In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, John Wick: Chapter 4, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, 65, Scream VI, Creed III, Jesus Revolution, Cocaine Bear, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, Magic Mike's Last Dance, Knock at the Cabin, 80 for Brady Shotgun Wedding, Infinity Pool, Missing, Avatar: The Way of Water
Coming Soon: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Renfield, Evil Dead Rise, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Book Club 2, Fast X, The Little Mermaid, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, The Boogeyman, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Strays, The Flash
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Image: "Forgive me Father, for....Where do I begin?"
Let me tell you a little story. A story that eventually evolved into a legendary epic worthy of the best of franchises. We have a former hitman, now retired, losing the love of his life, but getting a cute little puppy as a companion to fill the void in his heart. Sadly, he then loses said puppy thanks to some punkish gangsters, resulting in the former hitman being pulled back into the world of mercenaries, criminals, gangsters, and killers. Even after getting his revenge, the hitman just can't find his way out, hunted by the world around him and the higher up, secret society who want to make an example of him. Just when victory seemed within his grasp, the hitman is betrayed by one of his few remaining allies, left to die once more only to barely survive like he always does. This is it. This is the story of "John Wick"!
Following the events of the previous chapter, "John Wick: Chapter 4" opens with the titular "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves), also known as the "Baba Yaga", as he continues to be a thorn in the side of the "High Table" (The feared authority in control of the entire criminal underworld). High Table member, the "Marquis Vincent de Gramont" (Bill Skarsgård), sets out to be the one to finally kill John once and for all. De Gramont first targets those close to John, such as "Continental" (Hitman hotel) manager, "Winston" (Ian McShane), who previously sold John out, though is starting to witness the consequences of his actions. Then de Gramont brings in an old friend of John's/retired hitman, the blind yet highly skilled "Caine" (Donnie Yen), forcing him against his will to track down John.
Meanwhile, John has been looking for save havens, such as with the former crime boss of the literal underworld, "The Bowery King" (Laurence Fishburne), and Japanese Continental manager, "Shimazu Koji" (Hiroyuki Sanada), Realizing that everyone close to him is no longer safe, and with both Caine and a mysterious, unnamed bounty hunter (Shamier Anderson) hot on his trail, John must find a new path to freedom. Winston suggests a final duel, face to face with the Marquis de Gramont, which will either provide him with a chance as escaping this world for good or give him the final death that he's been running away from. John must now face a series of trials and tribulations, armed with a gun or two, and his kevlar suit, if he's going to survive everything the Marquis throws at him and reach the end of his own legend alive.
Directed by series co-creator, Chad Stahelski (Who has directed all four movies), with a screenplay by Shay Hatten (The previous "John Wick" films, along with "Army of the Dead") and Michael Finch ("Predators"), "John Wick: Chapter 4" feels like the culmination of the saga's entire storyline, where every intricate little piece has played a part in how it all concludes. Clocking in at almost three hours (Though it never once feels like it), the film might just be the most artistically done action movie ever put on the big screen. It also just plain might be one of the best action movies I've ever seen. The action on display, mixed in with the almost hypnotic fight choreography, is long, drawn out, and unlike anything you've ever seen. You're constantly left questioning what's practical and what isn't (And if the ones doing the stuntwork didn't you know, die!). From adrenaline fueled gun duels with a neon-lit art exhibit, brutal hand to hand (And axe) combat in a soaking wet German rave, and a series of elaborate shootouts towards the film's chaotic climax, it's the kind of movie magic that sets the bar too high for future films to possibly reach (Yyyyeah, the "Fast & Furious" movies like pretty insignificant by comparison now). Stahelski really proves himself to be a brilliant director, not just with the action scenes, but also with how well framed the film's locations are and how well told the story is. It's not just all bullets and blood. Like the previous films, we get even more insight into the inner workings of the unique world that these movies have set up. It goes from a comic book-like tale, then escalates into a full blown Shakespearean tragedy of sorts, with memorable dialogue (That's equal parts weirdly profound and darkly funny) and standout characters.
One can joke about how easily Keanu Reeves has been miscast in certain roles in the past (Anyone else remember "47 Ronin" or "Knock Knock"? Or that weird robot one a few years back?), but you can't deny his commitment to his craft. This character truly wouldn't exist without him though. His occasionally stilted delivery genuinely adds to the character's personality. Reeves also shows a remarkable amount of emotion with the simplest of glances or expressions, looking more worn down than ever due to the character's previous experiences, though nonetheless a force of nature to be reckoned with. Donnie Yen just resonates coolness (With depth and a sense of humor), making use of sound and touch during his meticulously crafted fight scenes, while Ian McShane is once again so compelling to watch (Just him speaking is just as thrilling as any action setpiece). Bill Skarsgård generates so much smug villainy, while we get excellent supporting work from Clancy Brown (as "The Harbinger", one of the officials for the High Table), a still larger than life Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, and the late, great Lance Reddick (as "Charon", Winston's faithful concierge), who sadly passed away only recently. Everyone has their moment, though some special standouts include Shamier Anderson (Who I can totally see a spin-off for), Rina Sawayama (as "Akira", Koji's loving daughter, with skills of her own), and a hilariously bizarre Scott Adkins (as "Killa", the pompous and repulsive head of the German table) in unrecognizable prosthetics. We also need to give special mention to how these films have really been able to convey the emotional arc surrounding John's deceased wife, "Helen" (Previously played by Bridget Moynahan in quick flashbacks in previous films), without ever actually showing it. You buy it regardless and it leaves a strong impact.
So if you can't tell by now, I loved the absolute Hell out of this movie. "John Wick: Chapter 4" is the best entry in the franchise, which has only gotten better and better since the already great first one. It serves as a possible finale, yet also a starting point for more in the future (Be sure to stick around after the credits). It's a neon filled, bloody, dog loving example of legendary action, impeccable world-building, and most of all, masterclass filmmaking. It also continues a certain trend of recent films, where the audience is entertained, mesmerized, and left in an uproarious applause (Who would have though a "John Wick" movie would be such a crowd-pleaser?). Yeah, I'm thinking it's 4 Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Violence, Preposterous Use Of Any And All Weapons, Nut Crunching, And Doggie Vengeance.
Image: Men....And Women....In tights.
Boy, did things really take a turn over at DC in the past few months. With everything hinging on what happens in "The Flash" (And the hope that Ezra Miller doesn't go on another rampage in Hawaii) before we find ourselves entering a brand new, semi-rebooted era, I'm sure this isn't easy for the average moviegoer. My fellow comic readers and I should be used to these kinds of shake-ups that result in sudden reboots and retcons, that lead into a new canon and changes to well known characters, but we've never quite seen that happen on a cinematic level. Things are either going to pay off in the end, or simply bury this shared universe once and for all. Although if we can avoid anything like "Batman V Superman" and the first "Suicide Squad", I'll take it.
Set in the soon to be aggressively different "DC Extended Universe" (Courtesy of James Gunn, Peter Safran, and "Black Adam" flopping despite making almost $400 million. The definition of first world problems), "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" reunites us with teen turned godlike/manchild super-hero, "Billy Batson" (Played by Asher Angel, and by Zachary Levi in his super form), who can change back and forth between his real and super-powered alter ego simply through the word "Shazam!". Now the rest of Billy's foster siblings have their own powers, such as best friend "Freddy Freeman" (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), "Eugene Choi" (Ian Chen and Ross Butler), "Pedro Peña" (Jovan Armand and D. J. Cotrona), "Darla Dudley" (Faithe Herman and Meagan Good), and "Mary Bromfield" (Grace Caroline Currey, who doesn't need a goddess-like super form because she's already very attractive enough as it is). The siblings, keeping their superhero work secret from their foster parents, "Rosa" (Marta Milans) and "Victor" (Cooper Andrews), do your usual saving the day stuff all around Philadelphia, though find themselves generally disliked by the public due to the excessive amounts of property damage they cause while doing so (I mean, they are just kids who have no idea what they're doing after all).
Billy also struggles with his inevitable maturity and keeping the rest of the team organized, with Freddy especially liking to do things on his own and forms a romance with the new girl at school, "Anne" (Rachel Zegler). A new threat arises in the form of the "Daughters of Atlas", "Hespera" (Helen Mirren) and "Kalypso" (Lucu Liu), who repair the all powerful magical staff of Billy's wizard predecessor, "Shazam" (Djimon Hounsou), revealed to be alive and in their captivity. The villainous goddesses, not to happy about their ancient father's powers now in the possession of human children, plan to steal back the powers by any means necessary, without a care of who gets caught in the crossfire. After the Daughters of Atlas put a magical dome over the city, Billy and his family must come together as one if they're going to finally prove themselves as worthy of the power of the Gods.
Directed by the returning David F. Sandberg ("Lights Out", "Annabelle: Creation"), with a screenplay by the also returning Henry Gayden ("Earth to Echo") and Chris Morgan (Known for several of the "Fast & Furious" movies), "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" has quite a lot to live up to, especially for the DC universe. 2019's "Shazam!" is currently one of the DC Extended Universe's most beloved films, being a rare hit for the franchise with both critics and fans (Usually they have to pick one or the other). Not exactly shockingly, this sequel isn't quite up to par, though serves as a solid continuation that gives us more of what worked about the first film, even if there is a little too much going on at once. The film sets out to tell a much grander story compared to the low stake first film, with Sandberg deserving a lot of credit for making the film seem big despite a more modest budget. (Apparently this cost somewhere around only $100 million or so, which is remarkably small for a superhero movie) The effects are obvious CGI, yet they look likely and lead to some explosive action sequences worthy of any big blockbuster. There's a ton thrown at the screen, especially during the final third, but it's nonetheless exciting and feels unique among the rest of the DC universe, thanks to the more family friendly, magical aesthetic. (Although the film, like the first, isn't without plenty of dark moments)
Zachary Levi is once again a well cast, and delightfully humorous hero, incorporating sense of childlike wonder into a character that arguably could go toe to toe with Superman if he thought about it. Some of the younger cast doesn't quite get much to do, with more focus being on the superhero forms this time, though they're all as likable as ever. Standouts being Jack Dylan Grazer (Who continues to have some excellent comic timing), and the endearing Faithe Herman. Meagan Good is especially great, perfectly encompassing her other counterpart's adorableness, with other notable parts for Adam Brody and Grace Caroline Currey. The movie also gives a much bigger part to Djimon Hounsou, who steals every scene he's in as the comically serious mentor-type. Rachel Zegler has charm to spare, while Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu are menacing enough villains, with Mirren being more complex and Liu being the more one note, though more evil of the two.
Basically the "Ghostbusters 2" of superhero movies, where everything is bigger and more convoluted to the point it sometimes loses sight of the humbler scope of the original, "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" is still loaded with plenty of heart and lots of laughs, leaving it as still a more accessible addition to the wider DCEU. While not as sharp the second time, the charm is there, making for another family friendly superhero story. Throw in a few Easter Eggs, a cameo (That I'm pretty shocked I was able to avoid getting spoiled on), and a pair of hilarious post credits scenes, it's still one of the few remaining aspects of the old DC universe that I want to stick around after we see what the studio has planned for the future. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Comic Book Action, Surprisingly Villainous Violence, And An Image That's Bound To Ruin A Lot Of Guys' Fantasies (Probably The Hardest Laugh I Got In The Whole Movie Though).
Image: This is no walk in the Jurassic Park.
Okay, who dropped the ball? You got freakin Kylo Ren, fighting freakin Dinosaurs man! This had awesome written all over it, and somehow, it ends up being a ninety minute bore? After "Jurassic World: Dominion" and their locusts, I thought we were learning how to use our killer, giant prehistoric reptiles right!
"65" opens 65 million years ago, a pilot from another galaxy, "Mills" (Adam Driver), is transporting a crew in cryo-stasis, only to crash land on a Dinosaur infested Earth. Mills, along with only one survivor, a little girl named "Koa" (Ariana Greenblatt), must traverse the dangerous terrain to find what remains of their ship and get off the planet. While avoiding the hungry dinos, along with whatever else prehistoric creature wants to kill them, Mills and Koa also find themselves on a time limit, as a meteor is on its way to decimate all life on the planet.
Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (Writers of "A Quiet Place"), "65" has an instantly awesome premise, with seemingly the right mentality behind it. It's got a short runtime, not even a handful of characters, and you know, freakin Dinosaurs! A science-fiction horror film like this? That should be great! Or least you know, entertaining. Right? You'd think so! To say that this movie has the bare minimum when it comes to story, dialogue, character, and script, it would be a total lie. It has less than that. The film jumps right in before we even get to the opening credits. It's a straight forward plot to a total fault, with repetitive sequences of computer generated Dinosaurs jump-scaring our characters, brief scuffles, and lots of walking or hiding. I get that the basic conflict is simple survival, but there's so little time given to care about anyone, and after a while, it feels really old. Despite being so short, it feels long and padded out.
Adam Driver is giving it his all, suffering immense back pain for having to carry this entire film almost entirely on his own. Nothing wrong with Ariana Greenblatt. She just doesn't get much character, aside for some reason having the same exact scream repeated over and over again (It's a little jarring actually. Did they just use the same audio clip or am I just losing my mind?). The Dinosaurs themselves are uneven, with T-Rexes, Pterodactyls, and others, ranging in effects work from okay to cheap looking (It should be enough to make people take back everything they said about "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania"). Weirdly, there aren't that many of them. For a movie that's nothing more than a concept, it depressingly doesn't deliver near enough on it.
"65" has poor Adam Driver doing what he can to salvage a dull, uninventive, and personality free slog, that at times gives off "After Earth" vibes (Remember that M. Night Shyamalan movie where he stripped Will Smith of all his personality?), and most frustrating of all, just doesn't give the audience what it promised. Only once we reach the end credits do we get something that could be seen as visually poetic (Where we see the aftermath of the film's events across time), but even that doesn't last too long. It's more like you're watching a collection of video game cutscenes, and not even the most creative ones at that. Definitely not worth the journey to a theater. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Destructive Dinos, And The Drool You'll Have To Wipe Off The Side Of Your Seat After You Fall Asleep Halfway Through.
Image: Can't judge a face by its cover.
You can't do this! It's thoroughly unfair! How could this happen? Long running horror franchises, especially slashers, always lose steam after a couple entries (If they're lucky). At some point, they hit a brick wall, with all creativity being thrown out the window, relying on insane twists, and a lack of remembrance of what made the original vision work in the first place. "Halloween". "Friday the 13th". "Nightmare on Elm Street". "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". "Saw" (Although was that one ever THAT good?) Bottom line, these are meant to run their course and eventually fail, resulting in a stillborn franchise. So how in God's name is "Scream", which was originally meant to satirize such things, only getting better? Like legitimately better?
Following the traumatic events of the last film (And quite possibly the most creative opening sequence in the series yet), "Scream VI" opens with Woodsboro survivor, "Sam Carpenter" (Melissa Barrera), illegitimate son of the deceased serial killer, "Billy Loomis" (Skeet Ulrich), having moved to New York City with her sister, "Tara" (Jenna Ortega), and fellow survivors, "Mindy Meeks-Martin" (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and her brother, "Chad" (Mason Gooding). However, Sam has been unable to move past what happened, and it's not helped by how social media has found a way to spread the conspiracy that she was actually responsible for the previous killings (And that previous killers, "Richie" and "Amber", were actually innocent). It turns out though, that "Ghostface" (Voiced by Roger L. Jackson), always finds a way to return through the form of a new psycho, but this time, his motives and schemes aren't at all like the previous maniacs to don the iconic mask and cloak.
With a brand new list of possible suspects/possible future victims, such as Mindy's girlfriend, "Anika" (Devyn Nekoda), Tara's promiscuous roommate, "Quinn" (Liana Liberato), Chad's shy and awkward roommate, "Ethan" (Jack Champion), and Sam's secret, muscular boyfriend, "Danny" (Josh Segarra), along with some help from the likes of returning legacy journalist, "Gale Weathers" (Courtney Cox), Quinn's cop father, "Wayne Bailey" (Dermot Mulroney) and returning attempted Ghostface victim turned FBI agent, "Kirby Reed" (Hayden Panettiere), Sam and Tara find themselves at the center of a now long-running franchise. A franchise with a killer that has every intention to throw out the entire rule book and make this one the bloodiest entry yet.
Directed by returning directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not", as well as last year's "Scream"), with a screenplay from the also returning James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, "Scream VI" continues to live up to the late Wes Craven's legacy, while also crafting a shockingly epic one of its very own. New location, focusing on the cast from the last film, and distancing itself from the others while still acknowledging their existence. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett slickly create a gruesomely violent, twistedly hilarious, and wildly entertaining stab-a-thon, with memorable characters, a razor-sharp script, and a solid mystery, that will keep you constantly guessing with all its twists and turns. The film tackles the concepts of ongoing franchises (Especially when they've seemingly run their course), along with the coinciding tropes that follow (Bigger set-pieces, higher body count, no character is off-limits, etc.). Of course, despite all the bloody kills, the humor is still very on point, thanks to how it pokes fun at the obligatory clichés and modern sensibilities, such as social media conspiracies and good ol fandom worship (Something they really drive home even more in this film than they did in the last one).
What also separates it from other slashers like it though are also how excellent and just plain likable the cast is. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega come into their own as the future of the series, with Barrera taking a much darker approach to the typical scream queen role and Ortega being possibly the busiest young actress working today. A charismatic Mason Gooding and the wonderfully lovable Jasmin Savoy Brown also return, with some great supporting work from Devyn Nekoda, Jack Champion (After "Avatar 2", I will still be referring to him as White Aladdin), Liana Liberato, and a very straight faced Dermot Mulroney. Neve Campbell is nowhere to be seen, but we still have some returning players, such as the always welcome Courtney Cox and fan favorite, Hayden Panettierre (Who thoroughly looks delighted to be here). There are also some familiar faces that let's just say, won't make it past the first act (Think James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" on a smaller scale on how it completely flips the script). Ghostface remains a menacing, though realistically unpredictable presence, with Roger L. Jackson continuing to provide the icon's sinister voice with glee, and makes for some truly unhinged sequences. The mystery behind the killer's identity is much harder to figure out this time around and even while I was able to pinpoint who it was, I was constantly second guessing myself. And as usual, when the real villain behind it all is revealed, it results in actors having a sadistically good time hamming it up.
Creative and carnage-filled, "Scream 6" takes the franchise to new heights, with more brutal kills, moments of real terror (A drawn out sequence on the subway is a highlight), smart humor, and like before, a good amount of heart, allowing you to really care for all the characters. Out of all the entries so far, this finds itself bringing the series more into the modern movie age, where my audience was always on the edge of their seats, screaming, gasping, laughing, and even cheering. It's genuinely quite the crowd-pleaser and makes me immensely excited to see where it could possibly go next. Despite numerous stabbings as it is, this franchise proves that it still has plenty of life left in it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Buckets Of Blood, Stabby Stabbies, And Ghostface Exercising His Legal American Right To Use A Shotgun When He Damn Well Pleases.
Image: "Now I want this to be a clean fight....Save some for the next sequel."
In a sense, it's odd that Rocky himself is nowhere to be seen or heard from in this spin-off of the long-running franchise. However, in another sense, it's fitting that these films are no longer going to be stuck in the original's shadow. "Creed" has always been about forming your own legacy, honoring what came before, and creating your own story. This is where this series should continue if this decides to continue.
Taking place years after the previous 2018 film, "Creed III" follows former boxing champion, "Adonis "Donnie" Creed" (Michael B. Jordan), now retired, famously successful, and living a happy life with his wife, "Bianca" (Tessa Thompson) and their adorable daughter, "Amara" (Mila Davis-Kent). However, his happily ever after might be completely disrupted by the return of once boxing prodigy and former childhood best friend, "Damian "Dame" Anderson" (Jonathan Majors). Having spent almost two decades in prison, Damian seemingly just wants to make up for lost time, trying to reconnect with Adonis and even ask him for a chance to box again. Feeling guilty about an incident in the past (Which led to Damian's incarceration), Adonis agrees to help his old friend, while also trying to arrange for an anticipated match between "Viktor Drago" (Florian Munteanu) and the current champ, "Felix Chavez" (Jose Benavidez). When Damian interferes and soon finds himself the center of attention, his true intentions to bring down everything that Adonis holds dear become apparent. Now Adonis must come out of retirement to face off against his most brutal opponent yet, and finally put the past behind him once and for all.
From star turned first time director, Michael B. Jordan, with a screenplay by Keenan Coogler (Brother to "Creed" director, Ryan Coogler) and Zach Baylin ("King Richard"), "Creed III" comes into its own, taking with it whatever ingredients that have made these sports dramas cinematic icons. It's funny how most of these movies, no matter how crazy ("Rocky V" is a trip!), always have a certain formula to adhere to and yet, have continued to captivate audiences over forty years later. It's no different here, with the film often falling into some typical trappings (Almost intentionally), but either making sure not to dwell on them or at least finds ways to elevate them. Michael B. Jordan turns out to be a rather fascinating filmmaker in how he tells the story, keeping the film slick, well paced, and even poetic in places. It's most evident during the fight scenes, which are shown to be hard hitting, painful, and full of so much raw power, that regardless of how much damage you question a normal person can take, you're too far on the edge of your seat to care. At times, he films certain scenes like if they're an epiphinac dream, with stunning imagery and a great use of visual storytelling. (You don't always need dialogue to deliver on commanding drama)
Of course, we already know Michael B. Jordan has an immensely talented presence in front of the camera, but he shows a lot of promise behind it as well, and I'm curious to see where else he can take this if he chose to. Tessa Thompson continues to shine in a role that could easily be pushed to the side, through solid writing and her charismatic charm. Phylicia Rashad (as "Mary Anne Creed", Adonis' emotionally and physically struggling mother) is absolutely wonderful once again and Wood Harris (as "Tony "Little Duke" Evers", Adonis' trainer) is given a much bigger role this time (And proves to be quite excellent too. Why was he always in the background this whole time?). Mila Davis-Kent is an endearing little scene-stealer with personality to spare, while Florian Munteanu, who himself was scene-stealer in the previous film, doesn't really pop up enough. Now we have to take time to acknowledge Jonathan Majors, who is on quite the role this year (with apparently more to come). Much last he did with "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" a couple weeks ago, Majors shows a remarkable amount of range. He's certainly menacing and you know, impressively jacked to a frightening degree, but is also shown in a sympathetic light, where you can see how easily this kind of instability can be created. Every scene between Jordan and Majors is, pardon the pun, a total knockout, right down to their final, epic confrontation.
There are some dramatic conveniences (It shouldn't be too much of a surprise when a second act death occurs) and maybe one or two leaps in logic (Granted, you gotta convey a lot in under two hours), "Creed III" features some earth-shattering performances, compelling characters, and impressive direction from Michael B. Jordan (Who I hope really takes this success to heart). It's a crowdpleaser with depth, which is what the "Rocky" movies are supposed to be, except this time, it doesn't feel the need to adhere to name recognition or legacies. It's become its own thing, and makes for a grand spectacle, except on a human level. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Mature Moments, Sylvester Stallonelessness, And Michael B. Jordan's Intense Anime Influence. That Man REALLY Loves Him Some Anime, Doesn't He?
Image: You say he wants a Revolution?
It's about time people acknowledged something I've always thought about for years. Jesus was a hippie! The man was a freakin hippie! Preaching peace, love, long hair and beards, and the joys of walking around barefoot. If anything, he was the first hippie! A proto-hippie if you will. You know he said "Far out man" at least once or twice in his life. Don't try to convince me otherwise.
Inspired by true events (Again, inspired. Just like "Cocaine Bear"!), "Jesus Revolution" follows a collection of people in the late 60s, during the hippie movement. We have aspiring artist/future pastor, "Greg Laurie" (Joel Courtney), struggling with his unstable mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and finding happiness with his future wife "Cathe" (Anna Grace Barlow), along with her hippie friends. However, drugs lead Greg down a dark path, which also leads to a new Jesus movement, led by the charismatic "Lonnie Frisbee" (Jonathan Roumie). Lonnie, having charmed over the once grouchy, but now enlightened pastor, "Chuck Smith" (Kelsey Grammer), has gone on to create a new form of prayer, acceptance, love, and understanding, which both captivates and confuses outsiders from all over the country.
Directed by Jon Erwin ("I Can Only Imagine", "I Still Believe", "American Underdog") and Brent McCorkle and based on the book of the same name by Greg Laurie and Ellen Santilli Vaughn, "Jesus Revolution" is basically what's advertised in a way. It's a fairly milquetoast, safe, rather uncomplicated bit of Christian fluff, that genuinely does have some positive things going for it. For one, the overall message of understanding and welcoming others, no matter what they look like, into the house of God, is a powerful one. It's also one that many evangelicals today should take a refresher course in. It portrays our characters as people, who make mistakes and falter just as anyone else, yet don't use their faith as a crutch or a shield, and instead as a reminder of their humanity. It's all about love in the end, and it's great to see a faith based film actually practicing what it preaches, with some actually fine acting to boot. Frustratingly though, it seems that the filmmakers just can't help but pander to its audience (Or the worst of its audience at least). For all the positive talk, the film intentionally leaves out a couple glaring, rather offensive details that actually would have made for a stronger drama. However, their demographic doesn't want to see or think about that.
Joel Courtney does fine, though his entire storyline is easily the weakest part, despite this being his character's story. When the film focuses on Kelsey Grammer and Jonathan Roumie, that's when the film shockingly shines. They're terrific together, portraying the stuffy close mindedness of religion and the blissful brilliance that can come from the most unlikely of places. It's a very solidly acted film, with moments of genuine humor. In fact, a lot of the humor works because it's not watered down to a bland degree. It actually makes you care about these characters and their struggles. With that said, there are too many moving parts going at once, and they all sort of crash into each other during the final act. Drug use, blind worship, testing of faith, yadda yadda. By the end, there are some emotional connections that just plain don't click the way they should have.
"Jesus Revolution" starts off with the promise of something more, but divulges down the more typical path of faith based films. All of which I guess are okay, especially if you're going for an inoffensive film with a positive lesson.....That is until I did a little digging and found out how much of the film is kind of bullcrap. (And by digging, I just simply googled!) The film completely and hilariously omits the real life, background homosexuality of Lonnie Frisbee and his excommunication because of it, as well as the fact that he died of AIDS (Something that's also left out of the film, with the epilogue simply saying that he basically just died in 1993, without any details. He just went and died one day I guess, according to this movie) It's depressing that some of the more well made Christian targeted films just can't seem to help but shoot themselves in the foot. It's like a metaphorical drug in a way. It's an alright, pleasant film, with excellent performances and strong themes that preach a better understanding of how faith can bring us together. That is until the point it decides to smack you in the face and ruin all the good will it had built up, with the hope that nobody will dare look further into its narrative. Not very groovy of you guys. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Teenage Drug Use, And So Many Unwashed Feat.
Image: The Bare Necessities include Cocaine.
I have no idea what the Hell 2023 is cooking, but I think the American filmgoer is ready to ingest it with open mouths. Or maybe through their nostrils.
Semi-Inspired by true events (There was a Cocaine Bear, so it's true enough), "Cocaine Bear" opens with duffel bags full of cocaine getting lost in the woods near a small Georgia town. A huge American black bear gets her paws on some of them, getting higher than a kite, and is aggressively violent around anyone that wanders into her deadly, drug fueled path. We then follow a collection of colorful, possibly doomed characters, who all just so happen to be entering the local park at the same time. A pair of kids, "Dee Dee" (Brooklynn Prince) and "Henry" (Christian Convery), stumble upon the cocaine loving bear and Dee Dee is taken. Dee Dee's mother, "Sari" (Keri Russell), comes to the rescue, venturing off into the dangerous woods with Henry. Meanwhile, drug kingpin, "Syd White" (Ray Liotta), sends one of his fixers, "Daveed" (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and his own depressed son, "Eddie" (Alden Ehrenreich) to retrieve the cocaine, with a local cop, "Bob" (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), is hot on their trails. Other players, both big and small, become involved in the cocaine bear's bloody rampage, and it looks like nothing is going to put a stop to it.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks ("Pitch Perfect 2", "Charlie's Angels"), with a screenplay by Jimmy Warden ("The Babysitter), as well as producing credits from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("The LEGO Movie", and the "21 Jump Street" movies), "Cocaine Bear" is the newest addition to the bizarre trend that 2023 is starting to send. It's a darkly comedic, horror parody of every animal attack B movie, complete with all the tropes, preposterous characters, and gloriously gratuitous violence. It's ridiculously stupid and unhinged, making for a hilarious trip down a coke-lined road of mean spirited anarchy. Banks crafts a delightfully vile piece of work, that perfectly captures these kinds of films, from the outlandishly stereotypical and off kilter characters, the forced situations, and the insane amount of carnage, which is all exactly what the audience is paying for. However, it's also just better made than a lot of those films, due to slightly bigger budget (Slightly), a surprise amount of recognizable faces, and the intelligence to realize just how dumb it is. It oddly works as a crazy animal attack movie, that also just so happens to be really funny at the same time. Intentionally.
None of the characters are too complicated, and yet, everything plays them the correct way that they need to be played to the point where they're actually quite memorable. Keri Russell plays the the movie completely straight, and does so kind of wonderfully, while Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convey are both excellent young actors (Convey in particular steals the show, with the film's funniest one liners). There's great chemistry between O'Shea Jackson Jr. and a hilarious Alden Ehrenreich (It's also just plain good to have him back in stuff), along with fun various supporting players such as a lovable Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale (as "Liz", a park ranger who aggressively tries to fight back against the bear), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (as "Peter", a park tour guide with a very 80s mustache and hairdo), Aaron Holliday (as "Stache", a teenage hooligan, who winds up wrapped into the chaos), among others in small, gruesome parts. The late Ray Liotta, in one of his final roles (Because of course it would be), looked like he was also just having a great time here. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the fact that in a movie called "Cocaine Bear", the acting is genuinely pretty damn good. The real star though is the bear herself. While not exactly convincingly brought to life through meh CGI work (One could argue that all might have been part of the joke), our titular Cocaine Bear is a blend of outrageous, actually kind of adorable, and even surprisingly frightening in places. One moment you'll be laughing at the absurdity, but then the movie will get you with a surprise scare. Not to mention, the gore, while thoroughly over the top in its brutality, never holds back and is all the more welcome because of it. This is how you do this right. (I'm looking at you "Blood and Honey"!)
Possibly too goofy for some or just plain too nihilistic for others, "Cocaine Bear" is a complete blast of bizarrely charming, often laugh out loud, and dastardly crowd-pleasing time at the movies. When there are big blockbusters, Marvel, sequels, and other franchises going about, it's nice to have major studios, while likely on whatever drugs they can get their hands on, embrace that kind of unique insanity that we're all honestly craving. Clocking in at just barely an hour and a half, with a cheesy 80s aesthetic, and an unhinged sense of humor, you might want just a little more than a taste of this Cocaine Bear. I mean, how can one not just love a bear snorting a line of coke off of a severed leg? That's cinema right there baby! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Animistic Drug Use, Blood Brutal Bear Beatings, And Oh So Many Torn Off Limbs, Intestines, And Guts Galore.
Image: Film Twitter unleashing those "MCU is Dead!" tweets all at once.
The nearly fifteen year old "Marvel Cinematic Universe" begins "Phase Five", introducing us to a new villain, hinting at threats to come in the future, and reveals even more of the growing multiverse in creative ways. I can say off the bat for my fellow true believers that this new act in the MCU's Multilateral Saga features some of my absolute favorite moments in any Marvel movie so far.......and yet, it's still their weakest film since "Thor: The Dark World".
Quite a while after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" (And the Disney+ series "Loki", if you're keeping track), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" reunites us with former criminal, turned shrinking Avenger, "Scott Lang/Ant-Man" (Paul Rudd), who spends his free time being beloved by the community, selling his autobiography, and spending time with his partner/love interest, "Hope van Dyne/Wasp" (Evangeline Lily). However, his daughter "Cassie" (Kathryn Newton), frustrated with her dad's lack of current hero work, repeatedly finds herself getting into trouble, and even has her own super suit. Cassie also works with Hope's dad, "Hank Pym" (Michael Douglas), with his various ant projects and attempting to create a device to make contact with the mysterious "Quantum Realm", despite protests from Pym's rescued wife, "Janet" (Michelle Pfeiffer). Turns out that there is more to Janet's time in the Quantum Realm than she let on, and before she can reveal more, everyone is sucked inside and separated.
While Janet, Hank, and Hope attempt to traverse the treacherous environments, Scott and Cassie discover an entire microscopic world, becoming wrapped up in a resistance movement against a mysterious, all powerful, and unforgiving tyrant, "Kang the Conqueror" (Jonathan Major). Kang has his plans for the multiverse, intending to force Scott to help him escape the Quantum Realm and fulfill his dark destiny. To save Cassie and reunite with his friends, Scott has to make a deal with the devil, along with his heavily deformed, tiny limbed, big headed minion, "Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing" aka "M.O.D.O.K".
Directed by the returning Peyton Reed (Known for more comedy films and shows, along with the first two "Ant-Man" films and "The Mandalorian"), with a screenplay by Jeff Loveness ("Rick and Morty"), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" sets out to change the course of where the MCU is going, while also continuing the franchise currently more experimental phase and keep delivering to audiences what they've grown to expect at the same time. It's odd to say that despite the film's lofty ambitions, it's also shockingly (And fittingly?) small scale. It's ironic considering how already slice of life the first two "Ant-Man" films were, being good hearted, family comedies that just so happened to be set in the superhero world. While this one isn't without humor and charm, it's darker in places and serious for a good chunk, abandoning the more modest settings for grand visuals and otherworldly places.
The film is very heavy on the CGI and green screen, and you can obviously see why considering that literally everything in the film is meant to look surreal and strange. I've come to expect it and there are plenty of moments where the visuals standout in beautiful ways, from the elaborate character designs to some gorgeous landscapes. However, when it doesn't, it's pretty distracting, looking more like last year's "Strange World" meets "Overwatch", rather than a big budget blockbuster (Basically "Avatar: The Way of Water" if it didn't take a decade to come out). The story is also fairly safe, at least for the first act, that only becomes something bigger once we are introduced to the highly anticipated big bad himself. This is also where the film's more out there comic roots take center stage, bringing about more thought provoking themes of what lies beyond our very universe and the frightening implications that could come.
Paul Rudd remains just as likable as ever, playing as well with the comedy as you would expect, yet also showing off more of his dramatic acting chops (Reminding us why he is one of the MCU's most relatable and down to Earth heroes). Rudd has some wonderful chemistry with Kathryn Newton, who brings something new to the character (And refreshingly doesn't overplay the family drama in an annoying way). Evangeline Lily is good, though she really doesn't get much to do (Probably because the film's decision to focus more on Scott and Cassie this time), while Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas remain professionally great. We get some alright, though not exactly memorable new additions, from Katy O'Brian (as "Jentorra", the Quantum Realm resistance leader, who I could have sworn was Michelle Rodriguez up until now), William Jackson Harper (as "Quaz", a telepathic member of the resistance), and the always welcome David Dastmalchian (as "Veb", a slime blob, with an obsession with um, holes), who you might remember appearing as a different character in the first two movies. Bill Murray (as "Lord Krylar", a deceptive figure from Janet's past) pops up for a glorified cameo (Maybe he had a bigger part that was trimmed down due to his recent, er, activities), and I would be lying if I didn't say that one does miss some of the other supporting characters from before (Those Michael Peña ramblings are Marvel iconic!).
Then we get to Jonathan Majors, who is shaping up this year's most versatile actor and is a terrifying villainous force. Having already appeared as another variant of the character in the first season of "Loki", Majors is quick to show us just how different this one is and why everyone should be afraid. He's calm, collected, and intimidating as Hell, hiding an even more bloodthirsty and violent sense of menace behind his vulnerable facade. Majors commands every scene he's in and makes one stand in attention when his character's apparent "reasonable" demeanor becomes less so (Thanos really looks tame compared to this guy). Another major scene-stealer for me is M.O.D.O.K, himself, who I dare not reveal too much about. All I can say is that what they do with this iconic comic character needs to be seen to be believed. Based around a design that's too preposterous, bizarre, and thoroughly hideous, you could never see him making an appearance in the MCU. However, they did it and are proud to display his hilariously grotesque and baffling form with pride. The absolute balls on Marvel to think that they could get away with this is applaud worthy and I loved every second this abomination was on screen. (Plus it leads to some of the film's funniest gags)
After firing on all cylinders from 2014 to 2019 (Critical and financial hits one after the other), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" doesn't reach the heights of what's possible (And deep down, we all know it should have). It still has solid action, a cool score form Christopher Beck (A recurring Marvel collaborator), good humor, and heart, boasting enough charm to get through the most basic story they've had in some time (Not to mention somewhat cops out in the end after a very intense climax). Despite some memorable villains and plenty to get excited for in the future, the inconsistent visuals, messy screenplay, and high ambitions colliding with low stakes, the film continues a noticeably worrying trend with some of the recent MCU ventures (Why have so many of the recent films been barely two hours. Pretty short considering so much that happens). Throw in some weird, yet undeniably entertainingly wild post credits scenes (The final one in particular made me smile. Hard), you leave anticipating where this Kang Dynasty is going to lead, even though the cracks might be starting to show more than you would like. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Violence, Broccoli Beings, And Kang's Massive, Bulging Biceps (Might Be One Of The Most One Sided Fights In Movie History).
Image: The addiction to honey has finally taken a toll.
The public domain just might be the worst possible thing to happen to any kind of property. No copyright law can save you. Family estate? Nope! Not even Disney, Freakin Disney can help you! So of course this new trend of turning your childhood wonders into horror nightmares was the next logical step. Is it right? Eh, I'm not sure. Is it going to lead to further decline in our society? Probably. Is it legal? Unfortunately yes.
Released as a "Fathom Event" (Despite being ironically unfathomable) "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" opens details how young "Christopher Robin" (Played as an adult by Nikolai Leon) befriended those lovable animals from the "Hundred Acre Wood", but eventually had to depart to college. Feeling abandoned and losing their grips on sanity, honey loving bear "Pooh" (Craig David Dowsett) and diminutive pig, "Piglet" (Chris Cordell) proceed to eat "Eeyore", renounce humanity, and vow to slaughter anyone who dares enter the Hundred Acre Wood (Not "Tigger" though, since he's yet to enter the public domain). Years later, Christopher returns with his bride to be, "Mary" (Paula Coiz), only to discovers how much his childhood friends have changed, now becoming hulking, deformed monstrosities, who murder Mary and take Christopher hostage. Meanwhile, "Maria" (Maria Taylor), struggling with PTSD from a stalker, goes along with her equally attractive (And soon to be very deceased) friends (Natasha Rose Mills, Amber Doig-Thorne, Danielle Ronald, and Natasha Tosini), on a therapeutic getaway to a lake house, that just so happens to be located near the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh and Piglet catch wind of the vacationing girls and set them up to be their next victims.
Written, directed, produced, and edited by Rhys Frake-Waterfield (Whose credits include something called "Firenado". I have so many questions), "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" takes the classic stories from A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard (And popularized iconly by Disney), and completely, intentionally bastardizes it. Actually it more along the lines stabs it repeatedly, knees it in the stomach, kicks it while it's down, and spits on it, before running it over with a truck a couple times just for fun. Much like last year's "The Mean One", the movie takes whatever it can legally get away with, filling it with blood, gore, and whatever else it can to make sure something near and dear to your days as a youth is good and ruined. However, unlike that other film, this isn't played for laughs. Okay, sure it's obviously meant to be well funded trash, but it's all played frustratingly (And somewhat disgustingly) straight. I know one shouldn't expect much from intentional horrendousness, but even I can admit some kind of disappointment when you take a premise that's almost borderline offensive do do absolutely nothing with it. Shockingly, there is promise when the film begins, with a charmingly quaint animated prologue (Which plays out almost like an actual "Winnie the Pooh" tale, that only happens to take a dark turn), yet the cleverness stops there. Plot and character? Nonexistent. It's more or less a "Friday the 13th" movie that just so happens to have "Jason Voorhees" replaced by dudes cosplaying as Winnie the Pooh characters.
None of the cast really has anything to work with, except for the women (Who are made to look hot, maybe show some skin, and then get brutally murdered in a cheaply gory fashion). Nikolai Leon and Maria Taylor both seem to be trying the most, though there isn't much point considering you're not really meant to grow attached to any of the characters. The Pooh and Piglet costumes are actually okay for what they are, mostly depending on the scene, where you can appreciate some of the nice little details added to them (Pooh's wiggling ears add some personality), yet also have only one simple expression and look very rubbery. To say that the tone is inconsistent doesn't actually resonate when, well, there isn't even a true tone here.
"Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" is almost kind of a fascinating movie, where you do question what can actually be criticized seriously, with Rhys Frake-Waterfield being the one responsible for directing, writing, producing, and editing everything apparently on his own (The fact that the film doesn't look like complete crap is almost remarkable in that way). Plus, the fact that this somehow isn't the worst film I've ever seen in my life is worthy of praise. (At least it's still shorter and better than "Blonde", and that's an Oscar nominated film!) It also in some ways shouldn't be too shocking that this is bad. Isn't it supposed to be? Yet, I can't be the only one genuinely still disappointed. It doesn't work as a parody because there's nothing funny about it. It doesn't work as a legit horror movie because it's never scary. It doesn't work as an homage to trashy, torture porn because it's too stupid to even do that right. (Not to mention there's little creativity to the kills, other than Piglet eating honey off someone's face, along with their face) It's an anomaly of badness that you can't tell if it's just a farce or is genuinely sick in the head. (Funniest part of the entire movie is that the theater decided to show nothing by kids movie trailers before it started. Not sure if that's brilliant or not) It leaves one to contemplate how to rate other bad films in the future, considering this was literally just someone doing something simply because they legally could. Again, almost commendable, but also completely vile at the same time. It's a load of Pooh. 1 Star. Not Rated, But Is Definitely A Fairly Hard R For Bloody Violence, Horrendous Heinousness, Lots Of Sexualized Violence And Overall Sexism And Whatever Else Possibly Turns On Some Sick F*cks.
Image: "Who's my ticklish widdle' man?
The "Magic Mike Trilogy". I don't know why, but that just sounds weird to me. Almost unnecessary if you will.
"Magic Mike's Last Dance" reunites us with former stripper, "Mike Lane" (Channing Tatum), aka "Magic Mike", who is down on his luck more than ever, now working as a bartender. He meets wealthy socialite "Maxandra Mendoza" (Salma Hayek Pinault), and the two share an intimate night together. Maxandra then convinces Mike to return with her to London, providing him with the new job of directing a stip-tastic re-imagining at a major theater owned by Maxandra's soon to be ex husband, "Roger" (Alan Cox). Getting this show going though proves to be difficult as both Mike and Maxandra face many obstacles that threaten to shut everything down, as well as their own romantic tension.
Directed by the returning Steven Soderbergh (The "Ocean's Eleven" series, as well as the original 2012 "Magic Mike") with a screenplay from the also returning Reid Carolin ("Dog"), "Magic Mike's Last Dance" follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, "Magic Mike XXL", in which I'm not exactly sure why this is continuing. The first works solidly on its own, yet a franchise was developed, with the first sequel going for a more comedic tone (And the playful fanservice for the ladies), while this one focuses more on the dramatic (And less of the fanservice for the most part). It ends up being too far in the opposite direction unfortunately, feeling like a course correction that never quite sticks the landing. It's certainly a glossy, slick, and very oily looking film, but it's the script and story that don't add up the way it's intended to. It's clearly meant to serve a conclusion to the franchise, but nothing all that new feels added in the end. You can see how this could have possibly served as something poignant and worthy of a continuation, though gives off the vibe of being a first draft, focused more on the idea of the film (And obviously, it's inevitably showstopping finale).
Channing Tatum (As Channing a Tatum as he can possibly be) once again brings an understated presence to what at first seems like just a toned and well chiseled personality. Salma Hayek Pinault is also very good, playing a conflicted character, who hides her insecurities behind the glamour, proving to be an equally longing soul. (Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that this woman is in her late fifties, and is still absolutely stunning beyond all reason? Respectfully, she's still hot!) They're great, but sadly, the film completely hinges on their relationship, which oddly never quite clicks. The chemistry is there, yet nothing about the screenplay actually makes one buy the romance. Considering the love interests in the previous were long gone and forgotten by the time we reached each sequel, I never got invested enough to see how this would be any different. Other characters from the previous two films either get ignored or only make a brief zoom cameo (Hey Joe Manganiello!), while there isn't much development given to the newer ones. Some standouts include Ayub Khan Din (as "Victor", Maxandra's snarky, yet loyal butler) and Jemelia George (as "Zadie", Maxandra's adopted daughter), though I would like to hear the reasoning behind having her pretentiously narrate the film. None of the new dancers brought in have much to them other than to dance and look pretty, with possibly the exception of Juliette Motamed (as "Hannah", the one woman of the group, who doesn't have a filter), and even then, she too kind of fades into the background.
Originally meant to be released exclusively through "HBO Max" instead of theatrically (I can see it the more I think about it), "Magic Mike's Last Dance" is an underwhelming feature that only shines once we reach the final (And only, for the most part) dance sequence, which is admittedly spectacular. It's quite the elaborate show to behold and it's almost like the entire film was just built around it. Not to mention, the film just stops, resulting in one of the more confusing endings I've seen in a while. Despite the best efforts of our terrific leads, the romance isn't near believable enough and the plot is half-baked, thanks to an unremarkable script that doesn't justify itself. I can even see the target audience (So many regressed mothers) tuning out. The magic just isn't there. 2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Slippery Sensual Sweaty Slithering.
Image: "On the bright side, I can recommend a great tattoo artist."
Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan, but the man has obviously taken his many, many, many (And deserved) criticisms to heart. However, you still have to respect the man for retaining his unique style of storytelling, regardless of how accepted it will end up being. Like it or not, you're going to get something that you'll be talking about for a while. Something different. Something Shyamalan, if you will.
Based on the book "The Cabin at the End of the World" by Paul G. Tremblay, "Knock at the Cabin" opens with "Wen" (Kristen Cui), and her adoptive fathers, "Eric" (Jonathan Groff) and "Andrew" (Ben Aldridge), vacationing in a secluded cabin in the woods. Their wholesome vacation becomes an unimaginable nightmare due to the arrival of the very apologetic, yet hulkingly huge, "Leonard" (Dave Bautista), along with his companions, "Redmond" (Rupert Grint), "Sabrina" (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and "Adriane" (Abby Quinn). The four strangers proceed to tie up both Eric and Andrew and prevent the family from escaping. Leonard explains that they've been shown visions of an apocalyptic event that will result in the end of the world, and the complete decimation of humanity. To prevent this, Eric, Andrew, and Wen, will have to make an impossible choice, which is to sacrifice one of each other to save the world. Whether or not this is true, it's clear that these attackers aren't going to let any of the family go unless they choose.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense", "Signs", "Split", "The Happening", etc. Big filmography), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, "Knock at the Cabin" hits the ground running immediately, once the opening titles finish. We're instantly dropped in the middle of an unspeakable and almost nonsensical situation. The tension is constant, tightly compressed into a brisk runtime, and serves as a reminder that Shyamalan can be a really good director in the right circumstances. He uses the film's modest budget to its advantage, letting you only see so little, leaving you to question so much, similar to our main characters. It's wonderfully shot and choreographed, keeping you uncomfortable through a series of unique perspectives (Sometimes the camera will randomly focus on a close up of a character's eyes and mouth, or will even give us the POV of a weapon as it's about to be used to its full, bloody effect).
Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge make for an excellent pair, and despite only getting glimpses into their ongoing relationship with a couple brief flashbacks, you know just enough to care about them. (Especially once we get closer to the end, in which these two actors give it their absolute all as if it was their Oscar moment) Kristen Cui is also terrific, being this adorable light within such a dark film, while also being a smart, capable young character in her own right. Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and an especially unhinged Rupert Grint, are sympathetic, human, and frightening, feeling like average people that you might have even met before, becoming a source for confusing horror. Dave Bautista, constantly proving himself to be one Hell of an actor worthy of various kinds of roles, makes his screen presence known as a force of nature, that just so happens to be a very respectful, even remorseful guy. He does keep you guessing if he truly is the villain of the story, a misguided lunatic, or something more tragic. Even with the occasional Shyamalan awkwardness (Which is honestly depending on the context, kind of charming), it never feels out of place. It's almost as if Shyamalan is more in his comfort zone here.
"Knock at the Cabin" isn't something that I can see everyone getting behind, but it does offer an intense, often brutal and heart-wrenching ordeal. It leaves you with many thought provoking moral questions, that you might find yourself repeatedly going back and forth on in your head. (No simple answers here) It's easily one of M. Night Shyamalan's best work in some time, resulting in an uncomfortable thriller that will leave you shifting in your seat throughout, and possibly broken once it's over. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Suspenseful Situations, Disturbing Images, And Brutish Bautistas.
Image: Let the Orgy begin!
Nothing brings people together in a movie theater more than blackouts at home due to weather conditions, Football, and old people, particularly old ladies. When your collective audience is made up of a bunch of elderly couples, some Football fans, and a bunch of gay guys, you've clearly done something right with your movie.
"80 for Brady" follows four longtime friends/New England Patriots fans, "Lou" (Lily Tomlin), "Trish" (Jane Fonda), "Maura" (Rita Moreno), and "Betty" (Sally Field). Big time lovers of "Tom Brady" (As himself. Obviously), the ladies win a contest for tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl, seeing this as their one last chance to do so considering they're all well into their 80s now (Except for Betty). Of course once they arrive, the friends find themselves in a series of silly situations and shenanigans, such as getting lost in the chaotic crowds, getting drugged up at parties, losing their tickets, and coming to terms with the current ordeals in their respective lives.
Directed by Kyle Marvin (First timer!), with a screenplay-ish by Sarah Haskins ("Booksmart") and Emily Halpern ("Good Girls"), "80 for Brady" gives off the feel of something that was made up on the fly, with little direction, conflict, relies heavily on ad-lib, and reason to be. So for something that should be annoying and disposable, why is it so freakin charming? It truly is a film that understands what its audience wants to see, and wisely knows you need just the right actors to make it at least work just enough to compensate for plenty of shortcomings. Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, and an especially scene-stealing Rita Moreno, are all perfectly pleasant in every way, radiating their usual natural likable personalities and decades worth of professionalism. They make the film, and also pretty much have to do the heavy lifting. They seem very happy to do so too. That doesn't leave much room for anyone else. Other actors within the film, such as Guy Fieri (as himself, because who else would he play?), Bob Balaban (as "Mark", Betty's husband), Glynn Turman (as "Mickey", a friend of Maura's), Billy Porter (as "Gugu", who is basically just Billy Porter as Billy Porter), Ron Funches (as "Chip", an overzealous security guard), and even down to Tom Brady himself, feel like glorified cameos with how little they end up contributing. None of the supporting cast is bad, but none of them stand out either. They're not really supposed to, though it never hurts to ask for a little more.
"80 for Brady" isn't much of a plot, but more of a series of silly situations, keeping itself afloat thanks to a few good laughs and a genuine amount of sweetness. The movie doesn't avoid the usual pitfalls, though thankfully doesn't try to force any last second, tonally out of place drama. It's just a cheerful little movie, that's short and fun. Perfect for when you're left at home in a black out and need something pleasant to waste a little time. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content, Drug Induced Fieri Hallucinations, And Gronkowski Erotica.
Image: "Pirates....Why does it always have to be Pirates?"
The debate on theater vs. streaming has somewhat fizzled out a bit. With "Avatar: The Way of Water" having made a whole lotta of the monies and all that, it looks like with the right movie, audiences will flock over to the theaters. Thankfully though, some films, that would be a chore for someone like me to make time to see on a big screen at a designated time, have had the right mindset to not make me take time out of my day to do so. This movie had no business playing in a theater and it knew it. If anything, streaming via Amazon may have actually guaranteed more of a profit in the long run.
“Shotgun Wedding” follows a soon to be married couple, “Darcy” (Jennifer Lopez) and “Tom” (Josh Duhamel), preparing for a luxurious wedding on an island retreat. However, it might be a little too big, with both sides of their wacky families showing up together, such as Darcy’s separated parents, “Renata” (Sônia Braga) and “Robert” (Cheech Marin), Tom’s strange mother “Carol” (Jennifer Coolidge), and an unexpected visit from Darcy’s ex, “Sean” (Lenny Kravitz). Now while Darcy and Tom are both starting to reconsider their engagement, the wedding is crashed by some more unexpected visitors.... Pirates (Sure, why not). With their families and guests taken hostage (And unfortunately zip-tied together), Darcy and Tom have to find a way to save everyone, as well as their relationship.
Directed by Jason Moore ("Pitch Perfect", "Sisters"), with a screenplay by Mark Hammer and a producing credit from Jennifer Lopez herself, "Shotgun Wedding" is like a combination of other romantic comedies to come out of last year, like "Ticket to Paradise" or "The Lost City", except just a lot lamer. For rom-com fanatics, it's got all the trademarks that might be a deal breaker for some, yet also exactly what others come for in the first place. The film is overall just kind of a mess of ideas, a charming cast, and an inconsistent sense of self in terms of tone. The film wants to be a lot of things that don't always mix even under the best of filmmakers, struggling to find balance between romance and laughs, along with a more actionized plot and a surprising amount of both raunchiness and violence. It's oddly normal one moment, then completely preposterous the next. Both could work and it's not like you don't get a good chuckle in places, but the end result is too chaotic for its own good.
Jennifer Lopez (Always absolutely beautiful) and Josh Duhamel (Beautiful too! You know, if you're into that!) are a solid couple, with enough chemistry to make any of this remotely work. While the romantic conflict between the two is a bit contrived, they bounce off each other rather well, especially since they're literally stuck together for a good chunk of the movie's runtime. (Something that makes for more than a few clever gags, such as having to hold onto a pinless hand grenade in hopes that it doesn't blow) Most of the rest of the characters are rather one note, playing specific types, with Jennifer Coolidge being weird, Cheech Marin being uh, Cheech Marin, Lenny Kravitz (Who does appear to be having fun) getting a pretty thankless part when you think about it, Callie Hernandez (as "Jamie", Darcy's sarcastic best friend) being just the sarcastic best friend, and some disposable/interchangeable villains. One of the standouts would be Selena Tan (as "Margy", the island host), who only makes sporadic appearances, yet is quite an amusing presence.
Beautiful locations, likable leads, and some noticeable laughs, "Shotgun Wedding" is a silly romp that gets down business very quickly and should be enough for the target audience to enjoy at home on a rainy day, even if it does ratchet up the silliness too far towards the last act. (It basically becomes a live-action cartoon around this point, despite seemingly semi-based in a sitcom-like reality) I can't get bent out of shape about it, especially since I didn't have to wake up early to get to an 11:00 am showing for it in an almost completely empty theater (Where sometimes the projector won't even start on time because the employees didn't think anyone was there). There is some good to come out of the streaming method. 2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Unexpected Amount Of Bloody Violence.
Image:"So? You ready to go Purge?"
It always happens once a year, but I honestly didn't expect it to happen so early. Something gets praise, particularly from the film hipsters, and I am sadly the odd one out. Look guys, I can respect this film, see how some would like it, appreciate its creativity and cinematic splendor, and thoroughly understand most of all, how some just wouldn't like it. I'm one of those people after all.
"Infinity Pool" follows a failed writer, "James Foster" (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife, "Em" (Cleopatra Coleman), are vacationing on an exotic, exclusive resort, where James intends to overcome his writer's block. The couple encounter a strange woman, "Gabi Bauer" (Mia Goth), a supposed fan of James' one and only book, inviting them to join her and her husband, "Alban" (Jalil Lespert), on a road trip outside the resort. However, while returning, James ends up running over an innocent bystander. It turns out that the people of this island take all crimes very seriously, and the penalty is death. With that said, the local detective "Thresh" (Thomas Kretschmann), offers James an alternative, which is to pay a high fee and instead allow for the island's scientists to create a clone double of himself (Complete with all his memories) to be executed in his place (Although James must also watch it too). After the execution, James, finding himself enamored by Gabi, joins her and her fellow masked, wacko friends in causing as much insanity and disgusting debauchery as they want, free of consequence as it seems. Turns out James might be a little in over his head as the madness only escalates.
Written and directed by the son of David Cronenberg himself, Brandon Cronenberg ("Possessor"), "Infinity Pool" is a uniquely nightmarish experience, where humanity's most primal instincts and lust for smashing down the status quo of what we've ingrained into our minds as morality. It's about how it's our very nature to corrupt our own souls in the most taboo, grotesque, and destructive of ways. It's an original, unsettling concept that's introduced to us, through Cronenberg's intentionally disorienting direction and captivating imagery that's so out there to the point it's indescribable. Dizzying camera angles, flashing lights, intense close-ups, and disturbing desecration of the flesh. It makes for some fascinating sequences, as you're left trying to fully understand what's happening and where it's going. For me though, it's also not quite as satisfying once we get to the apparent explanation. In fact, it's fairly predictable in that area. For all the imagination put into the ideas and satire behind the film, but the execution is fairly lacking. One can only see so much disturbing content over the years in movies, so you can become a little desensitized to it. Now you're left to contemplate much of what the filmmakers are trying to say and while the steps taken are different to say the least, what they actually are aren't too special in the grand scheme of things.
My issues with the film's lack of real depth aside, I have nothing but praise for the performances. Alexander Skarsgård, a master of range, does an excellent job of playing the kind of pathetically inept that you can see being easily swayed into this kind of over indulgence, despite not having near enough the spine to commit to anything. Mia Goth meanwhile takes things to a whole new level of crazy (And considering her performances in both "X" and "Pearl" last year, that's saying something), going from alluring, then to scheming, and jumping right into demented, all on a whim. Jalil Lespert hams it up wonderfully and Cleopatra Coleman doesn't get quite as much to do except be the one reasonable person in the entire film. Thomas Kretschmann steals his few scenes, with matter of fact, yet sinister delight.
Occasionally disturbingly funny and worthy of praise in technical departments, "Infinity Pool" is a solid showcase for Brandon Cronenberg's talents, simulating a beautiful Hell of sorts. It's filled with interesting theories, though frustratingly doesn't live up to its own expectations or potential (I think there's something much stronger and frightening in here than what we end up getting). The film rackets up to a bizarre finale, that goes for broke in terms of weirdness, then ends on a fairly basic note. Perhaps that's the point, though it feels more like it's meant to represent more than the obvious. I can see it being a cult favorite by the year's end and for good reason to a point, though you certainly won't be seeing it in my best of year list. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gross Images, Unsettling Content, And Sticky Skarsgård Sauce.
Missing by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "No....I DON"T want to change my service to T-Mobile!"
Producer Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted", "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", "Profile"), is really obsessed with this premise of "Screenlife" (Computer screen style visual storytelling). From horror films like the "Unfriended" franchises, to 2018's surprise success "Searching", this concept hasn't quite caught on the way he's wanted, yet there has been something quite brilliant about it if you ask me. Even when it hasn't always worked completely, it's a compelling and relevant way of filmmaking, that most of all, can prey on some of our greatest fears. The ones that we have only allowed further to become integrated within our lives, knowingly or not. Personally, I think we're all screwed.
With the story playing out over a computer screen, "Missing" follows a teenage girl named "June Allen" (Storm Reid), having grown apart from her mother, "Grace" (Nia Long). Never having recovered from losing her father at a young age, June has become rebellious and distant from Grace, who has found a new boyfriend, "Kevin Lin" (Ken Leung), planning a romantic vacation together to Columbia for a week. While Grace and Kevin are away, June has her own plans to party the week away with her friends. However, a week later, neither Grace or Kevin return. An investigation into their whereabouts begins, led by "FBI Agent Park" (Daniel Henney), though June is able to conduct her own investigation, with help from a local, "Javier Ramos" (Joaquim de Almeida) via "WhatsApp". While doing some digging, June discovers some disturbing revelations about Kevin, as well as some secrets that her mother has been hiding from her. It turns out there is much more to this mystery than a simple disappearance, leading to June to question just how much she actually knows about her own mother.
Written and directed by first time directors, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick (Editors for films such as "Searching" and "Run"), with a story credit to their frequent collaborator, Aneesh Chaganty, "Missing" is a pleasant surprise of a movie, in which nobody knew it even existed until a month ago. The film, while nowhere on par with "Searching", still makes for an effectively intense and puzzling mystery, thanks in part to how much the film is intertwined with its premise. You get so much character simply from a character's actions via computer screen, with their texts, messages, and searches, all on full display, providing just as much insight into their mindsets as the performances of the actors. The way we see how the internet can be used in such a situation is both compelling and very suspenseful, where you feel the frustrations and anxieties of our main character. It especially works because many of these fears are based in reality, such as what personalities people hide online, among other secrets that they've attempted (And even partially successfully) buried. Now sometimes how the film gets to its conclusions can be a little convenient, but the film is under two hours, so corners have to understandably be cut. (I mean, how lucky can you be for there to literally be cameras everywhere?)
Storm Reid, who no matter the movie always finds herself in a distressing parental situation of some kind, is terrific, while the always good Nia Long makes up for her limited screentime with motherly warmth. The two don't have much time together, yet you do buy their estranged, though still loving relationship. Ken Leung does a good job keeping you guessing as to what his true motivations and goals are and the same goes for Amy Landecker (as "Heather", an agent friend of Grace, who tries to help June in finding her), while Joaquim de Almeida is wonderful, playing the comic relief, as well as adding a good amount of heart to the film. There is still a sweet story at the center that should resonate with families, playing off our own familial worries.
Packed with intrigue, chills, and twists that are genuinely hard to see coming (Although maybe a few too many twists come to think of it), "Missing" is a solid follow-up to "Searching", not quite reaching the first film's originality and greatness, yet still proving to be a tense drama. With strong characters, and even a little humor in places (A running gag involving Netflix true crime docu-dramas is just too accurate), it's a brisk, somewhat family friendly (It's a tame PG-13), and quite poignant cyber thriller. It doesn't match what came before it, but it also proves the lasting effect of this style of filmmaking. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Suspense, Terrifying Technology, And Improper Internet Use.
Image: "This chart shows how Lebron has scored at least 10 points in every game since the Bush administration!"
I know comedies aren't supposed to dwell on little things such as plot and story, which are in the end, completely secondary to the jokes and the laughs that will hopefully follow. It's nice when you get both, resulting in something special to draw you into repeat viewing, but if you still get some chuckles, you can't hold it too much against a film that's not particularly focused on storytelling.
A reboot of the 1990 film, "House Party" follows the broke and soon to be jobless, "Kevin" (Jacob Latimore) and "Damon" (Tosin Cole), a pair of house cleaners/party promoters. They discover that the large mansion that they just so happen to be cleaning is owned by "LeBron James" (Played by himself. As he should be.). With nothing else to lose, Kevin and Damon decide to throw a wild party, hoping to make some large amounts of cash. Of course, chaos is about to ensue.
Directed by music video director, Calmatic, "House Party" is one of those movies that offers an occasional laugh, ranging from chuckle worthy to actually pretty hilarious, yet is stuck in a film that has zero story structure and plot relevance. It's less a narrative and more of a series of gags that are supposed to culminate in a theatrical runtime (Or streaming, considering that this was originally meant to be released on "HBO Max" last year). Does this still provide a laugh or two? Well, yeah. More than that actually. Does this also work as a well made movie? Hell no! Obviously no! Calmatic's direction is pretty basic, especially when the film has to take a break from shenanigans to move what we are labeling as a plot forward. A good chunk of the second act is just characters being goofy and getting into absurd situations, with an occasional dance number and many, many cameos from some familiar faces. Then there's some conflict and absurdity to rocket us towards a climax. It's all interspersed with padding which also leads to something amusing, but certainly not enough to warrant a theatrical viewing.
Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole are good together, though you never truly buy their relationship as best friends who've known each other their entire lives. With Latimore as the straight man and Cole being the more overtly wild one, they both work for what they are (And the third act breakup is an almost non-entity, being glossed over rather quickly). We got some standard archetypes, such as the love interest (Karen Obilom), the very white and dorky neighbor (Andrew Santino) and his koala, some bad guys, and the stoner (DC Young Fly, who gets some of the film's funniest bits). One of the film's biggest scene-stealers is Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi (as himself), who is absurdly funny in the movie's most nonsensical role, while LeBron James looks to be having a good time poking fun at himself.
From an overzealous security/SWAT team to a detour involving the Illuminati of all things, "House Party" is at its best and funniest when it's weird, and every so often, completely jumps into total insanity. However, the laughs are far too sporadic, and they're sprinkled over something that's barely even connected in a watchable fashion. It's barely even a screenplay, with constant ad-libbing to fill the gaps. It's the definition of a watching at home kind of movie, possibly even with a group of friends, and then forget about it the next day. Think of it as your own little house party in that way. Minus the booze and the drugs. 2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Debauchery, And Surprisingly Gruesome Violence. Cudi Carnage If You Will. It's A Long Story. Even In Context.
Image: "Hey Gerard....How about you handle, oh, say, maybe 300 of them?"
I know we're quick to jump to conclusions when it comes to January. Can you blame us though? It's usually such a dumping ground of lame horror, forgettable comedies, straight to DVD action films, and cheap ass animation. So apologies if we jump to conclusions when a fairly typical looking action movie called "Plane", because it has a plane in it, comes out at a time when we expect the worst. We're sorry. I'll never assume anything ever again.
"Plane" opens with longtime commercial pilot, "Brodie Torrance" (Gerard Butler), preparing for what should just be your run of the mill late night flight, though a surprise passenger in the form of a prisoner being extradited for murder, "Louis Gaspare" (Mike Colter). Piloting through an intense storm, Brodie is able to crash land on a remote island in the Philippines, which is run by violent militias. When the passengers are taken hostage, Brodie must partner up with Gaspare if they're going to rescue the prisoners and find a way back home.
Directed by Jean-François Richet ("Blood Father" and the remake of "Assault on Precinct 13"), with a screenplay by spy fiction writer, Charles Cumming and J. P. Davis ("Fighting Tommy Riley), "Plane" has the makings of a January throwaway, yet has a little extra something to separate from lesser films like it. There's more drama and character (To a degree), much like last year's "Beast", attempting to develop its main characters more, and giving the audience a little extra incentive to see them survive. It doesn't really become a full blown action thriller until almost halfway through, first showcasing the initial plane crash and our characters trying to figure out what to do before our disposable villains pop up. The crash is actually a genuinely intense, well thought out sequence that should definitely play on the anxieties of anyone afraid of flying.
Gerard Butler plays a bit more against type, being a more vulnerable action hero, who wants to avoid confrontation, yet will do what he has to when put in a dire situation. It's a surprisingly emotional performance that just showcases how good of an actor he's become and will give it 110%, even for a film like this. Mike Colter is very intimidating (I mean, he'll always be freakin "Luke Cage" to me), and keeps a mysterious presence throughout (Not to mention he knows how to use a sledgehammer to the best of its abilities). There are a few standouts from the supporting cast, such as Daniella Pineda (as "Bonnie", a flight attendant, who attempts to keep the peace), Yonson An (as "Samuel", Brodie's loyal co-pilot), and a delightfully professional, yet snarky Tony Goldwyn (as "Scarsdale", a Special Forces officer, who arranges for a rescue effort). As for our villains, they're acceptable for what they are. Just foreign baddies, with no redeeming qualities and intense bloodlust.
"Plane" has some solid action, and uniquely takes its time more than your run of the mill thriller usually does, making for perfectly suitable, okay entertainment. It's a quick sit, that doesn't ask for much from its audience, but also thankfully doesn't half ass it at the same time. It does its job well enough, works as a serviceable matinee movie, and even makes certain unpaid film critics take a moment to stop assuming that certain movies are going to be bad. I promise I won't do that ever again. For the rest of this week. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong, Brutal, And Bloody Violence, Along With Ferocious Filipinos And Hardcore Hammer Time.
Image: Elizabeth Olsen, in the performance of a lifetime!
So how did we start off 2023? Let's see here. In a rather modest auditorium, with a sizable crowd, mostly consisting of groups of young people, the lights can't seem to decide if they're going to go down or not, and Maria Menounos wasn't coming on screen like she usually does (The screen during this flicked off and on too). We got some giggly girls behind me, a friendly and very gay man in front of me (Who I can assume really wanted to talk), and some guy letting out a loud, bellowing burp near the first row. Eventually lights go down, trailers start (Weirdly only a couple of them, and even those were odd too), and we get this crazy ass movie, with an even crazier audience watching it. Girls behind me laughing and screaming, the guy in front of me clapping or yelling "Yaaaaaasssss!" while snapping his fingers, and the guy at the front burping three or four more times. This is all going on throughout the film's entire runtime. I feel like this should signify what the rest of the year is going to be like. Only at "M3GAN".
"M3GAN" opens with a young girl, "Cady" (Violet McGraw), losing her parents in a car crash, now having to live with her unprepared aunt, "Gemma" (Allison Williams), a roboticist for a large, top of the line toy company. Gemma has been working on a lifelike doll, called a "Model 3 Generative Android", or codenamed "M3GAN" (Played by Amie Donald in costume, while voiced by Jenna Davis), which through artificial intelligence can in theory, become the bested friend that any little kid could ask for. (Even if she is already kind of creepy even before she actually does anything murderous) Gemma uses the prototype of the doll to bond with Cady, with the two becoming an instantly inseparable pair. This also pleases Gemma's boss, "David" (Ronny Chieng), who plans to release M3GAN to the public, using Cady's relationship with her as a means of further evolving. However, M3GAN's ability to adapt and learn slowly leads to her taking extreme measures to protect Cady by any means necessary, even if it means that Gemma herself won't be part of the equation. Or anyone else for that matter.
Directed by first timer, Gerard Johnstone, and written by Akela Cooper ("Malignant"), "M3GAN" is the latest from "Blumhouse Productions" and producer James Wan (Creator of the "Saw" and "Conjuring" franchises, among others), and is fully aware of just how batsh*t it is. The film, much like what you would expect from James Wan and the writer of "Malignant", is purely unapologetic in its campy horror and dark sense of humor. It's silly and wildly entertaining, that's also doing a lot more with its clever premise than you would even ask of it. It's a January released, intentionally goofy horror movie. Considering how terrible we're used to things being around this time of year, we don't expect much. While the film is certainly still plenty preposterous, it's not remotely stupid. The film goes all out with its premise, utulizing crazy scenarios and scares, intended to make the audience jump and react to. Johnstone's direction is quite solid, with the screenplay incorporating some humor throughout to show how the filmmakers aren't taking any of this too seriously.
Just because the film itself isn't exactly dramatic, doesn't mean that there isn't anything worth caring about. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are playing the film straight, and are both great at it. Their relationship does lead to some effective drama and heart, along with how terrific they are at looking absolutely terrified of something that looks quite goofy from a distance. Some of this is also helped by M3GAN herself, who is full of personality and all kinds of twisted. She's a brilliant creation, from the movements, the excellent voicework, and a surprising amount of genuine menace, making for a horror villain that you find yourself wanting to see more of in the future (You know they got those sequels planned right?). Much of the supporting cast, while all good in their parts, such as an enjoyably snide Ronny Chieng, are there just to make for future victims of M3GAN's killing spree. Despite the film's PG-13 rating, it's still pretty gruesome, making for some rather unique horror deaths. M3GAN ripping off a bully's ear and chasing him down like a wolf into traffic, or popping and locking before cutting up a guy, this is the kind of insanity that other horror films don't near enough embrace.
While never particularly scary, "M3GAN" is delightfully unhinged, yet is actually quite intelligent about it. The film actually makes for solid commentary on our overreliance and dependence on technology and AI to solve our problems, right down to having them raise children in place of actual parents. Not to mention, even with how purposely outlandish the film gets, you know somebody somewhere has been spitballing this idea to a bunch of socially inept board members. It's campy, yet the kind of campy that you want in your January releases and should please the most crowded of audiences. (Although, don't completely lose your sh*t like mine did, burping all over the place and whatnot) Then again, with stuff like "Cocaine Bear" coming out this year, 2023 is shaping up to be the year of the crazy. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jumpy Scares, Bratty Boys, Sick Dance Moves, And B*tchy Bots.
Image: "I'm starting to think being a movie star isn't all it's cracked up to be."
There are some literal horror stories that you can find in Old Hollywood, with the older crowd today still claiming that things now are so much worse. We have no idea what chaos and debauchery that came from the stars that we looked up to, wishing that we too could be a part of their extravagant lives, not knowing that much like the films we watch, it's all an illusion.
Set in 1920s Los Angeles during the last act of the silent film era, "Babylon" follows a series of characters hoping to make it big in the Hollywood business, such as wide eyed filmmaker, "Manny Torres" (Diego Calva), who is stuck doing multiple degrading jobs for those in the film industry before finding himself madly in love with aspiring actress, "Nellie LaRoy" (Margot Robbie). While Nellie's ambitions for greatness lead her to many bad places, Manny then lands a job working for the fun loving movie star, "Jack Conrad" (Brad Pitt). Nellie slowly begins a rise to stardom, while Manny works his way up through the industry, with the film detouring to follow the stories of African American trumpet player, "Sidney Palmer" (Jovan Adepo), cabaret performer/writer, "Fay Zhu" (Li Jun Li), and gossip journalist, "Elinor St. John" (Jean Smart). As Hollywood starts to make the transition towards talking pictures, everybody's life is about to drastic turns that some might not be able to recover from, leading to the inevitable fall that brings down many of those seeking prestige in the world of film.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash", "La La Land", "First Man"), "Babylon" asks an age old question. What if you were gonna watch "Singin' in the Rain", but decided to snort a huge pile of cocaine first? The film opens up like a fever dream created entirely through madness, with an orgy of vulgarity, promiscuity, drugs, bodily fluids (Not all human by the way), and well, orgies. This nearly thirty minute sequence sets the tone early on, before our open title even first appears, giving us a glimpse into the world behind the curtains. Believe it or not, the entire film is not like that. It's certainly wild, but eventually settles down into the real eventual fallout, with many hopes and dreams being shattered before our very eyes. The film has certainly been a polarizing one, and for good reason too, because it's kind of a mess. A masterful mess! Chazelle crafts so many crazy sequences of how film came to be during the silent era, before the rough transition towards sound. It's often pretty hilarious and even quite heartbreaking to witness, and even when the characters are less than likable, you don't take joy in their later downfalls. Now that doesn't mean that the film isn't overly indulgent and maybe even a little pretentious at times, but one can't really deny that when it's great, it's pretty awe-inspiring. Chazelle gloriously cobbles together big screen spectacle, with debacle piled upon debacle, resulting in plenty of hilarity, as well a despair and tragedy.
The film features an ensemble of terrific performances, both big and small. Margot Robbie is a special kind of magnificent, playing up the sexy as you can imagine, as well as the character's irresistible presence and the troubled person behind it all. Diego Calva gives a breakout performance, adding more depth to the standard character arc of one losing their conscience on their way to success, while Brad Pitt end up being more than what first appears to be the self-centered movie star type (He's actually a really nice, though sad person deep down). Jean Smart elegantly commands the screen every time she appears, while Jovan Adepo (Who has a very fascinating subplot involving old Hollywood racism) and Li Jun Li are both terrific, yet don't get near enough screentime. Some standouts include Margot Robbie-lookalike Samara Weaving (as an actress, who finds herself competing with Nellie), Katherine Waterston (as one of Jack's many wives), Spike Jonze (as a manic German director), a twisted Tobey Maguire (as "James McKay", a deranged and dangerous mob boss), Rory Scovel (as a cape-wearing drug dealer simply known as "The Count"), and P. J. Byrne (as an assistant director), who has an epic meltdown involving the technical problems that went on behind the scenes during the silent to sound era that's all kinds of epic.
From large amounts of gross out situations, and chaotic visuals, "Babylon" could be too much for its own good, leaving audiences more exhausted rather than exhilarated. (I mean, it did bomb pretty hard over the Christmas weekend) With that said, it's a marvel of colorful cinematography, a pulsing score from the Oscar winning Justin Hurwitz (A frequent Damien Chazelle collaborator), some spectacular setpieces, and uncomfortable laughter, even when it should also be disturbing you. It's an ambitious ode to the magic of cinema, reveling in the behind the scenes mayhem that still somehow finds a way to focus on the beauty of it all. It's almost like a very flawed masterpiece in a way. 3 stars. Rated R For.....Ohhhhh Boy. What Isn't It Rated R For? Sex, Drugs, Nudity All Around, Elephant Sh*t, Fluids Galore, Tobey Maguire's Rotting Teeth. It's Got It All!
Image: "2%....Most delicious!"
The impact that "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" has had on the animation industry is really starting to show now more than ever, and it looks like that "DreamWorks Animation" (Along with earlier this year's "The Bad Guys") has embraced that impact. Whatever it is that's decided this new method to their filmmaking, I hope that they continue it. That kind of creativity, artistry, and love may not have the appreciation of a lot of studio higher ups, corporate board members, or even the Academy itself, but for movie lovers like myself, I can only find myself further immersed within a completely crafted world of color and beauty, whether it be about a talking puppet yearning to be a real boy or a Scottish green ogre and his talking ass, roaming the lands of fairy tales.
"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" reunites us with that titular, furry, swashbuckling, leche-loving hero, "Puss in Boots" (Antonio Banderas), as he continues to live dangerously, repeatedly putting himself in adventurous peril. However, after an epic fight with a giant, Puss is crushed under a bell, resulting in the loss of his eighth life. Now that he's on his final life, Puss is recommended to swear off adventuring and retire, and after a confrontation with an especially big and bad "Wolf" (Wagner Moura), Puss decides that it really is time to hang up his boots, hat, and cape. Now living in retirement in the home of a crazy cat lady, "Mama Luna" (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and her literal piles of cats, where he is befriended (Against his will) by a disguised therapy dog he nicknames "Perrito" (Harvey Guillén), slowly becoming a scruffy, former shell of his once brave and legendary self.
After an attack from the wannabe notorious crime family, "Goldilocks" (Florence Pugh), "Mama Bear" (Olivia Colman), "Papa Bear" (Ray Winstone), and "Baby Bear" (Samson Kayo), Puss learns of the existence of the fabled "Wishing Star", which he hopes can return him the rest of his lost lives. Puss sets out to steal a magical map to the star from the now not so little (And totally evil beyond reason), "Big Jack Horner" (John Mulaney), crossing paths with his former flame, "Kitty Softpaws" (Salma Hayek). Puss and Kitty now have to partner back up once more, with Perrito coming along, to find the wishing star within the always changing dark forest, avoiding Goldilocks and the three bears, Jack Horner and his army of bakers, and that menacing wolf, who really has it out for Puss in a more personal sense.
Spinning off from the "Shrek" franchise, 2011's "Puss in Boots" was a smart, funny, underrated family film that had the makings of its own spanning franchise, and after years of development Hell, it's a thing of pure wonder to finally see "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" finally come to fruition. Directed by animator Joel Crawford ("Croods: A New Age"), with a screenplay by Paul Fisher ("The LEGO Ninjago Movie") and Tommy Swerdlow ("The Grinch"), the film is a sequel, though remains standalone to a degree, thanks in part to how much different the animation is this time around. Diverting away from the more detailed, realistic and whimsical style of the previous films, this one goes for a more stylized, painted look that feels like it's been ripped straight out of a classic fairy tale illustration (Or a comic book even). This results in all kinds of colorful chaos and vibrant visuals, coming to gorgeous life in wonderfully crafted action sequences and just brings this world more to life than what we've seen before. The animation just explodes off the screen with such infectious energy, like a fantastical roller coaster. Thankfully though, it's never really a frenetic film, knowing when it's time to settle down and tell its story, which is also brilliantly told. It knows when something needs to be conveyed to the audience via dialogue or just visually, with loads of big laughs coming from the visual gags, as well as the character interactions. (Not to mention a darkly hysterical death montage)
Antonio Banderas still brings this lovable character to expressive life in a way that I just can't ever see anyone else imitating. Smooth and full of charisma, Banderas also brings a certain unexpected sense of mortality to the character, which heavily plays into the themes of the story. His chemistry with an equally terrific Salma Hayek is outstanding once again, along with the welcome addition of an adorably naive Harvey Guillén. The film also incorporates a collection of pretty memorable villains, each with their own goals, with an excellent Florence Pugh (Having a total ball) and Samson Kayo, along with some delightful work from Olivia Colman and Ray Winstone (Always warms my heart to have such great actors just throw themselves into what could be just goofy characters, adding some extra depth and gravitas along the way). John Mulaney is hilariously vile beyond belief (A running gag involving a connection to another old story leads to some of the film's funniest gags), and Wagner Moura makes for a terrifying presence that might just give both kids and adults some nightmares.
Something easily could have been a cash grab, "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" boasts miraculous visuals and animation, with hilarity for the entire family to enjoy, unforgettable characters, a sweeping score, and a lot of heart, along with a message of coming to terms with our inevitable fates in a shockingly mature and thoughtful manner. (Who knew that this and "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" would be two of this year's most existential films?) Possibly the best entry in the "Shrek" series yet, making for one of 2022's best films. Animated or otherwise. It's literally the best thing you and the rest of the family could see this Christmas, and is sure to become a future classic. El gato es magnífico! 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Adult Humor, Surprisingly Scary Images, Magic Abuse, And Haunting Whistling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.