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Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, Raya and the Last Dragon, Coming 2 America, Chaos Walking, Tom and Jerry, Nomadland, I Care a Lot, Willy's Wonderland, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Judas and the Black Messiah, Bliss, Earwig and the Witch, Malcolm & Marie, The Little Things, Our Friend, Outside the Wire, Locked Down, Shadow in the Cloud

Coming Soon: Zack Snyder's Justice League, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Nobody, Mortal Kombat, Black Widow, Army of the Dead, Free Guy, Spiral, Voyagers, Without Remorse, Peter Rabbit 2, Those Who Wish Me Dead 

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: 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

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run                                                             by James Eagan                                                                     ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Uh, whatever Squidward is paying you, we'll double it, Mr Wick." 

Ah, "SpongeBob Squarepants". Where would my childhood have been without you? And most importantly, where would I have gotten all of those quotes and references that I find ways to cleverly (And not so cleverly) weave into every conversation? 

Dedicated to the series creator, Stephen Hillenburg and the third full length movie in the series (Following "The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie" and "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water"), "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" follows the titular yellow sponge, "SpongeBob Squarepants" (Tom Kenny) that everyone knows and loves. SpongeBob happily lives in "Bikini Bottom", fools around with his starfish best friend, "Patrick Star" (Bill Fagerbakke), annoying his neighbor, "Squidward Tentacles" (Roger Bumpass), working as a frycook at the "Krusty Krab" for his cheap crustacean boss, "Mr. Krabs" (Clancy Brown), and adores his meowing pet snail, "Gary" (Also Tom Kenny). However, SpongeBob's existence alone continues to get in the way of the scheming "Plankton" (Mr. Lawrence) as he attempts to steal Mr. Krabs' secret formula for his coveted "Krabby Patty". When the ruler of the "Lost City of Atlantic City", "King Poseidon" (Matt Berry), desires a snail to use their slime to fix his slightly imperfect complexion, Plankton arranges for Gary's snail-napping in a plot to get rid of SpongeBob. Plankton arranges for transportation for SpongeBob and Patrick, along with a robot driver, "Otto" (Awkwafina), that he's gotten his tiny stubby hands on from underwater living squirrel, "Sandy Cheeks" (Carolyn Lawrence), sending the two friends on their way to Atlantic City while he steals the Krabby Patty secret formula. While SpongeBob and Patrick embark on a bizarre little journey, encountering a talking tumbleweed named "Sage" (Keanu Reeves), who is made out of sage and is a sage (So it works out pretty well), Bikini Bottom itself is now without SpongeBob to cook Krabby Patties for the citizens, resulting in mass chaos. 

When you look at that plot synopsis, you think to yourself "Yup! That's a SpongeBob movie alright!". Released through "Paramount+" (Or available on "Amazon Prime", if you don't want yet another streaming service to pay for) and directed by Tim Hill ("Alvin and the Chipmunks", "The War with Grandpa". This is easily his best movie), "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" is the long running, beloved series at its most kooky and while the plot may be well, totally meaningless, the charm is still there. Not handrawn this time around, the animation is computer generated, but has been modified to give off the feel of the zippy 2D style that the show was best known for. Every frame is actually quite a sight to behold. Even though it lacks the detail of many of the best animated films out there, it makes up for it in shear personality and color. Characters are constantly moving in over the top fashion, with imagery varying from vibrant and surreal to just plain out there for no real reason (There's a live action sequence that's especially odd). The screenplay, also by Tim Hill, is much like the show, tossing everything it can at the most random of moments, which are so fast sometimes that you can't even process some of whats happening. It's very funny, often hilarious, but when you take a moment to really think about it, you can see someone arguing that the film is just trying to pad out the runtime with weirdness. In fact, it might just be too much strange for some, especially those who aren't exactly fans of the show. 

The returning voice cast is as spectacular as ever. Tom Kenny is so lovable even after twenty years, continuing to remind the world why this character has lasted so long (And will most likely continue to last). Bill Fagerbakke, Roger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, the great Clancy Brown, and the always hysterical Mr. Lawrence (Plankton is still my favorite character), are all still pros. We have some fun newer additions, such as an enjoyably fussy Matt Berry, Awkwafina, Reggie Watts (as "Chancellor", Poseidon's aide), Keanu Reeves (I don't even know how to describe what this plot point is), along with a few out of nowhere cameos. A bit of a big debate has been made about how this movie is meant to serve also as a showcase for the upcoming, somewhat controversial, spin-off "Kamp Koral" (Featuring younger versions of the characters in summer camp). While it's off-putting at first and just kind of unnecessary, the film does actually find a way to work it into the plot rather cleverly and even makes it a little heartwarming. 

Not quite as good as the first film, though maybe slightly more focused than the second, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" boasts unique animation, a lot of strangeness, and more than a few moments of hilarity to go with all of the nautical nonsense. It's nowhere near on par with the show at its absolute best (Which I can't stress enough has affected me growing up), but retains the spirit at least. There's still a certain sweetness to it and you can't help but admire the imagination, even when it's just being bizarre for no other reason than it can. Whether you're a kid just getting into it, or a longtime fan (In his late 20s like myself), you're likely going to walk away feeling happy. Are you feeling it now? 3 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Fish Puns, And A Couple Future Memes. Knowing The Internet, It Won't Take Long.     

Raya and the Last Dragon                          by James Eagan                   ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So...Which vaccine am I getting"?

We continue our quest into the new era of cinema, where our movies are both in theaters and available online (For a fee or otherwise) on the same day. "Disney+" has taken more of the "HBO Max" route, releasing their newest major animated extravaganza from "Walt Disney Animation Studios", on their streaming service (Just in time to watch right after "WandaVision". It was amazing by the way!), though they're still charging $30 for their "Premier Access" to the film much like last year's "Mulan". Once again, I'm not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, it's a bit of decent sized bill for something that could just as easily be free on the service, though the convenience of watching it from home at any point, the prices for theater tickets these days, and the governor of Texas declaring that face masks are no longer mandatory (Apparently the pandemic is over....or at least, over enough I guess), give off the feeling that maybe the extra charge isn't such a bad thing. Something to watch at home with the entire family. It's what Disney does. 

"Raya and the Last Dragon" opens with some backstory, detailing the beautiful land of "Kumandra", where monstrous spirits, known as "The Druun", created from the discord of humanity, threatened to wipe out everyone by turning people into stone. The world was saved by the mystical dragons of the land, who used their magic to create a powerful orb-like gem to keep the Druun at bay, though it resulted in all of the dragons themselves being turned to stone. It also resulted in the people breaking off into separate tribes (Such as the "Fang", "Heart", "Tail", "Spine", and "Talon"), as they all attempted to claim the gem's power as their own. Hundreds of years later, the chief of the Heart tribe, "Benga" (Daniel Dae Kim), has been training his daughter, "Kaya" (Kelly Marie Tran), to protect the gem from invaders. Benga makes an attempt to find peace among the other tribes, but a betrayal leads to the shattering of the gem, with the other tribes stealing its fragments. This also unleashes the Druun back onto the land, claiming Kaya's father. 

Some time later, Kaya, along with her armadillo/roly-polly hybrid steed, "Tuk Tuk" (Voiced by Disney's good luck charm Alan Tudyk, just making little animal noises), have embarked on a journey to summon the dragon that supposedly created the gem, "Sisu" (Awkwafina) and take back the missing gem pieces from the other tribes. However, it turns out that Sisu isn't exactly what was advertised. (She's very you know, Awkwafina-esque) With both the Druun, along with a longtime rival of Kaya's, "Namaari" (Gemma Chan), member of the Fang tribe, hot on her trail, Kaya, Sisu, Tuk Tuk, along with some other colorful characters, such as a child shrimp chef, "Boun" (Izaac Wang), a lonely, deranged warrior, "Tong" (Benedict Wong), and "Little Noi", a baby con artist and her trio of monkey-like partners in crime, come together to find the gems and bring back peace to the land. 

Directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh") and Carlos López Estrada ("Blindspotting"), with co-directing credits to Paul Riggs (Known for work on "Zootopia", "Big Hero 6", and others) and John Ripa (Longtime Disney animator), "Raya and the Last Dragon" is a much different fairy tale from the mouse house. There aren't any songs or princesses, but there's plenty of magic, a strong female lead, and the always appreciated family friendly morals of life that should connect with both children and adults. The world created is brought to life through the smart screenplay from Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim ("Crazy Rich Asians"), and the gorgeous animation, which somehow only continues to improve as years ago on. I have no idea how Disney has repeatedly outdone itself with its stunning visuals, lively characters, and jaw dropping attention to details. From the various South Asian inspired landscapes to the smallest little quirks added to a character's hair (Sisu's flowing hair alone is a sight to behold), everything is unique, inspired, and feels more real than most live-action films. This also lends itself to several thrilling action sequences, which also further display how this world operates, without the need of overwrote exposition. (It's still there, though it kind of has to be, but it's just the less noticeable things that really drive it home) 

Kelly Marie Tran may have given one of those truly remarkable voice performances, ranking up there with some of the absolute best. She's a brilliantly realized heroine, full of humor, skill, and even some flaws that only add to her character development. I think, much like Moana, Mulan, and Elsa, Raya is going to become an instant favorite for young girls, and not to mention, a totally badass one. Awkwafina is also equally wonderful, getting some of the best laughs, but also serving as a thoroughly lovable sidekick, with even a few terrific emotional moments (She also has one of the best character designs to come out of the studio, in both her dragon and human form). The supporting cast is excellent, from Gemma Chan (Making for a complicated antagonist), Sandra Oh (as "Virana", the leader of the Fang and Namaari's mother), Izaac Wang, and an especially hilarious Benedict Wong (Who is slowly becoming one of my favorite actors). The film, while at times a bit darker than you'd expect, retains a lot of well timed humor, such as pretty much everything involving Little Noi and her simian sidekicks or Tuk Tuk (You know you're going to see more than a few stuffed toys of this character soon). 

At times the filmmakers may appear to get a little too sucked into world-building, but that's a minor gripe considering the audience will only find themselves just as enamored. "Raya and the Last Dragon" follows the traditional and reliably capable Disney formula, though mixes it up and further modernizes it, while never forgetting what always makes it work so well in the first place. Strong themes of trust and compromise (Boy will that never not be relevant), spellbinding animation, a sweeping score, and of course, a cast of unforgettable characters, the ingredients are all there and work together perfectly. Another Disney win, and another family favorite. Can't complain about what works. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Scary Images, Action, And Dragon Sass. 

Coming 2 America                                    by James Eagan                            ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So...Not a lot has changed in the last 30 years?"

I'm personally very much open to a big Eddie Murphy comeback. He used to be one of the biggest comedic actors out there before falling under a few too many um, questionable career choices. ("Norbit" is something that I wish I only dreamed up) After "Dolemite is My Name" though, which he deserved an Oscar nomination for, we got a showcase for his talents and a reminder for how great an actor he can actually be. Doesn't always need a fat suit.  

Released a day early via "Amazon Prime", "Coming 2 America" follows "Prince Akeem Joffer" (Eddie Murphy) of "Zamunda" as he lives happily ever after with his wife, "Lisa" (Shari Headley) and daughters, "Omma" (Bella Murphy), "Tinashe" (Akiley Love), and "Meeka" (KiKi Layne), who wants to prove herself as a worthy future ruler. Sadly, Akeem's father, "King Jaffe Joffer" (James Earl Jones), is dying and Akeem, about to be crowned prince, doesn't have a son, meaning there's no heir to the throne afterwards. This puts him at odds with the leader of "Nextdoria", "General Izzi" (Wesley Snipes), who wants Akeem to make amends for that whole making his daughter jump and bark like a dog thing from the first film. (Apparently she's still doing it) Before King Joffer's death, he also reveals that thanks to the meddling of his aide, "Semmi" (Arsenio Hall), Akeem had a drugged up one night stand with an unknown woman, "Mary Junson" (Leslie Jones), when they previously traveled to America, and fathered a son, "Lavelle" (Jermaine Fowler). Akeem, hoping to adhere to his father legacy and traditions, sets out once again to America with Semmi, to find Lavelle. With the promise of riches beyond comprehension, Akeem is able to convince Lavelle and Mary to come over to Zamunda, where he will properly prepared to become royalty and prevent further conflict with Nextdoria. 

A sequel to the 1988 cult favorite and directed by Craig Brewer ("Dolemite is My Name"), "Coming 2 America" is one of those sequels that serves as a solid follow up, a slight rehash, and a source for more than a few belly laughs to make it worth your time, especially if you're a big fan of the original. Much like its predecessor, you can tell that the filmmakers from time to time can get caught up in a joke or let a moment go on to the point it feels more like an improvisational sketch than a cinematic narrative. Luckily, it's still quite humorous and even when the joke takes the wheel for longer than necessary, it doesn't exactly wear out its welcome. Most of the joke comes from how absolutely bizarre the world created is, and the film expands on that in a unique, though still hilariously strange fashion. One aspect that this film has over the original is that there does seem to be more focus, with most of that thanks to Brewer's direction. The plot gets moving early and remains on track, though stopping to have a little fun along the way. Even when a joke or two are basically just redoing what worked before (There are lots of callbacks to the most quoted sequences from the first film, along with lots of returning characters), you have to hand it to the filmmakers on how well they find a way to make it gel in its own cartoonishly goofy way. 

Eddie Murphy is great, returning to the really likable character, while providing lots of well timed reactionary laughs and giving the movie its heart. Arsenio Hall's role is more limited this time around, though still gets a handful of scene-stealing moments. (They both also return as their many background characters, though everything involving the Barbershop characters gets me every time they appear) Jermaine Fowler (From "Sorry to Bother You"), Leslie Jones, and Tracy Morgan (as "Reem", Lavelle's uncle who is basically just Tracy Morgan), are all a delight. And I appreciate that more of the women are given bigger roles than before, such as KiKi Layne (From "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "The Old Guard". She has a lot range as an actress. Hope to see her in more soon), Shari Headley, and Nomzamo Mbatha (as "Mirembe", the royal groomer who also becomes Lavelle's love interest). There are some more returning faces, like James Earl Jones, John Amos (as "Cleo", Lisa's father and owner of "McDowell's"), and Louie Anderson (as that one employee at "McDowell's"), and a especially deranged performance from Wesley Snipes, which needs to be seen by everyone. I also dare not spoil the many cameos, some of which are quite brilliant. 

"Coming 2 America" isn't all that original, relies too much on what came before it, and sure as Hell isn't one for plot. Neither was the first one though. It was countered by the humor, the weirdness, and a certain sweetness that at least gives you something to care about. Even with the more toned down rating, fans are going to get exactly what they want, and a little bit of heart to go with it. It's the kind of diversion you don't mind in the least. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Royal Bathing, And Sexual Chocolate.     

Chaos Walking                                        by James Eagan                                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Let's just blame the whole thing on Covid."

Good lord could this movie not catch a break. Announced back in 2011, with screenplay rewrites having gone through a few recognizable names, such as Charlie Kaufman and John Lee Hancock, and actual production beginning back in 2017, we have another YA novel adaptation that most definitely won't be getting a sequel. Starting to think that this fad has come to an end. Hey, at least we got "Harry Potter" out of it. 

Taking place in a Young Adult dystopian world, "Chaos Walking" opens with "Todd Hewitt" (Tom Holland), discovering a mysterious girl, "Viola" (Daisy Ridley), the only survivor of a small crashed ship. Humanity has since colonized an alien planet, dubbed "New World", where all the thoughts of all men can be heard and displayed at any moment, which is called "The Noise", while all the women were apparently murdered by the planet's inhabitants, "The Spackle". Viola is discovered by the leader of Todd's hometown, "Mayor David Prentiss" (Mads Mikkelsen), who appears to have more nefarious plans for her. Todd, with help from his adoptive fathers, "Ben" (Demián Bichir) and "Cillian" (Kurt Sutter), and his cute little doggy, "Manchee", is able to help Viola escape from Prentiss and his cult-like followers. Todd and Viola must venture away from Todd's home to get her to safety, while encountering deadly aliens, Prentiss' forces, and Todd's raging horniness. They later discover that there has been much that Todd doesn't know about Prentiss and his followers, and a dark secret just waiting to be uncovered as Viola hopes to contact her people. 

Based on the "Chaos Walking" book series (Mostly the first book, "The Knife of Never Letting Go") by Patrick Ness (Who also performed rewrites to the screenplay among many others), "Chaos Walking" is directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Edge of Tomorrow"), or at least somewhat is, considering the apparent reshoots by Fede Álvarez ("Evil Dead", "Don't Breathe"). As you can tell by all of those production troubles, something kind of went wrong here and it would have taken quite a miracle to save it all. What's most tragic about it all is that there really is something pretty cool somewhere hidden in this chopped up, somewhat hard to follow final product. Sure I missed the first two minutes (Hey! I ran late! There was traffic!), but there should still have been more time given to make more sense of things. The weak dialogue can't seem to make it gel, and the predictable twists don't exactly help in that regard. However, even with that said, you can see the makings of a fascinating science fiction epic, complete with unique ideas and thought provoking, rather relevant themes. Every now and then, the potential comes through, but it's bogged down by the film's inability to see what ingredients and spectacular actors that it has, and understand what to do with them. 

Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland still find a way to overcome the screenplay's shortcomings. They're likable leads, and very charming, much better than the film deserves, bringing depth and humor to roles that don't actually seem to have that. To have these two together in the same film is something that hopefully will happen again, except in something more decent. Others like Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo (as "Hildy", the leader of another settlement on "New World", who opposes Prentiss), Nick Jonas (as "Davy", Prentiss' sniveling son and henchman), and David Oyelowo (as "Aaron", a radical, religious zealot, who serves as a preacher for Todd's hometown), don't have anywhere near enough to do and depressingly so. On the bright side, no matter the quality, Mads Mikkelsen is still all kinds of intense and terrifying as Hell as our villain. 

Despite the solid chemistry between Ridley and Holland (Making up for what little is given), "Chaos Walking" fails to live up to what it can possibly be. Some aspects don't go anywhere (The Spackle only appear briefly, then vanish from the narrative entirely), and you can tell that the last act has been likely been redone more than once. It never builds to an actual climax, leaving much open ended, though also never actually setting much up for a supposed sequel. I'm thinking that the original draft was going to leave more to be expanded upon in future films, but the filmmakers went back and changed everything at the last moment to make the film feel more definitive. What we get is just a mess of a film, and a tragic waste of good ideas. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Space Rednecks, And The Dirty Thoughts That Dudes Can't Keep To Themselves. 

Tom and Jerry                                           by James Eagan                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "No, you can't chew up the little mouse, gag him back up, throw him up on the floor and lap it all back up before you lick your balls. Not in my hotel!"

The fact that I can say that a live-action "Tom and Jerry" movie isn't total garbage, considering how often live-action adaptations of beloved cartoon characters have been, that's something worthy of celebration. I mean, it's still not very good, but at least this was an actual movie instead of a trainwreck. The train just sort of petered out, came to a sudden halt, and you had to walk the rest of the way. That's a compliment! 

Released through both "HBO Max" and in theaters, "Tom and Jerry" follows the titular warring animated cat and mouse, "Tom" and "Jerry" (Unlike the 1992 "Tom and Jerry" movie, they thankfully don't speak this time), as their conflict brings them to New York City. At this same moment, the jobless "Kayla" (Chloë Grace Moretz), lies her way into a job at the most expensive, very regal and sophisticated "Royal Gate Hotel", despite the immediate antagonism from her new boss, the events manager, "Terrence" (Michael Peña). Kayla has been instructed by the hotel manager, "Mr. DuBros" (Rob Delaney), to work with Terrence in planning the extravagant wedding of popular Instagram couple, "Ben" (Colin Jost) and "Preeta" (Pallavi Sharda), but of course, Jerry shows up, looking for a now pimped out crib, which puts the hotel's reputation at risk. Kayla's attempts to catch Jerry fail, which leads her to hiring Tom, who as we know has an "Excellent" track record with this, to finally bring the mouse down. With their cartoonish antics threatening to ruin both the wedding and cost Kayla her job, she has to find a way to make Tom and Jerry put their differences aside if they both want to continue living the good life.  

Directed by directorial king of mediocre filmmaking, Tim Story (The original "Fantastic Four" movies, The "Think Like a Man" movies, and the "Ride Along" movies. So much nothing!), "Tom and Jerry" already has one thing going for it that separates it from any other nostalgic cartoon adaptation like it. It's the lack of nightmare inducing imagery. The titular characters, along with every other animal in the film, are brought to life in a more traditional form of stylized animation (Think "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Space Jam"), instead of giving them an overtly terrifying, realistic looking CGI makeover. (You know, like "Scooby-Doo", "Alvin and the Chipmunks", or "The Smurfs") Sure they don't exactly look real, feeling out of place in the live-action human world, but it's made up for by them just being appealing to look at. They're very expressive and bouncy, and it's hard not to find some moments of amusement out of that. However, that level of charm isn't exactly enough to make up for the generic, if not thinly written story, the bland direction style, and hardly any real laughs. There are some chuckles and I always get a kick out of hearing Tom's bloodcurdling scream of pain ("Tom and Jerry" always was the most painful looking of cartoons), but nothing particularly unique about it. The plot is just there, kind of meandering around to a quick climax despite a relatively long runtime. (I feel like I've asked this question a few times, but why is every movie over and hour and a half? This should have been eighty minutes at best)

Chloë Grace Moretz is reliable as usual, carrying lesser material and making it work simply because of her natural appeal. She's adorable, funny, and full of her own personality to add a little extra gravitas. Plus, you gotta give credit to someone who is such a great actress and not doesn't feel overly above something like this, but also gives it everything she has regardless. Michael Peña is an over the top antagonist, with a silly accent, and in a way, doesn't really contribute much when you think about it. Most of the human characters don't add much, such as Jordan Bolger (as "Cameron", Kayla's love interest) and Ken Jeong (as "Jackie", the Ken Jeong-esque baker). Tom and Jerry themselves are plenty fun still, and you would have to try really hard to make them not work. (I also give credit to the filmmakers remembering what a mischievous little sh*t Jerry can be. He's actually the instigator in all of this!) There are also some good voice work from a couple supporting characters, such as Bobby Cannavale (as "Spike", Ben's dog, who we all remember always showing up to beat up Tom), and Lil Rel Howery (Who voices both Tom's shoulder Angel and shoulder Devil), who get some okay laughs. There's also a bizarre little cameo from "Droopy". 

"Tom and Jerry" feels pedestrian when it comes to plot, and isn't near funny enough to detract from it. The film thankfully does have its heart in the right place, and at least appears to you know, get it. It knows what major mistakes to avoid, and while it can't help but fall into other trappings, they're not near damning enough to make the film a struggle to sit through. I can safely say that at least for the kids, they'll probably have a good time, and that's all that really matters in the end. The film accomplishes that, though you do wish that such loved characters could have gotten something more. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Too Much Hip Hop, And A Little More Focus On Chloë Grace Moretz's Noticeable Legs Than You Would Expect From A Kids Movie. What? Can't Be The Only One Who Noticed. 

Nomadland                                                 by James Eagan                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I sure hpe there's Wi-Fi out here."

There really is something about the simplicity of the human facial expression that can tell you more than any long winded, self righteous monologue or rousing musical cue ever could. It's not the kind of tactic that may even get an immediate emotional reaction out of you at first. It sinks into your soul, creeping up on you, and at the moment your defenses are down, it hits you hard. That's the power of the human reaction right there, and it takes true skill to convey it in a somber, realistic fashion, without the need to cloy and beg for that Oscar. 

Based on the non-fiction novel, "Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century" by Jessica Bruder, "Nomadland" follows the recently widowed and unemployed, "Fern" (Frances McDormand), after "The Great Recession". Having lost everything she's become accustomed to, Fern decides it's time for a complete change. She buys a van and moves into it, proceeding to travel across the country, searching for work such as a winter job at "Amazon". Becoming a "Nomad" (Person without a specific place to live, moving from place to place throughout the seasons), Fern begins a spiritual journey across the American West to find her place in it, learning more about what we as Americans may be taking for granted. 

Having been written, directed, produced, and also edited by Chloé Zhao ("The Rider", and will be directing the upcoming "Marvel Cinematic Universe" entry, "The Eternals". Talk about an unconventional choice), "Nomadland" gives off the feeling of a documentary, except shown through a cinematic lens. It's not a particularly grand film, with a matter of fact narrative and a lack of flash or style. There are no twists or turns, no heroes or villains, and not even any of the conventional conflicts that we're used to when it comes to movies. None of that is the point here, and even without any of the traditional cinematic protocols, it doesn't stop the film from being something deeply moving in the slightest. In a way, it only further allows it to sink in.

There's no style here, only substance. The movie is gorgeously filmed, proving a look at a part of America that every day people might just forget even exists. Every portrayed in the film is either completely real or at least so authentically so that you'd never be able to tell the difference. You get all the details necessary through simple imagery, whether it be the stunning landscapes or the collective group of unique individuals, without the need of ostentatious dialogue. What we get is more to the point, feeling thoughtful, yet like how expect an average person to speak. Zhao, like any real artist, captures that and presents it maturely without feeling condescending or false. She literally lets the people speak for themselves. 

Frances McDormand, who may have one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen, gives a sublime performance. It never wavers, and never does it go out of its way overemphasize itself. It would have been so easy to do so, but McDormand is nothing but gripping, even when the camera is just focusing on her reactions to the world she's only just begun to experience. David Strathairn (as "David", a fellow Nomad that Fern befriends) is endearing throughout, while real-life nomads, such as Bob Wells, Linda May, and a rather wonderful Swankie (All playing fictionalized versions of themselves that Fern meets while on her journey), are all very special in their sporadic appearances. The emotions aren't in what completely on display, but rather in the little things. It ranges from the leads, or just the minor roles scattered all over. Even when you don't think you quite get it at first, you're left something to ponder. 

"Nomadland" doesn't have the intention of judging or preaching. It rather just tells you like it is, displaying the pros and cons of such a lifestyle, and most importantly, just giving it the time of day it deserves. You see the hardships that these people have to go through, the pleasures of life that they are lacking, and what one is sacrificing in favor of simplicity. However, you see what one would gain from such an experience, such as better appreciation for what you do have, a more attuned connection to the world around you, and time that can be spent on more meaningful endeavors. We do tend to take things for granted, and half the time we don't even realize it. There's a beautiful part of our country that most of us will never see is literally right there, and to see someone have the ability to recognize and respect it the way that these people do is honestly one of the most American things I can think of. Even if you're not exactly sure if you can truly understand what a nomad does or even why, the film does a wonderful job at least helping you meet halfway. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content and Rough Living.             

I Care a Lot                                              by James Eagan                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""A toast....To all the old farts who I ran over when they got in my way.."

We really have a fascination with truly despicable characters. Not so much villains per se in the traditional sense. They're not maniacal baddies trying to do some kind of over the top crap like take over the world or even quite have the intention of hurting someone (Though someone most likely will be). It's the kind of character that is perfectly willing to endanger those around them and perform cruel, heartless actions that you can see every day people doing, but do so with such a deliciously sinister smile and charm to spare, resulting in you unable to really look away. You kind of want to see them succeed, in spite of their lack of a soul.  At least in the movies.

"I Care a Lot" follows cunning con woman, "Marla Grayson" (Rosamund Pike), who works as a legal guardian, using the legal court system to get appointed guardianship over elders living on their own. She will convince the courts that these targeted can't take care of themselves (Whether or not that's actually true. It doesn't necessarily matter to her), and after committing these people to assisted living facilities, Marla and those associated with her, such as her girlfriend, "Fran" (Eiza González), can sell everything they own and make a profit. Marla's newest target, a woman named "Jennifer Peterson" (Dianne West), seems to be the perfect score. After arranging for Jennifer to be moved into a home however, Marla finds herself now prey to Jennifer's vengeful, gangster son, "Roman" (Peter Dinklage). With the discovery of some priceless diamonds in Jennifer's possession, Marla must engage Roman and his mother in a battle of wits and ruthlessness in hopes of finally achieving the wealth she's always felt she deserves. 

Released through Netflix, and both written and directed by J Blakeson ("The Disappearence of Alice Creed" and...."The 5th Wave"? Well, they can't all be winners), "I Care a Lot", is a sort of dark comedy, with hints of a thriller vibe. To balance that kind of tone can be a bit of a challenge, and for what the film gets right, ti does so in a well paced, and very entertaining manner. It's not a predictable film to say the least. There's some little twists and turns, along with small character quirks, which make them hard to read at times. Sometimes they could just be a little odd, or they could be more sinister than we're first led to believe. They're a lot of fun to watch, even when the film's excessive use of plot twits and turn arounds don't always do the final product many favors. At some point, it does become somewhat difficult to believe, which wouldn't be noticeable if the movie wasn't for the most part pretty well grounded. Still, it's not enough to completely bring the movie down, especially with this cast. 

Rosamund Pike is outstanding, and almost scary, coming across as a special kind of vile, yet kind of badass, at least you know, for a terrible human being. She's a remarkable, captivating character that holds your attention, and it's a credit to both the screenplay, but most of all, Pike's confident performance. Peter Dinklage is hilariously dastardly, and oddly human for someone whose implied to be a total monster. We get some excellent performances from Eiza González and an at times, unrecognizable Dianne West. There are also some great secondary roles for Isiah Whitlock Jr. (as "Judge Lomax", the judge who Marla frequently manipulates), a slimy Damian Young (as "Sam Rice", who runs the living facility and is part of Marla's scam), and a scene stealing Chris Messina (as "Dean", Roman's shady lawyer). 

More of a character study than a particularly constructed narrative, "I Care a Lot" is a look at how one can somewhat legally manipulate the system for their own profit under the guise of philanthropy, along with how it's really not that different from mobster-like tactics. This makes for a very dark, twisted experience that takes a lot of glee in how cruel it is, though the film's intentionally detestable nature might be grating for some. For those looking for something a little more wicked however, it's almost joyfully evil, and it's near impossible to resist. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And Exploitation Of The Elderly. 

Willy's Wonderland                               by James Eagan                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "So you want me to play a wild, offbeat, and neurotic character? Sign me up!" 

Crazy ass Nicolas Cage going up against killer animatronics. That was the pitch. That is what's been advertised. That's exactly what you get. How can you get mad at that?  

"Willy's Wonderland" follows an unnamed, almost completely mute (Aside from grunts and yells) drifter, credited only as "The Janitor" (Nicolas Cage), as he breaks down in a small town in Nevada. To pay for some repairs, the Janitor is offered a one night job from "Tex Macadoo" (Ric Reitz), at his longtime abandoned family entertainment restaurant, "Willy's Wonderland" to clean up so that the town can eventually reopen it. Little does the Janitor know, there's something nefarious afoot. As soon as the Janitor gets to work cleaning up the place, the restaurant's animatronics attack, led by the bloodthirsty "Willy Weasel". The Janitor proceeds to kill one, take a break, drink some grape soda, play some pinball, and then get back to work, only to be attacked once again. Rinse and repeat. At the same time, a determined teen, "Liv" (Emily Tosta), who wants revenge on the restaurant for the deaths of her parents years earlier, brings along her collection of disposable idiotic friends, "Chris" (Kai Kadlec), "Kathy" (Caylee Cowan), "Bob" (Terayle Hill), "Aaron" (Christian Del Grosso), and "Dan" (Jonathan Mercedes), to burn it all down. Eventually, Liv and her friends end up getting locked inside the restaurant with the Janitor, and have to work with him to survive the night, while also revealing the dark, bloody history behind Willy's Wonderland.   

Basically "Five Nights at Freddy''s" (Is that ever going to be a movie?), "Willy's Wonderland" is directed by Kevin Lewis (Known for not much of anything I've heard of) and written by G.O. Parsons (His first full length feature screenplay), and as you can tell, doesn't bother to hide what its intention is. It's not very original, no remotely insightful, and serves up an endless supply of horror clichés, all of which only forgivable if the movie gives its intended audience what they're clamoring for. To give the movie credit, it does so with a straight face, though it's obviously tongue in cheek. The joke is how seriously everything is supposed to be, despite being absolutely ridiculous. Unlike last year's "Fatman", it works a little better here due to the filmmakers never allowing the film to wear out its welcome (It's not even an hour and a half) and offering more than a few stupid laughs, though I can't say that makes it well, good.....Because it's not. It's not supposed to be though. If that makes sense. 

Nicolas Cage is certainly well cast in this off-kilter role. He never speaks, engages in amusingly strange rituals (The running gag of his need to take a break to drink soda and play pinball no matter what, makes for the best chuckles), and brutally (If not hilariously) kills the murderous animatronics in amazing fashion. It's all the side characters however that only distract from the enjoyment. Emily Tosta seems to fair the best, though mostly because she's the only one with anything resembling an actual personality. The others range from one-note stereotypes or are just plain annoying, and either way, their deaths don't exactly come soon enough (Despite how gory the film is, the human kills are much lesser than the animatronic ones). Most of these characters make dumb decisions for no other reason than horror tropes demand for them. Some better performances come from a suitably smarmy Ric Reitz and Beth Grant (as "Sheriff Lund", Liv's caretaker, who knows more about what's going on than she advertises), who is probably doing a better acting job than the film requires. The animatronics themselves are somewhat creepy, though that's negated by the film's obvious and at times intentional cheapness. 

"Willy's Wonderland" is a homage to old grindhouse horror films, with gallons of gore and the glorification of trashy content. If that's not for you, this is most certainly something that you should avoid by any means necessary. For the target audience though, they'll be darkly grinning ear to ear the entire time. It's fun in the moment, but nothing of substance. Just as one should expect. I can never fault a film for know what it is and clearly enjoying every second of it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Swearing, Arbitrary Sex Scenes, And More Than A Few Blood Baths (And Oil Baths).

Barb and Star Go to vista Del Mar                                                                              by James Eagan                                                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Florida....Covid party!"

I feel like I just got back from the most insane little trip. I have no idea how I got there, where it was going, or why I was even there in the first place. And yet, I feel in a much better mood after going.  

"Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" follows the extremely talkative middle aged best friends for life, "Barb" (Annie Mumolo) and "Star" (Kristen Wiig), who after losing their jobs feel that they are in need of"Soul Douche" (I mean, don't we all?). So they decide to take a vacation to Florida's Vista Del Mar, where at that very moment, an evil scheme is about to go down. A mad, extremely pale supervillain, "Dr. Lady" (I suppose it's best not to reveal who plays her actually. It's better to be as shocked as I was and only adds to the weirdness), plans to unleash deadly mosquitoes to destroy Vista Del Mar, sending in her henchman, "Edgar" (Jamie Dornan), to arrange everything. Edgar, who only wants to be in an "Official Couple" with Dr. Lady and feeling neglected by her, winds up getting drunk off his ass with Barb and Star, resulting in him losing an important microchip. Barb and Star then find themselves wrapped up in the kookiness, with Star and Edgar falling in love and Barb finding her more adventurous side, though possibly threatening their longtime friendship at the same time.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum, while being written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (They also served as producers along with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell), "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" is a weaponized form of oddness that would be considered dangerous if it weren't so effectively delightful. The movie doesn't feel the need to explain, even during its opening moments before jumping right into the most random live-action cartoon you'll ever see. To add to the general strangeness of the film, it's shockingly well made and directed for something that's intentionally supposed to be cheap looking. The awkward, obviously fake looking effects, mixed in with the all over the place plotting, should make for a good headache, but instead, feels more than fitting (There's something very appealing about it). It's helped by the quick, surprisingly fairly intelligent, and totally unsystematic dialogue, which might get side-tracked on occasion or lost in a drawn out joke, though generally gets some bigger than expected laughs. 

The lovable chemistry between Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo is to be admired. They're a pair of goofy caricatures to sure, but are also very endearing to watch, and of course, very funny. One of the biggest surprises is the laugh riot (And I'm not joking here) that is Jamie Dornan. Playing completely against every kind of role I've ever seen him partake in, he fully commits to the stupidity with glee, most of which because of his straight faced delivery of even the most ridiculous of scenarios. (His out of nowhere musical declaration of love, surrounded by seagulls, is something that I can't see a single other comedy this year topping) Other scene-stealers would be a hilarious Damon Wayans Jr. (as "Darlie Bunkle", another one of Dr. Lady's henchmen, who desires to remain private, but constantly can't helped further exposing himself) and Reyn Doi (as "Yoyo", Dr. Lady's evil child minion). There's also a few more bit parts for some familiar faces, bonkers cameos, or surreal character moments all appearing at unexpected moments. (Such as a Morgan Freeman-like crab or a guy singing about bosoms. It kind of makes sense in context. I think.)

While sometimes you get the idea that the film is just weird for the sake of being weird (And might start to lose some steam towards the end), "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" is the kind of movie that you can't help but admire for how far out there it wants to go. Very original, laugh out loud in places, and just plain charming, It's a lighthearted good time for anyone that may just so happen to be stuck inside at the moment due to the record breaking freeze going on outside at the moment. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Tragic Pale Woman Backstories, And Culottes.   

Judas and the Black Messiah                       by James Eagan                  ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Fight the power.

I'm a little bit lost at the moment. Being someone who prides himself on the organization of films, allowing every single one of them, whether they be good or bad, the chance to earn a place on my end of the year lists. It also helps when it comes to Oscar consideration and my own personal picks as to what should win. However, 2020 threw everyone for a loop, and after the recent Golden Globe nominations (No love for Spike Lee? What the Hell man?!?!), our Oscar contenders are getting later releases. (Apparently, I won't be able to see most of them until maybe even March!) While I get the idea to allow some films time to prosper in the public eye, even if it is later than usual, but on the downside, a lot of great films from both last year and also this year, are going to be pushed down unfairly.   

Based on True Events that transpired within the late 1960s, "Judas and the Black Messiah" follows mostly unnoticeable criminal, "William "Bill" O'Neal" (Lakeith Stanfield), who would pose as an FBI agent to steal cars. O'Neal ends up caught and comes face to face with FBI agent, "Roy Mitchell" (Jesse Plemons). Mitchell, along with his fellow agents, have been instructed by FBI Director, "J. Edgar Hoover" (Martin Sheen), to find a way to bring down, "Fred Hampton" (Daniel Kaluuya), the current chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton, who has amassed quite the following due to his charismatic personality and passionate words, and has been deemed a radical threat to the United States (There's fear that he may be considered, according to Hoover, "A Black Messiah" of sorts). 

Mitchell offers O'Neal a chance to work off his criminal record (Along with making some cash on the side) to infiltrate the Chicago Black Panthers, and serve as an informant to the FBI. O'Neal slowly gets in good with Frank Hampton and his followers, eventually becoming the head of the chapter's security, while also delivering important information that Mitchell can pass off to his superiors. However, O'Neal can't help but gravitate to the Party's intentions and goals, though also liking the rewards that the FBI is giving him. When things are in danger of not quite going the way that the narrative was originally proposed (Well if someone is apparently a terrorist, or at least listed as one, is it wrong for our government to do whatever is deemed necessary to stop it?), a later act of betrayal will result in a rather horrifying, and worst of all, very unnecessary, conclusion. 

From first time director, Shaka King (Known mostly for TV work), who also served as a co-producer with Ryan Coogler and a co-screenwriter with Will Berson, "Judas and the Black Messiah" struggles only momentarily in the opening act, due to having a lot of story to tell and not quite enough time to set it all up. However, once the film finds its footing, what we get is a well paced, tightly packed, and deeply moving drama that's framed like a classic tragedy tale, especially when you consider a few somewhat similar looking current events. The film has a mesmerizing grainy look to enhance the time period, and the screenplay  occasion incorporates little moments of humor and levity to the real life story, which makes the characters feel much more real. It's fascinating to watch how such a good speaker could inspire so many, while also absolutely terrify others at the same time. The film does take time to also address some of the more questionable aspects of the Black Panther Party, though it more focuses on what they would do for poorer communities as well as how Fred Hampton in a strange way, found a form of common ground with unlikely people. There's an amazing moment  where Hampton is able to sway some white southerners parading around a Confederate flag, to his cause, simply through due to his force of personality, which is all kinds of surreal to watch. Whether or not you're 100% on board with some of their actions, there is a reason why people would gravitate towards them, and in the end, would see them as revolutionaries, rather than the terrorists that some would prefer them to be. 

Daniel Kaluuya, through calm intimidation, a mournful gaze, and lot of intellectual charm, gives an unforgettable performance. Whether he's acting with his words or his striking stare, Kaluuya is at his best here, deserving of award recognition. As brilliant is Lakeith Stanfield, who continues to demonstrate why he's the kind of actor I think of when one mentions range. It would be so easy to make his character out to be a straight up villain, but the film doesn't take the easy way out here. You can see why he makes some of the decisions he does even if some of those decisions are cowardly, and you can see the rather heartbreaking guilt in his eyes when he's forced to come to terms with his actions. There is some fantastic supporting work from Jesse Plemons and Dominique Fishback (as "Deborah Johnson", Hampton's pregnant girlfriend), along with a menacingly unrecognizable Martin Sheen. 

"Judas and the Black Messiah" is the kind of film that you can't help but see certain elements that feel more than relevant. You can talk about how violence isn't the answer or how harsh rhetoric could insight possible bloodshed (Though that doesn't mean anything anymore considering what just happened at the capitol recently, along with how few people have actually seen repercussions for it), but in the end though, the weaponization of fear by our own government, especially when it comes to minorities speaking out against inarguable injustice and the lingering hatred that will never go away (Doesn't help when you refuse to acknowledge it's still here), is something that you should never have allowed in the greatest country in the world. It doesn't help that we're still doing it. Black Lives Matter, or even Antifa (Some people are really trying to make them out to be the next big terrorist group), weren't the ones who armed themselves and tried to demolish our democracy because their hate spewing, mentally incompetent reality star turned President didn't win. I guess because they weren't a bunch of angry dark skinned people, they just weren't that scary. The film provides great performances, compelling dialogue, and a relevant story, that you would think that we wouldn't need to hear anymore. I feel like a broken record with this! The film sidelines a few details to be sure (What biopic doesn't?), but the themes of empowerment and the fight for civil justice are something that you would think that we as Americans would all connect with. Sadly, too many would rather choose to be afraid and hate, rather than deal with the real issue hidden beneath the surface. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Racial Injustice, And Fear Mongering (Just Not From The People Fox News Is Telling You Is Spreading It).  

Bliss                                                            by James Eagan                                      ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "See out there? That's where all of the good scripts are."

I always like to think that if one doesn't have anything of importance or poignancy to contribute, then you probably shouldn't force yourself into a debate, especially one that's too complicated for simple answers. This is a movie that seems to want to elaborate on themes of what we perceive as human emotion, what's truly real or just simulation, and what humanity can lose to technology. At least that's what I think may have been the point the filmmakers were trying to make. Part of me just thought it could have been just total bullcrap. That is a likely possibility.    

"Bliss" follows "Greg Wittle" (Owen Wilson), a recent divorcee, who spends his time at his office job doodling a dream home and a very pretty woman who looks a lot like Salma Hayek, which leads to him getting fired and accidentally killing his boss. In panic, Greg attempts to hide out in a bar, where he meets a mysterious woman, "Isabel" (Salma Hayek), who assures Greg that everyone around them, along with the world itself, isn't real. She claims that the both of them are inside a simulation of sorts, and with the help of some colorful crystals, they can actually manipulate the world in ways that amuse them (Or at least, it appears that they do). Greg, being you know, a dumb guy, totally believes everything Isabel is saying, especially the part about them being soulmates, and runs away with her, abandoning his family in the process. Greg and Isabel plan to find a way out of the simulation, though Greg's daughter, "Emily" (Nesta Cooper), is determined to find him.  

Written and directed by Mike Cahill ("Another Earth", "I Origins". I guess he's a fan of philosophical Science Fiction), "Bliss" a misguided mess of a film, that has a lot of big ideas and absolutely no clue what the Hell to do with any of them. The exposition heavy screenplay appears to be almost intentionally convoluted and overly intricate in an act of desperation to make sure that one doesn't poke holes. It's solid logic when you think about it. How does one make sense of something that overtly is trying not to make sense? The movie repeatedly stops completely dead to explain itself, and yet, the rules that the film establishes are either always changing or don't actually have a part to play. It's based around a premise that doesn't have much originality, introducing mindbending concepts that don't amount to that much. Greg and Isabel seem to have Jedi-like powers, which also look as if they're going to play some kind of role as the movie goes on, but like many of the film's surreal ideas, they're abandoned partway through. There's a second half kind of twist that feels like we've jumped into a completely different movie, only adding to the confused narrative.

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek are both trying their best, and occasionally give decent performances. Sadly, due to terrible writing and even worse direction, Wilson's forced to just act perplexed the entire time, while Hayek's motivation (And sanity) is always changing. The subplot involving Nesta Cooper and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (as "Arthur", Greg's son, who I guess may or may not be real either), is one of those aspects that one would leave entirely on the cutting room floor, especially considering how it only undercuts the mystery the movie is trying to establish. The most fascinating thing to appear in the movie would be the appearance of Bill Nye the Science Guy (as himself, I think, considering his bow tie), which is made even more unintentionally hilarious because his role plays a minor role during his out of nowhere, oddly extended cameo. 

Nonsensical, awkward, and worst of all, so damn boring, "Bliss" may not be particularly long, but dear God, does it feel like it is. Under the belief that it's somehow smarter than it actually is and won't shut the Hell up about it, any kind of message that the film is trying to make gets lost in all the pretentiousness. This is even more noticeable during the climax, where things seemingly get more comical (An innocent guy may be dead, but not only does nobody seem to care, but it's made into a joke) and result in a rather forced ending. Nothing blissful about it considering the massive headache you're left with. 1 Star. Rated R For Language, Crystallized Drug Consumption, And Loads Of Rotten Bologna Passed Of As Science Talk.  

Earwig and the Witch                               by James Eagan                               ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""He was feasting on human remains behind a dumpster....Can I keep him?"

Even the greatest of the greats can have their off days. The kind of day that just has you repeating to yourself "Man, this is really not working". 

From Studio Ghibli (Who brought us many, many classics such as "My Neighbor Totoro", "Princess Mononoke", and honestly, too many to list. You should know most of them by now), "Earwig and the Witch" follows a young, weird little orphan girl named "Earwig" (Taylor Paige Henderson), who is given the name, "Erica Wig", by the matrons. Earwig has since become the apparent ruler of the orphanage, ever since being left at the orphanage's doorstep by an unknown woman, who may or may not have been a witch. Loved by everyone around her, Earwig has no intention of getting adopted. However, she surprisingly finds herself picked by a large, frightening woman, "Bella Yaga" (Vanessa Marshall), and her even more frightening companion, "The Mandrake" (Richard E. Grant). Earwig discovers that Bella Yaga is a witch, with the Mandrake being a mysterious being of possible even greater power. Despite asking to be taught magic, Earwig is instead forced to slave away and perform all kinds of depressing tasks under Yaga (Who says she only wanted "An extra pair of hands"). Unable to flee her new home, Earwig schemes, along with Yaga's cat familiar (Magical demon in animal form, who serves under a witch), "Thomas" (Dan Stevens), to avoid Yaga's punishments and take over the household. While enacting her plan, Earwig takes an interest in a band conveniently also named "Earwig", led by an unknown singer (Kacey Musgraves), which you know, may or may not have a connection to this entire ordeal in some shape or form. 

Released through HBO Max (And in some select theaters) and directed by Gorō Miyazaki (Son of the great Haya Miyazaki, who also directed "From Up on Poppy Hill"), "Earwig and the Witch" is the beloved studio's first ever fully CGI animated film. In a way, it feels more like an experiment than anything, and by the end, it's a small tragedy to report that it never truly comes together in a satisfying manner. It's more awkward and kind of frustrating. The talent is there, and every once in a while, you see hints of potential, but the film is lacking in the heart and charm that we've come to expect from Studio Ghibli. What we get is a somewhat convoluted and mostly plot free series of quirky little setpieces that offer occasional mild amusement, yet not much of substance and very little worth remembrance. It's one thing for a Studio Ghibli movie to not be very good, but it's another entirely for it to just be forgettable. It's a shame because while the animation can be jarring at times (Having watched the English dub, the more detailed and expressive faces look a bit more awkward at first, considering the mouth movements not always lining up the same way they would in traditional 2D animation), it's not without its charm. The designs are fun and the movements entertaining, with some eye popping visual flair. The real fault lies with the story and screenplay, which feels aimless and overly simplistic in characterization. 

Despite a very solid voicecast, I wouldn't say many of the characters are anything to write home about. Taylor Paige Henderson incorporates more of a natural sense of charm than the actual character, who really isn't interesting enough to carry an hour and twenty minute movie. Dan Stevens is a decent amount of fun, while Vanessa Marshall is a veteran voice actress, so you know she'll give it her all. Richard E. Grant easily steals the show, making for the film's most fascinating aspect, and the closest thing the film gets to something genuinely heartwarming. I'm not sure if everything involving Kacey Musgraves is meant to be part of some kind of twist or not, because if it was, it was very obvious to figure out. The film has a catchy music score, and gets an occasional laugh (Most of them revolving around sight gags), though just slogs along for most of its runtime. It would be more forgivable if there was just more to gravitate towards. 

"Earwig and the Witch" is just a bit of a misfire. Not bad by any means, considering you can see hints of something unique somewhere within the film's thinly written narrative. Sadly, the magic isn't there. It feels pointless and while maybe something that could keep the youngest of children entertained for a bit, this studio has already made a name for themselves for making films that anyone of any age can enjoy, so I don't think its entirely ungrateful to fairly ask for something more. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Slightly Frightening Images, Worm Related Punishments, and Lax Child Labor Laws. 

Malcolm & Marie                                    by James Eagan                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Yeah, but how about that supporting cast?

Can a movie do its job too well? If the end result was meant to frustrate and exhaust, the filmmakers have truly done a spectacular job. Imagine the big argument from 2019's "Marriage Story" (The one that's been memed into oblivion), except that's the whole hour and forty minute movie. That makes for a very unpleasant, though undeniably successful cinematic experiment that I can only assume was a success. It serves as a good reminder as to why I fear emotional confrontation. 

Released through Netflix, "Malcolm & Marie" follows a film writer/director, "Malcolm Elliott" (John David Washington), and his former actress girlfriend, "Marie Jones" (Zendaya), as they return home from Malcolm's new film premiere, which has begun to earn Malcolm the praise he's been seeking. However, something is clearly off about Malcolm and Marie's relationship at the moment. After some passive aggressive comments and the eating of macaroni and cheese (On an unimportant note, that looked really, really good in black and white. Not sure how or why, but it just did), an argument erupts between Malcolm and Marie, which spirals further as the night goes on. Throughout the argument, there's some light talk, discussions about the current state of the film industry and film criticism, and how it seems to find a way to force itself into the heated debate between the two lovers, slowly revealing more about what really is getting under their skin. 

Written and directed by Sam Levinson ("Assassination Nation", "Euphoria") and filmed during during our still going pandemic, "Malcolm & Marie" is a small scale, close quartered, and seemingly never ending wild ride of mixed emotions and constant mood swings. The film rarely takes a break from the nearly headache inducing back and forth between our only two characters, which only pauses to lure the audience into a false sense of security before diving right back into barely hidden outrage. The claustrophobia really kicks in at the harshest moments, which even makes for some slight suspense, especially as you're left in awe of where exactly it's all going to go next. Shot in black and white, the film is gorgeously directed, with a lot of clever camera angles and most importantly, much focus on the two compelling leads, who more than anything else, are the main attraction. 

John David Washington and Zendaya (Who both also served as producers) are a special kind of spectacular in the film, portraying three dimensional characters, each with their own flaws and endearment. You like them to a certain degree, and they both get their equal amount of time in the limelight, such as a scathing speech from Zendaya towards the film's climax and a rather impressive rant from Washington that begins with a critic's review. As much praise as I can give to the screenplay however, I can't help but also feel that for as well done as it is, it detracts from the film in meaningful ways. It's somewhat repetitive in nature, and due to the film's longer than necessary length, at some point you feel like intervening. Be honest with yourself, you shouted "Will you two shut up!" at least once or twice. 

Intensely passionate and occasionally profound (Levinson is most likely a cinema buff), "Malcolm & Marie" doesn't exactly build to much, with the argument at times treading the same already covered ground. I guess that makes it more realistic, but still, it makes for a film experience that I can definitely see resulting in a divisive audience reaction. If somebody told me that they found it to be excessive, overindulgent, and well, just too much for too little resolution, I to a certain point kind of agree. However, I feel that it's necessary. It is painful at times and you want it to just end, much like how a real quarrel such as this could possibly go. The dialogue is insightful, even when it drags on, and the leads are too captivating to ignore. It makes for a film that might be doing too good of a job portraying a broken romance, but one that I was thoroughly invested in despite never again wanting any part of it. Happy Early Valentines Day everyone! 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And For Dangerously Spiking My Anxiety Repeatedly. 

The Little Things                                     by James Eagan                                  ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So....How'd you spend your quarantine?"

This is truly one of those fascinating movies where it's not because of the actual mysteries within the film, but instead because of how many great ingredients have gone into it and yet, it just doesn't work. At first you're wondering why you're watching a film starring three Academy Award winning actors in January of all places, and it have nothing to do with Oscar season. Then you watch the movie and it all kind of starts to make sense. There's always at least one every year. Even on streaming. 

Taking place during the 1990s, "The Little Things" follows Kern County deputy, "Joe Deacon" (Denzel Washington), also known as "Deke", who is sent on a case to "Los Angeles", where at that moment, the LA Police Department is having their own trouble solving another case involving the grisly deaths of young girls. Despite the best efforts of their best detective, "Jim Baxter" (Rami Malek), there isn't a single suspect to go after. Deke also has some history with the LAPD, and hardly anyone appears happy to see him. Baxter, at first seemingly just out of pity, allows Deke to assist on the case, but as they dig deeper, the two eventually find a possibly suspect in the form of local, greasy weirdo, "Albert Sparma" (Jared Leto), who also happens to be a self proclaimed crime buff. Sparma looks like the most obvious choice, though something doesn't quite fit into the narrative. Meanwhile, Deke's obsessive desire to solve the case conflicts with Baxter's, calling everything into question. 

Released through HBO Max and both written and directed by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side", "Saving Mr. Banks", "The Founder"), "The Little Things" is a dark, slow paced thriller that isn't without its moments of high creep factor and emotional drama. The film looks really good, filled with dark atmosphere and an eye for the setting without needing to overstate itself. (The subtle 90s references do add a little extra life to things)  However, the film doesn't remotely meet the standards that the filmmakers appear to have set, and is most certainly not as good of a movie as the screenplay seems to think it is. John Lee Hancock's script lacks the depth necessary to make such a dour film such as this really work, and in spite of his apparent best efforts, some of the mysteries aren't near as interesting as we're told. To make things worse, the payoffs (Or in some cases, the lack of a payoff), don't leave the intended impact. 

The great actors involved are stuck with mediocre material, though do their best to give good performances. Denzel Washington is his usual, commanding self. However, there are aspects about his character's storyline that don't get the reaction that I believe is needed. We're left wondering what exactly his character did to become so detested, but when it slowly starts to come together, it ends up being pretty obvious. Rami Malek appears to have been told to play his character in a detached fashion at first, though he does start to get the chance to show off the range we know he's capable of. Jared Leto meanwhile generates a lot of unpleasantness, and does so in expert fashion. He's easily the most fascinating character in the film, with it always being in question whether he's actually guilty or if he's simply just a weirdo with strange hobbies. Leto becomes the most memorable part of the film (And also happens to have the most personality as well), but doesn't come into the film until about halfway through. The pacing can really be felt if you don't have anything to gravitate towards. 

"The Little Things" builds up the suspense in the last act and offers a little last second excitement. Sadly, the final conclusion becomes predictable and not particularly original. I swear I've seen things like this done much better in both TV and movies, and with the talent behind the film, it feels rather uninspired. There's potential here and frequently it shines through. I just get the idea that the filmmakers thought they had enough to carry the film in spite of the lack of originality, and the final product could have used a possible rewrite or two to add a little more personality to make up for it. January really was the perfect time to release it. 2 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Imagery, Ghostly Foot Massages, And The Fact That You Can Basically Smell Jared Leto Through The Screen. 

Our Friend                                               by James Eagan                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: ""So then Seth Rogan dropped his pants....Oh, wait....This isn't that kind of movie."

2020 didn't give us much to work with, considering how many movies were delayed, became difficult to find, or just faded away from existence, the new year has already begun to continue the previous year's trend of pushing everything back. This time I plan to be more prepared to get back to seeing things that I might not normally see on my own, allowing myself to continue to expand on what I watch and later recommend, while also giving time to smaller, more personal films. 

Inspired by a true story, "Our Friend" follows "Matthew Teague" (Casey Affleck), along with his wife, "Nicole" (Dakota Johnson), as they struggle with her cancer diagnosis, which only gives her a limited amount of time to live. They find some much needed help getting through this from a dear friend, "Dane" (Jason Segel), who has never gotten far in life, but happens to be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Dane helps his friend's daughters, "Molly" (Isabella Rice) and "Evie" (Violet McGraw), through this distressing time, as Matthew and Nicole's cope with their dwindling time together, as Dane's presence helps make their difficulties bearable. Really, the plot is just how goodness, while it can't make pain go away, at least dilutes it and reminds you of the joys of life. 

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Blackfish", "Megan Leavey"), with a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby ("Out of the Furnace", "The Way Back") that adapts the "Esquire" article by the real life Matthew Teague, "Our Friend" isn't a particularly exciting, original, or even all that important a film. It's something that will easily be forgotten by the year's end, and if not openly sought out, would probably go under most people's radars. What the film really end up being is just very sweet, simple, and exactly the kind of thing you might need to give a look to on the chance that you're feeling a little depressed. The film does a solid job of balancing an off-kilter sense of humor to go with some heavy drama, which is handled in a realistic and mature fashion, without needing to overstate itself. Now that isn't to say that the movie isn't without its predictable beats or moments of unnecessary conflict (There's a late sort of twist that can be seen a mile away, and adds nothing), but in a way, some of that comes with the territory. The filmmakers at least find ways to counteract it with how likable it is, with the audience understanding or even relating to the flaws of the characters, giving off the feelings of knowing people in real life who might seem similar. (Some might even see a little bit of themselves in it) 

Jason Segel is quite wonderful, generating a lovable warmth and sense of humor, yet also inhabiting a hidden sadness that perhaps many people like this try to keep out of sight from others. There are some fantastic performances from Casey Affleck (He's generally excellent) and an especially affecting Dakota Johnson. However, the film doesn't do much when it comes to supporting characters, who sort of just come and go throughout, though there is a brief standout moment from Gwendoline Christie (as "Teresa", a woman that Dane ends up taking a random hike with), who gets a very insightful little scene. There's a little forced conflict at some point, but thankfully, it's looked over quickly and avoids tossing in some kind of antagonist. It wouldn't have been necessary to do so, and I appreciate the filmmakers never forgetting what the movie in the end is truly meant to be about. 

"Our Friend" is a rather straightforward sentimental film, that doesn't do anything too new, nor is it really meant to. It's just sincere and heartwarming, generating some mild, good natured laughs in the process to go with the human oriented drama. It's a movie that I see a lot of people just kind of ignoring, though could find an audience with those seeking a bit of a pick me up right now without much consequence. Considering this January's lack of cinematic content at the moment, we could all use it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language And Heavy Themes. 

Outside the Wire                                        by James Eagan                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Falcon", helping to stop an attempt at a violent insurrection to stop the American democratic process.

What is the whole deal with Netflix and their love of low budget, only somewhat science fiction, that to be perfectly honest, all kind of look the same? It's almost like Netflix is their go-to distributor when they're not certain if a big screen release will draw much of a crowd. Not to mention with the lack of theaters being open at the moment and the many bored souls that spend their days searching through Netflix to escape their real life problems, the movies truly have found a to flourish as best they can. At least until "Disney+" releases more Marvel stuff. 

Taking place sometime in the not so far off future, "Outside the Wire" where the United States creates robotic soldiers, known as "Gumps", to combat Russian mercenaries led by "Victor Koval" (Pilou Asbæk). After disobeying orders (And getting a couple Marines killed), drone pilot "Lt. Thomas Harp" (Damson Idris), gets moved to Ukraine, where the US has their main base of operations to combat Koval's forces. Now disgraced in the eyes of his fellow soldiers, Harp is commanded by his new superior, "Eckhart" (Michael Kelly), to work under "Captain Leo" (Anthony Mackie), who as it turns out, is an artificially created, very advanced, and incredibly skilled android, created to be the perfect super soldier. To prevent Koval from getting his hands on nuclear missiles, Leo and Harp embark on a secret mission into Ukraine, where Harp begins to suspect there's something Leo isn't telling him. They encounter Koval's enforcers (Which also includes his own versions of the Gumps), a resistance group led by the almost equally ruthless "Sofiya" (Emily Beecham), and America's need to fire a drone strike first and ask questions later, while everyone's true motivations start to reveal themselves. 

Directed by Mikael Håfström ("Escape Plan") and released through Netflix, "Outside the Wire" is a relatively small scale action flick with moderately high ambitions, but with one simple goal to be your average science-fiction thriller of the week. It'll be entertaining in the moment, with aspects that might even lend itself to something even more fascinating, but at the end of the day, the filmmakers have no intention of taking things as far as they possibly can go. The film borrows a lot of elements from various well known properties, though "Terminator" seems to be the most obvious one. That isn't a bad thing, and what keeps the film from being something completely forgettable. Topics about what humanity is willing to sacrifice during warfare, what technology and weaponry we should be allowed to use as we please, and the many that will always be caught in the crossfire no matter who is actually in the right throughout the conflict, are all addressed and given a somewhat unique spin. However, the movie also wants to be an explosion filled video game, and the two can only work with the absolute best working behind the scenes. What we get is decently made enough, but fairly bland and most of all, not near as good as it actually could be. 

Anthony Mackie is still excellent in the film, generating a lot of charisma, mystery, and occasional intimidation, making for a very interestingly complicated character that keeps you guessing to what his true motives are. Damson Idris also does a good job playing the audience surrogate, and goes through a steady character arc. Some supporting characters add little, such as Emily Beecham's surprisingly inconsequential (And intellectually lacking) character and especially Pilou Asbæk, who is barely even a character. The special effects are solid for what they are, with the Gumps appearing rarely and not getting much focus, though the best use of CGI ends up being on Anthony Mackie's Leo. (His body is made up of a synthetic, gel like substance, which gives off a distinctive and original robotic design)

 "Outside the Wire" has potential and only occasionally know its, but would rather give its audience the simplest of pleasures that usually come from a low budget action thriller. It's fun in the moment, with a few well crafted action sequences and drama that's enhanced by good performances. It's also unmemorable and when you really get down to it, just kind of weak. Not near enough has been invested into anything I can fully recommend except to quell those early January woes. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Language, And Military Machismo. 

Locked Down                                           by James Eagan                             ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Are they the ones who stole the election?

I'm officially starting to forget what normalcy looks like anymore, and it's not helping when movies are also referencing the pandemic. I'm having trouble remembering what the world was like before we had to wear masks everywhere we went. In just a few months, we will be reaching the anniversary for when it all went to sh*t, and I'm starting to feel like this might be the new normal. We already know things are going to be different and in others, are never going to be the same. When all of our movies are going to start referencing it, I don't think there will be any going back for quite a while.   

"Locked Down" follows disgruntled married couple, "Linda" (Anne Hathaway) and "Paxton" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), on the verge of separation. However, before the two of them can leave each other, COVID-19 happens, initiating lockdown in London. Now stuck with each other and working from home the best they can, Linda and Paxton's relationship continues to deteriorate. Paxton, desperate to move up in the world, having been trapped in a job as a delivery truck driver due to a felony, finally gets his boss, "Malcolm" (Ben Kingsley), to allow for a chance a promotion. Due to Paxton's felony, he will be required to do deliveries with a false identity (The identity being "Edgar Allen Poe", since Paxton's boss is a moron). Meanwhile, Linda, who runs a fashion company, is tasked to fire some employees and clear out a "Harods" department store (One of the items to be cleared out being a rare diamond). Their schedules end up overlapping, with Paxton's last run being at Harods, making Paxton's job more difficult. Then the two get the wacky idea that since there is also a replica diamond at the store (And because of COVID restrictions, security will be lacking), to um, permanently borrow the diamond, with nobody being the wiser. 

Released through HBO Max (Movie theaters? Who needs them?), "Locked Down" is a movie that might be construed as "Insensitive" or "Too soon", much like last year's horrifically offensive and insultingly stupid "Songbird", but I can assure people that it's nowhere close to that level. Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Edge of Tomorrow"), with a screenplay by Steven Knight ("Hummingbird", "Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"......Not that "Serenity". The bad one), the film actually has something to say, and is a lot more competently made. Aside from the questionable timing, it's a fairly likable sort of romantic comedy, that while a little off in terms of execution and pacing, makes up for it with a somewhat eccentric, mostly dialogue heavy charm. Due to the fact that the film was in production right in the middle of the whole pandemic, there aren't many locations, secondary characters, or even much real movement at all. Most of the film focuses specifically on our leads, or maybe sometimes the people they talk to via Zoom calls, which are complete with constant freezing and sound issues. (It's nice to see a movie actually address that kind of thing) It just takes a while for things to really get moving, which is especially noticeable when the actual main plotline doesn't fully come into play into about halfway through. It's subtlety hinted at throughout, but if you didn't already know about the film's premise, it would almost feel out of nowhere. 

 What carries the film more than anything would be the flawless chemistry, and delightful onscreen presences of Anne Hathaway (Looking cute and endearing as usual) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Who it's nice to see doing a comedy, considering how great a dramatic actor he is) are hard not to like. They get some great banter between each other, and even though their characters are meant to be strained, you can still see these characters really do have a connection. Most of the movie is just focusing on them, though it does leave room for rather brief appearances from Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller (as Linda's boss), Stephen Merchant (as the head of security at Harods), Mindy Kaling (as a former co-worker of Linda's), along with amusing parts for Dulé Hill (as "David", Paxton's half-brother) and Jazmyn Simon (as "Maria", David's wife, who Linda may or may not have had a sexual experience with). 

Brought down a bit by possible poor timing and an execution of style that will either make or break the film (It's not boring, but it's not exactly an "Exciting" film), "Locked Down" isn't a movie that will find itself appealing to everyone. It is however, quite fun, and despite the romantic comedy aspect to the premise, it defies a lot of the standard tropes that many films of that genre tend to overly rely on. Also, unlike "Songbird", the film has a bit of a point to itself, addressing that in a way us being in lockdown could be seen as a positive, aside from the obvious protection from the virus. It makes you think about what exactly you've been doing in your life and now you're forced to contemplate the future, especially when we as a species really took a lot of things for granted. Very fitting to think about considering how things in real life are very much going to be different from now on. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language And Pieces Of Fabric, Worn Over Your Face That Violate Your Constitutional Rights In Ways That Nobody Has Been Able To Actually Explain To Me. 

Shadow in the Cloud                               by James Eagan                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Wait....This isn't  prequel to 'Gremlins'?"

What's the best way to start off the new, hopefully better year? Aside from allowing deranged, bigoted loonies to storm our Capitol and attempt to overthrow democracy (Now that twist I did see coming years ago), it's to make way for something of little consequence, but enough good old fashioned cheesy entertainment value. It makes the January dumping ground much easier to get through. 

Set in 1943, and after an amusing little animated PSA assuring that so called "Gremlins" aren't sabotaging war planes, "Shadow in the Cloud" follows a supposed British Flight Officer, "Maude Garrett" (Chloë Grace Moretz), who boards a B-17 bomber plane, "The Fool's Errand", with a mysterious package that she claims contains secret documents and must be delivered without question. Most of the bomber's crew is immediately antagonistic and sexist towards Garrett, with the captain, "John Reeves" (Callan Mulvey), sending Garrett to sit in the ball turret, forced to leave her package with the nice guy, "Walter Quaid" (Taylor John Smith). After the plane takes off in the middle of a storm, Garrett notices something is off about the flight, especially when she notices a terrifying looking shadow on the side of the plane. When parts of the bomber plane start to fall apart, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. With the sudden arrival of Japanese fighter planes, and the revelation that there is in fact a bloodthirsty gremlin on board, it's up to Garrett to take command of the situation, while her true mission slowly starts to become apparent. 

Directed by Roseanne Liang, who also rewrote the screenplay previous written by known douchebag, Max Landis (He was completely removed from the project due to sexual misconduct and misogynistic comments, only receiving a legal credit. I'm assuming the feminist message was not the original draft), "Shadow in the Cloud" is not the kind of movie that will make any best or worst lists. Granted, the filmmakers know that. It's not supposed to. It has one simple job to do, which is provide silly, tongue in cheek popcorn flick fun, that also has a surprise sense of empowerment and believe it or not, a few unexpected twists. The movie is rather original in execution. It doesn't fully explain everything right off the bat, unraveling things as it progresses. The film spends a decent chunk of its short runtime focusing on the main character as she's confined to the ball turret. 

Chloë Grace Moretz is the star of the show in more ways than one. Aside from being the lead, we see everything from her perspective, meaning the other characters are mostly heard through voice over, and the same goes for the creature itself. What we learn about her character is hinted at, but not explained right away. Moretz is also quite the badass in the action scenes, providing a showcase of her versatility as an actress, which is not something you expect to see in what's essentially nothing more than a B-Movie creature feature. The rest of the cast mostly serves their purpose, with Taylor John Smith playing the nice guy, Nick Robinson (as "Beckell", the rookie gunner) playing the inexperienced one, Byron Coll (as "Finch", one of the more antagonistic ones) playing the dick, and Callan Mulvey playing the stern captain, but the film is almost completely focused on Moretz, who makes up for the film's lack of depth with the supporting cast. As for the creature itself, it's a creepy looking, though not exactly realistic looking creation, that still manages to make for a scary threat. 

"Shadow in the Cloud" is a cleverly directed (Liang makes great use of cinematography and seemingly intentionally lackluster visual effects), effectively suspenseful thriller, that's part monster movie, part war drama, and part female empowering epic. While it gets somewhat more hard to believe as it goes along (Considering what's revealed to be inside the package and what it goes through, how is it not damaged in anyway by the end of the film?), it's very entertaining to watch and has the makings of a future cult classic. Not a bad way to start off the new year. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Sexist Dudes, and Violent Winged Monkey Rats.         

Promising Young Woman                        by James Eagan                      ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: A promising young future Oscar winner. 

There are aspects of our culture that you would think that we would have overcome by now. Sure we still have our obsessive need to discriminate, hold on to worn out traditions, and try to reshape history so that it doesn't look as bad as it actually was. College rape culture though. We're past that one at least right? Like, nobody defends that, right? Um, right? 

"Promising Young Woman" follows "Cassie Thomas" (Carey Mulligan) who, after a tragedy involving a close friend from college, "Nina", has made it her personal mission in life to pose as a drunk woman at bars and wait for supposed "nice guys" to pick her up, then take advantage of her while she's apparently inebriated. Once they're trapped, Cassie reveals her ruse to them and ruthlessly berates them for what they planned to do, keeping track of her targets while she does. She lives with her parents, "Stanley" (Clancy Brown) and "Susan" (Jennifer Coolidge), and has let her personal mission control her life, though she does start to change her mind when she falls for a doctor, "Ryan" (Bo Burnham). However, after learning the one responsible for what happened to Nina, the proclaimed cool guy that everybody likes, "Al Monroe" (Chris Lowell), returns to the picture to get married, Cassie goes after all of the ones who played a role in the incident, exacting her vengeance.  

From first time director, writer, and producer, Emerald Fennell (With Margot Robbie also serving as a producer), "Promising Young Woman" is kind of demented. It's an unhinged, nonchalantly twisted piece of work that despite a humorous tone centered around it, still makes for one of the darkest movies this year. Basically the term "Pulling your punches" doesn't mean crap to this movie. It instead intends to take a hammer to your face, then kick you in the crotch just for the Hell of it. It's the right amount of uncomfortable, and Fennell's genre-bending screenplay and suspenseful direction bring it all together in a complex puzzle of strangeness. The movie is filled with well crafted scenes, along with simplistic, yet memorable cinematography. It looks gorgeously, with clever use of color and background imagery. Despite the really dark subtext, there are a lot of funny moments, even though these bits might make one cringe or wince at the same time. 

Much of what carries the film is Carey Mulligan, who makes for an incredible presence in the film. Sympathetic one moment, terrifying the next, and at times, quite unlikable, the character goes through various moods and changes throughout, and Mulligan keeps the character grounded. She further compels the audience to follow her even when they're disturbed by some of her actions. While this is Carey Mulligan's show, the film has an excellent ensemble of recognizable faces, such as Bo Burnham (Who Mulligan has terrific chemistry with), Alison Brie (as "Madison", an old college acquaintance of Cassie's), Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox (as "Gail", Cassie's boss), Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield (as a dumb buddy of Al's), Alfred Molina (as "Jordan Green", Al's lawyer), Connie Britton (as the dean of Cassie's college), Molly Shannon (as Nina's mother), along with Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as a pair of Cassie's unsuspecting "victims"). 

"Promising Young Woman" addresses some worn out old sayings, such as "Well, what do you expect?", "Maybe she was asking for it.", or "Boys will be boys", without the need of portraying everything as good and evil, but also not letting those who allow for such actions off easy. It just so happens to do so with a somewhat sadistic smirk. While I can see some not exactly getting behind where the film eventually concludes, it remains fully committed to the twisting and turning tone that's been set up, and is either way, anything but predictable. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, And Untrustworthy Guys Who Just Can't Help Themselves.    

Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise                                              by James Eagan                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "Megatron. Are you talking to yourself again?" 

I reviewed the previous season of the "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy" not just because of my love of "Transformers", but mostly because at the time, I was struggling to find movies to review. This doesn't mean that I'm going to start reviewing more shows, Netflix events, or limited series, anytime soon. I do however feel that I might as well review the rest since there's not only a good amount to talk about, but I still have to fix what the Michael Bay movies failed to do (And "Star Wars" fans have the balls to think that they know cinematic pain....), and prove to the uninitiated that underneath all of the toy based consumerism, there's something truly great about this franchise. There is a lot of toy based consumerism still. It's just really, really cool though. 

Following the events of the first act, titled "Siege", "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" begins its second act in the epic battle between the heroic (But flawed) "Autobots" and the evil (But complicated) "Decepticons". After Autobot leader, "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee), sent the much needed "Allspark" into space to keep it out of the hands (And the luscious lips) of Decepticon leader, "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha), Prime, along with a few more Autobots, including the new recruit, "Bumblebee" (Joe Zieja), boarded the "Ark", to leave their homeworld of "Cybertron". The Ark vanishes, leaving their survival in question. Now "Elita-1" (Linsay Rousseau), must lead the remaining Autobot forces against Megatron, who works with Decepticon mad scientist, "Shockwave" (Todd Haberkorn), on a special plan known as "Project: Nemesis" (Which is powered by the harvested sparks of both Autobots and Decepticons). Meanwhile, Optimus and the others, as it turns out, are still alive in deep space, but are not in the hands of a group of factionless mercenaries, led by "Doubledealer" (Michael Schwalbe) working for the five faced "Quintesson", known as "Deseeus" (Voiced by Jolene Anderson, Keith Silverstein, Jay Sanford, Joseph Houghton, and also Linsay Rousseau). With more dangers left to face, Optimus and his allies continue their search for the Allspark and Megatron leads his forces to hunt them down. However, the battle for survival takes an unexpected turn involving the past, present, and future, that could alter the course of everything.    

From Rooster Teeth Studios, "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" should come with a quick warning before it starts for certain longtime fans. If you weren't a fan of the first part, you're definitely not going to be won over. A vocal minority of the fanbase just couldn't find themselves getting into the first act, and I can to a degree understand why. (Granted, after five live action films, with two of them being some of the worst things I've ever seen in a theater. That's not me being overdramtic. I'm being 100% honest there!) Told through six episodes once again, the story is darker, slower paced, has longer, drawn out moments of dialogue, and lacks the usual goofy sense of humor that many have gotten accustomed to. In a way, it's very different for this franchise. I think though, in spite of that, it's something that rather feels like a breath of fresh air for it. The factions aren't so simple, with the villains showing some depth and the heroes making more questionable decisions. I love the character interactions, especially when Optimus and Megatron are the main focus, though I truly appreciate the time given to Elita-1, who has always kind of been the background in most incarnations, but this time has her own major subplot. (A downside being that her storyline takes a backseat about halfway through before becoming more important towards the finale) The action is also thrilling to watch, with the animators having a lot of fun with the many abilities and transformations that the characters have, which are also integral to their personalities. Even bit players have a little extra something to them, which makes them more humanized (Well, humanized as far as an alien, transforming robot can be). 

The voice cast, while talented, are some of the more mixed aspects, though thankfully the characters are well written enough to make up for it. Jake Foushee's Optimus has been a major point in the broken base, mostly because of how much more incapable he is as a leader this time around. I actually really like that aspect though. He's a flawed hero, that sometimes has a tendency to struggle with his perceived legacy, and I do think Foushee gets better, especially during the climax. A standout would be Jason Marnocha's Megatron, who makes for one of the compelling, yet still frightening incarnations of the character. He truly believes himself to be the true savior of his race, though commits horrible acts to achieve his goals, which only get more and more ruthless as he goes along. It's a great villain, and the places his story goes are both shocking and thoroughly exciting, even more so for a longtime fan. (They also toned down his lips. So that's already a positive.) Other beloved characters get their time in the spotlight, such as Elita-1, Bumblebee, Shockwave, and my personal favorite, Megatron's treacherous second in command, "Starscream" (Frank Todaro), while some others get surprise roles, such as an interesting take on "Sky Lynx" (Sean Wright), a towering "Scorponok" (Michael Dunn), and some that you would never expect to play a part here. One gripe I have is that Deseeus, along with the Quintesson/mercenary storyline, doesn't quite serve much purpose except to have a third party for the climax. 

"Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" has plot twists galore, a moody atmosphere, too many references to count, and well directed action, which would be nothing without the series' realization that character is what makes this all matter. Regardless of a few little shortcomings, you're invested in both hero and villain, and can at least understand why they make the choices they do. The final two episodes take this all to a place that I wouldn't have seen coming, and while it brings everything together, ends on an abrupt cliffhanger with many lingering questions. It's not for every fan, and I while I get why, I am thoroughly excited (And most of all captivated) by where it's all going to conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated TV-Y7 For Some Bizarre Reason, Despite Some Gruesome Deaths. Sure They're Robots That Bleed Purple, But It's Still Disturbing To Watch. 

Wonder Woman 1984                       by James Eagan                             ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: An Angel with really shiny wings.

Is this really the future of cinema right here? Releasing upcoming films both in theaters and on streaming at the same time? This actually does somewhat have me worried. I don't think that the art of film is never going to recover, or that movie theaters will all shut down (Though they most certainly will take a hit. Then again though, what can you do?). I'm more worried that we might just be past the point of no return (People might just be too used to this), and that studios might be preparing for the long haul. We're going to be feeling the effects of Covid long after its gone, and that's hoping it goes away anytime soon. So with all that said, something inspiring good old fashioned superhero heroism in a year without it (It's jarring not to have a Marvel movie this year) was needed.  

"Wonder Woman 1984" follows the powerful and immortal Themascarian Amazon princess and warrior, "Diana Prince" (Gal Gadot), aka "Wonder Woman", as she secretly fights crime all over the world, while also working in the Washington D.C. Smithsonian as an anthropologist. While in D.C., she befriends a socially insecure archaeologist, "Barbara Minerva" (Kristen Wiig) and studies ancient cultures, such as a mysterious relic, known as the "Dreamstone" (Which can supposedly grant any wish one desires. For a price of course). Diana is still heartbroken over the loss of her true love, "Steve Trevor" (Chris Pine) back in World War I, wishing that she can somehow be reunited with him. Her wish is granted, with Steve (Inhabiting the body of somebody else) is resurrected, bringing the two together once more. However, charismatic, power hungry oil tycoon and television personality, "Maxwell Lord" (Pedro Pascal), has been searching for the Dreamstone and plans to use it to achieve the greater power that he's always felt that was owed to him. 

After schmoozing it off Barbara (Who has also made a wish to become both really hot and scary strong), Max wishes to become one with the Dreamstone, allowing him the ability to grant any wish, while achieving incredible power at the same time, along with total insanity. Diana and Steve know that such power in the wrong hands could unleash Monkey's Paw style chaos on the entire planet, with the lives of many now hanging in the balance. Now Diana and Steve must travel across the globe to track down Max and find a way to put an end to his madness before his actions bring an end to the world. Meanwhile, Barbara, who has no intention of losing the power and confidence she's always wanted, slowly begins her own transformation, putting herself at odds with Diana. 

With Patty Jenkins ("Monster") returning to direct and co-write along with David Callaham and comic book writer, Geoff Johns (Known for his "Justice League" and "Green Lantern" runs), "Wonder Woman 1984" has a lot to live up to. This is not just considering the fact that the original was the first truly remarkable entry into the "DC Extended Universe", proving that the franchise could work with the right team behind it. It also all around wonderful film that just so happens to give the female audience their own superhero to look up to. (For the longest time, female comic book movies either failed miserably or were intentionally pushed to the side out of fear that they wouldn't be successful) This sequel goes much bigger, grander, and due to the 80s aesthetic, more colorful than ever before. Perhaps the film goes somewhat overboard in some places, but for what it gets right, it does so in spectacular fashion. 

 The film has a lot to get out of the way once it opens, with some new characters to introduce, along with detailed plotlines that can only get explanations as the film progresses. It can be bit to take in, especially when you know that the film is two and a half hours long. Then again though, once the film finds its footing, it gives the fans everything they could want from a "Wonder Woman" movie, mixed with a certain goofy charm that comes with the 80s. Clearly Patty Jenkins was inspired by the old fashioned sense of the older "Superman" films or the golden age era of comic books. Considering most DC films have this almost drug-addicted need to be as dark as humanly possible (What is it with Zack Snyder and his absolute hatred of color?), going back to the era that while of course, somewhat cheesy, at least gives you more personality and a sense of fun that's been sorely lacking from too many of these films. Also, who doesn't miss old school heroics? It's best shown in an early sequence involving Diana as she faces off against some incompetent criminals in a retro styled mall in a rather comedic, yet still badass fashion. The film remembers to keep a good sense of humor, which makes you actually care for the characters, especially when things get a bit more serious as the movie really gets into the complicated plot.  

The film's visuals are gloriously wild and vibrant, and make for more than a few stunning action sequences, such as a chase scene in Cairo. There's also a beautiful scene with Diana and Steve piloting an invisible jet through a fireworks display (The fact that they even found a way to include the invisible jet without it looking silly at all deserves praise). Underneath all of that is something very human, which despite some of the story's more out there moments (What the Dreamstone is or where it came from is one of those "Just go with it" sort of plot points), is really what elevates the film past some shortcomings, preventing the film from being overindulgent. The lighter tone doesn't shy away from the film's deeper message, along with the dark implications of what such power in the wrong hands could be capable of. It also addresses what it takes to overcome such things, with themes of hope and believing that our humanity will win out in the end despite our obvious flaws. It's actually a very fitting metaphor for the film as a whole now that I think about it.

Gal Gadot, who by this point embodies the character so much that I can only see her in this part from now on, is stunning once again, showcasing the heroine's strength, weaknesses, and endearing grace in her expressions and body language alone. Her chemistry with Chris Pine, who also gets a lot of great comedic moments reacting to the new world around him, is what carries the film and gives it its heart. It's one of those movie relationships where you care so much for both characters and can't help but follow them through anything. Pedro Pascal, who is like Donald Trump except more charming, funny, capable, makes for a compelling antagonist (You know what, aside from the hair, he's actually nothing like Donald Trump), greedily hi-jacks his scenes, while Kristen Wiig is rather perfectly cast. Her later transformation into full "Cheetah" also looks pretty solid all things considered. (Although it's strange to say that the characters from last year's "Cats" are actually much scarier than the actual cat person whose supposed to be menacing) We also get brief appearances in flashbacks from Connie Nielsen (as "Hippolyta", Diana's mother) and Robin Wright (as "Antiope", Diana's aunt/mentor), who are very much welcome. Where the first film somewhat faltered once it reached its third act, this one ends up being elevated by its own. The finale, instead of going bigger and better, surprisingly keeps it contained despite the larger scale implications. However, once the point the film is making becomes apparent, it's perfectly explained. The emotions speak for themselves and resonate well in today's rather divided, antagonistic world. (I also appreciate the nod to a certain controversial moment from the comics and how its handled in a more thoughtful, less violent fashion)

 A bit too much of a good thing at times, "Wonder Woman 1984" makes up for its flaws of ambition with honesty and a sincere nature. Unlike most films in the DC Extended Universe (Something I fear next year's "Zack Snyder's Justice League" will only further neglect), this movie offers hopeful inspiration, a sweet smile, and enough charm to make up for any mistakes. It's the heroism that you wish to see from your iconic heroes, and the kind that further motivate you to be better than you even think you could possibly be. Lets see your precious "Snyder Cut" do that! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Pervy Men, Superhero Action, And Too Much 80s For The Average Person To Handle. 

Soul                                                          by James Eagan                           ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Music Smurf steps into a completely different movie.

Merry Christmas everyone! We've been through a lot this year, but we at least made it hear. Not to mention, our streaming services had special presents just for us. Released through "Disney+", both "Walt Disney Pictures" and "Pixar Animation Studios" (After the whole "Mulan" thing didn't quite work out) have decided to gift us with yet another instant classic for the whole family to enjoy. However, this one also has something deeper than what your children might be used to. Only Pixar has the guts to do something like this.

"Soul" follows middle grade school band instructor, "Joe Gardner" (Jamie Foxx), a lover of music and jazz, having always dreamed of becoming a professional musician, though sadly, never actually has been able to achieve his goal. Thanks to an old student turned drummer, "Curley" (Questlove),Joe is able to get a gig with renowned jazz musician, "Dorothea Williams" (Angela Bassett), which may change his life forever despite also getting offered a full time teaching position at the school. Joe, lost completely in the thought of his dreams finally coming true, ends up falling down an open manhole to an unexpected death. (Sort of) Joe's soul, now in a squishy, puffy form, begins to move on to the "Great Beyond", but Joe isn't ready yet, escaping into "The Great Before". Within the Great Before, at the "You Seminar" all souls are assigned personalities by astral beings called "Soul Concelors", all named "Jerry" (Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade). 

At the seminar, Joe poses as an instructor to find a way back to Earth, being assigned assist a rather cynical soul, "22" (Tina Fey), who wants nothing to do with Earth or life itself, believing it to not be worth the hassle. While searching for 22's purpose in life, she and Joe find a way back to Earth with help from the spiritual sign twirling, "Moonwind" (Graham Norton), while they're being pursued by the overly into her job, "Terry" (Rachel House). Joe and 22's journey leads them to an unexpected place, which I dare not spoil. Lets just say that there's more to this movie than advertised.       

Directed by Pete Doctor ("Monsters Inc.", "Up", "Inside Out"), with a co-directing credit to Kemp Powers (Who also co-wrote it along with Doctor), "Soul" has got to be one of Pixar's more ambitious and surreal projects yet. It's also got to be their most mature in many different, unpredictable ways. The movie doesn't flow exactly like your average family fare. Granted, Pixar, and a lot of the time Disney too, have been known for such things. Movies like "Up", "Finding Nemo", "Ratatouille", and  the "Toy Story" series have some more grown up based themes, but this is on a whole new level. The humor is actually different as well. Sure we get some well timed slapstick and quick gags. There is a lot of humor that actually just comes from the characters interacting. It's also balanced out beautifully with a very deep, authentically real feeling story which fittingly focuses on the lively world that the characters inhabit. It's a film about life and what life can bring, and the movie, without having to overplay it, carefully crafts loads of great characters, who range from major to supporting roles. However, every single one of them is memorable and I love how the film finds a way of making them each play their part in the story. 

The animation is a sight to behold, making for one of the best looking films (Animated or otherwise) out there. It looks real, though never too overly so. The human characters have slight exaggeration, but don't feel out of place (Look closely and you'll notice how nobody looks remotely the same). The souls and other abstract beings are simple in design, yet are used for some incredible imagery. It's all really original what the filmmakers have come up with, and jaw droppingly creative. (Also, the design on a certain cat, "Mr. Mittens", is just too adorable) The animation, which blends between styles (Traditional 2D animation is wonderfully utulized in a few sequences), could be a game changer for the art form, and I appreciate how well the its used in the film, without having to heavily rely on it. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, along with a few songs by Jon Batiste, really captures the look and feel of what's shown to us. It's fitting how the main character gravitates towards music (Jazz specifically, which always a fascinating sound to me), and how expertly it's interwoven into the narrative to coincide with the themes of life, death, fulfillment, and existence. All of this is something that your kids might not fully understand. With that said, the movie doesn't talk down to kids, but it also doesn't alienate them. It's a little baffling how the filmmakers knew how to give plenty to appeal to the youngsters, a human narrative for the adults, and some things for the whole family to contemplate together. 

Jamie Foxx gives one of those all time great voice performances. Almost unrecognizable if you didn't know it, he perfectly encompasses his character, matching his expressions (Both in his human and soul form), bringing a lot of humor and depth. Tina Fey is also phenomenal, getting a lot of laughs, while providing an emotional core. There's a lot of strong supporting roles for Questlove, Angela Bassett, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, and a really warm performance from Phylicia Rashad (as "Libba", Joe's mother), while Rachel House and Graham Norton spend most of the time stealing whatever scene they're in. There's a sense of unpredictability to the film, a lot of which is nowhere to be found in the trailers and commercials (Unless you look very carefully), and I appreciate how it never goes the supposed easy route, even though it easily could have. To a degree, one wouldn't even mind if it had. Pixar deserves a lot of credit for not wanting to do your usual family fare, complete with all of the typical, obligatory tropes that come with it, but instead want to make an actual film that one would feel to urge to take inspiration from, even if you don't have any kids. 

"Soul" is Pixar doing what it does best, while offering a much different outlook than even what the studio has been known for. It blends in some African American culture in a subtle manner, though also makes it easy for anyone to feel for and relate to. (There are so many subtle little details that it warrants another viewing, aside from how good the film is) There's something very special about this one. You get laughs, heart, and spiritual insight explained in a completely original fashion, along with of course, maybe a few moments that will certainly get a few small tears out of you. It's Pixar. You can resist all you want, but you know it's going to happen at some point. Thoughtful, fun, and stunning to the eye, it really makes you appreciate that after all you may have been through this year, you're still alive and still free to leave your mark on a flawed, yet beautiful place. How many movies this year have been able to do that? Let alone one aimed at all ages? 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Slightly Mature Moments And Theoretical Constructs Too Much For Our Tiny Brains To Possibly Comprehend. 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom                            by James Eagan                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: A posthumous Oscar for a King.

The loss of Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer was one of the biggest gut punches to come out of 2020. An actor that I immediately knew had instant greatness back in 2013 with the movie "42" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one), and then skyrocketed into the mainstream, becoming a household name with his appearances in "Captain America: Civil War" and then of course, "Black Panther" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one too). He was an actor that was always good no matter what, and not to mention, just seemed like a really awesome guy too. The tragedy of his passing is something that only made what was already such a rough year even rougher, and I hope that the man's final, possibly greatest performance, finally gets him the recognition that he already deserved years ago.   

Based on the play by August Wilson (Which is inspired by the real life "Mother of the Blues"), "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" takes place in the 1920s, with "Ma Rainey" (Viola Davis), prepares for a recording session with the rest of her bad, consisting of pianist, "Toledo" (Glynn Turman), bass player "Slow Drag" (Michael Potts), guitarist "Cutler" (Colman Domingo), and trumpeter "Levee Green" (Chadwick Boseman), who has big aspirations for his future, planning to leave the band and start his own. However, Levee's ambitions put him at odds with the rest of the band, along with Ma's arrival with her girlfriend, "Dussie Mae" (Taylour Paige), and her stuttering nephew, "Sylvester" (Dusan Brown), who Ma intends to give a part to on the album regardless of his stutter. Tensions continue to rise among the band members mostly due to Levee's antagonistic behavior, mixed in with Ma's larger than life personality, the racial injustice of the time, and the demons of the past that eventually affect the present. 

Directed by George C. Wolfe (Mostly known only for his theater work), with a screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a producing credit by Denzel Washington, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" plays out in a way that would seem stage-like at first, with the drawn out sequences of monologues in a single closed space or the lack of locations due to the film's short timeline. However, this is a film where those close quarters really work to the film's advantage, giving the viewer the same sense of anxiety and subtle apprehension of fear that the characters do. It's a very personal feeling that only enhances the film, which is also helped by the intricate, character heavy dialogue that provides instant insight into every character's motivations and their somewhat vague, yet just detailed enough backstories. There is a lot of very human interaction here, which has moments of humor, pathos, and allusions to the real life African American struggles.  

This is further illuminated by the pitch perfect cast, which features some outstanding performances unlike anything you've ever seen from some of these actors. Viola Davis, who is almost unrecognizable at first, has got to have one of the most commanding presences I've ever seen in a film. Everything goes quiet when she enters the room, demanding both fear and respect at the same time, with small, poignant hints to the more mortal soul buried within her rough exterior. Chadwick Boseman, in one of his last (If not his last) performance, shows a different side to himself than what we're used to seeing. He portrays a character that plays up a cocky attitude and a lot of in your face charisma, while hiding something more tortured beneath the surface, just waiting to be let out with dangerous consequences. Pretty much everyone in the small cast gets a moment, though special recognition goes to Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, and Jeremy Shamso (as "Irvin", Ma's white manager, who is desperate to keep the peace). 

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" tackles racial injustice, the art of music, and the cultural divide, along with the scars that history has left behind, which in many ways have yet to truly be healed if they ever actually can be. Everything boils to a dark, yet contained ending that further showcases these themes without overplaying it. It simply allows the audience to ponder the moments and take it with them once the film draws to a close. One of this year's best, which is also a touching tribute to one of the best actors taken away from us much too soon. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content And Language, Along With Cultural Appropriation. 

Songbird                                                  by James Eagan                                        ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm sorry I'm not wearing my mask....It's my constitutional right!"

Imbecilic. Brain-Dead. Simple-Minded. Thoughtless. An intellectual failure to all of the aspects that make us the supposed superior species on the planet. Guys, I can only find so many synonyms for the word "Stupid". So bear with me. 

"Songbird" takes place in dystopian future world of.....2024. COVID-19 has become COVID-23. The United States is in a permanent lockdown, with the Department of Sanitation taking those infected into concentration camp-like facilities known as "Q-Zones". (It's Tucker Carlson's worst nightmare come to life!) However, packages continue to get delivered, thanks to the delivery business run by "Lester" (Craig Robinson). Set in Los Angeles, we follow a delivery package courier, "Nico" (KJ Apa), who is immune to the virus and is in a virtual relationship with a young caretaker, "Sara" (Sofia Carson), as she takes care of her sick grandmother, "Lita" (Elpidia Carrillo). Meanwhile in another storyline, a rich couple, "Piper Griffin" (Demi Moore) and her husband, "William" (Bradley Whitford), are most likely up to shady things, while taking care of their daughter, "Emma" (Lia McHugh). Then in yet another storyline, another courier, "Michael Dozer" (Paul Walter Hauser), a former war vet delivering packages with drones due to being in a wheelchair, befriends pretty aspiring singer, "May" (Alexandra Daddario), though she is trapped in an abusive affair with William. When Sara's grandmother becomes infected with the virus, it attracts the attention of the Department of Sanitation, along with their wacko leader, "Emmett Harland" (Peter Stormare). Determined to save the love of his life, Nico sets out to get some immunity bands for Sara and her grandmother (Although that doesn't actually mean  that they are immune. So doesn't that meant that they risk the possibility of catching or at least spreading the virus? Didn't think that one through, did ya?), while avoiding Hardland and his Nazi-esque hazmat suit wearing henchmen. 

 Produced by Michael Bay, though directed by the mostly unknown Adam Mason (His IMDB page is mostly made up of short films), "Songbird" is basically a Michael Bay ripoff since it contains many of his trademarks and still has his stink all over it. (Everyone in Michael Bay's universe is ungodly sweaty) I'd say that the timing of this movie was terrible, if not for the fact that the filmmakers intentionally made it so. The premise and overall concept behind the movie is incredibly bizarre and for many, could be seen as horribly offensive, considering how many have both died and suffered over the course of this pandemic. However, the most offensive part of the entire film is just how intellectually impaired it seems to be. Calling it dumb would be too lenient a word, and would unfairly compare it to perfectly harmless and more enjoyable dumb things in life. The movie is a festering pot of stupid ideas that are barely connected to one another, and only crumble under each other's inept thickheadedness, that it only seems the filmmakers were hoping nobody would notice or care. The world that's set up doesn't make remotely any sense, and neither do the places the plot ends up going. Why are those immune to the virus (Or "Munies", as the film calls them) just told to go around making deliveries, instead of using these people to look for a cure? How exactly did the Department of Sanitation become so militarized? Where does Nico expect to go with Sara? The film never states that, if she's immune, Isn't she, you know, going to die? I could go on with these pointless questions that nobody has answers for. 

The film's focus on KJ Apa and Sofia Carson (Both of which are capable actors), results in a cheesily written, agonizingly boring storyline that still isn't enough to fill up the film's short eighty-five minute runtime. Apa and Carson can't overcome the overabundance of cringe, and it's more depressing to watch than anything. Craig Robinson is the movie's attempt at humor (Although he doesn't actually contribute much the more I think about it), while Demi Moore looks like she would rather be anywhere but here. Bradley Whitford looks continuously perplexed, while Alexandra Daddario (And her pretty eyes) doesn't do anything aside from pad out the movie. Paul Walter Hauser is trying his best, but his subplot gets increasingly more ludicrous as it continues. The real scene-stealer, as expected, would be Peter Stormare, who at least gets a few laughs in the movie (Some of them even intentional). You have to give the guy credit, no matter what, he always gives it 110%. 

Aside from making the intentional decision to refrain from explaining literally anything, "Songbird" also seemingly doesn't even know what its actual stance is on the whole lockdown situation is anyways. It's like the film is implying that while the virus is very much real, can kill you, and will affect those around you, love is more important and screw anyone who says otherwise. That's a horrible message to tell people! I work at a CVS and still get people telling me that the virus isn't real or that it's not that bad. Showing an apocalyptic future, with a Nazi regime forcing people to stay in lockdown is only going to give these morons more fodder. The direction is sloppy and obnoxious, the writing is full of clichés, and so slow paced that even with the short runtime, it feels like you've been watching it for hours. Worst of all, it's just so moronic, which is more insulting to those who have sadly lost loved ones to this pandemic and those will may continue to lose more to it before it's over. It would have been one thing if the film took a side on the debate (Why there's even a debate is beyond me), but the film lacks the brain power to even do that. If you have nothing important to say, maybe you should have kept your damn mouth shut! 1/2 Star. Rated PG-13 For Glistening Sweat, Little Social Distancing, A Little Blood, And A Whole Lotta Stupid! 

Monster Hunter                                     by James Eagan                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Mila Jovovich hunts only for food, not for sport.

Well, if you're going to make a big dumb video game adaptation, at least have the decency to go all the way. After a year's worth of terrible crap going on, we could use some good crap as a distraction. Also, who doesn't like big, scary monsters?   

Based on the much loved "Capcom" game of the same name (With a few Americanized tweaks for those who I guess can't accept um, people hunting monsters...), "Monster Hunter" opens with a small military team, led by US Army Ranger, "Captain Natalie Artemis" (Mila Jovovich), as they are swept up in a strange storm that somehow teleports them into another world. This new world is similar to ours, except for the fact that it appears to be mostly desert and is filled with giant, deadly Kaiju-like monsters that have only one mission in life, which is to kill and eat whoever crosses their path. Eventually Artemis is all that's left, but she finds surprise help from a skilled warrior, known only as "The Hunter" (Tony Jaa). Knowing that a mysterious tower, which is located in the same raging storm that transported her into this alternate world in the first place, Artemis teams up with the Hunter to journey to the tower, avoiding the monsters blocking their path, such as giant spiders, a massive horned bull, and a certain fire breathing dragon your gamer friend might geek out over. 

Written and directed by cinematic lunatic Paul W. S. Anderson (The guy responsible for all those "Resident Evil" movies), "Monster Hunter" is one of the better cases of false advertising being a good thing. At least, from an outsider just looking for a silly popcorn movie perspective. People weren't happy when it appeared that his long-running franchise was going to be changed for no good reason, and would focus on a bunch of bland military soldiers fighting monsters, despite what the premise of the games is actually supposed to be. However, all of that is merely the setup. After a pretty rocky first twenty minutes or so, the movie takes a shift for the better. All of that is thrown out the window (In surprisingly violent fashion), making way for something that, while not all that much more intelligent, is at least fairly entertaining to watch. Paul W. S. Anderson's direction style has always relied on excessive action and whatever over the top imagery you can throw at the screen. He's not without his occasional eye for wildly out there, but cool looking imagery, and can craft an solid actions setpiece. There's moments of suspense, and even though the CGI varies from looking fairly impressive to looking like obvious green screen, it feels fairly fitting for a film like this. 

Say what you will about Mila Jovovich's career choices, but she always looks like she could very much handle herself in an action scene. She also does good work with the also very badass Tony Jaa. They're likable, look as believable as they possibly could be fighting larger than life monsters, and when they become the sole focus, the movie itself feels more attune with its own identity. Others such Clifford "T.I." Harris and Meagan Good (as fellow military soldiers) don't have any real effect on the story in the slightest, while Ron Perlman (as "Admiral", leader of the other monster hunters) and his hilarious wig/sideburns combo, pops up to be a scene stealer even in something so ridiculous. The monsters themselves are very intimidating, especially the killer spiders, who get a few good kills in and even a few decent scares. I also can't help but award half a star simply for the appearance of a,... Ahem, "Meowscular Chef", which is one of those things that must be seen to be believed. (He only appears in a couple scenes, but it's honestly, one of the greatest creations I've ever seen) 

"Monster Hunter" is mind numbingly stupid, lacks much flow when it comes to story (Which is especially noticeable towards the end's poor attempt at a sequel), and is definitely something I could in good conscience say that you should risk your health to see in a theater. However, for something that I had written off as a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, it's still a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, and yet, it succeeds at being so with at least a sense of imagination. That's no small feat for a video game adaptation if you ask me. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters, Death By Spider Birth, And For Still Less Frightening Cat People Than Last Year's "Cats".