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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, The Boogeyman, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, About My Father, The Little Mermaid, Fast X, Fool's Paradise, Book Club: The Next Chapter, Love Again, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Big George Foreman, Beau Is Afraid, Evil Dead Rise, Guy Ritchie's The Covenant, Mafia Mamma

Coming Soon: The Flash, Elemental, Asteroid City, No Hard Feelings, Indiana Jones 5, Ruby Gillman, Insidious 5, Mission: Impossible 7, Oppenheimer, Barbie, Haunted Mansion, TMNT, The Meg 2, Gran Turismo, The Last Voyage of the Demeter, Blue Beetle, Strays

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

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts                 by James Eagan                     ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Trukk not Munky!

Haven't I been through enough? Whether it be financially, spiritually, my lack of a successful love life, and five Michael Bay directed "Transformers" movies, haven't I had enough disappointment in my life? Just let me have this!

Based on the long running Hasbro toy/cartoon franchise and set after the events of "Bumblebee", "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" opens in 1994 Brooklyn, right in the middle of the ongoing conflict between two warring factions of alien, transforming robots, the evil "Decepticons" and the noble "Autobots", led by the heroic "Optimus Prime" (Voiced by Peter Cullen). However, their war is about to take an unexpected detour. Former military technical expert, "Noah Diaz" (Anthony Ramos), is struggling to support his mother, "Breanna" (Luna Lauren Vélez) and "Kris" (Dean Scott Vasquez), and resorts to stealing cars with his friend, "Reek" (Tobe Nwigwe), only to end up in a Porshe that just so happens to be the very talkative Autobot, "Mirage" (Voiced by Pete Davidson). Noah is then introduced to the untrusting Optimus and his fellow Autobots, the radio speaking "Bumblebee" and the lone female, "Arcee" (Voiced by Liza Koshy). Meanwhile, an underappreciated museum intern, "Elena Wallace" (Dominique Fishback) accidentally discovers an ancient device known as the "Transwarp Key" (Which can bend time and space, allowing for intergalactic transportation). 

This not only attracts the Autobots to her location (Wanting to use the key to return to their home planet), but also a new, more deadly faction, known as the "Terrorcons", commanded by the ruthless "Scourge" (Voiced by Peter Dinklage). The Terrorcons have been sent by the massive ball of planet eating, pure evil, "Unicron" (Voiced by Colman Domingo), to get the key and make way for his arrival. Turns out though, the key has been split into two parts, with Noah and Elena joining the Autobots on a globe trotting journey to find it before Scourge does. Along the way, our heroes meet yet another faction of transforming robots, the "Maximals" (Who can become animals instead of vehicles), such as their ape leader, "Optimus Primal" (Voiced by Ron Perlman) and the falcon "Airazor" (Voiced by Michelle Yeoh), who have traveled space and time to protect the key from Unicorn. All factions, including the humans, must put aside their differences and work together to save all life from Unicron's path of destruction.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. ("Creed II", "The Land"), with a screenplay by Joby Harold ("Army of the Dead", "Obi-Wan: Kenobi"), Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber, "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" doesn't have to really do much to be an improvement over the Michael Bay films. The standard is already so low, though thankfully 2018's more acclaimed "Bumblebee" (Liked by both fans, non fans, and even critics) showed that it's possible to appeal to the general audience in the same way say Marvel has. While sadly the movie isn't quite on par with "Bumblebee" for a few reasons, what it gets right is quite commendable and regardless of where the franchise leads after this, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Caple Jr. seems to have a lot of love for the franchise, dedicating more time to allowing for the Transformers themselves remain in the forefront than previous films and it doesn't have the usual bombastic, overly saturated and explosive identity that they used to be known for. It also means there's no immature adult humor, disturbing sexualization of women, and offensive racial stereotypes. It's actually quite a diverse, relatively kid friendly bit of popcorn entertainment, that, unfortunately, never quite aspires to be much more than that.

 The visual effects and character designs aren't near as detailed this time, yet that's genuinely for the better. The animated characters are very lively and at times, blend in so seamlessly that you do genuinely forget that none of them are even there. It's almost enough to make up for what's a rather by the book "Find the McGuffin" story, with not much complication to the characters and somewhat endearingly corny dialogue (Look, if "Avatar: The Way of Water" can get away with having a straight face with a silly script and still get a Best Picture nomination, you really can't fault this movie for just being what it is) It's not taking itself too seriously, without ever feeling the need to mock itself in any way. And don't even bother to ask if this is truly a reboot to the Bay films or not, because the film never clarifies, though feels so detached that it in no way could ever lead up to the events of those movies.  

Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback stand out from the usually unbearably annoying human casts that these films have been known for. They both have their reasons for being a part of the story, contribute in a meaningful way, and are both just very likable, with easy to relate to problems. There are some other human characters, though they don't end up doing anything, with the exception from Tobe Nwigwe (Who gets a funny line or two before getting left behind). The voice cast is pretty unique and all around excellent, even if some Transformers get more to do than others. The great Peter Cullen returns once again to lend his epic voice to the beloved hero, all while Bumblebee (Despite limited screentime) is as lovable as ever. Pete Davidson is perfectly cast, delivering fast and funny wisecracks with an insane amount of his Pete Davidson energy. The rest of the Autobots, consisting of Liza Koshy, an amusing Cristo Fernández (as the voice of "Wheeljack", a nerdy Autobot mechanic), and John DiMaggio (as the voice of "Stratosphere", a big, aged Autobot cargo plane), mostly serve as supporting players. 

Our villains are simple, yet effectively evil, with Peter Dinklage's voice generating plenty of casual menace, along with Michaela Jaé Rodriguez (as the voice of "Nightbird", a sadistic Terrorcon) and David Sobolov (as the voice of "Battletrap", a hulking Terrorcon, who likes to smash things). The beasts themselves (Inspired by the classic animated series, "Beast Wars"), don't appear quite as much as you would think, though leave a mighty impression, with Ron Perlman being perfectly cast, Michelle Yeoh being her usual regal and majestic self, and not much given to Tongayi Chirisa (as the voice of "Cheetor", a Maximal that turns into a Cheetah). "Rhinox" (Who becomes a Rhino. Duh!) is also in it, but I'm almost 100% sure he never said anything, though he did bash some baddies real good. Colman Domingo only gets a few lines, though his awesome voice nearly explodes out of the IMAX surround sound. The sound design in general is quite brilliant (I'll literally never get tired of hearing that transforming sound effect), along with a fitting soundtrack that cleverly utulizes the 90s setting with loads of well known, iconic hip hop. Not to mention the best use of "Mama Said Knock You Out" in any form of media. 

"Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" starts very strong, looking like it's going to be something to resonate with any audience, regardless if they're a fan of the franchise or not. It does take a dip into less original, possibly hard to follow territory and I can see it leaving the unitiated behind. It becomes clear eventually that Steven Caple Jr. is more interested in giving a "Transformers" movie that the fans will likely love, though not much for everyone else. Luckily, it all culminates in a spectacular finale, full of fanservice and applause-worthy moments that had me almost cheering in the theater. It's a lot of CGI thrown at the screen, but it looks good and most of all, you can actually tell what in the living Hell is going on (Especially when you compare to the shaky, bafflingly incomprehensible to follow Bay films). This is worth the price of admission alone and God, I really hope if we get any future installments they keep moving forward with what's been set up here (And it also features a rather weird, possibly stupid, yet oddly pretty cool tease for a future crossover that adult me and child me are already arguing at each other about). Sure, it's not on par with say, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" (Granted, how could you expect to top cinematic perfection? Let alone so quickly?), but it still makes for a solid summer blockbuster to take the kids to, and especially if you're a long time fan like myself, find yourself smiling just as much as they are. There's humor, heart, big special effects, and giant robots. Basically what a "Transformers" movie should be. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Sci-Fi Violence, Though Is So Tame That It Barely Classifies As A PG-13. If This Had Actually Come Out In The 90s It Would Have Been PG. 

The Boogeyman                                    by James Eagan                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Happy Birthday! Make your last wish!

After last year's bombardment of terrific horror films, from "Barbarian", "Smile", "The Black Phone", among others (And not to mention the very terrifying "Evil Dead Rise" just a couple months ago), the standard for horror flicks has gone up for me, and sure, I'm okay with something just being fine or okay. Still, it's never a bad thing to ask for a little better, especially when you know it's possible. 

Based on the short story from Stephen King (In a way, this movie serves as a continuation of the story), "The Boogeyman" follows "Sadie Harper" (Sophie Thatcher), who has recently lost her mother to a car accident and is struggling to process her grief and trauma over the ordeal, while her therapist father, "Will" (Chris Messina), would rather throw himself into his work rather than think about it. After a visit from a mysterious (And clearly emotionally unstable) man, "Lester Billings" (David Dastmalchian), claiming to have lost his children to some sort of frightening creature that attacks from the closet, Sadie's little sister, "Sawyer" (Vivien Lyra Blair), starts to see the exact same creature in her room at night. At first, nobody believes her, thinking that this is just something she's made up in her head to cope with her mother's death. However, this monster, referred to as "The Boogeyman", is very much real and very much loves to torture its prey before brutally killing them. Soon, Sadie starts to see the creature too and sets out to discover what it is, along with how to stop it before she loses what family she has left. 

Directed by Rob Savage ("Dashcam"), with a screenplay by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods ("A Quiet Place", "65"), along with Mark Heyman ("Black Swan"), "The Boogeyman" is an alright PG-13 centered, spooky story that goes for the easy, serviceable scares, though on occasion does genuinely show potential for something more. The film opens strong, with enough creepy atmosphere, as well as some well done human drama. The concept alone is worth something, focusing on how people can process tragic, unexplainable events in life, as well as how parental neglect (Even when it's unintentional) can only lead to more lasting negative side effects. That kind of horror hits on a personal level and the film does a damn good job at showing it. The story doesn't end up living up to its beginning though, before it eventually starts to rely on simple jump scares, a few noticeable plot holes, and a few questionable actions. I suppose the inability of the characters to realize how the creature hates light can be chalked up to the filmmakers wanting to make way for scary setpieces (Which do get a little repetitive after a while, with someone thinking they see something, only for it to be nothing, followed by scary face popping up out of a different angle). Plus, nobody apparently knows how to turn on their lamps in this movie, or just to leave a light on just for the heck of it (Literally after the first incident, I would have left all of my lights on and sent my electric bill through the roof!). 

The performances from our main cast are excellent though, from Sophie Thatcher and an especially awesome Vivien Lyra Blair (Previously seen last year in "Obi-Wan Kenobi") carrying most of the film, and Chris Messina playing a different type of role than what I've seen from him. David Dastmalchian only appears briefly for one long scene, but he's terrific (And it's always just a pleasure to see him in movies whenever he pops up). There's a subplot with Marin Ireland (as "Rita", Lester's wife, who has also gone insane from the Boogeyman's reign of terror) that feels undercooked, and some focus given to some mean girls that doesn't make any sense (Seriously, why would Sadie hang out with these teenage sociopaths?). The titular Boogeyman himself is a twisted creation (Despite some inconsistent CGI effects), especially when we are given hints into where it might have come from and what it's capable of. (It's actually pretty refreshing how the film implies that it might not be supernatural) It's got nothing on the demon from last year's "Smile", but it's a nefarious looking villain, like a bizarre mix between Gollum, one of the aliens from "A Quiet Place", and the Bug from "Men in Black". 

"The Boogeyman" works more than it doesn't, yet doesn't quite stand out like it could have. The dramatic aspects make for the kind of real life scares that anyone can understand and the film isn't without an unnerving scene or two. It just doesn't quite stick the landing, especially past the halfway point when everything rushes to a fairly quick and predictable climax. Serviceable, but not exactly a memorable Stephen King work. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Frightening Faces, Lingering Darkness, And Brutal Boogeying. 

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse                                                                         by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: It's abstract....No, It's surrealism....No, It's trying to kill me!

2018's "Spider-Man: Into the Spiver-Verse" was the kind of anomaly that nobody saw coming......That is except for me! Okay, maybe I didn't quite expect it to be the absolute game changing masterpiece of animation, that would go on to garner love and respect from superhero fans and just your average film lover, but I could tell from the very first teaser trailer that it was going to be something special. It was so unique, taking a popular character and concept, completely smashing through the barriers of what we think we can do with animation. It was a brilliant achievement that went on to become a modest financial success, win over critics, gathering a fanbase of nerds, animation lovers, and families alike, and even win an Oscar. And, as it should be, the long awaited sequel is no different. 

Set over a year after the first film, "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" catches up with "Miles Morales" (Shameik Moore), the one and not only "Spider-Man". Miles currently struggles to balance out his superhero work, with his family life, keeping it a secret from his parents, "Jefferson" (Brian Tyree Henry) and "Rio" (Luna Lauren Vélez). Miles also misses his fellow dimension hopping Spider-People from the first film, especially "Gwen Stacey/Spider-Woman" (Hailee Steinfeld). After an incident with a goofy villain of the week, "The Spot" (Jason Schwartzman), a seemingly inept interdimensional portal creating wannabe criminal, Miles is given a surprise visit from Gwen. While the two reconnect, Gwen explains that after a falling out with her police captain father (Shea Whigham), she was inducted into "The Spider-Society", an elite group of Spider-People from all over the multiverse with a mission to protect it, led by the very serious, "Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099" (Oscar Isaac).

However, it seems Miles isn't exactly wanted in the society for unknown reasons. When the Spot enacts a plan to become more powerful in hopes of taking down Miles (As well as being taken more seriously as a villain), Miles follows Gwen across the multiverse, only to discover an even greater danger about to be unleashed. After he comes face to face with O'Hara, Miles discovers that there is much about the multiverse, both good and very bad. Soon Miles' actions, as well as his very existence put him at odds with the rest of the Spider-Society and what they stand for. 

From Sony Pictures Animation, along with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", the "21 Jump Street Films", and "The LEGO Movie"), who co-wrote the screenplay with David Callaham ("Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings", "Wonder Woman 1984"), "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" just might be one of the most impressive animated films of all time, and if this doesn't get the American public to truly appreciate it as a cinematic art form worthy of recognition (And not just as kid's stuff), then I don't know what will. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos ("Avatar: The Last  Airbender", "G. I. Joe: Resolute"), Kemp Powers ("One Night in Miami", "Soul"), and Justin K. Thompson ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2"), the film's very life itself is owed to the hard work of hundreds of animators and artists, to give the film not just one unique look, but many. Every character, every world, and every frame has its own voice. The styles of animation change throughout the film to match the setting and mood, from the stylized comic book panel style of Miles' world, to the colorful brush stroked look of Gwen's, and many others (Specific characters themselves are also animated differently, yet never feel out of place with the rest of the established world). These crazy visuals make way for out of control action setpieces that leaves one unable to comprehend how in the Hell it was all done, particularly when we reach the climactic showdown between all of the Spider-People from all across the multiverse. 

Of course though, this also leads to a lot of great comedy (It's always nice to see comic book movies just embrace the sheer weirdness of its source material), making for a lot of laugh out loud moments. However, the smart and mature screenplay also never forgets the human side of the story. Much time is dedicated to the familial dilemmas of our main characters, in which they continue to have every day struggles and how they deal with them. There's also a moral question asked in the second half of the film that's isn't given a remotely easy answer, adds extra layers of complexity to characters that you like, and ties into the larger Spider-Man mythology that by this point, many of us know by heart. 

The characters are brought to expressive life through the stunning craftsmanship of the talented animators, as well as the brilliant, Oscar worthy voice work behind them. Shameik Moore IS Miles Morales, having captured the character's youthful naivety and sense of hope, along with further coming into his own as the web slinging hero (There's a reason why this character has become just as known as the original Peter Parker). Hailee Steinfeld is just as much a main character this time around, with her being the one to open and close the story (And good lord, the amount of emotion she gets out of the role leads to a few heartbreaking moments). Returning cast members like Brian Tyree Henry (Always great), Luna Lauren Vélez (Given a much more prominent role), and a once again great Jake Johnson (as "Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man", Miles' old mentor, who has become a dad since they last saw each other), make appearances in different capacities. 

There are also some new additions from an intense and intimidating Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae (as "Jessica Drew", a pregnant Spider-Woman, who serves as Gwen's teacher), Karan Soni (as "Pavitr Prabhakar/Spider-Man India", an energetic Spider-Man from "Mumbattan" aka Manhattan meets Mumbai), and an awesome Daniel Kaluuya (as "Hobie Brown/Spider-Punk", an anti-establishment, anti-fascist, anti-everything Spider-Man). Jason Schwartzman steals many scenes as a villain that's totally hilarious and pathetic, yet not entirely incapable of being a dangerous, menacing threat despite some limited screentime. There are loads of supporting players, such as Amandla Stenberg (as "Spider-Byte", a virtual reality Spider-Woman), Andy Samberg (as "Ben Reilly", the edgiest Spider-Man), Jorma Taccone (as an Italian, Renaissance version of the "Vulture"), among other great surprises that you'll never see coming. And before you ask, yes, that soundtrack, just like the last movie, is totally badass.

"Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse" is epic for sure, yet deep and complex in ways that not only you don't expect from a family movie, but also from movies in general. It truly is a film that treats its audience, regardless of age, like adults, while remembering to have fun at the same time. A stunning achievement in visuals, storytelling, action, and genuine heartfelt effort to craft something worthy of placement among the greatest of Spider-Man movies, comic book movies, animated movies, and just plain movies in general. It keeps getting bigger and bigger, leading to uncharted territory, and culminates in an ending that's literally been designed to leave you wanting more. Nine months? We have to wait nine whole months for the final part? Is this what it's like to give birth? I can only assume? 4 Stars. Rated PG For Chaotic Action, Dark Themes, Spider-Cat, All the Squeeing Fans, And The Best Cliffhanger Since "Avengers: Infinity War". 

About My Father                                          by James Eagan                            ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Lets-a-Go!

Wow! This is literally the definition of one joke stretched out too long. That's an achievement right there.

Loosely based on the life and comedy standups of Sebastian Maniscalco, "About My Father" features Maniscalco as himself, planning to marry the love of his life, "Ellie" (Leslie Bibb). However, Sebastian finds himself in a bit of a pickle, since his very Italian and Robert De Niro-like father, "Salvo" (Robert De Niro), won't give him his grandmother's wedding ring to do so. When Sebastian is invited to Ellie's family estate for the Fourth of July weekend (And has every intention of proposing there), he brings along Salvo, resulting in some hi-jinks, culture clashes, and family oriented awkwardness. 

Directed by Laura Terruso (Known for mostly TV work), with a screenplay by Austen Earl and Sebastian Maniscalco, "About My Father" is a fairly safe, typical story of familial generational divide, that offers little to no surprises. Maybe a good laugh sprinkled in and a likable enough cast, but something that, due to the new streaming age, would have been much better suited watching at home instead of the theater. Sebastian Maniscalco is funny, particularly when he's relying on fast paced sight comedy (Mostly at De Niro's expense), and Robert De Niro can play a part like this in his sleep. Leslie Bibb is super cute, while others in the cast, such as David Rasche and Kim Cattrall (as Ellie's wealthy parents), Anders Holm (as "Lucky", Ellie's cocky, somewhat obnoxious older brother), and Brett Dier (as "Doug", the weird hippie black sheep of the family), are all good, but just aren't exactly given much to work with outside of the quirks of their characters. 

Directed like a CBS sitcom, "About My Father" is a tame, family comedy that I can see finding an audience looking for something lighter, inoffensive, a little corny, and thankfully really short (Not even making it to an hour and a half). While there is some charm there, it's nothing that you need to run to the theater for, and would be better suited waiting till DVD or streaming if you really must see it. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Italian Italianess And Peacock Parricide. 

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

Image: Whoah! Halle Berry looks great! Wait.....

We're at the point with the live-action Disney remakes when we have to come to a decision. We are going to have to accept that they are not going to stop. Why would they? They're making money all over, and when one doesn't, they pop out another that's sure to be a success in some capacity. Is it further diminishing the impact of the art of animation in the eyes of the film buff public, intentionally or not? Well, yeah. Pretty much. Still, you just know they got more on the way. And more than enough of them will make enough money to convince the studio to keep em coming. The live-action remakes aren't going away, and if so long as they're like this, I think we just might be able to get through this.

Based on the 1989 animated classic of the same name (And kind of based on the 1837 fairy tale, but not really at all), "The Little Mermaid" follows our titular little mermaid, "Ariel" (Halle Bailey), who yearns to explore outside the seas to the surface world, despite the warning of her overbearing king of the sea father, "King Triton" (Javier Bardem) that everyone on land is dangerous (Especially humans). While collecting human artifacts with her fishy friend, "Flounder" (Voiced by Jacob Tremblay), Ariel ends up rescuing a dashing young prince, "Eric" (Jonah Hauer-King) from drowning, falling madly in love with him. And luckily, Eric appears to have done the same with her, despite not knowing who or what she even is. Triton has his majordomo, the crab "Sebastian" (Voiced by Daveed Diggs) to keep an eye on Ariel's actions, discovering her secret infatuation, resulting in Triton destroying everything she's collected from the human world. 

This leads Ariel into the vile tentacles of the fabulous sea witch/Triton's estranged sister, "Ursula" (Melissa McCarthy). Ursula offers Ariel a deal, in which she will become human and be given three days to receive the kiss of true love from Eric, or else, her life will belong to Ursula. Also, the witch makes sure to liberate Ariel of her beautiful voice, making her unable to speak to her beloved. Ariel agrees to Ursula's conditions and is turned into a human, and with some help from Sebastian, Flounder, and dimwitted, Northern Gannet, "Scuttle" (Voiced by Awkwafina), finds herself welcomed into Eric's family castle. Since Eric's mother, "Queen Selina" (Noma Dumeweni), is very eager to see Eric married (And hopefully forget about magical singing girls from the ocean), Eric and Ariel are soon on the path to romance, in spite of Ursula's many schemes. 

Directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago", "Into the Woods", "Memoirs of a Geisha"), with a screenplay by David Magee ("Finding Neverland", "Life of Pi"), this 2023 version of "The Little Mermaid" is a pretty straightforward remake of an animated film that really does still hold up. To those who question if its existence is completely necessary, it really isn't. Thankfully, the positives outweigh the negatives, making it easily one of the best remakes we've had yet and does genuinely stand as a solid fairy tale romance, that's only slightly updated in a refreshing way. There aren't many changes, especially in the first half, with minor tweaks here and there (Such as extra screentime for some of the supporting characters and the inclusion of background elements that were merely mentioned in passing with the original). It's a fishy fun time though, seeing some impressive visual wonder on full display, with Rob Marshall obviously being one to know exactly how to set the stage for a good musical number. 

Now the CGI isn't always flawless, with some distracting moments, though it's much more colorful and lively than the trailers would suggest. I mean, it's no "Avatar: The Way of Water", but it's not supposed to be (And plus, I doubt they wanted to nearly drown their actors and require over $1 billion dollars to break even). It's flawed, but looks good when it matters. The musical numbers themselves are still pretty great, despite the movie deciding to make room for some pretty forgettable new additions, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, feeling more obligatory than anything else (The only real exception is one extra song given to Halle Bailley, and any excuse to hear her sing some more is a good excuse if you ask me). The original songs thankfully are plenty showstopping, from Halle Bailley's powerhouse rendition of "Part of Your World", a badass rendition of "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (Because the villains always gotta have one of the best numbers), and of course, "Under the Sea" is as toe-tapping as ever. 

What makes the film completely necessary and worthy of existing are many of the performances, with the big highlight being the star, Halle Bailley in her first major film role. I'm hoping whoever in the casting department brought her in got a raise, because she's a true find and an instant star. Of course, Bailley's singing voice is excellent, though even then it still just comes to life off the screen in such a captivating way, but also has such a beautiful, expressive doe-eyed face, that there is so much emotion conveyed when she spends more than half the film not speaking at all. There is a lot more time dedicated to the human world in this version and the film benefits from it, particularly in how wonderful the chemistry is between Bailley and Jonah Hauer-King (Who is also just plain likable in the part). For what was already a pretty good romance in the original, there is some added depth here to make one at least justify this film being made. Another reason is Melissa McCarthy, who is having the time of her life as one of Disney's all time greatest villains, filled with menace, humor, and such infectious love of just being dastardly. It serves as a reminder that Disney really needs to remember how much their villains added to some of their old classics, and maybe they start embracing that a little more from now on (I don't think we had a standout Disney villain in over a decade, or sometimes just haven't even had a baddie at all). Javier Bardem is intimidating, yet compelling, though he's such a professional that it would have been more shocking if he wasn't, while I like extra amount of depth given to "Grimsby" (Played by Art Malik), Eric's loyal confidant. Jacob Tremblay and Awkwafina are both good, though are kind of let down by how overtly realistic their characters look (Awkwafina's voice work is more animated than the actual  animated character). However, Daveed Diggs is hilarious as Sebastian, and does match the character's new design (Plus I always loved Sebastian, so if they got that wrong, I would have let you know). 

"The Little Mermaid" isn't perfect, but it is shockingly solid, with true greatness in places and makes for a worthy companion to an already great movie. Thanks to some terrific work from a breakout role for Halle Bailley and a deliciously devious Melissa McCarthy, along with a well told romantic tale that is just too good to get wrong, the film makes up for brief missteps with just enough of that Disney magic we all love and haven't quite been feeling as of late. Not a classic, yet good enough to be part of your world. (Not to mention, it's never a bad thing to let young girls of color get to see themselves as princesses) 3 Stars. Rated PG For Watery Wetness, Scary Moments, The Consensual Kissing Of Da Girl, And The Outrage Of Fragile White Dudes About The Existence Of A Black Mermaid. 

Fast X                                                      by James Eagan                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I'm assuming they all went through gun background checks.

Love or hate the "Fast & Furious" franchise, we all know that when they eventually come to their conclusion, they're going to go out with a bang. A big bang. A big bang that's gonna throw every car, plane, helicopter, maybe a boat or two, bicycle, scooter, or whatever else that has wheels, at the the screen in one gravity defying explosion of popcorn munching dumbness. It's what the fans want, and really, what more do you even expect by this point? It'd be more upsetting if they didn't. 

Following the events of 2021's "F9", "Fast X" returns us to family barbecue with everyone's favorite street racers turned spies (I mean, how many others are there?), led by the patriarchal "Dominic Toretto" (Vin Diesel), who has settled down with his wife, "Letty" (Michelle Rodriguez) and son, "Brian" (Leo Abelo Perry), named after the late Paul Walker's character from the previous films. While some of Dom's family, tech guy "Tej Parker" (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), hacker "Ramsey" (Nathalie Emmanuel), ex-criminal "Roman Pearce" (Tyrese Gibson), and the once dead, but not anymore "Han Lue" (Sung Kang), depart on their own mission to Rome, Dom and Letty get a surprise visit from arch-nemesis, "Cipher" (Charlize Theron). Cipher has just had her entire criminal organization taken over by the maniacal "Dante Reyes" (Jason Momoa), the son of the deceased "Hernan Reyes" (Joaquim de Almeida), and has set his sights on claiming revenge by destroying everything and everyone Dom loves.

Dante's plan results in the entire family being framed for a terrorist attack, leading to "Aimes" (Alan Ritchson), the new head of "The Agency", to brand them all as the world's most wanted, despite the protests of "Tess" (Brie Larson), daughter of the still possibly dead (But probably not) former Agency head "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell). With Letty locked up, Brian under the protection of Dom's redeemed brother, "Jakob" (John Cena), and the rest of the family all separated, Dom must evade the Agency, as well as track down Dante before he furthers his path of destruction of suffering.                

Directed by Louis Leterrier ("The Incredible Hulk", the first two "Transporter" films, and "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance"), with a screenplay by series veteran Justin Lin (Previously director of the last film, along with "Star Trek Beyond") and Dan Mazeau ("Wrath of the Titans"), "Fast X" is the tenth (Eleventh if you add in "Hobbs & Shaw") in the twenty year old franchise. From the very start, these films haven't been known for logic and intelligence, but instead got by on fast cars, big names, exotic locations, and adrenaline fueled action, though the previous entry in the saga was one of the franchise's weaker ones in some time. Feeling more like filler and showed signs of the series wearing thin (At least for me). So I'm actually genuinely happy to say that this film proves that there is just a little more creativity left to make for a solid enough trip to the movies, even though it still can't compete with the much better made blockbusters we've been accustomed to. 

The film has a lot going on at once, with many characters and storylines to juggle around, mixed in with almost intentionally cheesy dialogue and nonsensical action sequences. The effects are fine, though at times don't quite look up to par (Lots of green screen and a lack of practicality due take away from any real grittiness). However, with how nuts the film's use of cars, rolling bombs, and explosions that only kill the characters without plot armor, it's something one can't really get mad at anymore. Plus, I'm pretty sure the film's budget went into locations, vehicles, and just how many well known names appear throughout. Leterrier appears to embrace the film's bombastic, over the top style of action, though also adds in a few unique setpieces or two, along with a seemingly self-aware sense of humor. It's not meta by any means, but is knowing enough to at least address and match the film's silliness. (I mean, who doesn't enjoy a good random fight scene between Michelle Rodriguez and Charlize Theron?)

The still growing ensemble is both ridiculous, yet is so full of personality that it's super easy to see how many of them have become iconic to moviegoers. They're certainly memorable to say the least. Vin Diesel is his usual Vin Diesel self, talking about his family and stuff (God, those memes were something else, weren't they?) Returning cast members, such as Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jordana Brewster (as "Mia", Dom's sister), Sung Kang, Scott Eastwood (as "Little Nobody", one of the remaining trustworthy Agency members), a still deliciously villainous Charlize Theron, and the always charmingly adorable Nathalie Emmanuel, somewhat have to compete for screentime, though everyone gets their moment. There are some very welcome new additions, such as a surprisingly compelling Daniela Melchior (as "Isabel", a street racer tied to Dom's past), a hilarious Pete Davidson (as a less than trustworthy underground hacker), Alan Ritchson (Playing up the musclebound dickery perfectly), and a scene-stealing Brie Larson (Who rocks every single outfit she wears, especially the pantsuits). I'll also always have nothing but praise for how this franchise has handled the death of Paul Walker in such a respectful and intelligent manner.

The subplot between an excellent John Cena and Leo Abelo Perry is both funny and heartwarming, while Jason Statham (as "Deckard Shaw", former enemy turned semi-ally and possibly my favorite character in this entire series) sadly only pops up for a few minutes, but is always there to leave an impression. Things also get classed up with brief appearances from Helen Mirren (as "Queenie", Shaw's mother and close friend to Dom) and Rita Moreno (as "Abuelita Toretto", in a quick cameo). The biggest and best new addition is Jason Momoa, who looks to be having the time of his life as a demented piece of work. Momoa injects so much twisted personality into his villain, being funny, terrifying, and overall, just immensely entertaining to watch. He's the definition of a love to hate kind of villain, and the sort of threat that his series has been missing (Think "The Joker" if he was a flamboyant dude bro).       

It wasn't until about halfway into "Fast X" when I realized what the filmmakers were doing, and essentially that's making their own "Avengers: Infinity War", with loads of characters being set up like chess pieces for a grand finale. It's a little messy, though well put together for something so, well, silly. It also results in an admittedly shocking final few minutes that result in quite the cliffhanger (One that I gotta commend them for even doing). It's not the brightest franchise out there, but this entry proves that there's a decent amount of nitro left in the tank for possibly a final ride. A respectable 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For The Lack Of Gravitational Logistics, Car Door Shields, Jason Momoa's Fabulous Wardrobe, And Fun Muffins.

Fool's Paradise                                        by James Eagan                                      ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: There are NO words.

Guys, I'm just going to say right off the bat....This one hurt. A lot. Like painfully, on both a physical and emotional level. Usually when I give a movie such a low rating, it's because a movie made me so frustratingly mad that I have to take out that anger in the form of one of my lowest scores. However, that's not the case this time. Right now? I'm just really, really sad. 

"Fool's Paradise" follows a psychologically impaired, always silent, and oblivious to the world around him guy with no name (Charlie Day), as he's dumped off from a mental institution into the streets of L.A., where he happens to get randomly picked up by an agitated movie producer (Ray Liotta). The producer has the guy serve as a stand-in for an over the top, method actor (Also played by Charlie Day), who refuses to cooperate for some deranged reason. The no name guy, given the name "Latte Pronto" (Due to some contrived coincidences), becomes an instant sensation, especially after the actor winds up dead. Latte's popularity begins to soar towards stardom, finding himself partnered with a down on his luck (And energy drink addicted) wannabe publicist, "Lenny" (Ken Jeong), becoming married to demanding starlet "Christiana Dior" (Kate Beckinsale), getting a stern agent (Edie Falco), and landing a gig in an upcoming mosquito-based superhero film from bro of a director, "Lex Tanner" (Jason Sudeikis). Despite still not knowing what exactly is going on in his life, Latte Pronto endures the typical rise and fall from stardom, becoming wrapped up in all kinds of controversy, political stupidity, incidents with maniacal method actor, "Chad Luxt" (Adrien Brody) and the now homeless, former superhero star "The Dagger" (Common), all while poor Charlie Day himself is likely being forced to come to terms with his big passion project is itself going to lead to nowhere but disaster.   

Written and directed by Charlie Day (In his directorial debut), "Fool's Paradise" sounds like something that I would have normally had a lot of fun with, because it endeared in a way to some of the classic comedies that I grew up with (And still love). An old fashioned satire on the Hollywood system, filled with actors in both big and small parts, wrapped up in a series of mean spirited comical events, where our lead character, in a Charlie Chapiln-esque fashion, just happens to bumble around like a confused kitten, not fully knowing a single thing that's going on in the movie he just so happens to be in. Not to mention, I like Charlie Day. He's a funny guy, with a lot of potential and talent, getting the chance to show off more of what he's capable of in an unexpected fashion. I wanted to like this movie. I truly did......but dear God, almost everything in this disastrous, gut-wrenchingly unfunny butchering of what we know as humor, goes so very, very wrong. 

It's hard to tell if it's due to the directing, the screenplay, the editing, or just something about the timing, none of it works in the way it should, and what makes it so distressing is that you can see how it was likely meant to. Much of the satire, while not exactly original, is ripe for the making, and no matter how much Hollywood claims to change, it still keeps making the same mistakes. (The money, the scandals, the poor work choices, drugs, corporate greed and sleaziness, and how fake it can be. It's all there and likely always will be) It just never clicks, with zero real laughs, and despite such a short runtime of barely an hour and a half, it feels about as long as "Babylon" did (Which literally did the same themes on just a grander, more crude of a scale) There's so much screwball nonsense going on at once that it's a headache to keep up with, and because you're not laughing, you're left irritated rather than amused. And not just the kind of irritated where you just want to leave, then forget about it. The kind where you feel like you need to do something irrational to the screen and possibly even yourself, because you're trapped inside a metaphorical Hell of outlandish predicaments, dull satire, and characters not shutting the f*ck up. 

It's not really meant to be the most likable movie with the most likable of characters, but God, you want to make everyone on screen suffer for what they're putting you through. Charlie Day himself is probably the closest thing to a saving grace, because in spite of how so much of the film doesn't work, his performance is quite spot on. Known for his recognizable voice, it's quite interesting to see him utulize something more physically demanding and looks very committed to the part. It's the only thing that's remotely charming about the film, and I hope he doesn't let this failure stop him from trying again elsewhere in the future. Others don't fare quite as well and it's really hard to tell exactly who is the one to blame for how badly the mark is missed. Ken Jeong, Kate Becksale, Common, Adrien Brody, Jason Sudeikis, Edie Falco, Jason Bateman (as a SFX artist), Jimmi Simpson (as your typical over the top talk show host), Jillian Bell (as a celeb shaman), John Malkovich (as a corrupt politician), and the late Ray Liotta (Who just yells at everyone around him, all look like they're having a blast and in theory, should all be funny in these parts. Sadly though, they're all so damn annoying. They're like monsters in a horror movie in how they randomly pop up just to terrorize our main character in a way that's never funny, and leaves you with the feeling that you're being tortured with him. 

"Fool's Paradise" is such a hodgepodge of ideas, antics, and detestability, which we've all seen work before, though this serves as a reminder of what happens when it doesn't come together. It's not so much a misfire as it instead just straight up shoots you in the face. It led me down a couple stages of grief, where I went from just shifting around awkwardly in my seat, to being really bothered by how agitating everyone was, to being angry that I was even there, and then eventually depressed at seeing what looks like genuine passion fall like, well, Charlie Day falling off a roof and crashing on top of a car (Oddly metaphorical scene). Poorly paced, almost impossible to follow in places, and like I've already pointed out, just grossly unfunny. It's got to be the worst comedy I've seen in a while, and possibly even the worst movie of the year. Sorry Charlie. This was all kinds of painful. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Strong Language And For Being A Horrendously Heinous Homicide On Humor Itself. 

Book Club: The Next Chapter                     by James Eagan                         ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Can they get all of their Emmy's and Oscars through customs?

Alright! Let's get this one over and done with quickly. Old people movie! Go!

"Book Club: The Next Chapter" returns us to the titular book clubbers, "Diane" (Diane Keaton), "Vivian" (Jane Fonda), "Sharon" (Candice Bergen), and "Carol" (Mary Steenburgen), as they are able to keep their friendship alive during COVID. Once things get back to normal, the women learn that Vivian is marrying her longtime love interest, "Arthur" (Don Johnson), despite Vivian's reputation as a free spirit. Carol suggests a trip to Italy as a both a bachelorette vacation and an excuse to take the trip they all always wanted. Obviously, things go off the rails quickly, from having their luggage stolen, reunions with old flames, ashes of deceased loved ones going missing, and some other Sitcom-esque shenanigans, which all prove to our lovely ladies that despite their ages, they still have plenty of life left in them.

Directed by the returning Bill Holderman, who co-wrote the screenplay with the also returning Erin Simms, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" is in a way, exactly what you expect it to be. It's a collection of likable actresses, engaging in silly antics, where the screenplay mostly only requires them to be charming and not much more. Easy stuff, and one that works enough for the target audience, though unlike the first one, it's a bit more strained this time. There are some mild laughs to be had on occasion, but due to the film's needlessly drawn out runtime of almost two hours, it's fairly exhausting stuff. One can only find so much joy in these kinds of undemanding fluff, especially when it wears thin after the hour mark. 

It's not a terribly made film by any means. Just nothing special, with Diane Keton, Jane Fond, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen making for a likable crew, with great chemistry. They pretty much make the film with it, while there are some moments given to supporting players like Don Johnson, Andy Garcia (as "Mitchell", Diane's love interest), and Craig T. Nelson (as "Bruce", Carol's husband, who she is in constant fear of dying), who gets a laugh or two. Some of the antics and decision making is cartoonish at worst, and just plain unlikely at best, which is fine if you're not going in for realism. Still, it's hard to tell how much of a fantasy this movie wants to be. Aside from some crude jokes, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" is unlikely to offend the older crowd, will bore younger audiences, and will easily fade from memory of anyone else. Don't really need to dedicate a five to six paragraph review telling you that. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor, Geriatric Sexual Desires, And The Possibly Illegal Dumping Of Human Ashes (We're Just Gonna Gloss Over That One, Aren't We?)   

Love Again                                               by James Eagan                                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: We all yearn to find that special someone to press our Cheeseburger meat together with. 

This....THIS right here! This was the moment where I realized that cinema had finally, truly come back. We've still been in recovery since 2020, and despite all the massive hits and cinematic epics, I've only now fully accepted the return of the movie going experience that I'm used to. It wasn't "Spider-Man: No Way Home". Not "Avatar: The Way of Water" or "Top Gun: Maverick". "The Batman"? "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish"? "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"? Nah! Screw all that! This is cinema right here. Me, alone, going to see a terrible romantic comedy that has no business playing in a theater, indulging in every cringe-tastic trope it can and even embracing a sense of problematic awkwardness, while under the guise of it pretending to be charming and so full of love. This is what Scorsese was talking about! 

An American remake of the 2016 German film, "SMS für Dich" (My immature mind read that as message for dick), "Love Again" opens with children's book writer, "Mira Ray" (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) being all lovey-dovey with her charming boyfriend, "John" (Arinzé Kene), only for him to get kind of hilariously hit by a car literally moments later (We're less than five minutes in and I know I'm already laughing at the wrong thing). Two years later, Mira hasn't been able to move on with her romantic life, starting to text John's old number as a form of therapy for herself. Meanwhile, a recently dumped, now very romantically cynical journalist, "Roy Burns" (Sam Heughan), just so happens to have the same phone number as the one that Mira is texting. Roy, despite being tasked with writing a story for his publicist on "Celine Dion" (Played by Celine Dion, because who else is gonna play her?), becomes smitten to the texts and forms a connection with Mira, though he doesn't even know who she is yet. Celine suggests that Rob pursue this new found connection, resulting in him and Mira finally meeting and finding that sense of romance that they thought was long gone. At least until the inevitable lies are found out, with the usual overreactions and forced conflict, only to be salvaged by a sappy declaration of love and all that. That's not a spoiler. You know how this goes.

Written and directed by James C. Strouse ("Grace Is Gone", "The Winning Season"), "Love Again" is just about as corny and disgustingly overly sentimental as you would expect. Sure that may be what the target audience is looking for, but you know what? If they say that we need to demand more from our big budget superhero movies, then these people should demand more from this kind of rehashed schlock. Even when one ignores the somewhat creepy implications behind the overall premise, the whole situation is so far fetched to be believed and oddly takes nearly half its runtime to get going before quickly running out of steam. It also has this weird aura of cheapness, that often gets distracting in what should just be a plain old romantic comedy (Such as bizarre lighting and production design). It also doesn't help that it's not funny really at all. Granted, movies like this are meant to be more cute than funny. However, that cutesy nature has a tendency to come across as more annoying than charming. 

Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan aren't really to blame for the script's shortcomings, but I never bought this relationship in the slightest. It's both too rushed and too thin. It never quite connects on the emotional level it's supposed to. There are the usual quirky side characters, though the likes of Russell Tovey (as the gay best friend stereotype), Steve Oram (as Rob's grouchy boss) and Sofia Barclay (as Mira's sister, who is actually just as gorgeous, yet very much attempted to be dressed down), who barely have much character outside of our romantic leads. Everything involving Celine Dion is very weird and I'm not exactly sure what she had on the studio to get so much screentime and praise for her own work, though she's also one of the film's most enjoyable parts (She's really charming in spite of the fact that I never understood what was going on with her massive role in the film). There is also a quick cameo from Priyanka Chopra's real life husband, Nick Jonas (as a workout obsessed date of Mira's, that goes very wrong), who gets a few funny lines in his quick appearance. 

Predictable, poorly paced, and rubs its cheese covered clichés right in your face, "Love Again" has everything I hate from the usual rom-com fare. Sure, it's not the absolute worst, but that doesn't stop it from being an absolute chore for me to sit through. Alone or otherwise. Maybe those who frequently watch the "Hallmark" channel will have a good time, while others such as myself will be left rolling their eyes, nursing a headache. And I'm not just saying that because of my own romantic cynicism. Ok, maybe a little bit. Didn't pass the "Love Actually" test (Not enough likability to get through the bad stuff, and too cloying to make it worth the time). 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Slight Stalker Syndrome, And Too Much Dion For One Day. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3                                                                                     by James Eagan                                                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Here to save the MCU!

James Gunn has had an interesting few years. After successfully adapting and bringing a beloved group of characters into the mainstream through the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", and preparing to wrap up the story he'd long set up, he was fired from Disney from admittedly problematic, though old and previously apologized for tweets, resulting in Gunn being swept up almost instantly by "DC", and proceeded to give us "The Suicide Squad" (The best movie in the "DC Extended Universe". Easily!) and then the also really great "Peacemaker". Then also went on to become one of the co-heads of DC Studios, vowing to save the studios' upcoming rebooted franchises. (And also got himself a really attractive and talented wife, who seems really cool too!). Luckily, we still got James Gunn back to finally give the Guardians the finale they deserve, and you know, also maybe give Marvel the little boost it kind of needs at the moment. 

Following the events of the previous two films, both "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" (And the "Holiday Special. Watch it if you haven't. It's adorable), "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" reunites us with the titular team of former outlaws turned galactic heroes. There's the human rogue "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), the simple-minded warrior "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), the cybernetic "Nebula" (Karen Gillan), the adorable emphatic bug girl "Mantis" (Pom Klementieff), the now swole living tree "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel), and the gun toting raccoon "Rocket" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), along with honorary members, the space redneck "Kraglin Obfonteri" (Sean Gunn) and Russian test subject "Cosmo the Spacedog" (Voiced by Maria Bakalova). Sadly though, things aren't still quite the same since Quill lost the love of his life, "Gamora" (Zoe Saldaña), only for her to be replaced by another, much less friendly version of her (See "Infinity War" and "Endgame" for all the tragic details). 

The Guardians face a new threat in the form of the superpowered "Adam Warlock" (Will Poulter), who specifically targets Rocket on orders of Rocket's vile creator, "The High Evolutionary" (Chukwudi Iwuji). After Adam mortally wounds Rocket, the Guardians are now in danger of losing yet another one of their own, with poor Rocket on the verge of death and seemingly no way of saving him due to cybernetic fail safes implanted by the High Evolutionary. Realizing that the only way to possibly rescue Rocket means having to go up against the High Evolutionary and his forces, the Guardians form an uneasy alliance with the new Gamora. Our heroes soon discover that nothing great truly lasts forever and that this just may be their final ride together. 

Written and directed by James Gunn (The first two films, along with "The Suicide Squad" and "Slither"), "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"  has a lot riding on it. Aside from being the climax to what's become a fan favorite in the MCU (Even to those who really aren't fans of the modern superhero movies), it's also coming out right in the middle of a divisive time for the long running franchise. So much has happened since the last film in the last six years, interest in the newest saga is starting the waver, and quality hasn't quite been the same despite some exceptions ("Spider-Man: No Way Home", "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" and such). I'm happy, and I mean very happy, to report that the film is everything that we might need right now. Sure, I had a good time with "Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania", but this really does make you realize the difference between doing your best with what you got and doing what you love simply because you just love it so much. Gunn proves that nobody else could have possibly done these characters the same kind of justice he can, and has such a unique vision that will be sorely missed in future MCU installments.

It's a stunningly constructed visual wonder, where you can gaze upon every intricate attention to detail and embrace that usual Marvel sense of elaborate colors and weirdness. (One has to wonder if this is where all the visual effects budget went from "Quantumania") There are so many sequences that feel ripped straight from a Marvel comic (And one that you swear would have come out of the 80s), from a setpiece involving an entire building made up of flesh and a drawn out hallway battle that's sure to make summer blockbuster history. The series' trademark sense of humor is very well intact, from catchy one-liners to moments of just characters talking (Sometimes about nothing of importance), though that never prevents the film from getting dark. And boy, does it get dark. This is arguably one of the MCU's most brutal films, with an extra amount of violence and a body count that's taken very seriously. All of this only works best because of how great the cast and characters are. 

The chemistry between our heroes continues to shine through, reminding us that even though we haven't seen them in a while, they're still some of the MCU's most lovable groups. From Chris Pratt to Karen Gillan (Who has had so much character development throughout this series) and a hilariously scene-stealing pair between Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff, there are so many laughs and so much heart to these characters that you can't imagine their existence without them. The same can be said with Vin Diesel, who still repeats the words "I Am Groot" repeatedly, yet oddly conveys so much while doing so, while Zoe Saldaña, playing a pre-character development version of her character, is perfect. Bradley Cooper's Rocket really gets the spotlight this time, in an emotional story arc that comes full circle, with flashbacks centered around him and another group of experimented on, talking animals an otter "Lyla" (Voiced by Linda Cardellini), a walrus "Teefs" (Voiced by Asim Chaudhry), and a spider-ized rabbit "Floor" (Voiced by Mikaela Hoover), that are both heartwarming and as depressing as you'd expect. (Trigger warning to those who just can't see animals being tortured, because it's heartbreaking stuff to watch). 

Chukwudi Iwuji (Great in "Peacemaker") is a villain to despise, being one of the most evil baddies to come out of the entire MCU, and honestly makes Kang the Conqueror feel like small potatoes. (Beneath the science fiction fantasy is the kind of cruelty and disregard for life that feels all too real) We get some returning additions, such as Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Debicki (as "Ayesha", Adam's "mother") still looking stunning even in all gold, and Sylvester Stallone (as "Stakar Ogord", one of the high ranking "Ravagers"), while new additions such as the super endearing Maria Bakalova (Her cute voice coming out of a dog is so soothing to me) and Will Poulter (Playing it amusingly straight), who I can see making some appearances in the future MCU. There's also a few Gunn vets popping up, like Nathan Fillion (as "Master Karja", a puffy costumed security guard) and Daniela Melchior (as "Ura", a receptionist that the Guardians take hostage). There's actually a lot of time dedicated to supporting, bit parts that leave quite the impression.

Action packed, hilarious, and bittersweet in the most warming of ways, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" may have had some setbacks (Such as delays and working around the other Marvel properties), yet it all still feels as if it were always meant to end this way. From wild music cues as usual, epic IMAX needed setpieces, and a goofy sense of humor, you can tell James Gunn's heart was completely in this. You can feel it both in front of the camera and behind it. It ends in just the right way it needs to and just might even bring a few tears to your eyes. It feels like the end of an era in a way. It shows that even now when Marvel hits its target, it completely blows it to pieces and lets out a triumphant yell afterwards. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Adult Humor, Animal Abuse, Peeled Off Faces, And Marvel's (And Disney's too) First Ever F Bomb!

Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World                                          by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: Take a look at that grill.

Sometimes two ideas and themes can mix together perfectly, especially if they're based around a true story that encompasses both subjects. Sadly, when those subjects are constantly at odds with each other, like a metaphorical boxing match of sorts, it never clicks in the way it should. 

Based on the true story, "Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World" tells the life of future professional boxer, preacher, and grill enthusiast, "George Foreman" (Kris Davis). Growing up in poverty and struggling to land a job, George joins a Job Corps, where despite still getting into fights due to rage issues, he finds a mentor in "Doc Broadus" (Forest Whitaker). Against the wishes of his very religious mother, "Nancy" (Sonja Sohn), George is trained as a heavyweight boxer, and quickly becomes a rising star. We follow George throughout his first marriage, his further rise to fame, as well as his mistakes, the rivalry with "Muhammed Ali" (Sullivan Jones), and his failure to escape his inner rage. After losing to Ali, George's life starts to hit an all time low, resulting in a near-death experience that brings him closer to God. After retiring, George decides to dedicate his life to God, becoming a Baptist preacher, finding a later chance at love with his future wife, "Mary Joan Martelly" (Jasmine Mathews), and hoping to reshape his entire life. However, when financial troubles rear their ugly head, George soon realizes that he just might need to, against all odds, return to boxing in spite of being out of the game for so long.  

From "Affirm Films" ("Soul Surfer", "Miracles from Heaven") and director/co-screenwriter, George Tillman Jr. ("The Hate U Give"), "Big George Foreman" (And no, I'm not typing that entire ridiculous title over and over) is a fairly safe and standard biopic. It's one that certainly deserves to be told, being the kind of story that can resonate with anyone, regardless of their faith, simply because we all love to see a man find redemption, becoming genuinely better while inspiring the world around him. The film, like a lot of biopics have a tendency to do with a lesser screenplay, feels like a Wikipedia entry, guiding us through life event to life event, without much emotional depth behind it. It should be there, but frustratingly isn't and at such a long runtime (Over two hours and ten minutes), you really feel that another go around at the script could have done some real good. It's not an incompetently made film by any means. Just unremarkable, especially compared to how interesting its subject is.

Khris Davis is quite good in the film, playing the titular George Foreman throughout his adult life and capturing that unique personality (And not to mention, the make up work on him, going from youthful, to muscular, and eventually to bald and heftier, is shockingly excellent). We get some excellent supporting work from Forest Whitaker, Sonja Sohn, and a scene-stealing Sullivan Jones (Who truly brings to life how larger than life Muhammed Ali was). Some parts feel underwritten, with Jasmine Matthews (Despite being the main love interest) and John Magaro (as "Desmond", an old friend of George, who claims that he doesn't remotely have any financial troubles), in roles that you know are supposed to leave more of an impact but are brought down by either poor writing or just not enough time being given. 

"Big George Foreman" loses steam during its final act, serving as a film that would be better suited for streaming or as something you'd only watch in one of your High School classes. It never really tells you anything new, and can't seem to mesh the tropes of the sports biopic with the faith based sermon in a cohesive way. It's just fine, which quite frankly, isn't near enough for something that's meant to get you out of your seat to start an applause. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Brutal Boxing, And The Revelation That More Kids Under Twenty Only Know George Foreman Because Of His Grill.   

Beau Is Afraid                                              by James Eagan                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Be very, very afraid. Beau is.

I'm all for directors, especially when they've proven themselves to be auteurs with their very own brand of style and imagination, are given free reign to make whatever they want. The chance to make that magnum opus they've probably envisioned they'd made back when they first started film school. The chance to truly craft something that's completely their own and could never possibly be replicated, mostly because nobody has ever dared to even attempt to make such a film. I embrace that kind of stuff. Now I can't say that it makes for a good movie, but it makes for......something. 

"Beau Is Afraid" follows "Beau Wassermann" (Joaquin Phoenix), an anxiety filled, nervous wreck, who lives alone in a filthy apartment, within a crime riddled city on the verge of anarchy. After failing to visit his rich mother, "Mona", due to a various amount of contrived circumstances, Beau is shocked to hear that she unexpectedly died (Via a chandelier falling on top of her head). Beau is asked (Or demanded) to show up to the funeral, but once again, finds himself wrapped up in a surreal journey to get there. From getting hit by a car, getting stabbed by a naked stabby man, getting stuck with an overly, almost frighteningly cheerful couple "Roger" (Nathan Lane) and "Grace" (Amy Ryan), and their agitated daughter, "Tony" (Kylie Rogers), a traveling theater group, and struggling with his many past regrets, Beau is now trapped in a seemingly endless odyssey of misery and woe. And so you are for three hours!

Written and directed by Ari Aster ("Hereditary", "Midsommar", and "The Strange Thing About the Johnsons" aka the movie about the son trying to rape his dad), "Beau Is Afraid" is both as insane as you would expect from his earlier work, yet is also completely unpredictable in what kind of gonzo visuals you're about to be subjected to. It almost feels as if Aster is going out of his way just to f*ck with everyone with whatever bonkers ideas that come out of his peculiar mind. It's both baffling and commendable on how the Hell this thing even got made, and I am just dying to see what the pitch meeting to "A24" was like. It's an entirely manic and unpleasant bedtime story, gone horribly wrong in so many ways. The film is arguably a dark comedy, where the humor is never actually funny, but so outlandishly twisted that one can't help but laugh at the absurdity. Aster is once again in excellent directorial form, piecing together crazy imagery, from cartoonish riots in the street, storybook-style animation mixed with live action, out of nowhere violence, a bizarre sex scene set to Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby", and something that I swear was cooked up in the deepest, darkest level of Hell (And how that made it to the big screen, without getting this film an NC-17 rating, I'll never understand). 

Aster knows how to amp up the unnerving, uncomfortable moments of anxiety and emotional assassination, and it's all very effective. The film is a remarkable piece of work, and it's a shame that I can't in good conscience say it's a good movie. In fact, I don't know how anyone logically can. The film's themes of motherly discourse and guilt are certainly strong, where you're constantly wondering if some of Beau's actions are genuine mistakes, leaving him to be a gaslighted victim, or if many of his decisions could be seen as somewhat less sympathetic than they're at first portrayed. However, once you figure out the point that's being made, you are left wondering if three hours were needed to tell this dreadful tale. So often the film gets sidetracked, and not always does it come together like it should. No matter how gorgeous and creative the film looks, it's also so self-indulgent and overstated. It also doesn't help that the film is too disturbing to be funny, yet also too goofy to be genuinely scary.     

Joaquin Phoenix gives it his very all and plays it so outrageously straight that one really can't take your eyes off of him. No matter how over the top things get, his reactions are so genuine that you almost forget this is just some kind of surreal fantasy instead of a reality. There are some familiar faces and bit parts, that range from suitably odd to just plain out there for no real reason. Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane are standouts, looking like they're having a lot of fun, while we get more strange appearances from the likes of Richard Kind (as "Dr. Cohen", Beau's mother's lawyer), Parker Posey (as "Elaine", the now grown up girl that Beau when he was younger and is still madly in love with), and Stephen McKinley Henderson (as Beau's lawyer), who let's just say, seems really happy to be here. There are some bizarre cameos that result in excellently staged sequences or just cause you to tilt your head in confusion. Also, I can't be the only one who was thinking that Armen Nahapetian (Who plays the younger Beau in flashbacks) was a CGI creation? The kid doesn't look real! 

"Beau Is Afraid" seems specifically designed to be as polarizing as humanly possible. Either to get stuffy film twitter nerds to spend their time mocking those who "just don't get it", while causing the easily confused and offended to call it the worst piece of trash they've ever seen. Shockingly though, it's both of those, yet neither one at the same time. It's a look into Ari Aster's demented mind, full of wonder, discomfort, and the kind of originality that you do wish more directors had. It's also too much for its own good, with a bloated length that hammers home a point that you could have put together in half the runtime. Is it good? Well, how can I say that? Is it different? Oh yeah. Am I glad I saw it? I think so. Am I going to remember it? Oh, most certainly. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Images Of Violence, Turmoil, Sexual Weirdness, Paint Drinking, And So Many Testicles. So....So Many Testicles.....

Evil Dead Rise                                       by James Eagan                          ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

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

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I'm pretty jumpy when it comes to people popping out of nowhere or simply walking up behind me without warning. However, scary movies rarely scare me. Sure I can appreciate them from a filmmaking standpoint or can even see them as something that's sure to make audiences lose their minds with unbridled fear. I'm just not usually one of those people, even for horror movies that I love. I just think they're fun. So believe me when I tell you that this movie scared the absolute sh*t out of me! Not bad for a movie that was originally only going to be released on "HBO Max".

A possible reboot, continuation, or even re-imagining of the blood soaked horror franchise from Sam Raimi, "Evil Dead Rise" leaves behind the old cabin in the woods in favor of a rundown apartment complex on its way towards being torn down. Single mother, "Ellie" (Alyssa Sutherland), struggles to take care of her children, "Danny" (Morgan Davies), "Bridget" (Gabrielle Echols), and "Kassie" (Nell Fisher), gets a surprise visit from her sister, "Beth" (Lily Sullivan), who has been out of a loop for some time. After an earthquake strikes, Danny uncovers an unsettling book with fleshy pages filled with horrifying images and a set of teeth on the edges, along with some mysterious records. Little does the family know that this is the "Book of the Dead" (aka "The Necronomicon"), and they have unleashed an unspeakable force with only one thing on its mind.....Evil. When Ellie is taken over by the vile entity, Beth must be the one to take charge and protect the kids from a power unlike any other, with no intention of letting anybody get out alive. 

Written and directed by Lee Cronin ("The Hole in the Ground"), "Evil Dead Rise" follows in the footsteps of the long-running franchise, without feeling the need to rely on nostalgia. After the first two "Evil Dead" films, along with "Army of Darkness" and the excellent series "Ash vs. Evil Dead", the franchise became known for a campy sense of goofy, gory comedy, though the 2013 remake tries to deviate from that with okay-ish results. This newest and most terror inducing entry, fully commits to doing its own thing, yet retaining the same sense of sadistic chaos of what came before it. (And you could even argue that it somehow takes place in the same timeline with the previous films) Lee Cronin creates a claustrophobic, dark and dirty funhouse of blood, gore, and mania, which doesn't relent once it takes off. There are some incredible camera angles and cinematography that look like demonic paintings come to life. From unique visuals, and the utilization of the color red in a way that I've never seen done before, you can feel the sense of dread. It's almost like you're trapped inside this dark, smelly Hellhole with the characters, and the path to freedom is blocked by a monstrous creature that was once a loved on. It's very creative in how it establishes its story, telling you everything you need to know, and takes a descent into madness that will have you popping out of your seat. Not just because of jump scares (There actually aren't very many of them at all), but instead of how unrelentingly evil and messed up it all is. 

What really makes all of this work is how terrific the mostly unknown cast is. Lily Sullivan steps in as our Bruce Campbell of sorts (And even starts to look like a feminine version of him towards the end), being a capable horror heroine that gets plenty terrorized, yet has the resolve to keep fighting regardless. Alyssa Sutherland is magnificently murderous, playing a quietly refined character who becomes basically a gender-swapped version of the Joker (If he could climb on walls and bite out eyeballs). Morgan Davies, Gabrielle Echols, and an especially wonderful Nell Fisher, aren't annoying kids, but instead come across as entirely likable, which makes their plight nothing short of tragic. What adds to the horror is that none of our characters are bad people. They have just found themselves in a seemingly unwinnable situation with a force that has no remorse and will do whatever it takes to harm, kill, and just plain emotionally destroy you. The Deadites, as our evil entities are called, are once again the physical embodiments of what we can only describe as uncaring, unpredictable, and unmotivated evil, which makes for a few moments of twisted humor, yet never take away from the fact that they're possibly some of the most dangerous villains in all of horror.

With one of the most on the nose titles in recent memory, "Evil Dead Rise" is as maniacal and ruthless as they come, where anyone and anything can hurt you (Right down to the damn cheese grater). It's expertly directed and brilliantly put together, where you're not exactly sure what will be important and when. Like the best that horror has to offer, it really captures the vibe of what I can only imagine Hell must be like. Unforgiving, brutal, filled with suffering and hopelessness, and most fitting of all, just plain evil for the sake of being evil. It goes for the jugular (And I mean that literally), and leaves you completely shook. Hail to the king, baby! 4 Stars. Rated R For Groovy Gore, An Elevator Full Of Blood, Chainsaw Carnage And Motherly Malevolence.

Guy Ritchie's The Covenant                      by James Eagan                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Never leave a man behind.

Something I feel is always worthy of praise in how a director, especially when they're known for a very specific style, steps completely out of their comfort zone to do something different. Now some of the time, you get, um, something weird. (Ang Lee's "Hulk", M. Night Shyamlan with "The Last Airbender" and "After Earth", Frances Ford Coppola did "Jack" for some reason) Hell, even the director of this movie has had his um, interesting choices ("King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword",) though possibly that film taught an interesting lesson in the positives of restraint. Maturity and respect for your subject matter that propels a story, with a message that deserves more attention.

"Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" follows a U.S, Army sergeant, "John Kinley" (Jake Gyllenhaal), in the midst of the war in Afghanistan. Tasked with finding weapons in the hands of the Taliban, Kinley is given a new local interpreter, "Ahmed" (Dar Salim), who lost a loved one to the Taliban and hopes to get a visa for his family to be offered a way out of the country. Despite some uneasiness, Ahmed proves to be an unconventional, but incredibly capable part of Kinley's team. After a mission goes wrong, Kinley's team is slaughtered, resulting in him getting wounded and left half-unconscious. Kinleys life is rescued by Ahmed, who goes above and beyond to get him to safety. Even after getting home though, Kinley realizes that Ahmed, in spite of his heroism, is still stuck in Afghanistan, hunted by the Taliban for what he did. To repay his debt, Kinley must find other means of making sure Ahmed and his family get the protection and sanctuary they were promised. 

Directed by Guy Ritchie ("The Gentlemen", the "Sherlock Holmes" films, "Snatch", "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborators Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" (I suppose it's called that to differentiate with those other The Covenants) as little to none of his trademarks. It's an action film, that also happens to understand the importance of the humanity that's at stake. The film is almost organized into three films, separated by the three act structure, with the film starting out as a war film, before drifting into a drama, and culminating into a suspenseful thriller that literally keeps you on the edge of your seat until the last second. It's cleverly directed by Ritchie, who crafts stunning sequences of war driven terror, mixed with some unique techniques to showcase the behind the scenes work (Such as the code names and acronyms, which are explained on screen during the action). The violence, while certainly brutal, is never gratuitous, and is never the focus of what's on screen, but rather the characters struggling to avoid it.

Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific, though not always in an explosive way. He's of course excellent when it comes to his character's building emotions coming to a head, yet is also wonderful at conveying the inner turmoil without feeling the need to overstate. He also never overshadows a possible breakout performance from Dar Salim, who says so much without even needing to speak. From his body language and expressions, you can see an entire story that never feels the need to fully explain itself. The film doesn't have much development for the supporting cast at least in terms of where the screenplay stands, but the supporting work gives them plenty of life. This includes Emily Beecham (as "Caroline", Kinley's wife), Alexander Ludwig (as "Declan", a fellow solider friend of Kinley's), Antony Starr (as "Parker", who arranges for Kinley's return to Afghanistan), and Johnny Lee Miller (as "Vokes", Kinley's superior). I do kind of wish that certain aspects got more screentime, mostly because it leaves us with quiet secondary characters and bland villains. However, the focus remains on our two leads, and they make up for those shortcomings.

With a pumping score from Christopher Benstead (Another Guy Ritchie collaborator), a constant sense of tension, and Ritchie's eye for masterful setpieces, "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" is a shockingly powerful piece of work and quite possibly the best film I've seen from him. It finds a way to be a thrilling action flick, with a message, showcasing through a fictional tale, the kind of heroism that is often both ignored and in real life, left behind. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For War Violence, Language, And Poor Last Minute Military Decisions.

Mafia Mamma                                        by James Eagan                                       ★ out of ★★★★

Image: What it felt like leaving the theater after watching this movie.

Boy, did something go horribly wrong with this one. Look, is it possible to order a hit on a movie as a whole? Not for my own sadistic pleasure. Not even to prevent it from being viewed by the public. Just to put it out of its own misery. This movie is suffering. It needs to be taken out onto a lake, on a beautiful afternoon, and whacked Fredo-style. 

"Mafia Mamma" follows the stressed out, middle-aged "Kristin" (Toni Collette), who is stuck in a rut at the moment, with her son leaving for college, having to deal with unfair sexism in the workplace, and her husband, "Paul" (Tim Daish) cheating on her. After getting a call that her grandfather, "Don Giuseppe Balbano" (Alessandro Bressanello) has died, Kristin is flown over to Italy to attend his funeral. While there, Kristin soon discovers that not only was her grandfather one of the top crime bosses in Calabria, but she's also told by his trusted advisor, "Bianca" (Monica Bellucci), that he wants Kristin to take over the family business, much to the dismay of the don's nephew, "Fabrizio" (Eduardo Scarpetta). Now Kristin, after repeatedly and accidentally causing herself to become the most feared mob boss around, has to find a way to cope with her mafioso destiny, while also making time for romance, fulfillment, and not getting herself killed. 

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Twilight", "Thirteen"), with a screenplay by Michael J. Feldman and Debbie Jhoon, "Mafia Mamma" has something of an idea, with Toni Collette (Also serving as a Producer), who can do comedy, drama, and all kinds of roles with ease, along with Monica Bellucci, who is still all kinds of hot, and a silly, darkly funny premise that I could have easily seen being a surefire win in the right hands. Instead, you're left wanting to set yourself on fire to escape the absolute travesty that's on screen. This is a baffling disaster of a movie, that is constantly at odds with its various tones, themes, and storylines. Sometimes it's a black comedy, with all kinds of bloody violence and casualties. Sometimes it's a screwball comedy, with logic thrown out the window in favor for whatever supposedly seems funny at the moment. There are times that it's a gross out comedy. It's also a female empowerment movie too. Kind of. It's an odd collection of ideas that don't come together, and simply explode all over each other once we reach the disastrous final act. 

I genuinely feel bad for all the actors here, because most of them are really, really trying their best. I'm pretty sure they were all made offers they couldn't refuse to be in this. Toni Collette, God bless her, isn't bad. If anything, she's so committed that you really have to appreciate the effort, even if it's for total garbage. Monica Bellucci plays everything in such a straight faced way that it could be almost funny, but even with her, they don't do enough (She vanishes for long portions, except to pop up for a weird gag about her having a fake leg. Comedy!) Eduardo Scarpetta is stuck trying to figure out if his character is cartoonishly crazy or simply straight up evil. There's also a subplot involving Guilio Corso (as "Lorenzo", a love interest to Kristin that she meets in Italy) that goes down some pretty preposterous paths. Alfonso Perugini and Francesco Mastroianni (as "Dante" and "Aldo", a comical pair of mobsters that become Kristin's bodyguards) make for the only characters I genuinely enjoyed, for what little development they actually get. Other villains and mobsters are just walking Italian caricatures whose only real personalities are to be just, well, walking Italian caricatures.     

With too many dumb running gags and a lack of actual character, "Mafia Mamma" is a waste of talent that only leads further and further into catastrophe. Its themes of empowerment lead to nowhere of value, with an often unpleasant sense of cruelty (I'm all for mean spirited comedies, but you gotta get that right or else it's just going to leave your audience uncomfortable) and worst of all, just unfunny from start to finish. Not even a chuckle from me. Is it the worst movie already this year? That's a hard decision. I mean, "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" was barely a movie that at least didn't look like complete sh*t. This is just a bad movie, that also so happens to be complete sh*t. Being forced to choose is impossible. Like they were your least favorite children. 1 Star. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Violence, And The Oddly Arousing Way Monica Bellucci Says "Fart".

Renfield                                                by James Eagan                                 ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "That sweater sucks....Am I right?"

How hard is it to do an accurate adaptation of "Dracula"? We always gotta make him smooth, sexy, sympathetic, and misunderstood, instead of the blood thirsty (Literally), homicidal, narcissistic monster, that only uses his supernatural powers to make others suffer for his own demented betterment. Why did it take Nic Freakin Cage to remind the world who Dracula truly is? Just not a really nice guy. Who kills people. And a really bad boss.

A modernized spin of sorts on "Bram Stoker's Dracula", "Renfield" follows the titular, "Robert Montague Renfield" (Nicholas Hoult), the long suffering lackey (Or "Familiar", as he's called) to the dreaded master of all vampires, "Count Dracula" (Nicolas Cage). Having found himself in eternal servitude to the immortal vampire, Renfield has discovered a repetitive nature within their relationship, where Dracula causes much carnage, resulted in them being forced to flee to a new location, and Renfield being forced to tend to Dracula's needs such as delivering future victims, while suffering all kinds of abuse at his master's hands. After nearly a century of fleeing and now living in New Orleans, Renfield spends his time at various support group meetings for those in abusive relationships, using it as a means of both finding some kind of therapeutic bliss and tracking down more victims for Dracula to feast on (Such as the abusers of the group members). Of course, none of this is enough for Dracula, who has also started to grow aspirations for achieving greater power. 

Meanwhile, the one good cop in the city, "Rebecca Quincy" (Awkwafina), is attempting to bring down the violent mob family, "Los Lobos", led by "Bellafrancesca" (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her moronic son, "Teddy" (Ben Schwartz), despite everyone being against her. Renfield just so happens to see an attempt on Rebecca's life and using his supernatural powers (Provided via having to eat bugs), saves her life and discovers that perhaps he does in fact deserve happiness and a chance at a normal life. However, when Dracula finds out about his servant's plans to go straight, he sets out to destroy everything that Renfield holds dear and unleash everlasting darkness on the world. 

Directed by Chris McKay ("The LEGO Batman Movie", "The Tomorrow War", along with work on "Robot Chicken" and "Moral Orel"), with a screenplay by Ryan Ridley ("Rick and Morty", "Invincible") based on a story idea by Robert Kirkman ("The Walking Dead" and several comics, such as "Marvel Zombies"), "Renfield" is an incredibly clever premise, with some inspired casting, and thankfully, it at times lives up to that potential. Sadly never enough, though not faltering in such a way that doesn't still make the film a delightfully deranged horror comedy. After a retro, black and white stylized opening reminiscent of classic horror films, McKay's direction seems to go for a more colorful, almost Marvel-ized style that at times can be a little too bright and sitcom-ish, though oddly does in fact match the film's back and forth tone. There are still some enjoyably weird visuals, which can look cheesy and fake at times, but that genuinely adds to the campy fun (Such as make-up and puppet work being used on Cage's unsettling transformations). 

McKay seems a bit more at home with this film compared to 2021's "The Tomorrow War", embracing the pitch black sense of humor and mile a minute dialogue, that doesn't always completely land, though is too earnestly delivered not to appreciate. (It's a live-action cartoon really) Through the use of an intentionally excessive amount of CGI blood, the film also features some uniquely over the top action sequences that really should help you realize just what kind of movie this is. With that said, it doesn't always realize just how smart and unique it can actually be. The film seems to be going for a late 90s (or early 2000s) feel, with a brisk runtime (Barely an hour and a half), loads of sight gags and witty references, and a surprise amount of charm. It just doesn't always come together as it should, mostly because it seems the filmmakers wanted to exclude much depth in favor of simply getting something that will rouse up the crowd. Nothing wrong with that at all, though it just keeps the film from reaching true greatness.   

Nicholas Hoult is wonderfully neurotic and makes for the perfectly naive nervous wreck of a protagonist, yearning to be loved. Hoult also has some great chemistry with Awkwafina, who does get stuck with a fairly generic role (The one good cop with a conscience, fighting against the corrupt system), yet still brings so much personality to the part to make it work just enough. Ben Schwartz plays very much against type to a degree, as a more twisted and villainous, though still hilarious version of his usual dorky and constantly babbling characters. Other characters don't get much screentime or development, which is especially shown with the mobster villains that are shown to simply just be evil and are never given anything funny to do. The only standouts in the supporting cast area make up the self-help support group, run by the caring "Mark" (Played by Brandon Scott Jones), who are both funny and all kinds of likable. Nicolas Cage on the other hand compared to our other villains, really sinks his teeth into the role. That's not surprising to anyone, though it's refreshing to see how straight he plays the character. Cage's Dracula is equal parts hammy and not without an occasional Cage one-liner, but also remains plenty vile and even a little scary in parts (I mean, the guy specifically asks for Renfield to deliver him innocent tourists, a bunch of nuns, and a bus full of cheerleaders for dinner!). Cage looks to be having the time of his life here playing a darkly commanding baddie, and his scenes with Nicholas Hoult make for the film's best moments. It's actually genuinely sad to see Renfield constantly suffer at his master's hands, despite only having the best of intentions and not always realizing he's a victim himself.

A bit sloppy, with moments of brilliance, "Renfield" seems content at being a bloody good time, even though you can see how it could have been a great one instead. Likable leads, with Nic Cage devouring that scenery down to the very bone, it's got enough going for it to make up for its lack of aspirations and is sure to amass a future cult following. (Again, think of it as something that would have come out of the late 90s to early 2000s). Just enough bite to suffice. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloodily Bloody Blood, Scary Moments, And What Happens When You Hit A Guy In Just The Right Place In The Stomach With Superhuman Strength. 

Air                                                          by James Eagan                              ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You mean I gotta' work with Matt Damon again? MATT DEYMAN!!!!"

Forget about people talking about Oscar season. We should be asking if it's Father's Day already instead. Because this is literally that 90s "Dad Movie" that odds are you would have seen at least once a year growing up. Since I'm also getting up there in the years (Or at least I feel like I am), I too can't help but find the joyful look into behind the scenes sports marketing to be absolutely infectious. 

Based on a true story, "Air" is set in 1984, following the buildup to the "Nike" company attempting to build a brand around future NBA superstar, "Michael Jordan" and save their company from bankruptcy. "Sonny Vaccaro" (Matt Damon) is tasked by weird company CEO, "Phil Knight" (Ben Affleck) and company chairman, "Rob Strasser" (Jason Bateman), to find out who could possibly be signed over to sponsor their shoeline. After seeing how much potential Michael Jordan has, Sonny decides to risk everything on signing him over to the shoeline, despite being advised not to by literally everyone else, including Michael's easily agitated agent, "David Falk" (Chris Messina). Sonny even decides to risk even more by speaking to Michael's parents, "Deloris" (Viola Davis) and "James" (Julius Tennon), directly in hopes of winning Michael over. When they're given the chance to meet with Michael, Sonny has the Nike team work overtime to create the best shoeline possible. One that will go into immortality, and inspire future generations to come.   

Directed by Ben Affleck ("Argo", "Gone Baby Gone", "The Town") with a screenplay by Alex Convery (His first time major movie script), "Air" is a fast, smart, and deceptively powerful film of determination and good old American perseverance, that in the end, can resonate even with those who could care less about the sports world. Like me! The film wisely knows just how to explain itself to the uninitiated and uninterested in a way that you follow all of the seemingly insignificant little details that all contributed to something very important to our society. In terms of sports, as well as business and our very culture itself. Affleck's expert direction keeps the flow moving, without ever feeling cloying in terms of inspiration, which is thanks to how funny the script is. It makes all of this fascinating to watch, yet makes you sympathetic to the characters and invested in what their end goal is.

The terrific ensemble cast is all kinds of appealing, with Matt Damon (Who has kind of been picking poorly lately now that I think about it) gets to remind everyone why he was a star in the first place, while also clearly embracing more of his age (And an apparent gut. Was that real? I'm very curious). There's excellent supporting work from Jason Bateman (And his amazing hair), Chris Tucker (as "Howard White", one of the Nike execs), an endearingly nerdy Matthew Maher (as "Peter Moore", who designed the shoe and logo), a brief appearance from Marlon Wayans (as "George Raveling", who had a hand in Sonny's pursuit of signing Michael Jordan to Nike), and a hilarious Chris Messina (Who has several meltdowns that are pure cinema if you ask me). Viola Davis is as wonderful as you'd expect (She truly does just blow you away with how great of an actress she is in such an underplayed role), while Ben Affleck just can't seem to help but steal the show in such a uniquely charming way. (Watching him run around with that hair, those glasses, along with those outdated shorts and jacket just bring an instant smile to your face) The decision to keep Michael Jordan mostly hidden, where he's blocked off from view most of the name, with minimal to no dialogue is an interesting choice, that's either going to work for some, but not all.

Funny, clever, and quite deep, "Air" tells a simple story that lures you in, before remembering to explain why exactly the events mean so much. The power of marketing and legacy, along with the human struggle to survive and persevere. Clocking in at just under two hours (Whoah, you can do that with biopics now?), it's sure to be an instant Boomer favorite. However, it's too damn fun to watch that even some of the younger crowd might even find themselves ready to fly as well. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Sports Talk, Shoe Talk, And Strong Language (Mostly Courtesy Of Chris Messina). 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie                      by James Eagan                      ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Yippie! Time to fix Bowser's clogged up toilet!"

We're in a time of movies based on video games not being absolutely terrible, for both fans and movie audiences. Less than a decade ago, we couldn't have said that. From all the "Resident Evil" movies, "Assassin's Creed", "Uncharted", and well, the old live-action "Super Mario Bros" movie (Talking about getting everything wrong and pissing off everyone). Now with things such as the "Sonic the Hedgehog" movies, "Detective Pikachu", and most recently, HBO's "The Last of Us", it seems that thought and care for your source material seems to be paying off. At least make the fans happy, and maybe, you might be able to draw into some new converts as well.

Based on one of the greatest video game franchises of all time from "Nintendo", "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" follows the titular plumbing brothers, "Mario" (Chris Pratt) and "Luigi" (Charlie Day), who have given up their life savings for their Brooklyn based plumbing business, only for it to fail miserably. After a sewer pipe goes haywire, Mario and Luigi set out to fix it, only to end up sucked inside a giant green pipe, transporting them into a magical, nonsensical little world. Mario ends up in the colorful "Mushroom Kingdom", while Luigi ends up in the "Dark Lands", which are ruled by the evil king of the Koopas/impetuous manchild, "Bowser" (Jack Black). Mario learns that poor Luigi is now in Bower's clutches and the Mushroom Kingdom is on the brink of destruction due to Bowser having acquired an all powerful "Super Star" (You gamers know what all this is. So I'm not going to elaborate since the movie doesn't bother to elaborate either). 

The kingdom's ruler, "Princess Peach" (Anya Taylor-Joy) is determined to save her adorable little subjects (Stubby mushroom people called "Toads") and sees Mario as just the hero they need to do so. Luigi as his captive and an army of Koopas and Goombas at his disposal, Bowser plots to take over the world and most of all, ask for Peach's hand in holy matrimony (I mean, I get it due, but she's clearly not interested) So Peach, Mario, and an especially excitable Toad named, uh, "Toad" (Keegan-Michael Key), venture off to form an alliance with the simian "Kong Army", led by the appropriately named "Cranky Kong" (Fred Armisen) and his cocky son, "Donkey Kong" (Seth Rogen), in hopes of defeating Bowser and reuniting Mario with his brother. 

From Illumination (The "Despicable Me", "Minions", and "Sing" franchises) and directed by frequent collaborators Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic ("Teen Titans Go!"), "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" sets a new standard of ambition for the animation studio. I'm happy to report that the movie is going to be just what fans of the games are looking for, full of charm, laughs, and a never ending amount of references. It's not much more than that unfortunately, but look, we've been through so much heartbreak with video game adaptations, nobody is exactly asking for the next "Toy Story", "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", or "Puss in the Boots: The Last Wish" here. The screenplay by Matthew Fogel ("The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part", "Minions: The Rise of Gru") isn't one for depth or story. It's a very straightforward narrative with simple characters, that rarely slows down. The ambition for the film is purely with its gorgeous, eye popping animation, and a commendable amount of attention to detail. The filmmakers wisely never stop the movie dead to focus on an Easter Egg or reference, but instead sprinkle them all over the place. They also allow for the world that we've all been so used to seeing only fully realized in various video games feel alive and full of such unique energy. There's power up blocks, insane obstacles, and certain rules that sure, don't make sense in the grand scheme of things, but at least make sense to the characters and the world that's been created (Such as getting hit removing a character's power up or the roads that are basically theme park race tracks). It's weird and impossible to make completely coherent, yet it's so creative and joyful to look at that it all comes down to if you're willing to just go with it or not. 

There's been a little controversy lately on the reliance of celebrities to do voice work, mostly when some of them don't really seem to bother. Chris Pratt is a bit better than expected doing somewhat of a more Brooklyn accent, though still doesn't stand out (And most of the time still just sounds like Chris Pratt, except with a silly accent). Still, it doesn't ruin everything. Others are just better, such as Charlie Day, despite getting much less screentime than he deserves, who was born to play Luigi. Sometimes certain voices just click for their characters and his certainly does (Plus Luigi being my favorite "Mario" character and all, I would have been livid if you did him wrong). Anya Taylor-Joy is all kinds of charming, and surprisingly to no one, is cute even in animated form, while Keegan-Michael Key is hilariously unrecognizable as Toad. Seth Rogen is at his most Seth Rogen (And I would not be surprised if Illumination is already working on a possible spin-off), while Fred Armisen appears to be playing Cranky Kong as an old Jewish man (I mean, he's funny and all, but....huh?). There are some supporting parts for veteran voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson (as "Kamek", Bowser's wizard minion and another one of my favorite characters), a humorously twisted Juliet Jelenic (as "Lumalee", a captured talking star, having come to terms with the inevitability of death) and the original Mario voice actor himself, Charles Martinet (as Mario and Luigi's disapproving father). Of course though (And most anticipated of all), the big scene-stealer is Jack Black, and he's actually more brilliant here than anyone could have expected. Black's version of Bowser is menacing and proves to be a credible threat, yet is hilariously contradicted by his immaturity and one-sided romance with Peach (An out of nowhere musical number involving Bower's declarations of love is laugh out loud in its absurdity). In terms of character, the film isn't going for three dimensional. They're all likable, though it's funny to say that Bowser is somehow the most complex out of all of them.  

Aside from a couple obvious studio decisions (Such as one or two too many music cues), "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" encompasses the bright and colorful charm of the video games, and while never taking itself too seriously, it also does half-ass it either. Clearly a lot of love and affection went into the film, even though it's not exactly high art (And clocks in at barely an hour and a half. Again, the filmmakers smartly know what this is meant to be). It's odd, full of visual wonder (See it in IMAX. You won't be disappointed), often quite funny, perfectly harmless for all ages to enjoy, and will most of all, have the fans leaving happy. Not exactly a Superstar, but still a winner. Lets-a-go! 3 Stars. Rated PG Though Despite Erratic Mushroom Consumption, I Really Have No Idea Why. Seriously, What Is Wrong With A G Rating These Days? Absolutely Nothing Wrong Here. Take Your Kids. Have A Good Time!  

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves                                                         by James Eagan                                                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★    

Image: "Wow! We look amazing, don't we?"

Covid did a number on us. Such a number that you almost would have expected filmmakers to let that bring them down and make more depressing films, about how the pandemic has changed society or how we've all probably digressed because of it. Luckily, instead it seems that they have sought out to make audiences cheer, laugh, and applaud (Using the Marvel model to a degree). This right here? This is exactly what we need. 

Based on the beloved tabletop roleplaying game (That if you recall, was once believed to be associated with devil worship), "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" follows former Harper turned Bard and thief, "Edgin Davis" (Chris Pine) who after losing his wife, decides to take more drastic measures to provide for his daughter, "Kira" (Chloe Coleman). After learning of the existence of a tablet that can bring back the dead, Edgin, along with his fellow rogue, an exiled barbarian named "Holga Kilgore" (Michelle Rodriguez), a rather incompetent sorcerer with self-esteem issues "Simon Aumar" (Justice Smith) and a clearly untrustworthy con man "Forge Fitzwilliam" (Hugh Grant), assist a mysterious wizard "Sofina" (Daisy Head) steal from the Harper stronghold, only for Edgin and Holga to end up arrested. Two years later, Edgin and Holga escape, discovering that Forge has become a wealthy lord, having taken in Kira, and continues to have Sofina as his shady advisor. Unable to clear their names, Edgin and Holga hatch a plot to relinquish Kira from Forge, as well as steal the immense fortune that he's about to collect with the upcoming Colosseum games (Along with the resurrection tablet). 

To do so, they're going to need to bypass some traps and guards, which means they'll need a team of heroes. Edgin and Holga reunite with Simon, while also bringing in the rebellious shapeshifter "Doric" (Sophia Lillis) and the stoic, very heroic paladin "Xenk Yendar" (Regé-Jean Page) to acquire some mystical artifacts from a deadly dungeon, then return to Forge's fortress to pull off the heist. However, Sofina, using Forge as a puppet, has her own plans for total domination, and it will soon be up to our thieves to become reluctant heroes. 

Directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daly (Directors of "Game Night" and writers of "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), who also wrote the screenplay with Michael Gilio, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" sets out to honor its nerdy roots, while also never alienating today's audience, that are very much clamoring for the next big franchise for the whole family to get behind. Not so much the next "Star Wars" or the next "Lord of the Rings". More like the next "Pirates of the Caribbean", with some cues that are obviously taken from the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". The film surprisingly has the right idea and rolls a nat 20 in terms of having the skill to best utulize it. 

The film's comedic edge only provide the film its personality, never feeling out of place with the rest of the film's well thought out world-building and characters, playing out like a legit fantasy adventure. It's still full of fantastical elements, battles with terrifying creatures and villains, and much like the game itself, hilariously complicated details that surround certain obstacles along the adventure (That generally result in the party either accidentally making it through unscathed or entirely f*cking it up just good enough to survive). Goldstein and Daly clearly know the source material and are having a total blast with it, especially when it comes to the various creatures, ranging from CGI to practical effects (aka puppets and animatronics). Sure they rarely look entirely real (Lots of green screen), but it doesn't matter when they're just so appealing to look at. It's that method of thinking that only adds to the film's naturally infectious charm. The action is also excellent, making good use of the game's variety of weapons and magic, which all feel unique to each character.   

This is all rounded out by a terrific, thoroughly likable cast, who have wonderful chemistry with each other. Chris Pine, who really has deserved so much better than he's gotten, plays the sarcastic, making it up as he goes along kind of hero to a perfect tee. Michelle Rodriguez gets to show off some of her more comedic chops, while obviously still remaining badass (With her friendship with Pine being a heartwarming arc to the story). Justice Smith is suitably dorky, while Sophia Lillis (Cool to see her showing up more since the "It" movies) is thoroughly endearing. Plus, she transforms into an "Owlbear". That's like the coolest thing ever. Regé-Jean Page's role is more supporting, though his overly serious attitude leads to some of the film's funniest lines and regardless of screentime, he has an important role to play. Hugh Grant is a delightfully dastardly hammy nuisance of a baddie, while Daisy Head plays things very straight, making for a menacing and even occasionally frightening villain. 

Sweetly silly, action packed, and full of adventure, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" has the potential to be the next big franchise, and deservedly so. It offers plenty of laughs, excitement, and clever spectacle that should leave a large crowd erupting in hoots and hollers, and even leaves things open for more. Need something that the whole family can enjoy? It really doesn't get much better than this. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Fantasy Violence, Scary Images, Literal Hand To Hand Combat, And One Pudgy Dragon.

John Wick: Chapter 4                              by James Eagan                       ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Forgive me Father, for....Where do I begin?"

Let me tell you a little story. A story that eventually evolved into a legendary epic worthy of the best of franchises. We have a former hitman, now retired, losing the love of his life, but getting a cute little puppy as a companion to fill the void in his heart. Sadly, he then loses said puppy thanks to some punkish gangsters, resulting in the former hitman being pulled back into the world of mercenaries, criminals, gangsters, and killers. Even after getting his revenge, the hitman just can't find his way out, hunted by the world around him and the higher up, secret society who want to make an example of him. Just when victory seemed within his grasp, the hitman is betrayed by one of his few remaining allies, left to die once more only to barely survive like he always does. This is it. This is the story of "John Wick"!

Following the events of the previous chapter, "John Wick: Chapter 4" opens with the titular "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves), also known as the "Baba Yaga", as he continues to be a thorn in the side of the "High Table" (The feared authority in control of the entire criminal underworld). High Table member, the "Marquis Vincent de Gramont" (Bill Skarsgård), sets out to be the one to finally kill John once and for all. De Gramont first targets those close to John, such as "Continental" (Hitman hotel) manager, "Winston" (Ian McShane), who previously sold John out, though is starting to witness the consequences of his actions. Then de Gramont brings in an old friend of John's/retired hitman, the blind yet highly skilled "Caine" (Donnie Yen), forcing him against his will to track down John. 

Meanwhile, John has been looking for save havens, such as with the former crime boss of the literal underworld, "The Bowery King" (Laurence Fishburne), and Japanese Continental manager, "Shimazu Koji" (Hiroyuki Sanada), Realizing that everyone close to him is no longer safe, and with both Caine and a mysterious, unnamed bounty hunter (Shamier Anderson) hot on his trail, John must find a new path to freedom. Winston suggests a final duel, face to face with the Marquis de Gramont, which will either provide him with a chance as escaping this world for good or give him the final death that he's been running away from. John must now face a series of trials and tribulations, armed with a gun or two, and his kevlar suit, if he's going to survive everything the Marquis throws at him and reach the end of his own legend alive. 

Directed by series co-creator, Chad Stahelski (Who has directed all four movies), with a screenplay by Shay Hatten (The previous "John Wick" films, along with "Army of the Dead") and Michael Finch ("Predators"), "John Wick: Chapter 4" feels like the culmination of the saga's entire storyline, where every intricate little piece has played a part in how it all concludes. Clocking in at almost three hours (Though it never once feels like it), the film might just be the most artistically done action movie ever put on the big screen. It also just plain might be one of the best action movies I've ever seen. The action on display, mixed in with the almost hypnotic fight choreography, is long, drawn out, and unlike anything you've ever seen. You're constantly left questioning what's practical and what isn't (And if the ones doing the stuntwork didn't you know, die!). From adrenaline fueled gun duels with a neon-lit art exhibit, brutal hand to hand (And axe) combat in a soaking wet German rave, and a series of elaborate shootouts towards the film's chaotic climax, it's the kind of movie magic that sets the bar too high for future films to possibly reach (Yyyyeah, the "Fast & Furious" movies like pretty insignificant by comparison now). Stahelski really proves himself to be a brilliant director, not just with the action scenes, but also with how well framed the film's locations are and how well told the story is. It's not just all bullets and blood. Like the previous films, we get even more insight into the inner workings of the unique world that these movies have set up. It goes from a comic book-like tale, then escalates into a full blown Shakespearean tragedy of sorts, with memorable dialogue (That's equal parts weirdly profound and darkly funny) and standout characters.

One can joke about how easily Keanu Reeves has been miscast in certain roles in the past (Anyone else remember "47 Ronin" or "Knock Knock"? Or that weird robot one a few years back?), but you can't deny his commitment to his craft. This character truly wouldn't exist without him though. His occasionally stilted delivery genuinely adds to the character's personality. Reeves also shows a remarkable amount of emotion with the simplest of glances or expressions, looking more worn down than ever due to the character's previous experiences, though nonetheless a force of nature to be reckoned with. Donnie Yen just resonates coolness (With depth and a sense of humor), making use of sound and touch during his meticulously crafted fight scenes, while Ian McShane is once again so compelling to watch (Just him speaking is just as thrilling as any action setpiece). Bill Skarsgård generates so much smug villainy, while we get excellent supporting work from Clancy Brown (as "The Harbinger", one of the officials for the High Table), a still larger than life Laurence Fishburne, Hiroyuki Sanada, and the late, great Lance Reddick (as "Charon", Winston's faithful concierge), who sadly passed away only recently. Everyone has their moment, though some special standouts include Shamier Anderson (Who I can totally see a spin-off for), Rina Sawayama (as "Akira", Koji's loving daughter, with skills of her own), and a hilariously bizarre Scott Adkins (as "Killa", the pompous and repulsive head of the German table) in unrecognizable prosthetics. We also need to give special mention to how these films have really been able to convey the emotional arc surrounding John's deceased wife, "Helen" (Previously played by Bridget Moynahan in quick flashbacks in previous films), without ever actually showing it. You buy it regardless and it leaves a strong impact.

So if you can't tell by now, I loved the absolute Hell out of this movie. "John Wick: Chapter 4" is the best entry in the franchise, which has only gotten better and better since the already great first one. It serves as a possible finale, yet also a starting point for more in the future (Be sure to stick around after the credits). It's a neon filled, bloody, dog loving example of legendary action, impeccable world-building, and most of all, masterclass filmmaking. It also continues a certain trend of recent films, where the audience is entertained, mesmerized, and left in an uproarious applause (Who would have though a "John Wick" movie would be such a crowd-pleaser?). Yeah, I'm thinking it's 4 Stars. Rated R For Very Strong Violence, Preposterous Use Of Any And All Weapons, Nut Crunching, And Doggie Vengeance. 

Shazam! Fury of the Gods                        by James Eagan                         ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Men....And Women....In tights.

Boy, did things really take a turn over at DC in the past few months. With everything hinging on what happens in "The Flash" (And the hope that Ezra Miller doesn't go on another rampage in Hawaii) before we find ourselves entering a brand new, semi-rebooted era, I'm sure this isn't easy for the average moviegoer. My fellow comic readers and I should be used to these kinds of shake-ups that result in sudden reboots and retcons, that lead into a new canon and changes to well known characters, but we've never quite seen that happen on a cinematic level. Things are either going to pay off in the end, or simply bury this shared universe once and for all. Although if we can avoid anything like "Batman V Superman" and the first "Suicide Squad", I'll take it. 

Set in the soon to be aggressively different "DC Extended Universe" (Courtesy of James Gunn, Peter Safran, and "Black Adam" flopping despite making almost $400 million. The definition of first world problems), "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" reunites us with teen turned godlike/manchild super-hero, "Billy Batson" (Played by Asher Angel, and by Zachary Levi in his super form), who can change back and forth between his real and super-powered alter ego simply through the word "Shazam!". Now the rest of Billy's foster siblings have their own powers, such as best friend "Freddy Freeman" (Jack Dylan Grazer and Adam Brody), "Eugene Choi" (Ian Chen and Ross Butler), "Pedro Peña" (Jovan Armand and D. J. Cotrona), "Darla Dudley" (Faithe Herman and Meagan Good), and "Mary Bromfield" (Grace Caroline Currey, who doesn't need a goddess-like super form because she's already very attractive enough as it is). The siblings, keeping their superhero work secret from their foster parents, "Rosa" (Marta Milans) and "Victor" (Cooper Andrews), do your usual saving the day stuff all around Philadelphia, though find themselves generally disliked by the public due to the excessive amounts of property damage they cause while doing so (I mean, they are just kids who have no idea what they're doing after all).

Billy also struggles with his inevitable maturity and keeping the rest of the team organized, with Freddy especially liking to do things on his own and forms a romance with the new girl at school, "Anne" (Rachel Zegler). A new threat arises in the form of the "Daughters of Atlas", "Hespera" (Helen Mirren) and "Kalypso" (Lucu Liu), who repair the all powerful magical staff of Billy's wizard predecessor, "Shazam" (Djimon Hounsou), revealed to be alive and in their captivity. The villainous goddesses, not to happy about their ancient father's powers now in the possession of human children, plan to steal back the powers by any means necessary, without a care of who gets caught in the crossfire. After the Daughters of Atlas put a magical dome over the city, Billy and his family must come together as one if they're going to finally prove themselves as worthy of the power of the Gods.      

Directed by the returning David F. Sandberg ("Lights Out", "Annabelle: Creation"), with a screenplay by the also returning Henry Gayden ("Earth to Echo") and Chris Morgan (Known for several of the "Fast & Furious" movies), "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" has quite a lot to live up to, especially for the DC universe. 2019's "Shazam!" is currently one of the DC Extended Universe's most beloved films, being a rare hit for the franchise with both critics and fans (Usually they have to pick one or the other). Not exactly shockingly, this sequel isn't quite up to par, though serves as a solid continuation that gives us more of what worked about the first film, even if there is a little too much going on at once. The film sets out to tell a much grander story compared to the low stake first film, with Sandberg deserving a lot of credit for making the film seem big despite a more modest budget. (Apparently this cost somewhere around only $100 million or so, which is remarkably small for a superhero movie) The effects are obvious CGI, yet they look likely and lead to some explosive action sequences worthy of any big blockbuster. There's a ton thrown at the screen, especially during the final third, but it's nonetheless exciting and feels unique among the rest of the DC universe, thanks to the more family friendly, magical aesthetic. (Although the film, like the first, isn't without plenty of dark moments) 

Zachary Levi is once again a well cast, and delightfully humorous hero, incorporating sense of childlike wonder into a character that arguably could go toe to toe with Superman if he thought about it. Some of the younger cast doesn't quite get much to do, with more focus being on the superhero forms this time, though they're all as likable as ever. Standouts being Jack Dylan Grazer (Who continues to have some excellent comic timing), and the endearing Faithe Herman. Meagan Good is especially great, perfectly encompassing her other counterpart's adorableness, with other notable parts for Adam Brody and Grace Caroline Currey. The movie also gives a much bigger part to Djimon Hounsou, who steals every scene he's in as the comically serious mentor-type. Rachel Zegler has charm to spare, while Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu are menacing enough villains, with Mirren being more complex and Liu being the more one note, though more evil of the two. 

Basically the "Ghostbusters 2" of superhero movies, where everything is bigger and more convoluted to the point it sometimes loses sight of the humbler scope of the original, "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" is still loaded with plenty of heart and lots of laughs, leaving it as still a more accessible addition to the wider DCEU. While not as sharp the second time, the charm is there, making for another family friendly superhero story. Throw in a few Easter Eggs, a cameo (That I'm pretty shocked I was able to avoid getting spoiled on), and a pair of hilarious post credits scenes, it's still one of the few remaining aspects of the old DC universe that I want to stick around after we see what the studio has planned for the future. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Comic Book Action, Surprisingly Villainous Violence, And An Image That's Bound To Ruin A Lot Of Guys' Fantasies (Probably The Hardest Laugh I Got In The Whole Movie Though).   

65                                                        by James Eagan                                         ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: This is no walk in the Jurassic Park.

Okay, who dropped the ball? You got freakin Kylo Ren, fighting freakin Dinosaurs man! This had awesome written all over it, and somehow, it ends up being a ninety minute bore? After "Jurassic World: Dominion" and their locusts, I thought we were learning how to use our killer, giant prehistoric reptiles right! 

"65" opens 65 million years ago, a pilot from another galaxy, "Mills" (Adam Driver), is transporting a crew in cryo-stasis, only to crash land on a Dinosaur infested Earth. Mills, along with only one survivor, a little girl named "Koa" (Ariana Greenblatt), must traverse the dangerous terrain to find what remains of their ship and get off the planet. While avoiding the hungry dinos, along with whatever else prehistoric creature wants to kill them, Mills and Koa also find themselves on a time limit, as a meteor is on its way to decimate all life on the planet. 

Written and directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (Writers of "A Quiet Place"), "65" has an instantly awesome premise, with seemingly the right mentality behind it. It's got a short runtime, not even a handful of characters, and you know, freakin Dinosaurs! A science-fiction horror film like this? That should be great! Or least you know, entertaining. Right? You'd think so! To say that this movie has the bare minimum when it comes to story, dialogue, character, and script, it would be a total lie. It has less than that. The film jumps right in before we even get to the opening credits. It's a straight forward plot to a total fault, with repetitive sequences of computer generated Dinosaurs jump-scaring our characters, brief scuffles, and lots of walking or hiding. I get that the basic conflict is simple survival, but there's so little time given to care about anyone, and after a while, it feels really old. Despite being so short, it feels long and padded out.

Adam Driver is giving it his all, suffering immense back pain for having to carry this entire film almost entirely on his own. Nothing wrong with Ariana Greenblatt. She just doesn't get much character, aside for some reason having the same exact scream repeated over and over again (It's a little jarring actually. Did they just use the same audio clip or am I just losing my mind?). The Dinosaurs themselves are uneven, with T-Rexes, Pterodactyls, and others, ranging in effects work from okay to cheap looking (It should be enough to make people take back everything they said about "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania"). Weirdly, there aren't that many of them. For a movie that's nothing more than a concept, it depressingly doesn't deliver near enough on it.

"65" has poor Adam Driver doing what he can to salvage a dull, uninventive, and personality free slog, that at times gives off "After Earth" vibes (Remember that M. Night Shyamalan movie where he stripped Will Smith of all his personality?), and most frustrating of all, just doesn't give the audience what it promised. Only once we reach the end credits do we get something that could be seen as visually poetic (Where we see the aftermath of the film's events across time), but even that doesn't last too long. It's more like you're watching a collection of video game cutscenes, and not even the most creative ones at that. Definitely not worth the journey to a theater. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Destructive Dinos, And The Drool You'll Have To Wipe Off The Side Of Your Seat After You Fall Asleep Halfway Through.     

Scream VI                                                   by James Eagan                       ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Can't judge a face by its cover.

You can't do this! It's thoroughly unfair! How could this happen? Long running horror franchises, especially slashers, always lose steam after a couple entries (If they're lucky). At some point, they hit a brick wall, with all creativity being thrown out the window, relying on insane twists, and a lack of remembrance of what made the original vision work in the first place. "Halloween". "Friday the 13th". "Nightmare on Elm Street". "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". "Saw" (Although was that one ever THAT good?) Bottom line, these are meant to run their course and eventually fail, resulting in a stillborn franchise. So how in God's name is "Scream", which was originally meant to satirize such things, only getting better? Like legitimately better?  

Following the traumatic events of the last film (And quite possibly the most creative opening sequence in the series yet), "Scream VI" opens with Woodsboro survivor, "Sam Carpenter" (Melissa Barrera), illegitimate son of the deceased serial killer, "Billy Loomis" (Skeet Ulrich), having moved to New York City with her sister, "Tara" (Jenna Ortega), and fellow survivors, "Mindy Meeks-Martin" (Jasmin Savoy Brown) and her brother, "Chad" (Mason Gooding). However, Sam has been unable to move past what happened, and it's not helped by how social media has found a way to spread the conspiracy that she was actually responsible for the previous killings (And that previous killers, "Richie" and "Amber", were actually innocent). It turns out though, that "Ghostface" (Voiced by Roger L. Jackson), always finds a way to return through the form of a new psycho, but this time, his motives and schemes aren't at all like the previous maniacs to don the iconic mask and cloak. 

With a brand new list of possible suspects/possible future victims, such as Mindy's girlfriend, "Anika" (Devyn Nekoda), Tara's promiscuous roommate, "Quinn" (Liana Liberato), Chad's shy and awkward roommate, "Ethan" (Jack Champion), and Sam's secret, muscular boyfriend, "Danny" (Josh Segarra), along with some help from the likes of returning legacy journalist, "Gale Weathers" (Courtney Cox), Quinn's cop father, "Wayne Bailey" (Dermot Mulroney) and returning attempted Ghostface victim turned FBI agent, "Kirby Reed" (Hayden Panettiere), Sam and Tara find themselves at the center of a now long-running franchise. A franchise with a killer that has every intention to throw out the entire rule book and make this one the bloodiest entry yet.

Directed by returning directors, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett ("Ready or Not", as well as last year's "Scream"), with a screenplay from the also returning James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, "Scream VI" continues to live up to the late Wes Craven's legacy, while also crafting a shockingly epic one of its very own. New location, focusing on the cast from the last film, and distancing itself from the others while still acknowledging their existence. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett slickly create a gruesomely violent, twistedly hilarious, and wildly entertaining stab-a-thon, with memorable characters, a razor-sharp script, and a solid mystery, that will keep you constantly guessing with all its twists and turns. The film tackles the concepts of ongoing franchises (Especially when they've seemingly run their course), along with the coinciding tropes that follow (Bigger set-pieces, higher body count, no character is off-limits, etc.). Of course, despite all the bloody kills, the humor is still very on point, thanks to how it pokes fun at the obligatory clichés and modern sensibilities, such as social media conspiracies and good ol fandom worship (Something they really drive home even more in this film than they did in the last one). 

What also separates it from other slashers like it though are also how excellent and just plain likable the cast is. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega come into their own as the future of the series, with Barrera taking a much darker approach to the typical scream queen role and Ortega being possibly the busiest young actress working today. A charismatic Mason Gooding and the wonderfully lovable Jasmin Savoy Brown also return, with some great supporting work from Devyn Nekoda, Jack Champion (After "Avatar 2", I will still be referring to him as White Aladdin), Liana Liberato, and a very straight faced Dermot Mulroney. Neve Campbell is nowhere to be seen, but we still have some returning players, such as the always welcome Courtney Cox and fan favorite, Hayden Panettierre (Who thoroughly looks delighted to be here). There are also some familiar faces that let's just say, won't make it past the first act (Think James Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" on a smaller scale on how it completely flips the script). Ghostface remains a menacing, though realistically unpredictable presence, with Roger L. Jackson continuing to provide the icon's sinister voice with glee, and makes for some truly unhinged sequences. The mystery behind the killer's identity is much harder to figure out this time around and even while I was able to pinpoint who it was, I was constantly second guessing myself. And as usual, when the real villain behind it all is revealed, it results in actors having a sadistically good time hamming it up. 

Creative and carnage-filled, "Scream 6" takes the franchise to new heights, with more brutal kills, moments of real terror (A drawn out sequence on the subway is a highlight), smart humor, and like before, a good amount of heart, allowing you to really care for all the characters. Out of all the entries so far, this finds itself bringing the series more into the modern movie age, where my audience was always on the edge of their seats, screaming, gasping, laughing, and even cheering. It's genuinely quite the crowd-pleaser and makes me immensely excited to see where it could possibly go next. Despite numerous stabbings as it is, this franchise proves that it still has plenty of life left in it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Buckets Of Blood, Stabby Stabbies, And Ghostface Exercising His Legal American Right To Use A Shotgun When He Damn Well Pleases.  

Creed III                                                by James Eagan                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Now I want this to be a clean fight....Save some for the next sequel."

In a sense, it's odd that Rocky himself is nowhere to be seen or heard from in this spin-off of the long-running franchise. However, in another sense, it's fitting that these films are no longer going to be stuck in the original's shadow. "Creed" has always been about forming your own legacy, honoring what came before, and creating your own story. This is where this series should continue if this decides to continue. 

Taking place years after the previous 2018 film, "Creed III" follows former boxing champion, "Adonis "Donnie" Creed" (Michael B. Jordan), now retired, famously successful, and living a happy life with his wife, "Bianca" (Tessa Thompson) and their adorable daughter, "Amara" (Mila Davis-Kent). However, his happily ever after might be completely disrupted by the return of once boxing prodigy and former childhood best friend, "Damian "Dame" Anderson" (Jonathan Majors). Having spent almost two decades in prison, Damian seemingly just wants to make up for lost time, trying to reconnect with Adonis and even ask him for a chance to box again. Feeling guilty about an incident in the past (Which led to Damian's incarceration), Adonis agrees to help his old friend, while also trying to arrange for an anticipated match between "Viktor Drago" (Florian Munteanu) and the current champ, "Felix Chavez" (Jose Benavidez). When Damian interferes and soon finds himself the center of attention, his true intentions to bring down everything that Adonis holds dear become apparent. Now Adonis must come out of retirement to face off against his most brutal opponent yet, and finally put the past behind him once and for all. 

From star turned first time director, Michael B. Jordan, with a screenplay by Keenan Coogler (Brother to "Creed" director, Ryan Coogler) and Zach Baylin ("King Richard"), "Creed III" comes into its own, taking with it whatever ingredients that have made these sports dramas cinematic icons. It's funny how most of these movies, no matter how crazy ("Rocky V" is a trip!), always have a certain formula to adhere to and yet, have continued to captivate audiences over forty years later. It's no different here, with the film often falling into some typical trappings (Almost intentionally), but either making sure not to dwell on them or at least finds ways to elevate them. Michael B. Jordan turns out to be a rather fascinating filmmaker in how he tells the story, keeping the film slick, well paced, and even poetic in places. It's most evident during the fight scenes, which are shown to be hard hitting, painful, and full of so much raw power, that regardless of how much damage you question a normal person can take, you're too far on the edge of your seat to care. At times, he films certain scenes like if they're an epiphinac dream, with stunning imagery and a great use of visual storytelling. (You don't always need dialogue to deliver on commanding drama)

Of course, we already know Michael B. Jordan has an immensely talented presence in front of the camera, but he shows a lot of promise behind it as well, and I'm curious to see where else he can take this if he chose to. Tessa Thompson continues to shine in a role that could easily be pushed to the side, through solid writing and her charismatic charm. Phylicia Rashad (as "Mary Anne Creed", Adonis' emotionally and physically struggling mother) is absolutely wonderful once again and Wood Harris (as "Tony "Little Duke" Evers", Adonis' trainer) is given a much bigger role this time (And proves to be quite excellent too. Why was he always in the background this whole time?). Mila Davis-Kent is an endearing little scene-stealer with personality to spare, while Florian Munteanu, who himself was scene-stealer in the previous film, doesn't really pop up enough. Now we have to take time to acknowledge Jonathan Majors, who is on quite the role this year (with apparently more to come). Much last he did with "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" a couple weeks ago, Majors shows a remarkable amount of range. He's certainly menacing and you know, impressively jacked to a frightening degree, but is also shown in a sympathetic light, where you can see how easily this kind of instability can be created. Every scene between Jordan and Majors is, pardon the pun, a total knockout, right down to their final, epic confrontation.

There are some dramatic conveniences (It shouldn't be too much of a surprise when a second act death occurs) and maybe one or two leaps in logic (Granted, you gotta convey a lot in under two hours), "Creed III" features some earth-shattering performances, compelling characters, and impressive direction from Michael B. Jordan (Who I hope really takes this success to heart). It's a crowdpleaser with depth, which is what the "Rocky" movies are supposed to be, except this time, it doesn't feel the need to adhere to name recognition or legacies. It's become its own thing, and makes for a grand spectacle, except on a human level. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Mature Moments, Sylvester Stallonelessness, And Michael B. Jordan's Intense Anime Influence. That Man REALLY Loves Him Some Anime, Doesn't He? 

Jesus Revolution                                       by James Eagan                                ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: You say he wants a Revolution?

It's about time people acknowledged something I've always thought about for years. Jesus was a hippie! The man was a freakin hippie! Preaching peace, love, long hair and beards, and the joys of walking around barefoot. If anything, he was the first hippie! A proto-hippie if you will. You know he said "Far out man" at least once or twice in his life. Don't try to convince me otherwise. 

Inspired by true events (Again, inspired. Just like "Cocaine Bear"!), "Jesus Revolution" follows a collection of people in the late 60s, during the hippie movement. We have aspiring artist/future pastor, "Greg Laurie" (Joel Courtney), struggling with his unstable mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and finding happiness with his future wife "Cathe" (Anna Grace Barlow), along with her hippie friends. However, drugs lead Greg down a dark path, which also leads to a new Jesus movement, led by the charismatic "Lonnie Frisbee" (Jonathan Roumie). Lonnie, having charmed over the once grouchy, but now enlightened pastor, "Chuck Smith" (Kelsey Grammer), has gone on to create a new form of prayer, acceptance, love, and understanding, which both captivates and confuses outsiders from all over the country.

Directed by Jon Erwin ("I Can Only Imagine", "I Still Believe", "American Underdog") and Brent McCorkle and based on the book of the same name by Greg Laurie and Ellen Santilli Vaughn, "Jesus Revolution" is basically what's advertised in a way. It's a fairly milquetoast, safe, rather uncomplicated bit of Christian fluff, that genuinely does have some positive things going for it. For one, the overall message of understanding and welcoming others, no matter what they look like, into the house of God, is a powerful one. It's also one that many evangelicals today should take a refresher course in. It portrays our characters as people, who make mistakes and falter just as anyone else, yet don't use their faith as a crutch or a shield, and instead as a reminder of their humanity. It's all about love in the end, and it's great to see a faith based film actually practicing what it preaches, with some actually fine acting to boot. Frustratingly though, it seems that the filmmakers just can't help but pander to its audience (Or the worst of its audience at least). For all the positive talk, the film intentionally leaves out a couple glaring, rather offensive details that actually would have made for a stronger drama. However, their demographic doesn't want to see or think about that.

Joel Courtney does fine, though his entire storyline is easily the weakest part, despite this being his character's story. When the film focuses on Kelsey Grammer and Jonathan Roumie, that's when the film shockingly shines. They're terrific together, portraying the stuffy close mindedness of religion and the blissful brilliance that can come from the most unlikely of places. It's a very solidly acted film, with moments of genuine humor. In fact, a lot of the humor works because it's not watered down to a bland degree. It actually makes you care about these characters and their struggles. With that said, there are too many moving parts going at once, and they all sort of crash into each other during the final act. Drug use, blind worship, testing of faith, yadda yadda. By the end, there are some emotional connections that just plain don't click the way they should have. 

"Jesus Revolution" starts off with the promise of something more, but divulges down the more typical path of faith based films. All of which I guess are okay, especially if you're going for an inoffensive film with a positive lesson.....That is until I did a little digging and found out how much of the film is kind of bullcrap. (And by digging, I just simply googled!) The film completely and hilariously omits the real life, background homosexuality of Lonnie Frisbee and his excommunication because of it, as well as the fact that he died of AIDS (Something that's also left out of the film, with the epilogue simply saying that he basically just died in 1993, without any details. He just went and died one day I guess, according to this movie) It's depressing that some of the more well made Christian targeted films just can't seem to help but shoot themselves in the foot. It's like a metaphorical drug in a way. It's an alright, pleasant film, with excellent performances and strong themes that preach a better understanding of how faith can bring us together. That is until the point it decides to smack you in the face and ruin all the good will it had built up, with the hope that nobody will dare look further into its narrative. Not very groovy of you guys. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Teenage Drug Use, And So Many Unwashed Feat. 

Cocaine Bear                                           by James Eagan                          ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: The Bare Necessities include Cocaine. 

I have no idea what the Hell 2023 is cooking, but I think the American filmgoer is ready to ingest it with open mouths. Or maybe through their nostrils. 

Semi-Inspired by true events (There was a Cocaine Bear, so it's true enough), "Cocaine Bear" opens with duffel bags full of cocaine getting lost in the woods near a small Georgia town. A huge American black bear gets her paws on some of them, getting higher than a kite, and is aggressively violent around anyone that wanders into her deadly, drug fueled path. We then follow a collection of colorful, possibly doomed characters, who all just so happen to be entering the local park at the same time. A pair of kids, "Dee Dee" (Brooklynn Prince) and "Henry" (Christian Convery), stumble upon the cocaine loving bear and Dee Dee is taken. Dee Dee's mother, "Sari" (Keri Russell), comes to the rescue, venturing off into the dangerous woods with Henry. Meanwhile, drug kingpin, "Syd White" (Ray Liotta), sends one of his fixers, "Daveed" (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), and his own depressed son, "Eddie" (Alden Ehrenreich) to retrieve the cocaine, with a local cop, "Bob" (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), is hot on their trails. Other players, both big and small, become involved in the cocaine bear's bloody rampage, and it looks like nothing is going to put a stop to it. 

Directed by Elizabeth Banks ("Pitch Perfect 2", "Charlie's Angels"), with a screenplay by Jimmy Warden ("The Babysitter), as well as producing credits from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("The LEGO Movie", and the "21 Jump Street" movies), "Cocaine Bear" is the newest addition to the bizarre trend that 2023 is starting to send. It's a darkly comedic, horror parody of every animal attack B movie, complete with all the tropes, preposterous characters, and gloriously gratuitous violence. It's ridiculously stupid and unhinged, making for a hilarious trip down a coke-lined road of mean spirited anarchy. Banks crafts a delightfully vile piece of work, that perfectly captures these kinds of films, from the outlandishly stereotypical and off kilter characters, the forced situations, and the insane amount of carnage, which is all exactly what the audience is paying for. However, it's also just better made than a lot of those films, due to slightly bigger budget (Slightly), a surprise amount of recognizable faces, and the intelligence to realize just how dumb it is. It oddly works as a crazy animal attack movie, that also just so happens to be really funny at the same time. Intentionally. 

None of the characters are too complicated, and yet, everything plays them the correct way that they need to be played to the point where they're actually quite memorable. Keri Russell plays the the movie completely straight, and does so kind of wonderfully, while Brooklynn Prince and Christian Convey are both excellent  young actors (Convey in particular steals the show, with the film's funniest one liners). There's great chemistry between O'Shea Jackson Jr.  and a hilarious Alden Ehrenreich (It's also just plain good to have him back in stuff), along with fun various supporting players such as a lovable Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale (as "Liz", a park ranger who aggressively tries to fight back against the bear), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (as "Peter", a park tour guide with a very 80s mustache and hairdo), Aaron Holliday (as "Stache", a teenage hooligan, who winds up wrapped into the chaos), among others in small, gruesome parts. The late Ray Liotta, in one of his final roles (Because of course it would be), looked like he was also just having a great time here. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the fact that in a movie called "Cocaine Bear", the acting is genuinely pretty damn good. The real star though is the bear herself. While not exactly convincingly brought to life through meh CGI work (One could argue that all might have been part of the joke), our titular Cocaine Bear is a blend of outrageous, actually kind of adorable, and even surprisingly frightening in places. One moment you'll be laughing at the absurdity, but then the movie will get you with a surprise scare. Not to mention, the gore, while thoroughly over the top in its brutality, never holds back and is all the more welcome because of it. This is how you do this right. (I'm looking at you "Blood and Honey"!)

Possibly too goofy for some or just plain too nihilistic for others, "Cocaine Bear" is a complete blast of bizarrely charming, often laugh out loud, and dastardly crowd-pleasing time at the movies. When there are big blockbusters, Marvel, sequels, and other franchises going about, it's nice to have major studios, while likely on whatever drugs they can get their hands on, embrace that kind of unique insanity that we're all honestly craving. Clocking in at just barely an hour and a half, with a cheesy 80s aesthetic, and an unhinged sense of humor, you might want just a little more than a taste of this Cocaine Bear. I mean, how can one not just love a bear snorting a line of coke off of a severed leg? That's cinema right there baby! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Animistic Drug Use, Blood Brutal Bear Beatings, And Oh So Many Torn Off Limbs, Intestines, And Guts Galore. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania                by James Eagan          ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Film Twitter unleashing those "MCU is Dead!" tweets all at once.

The nearly fifteen year old "Marvel Cinematic Universe" begins "Phase Five", introducing us to a new villain, hinting at threats to come in the future, and reveals even more of the growing multiverse in creative ways. I can say off the bat for my fellow true believers that this new act in the MCU's Multilateral Saga features some of my absolute favorite moments in any Marvel movie so far.......and yet, it's still their weakest film since "Thor: The Dark World".  

Quite a while after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" (And the Disney+ series "Loki", if you're keeping track), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" reunites us with former criminal, turned shrinking Avenger, "Scott Lang/Ant-Man" (Paul Rudd), who spends his free time being beloved by the community, selling his autobiography, and spending time with his partner/love interest, "Hope van Dyne/Wasp" (Evangeline Lily). However, his daughter "Cassie" (Kathryn Newton), frustrated with her dad's lack of current hero work, repeatedly finds herself getting into trouble, and even has her own super suit. Cassie also works with Hope's dad, "Hank Pym" (Michael Douglas), with his various ant projects and attempting to create a device to make contact with the mysterious "Quantum Realm", despite protests from Pym's rescued wife, "Janet" (Michelle Pfeiffer). Turns out that there is more to Janet's time in the Quantum Realm than she let on, and before she can reveal more, everyone is sucked inside and separated. 

While Janet, Hank, and Hope attempt to traverse the treacherous environments, Scott and Cassie discover an entire microscopic world, becoming wrapped up in a resistance movement against a mysterious, all powerful, and unforgiving tyrant, "Kang the Conqueror" (Jonathan Major). Kang has his plans for the multiverse, intending to force Scott to help him escape the Quantum Realm and fulfill his dark destiny. To save Cassie and reunite with his friends, Scott has to make a deal with the devil, along with his heavily deformed, tiny limbed, big headed minion, "Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing" aka "M.O.D.O.K". 

Directed by the returning Peyton Reed (Known for more comedy films and shows, along with the first two "Ant-Man" films and "The Mandalorian"), with a screenplay by Jeff Loveness ("Rick and Morty"), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" sets out to change the course of where the MCU is going, while also continuing the franchise currently more experimental phase and keep delivering to audiences what they've grown to expect at the same time. It's odd to say that despite the film's lofty ambitions, it's also shockingly (And fittingly?) small scale. It's ironic considering how already slice of life the first two "Ant-Man" films were, being good hearted, family comedies that just so happened to be set in the superhero world. While this one isn't without humor and charm, it's darker in places and serious for a good chunk, abandoning the more modest settings for grand visuals and otherworldly places.

The film is very heavy on the CGI and green screen, and you can obviously see why considering that literally everything in the film is meant to look surreal and strange. I've come to expect it and there are plenty of moments where the visuals standout in beautiful ways, from the elaborate character designs to some gorgeous landscapes. However, when it doesn't, it's pretty distracting, looking more like last year's "Strange World" meets "Overwatch", rather than a big budget blockbuster (Basically "Avatar: The Way of Water" if it didn't take a decade to come out). The story is also fairly safe, at least for the first act, that only becomes something bigger once we are introduced to the highly anticipated big bad himself. This is also where the film's more out there comic roots take center stage, bringing about more thought provoking themes of what lies beyond our very universe and the frightening implications that could come. 

Paul Rudd remains just as likable as ever, playing as well with the comedy as you would expect, yet also showing off more of his dramatic acting chops (Reminding us why he is one of the MCU's most relatable and down to Earth heroes). Rudd has some wonderful chemistry with Kathryn Newton, who brings something new to the character (And refreshingly doesn't overplay the family drama in an annoying way). Evangeline Lily is good, though she really doesn't get much to do (Probably because the film's decision to focus more on Scott and Cassie this time), while Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas remain professionally great. We get some alright, though not exactly memorable new additions, from Katy O'Brian (as "Jentorra", the Quantum Realm resistance leader, who I could have sworn was Michelle Rodriguez up until now), William Jackson Harper (as "Quaz", a telepathic member of the resistance), and the always welcome David Dastmalchian (as "Veb", a slime blob, with an obsession with um, holes), who you might remember appearing as a different character in the first two movies. Bill Murray (as "Lord Krylar", a deceptive figure from Janet's past) pops up for a glorified cameo (Maybe he had a bigger part that was trimmed down due to his recent, er, activities), and I would be lying if I didn't say that one does miss some of the other supporting characters from before (Those Michael Peña ramblings are Marvel iconic!). 

Then we get to Jonathan Majors, who is shaping up this year's most versatile actor and is a terrifying villainous force. Having already appeared as another variant of the character in the first season of "Loki", Majors is quick to show us just how different this one is and why everyone should be afraid. He's calm, collected, and intimidating as Hell, hiding an even more bloodthirsty and violent sense of menace behind his vulnerable facade. Majors commands every scene he's in and makes one stand in attention when his character's apparent "reasonable" demeanor becomes less so (Thanos really looks tame compared to this guy). Another major scene-stealer for me is M.O.D.O.K, himself, who I dare not reveal too much about. All I can say is that what they do with this iconic comic character needs to be seen to be believed. Based around a design that's too preposterous, bizarre, and thoroughly hideous, you could never see him making an appearance in the MCU. However, they did it and are proud to display his hilariously grotesque and baffling form with pride. The absolute balls on Marvel to think that they could get away with this is applaud worthy and I loved every second this abomination was on screen. (Plus it leads to some of the film's funniest gags)

After firing on all cylinders from 2014 to 2019 (Critical and financial hits one after the other), "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" doesn't reach the heights of what's possible (And deep down, we all know it should have). It still has solid action, a cool score form Christopher Beck (A recurring Marvel collaborator), good humor, and heart, boasting enough charm to get through the most basic story they've had in some time (Not to mention somewhat cops out in the end after a very intense climax). Despite some memorable villains and plenty to get excited for in the future, the inconsistent visuals, messy screenplay, and high ambitions colliding with low stakes, the film continues a noticeably worrying trend with some of the recent MCU ventures (Why have so many of the recent films been barely two hours. Pretty short considering so much that happens). Throw in some weird, yet undeniably entertainingly wild post credits scenes (The final one in particular made me smile. Hard), you leave anticipating where this Kang Dynasty is going to lead, even though the cracks might be starting to show more than you would like. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Violence, Broccoli Beings, And Kang's Massive, Bulging Biceps (Might Be One Of The Most One Sided Fights In Movie History). 

Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey                  by James Eagan                      ★ out of ★★★★

Image: The addiction to honey has finally taken a toll.

The public domain just might be the worst possible thing to happen to any kind of property. No copyright law can save you. Family estate? Nope! Not even Disney, Freakin Disney can help you! So of course this new trend of turning your childhood wonders into horror nightmares was the next logical step. Is it right? Eh, I'm not sure. Is it going to lead to further decline in our society? Probably. Is it legal? Unfortunately yes. 

Released as a "Fathom Event" (Despite being ironically unfathomable) "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" opens details how young "Christopher Robin" (Played as an adult by Nikolai Leon) befriended those lovable animals from the "Hundred Acre Wood", but eventually had to depart to college. Feeling abandoned and losing their grips on sanity, honey loving bear "Pooh" (Craig David Dowsett) and diminutive pig, "Piglet" (Chris Cordell) proceed to eat "Eeyore", renounce humanity, and vow to slaughter anyone who dares enter the Hundred Acre Wood (Not "Tigger" though, since he's yet to enter the public domain). Years later, Christopher returns with his bride to be, "Mary" (Paula Coiz), only to discovers how much his childhood friends have changed, now becoming hulking, deformed monstrosities, who murder Mary and take Christopher hostage. Meanwhile, "Maria" (Maria Taylor), struggling with PTSD from a stalker, goes along with her equally attractive (And soon to be very deceased) friends (Natasha Rose Mills, Amber Doig-Thorne, Danielle Ronald, and Natasha Tosini), on a therapeutic getaway to a lake house, that just so happens to be located near the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh and Piglet catch wind of the vacationing girls and set them up to be their next victims. 

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Rhys Frake-Waterfield (Whose credits include something called "Firenado". I have so many questions), "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" takes the classic stories from A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard (And popularized iconly by Disney), and completely, intentionally bastardizes it. Actually it more along the lines stabs it repeatedly, knees it in the stomach, kicks it while it's down, and spits on it, before running it over with a truck a couple times just for fun. Much like last year's "The Mean One", the movie takes whatever it can legally get away with, filling it with blood, gore, and whatever else it can to make sure something near and dear to your days as a youth is good and ruined. However, unlike that other film, this isn't played for laughs. Okay, sure it's obviously meant to be well funded trash, but it's all played frustratingly (And somewhat disgustingly) straight. I know one shouldn't expect much from intentional horrendousness, but even I can admit some kind of disappointment when you take a premise that's almost borderline offensive do do absolutely nothing with it. Shockingly, there is promise when the film begins, with a charmingly quaint animated prologue (Which plays out almost like an actual "Winnie the Pooh" tale, that only happens to take a dark turn), yet the cleverness stops there. Plot and character? Nonexistent. It's more or less a "Friday the 13th" movie that just so happens to have "Jason Voorhees" replaced by dudes cosplaying as Winnie the Pooh characters. 

None of the cast really has anything to work with, except for the women (Who are made to look hot, maybe show some skin, and then get brutally murdered in a cheaply gory fashion). Nikolai Leon and Maria Taylor both seem to be trying the most, though there isn't much point considering you're not really meant to grow attached to any of the characters. The Pooh and Piglet costumes are actually okay for what they are, mostly depending on the scene, where you can appreciate some of the nice little details added to them (Pooh's wiggling ears add some personality), yet also have only one simple expression and look very rubbery. To say that the tone is inconsistent doesn't actually resonate when, well, there isn't even a true tone here. 

"Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey" is almost kind of a fascinating movie, where you do question what can actually be criticized seriously, with Rhys Frake-Waterfield being the one responsible for directing, writing, producing, and editing everything apparently on his own (The fact that the film doesn't look like complete crap is almost remarkable in that way). Plus, the fact that this somehow isn't the worst film I've ever seen in my life is worthy of praise. (At least it's still shorter and better than "Blonde", and that's an Oscar nominated film!) It also in some ways shouldn't be too shocking that this is bad. Isn't  it supposed to be? Yet, I can't be the only one genuinely still disappointed. It doesn't work as a parody because there's nothing funny about it. It doesn't work as a legit horror movie because it's never scary. It doesn't work as an homage to trashy, torture porn because it's too stupid to even do that right. (Not to mention there's little creativity to the kills, other than Piglet eating honey off someone's face, along with their face) It's an anomaly of badness that you can't tell if it's just a farce or is genuinely sick in the head. (Funniest part of the entire movie is that the theater decided to show nothing by kids movie trailers before it started. Not sure if that's brilliant or not) It leaves one to contemplate how to rate other bad films in the future, considering this was literally just someone doing something simply because they legally could. Again, almost commendable, but also completely vile at the same time. It's a load of Pooh. 1 Star. Not Rated, But Is Definitely A Fairly Hard R For Bloody Violence, Horrendous Heinousness, Lots Of Sexualized Violence And Overall Sexism And Whatever Else Possibly Turns On Some Sick F*cks.   

Magic Mike's Last Dance                          by James Eagan                             ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Who's my ticklish widdle' man?

The "Magic Mike Trilogy". I don't know why, but that just sounds weird to me. Almost unnecessary if you will.

"Magic Mike's Last Dance" reunites us with former stripper, "Mike Lane" (Channing Tatum), aka "Magic Mike", who is down on his luck more than ever, now working as a bartender. He meets wealthy socialite "Maxandra Mendoza" (Salma Hayek Pinault), and the two share an intimate night together. Maxandra then convinces Mike to return with her to London, providing him with the new job of directing a stip-tastic re-imagining at a major theater owned by Maxandra's soon to be ex husband, "Roger" (Alan Cox). Getting this show going though proves to be difficult as both Mike and Maxandra face many obstacles that threaten to shut everything down, as well as their own romantic tension.

Directed by the returning Steven Soderbergh (The "Ocean's Eleven" series, as well as the original 2012 "Magic Mike") with a screenplay from the also returning Reid Carolin ("Dog"), "Magic Mike's Last Dance" follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, "Magic Mike XXL", in which I'm not exactly sure why this is continuing. The first works solidly on its own, yet a franchise was developed, with the first sequel going for a more comedic tone (And the playful fanservice for the ladies), while this one focuses more on the dramatic (And less of the fanservice for the most part). It ends up being too far in the opposite direction unfortunately, feeling like a course correction that never quite sticks the landing. It's certainly a glossy, slick, and very oily looking film, but it's the script and story that don't add up the way it's intended to. It's clearly meant to serve a conclusion to the franchise, but nothing all that new feels added in the end. You can see how this could have possibly served as something poignant and worthy of a continuation, though gives off the vibe of being a first draft, focused more on the idea of the film (And obviously, it's inevitably showstopping finale). 

Channing Tatum (As Channing a Tatum as he can possibly be) once again brings an understated presence to what at first seems like just a toned and well chiseled personality. Salma Hayek Pinault is also very good, playing a conflicted character, who hides her insecurities behind the glamour, proving to be an equally longing soul. (Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that this woman is in her late fifties, and is still absolutely stunning beyond all reason? Respectfully, she's still hot!) They're great, but sadly, the film completely hinges on their relationship, which oddly never quite clicks. The chemistry is there, yet nothing about the screenplay actually makes one buy the romance. Considering the love interests in the previous were long gone and forgotten by the time we reached each sequel, I never got invested enough to see how this would be any different. Other characters from the previous two films either get ignored or only make a brief zoom cameo (Hey Joe Manganiello!), while there isn't much development given to the newer ones. Some standouts include Ayub Khan Din (as "Victor", Maxandra's snarky, yet loyal butler) and Jemelia George (as "Zadie", Maxandra's adopted daughter), though I would like to hear the reasoning behind having her pretentiously narrate the film. None of the new dancers brought in have much to them other than to dance and look pretty, with possibly the exception of Juliette Motamed (as "Hannah", the one woman of the group, who doesn't have a filter), and even then, she too kind of fades into the background. 

Originally meant to be released exclusively through "HBO Max" instead of theatrically (I can see it the more I think about it), "Magic Mike's Last Dance" is an underwhelming feature that only shines once we reach the final (And only, for the most part) dance sequence, which is admittedly spectacular. It's quite the elaborate show to behold and it's almost like the entire film was just built around it. Not to mention, the film just stops, resulting in one of the more confusing endings I've seen in a while. Despite the best efforts of our terrific leads, the romance isn't near believable enough and the plot is half-baked, thanks to an unremarkable script that doesn't justify itself. I can even see the target audience (So many regressed mothers) tuning out. The magic just isn't there. 2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Slippery Sensual Sweaty Slithering.

Knock at the Cabin                                 by James Eagan                         ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "On the bright side, I can recommend a great tattoo artist."

Say what you will about M. Night Shyamalan, but the man has obviously taken his many, many, many (And deserved) criticisms to heart. However, you still have to respect the man for retaining his unique style of storytelling, regardless of how accepted it will end up being. Like it or not, you're going to get something that you'll be talking about for a while. Something different. Something Shyamalan, if you will.

Based on the book "The Cabin at the End of the World" by Paul G. Tremblay, "Knock at the Cabin" opens with "Wen" (Kristen Cui), and her adoptive fathers, "Eric" (Jonathan Groff) and "Andrew" (Ben Aldridge), vacationing in a secluded cabin in the woods. Their wholesome vacation becomes an unimaginable nightmare due to the arrival of the very apologetic, yet hulkingly huge, "Leonard" (Dave Bautista), along with his companions, "Redmond" (Rupert Grint), "Sabrina" (Nikki Amuka-Bird), and "Adriane" (Abby Quinn). The four strangers proceed to tie up both Eric and Andrew and prevent the family from escaping. Leonard explains that they've been shown visions of an apocalyptic event that will result in the end of the world, and the complete decimation of humanity. To prevent this, Eric, Andrew, and Wen, will have to make an impossible choice, which is to sacrifice one of each other to save the world. Whether or not this is true, it's clear that these attackers aren't going to let any of the family go unless they choose. 

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense", "Signs", "Split", "The Happening", etc. Big filmography), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman, "Knock at the Cabin" hits the ground running immediately, once the opening titles finish. We're instantly dropped in the middle of an unspeakable and almost nonsensical situation. The tension is constant, tightly compressed into a brisk runtime, and serves as a reminder that Shyamalan can be a really good director in the right circumstances. He uses the film's modest budget to its advantage, letting you only see so little, leaving you to question so much, similar to our main characters. It's wonderfully shot and choreographed, keeping you uncomfortable through a series of unique perspectives (Sometimes the camera will randomly focus on a close up of a character's eyes and mouth, or will even give us the POV of a weapon as it's about to be used to its full, bloody effect). 

Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge make for an excellent pair, and despite only getting glimpses into their ongoing relationship with a couple brief flashbacks, you know just enough to care about them. (Especially once we get closer to the end, in which these two actors give it their absolute all as if it was their Oscar moment) Kristen Cui is also terrific, being this adorable light within such a dark film, while also being a smart, capable young character in her own right. Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and an especially unhinged Rupert Grint, are sympathetic, human, and frightening, feeling like average people that you might have even met before, becoming a source for confusing horror. Dave Bautista, constantly proving himself to be one Hell of an actor worthy of various kinds of roles, makes his screen presence known as a force of nature, that just so happens to be a very respectful, even remorseful guy. He does keep you guessing if he truly is the villain of the story, a misguided lunatic, or something more tragic. Even with the occasional Shyamalan awkwardness (Which is honestly depending on the context, kind of charming), it never feels out of place. It's almost as if Shyamalan is more in his comfort zone here.

"Knock at the Cabin" isn't something that I can see everyone getting behind, but it does offer an intense, often brutal and heart-wrenching ordeal. It leaves you with many thought provoking moral questions, that you might find yourself repeatedly going back and forth on in your head. (No simple answers here) It's easily one of M. Night Shyamalan's best work in some time, resulting in an uncomfortable thriller that will leave you shifting in your seat throughout, and possibly broken once it's over. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Suspenseful Situations, Disturbing Images, And Brutish Bautistas. 

80 for Brady                                                 by James Eagan                         ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Let the Orgy begin!

Nothing brings people together in a movie theater more than blackouts at home due to weather conditions, Football, and old people, particularly old ladies. When your collective audience is made up of a bunch of elderly couples, some Football fans, and a bunch of gay guys, you've clearly done something right with your movie. 

"80 for Brady" follows four longtime friends/New England Patriots fans, "Lou" (Lily Tomlin), "Trish" (Jane Fonda), "Maura" (Rita Moreno), and "Betty" (Sally Field). Big time lovers of "Tom Brady" (As himself. Obviously), the ladies win a contest for tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl, seeing this as their one last chance to do so considering they're all well into their 80s now (Except for Betty). Of course once they arrive, the friends find themselves in a series of silly situations and shenanigans, such as getting lost in the chaotic crowds, getting drugged up at parties, losing their tickets, and coming to terms with the current ordeals in their respective lives.

Directed by Kyle Marvin (First timer!), with a screenplay-ish by Sarah Haskins ("Booksmart") and Emily Halpern ("Good Girls"), "80 for Brady" gives off the feel of something that was made up on the fly, with little direction, conflict, relies heavily on ad-lib, and reason to be. So for something that should be annoying and disposable, why is it so freakin charming? It truly is a film that understands what its audience wants to see, and wisely knows you need just the right actors to make it at least work just enough to compensate for plenty of shortcomings. Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, and an especially scene-stealing Rita Moreno, are all perfectly pleasant in every way, radiating their usual natural likable personalities and decades worth of professionalism. They make the film, and also pretty much have to do the heavy lifting. They seem very happy to do so too. That doesn't leave much room for anyone else. Other actors within the film, such as Guy Fieri (as himself, because who else would he play?), Bob Balaban (as "Mark", Betty's husband), Glynn Turman (as "Mickey", a friend of Maura's), Billy Porter (as "Gugu", who is basically just Billy Porter as Billy Porter), Ron Funches (as "Chip", an overzealous security guard), and even down to Tom Brady himself, feel like glorified cameos with how little they end up contributing. None of the supporting cast is bad, but none of them stand out either. They're not really supposed to, though it never hurts to ask for a little more.

"80 for Brady" isn't much of a plot, but more of a series of silly situations, keeping itself afloat thanks to a few good laughs and a genuine amount of sweetness. The movie doesn't avoid the usual pitfalls, though thankfully doesn't try to force any last second, tonally out of place drama. It's just a cheerful little movie, that's short and fun. Perfect for when you're left at home in a black out and need something pleasant to waste a little time. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content, Drug Induced Fieri Hallucinations, And Gronkowski Erotica. 

Shotgun Wedding                                   by James Eagan                                 ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Pirates....Why does it always have to be Pirates?"

The debate on theater vs. streaming has somewhat fizzled out a bit. With "Avatar: The Way of Water" having made a whole lotta of the monies and all that, it looks like with the right movie, audiences will flock over to the theaters. Thankfully though, some films, that would be a chore for someone like me to make time to see on a big screen at a designated time, have had the right mindset to not make me take time out of my day to do so. This movie had no business playing in a theater and it knew it. If anything, streaming via Amazon may have actually guaranteed more of a profit in the long run.

“Shotgun Wedding” follows a soon to be married couple, “Darcy” (Jennifer Lopez) and “Tom” (Josh Duhamel), preparing for a luxurious wedding on an island retreat. However, it might be a little too big, with both sides of their wacky families showing up together, such as Darcy’s separated parents, “Renata” (Sônia Braga) and “Robert” (Cheech Marin), Tom’s strange mother “Carol” (Jennifer Coolidge), and an unexpected visit from Darcy’s ex, “Sean” (Lenny Kravitz). Now while Darcy and Tom are both starting to reconsider their engagement, the wedding is crashed by some more unexpected visitors.... Pirates (Sure, why not). With their families and guests taken hostage (And unfortunately zip-tied together), Darcy and Tom have to find a way to save everyone, as well as their relationship.

Directed by Jason Moore ("Pitch Perfect", "Sisters"), with a screenplay by Mark Hammer and a producing credit from Jennifer Lopez herself, "Shotgun Wedding" is like a combination of other romantic comedies to come out of last year, like "Ticket to Paradise" or "The Lost City", except just a lot lamer. For rom-com fanatics, it's got all the trademarks that might be a deal breaker for some, yet also exactly what others come for in the first place. The film is overall just kind of a mess of ideas, a charming cast, and an inconsistent sense of self in terms of tone. The film wants to be a lot of things that don't always mix even under the best of filmmakers, struggling to find balance between romance and laughs, along with a more actionized plot and a surprising amount of both raunchiness and violence. It's oddly normal one moment, then completely preposterous the next. Both could work and it's not like you don't get a good chuckle in places, but the end result is too chaotic for its own good. 

Jennifer Lopez (Always absolutely beautiful) and Josh Duhamel (Beautiful too! You know, if you're into that!) are a solid couple, with enough chemistry to make any of this remotely work. While the romantic conflict between the two is a bit contrived, they bounce off each other rather well, especially since they're literally stuck together for a good chunk of the movie's runtime. (Something that makes for more than a few clever gags, such as having to hold onto a pinless hand grenade in hopes that it doesn't blow) Most of the rest of the characters are rather one note, playing specific types, with Jennifer Coolidge being weird, Cheech Marin being uh, Cheech Marin, Lenny Kravitz (Who does appear to be having fun) getting a pretty thankless part when you think about it, Callie Hernandez (as "Jamie", Darcy's sarcastic best friend) being just the sarcastic best friend, and some disposable/interchangeable villains. One of the standouts would be Selena Tan (as "Margy", the island host), who only makes sporadic appearances, yet is quite an amusing presence.

Beautiful locations, likable leads, and some noticeable laughs, "Shotgun Wedding" is a silly romp that gets down business very quickly and should be enough for the target audience to enjoy at home on a rainy day, even if it does ratchet up the silliness too far towards the last act. (It basically becomes a live-action cartoon around this point, despite seemingly semi-based in a sitcom-like reality) I can't get bent out of shape about it, especially since I didn't have to wake up early to get to an 11:00 am showing for it in an almost completely empty theater (Where sometimes the projector won't even start on time because the employees didn't think anyone was there). There is some good to come out of the streaming method. 2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Unexpected Amount Of Bloody Violence. 

Infinity Pool                                           by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image:"So? You ready to go Purge?"

It always happens once a year, but I honestly didn't expect it to happen so early. Something gets praise, particularly from the film hipsters, and I am sadly the odd one out. Look guys, I can respect this film, see how some would like it, appreciate its creativity and cinematic splendor, and thoroughly understand most of all, how some just wouldn't like it. I'm one of those people after all. 

"Infinity Pool" follows a failed writer, "James Foster" (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife, "Em" (Cleopatra Coleman), are vacationing on an exotic, exclusive resort, where James intends to overcome his writer's block. The couple encounter a strange woman, "Gabi Bauer" (Mia Goth), a supposed fan of James' one and only book, inviting them to join her and her husband, "Alban" (Jalil Lespert), on a road trip outside the resort. However, while returning, James ends up running over an innocent bystander. It turns out that the people of this island take all crimes very seriously, and the penalty is death. With that said, the local detective "Thresh" (Thomas Kretschmann), offers James an alternative, which is to pay a high fee and instead allow for the island's scientists to create a clone double of himself (Complete with all his memories) to be executed in his place (Although James must also watch it too). After the execution, James, finding himself enamored by Gabi, joins her and her fellow masked, wacko friends in causing as much insanity and disgusting debauchery as they want, free of consequence as it seems. Turns out James might be a little in over his head as the madness only escalates.

Written and directed by the son of David Cronenberg himself, Brandon Cronenberg ("Possessor"), "Infinity Pool" is a uniquely nightmarish experience, where humanity's most primal instincts and lust for smashing down the status quo of what we've ingrained into our minds as morality. It's about how it's our very nature to corrupt our own souls in the most taboo, grotesque, and destructive of ways. It's an original, unsettling concept that's introduced to us, through Cronenberg's intentionally disorienting direction and captivating imagery that's so out there to the point it's indescribable. Dizzying camera angles, flashing lights, intense close-ups, and disturbing desecration of the flesh. It makes for some fascinating sequences, as you're left trying to fully understand what's happening and where it's going. For me though, it's also not quite as satisfying once we get to the apparent explanation. In fact, it's fairly predictable in that area. For all the imagination put into the ideas and satire behind the film, but the execution is fairly lacking. One can only see so much disturbing content over the years in movies, so you can become a little desensitized to it. Now you're left to contemplate much of what the filmmakers are trying to say and while the steps taken are different to say the least, what they actually are aren't too special in the grand scheme of things.

My issues with the film's lack of real depth aside, I have nothing but praise for the performances. Alexander Skarsgård, a master of range, does an excellent job of playing the kind of pathetically inept that you can see being easily swayed into this kind of over indulgence, despite not having near enough the spine to commit to anything. Mia Goth meanwhile takes things to a whole new level of crazy (And considering her performances in both "X" and "Pearl" last year, that's saying something), going from alluring, then to scheming, and jumping right into demented, all on a whim. Jalil Lespert hams it up wonderfully and Cleopatra Coleman doesn't get quite as much to do except be the one reasonable person in the entire film. Thomas Kretschmann steals his few scenes, with matter of fact, yet sinister delight. 

Occasionally disturbingly funny and worthy of praise in technical departments, "Infinity Pool" is a solid showcase for Brandon Cronenberg's talents, simulating a beautiful Hell of sorts. It's filled with interesting theories, though frustratingly doesn't live up to its own expectations or potential (I think there's something much stronger and frightening in here than what we end up getting). The film rackets up to a bizarre finale, that goes for broke in terms of weirdness, then ends on a fairly basic note. Perhaps that's the point, though it feels more like it's meant to represent more than the obvious. I can see it being a cult favorite by the year's end and for good reason to a point, though you certainly won't be seeing it in my best of year list. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gross Images, Unsettling Content, And Sticky Skarsgård Sauce. 

Missing                                                     by James Eagan                              ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "No....I DON"T want to change my service to T-Mobile!"

Producer Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted", "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", "Profile"), is really obsessed with this premise of "Screenlife" (Computer screen style visual storytelling). From horror films like the "Unfriended" franchises, to 2018's surprise success "Searching", this concept hasn't quite caught on the way he's wanted, yet there has been something quite brilliant about it if you ask me. Even when it hasn't always worked completely, it's a compelling and relevant way of filmmaking, that most of all, can prey on some of our greatest fears. The ones that we have only allowed further to become integrated within our lives, knowingly or not. Personally, I think we're all screwed.

With the story playing out over a computer screen, "Missing" follows a teenage girl named "June Allen" (Storm Reid), having grown apart from her mother, "Grace" (Nia Long). Never having recovered from losing her father at a young age, June has become rebellious and distant from Grace, who has found a new boyfriend, "Kevin Lin" (Ken Leung), planning a romantic vacation together to Columbia for a week. While Grace and Kevin are away, June has her own plans to party the week away with her friends. However, a week later, neither Grace or Kevin return. An investigation into their whereabouts begins, led by "FBI Agent Park" (Daniel Henney), though June is able to conduct her own investigation, with help from a local, "Javier Ramos" (Joaquim de Almeida) via "WhatsApp". While doing some digging, June discovers some disturbing revelations about Kevin, as well as some secrets that her mother has been hiding from her. It turns out there is much more to this mystery than a simple disappearance, leading to June to question just how much she actually knows about her own mother.

Written and directed by first time directors, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick (Editors for films such as "Searching" and "Run"), with a story credit to their frequent collaborator, Aneesh Chaganty, "Missing" is a pleasant surprise of a movie, in which nobody knew it even existed until a month ago. The film, while nowhere on par with "Searching", still makes for an effectively intense and puzzling mystery, thanks in part to how much the film is intertwined with its premise. You get so much character simply from a character's actions via computer screen, with their texts, messages, and searches, all on full display, providing just as much insight into their mindsets as the performances of the actors. The way we see how the internet can be used in such a situation is both compelling and very suspenseful, where you feel the frustrations and anxieties of our main character. It especially works because many of these fears are based in reality, such as what personalities people hide online, among other secrets that they've attempted (And even partially successfully) buried. Now sometimes how the film gets to its conclusions can be a little convenient, but the film is under two hours, so corners have to understandably be cut. (I mean, how lucky can you be for there to literally be cameras everywhere?)

Storm Reid, who no matter the movie always finds herself in a distressing parental situation of some kind, is terrific, while the always good Nia Long makes up for her limited screentime with motherly warmth. The two don't have much time together, yet you do buy their estranged, though still loving relationship. Ken Leung does a good job keeping you guessing as to what his true motivations and goals are and the same goes for Amy Landecker (as "Heather", an agent friend of Grace, who tries to help June in finding her), while Joaquim de Almeida is wonderful, playing the comic relief, as well as adding a good amount of heart to the film. There is still a sweet story at the center that should resonate with families, playing off our own familial worries. 

Packed with intrigue, chills, and twists that are genuinely hard to see coming (Although maybe a few too many twists come to think of it), "Missing" is a solid follow-up to "Searching", not quite reaching the first film's originality and greatness, yet still proving to be a tense drama. With strong characters, and even a little humor in places (A running gag involving Netflix true crime docu-dramas is just too accurate), it's a brisk, somewhat family friendly (It's a tame PG-13), and quite poignant cyber thriller. It doesn't match what came before it, but it also proves the lasting effect of this style of filmmaking. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Suspense, Terrifying Technology, And Improper Internet Use.    

House Party                                            by James Eagan                                   ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "This chart shows how Lebron has scored at least 10 points in every game since the Bush administration!"

I know comedies aren't supposed to dwell on little things such as plot and story, which are in the end, completely secondary to the jokes and the laughs that will hopefully follow. It's nice when you get both, resulting in something special to draw you into repeat viewing, but if you still get some chuckles, you can't hold it too much against a film that's not particularly focused on storytelling.

A reboot of the 1990 film, "House Party" follows the broke and soon to be jobless, "Kevin" (Jacob Latimore) and "Damon" (Tosin Cole), a pair  of house cleaners/party promoters. They discover that the large mansion that they just so happen to be cleaning is owned by "LeBron James" (Played by himself. As he should be.). With nothing else to lose, Kevin and Damon decide to throw a wild party, hoping to make some large amounts of cash. Of course, chaos is about to ensue. 

Directed by music video director, Calmatic, "House Party" is one of those movies that offers an occasional laugh, ranging from chuckle worthy to actually pretty hilarious, yet is stuck in a film that has zero story structure and plot relevance. It's less a narrative and more of a series of gags that are supposed to culminate in a theatrical runtime (Or streaming, considering that this was originally meant to be released on "HBO Max" last year). Does this still provide a laugh or two? Well, yeah. More than that actually. Does this also work as a well made movie? Hell no! Obviously no! Calmatic's direction is pretty basic, especially when the film has to take a break from shenanigans to move what we are labeling as a plot forward. A good chunk of the second act is just characters being goofy and getting into absurd situations, with an occasional dance number and many, many cameos from some familiar faces. Then there's some conflict and absurdity to rocket us towards a climax. It's all interspersed with padding which also leads to something amusing, but certainly not enough to warrant a theatrical viewing. 

Jacob Latimore and Tosin Cole are good together, though you never truly buy their relationship as best friends who've known each other their entire lives. With Latimore as the straight man and Cole being the more overtly wild one, they both work for what they are (And the third act breakup is an almost non-entity, being glossed over rather quickly). We got some standard archetypes, such as the love interest (Karen Obilom), the very white and dorky neighbor (Andrew Santino) and his koala, some bad guys, and the stoner (DC Young Fly, who gets some of the film's funniest bits). One of the film's biggest scene-stealers is Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi (as himself), who is absurdly funny in the movie's most nonsensical role, while LeBron James looks to be having a good time poking fun at himself. 

From an overzealous security/SWAT team to a detour involving the Illuminati of all things, "House Party" is at its best and funniest when it's weird, and every so often, completely jumps into total insanity. However, the laughs are far too sporadic, and they're sprinkled over something that's barely even connected in a watchable fashion. It's barely even a screenplay, with constant ad-libbing to fill the gaps. It's the definition of a watching at home kind of movie, possibly even with a group of friends, and then forget about it the next day. Think of it as your own little house party in that way. Minus the booze and the drugs. 2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Debauchery, And Surprisingly Gruesome Violence. Cudi Carnage If You Will. It's A Long Story. Even In Context. 

Plane                                                       by James Eagan                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Hey Gerard....How about you handle, oh, say, maybe 300 of them?"

I know we're quick to jump to conclusions when it comes to January. Can you blame us though? It's usually such a dumping ground of lame horror, forgettable comedies, straight to DVD action films, and cheap ass animation. So apologies if we jump to conclusions when a fairly typical looking action movie called "Plane", because it has a plane in it, comes out at a time when we expect the worst. We're sorry. I'll never assume anything ever again. 

"Plane" opens with longtime commercial pilot, "Brodie Torrance" (Gerard Butler), preparing for what should just be your run of the mill late night flight, though a surprise passenger in the form of a prisoner being extradited for murder, "Louis Gaspare" (Mike Colter). Piloting through an intense storm, Brodie is able to crash land on a remote island in the Philippines, which is run by violent militias. When the passengers are taken hostage, Brodie must partner up with Gaspare if they're going to rescue the prisoners and find a way back home.

Directed by Jean-François Richet ("Blood Father" and the remake of "Assault on Precinct 13"), with a screenplay by spy fiction writer, Charles Cumming and J. P. Davis ("Fighting Tommy Riley), "Plane" has the makings of a January throwaway, yet has a little extra something to separate from lesser films like it. There's more drama and character (To a degree), much like last year's "Beast", attempting to develop its main characters more, and giving the audience a little extra incentive to see them survive. It doesn't really become a full blown action thriller until almost halfway through, first showcasing the initial plane crash and our characters trying to figure out what to do before our disposable villains pop up. The crash is actually a genuinely intense, well thought out sequence that should definitely play on the anxieties of anyone afraid of flying. 

Gerard Butler plays a bit more against type, being a more vulnerable action hero, who wants to avoid confrontation, yet will do what he has to when put in a dire situation. It's a surprisingly emotional performance that just showcases how good of an actor he's become and will give it 110%, even for a film like this. Mike Colter is very intimidating (I mean, he'll always be freakin "Luke Cage" to me), and keeps a mysterious presence throughout (Not to mention he knows how to use a sledgehammer to the best of its abilities). There are a few standouts from the supporting cast, such as Daniella Pineda (as "Bonnie", a flight attendant, who attempts to keep the peace), Yonson An (as "Samuel", Brodie's loyal co-pilot), and a delightfully professional, yet snarky Tony Goldwyn (as "Scarsdale", a Special Forces officer, who arranges for a rescue effort). As for our villains, they're acceptable for what they are. Just foreign baddies, with no redeeming qualities and intense bloodlust. 

"Plane" has some solid action, and uniquely takes its time more than your run of the mill thriller usually does, making for perfectly suitable, okay entertainment. It's a quick sit, that doesn't ask for much from its audience, but also thankfully doesn't half ass it at the same time. It does its job well enough, works as a serviceable matinee movie, and even makes certain unpaid film critics take a moment to stop assuming that certain movies are going to be bad. I promise I won't do that ever again. For the rest of this week. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong, Brutal, And Bloody Violence, Along With Ferocious Filipinos And Hardcore Hammer Time.

M3GAN                                                   by James Eagan                               ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Elizabeth Olsen, in the performance of a lifetime!

So how did we start off 2023? Let's see here. In a rather modest auditorium, with a sizable crowd, mostly consisting of groups of young people, the lights can't seem to decide if they're going to go down or not, and Maria Menounos wasn't coming on screen like she usually does (The screen during this flicked off and on too). We got some giggly girls behind me, a friendly and very gay man in front of me (Who I can assume really wanted to talk), and some guy letting out a loud, bellowing burp near the first row. Eventually lights go down, trailers start (Weirdly only a couple of them, and even those were odd too), and we get this crazy ass movie, with an even crazier audience watching it. Girls behind me laughing and screaming, the guy in front of me clapping or yelling "Yaaaaaasssss!" while snapping his fingers, and the guy at the front burping three or four more times. This is all going on throughout the film's entire runtime. I feel like this should signify what the rest of the year is going to be like. Only at "M3GAN". 

"M3GAN" opens with a young girl, "Cady" (Violet McGraw), losing her parents in a car crash, now having to live with her unprepared aunt, "Gemma" (Allison Williams), a roboticist for a large, top of the line toy company. Gemma has been working on a lifelike doll, called a "Model 3 Generative Android", or codenamed "M3GAN" (Played by Amie Donald in costume, while voiced by Jenna Davis), which through artificial intelligence can in theory, become the bested friend that any little kid could ask for. (Even if she is already kind of creepy even before she actually does anything murderous) Gemma uses the prototype of the doll to bond with Cady, with the two becoming an instantly inseparable pair. This also pleases Gemma's boss, "David" (Ronny Chieng), who plans to release M3GAN to the public, using Cady's relationship with her as a means of further evolving. However, M3GAN's ability to adapt and learn slowly leads to her taking extreme measures to protect Cady by any means necessary, even if it means that Gemma herself won't be part of the equation. Or anyone else for that matter. 

Directed by first timer, Gerard Johnstone, and written by Akela Cooper ("Malignant"), "M3GAN" is the latest from "Blumhouse Productions" and producer James Wan (Creator of the "Saw" and "Conjuring" franchises, among others), and is fully aware of just how batsh*t it is. The film, much like what you would expect from James Wan and the writer of "Malignant", is purely unapologetic in its campy horror and dark sense of humor. It's silly and wildly entertaining, that's also doing a lot more with its clever premise than you would even ask of it. It's a January released, intentionally goofy horror movie. Considering how terrible we're used to things being around this time of year, we don't expect much. While the film is certainly still plenty preposterous, it's not remotely stupid. The film goes all out with its premise, utulizing crazy scenarios and scares, intended to make the audience jump and react to. Johnstone's direction is quite solid, with the screenplay incorporating some humor throughout to show how the filmmakers aren't taking any of this too seriously. 

Just because the film itself isn't exactly dramatic, doesn't mean that there isn't anything worth caring about. Allison Williams and Violet McGraw are playing the film straight, and are both great at it. Their relationship does lead to some effective drama and heart, along with how terrific they are at looking absolutely terrified of something that looks quite goofy from a distance. Some of this is also helped by M3GAN herself, who is full of personality and all kinds of twisted. She's a brilliant creation, from the movements, the excellent voicework, and a surprising amount of genuine menace, making for a horror villain that you find yourself wanting to see more of in the future (You know they got those sequels planned right?). Much of the supporting cast, while all good in their parts, such as an enjoyably snide Ronny Chieng, are there just to make for future victims of M3GAN's killing spree. Despite the film's PG-13 rating, it's still pretty gruesome, making for some rather unique horror deaths. M3GAN ripping off a bully's ear and chasing him down like a wolf into traffic, or popping and locking before cutting up a guy, this is the kind of insanity that other horror films don't near enough embrace.

While never particularly scary, "M3GAN" is delightfully unhinged, yet is actually quite intelligent about it. The film actually makes for solid commentary on our overreliance and dependence on technology and AI to solve our problems, right down to having them raise children in place of actual parents. Not to mention, even with how purposely outlandish the film gets, you know somebody somewhere has been spitballing this idea to a bunch of socially inept board members. It's campy, yet the kind of campy that you want in your January releases and should please the most crowded of audiences. (Although, don't completely lose your sh*t like mine did, burping all over the place and whatnot) Then again, with stuff like "Cocaine Bear" coming out this year, 2023 is shaping up to be the year of the crazy. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jumpy Scares, Bratty Boys, Sick Dance Moves, And B*tchy Bots. 

Babylon                                               by James Eagan                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'm starting to think being a movie star isn't all it's cracked up to be."

There are some literal horror stories that you can find in Old Hollywood, with the older crowd today still claiming that things now are so much worse. We have no idea what chaos and debauchery that came from the stars that we looked up to, wishing that we too could be a part of their extravagant lives, not knowing that much like the films we watch, it's all an illusion. 

Set in 1920s Los Angeles during the last act of the silent film era, "Babylon" follows a series of characters hoping to make it big in the Hollywood business, such as wide eyed filmmaker, "Manny Torres" (Diego Calva), who is stuck doing multiple degrading jobs for those in the film industry before finding himself madly in love with aspiring actress, "Nellie LaRoy" (Margot Robbie). While Nellie's ambitions for greatness lead her to many bad places, Manny then lands a job working for the fun loving movie star, "Jack Conrad" (Brad Pitt). Nellie slowly begins a rise to stardom, while Manny works his way up through the industry, with the film detouring to follow the stories of African American trumpet player, "Sidney Palmer" (Jovan Adepo), cabaret performer/writer, "Fay Zhu" (Li Jun Li), and gossip journalist, "Elinor St. John" (Jean Smart). As Hollywood starts to make the transition towards talking pictures, everybody's life is about to drastic turns that some might not be able to recover from, leading to the inevitable fall that brings down many of those seeking prestige in the world of film.

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash", "La La Land", "First Man"), "Babylon" asks an age old question. What if you were gonna watch "Singin' in the Rain", but decided to snort a huge pile of cocaine first? The film opens up like a fever dream created entirely through madness, with an orgy of vulgarity, promiscuity, drugs, bodily fluids (Not all human by the way), and well, orgies. This nearly thirty minute sequence sets the tone early on, before our open title even first appears, giving us a glimpse into the world behind the curtains. Believe it or not, the entire film is not like that. It's certainly wild, but eventually settles down into the real eventual fallout, with many hopes and dreams being shattered before our very eyes. The film has certainly been a polarizing one, and for good reason too, because it's kind of a mess. A masterful mess! Chazelle crafts so many crazy sequences of how film came to be during the silent era, before the rough transition towards sound. It's often pretty hilarious and even quite heartbreaking to witness, and even when the characters are less than likable, you don't take joy in their later downfalls. Now that doesn't mean that the film isn't overly indulgent and maybe even a little pretentious at times, but one can't really deny that when it's great, it's pretty awe-inspiring. Chazelle gloriously cobbles together big screen spectacle, with debacle piled upon debacle, resulting in plenty of hilarity, as well a despair and tragedy.   

The film features an ensemble of terrific performances, both big and small. Margot Robbie is a special kind of magnificent, playing up the sexy as you can imagine, as well as the character's irresistible presence and the troubled person behind it all. Diego Calva gives a breakout performance, adding more depth to the standard character arc of one losing their conscience on their way to success, while Brad Pitt end up being more than what first appears to be the self-centered movie star type (He's actually a really nice, though sad person deep down). Jean Smart elegantly commands the screen every time she appears, while Jovan Adepo (Who has a very fascinating subplot involving old Hollywood racism) and Li Jun Li are both terrific, yet don't get near enough screentime. Some standouts include Margot Robbie-lookalike Samara Weaving (as an actress, who finds herself competing with Nellie), Katherine Waterston (as one of Jack's many wives), Spike Jonze (as a manic German director), a twisted Tobey Maguire (as "James McKay", a deranged and dangerous mob boss), Rory Scovel (as a cape-wearing drug dealer simply known as "The Count"),  and P. J. Byrne (as an assistant director), who has an epic meltdown involving the technical problems that went on behind the scenes during the silent to sound era that's all kinds of epic.

From large amounts of gross out situations, and chaotic visuals, "Babylon" could be too much for its own good, leaving audiences more exhausted rather than exhilarated. (I mean, it did bomb pretty hard over the Christmas weekend) With that said, it's a marvel of colorful cinematography, a pulsing score from the Oscar winning Justin Hurwitz (A frequent Damien Chazelle collaborator), some spectacular setpieces, and uncomfortable laughter, even when it should also be disturbing you. It's an ambitious ode to the magic of cinema, reveling in the behind the scenes mayhem that still somehow finds a way to focus on the beauty of it all. It's almost like a very flawed masterpiece in a way. 3 stars. Rated R For.....Ohhhhh Boy. What Isn't It Rated R For? Sex, Drugs, Nudity All Around, Elephant Sh*t, Fluids Galore, Tobey Maguire's Rotting Teeth. It's Got It All! 

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish                    by James Eagan                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "2%....Most delicious!"

The impact that "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" has had on the animation industry is really starting to show now more than ever, and it looks like that "DreamWorks Animation" (Along with earlier this year's "The Bad Guys") has embraced that impact. Whatever it is that's decided this new method to their filmmaking, I hope that they continue it. That kind of creativity, artistry, and love may not have the appreciation of a lot of studio higher ups, corporate board members, or even the Academy itself, but for movie lovers like myself, I can only find myself further immersed within a completely crafted world of color and beauty, whether it be about a talking puppet yearning to be a real boy or a Scottish green ogre and his talking ass, roaming the lands of fairy tales. 

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" reunites us with that titular, furry, swashbuckling, leche-loving hero, "Puss in Boots" (Antonio Banderas), as he continues to live dangerously, repeatedly putting himself in adventurous peril. However, after an epic fight with a giant, Puss is crushed under a bell, resulting in the loss of his eighth life. Now that he's on his final life, Puss is recommended to swear off adventuring and retire, and after a confrontation with an especially big and bad "Wolf" (Wagner Moura), Puss decides that it really is time to hang up his boots, hat, and cape. Now living in retirement in the home of a crazy cat lady, "Mama Luna" (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) and her literal piles of cats, where he is befriended (Against his will) by a disguised therapy dog he nicknames "Perrito" (Harvey Guillén), slowly becoming a scruffy, former shell of his once brave and legendary self. 

After an attack from the wannabe notorious crime family, "Goldilocks" (Florence Pugh), "Mama Bear" (Olivia Colman), "Papa Bear" (Ray Winstone), and "Baby Bear" (Samson Kayo), Puss learns of the existence of the fabled "Wishing Star", which he hopes can return him the rest of his lost lives. Puss sets out to steal a magical map to the star from the now not so little (And totally evil beyond reason), "Big Jack Horner" (John Mulaney), crossing paths with his former flame, "Kitty Softpaws" (Salma Hayek). Puss and Kitty now have to partner back up once more, with Perrito coming along, to find the wishing star within the always changing dark forest, avoiding Goldilocks and the three bears, Jack Horner and his army of bakers, and that menacing wolf, who really has it out for Puss in a more personal sense. 

Spinning off from the "Shrek" franchise, 2011's "Puss in Boots" was a smart, funny, underrated family film that had the makings of its own spanning franchise, and after years of development Hell, it's a thing of pure wonder to finally see "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" finally come to fruition. Directed by animator Joel Crawford ("Croods: A New Age"), with a screenplay by Paul Fisher ("The LEGO Ninjago Movie") and Tommy Swerdlow ("The Grinch"), the film is a sequel, though remains standalone to a degree, thanks in part to how much different the animation is this time around. Diverting away from the more detailed, realistic and whimsical style of the previous films, this one goes for a more stylized, painted look that feels like it's been ripped straight out of a classic fairy tale illustration (Or a comic book even). This results in all kinds of colorful chaos and vibrant visuals, coming to gorgeous life in wonderfully crafted action sequences and just brings this world more to life than what we've seen before. The animation just explodes off the screen with such infectious energy, like a fantastical roller coaster. Thankfully though, it's never really a frenetic film, knowing when it's time to settle down and tell its story, which is also brilliantly told. It knows when something needs to be conveyed to the audience via dialogue or just visually, with loads of big laughs coming from the visual gags, as well as the character interactions. (Not to mention a darkly hysterical death montage)

Antonio Banderas still brings this lovable character to expressive life in a way that I just can't ever see anyone else imitating. Smooth and full of charisma, Banderas also brings a certain unexpected sense of mortality to the character, which heavily plays into the themes of the story. His chemistry with an equally terrific Salma Hayek is outstanding once again, along with the welcome addition of an adorably naive Harvey Guillén. The film also incorporates a collection of pretty memorable villains, each with their own goals, with an excellent Florence Pugh (Having a total ball) and Samson Kayo, along with some delightful work from Olivia Colman and Ray Winstone (Always warms my heart to have such great actors just throw themselves into what could be just goofy characters, adding some extra depth and gravitas along the way). John Mulaney is hilariously vile beyond belief (A running gag involving a connection to another old story leads to some of the film's funniest gags), and Wagner Moura makes for a terrifying presence that might just give both kids and adults some nightmares. 

Something easily could have been a cash grab, "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" boasts miraculous visuals and animation, with hilarity for the entire family to enjoy, unforgettable characters, a sweeping score, and a lot of heart, along with a message of coming to terms with our inevitable fates in a shockingly mature and thoughtful manner. (Who knew that this and "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" would be two of this year's most existential films?) Possibly the best entry in the "Shrek" series yet, making for one of 2022's best films. Animated or otherwise. It's literally the best thing you and the rest of the family could see this Christmas, and is sure to become a future classic. El gato es magnífico! 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Adult Humor, Surprisingly Scary Images, Magic Abuse, And Haunting Whistling.