Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films, Classics, Video Games and Lots of Other Cool Stuff For Parents and Children

In Theaters: Shaft, Men in Black: International, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Dark Phoenix, Booksmart, Ma, Rocketman, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Brightburn, Aladdin, The Sun Is Also A Star, A Dog's Journey, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, The Hustle, Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Coming Soon: Late Night, Toy Story 4, Child's Play, Anna, Yesterday, Annabelle 3, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Midsommar, Crawl, Stuber, The Lion King, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hobbs & Shaw, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark 

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

Shaft                  by James Eagan                  ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for shaft 2019 movieImage: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Damn right." 

 So the "Shaft" franchise has been around for over forty eight years, and I only just now figured that out. I didn't even know what this was until I saw the poster or even thought about it until I went to go see it earlier today. This brings up an obvious question. Was anybody really asking for this? 

 This new "Shaft" follows "John Shaft Jr." (Jessie Usher), or just Junior, the son of legendary private investigator, "John Shaft II" (Samuel L. Jackson). Junior works for the FBI (Mostly just as a data analyst. Much lamer than an actual agent.), having distanced himself and his mother, "Maya" (Regina Hall) as far away from his father as possible. However, when Junior's childhood friend, "Karin" (Avan Jogia), is found dead under mysterious circumstances, he is left with nobody else to turn to except for his dad. Shaft, seeing a connection between Karin's death and the involvement of an old arch-nemesis, "Gordito" (Isaach De Bankolé), Shaft decides to help Junior solve the crime. Thus begins the wonderful bonding between father and son, which also includes lots of shooting, drugs, and that cool music that goes "bow-chicka-wow-wow". 

 A standalone sequel/s[in-off/attempted reboot (Attempted. The box office decided that.), "Shaft" is an affectionate tribute to old fashioned, blacksploitation films that came before it. Sometimes, it surprisingly works. There are some genuinely well place one-liners sporadically sprinkled throughout to go with the absurd level of violence. However, when a joke falls flat, it does so in a depressingly, groan worthy fashion. Once you really get into the film, you start to realize that in terms of plotting, it's complete crap. Everything is needlessly convoluted and cobbled together, with plot points losing relevance and fading away as the film progresses.    

 The film truly comes to life when Samuel L. Jackson comes on screen, and he's a delight. First, he's clearly having a ball here, and his natural on screen charisma just elevates even the weakest of material. (I wouldn't be surprised if he ad-libbed a decent amount of his funniest moments.) Jessie Usher handles himself well with Jackson, and while he's not the most interesting of characters, the two of them end up having some solid chemistry. Regina Hall, while not in the film near enough, continues to be a highlight when it comes to mostly mediocre comedies. (Remember "Little"?) Alexandra Shipp (as "Sasha", Junior's love interest) isn't given much of a role, but is too cute and naturally charming to not like. Richard Roundtree (as "John Shaft 1", the original Shaft) doesn't even come in till the last twenty minutes, and it only shows how clunky the film really is. (It doesn't help that his role was advertised so much as if he was a major part.) Our villains feel like after thoughts, with little menace or character of their own.

 "Shaft" is gleeful with its over the top violence (Maybe to an uncomfortable degree for some), and there are times when you can see where the idea could of worked much better. It ends up being an issue with direction. Ironically named director Tim Story (Both "Ride Along" movies) can't seem to tell a focused story. He makes the movie look good enough, but never to the point where it leaves the impression. A few laughs can't make up for things just not working, and if you're not having enough fun, you can't help but focus on the many aspects that don't work. Just couldn't dig it, man. 2 Stars. Rated R For Loads Of Language, Violence, And Innuendo.    

Men in Black: International                         by James Eagan                                               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for men in black internationalImage: "For the last time....Stop calling me Thor!"

 It's a little ironic that despite the how much of an impact that the original "Men in Black" (Which still holds up as one of my personal favorite movies. And not just because of the nostalgic novelty of it being a part of my childhood.) has had on what has become the modern summer blockbuster, it could never truly continue to do so as a film series past the first one. We had a mostly lame sequel and even the third film, while enjoyable, was still missing what the first film could accomplish. (You know? State of the art special effects, big budgets, action and humor, and of course, loads of charm from our main characters. All of that good stuff.) It's a franchise that just never quite evolved, and in a way, ended up becoming much less influential that other major summer blockbusters that it itself likely inspired. Thy are silly Alien movies after all. 

 "Men in Black: International" follows the black suit and glasses wearing secret organization that fights aliens, but this time does not focus on Agents "J" and "K" (Formerly played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). We meet "Molly" (Tessa Thompson), a young woman who at a young age had an incident with an alien and didn't have her memory properly wiped by "MIB" (The Men in Black). Since then, Molly has been obsessed with finding the organization, and eventually tracks down their headquarters. Molly shows enough promise to impress MIB head, "Agent O" (Emma Thompson), who recruits her, dubbing her "Agent M". O takes notice of something going on over in the UK branch and sends M over to London to check it out. Once there, M is partnered up with the formerly heroic, but now slacking "Agent H" (Chris Hemsworth).

 Under orders from the UK branch head, "High T" (Liam Neeson), M and H are on a mission to get some serious information that an alien collective known as "The Hive" are after. The Hive, taking the form of a pair of homicidal twins (Portrayed by professional dancers, Les Twins), plan to dominate the world and assume the image of anyone they choose. This means that MIB is likely compromised, leaving M and H to go rogue, stumbling upon an unstoppable and unstable superweapon that could doom the entire galaxy.  

 Directed by F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton", "The Fate of the Furious"), "Men in Black: International" is pure formula from start to finish, and can mostly benefit from playing things just safe enough to make something at least entertaining. The film isn't without a lot of moments that offer a level of fast paced, light hearted goofiness. It's effectively diverting, though lacking in originality, much substance, and most shockingly, memorability. The screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway ("Iron Man", "Punisher: War Zone", "Transformers: The Last Knight". Talk about going downhill.) goes through every studio manufactured plot point you would expect, without much of an impact. It's not that what we get is bad, but it's just a little too generic. I understand the mentality as to why the filmmakers decided to go down this route. We've just become more accustomed to a little more risk with our popcorn flicks. Hell, we even demand it now. 

 One of the most successful aspects to the film is the casting of Tessa Thomspon and Chris Hemsworth, who we know already have great chemistry together after seeing them in "Thor Ragnarok". Hemsworth (A comedic riot in "Avengers: Endgame") has perfect timing, even making the weaker of jokes funnier because of it. He works well with Thompson, and I appreciate the film avoiding the most annoying of clichés by forcing a romantic element to their relationship. Kumail Nanjiani (as the voice of "Pawny", a tiny alien servant, who believes M is his new queen.) is basically just here to make quips and ad-lib, but it does make for a few amusing moments. Not enough is done with Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson (as "Riza", H's three armed, criminal ex-girlfriend), and Emma Thompson (Though she's delightful as always.). Les Twins don't have much personality, but make for an intimidating, villainous presence. (There's also a sequence in a night club, which allows them to show off their impressive dancing skills that you end up wishing could of gone on for longer.) 

 Occasionally fun, but completely forgettable, "Men in Black: International" is the perfect definition of a 2 ½ Star movie. The effects aren't anything special, though are creative enough (Especially when it comes to the alien designs), the story is formulaic, with every twist and turn being obvious to figure out from the start, and Gray's direction is slick and stylish enough to make up for how little emotional weight there actually is to the movie. It's a nice time waster and all. However, like I've noticed about most of our summer blockbusters this year, it doesn't hurt to ask for a little bit more. Especially since we know that it's entirely capable for a long running franchise to do so. For a movie planning to expand its universe, it still feels pretty small. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Slight Adult Content And Language, But Never Enough To Offend. The Most PG-13 Movie You'll Ever See. 

The Secret Life of PEts 2                                   by James Eagan                                            ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the secret life of pets 2Image: "No, I told you. This is not a toilet bowl."

 It's nice to see "Illumination", the animation studio responsible for the "Despicable Me" series and the "Minions", finally deciding to calm the heck down. Usually they go nuts with their advertisements, taking up all the space on TV, and showing their trailers during almost every theatrically released film almost a year ahead of the film is even released itself. Now, they appear to be a bit more confident in themselves, and not bombard the public with constant advertisements. I mean, by this point, they're basically up there with the other major animation studios (They might even be a bit more successful than "DreamWorks" as of late.), and they know there will be plenty of families, especially those with little kids, who will be excited to see what they release next. 

 A sequel to the hit 2016 movie, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" this time follows three separate storylines that focus on the collected characters from the first film. First, there's terrier "Max" (Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and the shaggy, gentle natured "Duke" (Eric Stonestreet) getting used to their new lives when their owner, "Katie" (Ellie Kemper) has a baby, "Liam". Despite at first not fully understanding what a kid is, Max eventually becomes very protective of Liam, mostly out of fear that he's constantly in peril. When the family goes on a trip to a farm outside of the city, Max meets "Rooster" (Harrison Ford), a tough sheepdog, who isn't afraid of anything. Rooster becomes a mentor to Max, who learns to overcome his own fears of the unknown. Second, fluffy Pomeranian, "Gidget" (Jenny Slate), who has always had a crush on Max, is left to watch over Max's favorite squeaky toy. She loses it in the apartment of some old cat lady and her army of feral felines. So Gidget turns to overweight cat, "Chloe" (Lake Bell) to teach her how to learn the cat-like ways to sneak in to get the toy back. And the third follows the bunny "Snowball" (Kevin Hart), who has since become a superhero (In his own head), going by the name "Captain Snowball". Snowball takes on a mission to help a Shih Tzu, "Daisy" (Tiffany Haddish) rescue an abused tiger from an evil circus owner, "Sergei" (Nick Kroll). All three storylines do of course culminate by the end, with all of the pets coming together to save the captured tiger.     

 As you can tell early on, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" isn't exactly one for narrative focus. On one hand, it could make it a bit weaker than the original. However, I think it better gets the point across. (It is called "The Secret Life of Pets" after all.) The first movie, while fun and good for the kids, had a simple, predictable plot that was essentially "Toy Story", except with animals. The way this film is structured just shows what kind of cartoonish antics they get into when humans aren't looking, and how they perceive the world around them. It can be a little frenetic, but I think works, especially because of the animation, voice work, and the fact that it's actually really, really funny. Directed by Chris Renaud (Who did the first film, along with the first two "Despicable Me" movies.), the animation has Illumination's usual brand of bouncy, stretchy animation that gives each character their own sense of identity, even without them speaking, along with adding to some well timed slapstick. It works well when taking an exaggerated look into what goes through the minds of our pets (Such as dogs loving to go for rides in the car, cats reacting to red dots, etc.) The humor works best when things get unexpectedly weird, catching you off guard with a quick belly laugh. 

 We also have a terrific voice cast, that while doesn't always utilize everyone near enough, still inject their own personality to their characters, and make them their own. I would say I actually prefer Patton Oswalt over Louis C.K.. Oswalt already has a funny voice, and it just feels like a more natural fit. Kevin Hart, who has a voice genetically created for a shouting, talking rabbit, is once again suitably over the top in a good way. Jenny Slate is adorable and perfectly cast, along with Lake Bell (Whose character best represents any cat you've likely ever had) and Tiffany Haddish, who also just has a voice that's naturally perfect for voicework. Others like Eric Stonestreet, Hannibal Buress (as "Buddy", a dachshund), Bobby Moynihan (as "Mel", a pug), an unrecognizable Nick Kroll, and a hilarious Dana Carvey (as "Pops", an old, grouchy Basset Hound) are all mostly here because they were in the first movie, but still have their moments and don't phone it in. The best new addition would be Harrison Ford, who sounds like he's just plain having fun, and gets to deliver the best lines in his usual Harrison Fordy way. 

 Short and simple, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" makes up for an admittedly limited plot with wacky antics, a lot of cuteness, and most importantly, by just being funny. The stories are loosely connected, offering some character, but nothing of much substance. It's lesser compared to other animated films in the sense that there is little depth or even anything that I would say that parents without kids could probably enjoy. It's mostly for the kids, but still offers good laughs and pet loving sweetness. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor And Feline Substance Abuse.  

Dark Phoenix                                                        by James Eagan                                            ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dark phoenix movieImage: Jean Grey finishes crushing the X-Men franchise once and for all.

 For nearly twenty years, the much loved comic book characters, the "X-Men", in a way, have been responsible for the formation of what we have come t expect from a superhero movie. With strong, relevant themes,  and memorable characters, the films have had their ups (The first 2 "X-Men" movies, as well as "Deadpool".), their downs (X-Men: The Last Stand", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), and some truly terrific work ("X-Men: Days of Future Past", "Logan") that rivals even some of the films the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us. There's been spin-offs, a sorta reboot (Time travel and whatnot.), and a lot of attention to world building. It's fitting that such a long running, influential franchise comes to a suitably epic, meaningful, and satisfying finale that, much like "Avengers: Endgame" brings everything the fans could of asked for to a proper close.....*Sigh* Maybe in another timeline.  

 "Dark Phoenix" takes things into the 90s, where mutant and human relations are at an all time best. Everyone appears to be getting along finally, with the mutant superhero group, the "X-Men", led by the telekinetic "Charles Xavier/Professor X" (James McAvoy), being cheered on by the public. Still based at "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters", the X-Men are called in to save some astronauts that are trapped above the Earth's atmosphere due to a mysterious solar flare. (Since when do the X-Men have a space ship?) Xavier's shapeshifting childhood friend, "Raven Darkhölme/Mystique" (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a team consisting of intellectual, but animal-like, "Hank McCoy/Beast" (Nicholas Hoult), the weather controlling "Ororo Munroe/Storm" (Alexandra Shipp), teleporting creature, "Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler" (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the speedy "Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver" (Evan Peters), the eye beam shooting "Scott Summers/Cyclops" (Tye Sheridan), and Scott's ultra powerful girlfriend, "Jean Grey" (Sophie Turner).

 The mission goes awry and Jean is left to use all of her power to save everyone, absorbing the solar flare. Despite claims that doing so should of killed her, Jean appears stronger than ever, earning the new nickname "Phoenix". However, a secret that Xavier kept hidden from Jean comes to light, resulting in Jean feeling betrayed by her mentor. All the rage and fear that Jean kept bottled up is unleashed, leading to tragic results. Sides are taken as everyone wants to track down the missing Jean, with even reformed mutant criminal, "Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto" (Michael Fassbender) coming out of retirement with the intention of killing Jean. Everyone's actions have consequences and Jean's uncontrollable powers threaten to destroy the fragile peace between humans and mutants. Aaaand then aliens show up, led by "Vuk" (Jessica Chastain), who want to manipulate Jean for their own villainous plans. Kind of jumped the shark with that one.           

  Another attempt at adapting the popular X-Men comic storyline, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (The first being the disappointing "The Last Stand"), "Dark Phoenix", like before has moments where you can see what could of been. Sadly, what we get feels like a TV series being prematurely and unceremoniously cancelled at the worst possible moment. Both directed and written by Simon Kinberg (A longtime writer of the series), the film lacks a sense of finality or even much actual depth, which is uncharacteristic for this franchise. Kinberg gives the film a decent enough look, with eye popping cinematography, which looks great on an IMAX screen. The visual effects are a bit more mixed, with some looking pretty solid, and others feeling unfinished. Rushed would be the best way to describe how this movie feels, and little has been done to make it feel like a genuine ending. The biggest issues would be with the script, which really just repeats things that we've seen before from the franchise, and offers little explanation or even resolution for where it all goes. It doesn't even quite feel like an ending. 

 The excellent cast may not have the best material to work with, but some of them are still able to give committed performances. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are pros by this point, and even with little time together on screen, their back and forth still works simply because of their chemistry. Nicholas Hoult does get to do some good work, especially later in the film when things get a bit darker. Meanwhile, Sophie Turner really gets to shine here, still giving a compelling performance despite how rushed everything is. She's someone who you can tell is only going to improve the more she's in. (Also, it's kind of funny how she's making appearances into two critically decimated finales in the same year. Some people still aren't over "Game of Thrones".) Tye Sheridan does fine, but the relationship between him and Turner does not have enough weight to make the emotions resonate. Others like a slightly bored looking (But still very pretty. I always have to point that out) Jennifer Lawrence, and a tragically underutulized Evan Peters are sidelined quickly, without an actual payoff.

 Then we get to something I honestly never though anyone would ever say. Jessica Chastain had no reason to be in this movie. (I know, I can't believe I'm saying that either.) Not only is she the most generic of villains and the performance she's forced to give has little menace to it, her whole storyline (And basically everything that involves the aliens) could of been left out entirely. There isn't any buildup or clarification as to who these villains are or even what they want to accomplish. They're just villains, who show up to be evil. (Not to mention, "Captain Marvel" did a better job with these types of characters earlier this year anyway.)

 There are moments and scenes that really do work in "Dark Phoenix" every now and then. Take the aliens out of the equation (And yeah, all of that is crap.), the film has a good, dark storyline that you can see has the makings for something that would anywhere else make for a great sendoff to these characters. The score by Hans Zimmer is epic, and those few strong, individual moments show what this movie could of been. It came down to whether this just doesn't work as finale, or even as an actually good X-Men movie at all. It's clearly been forced to conclude against its will with the whole Disney/Fox buyout, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe having the intention of taking the X-Men characters back to use at a later point, but even then, there's just something missing from the film.

 While not the worst in the series, what we get is a weak, very messy film, that just has the bad luck of being the apparent sendoff to a long running, and overall very important franchise. For something that once started out so iconic and even served as a stepping stone for what the superhero genre has become today, it all goes out with a slight flicker of smoke rather than a bang. It just makes me more sad than anything. (Just think of "Days of Future Past" as the sendoff, skip to "Logan", and stop there. It's gut wrenching, but you're better off that way.) 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Action And Violence, And Disappointing Resolutions. 

Booksmart                                                                 by James Eagan                                        ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for booksmartImage: "It's summer....What are we still doing here?"

 Another movie I know I'm really late on. Vacations take up a lot of time, and I was forced to enjoy the final days of rest before returning to your repetitive daily routines. It's good to be home, and it's good to get back to getting movies the minute they're released. I can also try to convince people that there may be the occasional little movie that they too let slip past their radar. Not all of the best movies of the summer are the traditional blockbusters. 

 "Booksmart" follows high school seniors and best friends for life, "Amy" (Kaitlyn Dever) and "Molly" (Beanie Feldstein). The two have refrained from engaging into the typical debaucherous acts that most of their classmates have been a part of in favor of going to the most elite colleges and aiming for the best careers. However, it turns out the partiers and slackers, who always saw Amy and Molly as stuck-up, have also gotten into those same colleges. Deciding to break some rules before graduation and end their high school lives on a high note, Amy and Molly head out on a journey across town to go to a big, crazy party across town, complete with the consuming of alcoholic beverages and other things that would make your grandmother cry if she knew you were doing them. It turns out though that getting to the party is going to be more of a wild ride than expected, with the two becoming part of a few life changing misadventures along the way. 

 The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, "Booksmart" is what would appear to be just another coming of age story, with the outcome being one that you could easily predict. The film in a way doesn't deviate away from that formula's path, but instead takes the most unpredictable of routes getting there. First off, it's not a just simple gender swapping of the premise, the screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman lets that play into the themes of the film. (It's not like "The Hustle", which only had a gender swapped premise, but few other defining aspects.) It's very relevant what the movie deals with, but despite a raunchier, dirtier sense of humor, it's handled maturely and even realistically.  

 The biggest draw would be the leads, both of which have such good chemistry together, I honestly think they might be best friends in real life. Beanie Feldstein (Who you might remember as a scene-stealer in 2017's "Lady Bird"), already has comedic chops, and really gets the chance to shine here. Kaitlun Dever (Who I've mostly only seen in dramatic work, such as "Detroit".), shows an immense amount of potential, balancing more serious parts with the comedic ones. They're a perfect onscreen combo that you fall in love with, and you feel such a strong connection with them that you're upset once it's over. (I also appreciate that while the movie portrays them as the nerdy, more school prioritized girls, they're not shown to be overly socially awkward or even bullied. They're just a bit out of place with the party based climate.) The film's excellent ensemble gives room for loads of characters to get their moment in the spotlight. It includes, but isn't limited to Skyler Gisondo (as "Jared", the rich kid, who is desperate to please everyone in any way possible.), Diana Silvers (as "Hope", the seemingly simple pretty mean girl), Jessica Williams (as "Miss Fine", the teacher everyone loves), and an absolutely hilarious (and outrageously bizarre) Billie Lourd (as "Gigi", a strange, drug addicted party girl, who just keeps appearing everywhere Molly and Amy go.). There's also some funny smaller parts from Jason Sudeikis (as the school principal), along with the underused (But still delightful) Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte (as Amy's parents). 

 "Booksmart" is elaborately crazy and full of originality despite being a premise we've seen before. It has an identity that's all its own, much like its leads. Laugh out loud, but also sweet and sincere. Olivia Wilde's direction is charming in of itself, giving off an indie movie-like feel, without any hint of the occasional pretentiousness that can come with that style. Everything feels genuine, and by the end, there is something inspiring about it. An R-Rated, very adult comedy might have something to offer young girls despite its rating. It's one of the most endearing movies you'll see this year. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Teen Sex Talk, Lots Of Language, And Full Frontal, Barbie Doll Nudity. 

Ma                  by James Eagan               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for ma movieImage: See? This is why I don't drink. 

 I know I'm a little late on this one. I've been on vacation and haven't had all the time in the world for certain movies. So I'm sorry that my much needed rest and relaxation time prevented me from seeing Octavia Spencer torture a bunch of stupid teenagers. 

 "Ma" follows high school student, "Maggie" (Diana Silvers), moving with her single mother, "Erica" (Juliette Lewis), back to her mother's hometown. Maggie is a shy one, but does make friends with a bunch of delinquents, including "Haley" (McKaley Miller) and nice guy, "Andy" (Corey Fogelmanis), who clearly has a thing for Maggie. While trying to get an adult to buy some beer for them, Maggie's new friends are able to convince a seemingly sweet, lonely lady, "Sue Ann" (Octavia Spencer) to do it. Sue Ann decides to let the kids come over to her place, where they can drink and party in her basement. (So long as they don't wander upstairs at any point.) Everything at first seems perfect, with the young twerps having a place to hang out, giving Sue Ann the nickname "Ma". However, we wouldn't have a movie unless something went horribly, horribly wrong. The past starts to rear its ugly head, and Ma reveals her true colors, resulting in all kinds of insanity. 

 "Ma" is the cheap, somewhat trashy, totally bonkers thrill ride that something like "The Intruder" wanted to be. Oh yeah, it's nonsensical and doesn't really offer anything new or of substance. But it just so happens to be done as well as you could ask, and even manages to reach a certain level of uneasiness that should make the horror fanatics queasy. Directed (And Co-Written) by Tate Taylor ("The Help", "Get On Up", "The Girl on the Train"), the film has an extra layer of competence that prevent the movie from falling into the generic crazy thriller pile that films like it are generally destined to find a place in. Even through some predictable beats, the intentionally campy tone and occasionally off-kilter sense of dark humor add a little fun to liven things up. The movie also delivers quite a few cringey scenes that even made me squirm in my seat a little. (There's a scene involving dog blood, a knife, and Octavia Spencer caressing a frightened man's penis......It only gets worse from there.) 

 Octavia Spencer (Who has worked with Director Taylor a few times, and even won herself an Oscar for one of them), looks like she's have the time of her life. She's delightfully demented, fascinatingly complex, and even pretty frightening in a role that goes all over the place in the best way imaginable. You should be able to see the twists coming a mile away, but she doesn't phone it in or even go too over the top. It's the right amount to understand how this character got to where she was, but also to show how creepy and deadly she can truly be. Diana Silvers is a likable lead, while Juliette Lewis gets saddled with a mostly sidelined role. Most of the characters end up being underdeveloped (Pretty half of Maggie's friends) or are detestable idiots (The other half of Maggie's friends), though that's usually the case with these kinds of movies. Allison Janney cameos (as Sue Ann's mean boss), so that was fun. 

 "Ma" is....well, "Ma". You come for the silliness, but unlike some wannabe guilty pleasures, this one knows how to give the audience what they ask for. Nothing more, nothing less. Though not something I'd recommend seeing in theaters (Save that for the need to see on the big screen movies like "Avengers: Endgame" or "John Wick".) However, it's a nice gather your friends at home and shout at the screen kind of movie. It's worth it alone for the sight of Octavia Spencer running over someone with her car, then listening to Earth, Wind, & Fire's "September" right afterwards. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And Teenage Stupidity. 

Rocketman                                                                 by James Eagan                                           ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for rocketman movieImage: Elton John in his Sunday best. 

 To those who really weren't really big fans of last year's Oscar nominated big screen, music based biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody", your prayers have been answered. Even I, someone who thinks the movie was mostly solid (Though Rami Malek's performance makes the whole thing worth it), can admit, there was just something missing from it. The music. I'm honestly surprised more biopics about musicians aren't turned into straight up, traditional musicals. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. 

 "Rocketman" tells the true story of renowned musician, "Reginald Dwight"......or as you all know him, "Elton John" (Taron Egerton). The film follows Elton as he recounts his life while in rehab. After a growing up with a complicated and not particularly loving relationship with his mother, "Sheila" (Bryce Dallas Howard) and father "Stanley" (Steven Mackintosh), Elton leaves home to pursue life as a rockstar. Meeting his long time collaborator and close friend, songwriter "Bernie Taupin" (Jamie Bell), the duo become big enough to tour across America. Further complications arise, with Elton accepting with his homosexuality, his romantic and eventually antagonistic relationship with his manager "John Reid" (Richard Madden), and the extravagant and just plain crazy lifestyle that comes with stardom. Complete with sex, drugs, and the most bizarre and colorful outfits you'll ever see. 

 Directed by Dexter Fletcher ("Eddie the Eagle", and served as Bryan Singer's replacement for wrapping up "Behemian Rhapsody". The comparison is even more fitting now.), "Rocketman" takes the musical biopic to an imaginative level unlike anything I've ever seen before. Staged almost like a whimsical, Disney-esque fantasy (Except with more drug use and debauchery), the film is a sparkling sight to behold, with a wild sense of fun and wonder. The songs fit perfectly, going through many of Elton John's greatest hits (Including "Crocodile Rock", "Bennie and the Jets", "Tiny Dancer", the titular "Rocketman", and the most impressive sequence involving the song "I'm Still Standing".), making for elaborately set up, showstopping musical numbers. It's all very fitting considering who the subject is. The screenplay by Lee Hall ("Pride and Prejudice", "War Horse", and the upcoming adaptation of "Cats"), is sharp-witted and insightful, providing the best look into a man with deep, personal issues, using flashy behavior as a coping mechanism.      

 The theme is best displayed by a brilliantly layered and emotionally complex performance from Taron Egerton. Having previously worked with both Elton John and Producer Matthew Vaughn in the last "Kingsman" film (Where John played an even more exaggerated version of himself), you can see where the casting of Egerton came from. He's an inspired and seemingly unlikely choice, that really gets down how we perceive about Elton John, but also conveys what we don't know about him. (For someone so bold, he was kind of a shy dork when he was younger.) It's a different look and one that Egerton is able to make his own, without it seeming like an impersonation. Egerton may be the star, but others such as a very likable Jamie Bell and an enjoyably smarmy Richard Madden, get their time in the spotlight. Some excellent work from Bryce Dallas Howard (Really playing against what I'm used to seeing her in.), Gemma Jones (as "Ivy", Elton/Reggie's caring grandmother), and Stephen James (as "Dick James", John's first manager). Like all biopics, some things are dramatized and skimmed over, such as John's misguided marriage to "Renate Blauel" (Briefly played well by Celinde Schoenmaker). They're made up for by great scenes among the characters and the actors playing them, but it's a typical flaw in trying to tell a true life story in a two hour format. 

 "Rocketman" is a rocking musical extravaganza, that also happens to tell a real person's story in the way they likely would prefer it to be told. It even provides more insight into aspects of that person's life that I didn't about, and I love when a biopic can accomplish that. A compelling look into excess and showmanship, that will also have you tapping your foot the whole way through. A much better use of Elton John's music than "Gnomeo and Juliet". 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Sexual Content, Substance Abuse, And Bulge. So Much Bulge.  

Godzilla: King of the Monsters           by James Eagan                                                ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: The most aggressive form of heartburn. 

 It's the simplest of simple cinematic pleasures. The giant monster (or Kaiju) movie. They've been around since the dawn of film, with everyone's favorite scaled beast, "Godzilla", being the one to solidify their popularity. (Well, there was also "King Kong". But we'll be settling that debate next year. Stay tuned.) Who doesn't love a bunch of super powered monsters beating the crap out of each other, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake? The best part is now we have big budget, cutting edge special effects instead of guys in Halloween costumes to entertain us. 

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" follows the events of the 2014 film, with humanity now having to accept the existence of gigantic monsters, known as "Titans". The king, being the mighty, atomic powered lizard, "Godzilla" (Played by himself obviously), who despite saving the day in the last movie, also happens to be a giant, fire breathing monster capable of apocalyptic levels of destruction. The now no longer secret organization, "Monarch" argues to the government that humanity will have to learn to coexist with Godzilla, as well as the plethora of monsters slowly starting to reveal themselves, such as the pterodactyl-like "Rodan" and the big, beautiful bug, "Mothra".

 Former Monarch scientist/Monster hater, "Mark Russell" (Kyle Chandler) is called back into the organization by "Dr. Ishirō Serizawa" (Ken Watanabe) when an important device called "Orca", along with Russell's estranged wife, "Emma" (Vera Farmiga) and daughter, "Madison" (Millie Bobby Brown), are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group, led by "Alan Jonah" (Charles Dance). Orca has the ability to transmit sound frequencies that can be heard by the Titans, allowing them to be controlled, and Jonah plans to use it to unleash the dreaded "Monster Zero" aka "King Ghidorah", a three headed dragon-like beast of unimaginable power. Things however are not as they seem, and it becomes apparent that the only way to defeat Ghidorah, and prevent him from taking command of all Titans across the planet, is to work side by side with Godzilla. 

 Directed by Michael Dougherty ("Trick 'r Treat", "Krampus"), "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is exactly the massively scaled, immensely destructive monster movie that's been advertised. Nothing too much more sadly, but still effectively invigorating nonetheless. The visual effects are stunning, and dare I say, groundbreaking. The monsters never looked better and more intimidating. Dougherty's eye for spectacle is on full display, providing an audience of just how larger than life these creatures are, as well as what they're capable of. In terms of plotting, things are a bit more clumsy.  The 2014 film held back most of the destruction, leaving things open to interpretation, and this movie sets out to go bigger and better. It piles on as much chaos and destruction as possible, and while it's certainly frightening and even impressively done, it also veers a bit into destruction porn territory. Because of this, the story doesn't really amount to much, and neither do the characters. None of which are bad per se. They're just basic, without much development and instead going for a predictable path. 

 The characters are more archetypes than anything, but at least the ensemble cast is fantastic and made up of people who generally bring their best regardless of what the script offers. Kyle Chandler (An actor known for always popping up in movies, and doing a good job no matter how big the role.), gets the chance to be the main star, and along with the always wonderful Vera Farmiga, make for some of the more compelling characters. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from "Stranger Things") gets her first movie role, and once again proves to be a very talented young actress with tons of potential. Ken Watanabe, returning from the last film, gets the best lines like before, while Zhang Ziyi (as "Dr. Chen", a Monarch scientist) is mostly here to deliver sciencey talk. Thomas Middleditch (as "Dr. Sam Coleman, the scientist trying to reason with the government) and Bradley Whitford (as "Dr. Rick Stanton", a snarky scientist) are here to provide comic relief. Others like the returning Sally Hawkins ("Dr. Vivienne Graham", Serizawa's partner) and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (as "Jackson Barnes", the soldier with all the one liners) are underutilized. Despite limited characterization, everyone still does a fine job. (Watanabe and Whitford especially.) The stars of the show are the monsters themselves. Godzilla has never looked more powerful, and King Ghidorah is one menacing monstrosity. (Think a horrifying blend of a Hydra and a dragon, radiating with electricity and an sinister grin.) Also, credit to the filmmakers for making a creature as goofy sounding as Mothra work. (She gets to take part in the film's most entrancingly beautiful moment.)

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is a suitable love letter to those classic monster movies to a fault. Things get sillier and more explosive, and while the film does offer a nice environmental message (The monsters are essentially just really big animals acting on instincts after all.), it eventually takes a backseat to action. What we get is a fun, visually jaw dropping presentation. Still, after "Avengers: Endgame" (A summer blockbuster with well defined characters, memorable dialogue, and deeper emotional stakes), this feels rather ironically small for something so large in scope. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters And Radical Environmentalism.  

Brightburn                                                                by James Eagan                                          ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for brightburnImage: Um.....Trick Or Treat?

 It's impossible to create a brand new move genre. We have so many already, from comedy to horror, as well as Science Fiction and the most profitable one being the superhero genre. One thing I have noticed with the new age of film is that the newest trend is mixing them together, even when they don't look like a traditional fit. Even for its apparent flaws, "Brightburn" proves that there is a lot of untapped potential here.   

 "Brightburn" takes place in the small town of "Brightburn, Kansas", where married couple "Tori" (Elizabeth Banks) and "Kyle" (David Denman), dream of having a child of their own. Their prayers are answered when a spaceship falls from the sky and crashes into their barn. (This story starting sound a little familiar?) Inside the ship is a baby that they decide to raise as their own, naming him "Brandon" (Jackson A. Dunn). At first, everything seems fine. Brandom grows up as a normal young boy, but when he hits 12, changes start to happen. (And I'm not talking about puberty.) Brandon soon realizes that he has some strange abilities, such as super strength and super immunity to physical harm. What sounds like a traditional superhero origin story suddenly takes a dark turn as Brandon's abilities start to send him down the wrong path, with horrifying results.  

 Produced by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy", "Super"), and written by his family members, Brian and Mark Gunn, "Brightburn" takes the superhero genre, or in this case, the story of "Superman", and asks the question "What if it all went horribly wrong?". The film is essentially the possessed child horror story with a twist that while doesn't exactly go against the predetermined story structure. However, it still finds a way of delivering some effective menace and clever use of the tropes that we see in what would make for a basic superhero origin story. Director David Yarovesky (A frequent collaborator with James Gunn) makes excellent use of the film's small budget (Ranging from less than $8 Million). There already is something freaky about someone, let alone a child with a temper, being granted so much power, with little disregard for how this power will affect those around him. It takes what we perceive as heroic acts in other films, and uses them to generate scares with gorey outcomes.   

 Elizabeth Banks, proving she doesn't get near enough credit in more serious roles, does a fantastic job portraying a mother refusing to accept the worst of her child. In some aspects, the situations could look somewhat silly and hard to take seriously, but she plays it completely straight, complete with a look of pure terror to make it work. David Denman does some good work, while young Jackson A. Dunn delivers a calm, chilling performance that shows a certain restrained villainy that actually makes him much creepier. The costume itself is suitably creepy, making for some great imagery and well, is just plain awesome. You know, for a future homicidal maniac with the ability to burn your skull with his laser eyes. 

 The level of violence in "Brightburn", while bloody and gross, do serve an overall purpose as to what a being like this would be capable of. (Basically all of those things you never see in superhero movies taken to scarier, more violent level.) It works to the film's advantage as a horror flick, leading to unique deaths and unsettling images. Not without its clichés and a predictable story that concludes exactly where you would expect it to, the film delivers on its premise and sets the stage for maybe others to mix up our traditional genres a bit more from now on. I want my superhero/musical/romantic comedy/action period piece! 3 Stars. Rated R For Ahem, Jaw Dropping Violence. Heh...You'll Get It When You See The Movie.  . 

Aladdin                                                                          by James Eagan                                        ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for aladdin 2019 movieImage: "Ready to get jiggy wit it?" 

 Disney's continuous digging up of their old animated classics and remaking them into the live-action format is still one of those things about modern filmmaking that still raise a few eyebrows. Aside from the boatloads of cold hard cash that come with these films, you can see where the idea to do this came from and why they're not planning on stopping anytime soon. Some might even warrant some modernization and could also improve on the original ("The Jungle Book" being the obvious one.). Still, you do hope that maybe a little bit more originality is somewhere on their minds in the future. 

 Just in case you don't already know this story (How can you not?), "Aladdin" follows.....well, "Aladdin" (Mena Massoud). A skilled thief, referred to as a "Street Rat", Aladdin spends his time getting into trouble in the wondrous desert kingdom of "Agrabah", with his monkey pal, "Abu" (Voiced once again by Frank Welker). After an incident in the marketplace, Aladdin meets the beautiful "Jasmine" (Naomi Scott), not knowing at first that she is the princess. Jasmine's father, "The Sultan" (Navid Negahban) hopes that Jasmine will settle on one of her many suitors and marry, but she has much bigger dreams of becoming a proper ruler without the need to marry some dude. Aladdin and Jasmine clearly have a connection, but when Aladdin realizing who she is, he doesn't think he has much of a shot. However, The Sultan's scheming vizier, "Jafar" (Marwan Kenzari), seeking to seize the throne, comes to Aladdin with an offer. Jafar leads Aladdin to the "Cave of Wonders", where he is instructed to deliver Jafar a specific oil lamp in exchange for more riches to impress Jasmine.

 Things go awry, resulting in Aladdin and Abu being trapped in the cave with a living magic carpet and the lamp, which out also has magical secrets of its own. Once rubbed, it releasing the one, the only, "Genie" (Will Smith), who has the power to grant Aladdin three wishes. Never having had a friend like him, Aladdin is transformed into the wealthy prince "Ali", in hopes of winning Jasmine's heart. With some help from the Genie, Aladdin of course has some lessons to learn and hopefully won't forget who he is despite his new persona, while also having to deal with Jafar's plots to gain greater power. (It's so odd writing the plot for a movie I've seen hundreds of times, except in live-action form.) 

 An remake of the much beloved (And still terrific) 1992 animated film, "Aladdin" is much like 2017's "Beauty and the Beast" in which you're left with the question as to how necessary the film truly is considering how little time has passed since the original film was released. It doesn't help that the original has aged so well, and Robin Williams' voice  performance as the Genie has become such a staple of so many childhoods. (I know I'm not the only one who believes that he should of gotten an Oscar nomination for it.) For what we get, it's a well made, delightful and magical family film that has enough charm to make up for some occasional clunkiness. Directed by Guy Ritchie (The two "Sherlock Holmes" films.), it's nice to see what he can do when he restrained, though not even Disney can't control his reliance on his sense of stylized filmmaking. (The man just loves speeding things up and slowing things down doesn't he?) Aside from those moments of Guy Ritchie-ness, he gets to show off a wide sense of scope, beautiful visuals, and an incredible production design. (I can see a Best Costume Design nomination in the future.) 

 Mena Massoud, in his first major big screen role, has a look that fits the original character well and is as easy to root for as he should be. Naomi Scott is also a perfect fit for her character, and even gives her a little extra depth than before. (Jasmine already was a fairly strong character to begin with, but I appreciate the slight, modernized tweaks.) Nasim Pedrad (as "Dalia", Jasmine's sassy handmaiden/best friend) is a fun addition to the story, and offers something to differentiate itself from the original in a way that doesn't feel forced. On the weaker side, Marwan Kenzari (aka "Hot Jafar" as the internet has been referring to him as.), while plenty slimy, doesn't have enough of the original character's menace and enjoyable wickedness to make for a memorable villain. Also, the film doesn't do near enough with Alan Tudyk (as the voice of "Iago", Jafar's parrot sidekick). 

Then we get to Will Smith, who has been left with an impossible task in the eyes of the people. Robin Williams' performance was remarkable, and even now, it's still so funny and insanely lovable. Luckily, Smith doesn't so much try to replicate it, but instead make it own. He ends up giving one of his better performances in some time, even with the freaky realistic CGI. (Still looks better than "Sonic the Hedgehog" though.) Smith gets tons of laughs with his mile a minute delivery, and livens up the film after its somewhat uneven start. The visual effects, while flawed (It may be beautiful green screen. But it's still green screen.), are still marvelous to look at. I especially love what the film does with Abu and the Magic Carpet. They're the right amount of cartoonish, yet still blend into the live-action flawlessly. 

The songs in original were some of Disney's best, and this "Aladdin" does well with them for the most part. Yeah, some songs aren't as extravagant now (You can do more with animation after all.), but they certainly look good with the Bollywood-esque inspiration. The best show-stopper, much like in the original film, would be "Friend Like Me", while the weakest song would be the one new addition, "Speechless". (Aside from Naomi Scott getting to belt it out and show off her singing voice, the song adds little and feels out of place. You know, because it wasn't in the original movie.) The question as to how necessary all of these remakes are still debatable and "Aladdin" doesn't change the game, but settles for doing more of the same. However, it's not like there's anything wrong with the same if you do it right. Some off pacing and a few weaker elements are made up for by plenty of laughs, whimsy, and fun that the whole family can enjoy. Not exactly a diamond in the rough, but not without its worthy merits. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Frightening Moments And Blue People Servitude.     

The Sun IS Also A Star                                          by James Eagan                                               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

 

Image result for the sun is also a starImage: ""This new Maroon 5 album is amazing!" 

 Another day, another cheesy young adult romance novel turned into film. There's an audience for it, mostly consisting of young girls looking for something dreamy. They also usually involve some kind of depressing subject matter or someone on the verge of death. (Guess that really gets them going.) We have one here that appears to be trying to go for something a little different. Which is good, because these movies are bringing me the Hell down, man. 

 "The Sun Is Also A Star" follows two young adults, "Natasha Kingsley" (Yara Shahidi) and "Daniel Bae" (Charles Melton). Natasha is a physics student, with a very fact based outlook on life, looking for a way to prevent her and her family from being deported back to Jamaica. Daniel is more of a dreamer, hoping to become a poet despite his parents having decided that he will become a doctor ever since the day he was born. While Natasha goes to meet with a lawyer (John Leguizamo) to reopen her family's case to stay in America and Daniel goes out for his college interview, the two end up having themselves a "Meet-Cute" (You know the term. When a couple meets in silly, cutesy fashion. Hasn't happened to me yet.) Natasha isn't much of a believer in fate and love, and Daniel is determined to prove the existence of such things to her. Asking for one day to get Natasha to fall in love with him, Daniel and Natasha spend the day together, with it becoming apparent that there is a clear connection between the two. Sadly, real life starts to rear its ugly head, threatening a possible relationship between these love birds. 

 Based on the novel by Nicola Yoon (She also wrote the original novel for that other romance, "Everything, Everything") "The Sun Is Also A Star" doesn't so much change up the typical romantic novel based formula. It just happens to do a better job with it than others, though throughout the film, there are shining moments that show it actually could of achieved something much better. Directed by Ry Russo-Young ("Before I Fall"), the film is shot beautifully, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning, which for a film like this, isn't necessary, but is very much welcome. The direction adds a sort of fairy tale like, glossy look to the film, which on a way feels fitting to what the story is supposed to be. The screenplay by Tracy Oliver ("Girls Trip", "Barbershop: The Next Cut") offers some moments of insight and the occasionally funny line, but can't resist falling into sappiness and even a little pretentiousness with its themes of fate and love. (It's the kind of dialogue where you want to shout at the screen "We get it already!") 

 Where at times, the script falters, the chemistry between our two promising leads is very much a highlight. Yara Shahidi ("Black-ish", and its spin-ff "Grown-ish") is terrific, with a compelling storyline that's easy to understand and relate to. Charles Melton ("Riverdale") is charming, and you can see how these two, despite some differences, could find each other and find a connection. (Although his lips are incredibly distracting. You hinge on every word he says simply because your eyes can't help but focus on them.) John Leguizamo is good, though its very obvious where his character goes and it's pretty hard to believe. (Nothing is THAT coincidental.) Another solid part comes from Jake Choi (as "Charles", Daniel's antagonistic older brother), whose plotline does add a little conflict and doesn't end the way expected. (They don't force a villain where it isn't needed.)

 By the numbers for the most part, "The Sun Is Also A Star" avoids most of the melodrama that plagues films like it. Nobody is dying, there isn't some evildoer trying to get in the way, and the contrivances are limited. (They're still there though. It's a staple of this genre.) The film ends up concluding on a surprisingly mature, realistic note that's unique and dare I say poetic. It really is a heartfelt, fitting way to end the film......And then it makes the mistake to keep going. The film truly ends on the most basic of notes, which while not bad exactly, it's just unnecessary and feels like the filmmakers didn't have the balls to commit. In the end, it's a fantasy, though not a bad one. However, you do feel like it could of been more if it really wanted to be. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Lovey-Dovey Talk. 

A Dog's Journey                                                       by James Eagan                                            ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for a dog's journey movieImage: The new face of Hollywood.

 With 2017's "A Dog's Purpose" and earlier this year's "A Dog's Way Home", I'm starting to see this has the start of a new cinematic universe that I have personally dubbed as "The Dead Dog-Verse". Seriously, these movies have body counts that could rival the three "John Wick" movies. (They certainly killed more dogs than those movies did.)  

 "A Dog's Journey" once again follows the reincarnated lives of a dog named "Bailey" (Voiced by Josh Gad), and the people he meets throughout his many lives. Currently, he's still living with his original owner, "Ethan" (Dennis Quaid) and his wife, "Hannah" (Marg Helgenerger), who have also allowed Hannah's daughter in law "Gloria" (Betty Gilpin) and her young daughter, "CJ" (Played by Emma Volk as a toddler, Abby Ruder Fortson as a child, and Kathryn Prescott as a young adult) to stay with them. While Gloria wallows in self pity due to the death of CJ's father, Ethan, Hannah, and Bailey are the ones that bond with CJ. Gloria eventually decides that she wants to live her miserable life elsewhere, taking CJ with her and refusing Ethan and Hannah to see her. When Bailey becomes ill, Ethan asks that Bailey find his way to CJ after he dies to take care of her. Bailey is then brought back as "Molly", a playful beagle, "Big Dog", a lazy, always hungry boerboel, and "Max", a snippy terrier. As these new dogs, Bailey follows CJ as she grows up, being there for her in her times of need. 

 Based on the book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron (Also serving as a Co-Writer for the film), "A Dog's Journey" is unlike "A Dog's Way Home", an actual, direct sequel to "A Dog's Purpose". The movie is just as sentimental and just as uncomfortably dark as the previous film, complete with puppy cuteness and tonally inconsistent moments of death and despair. Granted, by this point, it kind of comes with the territory. But unlike the first film, this one follows a more straightforward structure. "A Dog's Purpose" followed a series of mini-plots that eventually led up to the final one which brought the opening story to a conclusion. The film was pretty sloppy, with not much time given to each storyline. This film only has one arc that just stretches over the course of four dog lives, which while very predictable, does at least allow for some actual development. 

 Josh Gad's voice over, while at times getting a little too goofy for a movie that has so many heavy moments, is still fairly inspired. He really does the kind of voice that matches the personalities of these dogs. The dogs themselves are utterly adorable, with the scene-stealer being Max, who gets the most screentime out of all of them. (Considering I own a little dog, this is an accurate portrayal of how they basically take command over everyone.) Dennis Quaid is very good in his limited screentime, along with a solid Henry Lau (as "Trent", CJ's childhood friend/love interest). Meanwhile Betty Bilpin is ridiculously vile, but she does a fantastic job at it, and even gets to have moments of humanity later in the film. Our main human character, CJ, is a likable lead, with Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Prescott both giving wonderful performances. Here is where the heart of the film really does work, and while the film certainly embraces its cheesiness, it's still emotionally heartfelt and genuinely sweet. 

 Surprise free, with the feel of something you should be watching on TV rather than in theaters, "A Dog's Journey" is silly and builds to a conflict-free last act. It's melodramatic, and, unlike "A Dog's Way Home", this one actually doesn't fully commit to the darker aspects, likely due to having less ambition than that film. However, the film does oddly work, whether it be the lighthearted humor, some effective drama, and better than average acting. The film, like the dogs, is too relentlessly cute to dislike. It ends on a slightly confusing, yet heartwarming note that will give any dog lover exactly what they paid for. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Adorable Puppies, Death Of Said Puppies, Physical And Emotional Abuse, And A Little Dose OF Cancer Thrown In There. For The Family!

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum                                                 by James Eagan                                       ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★ 

Image result for john wick chapter 3Image: I've seen Halle Berry in a vision, but Keanu Reeves wasn't in it.

 One thing I've come to learn having been reviewing movies for over nine years is that Keanu Reeves is kind of a strange anomaly. (My introduction to him was in the massive 2013 flop, "47 Ronin") For a while, he was going through a slump in his career, and the film to inject life and give it a massive jump start came from the unlikeliest of places.In the form of an action movie where a man seeks revenge for the death of his cute little puppy. Never would of seen that one coming. Now we have one of the best action film franchises in the last ten years, if not more. 

 "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" follows the continuing adventures of former legendary hitman, "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves), aka "The Bogeyman" aka "Baba Yaga". (The guy who killed someone with a pencil. A f*cking pencil!) John has had a rough couple movies, having lost his wife, his new puppy getting killed, leading to him going on a quest for revenge. However, things got more complicated and he was forced out of retirement permanently. After killing a member of the "High Table" (The mysterious superiors of this hitman centered world) on the premises of the hotel for hitmen, "The Continental", John is now on the run (Along with his dog, named er, "Dog".), having been declared "Excommunicado" with a bounty on his head of $14 Million.

 Everyone, everywhere is after is after John, with him taking on hordes and hordes of would be assassins, resulting in him traveling to Casablanca in search of safety. John teams up with an old acquaintance, "Sofia" (Halle Berry) to escape the contracted killers hot on their trail. Meanwhile, The High Table sends in "The Adjudicator" (Asia Kate Dillon) to deal with John's allies, such as the manager of the Continental, "Winston" (Ian McShane) and the ruler of a group of homeless assassins, "The Bowery King" (Laurence Fishburne). The Adjudicator also hires sword happy killer/John Wick fanboy, "Zero" (Mark Dacascos) and his group of ninjas to finish John off for good. Loyalties are tested and the consequences of past actions are confronted.      

 With stuntman turned director, Chad Stahelski (Having brought us both previous "John Wick" movies), returning to direct once again, "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" is the third, and craziest entry yet. It also continues the series' streak of over the top, brilliantly choreographed action, slick and stylized direction, and an intricate amount of attention to world building. It's also completely awesome! The film expands on the established world of assassins and hitmen, having previously set things up in the first film, explaining more of how the system works in the second, and now showing just how far it extends across the world. The scope of the film, thanks to Stahelski's direction, takes up every inch of the screen, and needs to be viewed in the biggest theater possible. The action, which rarely relies on much CGI, is the definition of insane. In the first few minutes, we see a man get forcefully fed the thickest book you could find and a horse essentially used as weapon. From that point on, things only escalate as the film never stops to take a breath till the very end. 

 All of the aggressively bonkers violence wouldn't be enough if we didn't have an action hero to root for. Keanu Reeves, showing a remarkable amount of humanity with a simple stare, has made for one of the most relatable action movie heroes in recent memory. Sure, he can take on legions of experienced killers, going through them all like a video game character, but the fact that he does so, while getting the absolute crap beaten out of him, makes him more compelling. The reasons behind the character's plight makes John likable, and the further implied history only adds a little extra mystery to the character's origins, while not overdoing it with a needless amount of lore and backstory. Mark Dacascos is as violently villainous as he is hilarious, spending his downtime not killing to geek out over how much he's been wanting to meet John Wick. Halle Berry (Looking as lovely as ever), only appears for a portion of the film, but she steals the show. (Along with her dogs during a cathartic sequence that will have any dog lover cheering.) Asia Kate Dillon is a fascinating new addition, and Ian McShane returns to do what he does best, which is play Ian McShane, and it's always delightful. There are some great small parts for a wonderfully over the top Laurence Fishburne, Angelica Huston (as "The Director", a woman with ties to John's past), Lance Reddick (as "Charon", the concierge at the Continental), and Saïd Taghmaoui (as "The Elder", the man above the "High Table"). One of the most memorable sequences comes from a violent, yet humorously gentlemen-like fight between John and two of Zero's henchmen (Played by Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman).

 Loyalty is a major theme this time, and it seems fitting considering this all started with the death of an adorable little puppy. "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" is non-stop action, with plenty of time for memorable characters and a wickedly dark sense of humor. It's relentless in its carnage, yet oddly beautiful in execution. The only downside is that it ends on such a quick, almost conclusion free note. Granted, it appears to be set up for another chapter, and if they keep the consistency of this series going, I'm all for it. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Bloody Death By Gun, Knife, Sword, Car, Book, Horse, Dog.....Basically Anything And Everything. 

Poms              by James Eagan               ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for poms 2019 movieImage: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader tryouts are open to everyone this year. 

 By this point in my non profit, movie critic career, I've learned something about films targeted to a certain audience that I have no business being a part of. I think it's pretty obvious that I'm not an old lady, heading out to a girls movie night with by gal-pals, ready to laugh, cry, and clap. But, I think I've learned that sometimes, you don't need to be in the right demographic to tell if something is good.....You can also tell when it sure as Hell isn't. 

 “Poms” opens with the recently Cancer diagnosed, “Martha” (Diane Keaton), moving to a retirement community mostly so she can die in peace. However, the community is essentially under the tyrannical rule of “Vicki” (Celia Weston), who demands that everyone join a club of some sort. Having always had an interest in becoming a cheerleader as a young girl, Martha gets the idea to start up a cheerleading club with her with her nosy, overly hyperactive neighbor, “Sheryl” (Jacki Weaver). The club comes together nicely at first, with other community members such as “Alice” (Rhea Perlman), “Olive” (Pam Grier), and “Helen” (Phyllis Somerville) joining. However, Vicki for some reason just has to be the bad guy and puts a stop to the club. So Martha and Sheryl decide to do the club in secret. With help from Sheryl’s awkward grandson, “Ben” (Charlie Tahan) and the popular high school cheerleader, “Chloe” (Alisha Boe) to help prepare for upcoming cheerleading competition.

 Now there is nothing wrong with a predictably generic, crowd-pleasing story, and "Poms" in theory really should just be that. Sadly, it seems tonal structure, attention to characters, or much of an actual plot have evaded the filmmakers. Both directed and written by first timer, Zara Hayes, the film is cobbled of borrowed ideas and plot points from similar films, except this time without any of the charm or heart. It's not the the movie is intentionally lacking in that department, it's just not there. Hardly any of the characters end up resonating, the attempts at sentimentality end up feeling hollow, and the humor is too broad and sitcom-like for something that gets uncomfortably dark. You can't have quirky moments about old women talking about their breasts, then cut to one of them throwing up in the bathroom due to a terminal illness in just a quick cutaway. You can't have both a cartoon-ish comedy, and yet try to toss in a deep moral about life that also incorporates the most realism that death has to offer. 

I t's all a shame because Diane Keaton is still quite wonderful in the film, and you sympathize and understand where her character is coming from. Jacki Weaver, while occasionally a little too goofy at times, is also giving it her all. Others like Rhea Perlman, Pam Grier, Phyllis Somerville, along with the rest of the cheerleading club end up doing so little to justify their necessity to the story. The relationship between Aisha Boe and Charlie Tahan feels like an afterthought, with the both of them also serving little purpose by the end. While there is a once in a while amusing moment from Bruce McGill (as "Carl", the community's buffoonish security chief), the film forces conflict where there really shouldn't be any. Celia Weston, along with a group of mean high school cheerleaders, come across as so needlessly antagonistic over something that really doesn't affect them at all. (Just let them do their thing. They are literally not hurting anyone. Why do you care so badly?)

 "Poms" may have the once in a while amusing moment and obviously well meaning messages. The film just can't balance a tone that's one part silly exaggeration, another part realistic drama. It ends on such a heavy note that doesn't feel deserved, in part because note enough development was given to the story or characters. It's too choppy to be basic, which itself wouldn't be enough for me to recommend, even to the intended demographic. A waste of great talent. 1½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Heavy Material And Old Lady Sex Talk.

The Hustle                                                                  by James Eagan                                                   ★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the hustle movie

Image: "It's settled. We'll go see the WAY better original version with Steve Martin and Michael Caine."

 Online men are the easiest people to piss off. Like with "Captain Marvel" or that awesome, all female fight scene in "Avengers: Endgame", a female lead for "Star Wars", or you know, the "Ghostbusters" reboot from a couple years ago. (Remember that? The world didn't end did it?) In a time when toxic masculinity is threatened easier, now more than ever especially in the movies, we really didn't need crap like this right now. You know they're just gonna have a field day with this one.  

 A gender-flipped remake of the 1988 movie, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (Which was already a remake, so it's amazing just how little of a plot there actually is.) "The Hustle" follows a pair of female con artists, "Josephine" (Anne Hathaway) and "Lonnie" (Rebel Wislon). Josephine is rich, British, and full of herself, using her feminine charms to plan out elaborate ploys to con men out of their valuables, while Lonnie is more brash, using fake sob stories and honestly, just dumb luck to get what she wants. The two eventually cross paths, with Josephine seeing Lonnie as a threat to her operation. Not really sure how to describe how all of this plays out, but Josephine decides to train Lonnie in the art of the hustle. However, the two still can't seem to get along. So they have a bet to see who can faster con naive tech genius billionaire, "Thomas" (Alex Sharp). This leads to Josephine posing as an eccentric German doctor, and Lonnie going through an extended fake blind person routine that it borders on offensive. 

 Directed by comedian Chris Addison (Known for directing a few episodes of the critically acclaimed "Veep"....Talk about a major downgrade.), "The Hustle" is more of a premise than a story, and even in that regard, there's little to laugh about. Having been in production for about two years, the filmmakers don't appear to have gotten much further than the simple idea of gender flipping a much more well received film. The screenplay goes for the laziest, easiest jokes, with a reliance on poor slapstick, silly accents, and a colossal amount of stupidity. It would be one thing if it were all actually funny, but it's another when the film doesn't realize just how dumb it's actually being. It seems there's an attempt to make a point about how men look at women, not believing that they can be as capable (or even more so) than them when it comes to a battle of wits. However, not only does that idea get lost in the overbearing shenanigans, it also doesn't quite mean anything by the film's end. (The film strangely doesn't even appear to have one. It just blinks out of existence as if it's too worn out to go on any longer.)

 Anne Hathaway, who hasn't been having the best of years so far ("Serenity" is still fresh in my mind.), and aside from the unnecessary accent (She can do anything. But the British accent is pushing it.), her usually natural charm can't save such a nothing character. Rebel Wilson, who recently showed how charming and cute she can be in earlier this year's "Isn't It Romantic", appears to have devolved back into the obvious pratfalls and obnoxiously loud, bad comedy. It's also hard to buy that these two are apparently meant to be evenly matched. While Hathaway's methods of using her looks to con men are too transparent to be taken seriously, it makes much more sense than Wilson's annoyingly cartoonish antics. Neither are funny enough to make up for the lack of a narrative, and their lack of chemistry just plain makes it depressing. Alex Sharp gets stuck with an overly bland role, but he does seem to be trying to get something out of it. 

 "The Hustle" lacks surprises, and surprisingly much coherence. It starts with little, builds to nothing, and eventually ends with less than it even started with. Much like its prolonged fake blind person gag, it goes on for far too long and doesn't reach it's climax free conclusion fast enough. I'd make a crack about how this movie cons its audience with the promise of laughter, but instead brings out groans and disgruntled sighs. But I want to have a higher standard than this movie. 1 Star. Rated PG-13 For Tired High Jinks And Worn Out Fat Jokes.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu                 by James Eagan                                                       ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for detective pikachuImage: All I'm finding are Rattata and Pigdey. No wonder I stopped playing "Pokémon Go".

 Lets just point out the obvious, which needs to be stated early so we can talk about everything else. This is the greatest video game movie ever made! I know, it's a low bar. Hell, by this point there isn't even a bar anymore. ("Assassin's Creed", "Super Mario Bros.", "Mortal Kombat", "Warcraft", all of those "Resident Evil" movies, etc.) By this point, we've been willing to take just about anything. Still, you can tell early on that something was put into this that so few of those other movies had. Charm and actual effort to make well, a good movie that will give the fans what they want. I wanted this....I...I needed this.

 Set in the world where all animals have been replaced by colorful creatures known as "Pokémon", which are caught for training and battle (It's not abuse if they're happy!), "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" follows young "Tim Goodman" (Justice Smith), who had always dreamed of becoming a Pokémon trainer when he was young. Sadly, he never achieved his aspirations and settled for becoming an insurance worker (Gonna' assume that it's not as exciting as catching Pokémon). Tim travels to Pokémon/human utopia, Ryme City, where police offer, "Hideo Yoshida" (Ken Watanabe) tells Tim the sad news that his detective father, "Harry", died in a car crash.

 Alone in his dad's place, Tim comes across the titular, lovable fuzzy ball of electricity, "Pikachu" (Voiced by Ryan Reynolds). However, this Pikachu not only was Harry's apparent Pokémon partner, but he speaks in perfect English that only Tim is able to hear. When evidence becomes known that Harry stumbled upon a large conspiracy that could threaten the world, Tim and Pikachu team up to solve the case. With some help from enthusiastic wannabe reporter, "Lucy" (Kathryn Newton) and her always migraine suffering "Psyduck", Tim and Pikachu discover a purple gas called "R", which caused Pokémon to go wild, as well as a connection to the mysterious and immensely powerful Pokémon, "Mewtwo". 

 Based on the video game, "Detective Pikachu", which in turn was a spin-off of the ever-expanding, over twenty year old franchise, "Pokémon", "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" is a bizarre idea that was just crazy enough to work. First off, Director/Co-Writer Rob Letterman ("Monsters Vs. Aliens", "Goosebumps") deserves credit for his attention to world building and capturing every last detail. The film has hundreds of Pokémon either in the background or in the foreground, blending into the live action world seamlessly. It's obviously all CGI. However, it's both terrific, and most importantly, expressive CGI. Every creature is full of personality of its own, even if they're just there for a simple cameo or Easter egg. The way the film portrays humans and Pokémon coexisting together, going about every day lives and having it seem natural, is actually quite brilliant. This also leads to some good laughs, most of which provided by our titular Pikachu. 

 Ryan Reynolds is impeccably cast, with his likable voice coming out of such an adorably designed character. Most of the humor comes from his Deadpool-esque wisecracks and quips, but also has some delightful back and forth with Justice Smith (Despite not actually being on screen with him.) Smith is also very charming, serving as an audience surrogate that any Pokémon can relate to. Kathryn Newton is mostly just here to be the tag along, but is endearing and infectiously cute. Others in the cast include, Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy (as "Howard Clifford", the man behind the vision of Ryme City), who both don't exactly get much to do, but remain professional nonetheless. The Pokémon themselves steal most of the show. Aside from Pikachu, we have my all time favorite, Psyduck, adding to the strangeness, an awesome battle with the fire breathing "Charizard", a hilarious sequence with the miming, "Mr. Mime", and of course, the frighteningly strong, "Mewtwo". (I also love what the film ends up doing with the beady eyed, shape shifting blob, "Ditto". Never trusted that guy.) There are hundreds of Pokémon, sometimes all on screen at once, and any longtime fan will find themselves having the time of their life trying to spot them all. 

 Where "Pokémon Detective Pikachu" kind of stumbles would be with its story. It's not so much that it's a bad one, but rather entirely predictable right down to the twists and turns of what is supposed to be a mystery. (Who do you think the bad guy is? Just look at the cast!) The film's climax, while exciting and visually incredible, does start to get a little sillier as more of the villain's plan becomes apparent, which will leave casuals a bit more confused than anything. (It's one of those things that you'll just have to go along with.) Though the film's plot is serviceable, yet nothing special, the film is packed full of heart, and will make for a fun time for families. Even better though, the fans will have the absolute time of their life. Being a former Pokémon obsesser as a kid, I found myself retaining a large, childlike grin on my face for most of the movie, and I can't really think of any other video game adaptation ever being able to accomplish that. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Adult Humor, Scary Situations, And Mr. Mime Enhanced Interrogation. 

The Intruder                                                           by James Eagan                                         ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: "Trust me, I'm a Botanist."

 Is it okay to criticize a movie for being nothing more than intentionally trashy filmmaking, just as advertised? Of course it is! Especially if that movie sucks. But you knew that already.

 “The Intruder” follows married couple, “Scott” (Michael Ealy) and “Annie” (Meagan Good), searching for a new house outside of the city to settle down in. They find the seemingly perfect place in “Fox Club”, which is a large house, secluded in a beautiful woodlands area. However, some red flags start to go up. Especially when they meet the original owner, “Charlie Peck” (Dennis Quaid), who introduces himself by blasting the head off of a deer. Despite Scott’s uneasiness around Charlie, the couple ends up buying the house, mostly because Annie just really likes it. Things start to get weird when Charlie just keeps showing up, mowing the lawn without asking, visiting Annie when Scott is away, and delivering lines in the creepiest possible manner. While Annie apparently doesn’t see any of this, Scott knows something is up and is determined to protect his new home, having no idea just how messed up and how dangerous Charlie truly is.

 Like clockwork, around this time every year we get a movie like “The Intruder”. A film whose only intention is to be stupid, generic, and get people to yell at the screen at the actions of its characters, despite them never listening because they can’t hear you. For movies like this, it’s never about proper direction, editing, good writing, or even capable thrills. It’s about how dumb you can be for an hour and a half and how cheap you can make it. Released by “Screen Gems” (Having also distributed similar films, such as “When the Bough Breaks”, “No Good Deed”, and “The Perfect Guy”), the film lacks much suspense and thrills, and replaces it with dullness and lazy jump scares, stripping any sort of trashy fun you could of possibly had with it.

 It’s odd how pretty much unlikable or annoying all of the characters are, especially when the least frustrating ends up being the homicidal maniac. Michael Ealy is trying his damndest to salvage poor writing, and though his character is clearly in the right not to trust Charlie, he goes about it in such a whiny, contrived manner that you could care less what happens to him. The same goes for Meagan Good, who makes some of the most shockingly moronic decisions you could make in a thriller. (Stop letting the creepy guy into your house! There’s a difference between being rude and not wanting the obviously unhinged guy with a shotgun wandering around your property!) Joseph Sikora (as “Mike”, Scott’s dick of a best friend) is the kind of doomed character that you can’t wait to see die. The bright spot would be Dennis Quaid’s absolutely deranged performance. Granted, his character does not do a good job hiding it, and it’s baffling that anyone would be remotely comfortable around him. He’s just so damn committed though, with his nervous ticks, maniacal grin, and menacing stare making up for the script’s shortcomings. It is also nice to simply see Dennis Quaid having a little fun for the first time in a while.

 Directed by Deon Taylor, “The Intruder” doesn’t look bad, and is sleekly put together as well as any cheap horror thriller could be. But crap is still crap, even when it aspires to be nothing more than crap. You can’t really blame a film for being more than what it is, but if the fun factor is lacking and you find yourself more bored than anything, I wouldn’t say the filmmakers quite succeeded at even that. 1½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Well, A White Man In A Red Hat And A Shotgun Terrorizing A Black Couple…..Not Sure If That Was Meant To Be A Political Statement Or Not.

Long Shot          by James Eagan         ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

 Image result for long shot movie

Image: So Charlize Theron likes guys who are clearly not in her league....So you're saying there's a chance!

 It really goes to show that with the right amount of care, intelligence, and actual competency to make even the most tired of ideas work. Like with this movie, which is silly sounding on paper,  isn't all that original, and appeals to a genre that you all know I've never been the biggest fan of. You need charm, and lots of it. Luckily, this movie has plenty to spare. 

 “Long Shot” follows determined journalist, “Fred Flarsky” (Seth Rogen), who quits his job the second it’s bought out by vile media mogul, “Parker Wembley” (Andy Serkis). Now unemployed, Fred goes to a party with his more successful best friend, “Lance” (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), where he happens upon his old crush/babysitter/the Secretary of State, “Charlotte Field” (Charlize Theron). With the current TV star turned President, “Chambers” (Bob Odenkirk), planning on quitting early to branch out into film, Charlotte appears to be the favorite to take over the job of President of the United States, becoming the first woman to do so (44 Presidents and we’re still not there yet). Seeing as Fred is a capable writer and currently not doing anything at the moment, Charlotte decides to hire him as her new speechwriter, despite the protests of her advisors, “Maggie” (June Diane Raphael) and “Tom” (Ravi Patel). Fred accompanies Charlotte while she travels the world to push for an environmental bill, with the two having more of a connection than expected.

 The basic premise of "Long Shot" has been done many times before. The romantic comedy where the average guy gets the way, way out of his league girl. Been there, done that (Many times with Seth Rogen. Or Sandler. At least Rogen respects the premise). The film doesn't avoid predictability. What it does to make up for that is aside from loads of belly laughs, but it's a surprising amount of smarts and depth. Directed by Jonathan Levine ("50/50", "Warm Bodies", "The Night Before") and written by Dan Sterling ("The Interview") and Liz Hannah ("The Post"), the film ends up becoming just as much political satire as it is a rom-com. Whether it be unfair double standards for women or hilariously depressing political ineptitude, the film pokes fun at our current political climate. Though obviously it's still set in a bit of a fantasy world (Not sure politics work out quite like this), it's still very nice to see some genuine insight being provided by a raunchy comedy.

 None of this would truly work if not for the leads, both of which also serving as producers. Seth Rogen, having become known for his likably goofy persona, also gets to show off some more acting chops than what we're used to seeing. Charlize Theron, not really known for doing many comedies, proves to be just as capable here than any other film. Together, their chemistry is pretty perfect, and not just in terms of their comedic timing. Their back and forth is funny and sweet, and thoroughly endearing, accomplishing the impossible task of making it seem as if Seth Rogen could actually end up with Charlize Theron. We also get a fun supporting cast, with the biggest scene-stealer being O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Who I had no idea could be see hilarious). There are also some good laughs from June Diane Raphael, Ravi Patel, Bob Odenkirk (Who is still a more appealing President than Donald Trump), Alexander Skarsgård (as "James Steward", the good looking, but ungodly boring Canadian Prime Minister), and a really bizarre Andy Serkis in old, chubby man make-up.

 "Long Shot" has strong themes as feminism and divisiveness in the political world, as well as sometimes what is necessary to properly play the political game. Well directed and put together, with wonderful chemistry between Rogen and Theron, some actual heart and depth, and most importantly for any comedy, a lot of big laughs. Honestly, it's probably one of the better comedies I've seen in a while. And who knows, at some point, maybe this will all play out in real life. Could happen. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Raunchy Language, Raunchy Drug Use, And Raunchy Ejaculation. 

UglyDolls                                                                   by James Eagan                                          ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for uglydolls movieImage: So ugly they're cute....Cugly?

 Man, wasn't "Avengers: Endgame" great? Like, that was really something special, huh? A great superhero movie that also made for an all around great movie for everyone. We all saw it. It's going to make trillions. Many of us (Like myself) already saw it more than once. Why am I babbling about Avengers still? Because O'm not really ready to talk about a movie about dolls....That are ugly.  

 Based on a bunch of plush toys (Hey, if LEGOs can make for a good movie, why can't they?),"UglyDolls" following the goofy looking, slightly deformed doll citizens of "Uglyville", where all they do is sing, dance, and party. One cheerful doll, "Moxy" (Kelly Clarkson), dreams of traveling up to the supposed "Big World", where she will be chosen for a child. However, the town's mayor, "Ox" (Blake Shelton) assures her that it doesn't exist. Moxy decides to ignore Ox and leave Uglyville to see if the Big World is real, taking along her buddies for the ride, including the pessimistic "Wage" (Wanda Sykes), Moxy's best friend "Ugly Dog" (Pitbull), the chubby "Babo" (Gabriel Iglesias), and some other one called  "Lucky Bat" (Wang Leehorn).

 Moxy and her crew wind up in the "Institute for Perfection", which is where all of the perfect, but narcissistic dolls live. The nefarious leader of the institute, "Lou" (Nick Jonas), wants Moxy and her friends out of the picture, allowing them a chance to partake in an obstacle course known as the "Gauntlet" (Which will determine if they are worthy of being chosen for a child) simply to crush their collective spirits. Determined to make her dream come true, Moxy and her friends must prove Lou wrong and prove their worth, while Lou takes desperate measures to keep the conceited status quo.  

 As you can tell, the scope and aspirations have dropped immensely from "Avengers" last weekend. Directed by Kelly Asbury ("Shrek 2", "Gnomeo and Juliet", and "Smurfs: The Lost Village"), "UglyDolls" is both metaphorical and quite literal kiddie fluff. Filled with lame jokes and puns, a predictable and uninspired story, and light in terms of character development, it's obvious that the film is playing things very safe and soft for the youngest of children. Unlike something like say "Wonder Park", there does appear to be some kind of intention to be a bit more than just goofy antics. The film's message encourages positive self-esteem and having confidence in one's perceived flaws, though even the message does feel a bit off at times. (What kid wouldn't want an UglyDoll? They're much more creative and colorful than the supposed "Perfect" ones.) Regardless, it's still good for kids to promote something like that. The animation is a little uneven, in the case of the UglyDolls themselves, who are bouncy, cuddly looking, and expressive, and how bland and lifeless the Institute of Perfection is. (The film sadly spends most of its time here. I get the point being made, but it doesn't do much with the competent animation.) 

 The voice cast mainly consists of musicians, pop stars, and celebrity singers, who are mostly here to advertise the film's musical soundtrack. Some like Kelly Clarkson and especially Janelle Monáe (as "Mandy", a kind-hearted perfect doll, who befriends the UglyDolls) naturally have enough personality and charismatic stage presence to branch into voice work. Others like Blake Shelton and Pitbull add very little to the movie, and don't come across as natural. The film also doesn't really do anything with most of the ensemble, which also includes Emma Roberts (as "Wedgehead", a new member of Uglyville), Charli XCX, Lizzo, and Bebe Rexha (as "Kitty", "Lydia", and "Tuesday", a trio of perfect dolls working for Lou). The most memorable of performances come from Wanda Sykes (Who still gets an occasional chuckle) and a surprisingly villainous Nick Jonas (Maybe not surprisingly. He is a Jonas brother). The musical numbers, while nothing on par with anything from Disney, are fun, delightful showstoppers, and are thoroughly original. 

 Reviewing a movie like "UglyDolls" can be difficult, considering I'm obviously not the target audience. It's strictly kid based, and isn't meant to appeal to any of the adults who either took their kids to it or accidentally wandered into the theater. However, towards the end the heart of the film truly shows, and it concludes on an undeniably sweet and cute note. It's likable and at times amusing, but mediocre and fairly forgettable candy that your kids will eat up. At the least, no ugly dolls make the devastating sacrifice that saves humanity, leaving us in shock and uncontrollable sobbing....Hey, I can't have been the only one!  2 ½ Stars. Rated PG, Though It's So Harmless That A G Rating Could Of Been Possible.