to balance that gruesome tone, thanks to a watered down rating, some sloppy editing, and a screenplay that's not as clever as it seems to think it is. Perhaps the film was trimmed down, which would explain how the film will just jump around between what's meant to be logical and what's meant to be fantasy. The characters just jump right to the decision to go around killing without much buildup, and things only spiral out of control from there. 

While character motivations are too thin on paper, some of the performances make up for it. In fact, they salvage it. Kathryn Newton is terrific (And I'm not just saying that in hopes of her possibly seeing this, then agreeing to become the future Mrs. James Eagan), with pitch perfect line delivery between questionably likable and innocently psychotic. It's also a pretty delightful decision to have Cole Sprouse mostly speak in gurgling grunts and groans, while Liza Soberano being a surprise standout with how much more depth she brings to her role (It's fairly predictable where it all goes, but she makes it work and gets a few good one liners). Carla Gugino looks like she's having some hammy fun, while Joe Chrest does what he apparently does best, which is playing a buffoonish, out of the loop dad, who hasn't the slightest idea about the insanity going on around him. 

"Lisa Frankenstein" has a beautiful visual aesthetic, even if it's framed like something you'd see on television rather than in theaters. While the film isn't without its chuckles, more of it falls pretty flat, particularly when the film seems to want to have an edge yet is settling for something too tame for its ambitions. Towards the end, it just gets kind of stupid, having worn out its welcome (Also, I think it's time we retire ever using "Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon in anything ever again. It's overused by this point). There is a joyful bit of deviousness to the film that I can see winning some over, while its campy attitude might also leave others irritated. I just see it as lesser than the kinds of films that inspired it, even if I appreciate the effort. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sinister Slaying, So Much Teen Angst, And Improper Dick Handling. 

Orion and the Dark                     by James Eagan                ★★★½ out of ★★★★★

AAAAQX8X_sIbJS0K9-LjFZHWP_hsCcPrGNjkEM4iAMDfnqQSPZ4YFG7sujqXVf9rOmesU5bCMu87BJgd25Mrkyd95Z

Image: When that PCP kicks in during the middle of the night. 

Ok, I can kind of see why DreamWorks Animation didn't release this in theaters, instead opting out to release it via Netflix, but that still doesn't seem fair to me. If something like "Argylle", which has the broadest kind of appeal, can bomb as hard as it's about to bomb, then why can't a somewhat overly ambitious, yet endearing animated film for the family pushed to the side. "Pixar" is known for stuff like "Inside Out" and "Soul", which incorporate some unique, philosophical themes, but still have much to appeal towards the kids. Last year's "The Boy and the Heron" was a surprise success too, so I think giving kids a little more to think about, along with the usual colorful characters and animation, deserves more respect than a soon to be forgotten Netflix release. 

Based on the book by Emma Yarlett, "Orion and the Dark" serves as a story that a father (Colin Hanks) telling his daughter (Mia Akemi Brown) before bed, following a young boy, "Orion" (Jacob Tremblay), who is literally afraid of everything, such existential anxiety, bees, cell phones, rejection from girls (Sorry kid, that one never goes away. Trust me), killer gutter clowns, and most of all, the dark itself. Orion's irrational fears prevent him from living life, and one night, he meets the very embodiment of the dark itself, aptly named "Dark" (Paul Walter Hauser), who promises to help Orion conquer his fears. Dark introduces Orion to the night life that helps the world move, which includes his friends, "Sweet Dreams" (Angela Bassett), "Sleep" (Natasia Demetriou), "Insomnia" (Nat Faxon), "Quiet" (Aparna Nancherla), and "Unexplained Noises" (Golda Rosheuvel), who all have their parts to play throughout the night. While having to always move before the arrival of "Light" (Ike Barinholtz), who Dark despises due to feeling underappreciated, Orion soon learns to face what he doesn't understand, along with how the world needs the dark just as much as the light. This is all before things get a little more complicated as the story takes some unconventional detours before arriving to its established destination.

Directed by longtime animator Sean Charmatz, with a screenplay from Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich", "Adaptation", "Anomalisa", "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), "Orion and the Dark" is a flawed, though inspired premise that boasts almost too many grand ideas, though thankfully does it in such a sweet, earnest, and genuinely funny way that I can see all ages being able to follow it more than even the distribution predicted it would. I actually left a lot out from the plot synopsis because about half an hour in, the film's story takes a pretty unexpected turn, which still leads down a predictable path mind you, but doesn't seem to want to talk down to kids. In fact, Charlie Kaufman's screenplay really gets right just how much more existential kids really are, especially today. These fears about what you don't fully understand and how they clash with a developing mind that seems to overthink things just as often as it underthinks them. Heck, even plenty of adults still go through these kinds of anxieties, and the film is smart about how it brings them to life in a colorful fashion. The animation is not the most detailed of what we've seen from DreamWorks, but it's got these rather children's book-like cuteness to it, which just bursts with pure, unintelligible imagination. What makes this extra bold of the filmmakers is that the film is by no means grand. It's a script that relies more on the characters talking with each other, mixed in with lovely visuals. Most of the charm comes from the film's sense of humor, which also never talks down to kids. It's bound to get the whole family laughing. 

The voice cast is top notch, with the typically likable Jacob Tremblay and a scene-stealing Paul Walter Hauser playing perfectly off each other. Ike Barinholtz is a lot of fun as the cocky sounding embodiment of the light, while Agela Bassett's powerful sounding voice always commands your attention, no matter what she's in. Some of the best gags come from how the characters' powers work, such as Nat Faxon being the embodiment of insomnia (Waking people up by whispering anxiety fueled thoughts into people's ears while they sleep), Golda Rosheuvel as the embodiment of those unexplained noises that you always hear in the middle night, and a pretty hilarious Natasia Demetriou as the one who puts everyone to sleep via disturbing means such as forcing a sleep pillow over people's faces or straight up chloroforming them (Plus, her character design looks like a rejected muppet, so it's automatically ten times funny because of that alone). When the two main stories eventually converge, that's when things might become a bit more divisive, giving off the feeling that there are just too many ideas colliding and falling just out of reach, though I respect the maturity behind such designs. (The movie itself even somewhat acknowledges that it's not exactly sure how this story is supposed to end in a moment that's either going to be seen as clever or frustrating)

"Orion and the Dark" is no "Inside Out", but it has much more to offer for a family audience than one could give it credit for. It's a fun, humorous, sweet little film that shoots for the stars simply because it has the faith that the kids will be able to follow. It speaks to them right on their level, with plenty of charm for the parents as well. I got nothing against "Argylle", but even I can admit that this feels more befitting a wide, theatrical experience than something that, regardless if you love it or hate it, you're gonna forget in a week. This film at least asks you some big questions, hoping that just maybe, you'll start looking at the little things that might unnerve you a bit differently from now on. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated TV-Y7, Which Is Basically A PG Rating, For Some Slight Mature Humor And The Sleep Hammer (I Can't Be The Only Person Who Burst Out Laughing At That). 

Argylle                                  by James Eagan                  ★★½ out of ★★★★★  

Argylle_Poster_0101.jpg

Image: How am I supposed to lick my balls in this thing? There's no room!

Guys! The nightmare is finally over! If you're like me, and you see a lot of movies, you've probably been subjected to the trailer for "Argylle" over and over again since like September or October of last year. The trailer itself is fine I guess, and I was okay with having to see it at some point, but holy Hell, watching the same exact trailer at least two or three times a week for months, with it being played before almost every single movie regardless if it fit or not, it starts to get very old, very fast. So you could have called this one of my most anticipated movies of 2024 for no other reason than to make sure that I never, ever see that trailer before a movie ever again. Never! Again!

"Argylle" opens the titular super spy, "Agent Aubrey Argylle" (Henry Cavill) and his baffling haircut, on a mission to capture glamorously sexy terrorist, "LaGrange" (Dua Lipa), with help from his sidekicks "Wyatt" (John Cena) and "Keira" (Ariana DeBose). However, it turns out this is all just the plot for the latest book in the "Argylle" series, by shy, cat lover "Elly Conway" (Bryce Dallas Howard). Elly is having a little bit of writer's block though as she's pressured by her mother, "Ruth" (Catherine O'Hara), to not end the next book on a cliffhanger. While on her way to visit her parents, Elly meets a stranger, "Aidan" (Sam Rockwell), who reveals that he's not only a fan of her books, but is also a skilled spy himself and has been tasked to protect her. It turns out that Elly's books have actually predicted a lot of things that have happened in real life, such as the revelation of a secret organization known as the "Division", run by the evil "Director Ritter" (Bryan Cranston). With the revelation of a "Master Key" in Elly's next book, which will expose the Division to the world, Aidan and Elly, along with her kitty, "Alfie" (Who is carried around in a little backpack), must find it first before the Division can hunt them down. As the mystery and intrigue gets more and more twisty, Elly soon learns that there is an even greater revelation about to be uncovered. 

Directed by Matthew Vaughn ("X-Men: First Class", "Kick-Ass", and the "Kingsman" films), with a screenplay by Jason Fuchs ("Pan", "Ice Age: Continental Drift". Um, interesting filmography), "Argylle" is an interesting film, in which there has been some fascinating theories on how with the recent release of the book that the film is supposedly based on, along with who the real Elly Conway is (With some even claiming it to be Taylor Swift) and if the book was really written first or not. The film itself has the same look and style of the "Kingsman" films, and is certainly an enjoyable enough time, especially since there is still nothing new playing in theaters right now that's worth seeing on opening weekend. However, there is also a junk food-like quality to the film, that also lacks the added necessity that you can find in the usual blockbusters. It's not like a big franchise film, or a "Marvel" movie, or even such a good original product that everyone is going to be talking about after you see it. Not that there isn't plenty to like about the film (And I do see enough audiences leaving happy), but it's hardly for everyone and could easily annoy some. One reason is that it's an intentionally convoluted, topsy turvy, twisty and turny story, that might revel too much in its own style. Matthew Vaughn's eye for colorful visuals, even when the CGI is less than stellar, is on full blast, with elaborate fight sequences, an odd sense of humor, and amusing needle drops. The film cost like $200 million, and you can see where the money went, even with the underlying fakeness of it all (Something that's always been part of the "Kingsman" films as well). Still though, the focus does seem to become a bit more reliant on how stylish the film is, over much substance, despite the film trying to have defined characters and an intricate story. This does clash more than it should, particularly with how much actually happens in the film. At almost two and a half hours, it's too much to take in. Too much story, with too many characters, and far too many twists (Which vary between genuinely pretty clever to rather predictable).

The ensemble cast is very much game, and elevates the film with their presence. Bryce Dallas Howard is suitably charming, as cute and lovable as she can be, and does make the character's messy arc more believable mostly because of how genuine she feels. The chemistry between her and Sam Rockwell is one of the film's standout qualities, with Rockwell being a joy to watch as a discounted James Bond. Speaking of James Bond types, Henry Cavill's role is a lot smaller than you would expect, appearing mostly in various fantasy sequences, yet he gets to show off more of the charismatic side that we haven't been able to see enough of (And something about that hair just gets a big laugh out of me). Bryan Cranston lays on the smarm as the villain, while Catherine O'Hara is excellent in a part that takes a few extra turns. There are a couple of faces that we've seen in other of Vaughn's films, such as Samuel L. Jackson (as "Alfred Solomon", an ally to Aidan) and Sofia Boutella (as "The Keeper, a mysterious extra third party in all the intrigue), along with very underutilized roles for John Cena and Ariana DeBose. It also goes without saying that Alfie the cat is pretty damn cute. (Who doesn't like a pudgy kitty?)

"Argylle" feels like it would have been better suited in different hands (Like a Rian Johnson type), though you can only imagine how ungodly horrible it would have been in much worse hands. Matthew Vaughn prioritizes his usual visual flair over the story itself making much sense and it dwells on it more than it should, though it's not without entertainment value and a cast that looks to be having so much fun making the movie. There's also an interesting post credits scene that I think enough people should see coming, and I'm a little interested in where it could go (Personally though, I just want a sequel to "The King's Man", so we can see where that Thanos-style Hitler reveal goes instead, but that's just me). It's an okay way to pass the time till the bigger and maybe better movies come out. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Chaotic Action, Bizarre Hair-Styles, And Pussy In Peril. 

Lift                                              by James Eagan                  ★½ out of ★★★★★    

Image: Mission: Impossible, if you ordered it from wish.com.

Is this what desperation looks like? Turning to Netflix in your time of need in order to make up for the lack of any new movies getting released in my nearby theaters? I usually tend to skip full reviews for these movies (Leaving them as quick, admittedly less than well structured mini-reviews on Letterboxd and Facebook), mostly because half the time, they're just so generic and lifeless. The dullest of the dull, which usually somehow find a way to get some recognizable faces and budgets that are quite frankly too high for a Netflix quality production, with the budget likely just going towards whatever locations the film includes. Luckily for us though.......This is exactly one of those kind of films, which I'm only reviewing the pass the time. See how I went nowhere with that setup? That's what it's like watching these things. 

"Lift" follows a renowned art thief, "Cyrus" (Kevin Hart), who has been on Interpol's radar for some time. Cyrus, along with his crew of misfits, a pilot "Camila" (Úrsula Corberó), the energetic safecracker "Magnus" (Billy Magnussen), a hacker "Mi-Sun" (Kim Yoon-ji), the engineer "Luke" (Viveik Kalra), and the eccentric master of disguise "Denton" (Vincent D'Onofrio), avoid capture at the hands of Interpol agent/Cyrus' former romantic flame "Abby Gladwell" (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). After lifting a very valuable NFT.....Okay, stop! This is already unrealistic. I just need a moment to comprehend that I just typed that.....So anyways.....the team gets nabbed, though Abby's boss, "Huxley" (Sam Worthington), has other plans in mind for Cyrus and his crew. There's some terrorist baddie, "Lars Jorgenson" (Jean Reno), who is forming an alliance with another criminal organization to make a profit doing bad guy things, which revolves around a payment of gold bars to seal the deal. Huxley, offering legal immunity, wants Cyrus and his team to assist in capturing Jorgenson, so a heist is planned where the team will steal all of the gold while it's transported by commercial airliner, while it's still in the air. After convincing Abby to work closely with him once again, Cyrus and the crew must formulate the best way to complete their mission before Netflix realizes just how basic this all sounds. 

Directed by F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton", "The Italian Job", "The Fate of the Furious"), with a screenplay by Daniel Kunka ("12 Rounds"), along with producing credits from the likes of Simon Kinberg and for some reason, Matt Reeves (NO!!!!), "Lift" is a perplexing bit of boring, banal blandness, that would normally be just forgettable if not for the film's rather confusing casting choices and well, just how almost spectacularly uninteresting it is. The film is certainly slick looking and the locations look nice, but there's this underlying sense of cheapness that's always present, even though the film is trying to hide it behind smoke and mirrors. I'm starting to get the idea that Netflix is putting up the facade of big budget blockbusters (Such as "Rebel Moon", "The Gray Man", and "Red Notice"), which look expensive on the outside, but feel like they could have been made by anyone, as quickly as possible, without trying to secure a full theatrical release. And boy, there are plenty of times where it's obvious the budget wasn't spent on visual effects, CGI, or actual production design, with so much green screen throughout. I know a bunch of our theatrical blockbusters do the same thing too, but the heavy green screen use has been based around creating a world that already isn't real, rather than films like this trying to cover their asses. The action and the plotting are uninspired enough as it is, but it's all brought down by a screenplay that has little to no identity and tries way to hard to compensate with fake charm (Feeling more like smarm if you ask me). 

Suave, cool, and badass. These are not the words I would use to describe Kevin Hart. I give him credit for trying to branch out with a performance that's more deadpan and somewhat serious, but it doesn't remotely work. In fact, it painfully falls flat. Hart has none of the qualities that you would see in a James Bond or Ethan Hunt type of character, despite the film really trying to tell you that he does. Hart has zero chemistry with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in a romance that really just gets in the way more than anything else. It doesn't help that the crew themselves are completely underwritten. Úrsula Corberó, Kim Yoon-ji, and Viveik Kalra, mostly fade into the background to the point one forgets they even exist, though thankfully Billy Magnussen and Vincent D'Onofrio at least go a little out of their way to inject some personality (And God, do you miss them when they're not onscreen). Burn Gorman (as "Cormac", Jorgenson's lead henchmen) always does a solid job playing creepy, while Jean Reno makes for an nonthreatening villainous presence (And he certainly looks more uninvested than anyone watching this thing). Shockingly, the person I wanted to see more of was Sam Worthington, who looks like he's having some fun as a bureaucratic slimeball, and makes the most out of a small-ish part that could have had anyone play it. The film's most memorable aspect is how much NFTs play a part in the film, even towards the climax, and you gotta wonder how long ago this was written because we're basically at a point where everyone already knows what a joke that whole trend was. 

You know that "Rick and Morty" episode where Morty writes a heist film to pitch to Netflix, only to abandon it after realizing how stupid and generic it is? I'm assuming that's where "Lift" came from. It follows all of the tropes, without enough humor, developed characters, or intelligence to make it work. Just a snoozefest, but an extra obnoxious one at that. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Violence, Slight Language, And A Slight Screenplay.   

I.S.S.                                     by James Eagan              ★★★½ out of ★★★★★        

iss-2024.jpg

Image: The look on your face when you realize your "Portal" space memes died out over a decade ago.

Uhhhhhh, so this wasn't the most eventful of movie weeks and it's not often that I see a movie that I know little to nothing about. Usually that's a bad sign. I've been through it many times before. 

"I.S.S." follows American scientist, "Kira Foster" (Ariana DeBose), who joins a crew of American and Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station (Or I.S.S., in case you didn't know). Her fellow American colleagues include the captain "Gordon Barrett" (Chris Messina) and "Christian" (John Gallagher Jr.), along with the Russian crew members, "Nicholai" (Costa Ronin), "Weronika" (Maria Mashkova), and "Alexey" (Pilou Asbæk). All seems to be going well until suddenly explosions can be seen from the station happening all over Earth, along with Gordon getting a very clear message from his superiors before all communication is shut off, which is to "Take control of the I.S.S. by any means necessary". Fearing that the Russians also may have gotten the same message from their superiors, tensions start to rise as everyone fears who will make the first strike, while the station itself only has a matter of time before it falls from orbit. 

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Our Friend", "Megan Leavey", and the acclaimed documentary "Blackfish"), with a screenplay by Nick Shafir, "I.S.S." has the unfortunate luxury of being an early January release, which will be quickly forgotten from memory the moment a bigger film comes out. It sucks because the film, while not exactly special by any means, is actually pretty good. It's using some old fashioned ingredients, but they're still quite effective in creating an intense, very claustrophobic, and occasionally even a bit unpredictable thriller. Cowperthwaite's direction is one of the highlights, which makes use of the obviously small budget by filming everything in close quarters, which can get nerve-wracking and dizzying since the characters are stuck in zero gravity. The effects aren't anything to write home about, yet they work for how little they're used, particularly in a sequence where one of the characters has to go outside the station, with only the endless void of space and the haunting beauty of Earth (Which features endless explosions going off all over) surrounding them.However, I won't say much about what I can assume was meant to be an action scene towards the last act, which felt pretty unnecessary (And features some very fake looking blood). Some of the details don't quite add up, and even the ones that the film takes time to try to explain feel very much like an afterthought. That vagueness does work in terms of the film's suspense, though I do recommend not trying to put all the pieces together when that's clearly not the intent. 

The performances are really what bring out the characters, with Ariana DeBose (Who has deserved so much better since winning her Oscar) being a very capable lead. Chris Messina and his excellent mustache are exceptionally downplayed, while Costa Ronin and Maria Mashkova do keep you guessing where their characters' loyalties will go, even if the script is rather telegraphed from the start. John Gallagher Jr. is one of those actors who always brings a lot to a performance, even when it's just a supporting part, and the same goes for Pilou Asbæk, known for being the guy who can elevate a generic villain role, but actually plays against that type with a more conflicted character. 

"I.S.S." isn't going to stick around in my head once we reach the end of the year. It's more or less a rainy day film, that just so happens to have better than expected direction, acting, and some clever turns. I always gotta give credit when a movie somehow has a twist or two that I don't see coming, and this genuinely did catch me off guard towards the end. It's a quick sit at barely an hour and a half, serving as a fairly gripping bottle film, that accomplishes its goals efficiently. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For A Little Bit Of Violence And Because I Assume A Little Language, But This Felt Like A PG-13. Like I've Seen Much Worse Get More Lenient Ratings. 

Mean Girls                         by James Eagan                     ★★★½ out of ★★★★★   

mean-girls-2024.webp

Image: So that's where all the leftover pink went after "Barbie".

I mentioned this a couple weeks ago with "The Color Purple" in how the marketing for the film seemed to be hiding it was a musical, and this movie seems to be doing the same thing. What makes it more frustrating though is that all I've seen is how it's only further confused the average moviegoers, who just think this is a regular remake. They don't know what this is. They just see the poster or trailer, without having a clue what the film's actual intentions are, and presume it's just a pointless remake of a film that they love. Okay, maybe it might be a little pointless, but there's something more to it than just redoing the same movie again. 

Based on the Broadway musical, which was based on the 2004 film, which was based on the 2002 book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" (You get all that?), "Mean Girls" follows the original's story, with the home-schooled, "Cady Heron" (Angourie Rice), getting a transfer into North Shore High School. Cady finds friendship with the school outsiders, "Janis 'Imi'ike" (Auli'i Cravalho) and "Damian Hubbard" (Jaquel Spivey), who tell her all about the ways of the school. Cady learns about the mean girls, or the "Plastics", consisting of their queen bee "Regina George" (Reneé Rapp), her little minion "Gretchen Wieners" (Bebe Wood), and the incredibly dimwitted "Karen Shetty" (Avantika). Cady immediately finds herself entranced by the Plastics and after she's accepted into their clique, Janis and Damian suggest Cady be a spy for them on whatever cruel or stupid crap they get up to. After Cady's crush/Regina's ex, "Aaron Samuels" (Christopher Briney), ends up back in a relationship with Regina, Cady goes along with a plan to completely ruin the Plastics from within. However, Cady soon starts to morph into a mean girl herself, thus everything starts to spiral out of control. Oh, and it's a musical!

Directed by first time collaborators Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr., with a screenplay from Tina Fey (Who previously wrote the original film), "Mean Girls" has to somewhat struggle to justify its existence, and while it doesn't stand out like say "The Color Purple" did, the film does retain a sort of musically bombastic charm. For what's more or less a rehash of the beloved original, you can feel the love that the filmmakers have for the material, especially for something that was originally meant to exclusively release via Paramount+. The film doesn't exactly look grand in terms of its budget, yet the effort onscreen is clear as day. From the choreography and musical numbers, which almost charmingly reuse the same sets over and over, give off a High School Musical-like feel that's both certainly more on the cheap side, but also endearing in its simplicity. It also helps that the film is still very funny and packed with lots of talented performers, who carry the film with ease.

Angrouie Rice, who always continues to shock me with how well she hides her Australian accent, is perfectly cast as our likable, at first shy lead, even if it is hard to quite detach it from Lindsay Lohan's pretty iconic portrayal. Reneé Rapp (Who previously played this character in the Broadway version) is a star in the making with not just her stunning singing voice, but also in how she commands your attention every single time she's onscreen. She makes this character her own, getting the highlight musical numbers and outshining everyone every chance she gets (So it's no wonder she's another flawless casting choice). Auliʻi Cravalho (Moana herself!) and Jaquel Spivey serve as almost narrators this time, and are both a delight to watch, while Bebe Wood has the perfect panicking face (Always looking on edge, trying to please Regina like a cute little puppy). Christopher Briney is rather bland and Busy Phillips (as Regina's mother, who thinks she's still in her teen years) doesn't quite get the same amount of laughs as Amy Poehler did in the original. There are some fun supporting parts for the likes of Jenna Fischer (as Cady's mother), along with Ashley Park and John Hamm (as teachers at the school), and the returning Tina Fey (as "Ms. Norbury") and Tim Meadows (as "Principal Duvall") are very welcome to see. For me the biggest scene-stealer Avantika, who is a total riot. Whether it be her incredibly moronic comments or just the completely baffling remarks that she makes at the most random moments, she is hilarious, right down to her detached, unwavering, never blinking stare that she does, even in the background (It's laugh out loud, every time).

Does "Mean Girls" completely justify its existence? Not really. It feels like a more watered down version of the original, losing much of its edge in the process, though it is genuinely such a fun time that you find yourself entranced by its fetchness. The musical numbers are a blast, which are all brought to life by the enthusiastic cast, and offers just a good amount of laughs. For the fans, I bet they'll be left quite happy, along with maybe a few newcomers. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content, Burn Books, And Sexy Cancer.

The Beekeeper                          by James Eagan                    ★★★ out of ★★★★★

the-beekeeper.jpg

Image: "I'm the Bee's Knees." "Best Bee care around me." "I'm gonna Bee-eat the Hell outta you." "I got a million of em!"

One thing I've noticed is that we kind of give a free pass to campy trash. Sure, it's not good, but it's not good in a fun way. The kind of way where if you just shut your brain off, you'll have a good time. I actually disagree with that idea. Don't shut your brain off! Oh no, you gotta go in with your intelligence working 100%. All of this so that you can appreciate just how stupid it really is. If anything, you might find something more of value somewhere inside of all the stupidity. Some honey within the beeswax. 

"The Beekeeper" opens with an average, everyday, jacked British beekeeper, "Adam Clay" (Jason Statham), who has formed a friendship with the retired, kind-hearted, "Eloise" (Phylicia Rashad). Eloise gets caught in an intricate phishing scam, with completely drains all of her bank accounts, credit cards, and even the charities she's been a part of, leading the emotionally destroyed Eloise to take her own life. Clay discovers the deceased Eloise, whose death is investigated by her own daughter, FBI Agent, "Verona Parker" (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Clay tracks down the company responsible, and completely annihilates its base of operations. It turns out though that this is only a piece of a much larger, country-wide spanning organization of phishing scams, orchestrated by the slimy, "Derek Danforth" (Josh Hutcherson). Derek leaves finding out who Clay is to his family friend/former CIA director, "Wallace Westwyld" (Jeremy Irons), who learns the horrifying truth.....Clay is.....a Beekeeper! No! Not just a literal beekeeper (With honey and bees and all that). A beekeeper as in a secret government program that protects the "hive" (Society as a whole), from anything would do it harm. Clay may be a retired beekeeper, but his mission to root out the corruption, no matter how far up it goes, rages on as he kills his way to the very top. 

Directed by David Ayer ("Fury", "Suicide Squad", "Bright"), with a screenplay from Kurt Wimmer ("Equilibrium", "Point Break", "Expen4bles"), "The Beekeeper" is a movie that I feel is kind of trolling its audience. I mean, look at that plot. This is beyond stupid, and it's made weirder by how straight faced the film plays it, though to such a degree that I think that's what's supposed to be funny about it. For all of its buffed out buffoonery, it's also absolutely out of its damn mind too. This is a movie that's all about escalation, in terms of the violence, the stakes, and nonsensical story. Everything just keeps getting bigger and bigger until the film literally just stops existing. In spite of all of this though, I really gotta commend it for what it's going for. It's meant to be a campy, action packed thrill ride, and yeah, it's a good amount of fun. This is probably David Ayer's best looking film by far, where the action is over the top, yet unique in execution (And not near as excessive in the usual mean-spiritedness that I've seen in most of his movies). It's pretty cool to see action that doesn't entirely rely on guns blazing, with the titular character only rarely using a gun to dispatch a villain. Most of the time, he just tosses the gun away and instead goes to town on using everything else from bis bare fists, kicks, and whatever object happens to be within reach to brutally take out a baddie. The setpieces aren't exactly logical (Can one guy get a good hit in? Just a single shot at least?), but they're enjoyable to watch and at least creative in how nuts they are. The real fun comes from the places the film's story later goes and while I sort of predicted the path it appeared to be on, even I didn't expect them to actually do it. In fact, I'm genuinely shocked that I haven't seen an action film go down this route. It's almost jumping the shark, yet it's so original that it sets itself apart from other films like it. 

Jason Statham retains his trademark scowl throughout this entire movie, delivering bee puns and kicking ass every chance he gets (And when he runs out of ass, he's still got some puns to throw out there to make up for it). He's certainly committed like he usually is, and that's something I've always appreciated about his work. Not to mention, there are some simple pleasures to come out of watching Jason Statham mop the floor with a bunch of cocky tech bros. Emmy Raver-Lampman and Bobby Naderi (as "Agent Whiley", Verona's partner, following around Clay's trail of bodies) are a likable pair, making for amusing audience surrogates trying to make sense of the carnage, while we get a brief appearance from Minnie Driver (as the new CIA director). Phylicia Rashad is only in the first ten minutes or so, but does retain a sort of warmth to her and it's particularly tragic how badly the villains destroy her life in a matter of minutes (Hell, it's probably the most realistic thing in the movie how questionably legal corporations do target the elderly to steal all of their savings away without apparent consequences). The best part of the film are the villains. Josh Hutcherson is suitably scummy and despicable, being such an immature, coked up douchebag that even when he's being hunted down by an unstoppable killer, he still finds time to flirt with some random girl and try to sell her on Crypto currency. Jeremy Irons is also a blast to see him be the source of sophistication, where he proceeds to become more and more panicky when he learns how he's been backed into an unwinnable situation. There are also some hilarious side villains, with David Witts (as one of the head scammers, who ends up as unfortunate first victim on Clay's warpath), Enzo Cilenti (as one of the most obnoxious head scammers), and a god awful, yet brilliantly so Taylor James (as "Lazarus", the maniacal final boss battle Clay has to face). 

"The Beekeeper" is goofy, bloody, and full of holes, but it seems that was just as intended. However, it also feels like a lesser "John Wick", where it has some world building, though lacks the intelligence, sense of humor, and memorable characters that made those films special. This is more run of the mill popcorn fun that found a capable budget to make up for how slight it is and again, some plot points that are so out there and baffling that you are kind of on the edge of your seat the entire time. At least so you can see how far the filmmakers are willing to go with how dumb this is. It's exactly what an action movie about a badass beekeeper should be. Nothing special, but gives you a decent buzz. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Millenial Morons, And More Bee Jokes Than You Can Count. Trust Me, They Do Almost All Of Them. 

Night Swim                              by James Eagan                ★½ out of ★★★★★

Image: Just pee in the pool. The demons won't get ya if you do that. 

We have entered 2024! It's a brand new era for my reviewing website, and there are going to be some big changes around here. The kind of changes that have been needing to happen for a while now. No, I'm not getting paid to do this. Pfft! Don't be ridiculous! I'm changing my rating system from the usual four star rating to five! Yeah! Finally getting with the times, and my ratings will also match my Letterboxd account. I'm about to turn thirty in a week, so I feel like I had to do something different this year. It's the most eventful thing to happen today. Oh yeah, and I saw "Night Swim" too. 

Based on the short film, "Night Swim" follows former Baseball player "Ray Walker" (Wyatt Russell), his wife "Eve" (Kerry Condon), and their kids, "Izzy" (Amélie Hoeferle) and "Elliot" (Gavin Warren), as they move to a new home in hopes of getting a fresh start, mostly due to Ray's physical health (With him suffering from multiple sclerosis). Their new house also comes with a large pool, which comes in handy with Ray being suggested to take up swimming exercises. The pool seemingly at first does wonders for Ray, and even seems to be assisting him in his road to recovery (Though at a shockingly fast rate). However, something more supernatural and vile is at play here, with a dark force beneath the water about to terrorize this family. Slowly, Eve and the kids start to see freaky images and experience unexplainable moments of horror, with the haunted pool's demands on their way to being revealed. (And that usually revolves around demonic, freaky people coming out to drag an unfortunate soul into a watery grave. 

Written and directed by first timer, Bryce McGuire (Who made the original short film with Rod Blackhurst) and produced by James Wan ("Insidious", "Malignant") and Jason Blum ("M3GAN", "Five Nights at Freddy's"), "Night Swim" is a really silly premise, though not one without merit. Personally, I never saw the appeal of swimming pools in the first place, and always saw them as giant bathtubs, but I know some people do have a genuine phobia of what could be lurking inside there, especially at night. There is a creep factor there, and to give the movie some credit, there is some originality here. Particularly with where the story goes, with the pool requiring sacrifices for its healing abilities to be fully complete, along with how it finds a way to get into one's mind for its sick, twisted pleasure. However, for something like this to work, it's all about execution. First of all, you gotta have something new to add to the table, but the film eventually comes down to the usual possession tropes in the last act. The variety of ideas have potential, yet the story stumbles around into stupidity. Maybe some more self-awareness would have been more welcome or some more creativity to the silliness. We can go along with a lot of dumb stuff if we're given something to latch onto. And most importantly of all, you gotta be scary. And no! It's not scary at all. Maybe a little creepy in places, but never frightening or nightmare inducing. Something going after you underwater can be scary enough on its own, but all we get are some lame, telegraphed jumpscares and some bargain bin zombie-esque creatures (Which feel like something that wasn't good enough for last year's "Talk to Me" or the "Evil Dead" franchise). I will say this though, it's hard to get mad at anything like this because it's so par for the course with bad horror movies, especially ones that used to litter the month of January every year before. 

Wyatt Russell and especially Kerry Condon thankfully came to do their jobs like the professionals they are. Amélie Hoeferle and Gavin Warren are also pretty solid, with their characters not coming across as annoying, overly precocious kids. I actually do like the family in this and don't want to see anything bad happen to them. It's all just kind of stuck in a pile of tired out tropes, which the film seems to only rely on because they don't have nearly enough to compensate for how thin the plot is. Again, cool ideas and all, but it never comes together in a cohesive way. 

"Night Swim" is pretty forgettable stuff and what makes such a thing so sad is that it didn't need to be. McGuire's stretching out of his old short film feels just like that. So stretched out. After jumping off the deep end towards the end (That pun was not intended at first), it becomes way too run of the mill in a time where people are asking for much more when it comes to horror. It's goofy, though not exactly the fun kind, and serves as a reminder of what kind of lame ass horror movies that January used to offer us. We truly are back to normal now, aren't we? 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Faces, Bloody Tears, Kitty Killing (I Knew That Cat Was Dead The Second He Walked In), Perilous Pool Parties, And Malicious Marco Poloing. 

bottom of page