In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): House of Gucci, Encanto, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, King Richard, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Home Sweet Home Alone, Belfast, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Spencer, Eternals, My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission, Last Night in Soho, The French Dispatch, Ron's Gone Wrong, Dune, The Last Duel, Halloween Kills, No Time to Die
Coming Soon: West Side Story, Don't Look Up, Spider-Man 3, Nightmare Alley, The Matrix 4, Sing 2, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The 355, Hotel Transylvania 4, Scream 5, Morbius
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
House of Gucci by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Wassa' Matta' For me!!! Wassa Matta for you!!!"
This Thanksgiving week has been a bit of a rough one. Nothing bad's happened and in fact, it was all around pretty nice (After 2020, just being able to see people around the holidays feels like a novelty now). I've also had a lot of working to do, school stuff, exams, essays, loads of movies to see at late times, and the urge to pass out, so I'm kind of having to just dump all of these movie reviews at once. (And I'm not even going to get into all the other award hopefuls that none of you are going to see without me repeatedly pestering you about) Busy guy right here, but I let myself get distracted, even if I have to toss in a few reviews all at once.
Inspired-ish by true events, "House of Gucci" follows "Patrizia Reggiani" (Lady Gaga), as she meets and falls in love with "Maurizio Gucci" (Adam Driver), the heir to the immensely wealthy luxury fashion house, which is called as you would expect, "Gucci". Maurizio's father, "Rodolfo Gucci" (Jeremy Irons), doesn't approve of his son's intent to marry Patrizia, cutting him off from all financial ties. Patrizia and Maurizio are married, have a baby, and form relationships with others in the Gucci family, such as Maurizio's uncle, "Aldo" (Al Pacino) and the buffoonish "Paolo" (Jared Leto). After some time, Rodolfo starts to fall in health, and makes amends with Maurizio before his death, leaving his estate to his son, along with his role as a major stockholder in the Gucci business. Patrizia's ambitions start to grow, integrating her own ideas into the family business, which Maurizio complies to, though they soon find themselves at a disagreement with Aldo. Through some skillful manipulation and Paolo's stupidity, Patrizia and Maurizio are able to push Aldo out, eventually though, causing more friction to fragile business affairs. Things get more complicated and shady, with Patrizia and Maurizio's relationship crumbling, along with lies, deception, betrayals, and some good old fashioned murder, all about to come to a head.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Who just released "The Last Duel" a few months ago), with a screenplay by Becky Johnston ("The Prince of Tides"), "House of Gucci" is more based on the book, "The House of Gucci: A Sensual Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed" by Sara Gray Forden, and as you can tell, has the making for something very fascinating. It's a crazy story, and knowing the fact that a lot of it actually happened, only makes it more delightfully bonkers. The film isn't without that wild sense of glamorously exquisite insanity, though it's hard to tell what's meant to be campy and what isn't. The film suffers from a lot of odd tonal shifts, which don't always feel intentional. Trying to figure out a film's tone for almost three hours is not exactly the way that one should want to spend Thanksgiving at 11:35 at night. The film gives off a bit of a silly, soap opera-ish feel, and while I'm sure that the real life story lends itself to such a thing, a bit more of a balance would be nice. As for Ridley Scott's eye for direction, the film looks great and certainly luxurious, with a certain scummy sensation in the center. The dialogue can be a bit more hit and miss, with a few lets just say, awkward lines (Mostly from Jared Leto. More on that wackiness later).
The final product may be inconsistent, but one thing that's certainly deserving of acclaim is Lady Gaga, who shows off just how much range she can have as an actress (Comparing this to her Oscar nominated role in "A Star Is Born", and they couldn't be any more different). Even with the accent (Which really just is what it is), she mercilessly grabs your attention, showing to be a figure that's both terrifying, halfway respectable, and even a little sympathetic at times. (When it comes down to it, she was probably the smartest person in the entire family) She has some good chemistry with Adam Driver, who also plays spineless very well. Al Pacino does his best Al Pacino, while Jeremy Irons doesn't even bother with an accent, though he's so refined and regal that you don't really mind. Salma Hayek (as "Giuseppina Auriemma", a psychic that Patrizia seeks for guidance, and apparently contributed to the later infamous murder. Seriously!) doesn't appear much, though still does a fine job and seems to be having fun. Then we get to the big man himself, Jared Leto. I feel that this role is unintentionally an insane trip down into this madman's psyche, where his character sees himself as brilliant and underappreciated, though repeatedly does weird, idiotic stuff, which nobody even asked him to do. Under the admittedly impressive makeup job, Leto is basically wearing the Italian form of blackface, channeling a bizarre Italian stereotype, that's certainly entertaining to watch. (The Academy should in all honestly consider a new category for "Most WTF Performance" of the year. Let's just say that it makes you think they should reconsider that Chris Pratt's "Super Mario" casting for completely different reasons now)
"House of Gucci" is a lot of fun, but not in the most elegant of ways. For what it is, it's an entertainingly goofy look into the greed and sensationalism that comes with far too much money and hubris. It's also a bit too long, too tonally varying, and just lacks that extra final polish to be something more worthy of awards season. It still features some spectacularly memorable performances from Lady Gaga and Jared Leto (Though for him, it's for a completely different reason), and could make for a good time if you were to see it in the middle of the afternoon. I don't recommend it any later than that though. It's one of those long, not so great movies that sure can take a lot out of you. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Irresponsible Italians, And Jared Leto's Puzzling Chocolate And Sh*t Analogy. Possibly The Strangest Thing I've Ever Seen Come Out Of A Man's Mouth, And I Live In Austin, Texas.
Encanto by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Mucho Gusto.
By this point in a way, it could seem almost like an insult to leave yet another Disney animated musical saying to yourself "Another day, another Disney classic"......but yeah, another day, another Disney classic. What can I really say anymore? When they get it right, they create real magic. It's their gift.
In Walt Disney Pictures' sixtieth animated feature, "Encanto" follows the "Madrigal" family, who reside in a living, magical house referred to as "Casita", which has also bestowed upon the family unique abilities (Or "Gifts"). With "Abuela Alma" (María Cecilia Botero) as the head matriarch, the family consists of a wide variety of colorful characters, such as our lovable (Though ungifted) heroine, "Mirabel" (Stephanie Beatriz), along with her parents, "Agustin" (Wilmer Valderrama) and "Julieta" (Angie Cepeda), who can heal people with food, and two sisters, the super strong "Luisa" (Jessica Darrow) and the seemingly always perfect "Isabela" (Diane Guerrero), with the power to make flowers bloom. There's also Mirabel's uncle, "Félix" (Mauro Castillo) and her aunt "Pepa" (Carolina Gaitán), whose emotions control the weather, along her cousins, the shapeshifting "Camilo" (Rhenzy Feliz), "Dolores" (Adassa) who has super hearing that can hear everything, and "Antonio" (Ravi-Cabot Conyers), who is being prepped for the Casita to present him with his gift (The ability to communicate with animals).
There's also the mysterious, black sheep of the family, "Bruno" (John Leguizamo), who had the ability to see the future and went completely insane one day before vanishing (They don't talk about Bruno). Mirabel continuously feels out of place, compared to the amazing things the rest of her family can do, not just for each other but also for the rest of the community. However, Mirabel starts to notice strange cracks within the house, similar to what Uncle Bruno had seen before his disappearance. When nobody else believes her (Or in some cases, doesn't want to believe her), Maribel sets out to solve the mystery behind what could possibly be causing the magic to die, along with discovering how someone seemingly not to special can do to save it.
Directed by Byron Howard and Jared Bush ("Zootopia"), with a co-directing credit to Charise Castro Smith, along with a screenplay by both Bush and Smith, "Encanto" doesn't adhere to the Disney traditional formula. It's a musical and it's plenty magical, but there's a lot of the trademarks of what we've come to expect from the usual Disney fare. There's no princess. No villain. No big stakes. Nothing really fairy tale-esque either. The movie looks like it would follow those tropes, but at its heart, it's a family conflict. It's a family oriented story, that just so happens to have whimsical elements. It's very slice of life, where some characters just so happen to have magical superpowers. Similar to Pixar's "Luca", it's not about how grand it is. What makes the film special is how much it's able to resonate with any kind of possible group of moviegoers out there, thanks to it's memorable characters, stunning animation, amazing songs, and messages that the entire family can learn from. Even though the film never leaves its one simple location, the lush looking animation is full of colorful life, with each character large or small, getting to shine when necessary. They have so much personality even when they aren't speaking, while the setting itself feels like it could be a real place that you find yourself just lost in.
The variety of music and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Who also contributed to the story because the man is constantly working, apparently), are wondrous and showstopping. Not a single song is too similar to one another, and each serve a purpose, getting across the right emotions, matching when the animators decide to cut loose, and are just plain loads of fun to watch. It's the kind of soundtrack though where you wanna get it for the musical numbers, but also just to appreciate the film's rather soothing score. It's as if Disney can't resist finding new and inventive ways to create the kind of music you feel the urge to listen to simply on its own.
The film features an unforgettable cast of characters, with Stephanie Beatriz being what carries the film as our easy to identify with heroine. She's funny, charming, endearing, and never wallows in her own problems, even though her situation is very reasonable. It's also cool to see a Disney lead who has to take charge of a conflict completely on her own, though never at the expense of the rest of the cast. John Leguizamo is a scene-stealer, getting some of the film's funniest moments, while his character animation straight up emulates Leguizamo's mannerisms in a delightfully spirited fashion. Lots of the characters have more to them than they at first expect, with María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, and Jessica Darrow being particular standouts. And of course, Disney's new good luck charm, Alan Tudyk gets to appear in some capacity (This time providing um, toucan noises for a toucan named "Pico"). It's a rather diverse cast of characters, right down to the variety of skin tones, which is something that even a lot of our live-action films tend to struggle to allow for.
Sometimes you don't have to go big to create a real winner for the whole family. "Encanto" is small scale, but filled with everything we already know that Disney has proven time and time again to do wonderfully. It's not so much surprising that it's another great addition to the always growing Disney canon. What's different this time is what the film seemingly does with so little. It has such a timeless feel that it can feel relevant at any time, with any audience, no matter the age. The Disney magic is more subtle this time, yet nonetheless something to bring the family together during the holidays in the most positive way possible. Disney owns our hearts and souls, and we've handed them over willingly. We'll certainly do it again the next time too. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Familial Dysfunction, Though Plenty Wholesome Stuff Overall.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City by James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Mother Licker!
Guess what guys? I'm one of you now! I've finally started playing through the "Resident Evil" video games! Well, I played the second and third game remakes (With the second probably being one of my all time favorites), still currently going through "Resident Evil 4", watched a whole bunch of cutscenes from some of the more secondary games, and played some of the original classic.....before I found myself completely lost, screwing myself over on the collecting of certain items, and I would have had to do so much backtracking that I just went and watched a playthrough of it. I dig the franchise though. A lot. Good action/horror is hard to find, and the less said about what Paul W.S. Anderson did to the franchise, the better.
A hybrid amalgamation of the first two games (Along with a few other aspects sprinkled on top), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" follows "Claire Redfield" (Kaya Scodelario), as she returns to the now doomed "Raccoon City", the soon to be former home of operations for the totally not villainous pharmaceutical giant, "The Umbrella Corporation", headed by the questionable scientist, "Dr. William Birkin" (Neal McDonough). Claire has always known something wasn't right about what Umbrella has been doing over the years, though her brother, "Chris" (Robbie Amell), has never believed her. However, it becomes apparent that Claire was right all along, as Umbrella's years of experimentation on the town have resulted in a zombie outbreak, and now she's caught in the middle of it. Meanwhile, Raccoon City's special tactics group, "STARS", consisting of Chris, "Jill Valentine" (Hannah John-Kamen), "Albert Wesker" (Tom Hopper), and some redshirts, are sent to investigate the infamous "Spencer Mansion", where little do they know, sh*t is about to go down and Umbrella's secrets are just waiting to be let out. Also meanwhile, the Raccoon Police Department is left mostly unguarded, with the exception of rookie cop, "Leon S. Kennedy" (Avan Jogia), and da chief, "Brian Irons" (Donal Logue), who are now trapped as the zombies start to overtake the entire town. Claire makes her way to the police department, where she and Leon try to find a way to the mansion to find her brother, before Umbrella takes it upon themselves to cover up what they've done by leveling what's left of Raccoon City.
Written and directed by Johannes Roberts ("47 Meters Down"), "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" is by far the best of the live-action "Resident Evil" films, completely rebooting it from the ground up, and instead focusing on doing something that actually resembles the game it's meant to be adapting. It's still not very good, but hey, they listened. Then again, they didn't exactly listen in a good way. To get some positive thoughts out of the way, the film seems to have the right idea, toying with the late 90s setting as it straight up goes for late 90s action/horror B movie vibe, complete with a grimy look. Johannes Roberts is one of those guys who I feel is trying to have his own sense of stylistic flair, even when the budget is clearly not up to par. It's a cool looking movie when it comes to the set design, which look exactly like the locations from the game. (The mansion and the police department feel as if they just popped to life on the big screen) Not to mention, loads of references that range from annoyingly Easter Eggy to actually pretty cleverly woven into the story in some capacity (There's a rather great creepy moment where Claire and Leon discover old film footage involving the "Ashford" twins, which is an almost shot for shot recreation of that sequence from one of the games) I'm really glad I've been going through this series because it made really appreciate all of the genuine attention to detail. There's also a couple fun sequences of dark humor, especially when it comes to some of the amusing music cues (A burning man walking into the police station while "Crush" by Jennifer Paige is playing in the background is actually a pretty memorable little moment) and some cool creature appearances (The grotesque "Lickers" are just as terrifying here as they were in "Resident Evil 2")
The film sadly falls apart in a lot of other places, and those end up being the places that matter. The plot structure is all jumbled, trying to throw in whatever it can despite it either not making a whole lot of sense or just not having the budget necessary to do what the games have the capabilities of doing. It's funny how the film seems to have a 90s aesthetic considering how the special effects look like something that would have been considered bad even by 90s movie standards (The CGI feels even more poorly rendered than what you'd see in one of the older games). The dialogue is also subpar, lacking the character and personality that elevate the games past its sillier aspects (Plus some rather cheesy name drops, where every single character is addressed by their full name when they walk into the film). On the bright side, it's about as gory and over the top as the games, just lacking in the fun. The hard work thrown into the details of how the game looks and feels are to be commended, but its at the expense of what actually makes for a good movie.
There are quite a few solid casting choices, such as Kaya Scodelario, getting the character's tough personality down right (And is probably the only character to actually give a crap about). Hannah John-Kamen isn't a bad choice, though she doesn't get much of a role, while Neal McDonough gets to ham it up as our villain and Donal Logue is actually an excellent choice for his character (Sadly, his role gets cut nearly by 75%). Robbie Amell is pretty milquetoast (Then again, so is Chris. So there's that. Send your hate mail), while Avan Jogia gets turned into a complete and utter moron. Tom Hopper is by far the worst casting choice, with the film trying to give the fan favorite villain some extra backstory, but it all falls flat due to how little screen presence he has (They completely butcher this character). Some characters like "Lisa Trevor" (Played by Marina Mazepa), a deformed girl experimented on by Umbrella, get a little extra depth, though most of the rest of the important players from the games get either cut out completely or serve no purpose (They did "Sherry" wrong!).
"Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" has the fanservice and some potential in parts, making for something that could be halfway enjoyable with the right audience. However, the last fifteen to twenty minutes are absolute garbage, rushing to a quick, almost nonexistent climax, and featuring one of the worst Post Credits scenes I've ever seen. It's rather half-assed, and it's like the filmmakers just ran out of time (And money) to make it work. It feels like there could have been a way to make this all work, though what you've got imagined in your head is probably much better (Plus, if you've already played the games, you already know there's a better version). It's more itchy than tasty. 2 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Gore, Zombie Violence, Random F-Bombs, And A Jill Sandwich.
King Richard by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: And 44 combined Major Championships later....
For a biopic such as this, you need to come to an early understanding of a few things. As usual, something is going to be left out. In fact, a lot is likely going to be left out for the sake of drama or just for the sake of the inspiration the story has generated. Nobody should be surprised anymore and if the real people involved are okay with it, none of us have any actual stake in it. This is the story they wanted told, and it all comes down to how well its brought to screen.
"King Richard" follows the life of "Richard Williams" (Will Smith), the father of "Venus" (Saniyya Sidney) and "Serena" (Demi Singleton). Richard is determined to ensure Venus and Serena's tennis success by any means, though it all has to go according to the plan that he's laid out, even if it doesn't always make complete sense. (Or really any sense at all actually) After some coaching from tennis expert, "Paul Cohen" (Tony Goldwyn), Venus already shows signs of promise in the Juniors Circuit, before Richard signs up both daughters with another coach, "Rick Macci" (Jon Bernthal), before taking his entire family to Florida. However, Richard insists that his way is the way to go, even though it goes against what every expert would say, but against all odds, Venus and Serena prove to be the superstars that Richard somehow always knew they were destined to be.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green ("Monsters and Men"), with a screenplay by Zach Baylin, "King Richard" leaves out some details, as to be expected, but wisely makes up for it in other ways. First off, it embraces the themes and trademarks of the standard sports biographical drama, while also competently avoiding some of the genre's pratfalls or just simply remembering why the average audience is generally willing to forgive them. Green's direction is slick and well paced, never dragging, and always keeping itself focused on the subject at the center. It's Richard Williams' story through and through, but there's always something else going on and the film balances these various moments in their lives in a way that feels naturally cinematic, without feeling the need to overdramatize things. It's a story, that spans over a good amount of time, which could be easily made into just another corny, Oscar-baity crowdpleaser. (Far too often these kinds of movies end up doing more of a disservice to the subjects at hand, instead of actually telling their story) It's all edited so well, keeping the pace moving, with a screenplay that keeps the film from going too far. There's drama, humor, character, and even a little sports action, which is all explained in a way that a complete sports idiot like myself can thoroughly understand.
Obviously one of the selling points is Will Smith, who is just as phenomenal as others have been saying. In fact, it's almost frighteningly uncanny just how much he captures the real Richard Williams' look, voice, and subtle mannerisms. However, it never feels as if he's just copying a real life person. It's a truly transformative performance that reels you in and demands to retain your attention. Equally wonderful are Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton, who feel like natural teens, while Aunjanue Ellis is a total powerhouse (She gives Richard a rather epic humbling moment partway through). There are also some excellent supporting parts from Tony Goldwyn (Who you can really feel the frustration for) and a scene-stealing Jon Bernthal (And his award worthy mustache).
"King Richard" intentionally leaves out a few details that hold it back from reaching top tier greatness, though it's not to say that the film doesn't occasionally find its way to at least emulating such a standard. It's still an inspiring, touching story that can be related to anyone of any demographic, with memorable performances worthy of award season, and slick, pitch perfection direction, that knows how to appeal to an audience looking to cheer, without going for schmaltz. A family drama that definitely has a place among lists of movies to take your kids to during the holidays. Everyone's gonna get something out of it in the end. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Drama And Poor Sportsmanship.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Mother Puss Bucket!"
We can all agree to be civil about this one right? The last time we talked about "Ghostbusters" (With the Paul Feig's 2016 attempt at a reboot) a certain madness took over the internet. Downvoting trailers on YouTube, death threats, lots of unbridled nerd anger, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together.....Mass Hysteria! (Sorry, I had to work that reference in there somewhere). So let me address to the true fans who have just been clamoring for a proper continuation that you're gonna get much of what you wanted. Let me address to the sexist dudebros that there are in fact penises in this movie, so don't you worry about that. And to also address to those just looking for a fun family movie night this weekend, yyyyeah, this actually works better for you guys than anyone else.
Decades after the previous two films, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" follows the young and socially awkward "Phoebe" (Mckenna Grace), as she, along with her single mother, "Callie" (Carrie Coon) and brother, "Trevor" (Finn Wolfhard), are evicted from their home, with nothing else to their name aside from a small, run down farmhouse located just outside of a rural town in Oklahoma, that was left behind by their mysterious, recently deceased grandfather. The town is very simple, where nothing appears to ever be happening, with the exception of the occasional random (And somewhat questionable) earthquake. Phoebe decides to do some investigating around, discovering some of his grandfather's secrets, such as a certain car with a ghost logo, a mechanical trap with something otherworldly contained inside, and some familiar looking proton packs. Teaming up with her new school buddy, "Podcast" (Logan Kim) and their fanboy teacher, "Gary Grooberson" (Paul Rudd), Phoebe discovers that her grandfather was in fact a "Ghostbuster". Our new heroes also learn that the earthquakes, as well as other strange occurrences are all connected to a terrifying apocalyptic event decades in the making just ready to unleash literal Hell on Earth. With the threat of ghosts, demonic terror dogs, and a certain familiar ancient evil, all ready to put an end to the world of the living, these new Ghostbusters must step up to the challenge, prove that they ain't afraid of no ghosts, and save the world. All good stuff.
Directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno", "Up in the Air", "Tully"), the son of previous "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" is a legacy film of sorts, with a lot to live up to, and lots of ready to pounce fans ready to attack if things go remotely wrong. (I mean, I grew up with the original too and regularly quote it, but not all of us nerdy fanboys need to be dicks about it) The film has its flaws and seems to intentionally fall short of greatness towards the end, but nonetheless remains a cleverly done, fast, funny, and all around heartwarming smaller scale adventure that can really just appeal to anyone. For any gender, age, or movie preference, there's something that can appeal to a general audience regardless. That's something the film does rather brilliantly. It's never too adult, but with just enough of an edge so that the entire family can have a good time. The film starts off incredibly strong, easing the audience into the already established franchise by exploring it through fresh eyes. The references are kept to a minimal, the new characters are all endearing, and the atmosphere only builds. The screenplay by Reitman and Gil Kenan ("Monster House") is fast and smart when it comes to its humor, but sincere and calm when it comes to its drama. Its a slow, but charming buildup that works more than it doesn't, though some later issues become more apparent in the third act. The quieter story seems to go for broke when he reach the near hour and a half portion, delivering loads of fan service and easter eggs, resulting in a chaotic and slightly rushed finale. A lot happens over the course of twenty or thirty minutes, with a lot of it being difficult to process. We get some creatures from the first film making appearances, our big bad revealed, some familiar plot points getting rehashed, a random character actor cameo, and it culminates in an explosive, CGI heavy climax. The essentially starts off as "The Force Awakens" (Introducing the new, while also honoring the classics), before taking a dive into becoming "The Rise of Skywalker" (Just giving the audience what they want, even if it doesn't always add up simply because the fans need to be made happy) It's not to say that there still isn't plenty to enjoy, because there certainly is. The effects are better than solid, with plenty of good laughs, and our obvious last second cameos that I'm sure all the fans have been dreaming of for years. You kind of have to take the good and great, with the mostly meh.
The cast is utterly fantastic however. Mckenna Grace is just a talented little actress, and I'm continuously amazed by her wide range of roles, along with how convincing she always is no matter what it is. Finn Wolfhard gets to snark it up, while Logan Kim's overly excitable attitude is instantly lovable. Celeste O'Connor (as "Lucky", Trevor's crush and the fourth member of the group), gets the smaller part, though still gets just enough time to prove herself as part of the new team. Paul Rudd is of course charming as Hell, and has some better than necessary chemistry with Carrie Coon (Both of which appear to be loving the entire experience). As for the ghosts and monsters, they're fine and look cool. However, I'd say something the reboot had over this one was more originality and creativity when it came to its creatures. (Although a sequence involving homicidal/suicidal mini-Stay Puff Marshmallow Men is quite hilarious). And yes, the cameos from returning franchise cast members (I don't think I even have to mention them by name), are a delight for sure, yet also rather sincere, even if their inclusion feels a bit last second.
While it eventually descends into nostalgic appeasement and slight pandering (You know, the climax really is just "The Rise of Skywalker" with Ghostbusters), "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" offers plenty of likability, wit, and family friendly wonderment throughout, even if it falls short of greatness almost purposefully. The film clearly means something special to the filmmakers and it's most apparent once we reach a certain major, rather impressively done reveal. Is it cloying and maybe a little manipulative? Sure, but it still feels genuine. It's so heartwarming and sweet that I'd have to be a complete dick to not give this a positive review. The film is just fun, and the perfect time for longtime fans, while also bringing in a few new younger ones. It's "Ghostbusters." Whaddaya want? 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Humor, Scary Images, And The Brief Splitting Of Human Flesh. Not To Mention All That Marshmallow Carnage. Still Pretty Tame Stuff For The Kids Though.
Home Sweet Home Alone by James Eagan No Stars out of ★★★★
Image: Kyle Rittenhouse prepares to take the law into his own hands.
I haven't the slightest idea what in the name of the good grace of God was the plan here. Remake? Sequel? Reboot? Reinvention? Desecration? How about an obliteration of the goodness that's meant to come out of the holiday season in some kind of desperate attempt to make a little extra money off of a beloved property? I'm not mad here. I didn't pay for this, and who can mad at film studios trying to make money like they always do? It's just that this one is fascinatingly vile.
A continuation of sorts of the modern Christmas classic "Home Alone" that nobody in the world wanted, "Home Sweet Home Alone" follows a selfish little sh*t, "Max Mercer" (Archie Yates), who is frustrated that his really worn out mother, "Carol" (Aisling Bea), has invited the whole family over for Christmas. While taking a contrived stop at the house of financial struggling parents, "Jeff" (Rob Delaney) and "Pam" (Ellie Kemper), Max is believed to have stolen a hideous, though rather valuable doll from the couple. As usual, the Mercer family departs, accidentally leaving Max home alone for the holiday. Meanwhile, Jeff and Pam plan to break into the Mercer residence to take back the doll, not knowing that Max is preparing to fortify his house into a weaponized stronghold. I actually simplified a bit of this plot, because most of that doesn't happen until almost an hour in. Just know you need to keep your kids away from this one, and just plain avoid it yourself. For the sake of my love of critiquing terrible movies (And the fact that it's actually been a while since I've seen one this bad. Like several months), let me delve more into what's wrong here.
Directed, a term I use loosely, by Dan Mazer ("Dirty Grandpa"), with what's listed as a screenplay by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell (Both having written for "Saturday Night Live), "Home Sweet Home Alone" is a movie that only has the wrong ideas on its mind, somehow gets all of those ideas wrong, and just plain all around feels wrong in every sense of the word. Released through "Disney+" (Although the film is quick to show off that "20th Century Studios" logo so that they can take the blame for it), the film is hard to decipher. The already spontaneously cobbled together plot makes less sense the more one thinks about it, and the main selling (Being the various improvised and fairly deadly traps our lead uses to fend off the burglars) doesn't actually come into play until nearly an hour in. What happens first involves some poor excuses for comedy, lazy attempts at holiday time whimsy, and a lot of surprise cruelty. The lack of anything remotely funny is bad enough as it is, but most of the characters, ranging from grotesquely moronic to obnoxiously mean spirited, only make the hour and a half long runtime feel like an eternity. Obviously the humor and heart of the original is nowhere to be found, and it even lacks the basic repeated premise of the sequels. (There were like four of them)
Archie Yates (Who was previously quite the scene-stealer in "Jojo Rabbit"), is thoroughly detestable and bratty, despite the apparent film not seeming to realize it. Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper are trying and tragically failing at every chance to get something funny out of their roles, coming across as more sympathetic that our actual main character (Though their relentless stupidity make them almost as deplorable). The film features plenty of funny people, such as Chris Parnell (as "Uncle Stu", Max's uncle who gets like two or three lines), Andy Daly (as "Mike", Max's father, who I think only gets like one line), and Kenan Thompson (as "Gavin", Jeff and Pam's real estate agent, who just looks like he's in an insane asylum), getting nothing funny to do. The closest connection this film has to the original "Home Alone" is the very, very brief appearance from Devin Ratray (as "Buzz McCallister", who has become a cop, and a rather incompetent one at that), and even then, it feels tacked on. I also just feel bad for Aisling Bea, who just looks so sad every time she's on screen.
With full direction, insultingly basic traps and gags, and a predictable last second reveal that makes the whole ordeal even more pointless than it already is, "Home Sweet Home Alone" is the kind of Hell that you can't look away from. No jokes work. No actor can save it. Scenes don't go anywhere. Nothing adds up. Nothing comes together. It's a rare film where anything and everything falls flat on its face, though in a way that almost needs to be seen to be truly believed. It's not just the worst movie I've seen all year. It's gotta be the worst movie I've seen in at least three or four years. To call it an early lump of coal in one's Christmas stocking would be both unoriginal and an insult to the constructive things one could do with coal. It's more as if Santa just left you a massive dump in the stocking instead. You're too befuddled to even get upset, and you're not sure what you did you deserve it. No Stars. Rated PG For Unpleasant Children, Unpleasant Adults, And All Around Unpleasantness. Christmas is cancelled!
Belfast by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Wow, this movie we're in is amazing!"
This has been described by Kenneth Branagh himself as his "Most personal film", and it really didn't hit me until the end as to why. It's actually quite obvious when you get down to it, and it puts a whole new perspective on every single frame of the film's bittersweet, semi-storybook like appeal. Not to mention, it's already a wonderfully, beautiful, and warm natured little film as it is.
Taking place in the real life place of the same name, "Belfast" follows the childhood of a young Protestant boy, "Buddy" (Jude Hill), during the middle of the Norther Ireland Conflict (Or "The Troubles"), who lives with his brother, "Will" (Lewis McAskie), and their parents, simply referred to as "Ma" (Caitríona Balfe) and "Pa" (Jamie Dornan). Tensions between Catholics and Protestants are growing, while we follow Buddy as he navigates a few awkward moments in his life, such as his crush on one of his classmates, "Catherine" (Olive Tennant), the urging of his more troublemaking cousin, "Moira" (Lara McDonnell), to join a gang that she's a part of, and his loving relationship with his grandparents, simply referred to as "Granny" (Judi Dench) and "Pop" (Ciarán Hinds). Current events though start to make their way home, with Pa, who is always away on work, starting to worry about the progressively deteriorating situation, only worsened by the threatening demands of a Protestant unionist, "Billy Clanton" (Colin Morgan), forcing people to either contribute through payments or by joining in the chaos. (He's basically turning everyone into wannabe terrorists) Pa wants to get his family out of Belfast, though Ma can't even imagine leaving a place that she and her family have lived their entire lives. Buddy, who is only a spectator in these events, soon realizes that the world he knows is about to change, whether or not he's exactly prepared for it.
Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, "Belfast" is as you can tell clearly inspired in some way by his own early life, and that feeling of comforting nostalgia remains, even though you know that there's something much darker, that's mostly left offscreen. It's not the film glossing over important details. Instead, it's showing us how life was like during this difficult, rather twisted time, through the eyes of pure innocence. Even if you don't know anything about what's really going on (Honestly, I really didn't know all that much in detail), anybody from anywhere can relate to at one point in their youth. You don't have to know what's going on to know that it's something serious. Branagh takes a more unique approach to the subject, filling the film with intentionally misplaced child-like whimsy, simple slice of life storytelling, and most shockingly, a lot of humor. It's actually a pretty funny at times, with charming characters and witty dialogue that are meant to put a happy mask over the situation. It's never cloying in that regard, taking a simplified route, but also never in the slight way. The decision to be presented in black and white only enhances that, giving off a classical feel (Though moments of color seep through at rather fascinating moments. I don't even know why, though it's certainly aesthetically appealing). You're lulled by the sense of wonder, which instead of focusing on the bad at hand, you're able to see the odd beauty that many of the characters see, along with why many of them would rather stick it out and stay in spite of the violent times.
The film features a remarkable cast, with an outstanding Jude Hill, carrying the film through his winning smile and impossible not to love attitude. This kid amazingly can carry this film, even though it's also got several other top notch performances. Caitríona Balfe and Jamie Dornan have winning chemistry, making for one of this year's best onscreen duos. You totally get where each of their perspectives are coming from, and sympathize with the fear of what will be lost whether or not they actually leave their little hometown. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are also both worthy of recognition, providing emotional sincere supporting roles (While I can't say I cried at all during the film, there is a rather moving, yet still humorous exchange involving Ciarán Hinds, that honestly got me a little choked up. Maybe it's because I remember having conversations like this with my own grandpa). Colin Morgan does an excellent job playing the kind of would-be gangster that you fear ever getting into a position of power, while Jude Hill's mini-subplot with Olive Tennant is just too precious not to love. There are also rather brief roles that each result in something memorable. You don't know everybody's name, but you feel like you know the character personally once their part is done, which really brings the setting to cinematic life.
"Belfast" is a film about finding some light in the darkest of times, hanging onto the way one's always been living, but also being forced to accept upcoming changes. The film can be soft, sweet, and simple, or more grandiose, before possibly getting into a heavier area, though remains tonally consistent all the way through. This is best shown through a variety of sequences, such as a terrific sequence involving Jamie Dornan belting out "Everlasting Love", a quiet moment involving Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds recounting their youth, and an incredibly intense standoff in the midst of a violent riot. The film may not appear to say much, but it hits you in unanticipated ways. One of the best films of the year, and one of the most thoughtful in recent memory. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Emotional Material And Lots Of Thick Irish Accents.
Clifford the Big Red Dog by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I don't think there's a ShamWow big enough to clean that up."
With this and "Paw Patrol: The Movie", I refuse to believe that I live in a world where I'm either semi-recommending (Or even straight up recommending it) to people in my age group. The fact that I can say one is legitimately better than the other and can go into more detail than necessary as to why, has made me realize that topics like these aren't exactly something I should bring up on a first date. Maybe the second, if we get there.
Based on the beloved books by Norman Bridwell (Along with a cartoon that ran on PBS), "Clifford the Big Red Dog" opens with "Clifford" the small red dog losing his family, only to be found by the appropriately named, "Mr. Bridwell" (John Cleese), who runs a semi-magical animal rescue center. One young girl, "Emily Elizabeth Howard" (Darby Camp), feels lonely and out of place, with her mother, "Maggie" (Sienna Guillory), going away on a business trip, leaving her to be watched over by Emily's completely incompetent uncle, "Casey" (Jack Whitehall). Emily and Casey come across Bridwell's center, where she immediately takes a shine to Clifford. The following night, Emily randomly finds Clifford in her school backpack (Did she not open that all day?), and Casey allows her to keep him for the night. Remembering Mr. Bridwell's kind words about how Clifford will grow depending on how much she loves him, Casey wakes up the next morning to find that Clifford has apparently become a miniature Kaiju, capable of all kinds of destruction. (But he's still a total sweetheart, so it's ok) Emily and Casey set out to return Clifford to Bridwell (Who has apparently vanished off the face of the Earth), while a shady genetics company "Lifegro", run by the devious "Zack Tieran" (Tony Hale), schemes to get his hands on Clifford for his own desires, while the dog himself becomes a quick sensation all over New York City.
Directed by Walt Becker ("Van Wilder", "Wild Hogs", "Old Dogs", "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip".....Yikes....), with a screenplay for some reason written by three people, "Clifford the Big Red Dog" has all the trappings of a grotesquely horrible and thoroughly insulting excuse for a kids movie, which we're used to giving so many others like it a bad name. It's a live-action and animated hybrid, with a more realistically designed CGI makeover for a beloved character, a predictable plot, and of course, a few more toilet based jokes than any of us want. These faults are still there and they still bring the movie down. However, it's either the filmmakers just bringing their A game in spite of it or maybe even a little more love and passion than we're used to, but the final product ends up becoming much better and at least, more likable than I doubt anyone expected it would be. The film actually starts out fairly strong, with a heartbreaking opening involving Clifford's loss of his family, along with a solid setup for a sweet story about a girl and her magical giant dog. Of course the film becomes more generic as it goes along, though it works well for an undemanding family audience. It gives me vibes similar to "Dora and the Lost City of Gold", where is seems semi-catering to those who grew up with the property, having a good laugh to a degree at it, while also embracing what made the source material worked in the past. I'd say that movie is a bit better than this one (It was just more clever and tried to get away from the most basic of kids movies), especially since the screenplay and story don't standout the more the film goes on. This plot doesn't make all that much sense (I'm not exactly sure how the evil corporation was planning on getting away with any of this), and the film has no intention to explaining the details. With that said though, none of this is surprising. You can never get mad at a movie for doing what its intended to, and to give director Walt Becker some credit (Again, considering his filmography), the film is well made and looks like a movie that you'd see belonging in theaters. When one compares it to all those other live-action hybrids (Like "The Smurfs", "Garfield", and all those darn Chipmunks), it's a freakin cinematic masterpiece.
Another thing that stands out about the film is Jack Whitehall, who looks very committed to the film. He gets a lot of laughs, especially with his reactions to the absurdity, while also just being really likable as well. Darby Camp is a solid young actress and does sell a lot of the film's heartwarming moments, while Izaac Wang (as "Owen", one of Emily's classmates, who has a crush on her) is quite the surprise scene-stealer. Some of the supporting cast also gives better performances than I would say a movie like this requires, such as an amusingly despicable Tony Hale, along with a few chuckles from David Alan Grier (as "Mr. Packard", an overly controlling superintendent) and Kenan Thompson (as a veterinarian, who reacts about as realistically as one logically should when meeting a giant dog of destruction, with more confusion than anything). Sienna Guillory doesn't really have a role, which is spent mostly offscreen, while John Cleese is suitably whimsical. Once you get past the mediocre (And sometimes, slightly frightening) visual effects, Clifford is a cute creation, and the movie does address the pitfalls of his massive size in a more realistic setting, which leads to more than a few genuinely funny moments. (That dog's tail will literally send someone flying)
For a movie such as this, it just has to get two things right to at least stand out in some way (And being good is not one of them), be cute and be quick. Thankfully, the film succeeds there. "Clifford the Big Red Dog" is simple, silly, and isn't without its weaker kiddie moments (Pee jokes. You gotta have em!), but also offers enough warmth and sugary sweetness to make for something good for the kids, and pleasant enough for the adults. (Although since it's available on "Paramount+" as well in theaters, I'd say that's a better place to check it out) I gave this a positive review. We really are in weird times. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For A Couple Jokes That'll Go Over The Kids' Heads, But Still Works As Something 100% Harmless.
Spencer by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Literally, a splitting image
Can we cut it out with the "Twilight" jokes now? Yeah those movies were pretty crappy, but it's almost been a decade. By this point, the only one keeping that franchise alive is your needlessly blind outrage. Not to mention, there have been much worse movies since then. I think it's time we moved on. The actors sure did, and now one of them has an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination to look forward to.
Taking place at Christmas time, "Spencer" follows "Diana, Princess of Wales, née Spencer" (Kristen Stewart), during the final days of her marriage to "Prince Charles" (Jack Farthing). Spending the holiday at the estate of "Queen Elizabeth II" (Stella Gonet), with her two boys, "William" (Jack Nielen) and "Harry" (Freddie Spry), and it is not just strained in her relationship with Charles (Due to him being a cheating pig), but with the rest of the royal family, who have instructed "Major Allistair Gregory" (Timothy Spall) to keep an eye on things.....Mostly her. Mentally and emotionally distressed, Diana struggles to retain herself, while also keeping up the oh so important appearances that the royal family demands and what's expected of her, regardless of fairness.
Directed by Pablo Larrain ("Jackie"), "Spencer" takes a fascinating real life figure, and crafts a semi-whimsical (And sort of eerie) dramatization about who she was, what she experienced, and what turmoil she kept hidden behind a much loved smile. It's not a biopic. It kind of borders on a psychological horror movie to a degree, with atmospheric imagery, and long, unnerving moments of drawn out dread, which range from artistically bombastic to fairly subtle. This is a very hard tone to balance, especially with a real person and rather heavy themes, involving topics of sexism and mental health. The screenplay by Steven Knight ("Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"), is able to keep things contained and respectful, while also incorporating Larrain's flare for the surreal and dramatic. It's not to say though that there's anything wrong with Larrain's direction. In fact, it's quite brilliant in how it remains glamorous, yet gloomy at the same time, giving the sensation that you too are trapped in a rather lovely, though crushingly controlling insane asylum (That also just so happens to have some cute corgis running around). It does somewhat feel though that this stylistic choice might be offputting to some. There are hallucinogenic moments (Such as Diana seeing an apparition of "Anne Boleyn" in random spots), that will either further distress some as intended, or just leave others completely bewildered.
Regardless of how certain audiences will react to the overall execution, nobody can logically argue with how stunning Kristen Stewart's work here is. It's a truly beautiful performance that doesn't remotely feel like someone just getting into makeup, putting on a costume, and playing a part that many will recognize. It doesn't even really feel like a performance. You don't see Kristen Stewart. You see Princess Diana. That's just her on screen, and the film wisely knows to always keep her in focus no matter what. That doesn't mean that other players don't get moments to shine. Sean Harris (as "Darren McGrady", the royal chef, serving as an emotional shoulder for Diana) and Sally Hawkins (as "Maggie", a royal dresser, who Diana has befriended) are both warm presences, while Jack Farthing is all kinds of snide. Not to mention a terrific, though really easy to hate Timothy Spall.
"Spencer" isn't something that I can see being up everyone's alley. The surrealism can be seen as a bit strange, but feels fitting in a way. It only adds to the inner dejection and in spite of it, Kristen Stewart commands the screen so well that it comes across as completely natural. Intentionally offputting, effectively heartbreaking, and in its own way, uplifting. Under the melancholy, there is something hopeful despite knowing where Princess Diana's story would later tragically conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And Emotional Abuse.
Eternals by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: I think they're a bit overdressed for spring break if you ask me.
Alright guys! It finally happened. The day we all feared. With twenty six films, a couple TV shows, and much more on the way, the perfect streak "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has enjoyed has come to an end. This is the first film to not get a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's especially noticeable when they're used to such high scores that DC fans have assumed that Disney just paid all the critics off. Although it still better than "Batman v Superman". Gotta stoke the fire just a little right there.
"Eternals" follows a group of super-powered, human-esque beings, from the planet "Olympia", who were sent to Earth thousands of years ago by the god-like "Celestial", "Arishem" (Voiced by David Kaye). These "Eternals" as they're called (I mean, it is the title of the movie after all), consist of their leader "Ajak" (Salma Hayek), along with "Sersi" (Gemma Chan) who can manipulate matter, "Ikaris" (Richard Madden) who is essentially Scottish Superman, "Kingo" (Kumail Nanjiani) the wisecracker, "Sprite" (Lia McHugh) who can make illusions though is forever trapped in a twelve year old's body, "Phastos" (Brian Tyree Henry) the inventor, "Makkari" (Lauren Ridloff) who is gifted with super speed, "Druig" (Barry Keoghan) with the power to control minds, "Gilgamesh" (Don Lee) the most physically powerful, and the warrior goddess "Thena" (Angelina Jolie). These beings have watched over humanity for centuries, and due to Arishem's orders, have never been allowed to interfere with whatever f*cked up thing that humans tend to do to each other. Instead, the Eternals' mission in life is to face off against these reptilian tentacle monsters called "Deviants", seemingly defeating the creatures at some point in history. Now after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" (The whole "Thanos" wiping out half the universe, then the "Avengers" bringing everybody back thing. No big deal), and everyone has moved on in their lives.
Former lovers Sersi and Ikaris have broken up, leaving Sersi to start a new relationship with perfectly nice guy, "Dane Whitman" (Kit Harrington), along with keeping Sprite around. However, they are attacked by new, more powerful deviants, leading to a reunion with Ikaris. It seems that the Deviants are back as part of some kind of world ending event called "The Emergence", and the Eternals only have a limited amount of time to stop it. Sersi, Ikaris, and Sprite set out to track down the other Eternals, who have all also gone in different directions (Such as Kingo becoming a Bollywood superstar, Gilgamesh taking care of an ailing Thena, Druig refusing to participate in the overly strict rules from the Celestials, etc.). While the Deviants show signs of evolution, such as the more intelligent "Kro" (Voiced by Bill Skarsgård), Sersi discovers more about Arishem's intent and the true purpose of their mission, causing a question of their very existence and their presumed role in protecting the people of Earth.
Directed (And Co-Written) by the Oscar Winning Chloé Zhao ("The Rider" and the most recent Best Picture winner "Nomadland") and based on the characters by Jack Kirby (Anyone familiar with his work shouldn't be all that surprised), "Eternals" is quite possibly the most original property to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn't always adhere to certain traditions, and takes us through ideas that only those most knowledgeable of Marvel comics lore might possibly know about. And boy, is it a lot to take in. The film is almost too much all at once, with so much story, exposition, and details to iron out, that it's so easy to get lost in all the excess. It doesn't exactly help that the film is told out of order in some places, and while other more recent comic book films (Like "The Suicide Squad" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings") did it much better, it can be a little jarring, especially when most of these non-linear moments involve important plot points that feel oddly explained at times. It can feel a little messy in spots, and it's something that tends to plague many projects with high aspirations for something more. Gripes like that prevent the film from truly reaching the greatness it seems to hope to achieve, but never dilutes what works with the film, and for what actually does work, it's certainly something special. It's rather refreshing to see that Marvel is content enough to try out some new, more bizarre tricks, and a lot of the film feels very much experimental. Anyone familiar with Chloé Zhao's work, knows that she has an eye for beautiful, somber imagery, and while the film has plenty of that, the scope and spectacle that she brings to the screen, is astounding. From the very first shot alone, you can feel her handiwork, and it's only further enhanced by the top notch visual effects. (The introduction to the Celestial, Arishem, is absolutely terrifying in IMAX. He just envelopes the entire screen, making you feel insignificant by comparison) From the terrifying creatures, to the Eternals' powers themselves, look grand, matching well with some unforgettable cinematography and imagery.
While the screenplay by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, along with Ryan and Kaz Firpo, isn't quite up to par with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (And feels very much standalone. That being a negative and a positive), it still retains that trademark and always needed sense of humor, features some at times really compelling drama, and even takes a few turns that are rather unexpected when it comes to what to expect from a modern blockbuster. Not all the characters are exactly perfect, with a few surprising revelations and even some questionable decisions that do feel human, even with the fantastical elements. Gemma Chan has proven herself to be captivating lead, while of course Angelina Jolie retains her usual star power, making for one Hell of a future favorite Marvel heroine. Some get lesser roles than others, though are all perfectly good, such as Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee, while the most humor comes from, as you would expect, a hilarious Kumail Nanjiani and a scene-stealing Harish Patel (as "Karun", Kingo's lovable manager, who tags along on the adventure). Brian Tyree Henry and Barry Keoghan are also major standouts (Being some of the most fascinating of the group, with more distinguishing character arcs), and while Richard Madden does at first appear to be the least interest character of the bunch, there are some later developments that not only make for a more notable character, but also allows him to give a deeper performance. Salma Hayek's role is much smaller, though still suitably regal, while Kit Harrington doesn't get much to do (At the moment at least) aside from be his charming self. Bill Skarsgård's voice is certainly chilling, but he's not much of a villain, and neither are the Deviants themselves. There's a reason for it, though the execution is a little on the sloppy side. As if it were an afterthought.
Perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good (And towards the end, you do somewhat feel that runtime), "Eternals" has true greatness in places, when it comes to scale, visual wonder, and an overall sense of maturity. Not everything quite comes together as perfectly as it should, despite Chloé Zhao's respectable and thoroughly earnest determination. However, while the characters aren't exactly destined to rank up with some of the MCU's best, they're still memorable. It gives off the feel of something that could resonate with people in the future, and sure, it's lower on my MCU ranking than I wanted it to be, and yet, it does feel like a strange, though beautiful stage in the evolution of the Marvel universe. (The post credit scenes alone leave much to anticipate) It still needs to be seen on the big screen, for both the average movie loving audience, and even more for the true believers. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Tentacle Hentai Monsters, Adult Content (Including A Brief Sex Scene. Disney is Growing Some Balls Lately), And Too Much Respectful Diversity For The Worst Of Reddit To Handle.
My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: The Suicide Squad is recruiting younger these days.
I take it that this is the review that you non-nerds are going to skip, and it might be the only review that the "Weebs" are going to check out. Don't ask me what that is. Explaining to people what that is to people who don't care, takes up way too much time. And writing can be hard sometimes. Anime stuff. It's best we just jump right in.
To give a little backstory for those who don't already know, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" takes place in a world of superheroes, with their unique abilities referred to as "Quirks". People with quirks make up a good percentage of the population, and there are now those who fear that humanity is on the verge of extinction. A terrorist group/cult, known as "Humanrise", led by the dangerously powerful, "Flect Turn" (Kazuya Nakai), have planted bombs filled with Quirk triggering gas all over the world, which will result in the deaths of millions of those with Quirks (Though will leave humanity unscathed). So to prevent Flect Turn's plans from coming to fruition, our heroes in training are sent to various locations, such as "Izuku Midoriya/Deku" (Daiki Yamashita), "Katsuki Bakugō/Dynamight" (Nobuhiko Okamoto), "Shōto Todoroki/Shoto" (Yuki Kaji), among the rest of the series' cast (Pretty much everyone else is negated to the background though). However, Deku becomes distracted by the accidental involvement of a fast-talking, local criminal "Rody Soul" (Ryo Yoshizawa), who just so happens to have accidentally gotten a hold of a briefcase that contains something Humanrise doesn't want getting out. After framing Deku for murder, along with Rody as an accomplice, Humanrise sends their enforcers to bring back the briefcase and kill anyone who gets in the way. Now cut off from his friends, Deku partners up with Rody, along with his cute little bird buddy, "Pino" (Megumi Hayashibara), to prove their innocence and prevent Quirk genocide. Along the way, Rody starts to take a few life lessons from the honorable Deku, becoming his own kind of hero in the process.
The third film based on the popular anime/manga/worldwide phenomenon, "My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission", like many television series based films, plays out a little like an hour and forty minute episode. Unlike like last year's "Heroes Rising", the plot has less characters this time around, with the story focusing purely on Deku and Rody, and while that leaves much the the cast of fan favorites on the sidelines ("All Might" and others, barely interact with anyone really), there's at least more time available for the film's heart to really pull through. There's something sweet about Deku and Rody's relationship (Credit to Daika Yamashita and especially Ryo Yoshizawa, for their wonderfully voice work), and the slower pace makes for more personal moments. The humor is still in tact, and when the film prepares for a cinematic action sequence, they're sights to behold. Fast paced, constantly moving, and animated brilliantly, especially once we reach the explosive finale. On the downside (For some more than others), there aren't too many and it takes a while for the film's reason to be to become more apparent. You are left wondering why this needed to be a movie, since the scale doesn't at first feel all that grand, and it doesn't help that the villains are once again a little less memorable than any of the ones from the series. Granted, none of the "My Hero Academia" movies have particularly had big bads to write home about (There's only so much screentime available for a one and done baddie after all), and while Flect Turn certainly has a cool design and a decent backstory, nothing about him stands out in a way that's all that interesting.
"My Hero Academia: World Heroes' Mission" is smaller in scope and more intimate than previous films, where nothing particularly groundbreaking happens for a good while until we reach the climax. This one seems to be more interested in telling a solid and overall heartfelt singular story, where the message of hope and accepting of all people no matter their abilities is at its strongest. The animation is top notch as ever, and the film just incorporates everything we love about the series. I'd be surprised if any fan doesn't leave satisfied. I watched it subbed, so I can only assume that the dubbed version is just as solid. I don't judge when it comes to who prefers English dubbing over subtitles. Only villains do that. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Superhero Action, A Little Language, And Quirky Behavior.
Last Night in Soho by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I'm getting ready....For all of the 20 movies I'm in this year."
I don't think I've seen a movie all year that looks so beautiful and seductive, while also being completely sleazy and vile at the same time. You're enticed by it the entire time, and then feel the need to scrub yourself after. Maybe that was just the Sixties overall. Stunning on the outside, then disgusting on the inside.
"Last Night in Soho" follows "Ellie" (Thomasin McKenzie), a young woman with a love of old music (The Swinging Sixties especially) and fashion, living with her caring grandmother, "Peggy" (Rita Tushingham), after the suicide of her mother. Ellie is accepted into college to study fashion design in London. Ellie moves to the bright, vibrant streets of Soho, where she gets stuck with a crappy roommate, "Jocasta" (Synnøve Karlsen), and is immediately turned off by the city's seedy underbelly. So Ellie instead finds a new play to stay in a mostly forgotten apartment, owned by a strict but nice old lady, "Ms. Collins" (Diana Rigg). Once Ellie goes to sleep though, she finds herself transported to the Sixties era, where she becomes enamored with the life of a beautiful rising star, "Sandie" (Anya Taylor-Joy), as her career begins to take off with her seemingly charismatic manager boyfriend, "Jack" (Matt Smith). Ellie starts to base her life around Sandie, focusing her fashion school projects on her, and even changing her hair color to match Sandie, unable to wait till the next time she can go to sleep and immerse herself in that world. However, as the story continues, Ellie's fantasy takes a dark turn, witnessing Sandie's life spiral into a much more twisted place. As the visions become more nightmarish, Ellie becomes determined to find out what became of Sandie, as well as prevent herself from succumbing to her own madness.
Directed by Edgar Wright (The "Three Flavours Cornetto" trilogy, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", "Baby Driver"), "Last Night in Soho" starts off a bit slow, feeling as if it's meant to show a sense of normalcy before the film takes its turn. While I appreciate the idea (And Edgar Wright has done that brilliantly before elsewhere), you do feel the drag just a little bit for the first fifteen minutes or so. Thankfully, the film finds its footing rather quickly, becoming an alluring, though tension filled stylistic experience, that even when you're just as engrossed in this world as our lead character is, there's this constant feeling of dread slowly poking at the back of your skull. This may be one of Edgar Wright's more unique films, only briefly embracing his fast editing technique, and instead slowly pulling you further into a whirlpool of flashy and colorful torment, with images that are genuinely terrifying (And I feel that I can't even delve into the more uncomfortable, all too real subject matter lurking beneath the surface). The screenplay by both Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns ("1917"), keeps you on your toes, never giving away too much into the apparent supernatural aspect (We never know why Ellie is the one to experience these things, though in a way, not knowing works in the film's favor), and giving us a mystery that never plays out in a simplistic fashion. It can be seen as a little sloppy at times, but the various twists and turns make it feel as if it was intentional (For the most part).
Thomasin McKenzie ("Leave No Trace", "Jojo Rabbit", "Old") is one of those actresses that just keeps getting better and better in everything I see her in. She's thoroughly lovable, super adorable, and plays completely petrified out of her mind like nobody else I've seen. She also has an incredible stare that conveys so much emotion, thanks to long shots where her face is just the focus. Anya Taylor-Joy is bewitching as usual, and perfectly embodies both the beauty and the hidden sadness of the Sixties era. Matt Smith rather skillfully switches between charming, scummy, and chilling, while Michael Ajao (as "John", Ellie's fellow classmate and all around nice guy), is plenty likable. We also get awesome supporting work from Diana Rigg, and a scene-stealing Terrence Stamp (as a mysterious and rather creepy old man that Ellie keeps seeing). There isn't much time for other supporting plays though, like Synnøve Karlsen, who just plays the role of "Mean Girl" and not much else.
From the beguiling score, Oscar caliber cinematography, and a few ambitious choices worth extra praise, "Last Night in Soho" is a different kind of horror, and one that unlike say, "Halloween Kills", has more to offer to it than the genre usually demands. The final reveal is something I kind of pieced together, but it's still a damn good one, and leads to a particularly insane finale. It's a different type of apprehension in which you feel content and safe one moment, before you discover it's much too late to escape now. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violent Images, And Faceless Abominations.
The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "You're right....I can't understand Wes Anderson either."
I think I've probably mentioned this before. If I could choose what film director's world I would wish to live in, it would definitely be Wes Anderson's. They're like candy coated doll houses, where everyone is as deadpan quirky as they can be, and nothing remotely plays out like you would expect. My kind of world right there.
"The French Dispatch of the Liberty , Kansas Evening Sun", or just simply, "The French Dispatch", opens with the death of the esteemed, matter-of-fact, editor, "Arthur Howitzer Jr." (Bill Murray), whose final wishes are that the newspaper publication come to an end, though with a final issue republishing three articles. The three articles are presented to us in an anthology. "The Concrete Masterpiece", by "J.K.L. Berensen" (Tilda Swinton), follows a tortured, mentally unstable, imprisoned artist, "Moses Rosenthaler" (Benicio Del Toro), becoming a worldwide sensation for his rather perplexing masterpiece, a nude painting of a prison guard/his unrequited love, "Simone" (Léa Seydoux), thanks to a stuffy art dealer, "Julien Cadazio" (Adrien Brody), previously also incarcerated for tax evasion. As the years ago by however, Rosenthaler fails to produce more paintings, leading to a little amusingly eccentric chaos. "Revisions to a Manifesto", by "Lucinda Krementz" (Frances McDormand), follows Krementz as she retains her "Journalistic Neutrality" (Something that everyone is repeatedly confused about), as she becomes embroiled with a student revolutionary, "Zeffirelli" (Timothée Chalamet), during the midst of a wild student protest all centered around chess. Krementz also secretly assists the inexperienced Zeffirelli with his manifesto. "The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner", by "Roebuck Wright" (Jeffrey Wright), is told via a television interview, where Wright recounts the events of his dinner with the "Commissaire" (Mathieu Amalric), which just so happens to be the night where the Commissaire's son, "Gigi" (Winston Ait Hellal), has been kidnapped. The dinner instead becomes a standoff between the police, with Wright being brought along, and the kidnappers.
Written and directed by Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Royal Tenenbaums", "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "The French Dispatch" is Wes Anderson unleashed. That's the best way to describe it. It takes everything that you would traditionally see in one of his films, and like a kid with his toy box, sprays it all over the floor and just goes nuts with it. Due to the anthology structure, Anderson is allowed to resist the temptations of holding back, doing everything in his power insert every single one of his colorful trademarks somewhere in the film. Now that may be a bit much for some, but for me, I'm kind of in heaven. His trademark off-kilter sense of humor is also on full display, and I'd go as far as to say this might be one of his straight up funnier films, ranging for cartoonishly goofy to even a little on the macabre side (Not to mention a brilliant little sequence shown to us through the use of stylized animation). The three stories, while they aren't meant to have an overt connections, certainly feel like they could have stood on their own as full length films, especially with the hodge-podge of your usual Wes Anderson favorites making appearances, in both small and larger capacities.
Each story, and even more so, each character (All based around real life journalists in some way), are filled with Anderson's delightful aesthetic, and the cast is remarkable as always. The first vignette might be my personal favorite of the three, featuring a weird, though still thoroughly compelling Benicio del Toro and a hilarious Adrien Brody. Some excellent parts also come from Léa Seydoux, quick surfacings of Henry Winkler and Bob Balaban (as Julien's uncles, who only appear together in each scene), and the very much welcome Tilda Swinton. The second one benefits from the bizarre, though still rather spectacular chemistry from Frances McDormand and Timothée Chalamet, along a great Lyna Khoudri (as "Juliette", a fellow, more strict revolutionary), and a quick cameo from Christoph Waltz. The final entry takes a little bit to get going, though once the point of the tale becomes clear, it offers something more bittersweet. Jeffrey Wright is wonderful here, as are Mathieu Amalric and Stephen Park (as "Lt. Nescaffier", a police officer/famous chef). This one also features Edward Norton (as one of the kidnappers), Liev Schreiber (as a talk show host), Willem Dafoe (as an imprisoned accountant), and Saoirse Ronan (a showgirl, who is also part of the kidnapping). The framing device has a perfect Bill Murray, as well as Owen Wilson (as "Herbsaint Sazerac", a traveling writer, who gets the focus in the opening prologue), and a narration from Angelica Huston. There's actually a few too many people to mention, and we don't exactly have all day here. It's just one of those casts where every familiar (Or not so familiar) face stands out in some way.
"The French Dispatch" could alienate those not acquainted with Wes Anderson's work, or even those teetering on the edge. It's also not quite the best of his films that I've seen (Though the bar is very high). It's still a blast through and through, and serves as a touching tribute to the art of professional journalism (Something that so often can be ridiculed for even existing these days). Funny, whimsically weird, and by the end, with a little bit of a sweet side. It's Wes Anderson in his element, and it's always something to see. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Artistic Graphic Nudity, Rebellious Youth, And Dangerous Food.
Ron's Gone Wrong by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "So what do I do when I have to pee?"
Somewhat off topic, but not really. Is it weird that we're just now accepting the whole Facebook taking our data thing? Manipulating our lives? Allowing for the distribution of dangerous propaganda? I'm still on there. A good chunk of us are. The whole recent testimony really didn't tell us things that we didn't either already know, or at least expect. And we're just going to accept it. I mean, there's a good chance you might be reading this review on Facebook. Kind of scary isn't it? We're so willing to throw our lives away online so easily, even though we know the dangers and don't really care......Oh well, here's a movie about a cute little robot.
"Ron's Gone Wrong" opens with the introduction of a revolutionary, technological marvel, a robotic buddy for kids called the "B-bot", created by the tech giant, "Bubble", run by the well intentioned "Marc Weidell" (Justice Smith) and his less well intentioned partner, "Andrew Morris" (Rob Delaney). The B-bot is meant to serve as a friend, that will also connect one to other friends all over the world via the internet. In a small town, everyone but poor "Barney Pudowski" (Jack Dylan Grazer) has been able to get one. Barney, who doesn't have any friends aside from his widowed, always busy dad, "Graham" (Ed Helms) and his offbeat grandma, "Donka" (Olivia Colman), desperately wants a B-bot for his birthday, and feels more ostracized by his fellow students now more than ever due to not having one. However, Graham and Donka are able to get their hands on one (Although it did fall off a trunk and has some clear damage), which Barney happily activates, only to instead get introduced to "Ron" (Zach Galifianakis). Unlike other B-bots, Ron gets everything wrong, is always apparently malfunctioning, and repeatedly finds himself in some kind of danger. With that said though, Ron starts to grow on Barney, discovering something rather unique about the eccentric bot, leading to the duo become the best of friends. When Ron's malfunctioning personality becomes known to the public, resulting in mass chaos with other B-bots downloading his all over the place code, the higher ups at Bubble become determined to send Ron to the crusher and save some face. Ron and Barney embark on a wild journey to escape Bubble and learn the true meaning of what real friendship can be in our more modern, tech-heavy era.
Released through 20th Century Studios (Poor Fox), and the first feature film from "Locksmith Animation", "Ron's Gone Wrong" seems to understand that to make an old fashioned, been there done that formula work, you either reinvent it in some way, or you just treat your audience with enough respect. Directed by Sarah Smith ("Arthur Christmas") and Jean-Phillppe Vine, the film chooses the later, fashioning a pretty standard in terms of plotting, but makes up for it in a whole lotta charm. The screenplay, by Smith and Peter Baynham ("Arthur Christmas", "Hotel Transylvania"), is smart about its fairly predictable story, offering some safe, but plenty chuckle worth humor, while the pleasant animation makes for more impressive visuals than you would expect from a non-major animation company. The film has its own identity (Although the robots do look suspiciously like Baymax from "Big Hero 6", but we'll move past that one), with a elaborate, expressively lovable animation style. The film's themes and messages are always handled in a mature manner, never talking down to the little ones, and even gives something for adults to consider. It never demonizes technology and points out the good intentions behind it, though still warns that it can be so easily abused, sometimes for nefarious purposes or just all around human cruelty (You know, like bullying or allowing it to determine your part in so called social hierarchies.)
Jack Dylan Grazer is an endearing lead, while Zach Galifianakis is as well cast as one can possibly be, with hilariously upbeat delivery. (Some of the funniest moments involve Ron's attempts at getting people to friend Barney, such as essentially kidnapping them, along with a baby who he describes as a small, balding man) Ed Helms and a wonderfully peculiar Olivia Colman, are great supporting roles, while Kylie Cantrall (as "Savannah", the seemingly generic Instagram obsessed girl) and Ricardo Hurtado (as "Rich", the seemingly generic prankster bully), prove to have more dimensions to them than what would first appear (Something that's just refreshing to see). Our main villain is on the other hand pretty one dimensional, though that's to be expected, and Rob Delaney is having a good time.
Things get a bit rushed in the final act, though that's where the film's heart really shines, "Ron's Gone Wrong" takes a few familiar themes (We even saw some of them in more recent films like "Free Guy" and "The Mitchells vs. The Machines"), and just does a competent job with them. It's nothing all that remarkable, nor is it actually trying to be. It's a simple narrative and one that works with the right people telling it. Classic family friendly fun. Never gets old. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Questionable Use Of Technology, Robotic Shenanigans, And Poop Girl.
Dune by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Our unvaccinated heroes finally arrive in the one place free of those so-called unconstitutional mask mandates.
It is quite the struggle to create what we would refer to as the next "Star Wars", or the next "The Lord of the Rings". Whether it be an original property or otherwise, to create a new world in the eyes of the general moviegoing public, in hopes that they will clamor for more, is a hard task. Sure we have book adaptations all the time, but it's kind of a flip of a coin to see if they'll find success, and the next big epic rarely can even find anyone with enough ambition to give it the time of day. Enter Denis Villeneuve. Even if I still can't pronounce his name.
Based on the classic, revolutionary novel of the same name by the late Frank Herbert, "Dune" (Or "Dune: Part One", since it covers the first half of the book. Literally, I think) opens in the far future, where the desert planet, "Arrakis", has been given to the highly respected "House Atreides". Arrakis is barren, with the only source of life being the mysterious "Fremen" people and the monstrous, giant sandworms, but is also home to a sought after drug, called "Spice". (Which is worth an apparent priceless amount of money) "Paul Atreides" (Timothée Chalamet), the son of "Duke Leto" (Oscar Isaac) and "Lady Jessica" (Rebecca Ferguson), has been experiencing dreams of Arrakis, with most of which focusing on a girl, "Chani" (Zendaya). Paul has been mentored in not just military and political knowledge, by the easily agitated "Gurney Halleck" (Josh Brolin) and the charismatic "Duncan Idaho" (Jason Momoa), but he's also been gifted some rather unique abilities by Lady Jessica, against the will of her own religious superiors. Duke Leto, who knows that the higher ups seemingly want an excuse to get rid of his family by sending them on a possible doomed mission, hopes to make their operation on Arrakis work regardless by befriending the Fremen (Who as you would expect, aren't a fan of the offworlders taking what doesn't belong to them).
It doesn't take long for things to go wrong, as a deadly conspiracy involving the more ruthless, rather barbaric "House Harkonnen", led by the repulsive "Baron Vladimir Harkonnen" (Stellan Skarsgård), who previously ran the operations on Arrakis and really wants it back. House Atreides becomes a target of an evil alliance, resulting in Paul and Lady Jessica to flee into the unforgiving desert. Paul is forced to take charge and hone his abilities, to become the so called hero that he's apparently destined to become, if he's going to save both his family and the Fremen people from absolute destruction.
Directed and co-written by Denis Vileneuve ("Prisoners", "Sicario", "Arrival", "Blade Runner 2049". How's that for a filmography?), with screenplay credits also going to Jon Spaihts ("Prometheus", "Doctor Strange") and Eric Roth ("A Star Is Born", "Forrest Gump"), "Dune" has been a franchise that was deemed unfilmable, despite the source material having a role in establishing what many of us see as modern Science Fiction. David Lynch tried with his 1984 film to not particularly favorable (And rather bizarre) results. The novel, while certainly long, is also apparently very intricate and difficult to fully translate, especially in a way that the every day audience can comprehend (Think less nerdy). It basically has the word "Disaster" written all over it, and that's not even considering the budget needed. Big budget franchises do need to make money after all. Vileneuve's determination to make this seemingly impossible task into a profitable reality. Well time will tell in terms of the profitable part, but for what the film accomplishes, it's an enlightening, purely cinematic experience that serves as a reminder of the worlds that only the movies can fully immerse us within.
"Dune" is a extraordinary looking film, with more attention to endless amount of details, which help further establish how this world works without the need of exposition. Granted, it can make the film a bit jarring to the unitiated, or even a little hard to full follow at first. However at a rather early moment everything just clicks, then you're full engaged to the point that you feel that you just feel that you're there on Arrakis. From Villeneuve's clear passion for the story, and the overall the big screen experience, just give off those nostalgic feels of say a "Star Wars" or "The Lord of the Rings". It definitely looks like nothing you've ever seen before, with some beautiful cinematography, focusing on the endless desert (Which looks harsh, uninviting, and just plain haunting), the futuristic technology (Such as dragonfly-like ships and holographic shielding devices, making for some clever action scenes), and a little time given to explain the political ramifications of the situation, without getting remotely boring about it. We also get a heart pounding score by the great Hans Zimmer (Who has had quite the year, with this and "No Time to Die"). The visual effects are flawless, and almost too real. There were times I couldn't remember what was actually physical, and what was just created through spectacular special effects work. The scope of the film, which even on the more basic movie screen I saw it in (Sadly, I couldn't see it in IMAX), still showcases a miraculously indepth art design and more than a few unforgettable setpieces.
Where the film may be a little more detached is with some of its characters. They're certainly likable and plenty of them stand out, but due to the way the story is told (And perhaps, how it rather needed to be told), some just feel as if their roles are just yet to be expanded (I mean, this is only the first half of a rather large novel. So that's not shocking). Timothée Chalamet's role may be one of those performances that I feel some people might not completely get. It's not about what's obvious when it comes to his emotions (Or what appears to be a lack of emotion). It's all about the subtleties and the way the character reacts to the situation he's been thrust into, especially when he's repeatedly told that he's going to be a messiah-like hero, whether he likes it or not. Something I always like about Chalamet is that his eyes sometimes just say everything, even when you don't at first get it. Oscar Isaac is his usual terrificly charismatic self, while Rebecca Ferguson is stunning once more, getting some of the more complex, yet still warm feeling, character growth. There are some great supporting roles for Josh Brolin, Stephen McKinley Henderson (as "Thufir Hawat", a loyal ally to House Atreides), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (as "Dr. Liet-Kynes", a scientist sent to assist House Atreides on Arrakis), Javier Bardem (as "Stilgar", the leader of the Fremen, who doesn't remotely hide his distrust of the colonizers), an unrecognizable Charlotte Rampling (as "Gaius Helen Mohiam", the eccentric Truthsayer), and especially awesome Jason Momoa. Some get more development than others, but everyone gives the material everything they got. Stellan Skarsgård is a suitably vile, revolting to look at villain, while Dave Bautista's role (as "Glossu Rabban", the Baron's fanatical nephew and general) feels like there's more to come. I do also just love seeing David Dastmalchian (as "Piter De Vries", the Baron's creepy servant), in basically anything he's ever been in. Zendaya's role is rather small, though vital, and she's certainly perfectly cast as a character that has the kind of mystifying allure, leaving you wanting more. Again, maybe in the sequel.....If it happens.
"Dune" is a lot of movie, even though it's not the full story. It's flawed in places, and where the film ends, it's not really an ending. There's not even really a climax actually. (The way the film cuts to the credits, you expect a "To Be Continued...." tagline to make an appearance) Still though, at over two and a half hours, it breezes by quickly, and you're already so engaged in the worldbuilding that you're more sad that this part of the journey is already over. Villeneuve never lets his love for the project alienate the average audience, being something that anyone should be able to become invested in. I wouldn't call it the next "The Lord of the Rings", but it has the potential to be. A sweeping epic, that demands the big screen treatment, and I hope that the box office numbers are enough to make that possibility an actuality. Be a shame to just end the adventure right there. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Science Fiction Violence, Spice Abuse, And Giant Butthole Worms.
The Last Duel by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Remember....Save a little bit for the rematch."
Once you strip away the vibrant colors, the chivalry, and all the sophisticated talk, medieval times were pretty freakin barbaric and scummy as Hell. All those knightly tales really lied to us.
Based on true events, or rather based on the novel "The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France" by Eric Jager, "The Last Duel" opens with the entire kingdom showing up to witness a duel to the death between a knight, "Jean de Carrouges" (Matt Damon) and a squire, "Jacques Le Gris" (Adam Driver). "Marguerite de Carrouges" (Jodie Comer), the wife of de Carrouges, claims that Le Gris (Who is also the former friend to de Carrouges), raped her, and according to medieval law, this sanctioned duel is what will decide what the truth is, and if de Carrouges dies, so will Marguerite (Quite painfully too, I might add). The film is then told in three chapters, focusing on the supposed truth according to our three main characters, detailing the events that led everyone to this moment, though as expected, our leading men are going to leave out some key details or boast themselves up a little. The three perspectives are revealed before returning us to that fateful duel, with an innocent woman just being caught right in the middle of a dick measuring contest. To the death.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Who has another movie, "House of Gucci", coming out next month), with a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon (All three of them serving as producers as well), "The Last Duel" is a fascinating, culturally appropriate tale, that's rather brilliantly told in a rather clever way. The decision to break the story up into sections, from different perspectives, really drives home what can be manipulated as the truth, and Ridley Scott does a terrific job making these perceptions change as the film progresses. In one version, we might see a scene being portrayed in a somewhat more comedic light, while in another, we witness it in a more horrifying way. One character at first appears heroic, before being shown to be incompetently stupid, and then even being portrayed as someone more monstrous. There are subtle tweaks to the dialogue and the score within similar scenes depending on who is being focused on, and how that character appears to wish for the audience to view the scene. It's something that could warrant a repeat viewing, so one can see all the tiny details and how they further play into later developments. It's a gorgeously constructed film, with the once whimsical or regal setting being brought down to this dark, grey, dirty, and thoroughly savage this time period can truly be.
We get a top notch cast, all of which are allowed to play against their traditional types, with some portrayals varying between flattering or otherwise, well, not. Matt Damon goes through some of the biggest shifts in his characterization, along with Adam Driver, going from charismatic and smart, to repulsive and cowardly. Both characters are certainly human, and at times, you're left wondering how much of their perceived accounts are actually what they believe or something that they are just making up to gain sympathy. Jodie Comer is the one who stands out the most, giving a powerhouse performance that only truly gets to shine once we reach the final act. Just from her eyes alone, you feel every emotion, even when they aren't exactly obvious in the moment. Ben Affleck (as "Count Pierre d'Alencon", who immediately takes a shine to Le Gris, inviting him to his drunken parties and orgies), steals most scenes that he's in, embracing the kind of sleazy scumbag that you take a sick delight in seeing. The film incorporates a few moments of humor, with some of it coming from how bizarre the time period is, or just how plain horrendous it could be. It also adds a lot of character, especially to some supporting players like Harriet Walker (as "Nicole", Jean de Carrouges' mother, who is always disapproving), and Alex Lawther (as a rather odd "King Charles VI").
"The Last Duel" is unrelenting and cruelly honest, yet still shows signs of hope and that something better can eventually come out of this. It leads to a grueling climax that will have you on the edge of your seat, especially if you know nothing of the story. The execution of the narrative might be jarring to some, but feels necessary when you think more about why it's told the way it is. It serves as a compelling drama, as well as a fitting allegory for our current state when it comes to what we choose to believe as truth and how the women at the center might still not have as much of a say, even when it concerns them more than the rest of us. I'm not saying that we're still burning them at the stake, but you gotta admit, a lot of the arguments here are eerily similar, like how the men in power treat the rape more as an insult to the man than anything, or repeated questioning on how it technically couldn't be a rape because of religious/science mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense. It's a powerful, unsettling, and wonderfully uncompromising tale that sadly went mostly ignored at the box office. Lets hope next year's Oscars don't forget it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Strong Violence, And An Especially Uncomfortable (Though Necessarily And Uniquely Explained) Rape Scene.
Halloween Kills by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: OK, so I admit, it looks incriminating.
What's been impressive about the "Halloween" franchise (Aside from completely ignoring everything after the 1978 classic by John Carpenter in favor of the 2018 soft reboot/sequel) is that underneath all the slashing and stabbing, there's something more frightening. Considering slasher films rarely scare me, the thought of an unknown shape, with no known motivation or reason, going around and killing without remorse, while also incorporating characters that you actually care about, can at least put me a little more on edge. Most films in this genre seem to miss that, or at least their sequels do.
Taking place literally seconds after the last film still taking place on Halloween night, "Halloween Kills" opens with survivors "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter "Karen" (Judy Greer), and granddaughter "Allyson" (Andi Matichak), leaving the silent, mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers/The Shape" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), to die in a burning house. Sadly though, the fire department arrives and unintentionally gives Michael a means of escape, after brutally slaughtering everyone in sight of course. Meanwhile, while Laurie recovers, along with the revealed to be alive "Deputy Frank Hawkins" (Will Patton), Allyson and Karen learn of Michael's survival. Previous survivors from Michael's first rampage, including "Tommy Doyle" (Anthony Michael Hall), "Marion Chambers" (Nancy Stephens), "Lindsey Wallace" (Kyle Richards), and "Lonnie Elam" (Robert Longstreet), also find out about Michael's return, leading to Tommy organizing his own angry mob with the intent on putting an end to Michael's reign of terror for good. Determined to get her own vengeance, Allyson joins Tommy's group, along with her ex, "Cameron" (Dylan Arnold), setting out to track down Michael. Meanwhile, Michael continues to butcher various innocents, with little rhyme or reason like before. Gruesome deaths ensue, along with all the townsfolk themselves now starting to create even more chaos, creating all out anarchy.
Directed once again by David Gordon Green, who also participated in writing the screenplay with Scott Teems and Danny McBride, "Halloween Kills" serves as a bridge film, wrapping up loose ends from the first and setting up things for next year's final entry in the franchise (Unless they reboot it again). Sadly, this means that there is likely going to be a good amount of filler, and the film rather disappointingly indulges in its worse aspects. Not to say that they aren't plenty of things to enjoy on a popcorn level, and even some legit greatness mixed in here, but when it comes to it, this unlike the last film, feels exactly what I would expect from a slasher movie. In fact, it feels rather by the numbers. 2018's "Halloween" felt like a solid drama that just so happened to have a serial killer in it, where time was given to every single character (Even ones just being set up to meet grisly ends), and you feel for them. This time though, aside from the main leads (Who remain engaging) and maybe like one or two side characters, that emotion is lacking. It doesn't help that more of the characters are a lot dumber this time, making your typical horror movie mistakes to set up bloody deaths. Now it's not to say that some of these kills aren't clever or even a little frightening (Michael's massacre of the firefighters is a highlight). There just sadly isn't much effort to elevate itself above the simplest of genre thrills. David Gordon Green is a good director and can frame an unnerving shot or two. It's the screenplay that drops the ball in character development and heart, which again, the last film had a lot of. The only heart here is bleeding profusely. It's a rather disjointed story, stopping for kills along the way, and while it gives its target audience what they came for, you know the filmmakers can do so much better.
Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends almost all of the runtime in a hospital bed, is still terrific here, along with endearing performances from Judy Greer and Andi Matichak. These are three great leading ladies,and you still hope for their survival. It's also nice to have Will Patton back (Who was one of the smartest characters in the first film), and he's given a little extra backstory that I can assume will lead into the next entry. I did also enjoy Omar Dorsey (as "Sheriff Barker", who is trying and miserably failing to keep the peace), who does a good job at just looking completely worn out. These are characters that I like and feel for, but where the film falters is just about with everyone else. Most of the characters don't receive the same level of thought that our main leads do, popping up to predictably die. Most of the time because of their own stupidity. The film also stops to give a little focus on a few probable victims, such as Scott McArthur and Michael McDonald (as "Big John" and "Little John", a gay couple living in the Myers house), but you don't care near enough about them as the film intends. For how drawn out some of these scenes are, you want the film to just kill them already and move onto the next ghastly setpiece. I suppose the filmmakers wanted to embrace the idea of the audience yelling at the screen for people not to make poor decisions, and while I can see the enjoyment, the previous films didn't need to do that. One part where I give a little leeway would be the angry mob subplot, where the stupidity is not only addressed, but also part of the point the film is trying to make. They are irrational, disorganized, and only become more violent as the film progresses, showing how a being like Michael Myers could basically turn an entire town into lunatics in a desperate attempt to end his carnage. While it goes where you would expect, it's still a brilliant and necessary concept that I'm surprised hasn't happened sooner. As for Michael himself, he still remains a menacing presence, and the film remembers not to give us too many details about just what he even is. He appears human, feels pain, and seems to at times enjoy his butchery of the innocent, and yet, his true motivation appears to remain somewhat of a mystery. Just the shots of that lifeless mask staring down at a helpless victim as life leaves them, is frightening enough on a psychological level, and to constantly be in a state of confusion as to how one can be this evil for possibly no reason, it shows why this character can remain a horror icon.
Overall, "Halloween Kills", doesn't have much in terms of actual scares, going for all out gore, and adding little to a genre that's already been in a serious need of a shakeup. There's a decent amount that works, and I do love how tightly woven this continuity is, feeling like you can watch all these movies as one continuous narrative. However, the last film was willing to add more depth, while this one feels as if it's just there as an obligation, leaving you to wonder if this and next year's final entry (Appropriately titled "Halloween Ends") would have been better off just as one movie. Time will tell on that one. Aside from a tragic death or two (And an abrupt ending), the film doesn't stand out in a way that it should. It gets the job done and offers plenty of savagery for the more blood lust filled fans, but abandons much of what set it apart from other films like it. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Eye Gouging, Knife Fights, Head Stompings, And The Persecution Of Perfectly Innocent Escaped Insane Asylum Patients.
No Time to Die by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: He looks pretty shaken. But not at all stirred.
It's been one Hell of a road coming here. In a way, I doubt many of us thought we would even get this far. It's felt like it's taken forever, but we powered through it and we're finally here. "No Time to Die", one of the first movies (And maybe the first really major one. Don't quote me on that!) to get delayed, is at long last released. And yeah, it's very much worth the wait.
"No Time to Die" MI6 agent, "007", aka "James Bond" (Daniel Craig), who after the events of the last film, has decided to retire from the spy business, and settle down with "Madeleine Swan" (Léa Seydoux). Now Bond is living the happy life, enjoying the peace and tranquility, along with all the steamy sexy time with Madeleine. However as one would expect, these joyous days are not to last. Bond finds himself under attack from a one-eyed freak, "Primo" (Dali Benssalah), working for the still active crime syndicate, "Spectre", run by Bond's incarcerated foster brother/arch-nemesis, "Ernst Stavro Blofeld" (Christoph Waltz). Bond has become convinced that Madeleine had a role in this attack and has betrayed him (Granted, it doesn't look good), refusing to listen to her before sending her away, and vanishing off the grid. Years later, a questionable scientist, "Valdo Obruchev" (David Dencik), is kidnapped, along with an experimental bioweapon, "Heracles" (Made up of little nanobots, creating a virus that can touch and kill, based purely on DNA alone).
It also doesn't help that MI6 head honcho, "M" (Ralph Fiennes), approved for Heracles' existence in the first place, and now one wonders what could be done if it were in the wrong hands. Meanwhile, Bond is approached by his CIA buddy, "Felix Leiter" (Jeffrey Wright), informing him of Obruchev's kidnapping and the weapon, and since Bond isn't exactly on the best of terms with MI6, especially the new 007, "Nomi" (Lashana Lynch), he agrees to help Leiter in tracking the scientist down. However, there is something much more nefarious and dangerous at the center of it all. This leads to Bond being reunited with Madeleine, along with a disfigured, Rami Malek-eyed maniac from her past, "Lyutsifer Safin" (Rami Malek), who is manipulating all sides in a diabolical plan to kill millions, get his hands on Madeleine, and shape the world in his own demented image.
Directed and co-written by Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Beasts of No Nation"), "No Time to Die" is a bold, and almost completely unheard of entry to the long running "James Bond" franchise. Based on the character created by Ian Fleming back in 1953, with twenty five films (And the fifth/final one starring Daniel Craig), this entry is especially epic and feels like an eye-opening end of an era. Not just for Daniel Craig, but it changes the game so much that I can't see a logical reason for anyone wanting to go back. I'm not even sure it's physically possible by this point. The Craig Era (as I like to call it, made up also of "Casino Royale", "Quantum of Solace", "Skyfall", "Spectre"), moved away from some of the more campy elements in favor of a darker, more real, and more human-centric version of the character, acknowledging some of the character's more dated aspects, without ever feeling the need to bash and most importantly, never losing sight of what made the character so iconic in the first place. Even when the films couldn't quite reach the heights of greatness we know they're capable of, there was always something special about them. These were also the first of the character's long filmography where I actually felt really attached to things, with some of that benefiting from a more serialized approach.
Flaws and all, this movie feels like a fitting, thoroughly exciting, and immensely moving conclusion. One that I would almost consider it to be a solid stopping point overall. Clocking in at almost three hours, the film never feels like it, rarely dragging, and it's a credit to Fukunaga's slick direction, which balances out the hard hitting, grounded feel, while also embracing hints of something a little more science-fiction. It all could have felt so out of place, and yet, it could be seen as just a natural progression of where this franchise's form of warfare would go. It's also pretty scary too. What timing to have a villain plan involving a deadly, incurable virus, that specifically targets certain people, without affecting others, which could also result in the complete and utter collapse of all human society. (You know there's someone out there thinking about it, and there's a good chance that someone you politically contributed to at least knows about it.) The action sequences themselves are particularly elaborate on their own, along with a few sequences of tension building, such as an intense scene at a club in Cuba, where the build up to the close quarters sequence is just as exciting as the payoff. It's bolstered by an epic score by the great Hans Zimmer (The "Dark Knight" trilody), and the perfect for IMAX cinematography by Linus Sandgren ("La La Land", "First Man"). The screenplay by Fukunaga, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Who have both been a writer for the franchise since "The World Is Not Enough"), along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge ("Fleabag"), the film feels grounded, though makes way for some more fantastical elements, while balancing deeper character moments and even a little humor. I'm pretty sure that Phoebe Waller-Bridge contributed most to the more self-aware moments, such as the fact that Bond is repeatedly ready for an intimate moment, only to get realistically denied.
This also translates to the characters, each and every single one having identifiable traits and even though some getting more screentime than others, they're certainly unforgettable. First and foremost, there's Daniel Craig, who I think has proved himself as one of the greats by this point. Considering last we saw him he was playing an eccentric though still brilliant detective in "Knives Out" (Robbed of so many Oscar nominations), the man has so much more versatility than anyone gives him credit for. Craig has the charm and the quips, but also the brutality and badassery, while also showing more humanity than any other Bond. (Granted, I haven't fully seen too many of these films, so don't go crazy on me, fanboys) Craig makes sure to end his time as the character one that's definitely going to stick with you, even after the film's credits roll. The hypnotically lovely Léa Seydoux takes a few unexpected turns for what's usually given to a Bond love interest, even participating more in the grander plot than they traditionally do. Lashana Lynch has some great semi-antagonistic/semi-friendly banter with Craig, while remaining a cool new character on her own, while Ralph Fiennes shows a few more complicated layers to his character (Even the supposed good guys can make a few rather morally questionable decisions). Rami Malek plays a perfectly creepy, and suitably eccentric villain, though compared to some of the others in this series (And considering this film is meant to cap off the current saga they've got going), he feels a little small by comparison. You do expect something a little grander. Christoph Waltz is still a devious delight despite his limited appearance, and Dali Benssalah is a great offputting henchmen that you immediately love to hate. There are some other returning faces, like Ben Wishaw (as "Q", MI6's quartermaster and tech guy, still full of so much excellent snark), Jeffrey Wright, and Naomie Harris (as "Eve Moneypenny", a close ally to Bond), though she doesn't get as much to do as before. Other supporting players like Billy Magnussen (as "Logan Ash", Felix's fellow CIA agent, always wearing a rather dumb smile on his face), a rather detestable David Dencik (He's a nusance, but he's supposed to be), and a fantastic, completely scene-stealing Ana de Armas (as "Paloma", another, seemingly inexperienced CIA agent), who participates in the film's best action scene. You wish she was in it more, but regardless, she leaves a major impression. The film also takes a turn around the last act, with something that's rather unheard of in the "James Bond" franchise, and I'm actually shocked that until now, nobody has ever thought of it. All things considered, you would think that he would have had something like that happen to him a long time ago.
"No Time to Die" has a lot going on, and some smaller aspects may or may not fully work. Yet, they don't detract from a film that knows how to give the audience what they want, and maybe a little bit of what they need. "James Bond" is a character that in recent years, has been questioned in terms of if he is truly a heroic character. Now some of that's a little harsh, considering he has his flaws and the character seemingly is knowledgeable of them. However, this is the one where he shines and by the end, I was inspired as Hell. The film culminates in a finale that showcases the character at his absolute best, leading to a moving conclusion that even though I sort of expected it, I'd be lying if I didn't feel a little lump in my throat when it was all over. My mind is still attempting to process what ends up being the endgame here. This one feels really special, as if the franchise is ready to grow further, and only opens the door to infinite possibilities. Is it perfect? Not quite, but I loved it regardless, and am eager to see where they take this next. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Espionage, And Mind Blowing Watches.
The Many Saints of Newark by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "I'm going to see to it that this kid is going to grow up to become a well rounded, kind, decent, peaceful and honest human being....And I stake my life on it!"
I tend to drop a lot of bombshells on people when it comes to things I still haven't seen yet. "The Sopranos" is one of many that are on my "List" (The never ending document I have saved on my phone, filled with the many, many television shows that I say I'm going to watch, but likely will never get around it). So I'm going in completely blind, knowing little to nothing about the series (At least I know how it ends....or doesn't end...I guess...), and judging the film on its own. Like a film critic should anyway.
Set long before the events of the original series, "The Many Saints of Newark", follows the story of the man who helped shape "Tony Soprano" (Played by William Ludwig as a child, then by Michael Gandolfini). That person being his uncle, "Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti" (Alessandro Nivola). Tony sees Uncle Dickie's rise to power in the midst of the 1967 riots in Newark, New Jersey. After taking over the crime family business from his father, "Hollywood Dick Moltisanti" (Ray Liotta) after his um, timely demise (Let's just leave it at that), Dickie proves to be a role model to Tony, along with an important part of the community. While Dickie tries to hold everything together, he also has rivalry with a former associate, "Harold McBrayer" (Leslie Odom Jr.), which becomes more deadly. The gang war starts to escalate further, setting the stage for future characters in the series, that I bet fans are losing their minds over. I'm just here to go with the flow, and probably shouldn't spoil too much.
Directed by Alan Taylor ("Thor: The Dark World", "Terminator Genisys", along with a few episodes of the show), with a screenplay by series creator David Chase, along with Lawrence Konner (Who also wrote for the series), "The Many Saints of Newark" needs most of its plot points left out, because the film itself plays out almost like a true story biopic. It gives off that vibe, following different character interactions, their connections, and of course, the inevitable conclusion. On one hand, it makes the film rather predictable, and perhaps even a bit messy in storytelling. I also can't really say that I completely get everything, but for what the film is in the end, it makes for a perfectly solid, and overall just fascinating mobster drama. Nothing here is exactly new and some of the basic plot points are easy to deduce, especially for those who are more genre savvy. It's all very well put together though, in a briskly paced, morally questionable fashion, that remembers to add little tweaks here and there to each and every single character, whether it be small, subtle bits of humor or little moments of sparse eccentricity.
For the most part, Alessandro Nivola is the main star here, playing the classic part of the rising crime boss, who is not directly evil, though sure as Hell isn't remotely good. (Although, he deep down seems to know it, even if he tries to convince himself otherwise). He's compelling throughout, and his relationship with Michael Gandolfini (Son of the late James Gandolfini) is certainly tragic, since whether if you're a fan of the old show or not, you know that this loving familial bond will eventually lead down a darker path due to its problematic nature. The cast is all around excellent, ranging from smaller roles to much more pivotal ones, with some standouts being Vera Farmiga (as "Livia Soprano", Tony's mother, who he has a complicated relationship with), Michela De Rossi (as "Giuseppina", Dickie's stepmother turned mistress), Corey Stoll (as "Junior Soprano", who is repeatedly upstaged by Dickie), Jon Bernthal (as "Johnny Soprano", Tony's jailed father), and Ray Liotta (Who also plays "Sally", the much calmer, more repentant twin brother to Dickie's father). Leslie Odom Jr.'s role feels a bit secondary, though maybe it's possible setup for something else in the future. It's hard to tell. There's a lot in this that I certainly didn't completely get, but I'm sure the fans will be pleased, especially since there's clearly loads of fanservice for them.
"The Many Saints of Newark" is well shot, atmospheric and full of tension, even thought it rarely goes places that any other gangster flick would go (It's also Italian as Hell!). There aren't too many surprises (Although I was caught off guard by a small reveal towards the end. Even some fans apparently didn't see it coming), and yet, I found myself still compelled by it. Even though I don't know the characters (And while I still don't see myself getting around to watching the show anytime soon), I was interested in every single one of them. Maybe I'd get it more if I followed the show. For what is though, it does keep your attention throughout. Could be what worked about the show too in the first place. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gang Violence, Sexual Content, Mobster Pettiness, And Italian Yelling.
The Addams Family 2 by James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: I think they need to up the SPF level up a notch.
I'm gonna go out on a limb that people may have forgotten that this was even coming out. The theater was completely empty, the people working at the theater I went to didn't know what it was (Although they may have just been bad at their jobs), and there are as of the moment I started writing this no actual reviews from critics. Maybe it wasn't screened for them, or they too forgot all about it. Not me though. I go over the release date for every film every night before I fall asleep. Which says it all about this film. And more about my life.
Released both in theaters and on demand, "The Addams Family 2" once again follows the titular creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, and all together ooky "Addams Family". "Gomez" (Oscar Isaac) and "Morticia" (Charlize Theron), begin to notice that their somewhat nihilistic daughter, "Wednesday" (Chloë Grace Moretz), has begun to feel a little out of place, especially after a science fair where she impresses a famous scientist, "Cyrus Strange" "(Bill Hader). This gives Gomez the idea to take the entire family, including their equally weird son, "Pugsley" (Javon Walton), and the completely bonkers "Uncle Fester" (Nick Kroll), on a road trip across the country. Before they leave, the Addams realize they're being pursued by an especially pushy lawyer (Wallace Shawn), who implies that Wednesday may actually not be Gomez and Morticia's daughter. While avoiding the persistent lawyer attempting to get a forced DNA test, everyone in the Addams family is going through their own issues, such as Pugsley's patheticly nonexistent love life (Been there buddy!), Fester's rather grotesque transformation into a octopus (Long story. It actually makes sense), and Gomez's determination to connect with Wednesday, who is dangerously growing further and further away from her family.
Directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon (Both directed "Sausage Party", and are returning from the first film), "The Addams Family 2" is just an idea, and not much else. It has the returning classic characters, a great cast to provide spot on voicework for them, and appealing animation. It just doesn't have a very good script, nor does it appear to have any real direction. It's like a family trip gone wrong. The screenplay by Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel (Um, that's a lot of people for something like this...), isn't without some charm and a few funny moments. However, it falls apart thanks to the meandering, almost made up on the fly, storyline, which lacks necessary focus. If it was a standard road trip comedy, that wouldn't be much, but you could get some, pardon the pun, mileage out of that. The film tries to "Spice" things up with the DNA test plotline, which ends up becoming the focus during the last act. It doesn't mesh, even with the admittedly funny gag involving a flashback where Fester juggled a bunch of babies, causing a sense of unsureness about Wednesday's true parentage. It culminates in an over the top finale, which completely jumps the shark during the climax and feels like it belongs in a much different movie.
The cast is great once again, with Oscar Isaac and Charlize Theron relishing their roles. Chloë Grace Moretz is a real standout, along with Nick Kroll, who gets the film's funniest moments. Javon Walton, replacing Finn Wolfhard, has the least important, almost nonexistent, role compared to the others, while we get some other returning voices, such as Bette Midler (as "Grandmama", Gomez's mother, who is left to watch the Addams' house, then throws a wild party) and Snoop Dog (as "Cousin Itt", the unintelligible hairball), along with other amusing characters like the family butler, "Lurch", and the disembodied hand, "Thing". Wallace Shawn is his usual Wallace Shawn self, while Bill Hader thankfully gets to go absolutely nuts later in the film. The quirky animation, while not on par with much superior studios, does lend itself well to the peculiar characters. There just sadly isn't near enough going for it.
"The Addams Family 2" feels like a waste, only getting by on likability, which the film certainly is. It could appeal to kids, but for something that's meant to be for the whole family, everyone in the end deserves so much better. It pads out its relative length, is quick to forget, and ends with a battle between a giant octopus and a cow/chicken-man hybrid. If you're gonna be nonsensical, at least do it in a clever way. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Macabre Humor, Jiggly Body Parts, Cat Nip Abuse, And The Implication That Wednesday May Have Killed Someone. Seriously, What Happened To That Guy? It's Never Addressed Again.
Venom: Let Their Be Carnage by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Look, we both can play with it. Just not at the same time....Well, maybe back to back.""
Can we all just take time to appreciate this movie for taking what worked about 2018's "Venom", leaving out all the bland crap, and of course, going absolutely insane? If this "Marvel" property isn't going to reach the same heights of the more successful "Marvel Cinematic Universe", it's best that it just embrace what it is. Plus, the whole "Sony's Spider-Man Universe" (That you know, doesn't have Spider-Man in it....), doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
Since the events of the first film, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" opens up with washed up reporter and all around loser, "Eddie Brock" (Tom Hardy), continuing to attempt to coexist with the "Symbiote" (Alien race of goo parasites), known as "Venom" (Also voiced by Tom Hardy), who would rather go around New York City, stopping bad guys and eating their brains. Eddie is trying to get his journalist career back on track, though is repeatedly called in to speak to "Cletus Kasady" (Woody Harrelson), an especially unwell serial killer on death row. Venom is able to deduce where Kasady has hidden his many dead bodies, leading to a resurgence of Eddie's career, though to the chagrin of the rather unlikable detective, "Mulligan" (Stephen Graham). Kasady's execution date is moved up, and during another talk with Eddie, bites him, tasting his now no longer human blood. This leads to Kasady beginning his own horrifying transformation, becoming a now even more powerful and bloodthirsty monster, "Carnage" (Also voiced by Woody Harrelson).
Kasady/Carnage proceeds to track down the love of his life, "Frances Barrison/Shriek" (Naomie Harris), a mentally troubled, scarred woman locked up in the "Ravencroft" Institute (Think "Arkham Asylum" for Spider-Man villains) due to her high frequency scream. Meanwhile, Eddie learns that his own love interest, "Anne Weying" (Michelle Williams), is marrying her doctor boyfriend, "Dan" (Reid Scott), sending Eddie down a spiral of depression. Both now sick of each other's self-loathing, Eddie and Venom breakup, separating from each other and going their separate ways. Unfortunately, now Carnage and Shriek are going around town, causing mass chaos, and seeking out those who have wronged them, with Eddie being one of them. Eddie and Venom now must get their collective sh*t together if they're going to become the lethal protector that the city needs before Carnage is set loose onto the world.
Directed by the always underappreciated Andy Serkis ("Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle"), with a screenplay by Kelly Marcel ("Venom", "Saving Mr. Banks", "Fifty Shades of Grey"), "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" is only part by the numbers comic book movie, part slightly dark comedy, and more than anything, a bizarre buddy movie that borders on the romantic. In fact, once you get past all the sharp teeth, slimy tongues, and head chomping, it's actually quite adorable. While I'm not exactly the tone that the comics have set up (Well, it's a little hard to tell actually. They tend to range from dark and brooding, to goofy and cartoonish), the film just goes for it, and makes for something far more enjoyable. As far as plots go, it's nothing that you haven't seen before, with some bad guys running wild, culminating in a chaotic CGI-fest. It comes with the territory and unlike some of the better Marvel films, there's little time for dramatic depth here (And it still lacks that big Disney budget). Luckily, the film seems to know what it can do, with a fast pace, a wild sense of humor, and a lot of personality. Serkis gives the film a good look, with some solid enough action scenes (Nothing exactly memorable, but at times clever), and clearly was brought on due to his experience it fully animated characters. That makes for another major improvement over the first, with the creatures looking more lively and are on full display more often. (Though the climax does end up becoming a flood of sewer-like sludge smacking each other around) The film also gets a good amount of strange laughs, knowing that the silliness is what sold the first movie, along with some truly out there images that definitely feel like something you would of seen in the late 90s or early 2000s. The humor ranges from truthfully funny, or so freakin odd that it gets a little awkward laugh out of you. Such as the falling out between Eddie and Venom (It kind of makes for one of the best fight scenes in the movie, believe it or not), which is portrayed like an actual couple breaking up, moments of Venom's hunger for brains (He eats chickens, with the exception of a pair that he's affectionately named "Sonny" and "Cher"), or Venom basically coming out at a gay rave, expressing his freedom before sulking into depression over his ex. Sometimes you're left wondering just what exactly you're watching, and yet, you're thoroughly fascinated by the eccentricity and how earnest it is.
A lot of what carries the film once again is Tom Hardy, who gives just as brilliantly peculiar a performance as he did before. Whether it be in physical form, or just his voice, he doesn't hold back in any capacity. It's funny how well both his characters work off each other, as something humorous, along with serving as the main heart of the film (Eddie and Venom bond on a sunset lit beach, and it's somehow genuinely sweet). Woody Harrelson, while obviously toned down from the comic character's much bloodier origins, takes sadistic glee in his villain's lust for madness and death, along with Naomie Harris, who looks like she's having a ball (And looking pretty hot, in a crazy sort of way). They make for a great pair of villains, with excellent chemistry, and to give the film a little credit, they're given a little more sympathy than one would expect. (They're monsters, but it's implied that they're monsters that were created) The overqualified Michelle Williams continues to remain so, though does get some chances to do something more than just be the damsel in distress (Well, until she becomes a damsel in distress), while they are fun supporting parts for Reid Scott and Peggy Lu (as "Mrs. Chen", the convenience store owner from the first film, who is now protected by Venom in exchange for Chocolate deliveries). A lot of the focus on Stephen Graham's character feels a little pointless, though it appears towards the end that it might be setup for a future film. (Whether you're excited about it, or dreading it, it's up to you) Subplots are thankfully minimal though and the film really benefits from its barely hour and a half runtime (I gotta admit, that is really refreshing. Not everything needs to be almost two hours)
Weird as Hell, and as silly is it can possibly be, "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" appears to be loving every minute of it. It's hilariously bonkers, perplexingly odd, and with off the chart levels of homoerotiscism. The film is not something that I can logically fully recommend (Though fans of the first will likely flock to it). It's essentially dumb nonsense, with little real substance. (There's also plenty of things that don't make much sense.....Like, how old is Kasady supposed to be if he was a teenager in 1996?) However, regardless of how you feel about it, it has its own identity, separating itself from other superhero films and justifying its right to exist. I found it to be mystifyingly wacky, though rather charmingly so. And yeah, stick around for the post credits scene. It's not exactly shocking, but it did bring a big smile to my face, and kind of changes the game more than maybe even the filmmakers realize. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Wild Tongue Play, Tentacles Galore, And The Acceptance That Venom May Just Become A Gay Icon.
Dear Evan Hansen by James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Can't you see this 27 year old high school student is in pain?
We have a film here that has been causing a little bit of controversy. Now there are some criticisms and some complaints that I totally agree with (I mean, the two star rating should be enough to establish that I didn’t exactly care for it), but some of it has been a little too harsh. The mental health debate is kind of the big one, and while I can’t exactly say that I’m someone who knows enough to form a competent opinion on the subject, I think for what the film is trying to say it does a solid job of it. It’s probably best up to the viewer to decide, but I thought the filmmakers at least had good intentions, were willing to make things more complex, and handled it in a mature fashion. For all the film’s flaws, I feel calling it the worst musical ever (Which either way, come on! We’ve all experienced worse), is a step too far. I felt like we needed to get that out of the way early.
Based on the stage musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” follows a socially awkward, and emotionally distressed young man, “Evan Hansen” (Ben Platt), who suffers from severe anxiety and depression, with an always busy mother, “Heidi” (Julianne Moore), and a cast on his arm (He apparently broke it climbing a tree). He also writes letters to himself, instructed by his therapist, as a way of coping with his own personal issues. Evan’s only sort of friend is a family friend, “Jared” (Nik Dodani), who only hangs out with him out of obligation, and has a big crush on the more popular “Zoe Murphy” (Kaitlyn Dever). Evan finds himself having a semi-moment with Zoe’s equally friendless, but more mentally disturbed brother, “Connor” (Colton Ryan), who signs Evan’s cast, though he takes one of Evan’s letters to himself in a moment of unprovoked rage. Evan dreads what Connor might do with the letter, only to get called into the Principal’s office, where he meets Connor’s parents, “Cynthia” (Amy Adams) and “Larry” (Danny Pino), who explain that Connor committed suicide, believing that Evan and he must have been the best of friends.
Backed into a corner and not wanting to further distress the grieving parents, Evan goes along with it, fabricating an entire friendship that never existed. Soon though, the lie starts to grow, with Evan’s fellow classmate/activist, “Alana” (Amandla Stenberg), who creates a student group to honor Connor’s memory and further inspire those suffering from their own mental illnesses, with Evan essentially becoming part of the Murphy family, while also becoming more close to Zoe. Of course, the lies are going to pile up, get bigger and bigger, all until the truth will need to come out. By this point though, some of these things are going to be a little difficult to walk back.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Wonder”), with a screenplay by Steven Levenson (Who wrote the book to the musical), “Dear Evan Hansen”, is the kind of story that needs to be told right, risking the possibility of offending or alienating. Like I said before, the film to me does good work with the heavy subject matter, and there are plenty of aspects of the film that really work. It’s that what doesn't work, ends up bringing much of the film down. While the musical score shines, the actual dialogue and story aren’t without its cloying moments, going for overly sentimental when it should be played more naturally. The charm is there at times (Like some light moments of humor, or when the film decides to be more subtle about its emotions), though it tends to get lost in the melodrama. The film also has a feeling that something was lost in the adaptation, with most of the musical numbers being downplayed by the uninspired direction. Most of the songs, while well sung, consist of people sitting down, in bland rooms, and constant reaction shots (Generally of people smiling. A lot) in an attempt to liven things up. I know this isn’t the kind of musical like say “In The Heights”, where everything is more ecstatic and choreographed, but then maybe it was best left on the stage instead of as a feature film to be seen in theaters.
Ben Platt’s role in the film is the kind of distraction that can make or break the film for some, and yeah, it’s a little more awkward than it should be. Having portrayed the character in the original musical, he doesn’t exactly look like a teenager anymore. The make-up applied to him doesn’t always mesh (Sometimes looking like Play-Doh), and during a couple emotional moments, he appears to be melting. (Honestly, I thought he was supposed to be sickly when I first saw the trailer, not knowing that it was just the feeble attempts at hiding his age). He still gives a fine enough performance and obviously has one Hell of a voice, being able to belt out a few of the numbers in spectacular fashion. (To give a little leeway though, nobody in the movie quite looks the age they’re supposed to be) We get some excellent work out of Kaitlyn Dever (Who is proving to be a really talented actress, with more range than people give her credit for), Amandla Stenberg, Nik Dodani (Who gets several funny sarcastic quips) and an especially wonderful Julianne Moore. Amy Adams and Danny Pino, who have one of the harder jobs in the film and though I'm not sure the screenplay does it quite enough justice (Adams character at times comes off as a little crazy in a couple scenes), there is a reason to some of their actions. They also get one of the more effectively warmhearted moments in the film.
Cry Macho by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Clint even cries more macho than me.
I have an immense amount of respect for Clint Eastwood. The dude is over ninety years old, and while he certainly looks aged, he's spry as Hell, always working, and still at times can pop out a good film or two. (We don't talk about "The 15:17 to Paris". Nobody does) For what it's worth, I had some high hopes for this movie. Yeah, problematic stuff aside, I consider myself a lenient guy with a soft spot for this kind of simple, humanized filmmaking. Depressingly though, once it ended, I was left questioning if I actually liked it. Then I thought about it some more. Now I really don't like it.
Released in theaters and through HBO Max, "Cry Macho" follows a retired, completely worn and wither Texas rodeo cowboy, "Mike Milo" (Clint Eastwood), who loses his job and now doesn't do much of anything these days. He's approached by his old boss, "Howard Polk" (Dwight Yoakam), who needs someone to cross the Mexican border to find his estranged son, "Rafael" (Eduardo Minett), or "Rafo" for short. Rafo has been living with his rather unhinged mother, "Leta" (Fernanda Urrejola), and she has no intention of letting him go, despite the fact that she doesn't really even like her son too much. Rafo is always getting into trouble, carrying about his rooster, named "Macho", to participate in cock fights. So Mike is told to leave and return across the border, only to find out Rafo, along with Macho, have stowed away in his car. While avoiding people that Leta has sent after them, Mike and Rafo must make their way across the border, while discovering that their seemingly simple journey is about to take a lot longer than expected. At least it kind of feels that way to me.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, and based on the book of the same name by the late N. Richard Nash (Retaining a long delayed screenplay credit with Nick Schenk), "Cry Macho" is disappointing not just due to the wanting for Clint Eastwood's success (Personal issues some might have aside, I never like to see legends fail), but also because there is potential for something poignant that could have been done here. The film is slow, like a frail old man, meandering around, searching for a point and only at times ringing true. Sadly for the most part, it's more of a depressingly unfinished and worst of all, completely unfocused. Eastwood's eye for beautiful cinematography is given its due, but the film's pacing takes its sweet time moving forward. The screenplay lacks enough character to make the deliberate pace necessary, and the film's apparent message of ignoring in your face masculinity and machismo (And how more sensitivity and humanity is what really wins people over), doesn't actually go anywhere. Maybe that in the end wasn't the point, yet the film doesn't do a good enough job establishing anything else. Some of that fault also lies with the film's editing, which includes quite a few moments that could have been cut out (Such as an unnecessary prologue and awkward flash forward in the film's opening), or at least would have served better happening in the same scene instead of being drawn out. It's unevenly made, which makes for an offputting tone (That has some kind of comedy and some kind of drama, mixed with something that's just existing), and a culmination that never comes.
Clint Eastwood, who appears to have accepted his age and wisely has been utulizing that into his more recent films, still has plenty of star power. He's charismatic enough to carry the film, even with the weak dialogue. I give credit to Eduardo Minett, although he's not exactly experienced enough, for still being able to hold his own with Eastwood. Minett still could use a little more work, but isn't without talent. Dwight Yoakam mostly just remains in the same room, not getting much to do. He's good in the film for what little an onscreen role he's given. Fernanda Urrejola and Horacio Garcia Rojas (as "Aurellio", Leta's henchman) are caricature-like villains, who a degree, could have had much of their scenes left out. (I guess it's to add more urgency, though they're so pathetic that they never resonate) Natalie Traven (as "Marta", a widow that Mike and Rafo meet while trying to hide out, becoming Mike's love interest), is a warm presence, though her romantic subplot with Eastwood isn't particularly earned, and everything involving that plotline stops the film in place for a good chunk of the second half. I suppose the most memorable character would be Macho, who is one badass rooster. (Thanos wouldn't have stood a chance. Just saying) On a side note, I only just now read up that at one point, the main star would have been Arnold Schwarzenegger (His involvement being one of the many reasons the novel took so long to get adapted), and I think that would have made more sense. In a way, it might have possibly brought more pathos to the story's themes.
It's the kind of film that doesn't make one mad, but rather just makes you upset that it doesn't work. It kind of makes you wanna cry actually. I really wanted to like "Cry Macho", and despite some sprinkles of charm every once in a while, the film looks lost and unsure about what exactly it wants to be. It becomes especially frustrating once the film limps towards a mostly nonexistent climax and ends without much resolution. I honestly surprised that the film was even over, turning away for such a moment and turning back to the screen to see credits already rolling. Those worried that the film might have its own more social or political agenda really have themselves bent out of shape over nothing. If it's there, I couldn't see it, and the film isn't good enough to worry about anyway. I'm a bit shocked at how little I found myself caring, and even after thinking about it some more, it's hard to truly grasp what went wrong. A lack of story, personality, or you know, an actual point? I'm not sure. It could just be a bad movie, and I'm struggling to find reasons as to why it isn't. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 Adult Content And Macho Cocks.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Is it strange that now I have even more of a crush on Jessica Chastain?
One thing that I've learned about faith and religion as I've gotten older, is that people both salvage and ruin it. The ideals and messages of any religion can be interpreted in a variety of ways, for better or for worse. It can create some of the best kind of people, with the biggest hearts. Then there are others who use it to hate or instead profit from, which is the biggest thing that turns everyone off of it. Regardless of my person thoughts on whatever form of faith you take, if it contributes to making you into a good person, that's great. I would never blame one though because of how someone acts, especially since it's all about how they see it. Now the weirdos? Those just make for the best stories.
Based on true events (And mostly inspired by the 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato), "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" follows the life of "Tammy Faye Bakker" (Jessica Chastain), a somewhat weird (Well, more than somewhat), but overall kind hearted evangelist and singer, as we see her marriage to the charismatic (And rather flamboyant....Just saying) "Jim Bakker" (Andrew Garfield). Despite Tammy's strict mother, "Rachel" (Cherry Jones), not exactly seeing eye to eye with her future plans, Tammy and Jim become famous televangelists, creating their own television network, known as "PTL" (Praise The Lord), which allows Jim to preach, Tammy to sing, among other Christian based charity work, which required lots of donations. So yeah, something is definitely up here, despite the possibly best of intentions. Tammy and Jim's relationship is thrown into turmoil, with rumors of fraud, loads of debt, some adultery, and even some ire from other political Christian groups, threatening to tear their entire empire down.
Directed by Michael Showalter ("The Lovebirds", "The Big Sick"), with a screenplay by Abe Sylvia, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", is a cleverly made, though somewhat off in terms of execution, but still very thoughtful biopic, that remembers where the focus of the story should be regardless of what sadly doesn't get quite enough attention to resonate. The film at first plays out, much like the main focus of the real life story, as preppy, quirky, and colorfully offbeat, with an overly wide eyed sense of optimism and sugary sweetness. It's an inspired creative choice, especially once we reach the second act, where the hard realism oozes its way in, completely derailing what at first looked like the rise to stardom, before plummeting to the very bottom. The film's happy tone crashed rather violently, and takes a hammer to the blindly naive sense of faith. It makes the lead focus sympathetic and you could say, easy to at least forgive, despite the clear flaws. A lot of things really hinge on the lead performance, and if you can get that right, it will be the glue that holds everything together in spite of a few important missing pieces.
Jessica Chastain, who even here just remains my number one celebrity crush (What? I'd like to think that I'd make it work with a Tammy Faye type! Love conquers all right?), is the kind of spectacular that instantly guarantees an early Oscar hopeful. It's for good reason too. She doesn't underplay it, and for a character like this, you need to go all out, even if you have to steal the limelight in the process. From encompassing the real life inspiration's mannerisms, wide eyed demeanor, and regardless of problematic choices, overall sense of kindness, Chastain refrains from falling into caricature, even for a character that almost could border on it if not for the fact that's apparently what Tammy Faye Bakker was. Andrew Garfield, and those puffy cheeks, is also rather well cast, adding some humanity to someone that quite frankly to me, was a total piece of sh*t (And a godawful husband too! Some of the stuff he does in the movie just really pissed me off). Cherry Jones also brings a softer side to a character that at first appears harsh (Although she was probably the most logical person in the entire movie). Vincent D'Onofrio (as "Jerry Falwell", the renowned and rather repulsive pastor), chews some scenery, though only gets a handful of scenes.
"The Eyes of Tammy Faye" falters when it comes to a few details (So, did their kids just exist purely offscreen? They're there for small bits, but vanish into thin air) and feels like it's somewhat lacking when compared to other far superior Oscar hopefuls (I wouldn't be surprised if this finds itself a Best Picture nomination, somehow beating out other better films). For all it's faults, it remains an occasionally funny, morally thought provoking, and still very touching look into the life of sympathetic person, though possibly out of slight manipulation. The film boasts some good make-up (Though it takes a lot of work to make Jessica Chastain not look world shatteringly beautiful), a suitably eccentric style, and Chastain's winning performance, elevating what's mostly just solid enough, to something more worthy. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Lots Of Accents, And Eye Popping Mascara.
Copshop by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: All right, I'll give you a good review!
I've been doing this for over eleven years now, and by this point, it's hard to truly surprise me with much. It rarely ruins the filmgoing experience, and sometimes a good twist can get me. What I mean though is that it's rare for a film to completely come out of the blue, with little warning or fanfare, and catch me off guard from start to finish.
"Copshop" opens with a fleeing, man-bun wearing con artist, "Teddy Murretto" (Frank Grillo), punching a rookie cop, "Valerie Young" (Alexis Louder), before getting tossed in a small town Nevada police station lock-up. During that same night, a random drunk driver (Gerard Butler) is also tossed into the same lock-up, revealed to be a skilled hitman named "Bob Viddick". It turns out Teddy has pissed off the wrong people and Viddick is the guy whose been sent to take him out. Valerie starts to become suspicious, Viddick is waiting for the right moment to get his hands around Teddy's throat, another cop, "Huber" (Ryan O'Nan) appears to be hiding something from his fellow officers, and before long, the night gets a lot of chaotic. The precinct is assaulted by a bizarrely deranged assassin, "Anthony Lamb" (Toby Huss), resulting in a wounded Valerie being stuck in lock-up with Viddick and Teddy, forced to seal the entrance shut. Valerie now has to make some deals with some devils if she's going to survive this deadly situation.
Directed (and Co-written) by Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces", "the A-Team", "The Grey") with producing credits from Gerard Butler and Frank Grillo, "Copshop" pays homage to 70s style close quarter action films, with a darkly comedic edge, unrelenting levels of blood and violence, and characters that can be just repulsive to be around. It's not exactly insightful, too deep, or something that I can logically recommend to everyone. It's the kind of psychotic, self-aware, and refreshingly original breath of blood soaked fresh air that I have found myself thoroughly fascinated by the more I expand what kind of films that I see. It's a gorgeously shot film, with a grainy, saturated color palette that pops off the screen and is thoroughly appealing to look out, despite how rather filthy everything looks. It's certainly not glamorous, and that fits the tone perfectly. Carnahan does a bang-up job building tension, keeping you guessing constantly about what's going to happen next, and what exactly is it going to be that sets everything ablaze.When the action does happen, it can be a little haunting at times, with the bloody violence almost blinding you with just how red it is. (Not to mention, dirt as well) It's carefully crafted, without being exploitative (Okay, maybe a little bit, but I think that's what they're going for in a homage sort of way). The rather sadistic screenplay doesn't hold back, filled with eccentric, though still captivating characters, each with their own secrets and motivations that aren't always fully clear.
It's more or less a character driven film. Alexis Louder, being essentially the main character, is a realistically vulnerable, charismatic, and suitably deadpan action heroine. Her character's lack of experience shows (Whether it be in a gunfight, or having to deal with the manipulations of those she's forced to ally with), but her own natural abilities also shine through, especially as the film progresses. She's a breakout, and holds her own with the veterans. Frank Grillo, and his wild hairdo, is relishing his weasily role, though giving him just enough slight moments of humanity to where you are questioning if he can be trusted in some capacity. Gerard Butler gives his best performance, clearly showing a lot of great enjoyment playing the ultimate smartass, who at least knows exactly what he is and doesn't appear to be too ashamed about it. Toby Huss meanwhile appears to be having a little too much fun here, and doesn't remotely reel himself in (It sure as Hell makes for quite a few hilariously twisted sequences of out of control villainy).
"Copshop" is the definition of sleazy, madcap, always grinning ear to ear fun. Never taking itself too seriously, whether it comes to the intentionally in your face tough guy (Or tough girl) dialogue, and a sincere appreciation for something a little more old school, if not somewhat forgotten. It makes the kind of colorfully charismatic chaos that's missing from the modern action flick. When the filmmakers are having a riotous time, with characters completely having a ball, you end up caught up in the bewildering bombast, that your inner sicko won't be able to help himself and break free. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Strong And Very Red Violence, Lots Of Language, Clear Mental Issues, And Bloody Balloon-O-Grams.
Malignant by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: No wonder she can't sleep. She just watched this film.
You know, I don't think pizza was the best thing to eat during this movie. I mean, it's certainly not a doctor recommended breakfast choice, but how was I supposed to know that just as I started chowing down, I was going to be introduced to some of the best body horror I've ever seen on film? It didn't help that it looked kind of like the pizza too. Still kept eating though.
"Malignant" follows a traumatized woman, "Madison "Maddie" Mitchell" (Annabelle Wallis), trapped in an abusive relationship with her husband, "Derek" (Jake Abel), and also just so happens to be pregnant (Though has suffered a couple of tragic miscarriages). After Derek hits her again, Maddie locks herself in her bedroom one night, and during that time, Derek is suddenly gruesomely murdered by some kind of black clad, bone twisting entity, who also attacks Maddie, resulting in the loss of her baby. Some time later, Maddie, with some support from her sister, "Sydney" (Maddie Hasson), attempts to move on. However, Maddie starts to be plagued by nightmares, witnessing that same being from before, brutally murdering more people, with each death more violent than the last. Believing herself to have some kind of twisted psychic connection to this bloodthirsty killer, this leads to the involvement of detectives, "Kekoa Shaw" (George Young) and "Regina Moss" (Michole Briana White), who investigate the killings further. Maddie soon discovers that her connection to the killer, or "Gabriel" (Voiced by Ray Chase) as he's referred to as, is much deeper, going all the way back to when she was a child (An imaginary friend brought to life perhaps?). Gabriel has some demented plans of his own, leaving Maddie trapped in one Hell of a nightmare that doesn't seem to have an end.
Directed by James Wan ("Saw", "The Conjuring", "Aquaman"), with a screenplay by Akela Cooper ("Hellfest"), "Malignant" is a film that regardless of how you feel about its various twists and turns, seemingly intentionally campy tone, and vile sense of blood lust, it's certainly one of the more original and unique films to be marketed as a mainstream horror movie. For better or for worse. I'd actually consider it more of a action thriller in places, that just so happens to have some very macabre elements. It's a wildly unpredictable, and at times, just plain messed up, thrill ride, that at times feels a bit more off than probably intended. Wan is a talented director, and his way of building up tension, framing grisly violence, and creating an unrelenting state of dread, is as usual a sight to behold (Not to mention, his ability to go back and forth from superhero action epics and small scale scary stories, shows a lot of range). He also does create a few elaborate set pieces, that are entirely his own. The film does feel a bit uneven though when it comes to the execution of its story, which is very serious and quite depressing, but still features occasionally out of place creative choices and the way some early reveals are explained, don't quite mesh. There's a major character twist early on that gets dropped on the audience without much build up and is just sort of accepted without question, or a mini-subplot where Maddie herself is suspected of being the killer, though by that point, it becomes obvious that there is most likely something less explainable at work. (I know that supernatural things can be hard for some to buy, but at some point logic goes out the window) I'm not always sure that it has anything to do with the direction or even the screenplay, though rather just something either cut out in editing or just in need of a little more polish. These kind of things are a little on the distracting side, though thankfully aren't enough to ruin what is actually a suspenseful, fairly heart racing tale, which also offers quite a few unexpected surprises and incredible imagery.
Annabelle Wallis, who has been someone that I wasn't exactly sure ever showed much range, is more than excellent here, really selling the heart wrenching dramatic turmoil that her character is going through, even during what could easily go down a silly route. In a way, when things get more out there, she really sells it. There are also some good supporting parts for Maddie Hasson (Serving as the film's soul), and Susanna Thompson (as "Jeanne", Maddie and Sydney's mother), while the little moments of levity are provided by George Young and Michole Briana White. Also a quick shout out to Mckenna Grace (Who plays young Maddie in a couple integral scenes), who wonderfully delivers one of the film's most shocking moments in a truly terrifying fashion. Then there's our monstrous villain, Gabriel, making for a menacing villain, with a mesmerizing design, and a deranged personality that's just as fun to watch as it is unsettling. I dare not spoil anything else about this character, and where his completely out there story goes.
"Malignant" doesn't always work, isn't traditionally frightening, and goes places that might leave some audiences perplexed, but the film makes up for the lack of scares with plenty of unrelenting, at times cruel sense of macabre fun. This is especially prevalent once we reach the absolutely nuts final act, where the entire film is busted wide open (Kind of talking about that in a literal sense), revealing just exactly whats going on and doing so in one of the most shocking ways I've seen in a while. The film can seem a little messy in parts, and yet, it all comes together, resulting in some grotesque images, a couple unhinged killing sprees (A sequence involving a police precinct is especially memorable, even with the lackluster CGI), and even adds some extra depth that you don't fully think about the first time. This movie is James Wan embracing his more nihilistic roots, going for some unapologetically crazy, gory thrills. It may be too unique for its own good. However, it's also got the makings of a future cult favorite, with a twist that I'm never gonna forget about. 3 Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Images, Gore Galore, And Head Cracking Craziness.
Cinderella by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Looks like she's having a ball.
I have questions. Who exactly was this made for? Who wanted this in the first place? Who had yet another, supposedly more modernized "Cinderella" adaptation, on their must see of 2021? This movie might possibly know who its audience is, but I sure as Hell don't. Maybe I'm just old. I am almost 30 after all.....And I've seen a lot of versions of "Cinderella".
Released through "Amazon Prime", this new "Cinderella", as usual, follows "Ella" (Camila Cabello), who lives with her wicked (But not really), stepmother, "Vivian" (Idina Menzel), and wicked (But again, not really), stepsisters, "Malvolia" (Maddie Baillio) and "Narissa" (Charlotte Spencer). Ella, given the nickname "Cinderella", is generally forced to work and isn't exactly treated as an equal among her stepfamily, though they never actually do anything to her this time around aside from being catty. Really catty. Ella doesn't have a friend in the world, with the exception of her mice buddies/CGI abominations (Voiced by James Acaster, Romesh Ranganathan, and James Corden). While Ella dreams of changing the system and designing her own dresses for a shop she hopes to run, the prince, "Robert" (Nicholas Galitzine), is being forced by his parents, "King Rowan" (Pierce Brosnan) and "Queen Beatrice" (Minnie Driver), to seek out a future queen, though Robert's early feminist sister, "Gwen" (Tallulah Greive), seems to have more interest and competence when it comes to one day ruling the kingdom. Robert is immediately smitten to Ella, convincing his father to arrange for a ball, open to all kinds of royalty and commoners, so that he can meet Ella there. Ella is denied a chance to go to the ball, but her wishes are granted by the arrival of the magical "Fabulous Godmother" (Billy Porter), who gifts Ella with a dress, a carriage, her mice friends turned into their respective voice actors, and some glass slippers. Ella has only until midnight to enjoy the ball before the magic wears off and.....What am I doing? You know this story already! It's just "Cinderella"! Except it's a jukebox musical! Cinema!
Written and directed by Kay Cannon ("Blockers"), "Cinderella" is a movie that only has an idea. It's an idea with the best of intentions to flip the script, add in some more diversity, and convert a classic story for the ever changing times. It's just a shame that it not only falls flat, but it does so in a tragically ill-conceived and annoyingly bland fashion. The film never finds a way to justify itself, with an uninspired screenplay, with jokes that never land, and song choices that range from unnecessary to just plain lazy. Songs like "Rhythm Nation", "Somebody to Love", and "Whatta Man", just don't work and waste solid set and costume design. The better renditions would be "Shining Star" (Sung by Billy Porter, along with Camila Cabello), and "Material Girl" (Done by Idina Menzel. Probably the best number in the movie by default), but most of the others don't leave much of an impression. When the songs don't liven up the musical, it makes the overstretched nearly two hour runtime see padded out, with a few noticeable moments of drawn out silence and scenes that are meant to be funny, yet go nowhere. There is a lot of that actually. It's like it's trying to be quirky, stumbling on itself intentionally on a few occasions. It kind of feels like a sitcom, without the laugh track, pausing to get a reaction that never comes. However, I think I only chuckled once or twice, and even then, it was just barely. You just sit there, waiting for the movie to just get to the point before you consider cancelling that Amazon Prime subscription out of spite. (I mean, you'd never dare. You need that subscription, but you'd at least think about it)
It's too bad since the actors are all trying their best regardless. Camila Cabello isn't much of an actress and it shows to a degree, but she has some onscreen presence. The same goes for Nicholas Galitzine, with neither of them given a screenplay with much to offer. The film makes a change for our love interests to have scenes together unlike previous adaptations, and yet, there is even less romance between them. You somehow care less. Billy Porter isn't in the movie near enough, while Idina Menzel isn't a bad choice to play the evil stepmother, she's not particularly villainous. She's tone down to the point she comes across as a slightly jerkish stepmother. Nothing wicked about her. Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan are also trapped with the mediocre writing, but I just can't ever find myself getting mad at them. I love seeing them, and they deserve so much better. The same goes for the charming Tallulah Greive, who just gets to pop up for a couple punchlines. Also, the less said about the horrifically ugly mice, the better. I know this movie didn't cost much, but that doesn't excuse how grotesquely ugly the almost unfinished CGI is here. (James Corden's big head appearing on a tiny mouse body. Not as nightmarish as his role in "Cats".....But that bar is as low as you can go)
Unfunny, unimaginative, and lacking in any kind of magic, "Cinderella" wants to reinvent the old tale, but feels dated already and unnecessary. We've already seen this before, and we've seen it done better. (We got both of Disney's animated and live-action versions. We honestly already peaked right there) Nothing worth revisiting, especially when it's much worse now. I didn't want it. You didn't want it. Nobody wanted it. Sadly, I don't think Amazon will let you return it afterwards. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Very Slight Adult Content, And Lots Of Awkward Silence.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: This man is a Marvel.
We are continuing to enter this fourth phase of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (For those of you who on the off chance don't know, they're the series of films and shows based on the characters and stories from "Marvel Comics". It's been going on for over thirteen years, with some of the most successful films of all time, but I feel that some still don't know). We've had iron men, captains of America, Hulks that are pretty incredible, along with an ant man and a spider man. So many new worlds and characters upon characters, and we're still asking the questions, where else can they possible go? What new hero is going to play a part in this brand new era?
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" follows a valet in San Francisco named "Shaun" (Simu Liu), who leads a mostly uneventful life with his longtime best friend, "Katy Chen" (Awkwafina), with neither having an intention of doing anything of significance. Then suddenly one day, Shaun and Katy are attacked on a bus by a one armed, steel blade wearing assassin, "Razor Fist" (Florian Munteanu). Shaun reveals to Katy that his real name is "Shang-Chi", and he is the son of a thousand year old conqueror "Wenwu" (Tony Leung), known to some as the "Mandarin" (The real one this time). Wenwu, armed with ten magical rings of immense power, is the leader of an international terrorist group called "The Ten Rings", and Shang-Chi has spent his life attempting to break free from his father's cycle of violence after the tragic death of his mother, "Ying Li" (Fala Chen).
To escape the Ten Rings, Shang-Chi and Katy, search for his missing sister, "Xialing" (Meng'er Zhang), who also isn't particularly happy with Shang-Chi's purposeful disappearance and is now running her own underground fight club. Wenwu's forces though, are persistent and eventually Shang-Chi is brought face to face with his father. Wenwu is still is despair after the death of his wife, having made misguided plans to find a path to an ancient, mystical village known as "Ta Lo", home to all kinds of creatures and unknown power. Wenwu's actions could result in the release of an evil force of mindless destruction, which threatens the entire world. Now it's up to Shang-Chi to confront his past, to defend the hidden village's secrets, and in time, possibly become one of Earth's newest mightiest heroes.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton ("Just Mercy", "The Glass House"), who also wrote the screenplay along with David Callaham ("Wonder Woman 1984", "Mortal Kombat") and Andrew Lanham (A frequent collaborator with Cretton), "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is the first straight forward origin story we've gotten in some time from the MCU (Even more than "Captain Marvel", which had already found itself rooted in the rest of the film universe). This film is almost a complete blank slate, serving as a starting point of sorts for newcomers, though with plenty of already established aspects already integrated for longtime fans. All of this shows that the franchise has the continued potential of staying power, but can stand on its own just as something truly special. The film takes a little time before connecting into the larger MCU, instead deciding to direct most of its focus on where it should be. It's a classic heroic origin story, with that usual superhero flair, that takes a more grounded look at it. Even when things get more fantastical, it always feels as if we're seeing this through new, more relatable eyes.
One complaint, no matter how much I do love these films, I can see how some critics could ponder how much of these films are truly the work of the directors or just calculated studio decisions. This is clearly Destin Daniel Cretton's film, and it makes for one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's best looking films. The action is fast paced, well choreographed, and astonishingly elaborate. Whether its close quarters between fighters, or filled with beautifully rendered CGI monsters, they aren't just up to par with what we expect for the long running franchise, they've actually surpassed what they've already done and set a completely new standard. Plus, everything is clear to the eye, so you can appreciate how much hard work actually went into all of this (Even the most basic action films struggle with that). Underneath all of the superheroics is a deeper story, with complex characters that look and react like, well, people, even though pretty much most of these characters are still remembering the fact that half the universe was wiped out and just recently brought back. Something I love about the film is how it establishes itself within the larger grand scheme of things. It's no longer the same world we're used to. There are superpowered beings and mutated creatures everywhere, and that's apparently normal now. It lends itself to a lot of humor for sure, and a lot of creativity, especially with the film's later developments. It's the first time that we've really gotten into the new status quo.
The film really gets down and personal with its characters, which shows positive representation of Asian culture without feeling as if it's being exploited. Similar with "Black Panther", the film doesn't need to tone anything down or pander to American audiences. (It's especially noticeable early on, when the film's opening backstory is completely subtitled. No need to have people talk in English when it wouldn't be logical for them to do so). At the heart and soul of the film is both our main hero and main villain. Simu Liu has the chops and obvious skill to pull off a realistic action hero, with plenty of charisma and loads of chemistry with Awkwafina, who also serves as great comic relief as well as someone who has much more to contribute than they normally would. Tony Leung is more than just the main antagonist, because he too serves as emotional center of the film. He's subtle, at times charming as Hell, undeniably sympathetic, but always retaining this certain sense of menace, showing that this may be a villain, he's very much a human one. The relationship between Liu and Leung puts an even more complicated spin on the battle between our hero and the big bad, and it never makes it remotely simple. You actually find yourself actually liking the both of them. Meng'er Zheng gets a breakout performance, getting her own little side origin that I'm hoping will get more development in future films. Fala Chen, mostly appearing in flashbacks, is quite wonderful, serving as a graceful presence, while Michelle Yeoh (as "Ying Nan", a protector of Ta Lo), gets to class things up, while she's kicking all kinds of ass. There are also some surprise appearances from the larger MCU, such as the always great Benedict Wong (as "Wong", partner to "Doctor Strange", who is participating in Xialing's fight club), and a certain high profile actor, returning from a previous film to once again steal the show. (How the film ties into one of the more controversial entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is quite clever and hilarious, which should appease both those who didn't mind and those who did) Also, you will remember "Morris". I won't tell you who or what that is, but you'll fall in love instantly.
When we reach the final act, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" becomes one Hell of a surreal, visually incredible extravaganza, that may turn off some viewers, though by this point, a grand final CGI heavy battle is basically the norm. Luckily for me, the effects are excellent, the artistry behind the action is mesmerizing, and there's a freakin dragon! I'm sorry, but there is a small list of things that will always win me over, and that's one of them. It's a tale that opens small, then builds to an epic finale, that thankfully, never forgets the heart and humor that's meant to help elevate past the more generic blockbusters. Everything from Destin Daniel Cretton's expert direction, flawless performances, a score (And soundtrack) worth repeat listenings, unforgettable imagery, and characters that you'll find yourself equally invested in and in love with. The film takes what should be basic, and makes it feel brand new again. It shows that the now old school formula still has soul, similar to 2008's "Iron Man", and doesn't show any signs of wearing thin. Also, Dragons! One of Marvel's best for sure, but also, one of their most accessible. It's as if while this universe has been going on for some time, there's still so much more that we're yet to experience. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Martial Arts Style Violence, Family Problems, Soul Sucking, And Faceless, Winged Piggies.