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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Don't Worry Darling, Pearl, The Woman King, Barbarian, Pinocchio, Medieval, Me Time, Three Thousand Years of Longing, The Invitation, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, Beast, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Prey, Bullet Train, DC League of Super Pets, Nope

Coming Soon: Bros, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Black Adam, Halloween Ends, Wendell & Wild, Black Panther 2, The Fablemans, Strange World, Avatar 2, Puss in Boots 2, Knives Out 2

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: Good  

★★½ : Eh

★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better  

★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?  

: Hope You Have A Good Date  

½: Little To No Redeeming Value

No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices

Don't Worry Darling                                   by James Eagan                           ★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: As it Was....


Ego is a powerful thing. It's your first time as a film director, bringing to the screen a unique comedy that makes a profit thanks to a small budget, garners critical acclaim, and most of all, gets you a massive following of people who just can't wait to see what you do next. Then you find studios from all over clamoring for your next project, which will be bigger than your first by a long shot. An ensemble cast, a sizable budget, and early Oscar predictions showing up before we see a single frame of the final product. It's your magnum opus. Unfortunately then that movie turns out to be "Don't Worry Darling" and all of the behind the scenes drama sounds like it would have made for much better cinema. 


"Don't Worry Darling" follows a loving housewife, "Alice Chambers" (Florence Pugh), who does what any 1950s wife does. She cooks and cleans, waits for her always working husband, "Jack" (Harry Styles), and gossips with the other housewives within their colorful, seemingly perfect town of "Victory" (Located literally in the middle of nowhere). Founded by the charismatic "Frank" (Chris Pine), Victory has a few rules, such as all the men working on this mysterious project outside of the town, along with nobody being allowed outside the borders, being told to stay where it's safe. After one of Alice's friends, "Margaret" (KiKi Layne), suffers a mental breakdown after venturing off outside the town, Alice also starts to get a little curious about what Frank is really doing, discovering that her so called perfect life is in reality a terrifying nightmare that she may not be able to escape from. 


Directed by Olivia Wilde ("Booksmart"), with a screenplay by Katie Silberman (Collaborating with Wilde once again), "Don't Worry Darling" has been plagued with controversy (Actor disputes, actor removals, divorces, and um, people spitting on each other?), going from one of the year's most anticipated movies to one that's become a source of much internet mockery. The film has ambitions and Wilde doesn't seem to hesitate at letting the audience know that, with grand sets, elaborate costumes and psychotic imagery. And while it's certainly all glossy, it still feels incredibly hollow. Dare I say, obnoxiously so. It feels over-produced for a story that isn't quite as deep as it seems to think it is, with a concept that we've seen done elsewhere and twists that lack much inspiration. The very self-serious screenplay doesn't really develop a good chunk of its characters, with many of them fading into the background, leading to a less than cohesive story that takes far too long to get to the punchline. 


Regardless, one can't deny just how wonderfully talented Florence Pugh is, as she capably carries the film without question or delay. She's continuously compelling, even when the film itself isn't. This is particularly offputting though when she's paired with Harry Styles (Current boyfriend to Olivia Wilde), who despite being talented in his own right, feels frustratingly miscast. Styles, who shifts randomly with his accent in odd places (That makes less sense as the movie goes on), isn't a terrible actor. He just really isn't one at all. It's too big of a part for someone without the experience (And possibly the acting chops), going up against such a powerhouse like Pugh. The chemistry just doesn't work. Chris Pine though is a very creepy presence, along with Timothy Simons (as "Dr. Collins", Frank's second in command, keeping tabs on the "well being" of the locals), while the film doesn't actually make much use of Gemma Chan (as "Shelley", Frank's wife) and Nick Kroll (as "Bill", Jack's co-worker). Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde (as "Bunny", Alice's gossipy best friend), comes across as fairly over the top, even for a movie that just seems to thrive on surreal weirdness. 


"Don't Worry Darling" is a good looking movie, with the exception of a poorly cut together final car chase climax, with good looking people, and that in the end, makes it all the more shallow. It treads familiar territory, without much to say of its own, wasting all kinds of potential and anticipation. It's so predictable that I just assumed a lot of things were just known simply by watching the trailer, only to find out that those aspects were meant to be surprising. It generates more unintentional comedy than titillating drama (The film's sex scenes and a couple late flashbacks are especially silly), and annoys the audience with its pretentiousness rather than captivating them. It's a major disappointment that leaves one with plenty to worry about who could possibly be affected the most by the final product's already diminished reputation. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Sexual Content, Freaky Images, And Moist Harry Styles. Trust Me Ladies. This Ain't Gonna Get You As Hot And Bothered As You Think.

Pearl                                                       by James Eagan                             ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: You know, I bet I could make it work still. 


Director Ti West, only a few months ago released his twisted, satirical homage to the slasher genre, "X". It was a fun, grotesque feature that would have felt right at home during a late night drive in movie. Production on a prequel also began almost immediately once the film was finished, continuing a classic trend of old fashioned horror, grindhouse features. In Ti West's own words "You can't make a slasher movie without a bunch of sequels", and to see it happen not only so quickly, yet also done so cleverly in a way that actually surpasses the films that its inspired by, showcase yet another filmmaker with a promising future ahead of him. A very bloody one probably, but it seems that he might be relishing that part.  


Set during 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic as well as World War I raging on, "Pearl" follows the murderous villainess from "X", simply only referred to as "Pearl" (Mia Goth). With her husband away fighting in the war, Pearl is stuck on her family's farm, with her strict and overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) and her sick, wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl's dreams and ambitions to become a star just like those fancy picture shows only grow as she develops a crush on a projectionist (David Corenswet), plans to take part in a dancing audition with her sister in law, "Mitzy" (Emma Jenkins-Purro), and partakes in some, lets just say, strange hobbies (Screwing scarecrows, killing geese, feeding her alligator, etc.). Pearl's temperament and resentment about not getting the life she feels she's owed start to fester, resulting in her inner madness being set free in one Hell of a bloodbath. 


Directed by Ti West ("X", "The Sacrament", "V/H/S"), who co-wrote the film with Mia Goth, "Pearl" is almost a complete departure from the previous film, both in tone, style, and execution, yet keeps this extra layer of devilish darkness waiting and demanding to be unleashed onto the screen. The film feels like a colorful, whimsical, 1950s coming of age story that just so happens to be out of its freakin mind. For a genre that didn't seem to be taking chances as of late, the horror-slasher flicks have begun to toy further with the audience's expectations. You come in for simple slashes and blood splats, but find yourself immersed in this saturated world. It makes for a lot of dark humor for sure, yet also adds to the film's sense of dread. The whole time whenever the film appears overly happy and bouncy like an old live-action Disney movie, you are just waiting for something to go horribly wrong. There are intentional tonal shifts between the bright and joyful to dark and unpleasant. West makes the film feel so genuine that you get lost within it, and that makes the moments of terror really jump out at you. 


Much of what really carries this film, aside from West's eye for batsh*t imagery, is Mia Goth. She's proven to be a multi-talented actress already in "X", but now, she's more front and center than ever. With those expressive eyes of her's, she is a terrifying wonder to behold, going from adorably eccentric to tragically dejected, then to creepily paranoid before jumping off the slippery slope into a nightmarish rabbit hole of uncontrollable rage. From a hauntingly delivered monologue (Which I think went on for like five to eight minutes straight) to one of this year's most memorable final shots, Goth's performance is very much deserving of praise, recognition, and hopefully, only more to come from her in the future. The other performances are also excellent and played completely straight in what could have gone into a place that's hard to take particularly seriously, even with the filmmakers keeping a tongue in cheek tone throughout. Tandi Wright is an imposing presence, with David Corenswet and Emma Jenkins-Purro portraying characters that have just a little more depth than what we at first see. Matthew Sunderland, who spends the entire movie in a wheelchair, neither speaking or moving in the slightest, conveys so much with just the simplest of looks. (I'm not even sure how to describe it, but whatever he did, it was effective!)


Surpassing "X" (And continuing the weird connection between the development of the porn industry), "Pearl" is an extra dose of derangement that offers a dazzling execution of once tired tropes, with Ti West's unconventional direction and Mia Goth's hypnotizing performance, making for another late night trip to the pictures. It's another savagely gory, all kinds of wrong, and most of all, just plain tons of fun in the most devious of ways. (Also, be sure to stick around again this time after the credits) Talk about yet another "Goddamn F*cked Up Horror Picture". 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Violence Of The Bloody And Gruesome Variety, Firey Familial Fights, Forking People Up, And A Smile That Will Forever Haunt You Every Time You Shut Your Eyes       

The Woman King                              by James Eagan                                   ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I'm putting $50 on her.


From the clear inspiration that the "Dora Milage" from "Black Panther" took from these historical amazon-like warriors, further demonstrating how even when world history seems to want to skim over or exclude whatever it can, some legends live on one way or another, whether they like it or not. 


Inspired by relatively true events, "The Woman King" follows the "Agojie", a protective unit made up of only female warriors, serving their West African kingdom of Dahomey. During the 1820s, the Agojie general, "Nanisca" (Viola Davis), who has become a close confidant of the king, "Ghezo" (John Boyega), prepares her warriors for upcoming conflict with Oya general "Oba Ade" (Jimmy Odukoya), as well as hoping to get their people out of the slave trading business. A young woman, "Nawi" (Thuso Mbedu), under tutelage from "Izogie" (Lashana Lynch), shows incredible promise, along with a disregard for certain traditions. As Nawi sets out to complete her training and her relationship with Nanisca deepens, the conflict only escalates, with the Dahomey's entire future hanging in the balance.   


Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Secret Life of Bees", "The Old Guard"), with a screenplay written by Dana Stevens ("The Nightingale") and a story credit to Maria Bello, "The Woman King" as one would expect, likely left out some facts, dramatized others, and repurposed itself for the movie loving public. This has always been the way of things. The purpose behind the film is more to showcase these real life, extraordinary warriors in an action packed, crowdpleasing epic. It's a beautifully cinematic story, with spellbending sequences of action and harsh training that despite the PG-13 rating, are still plenty brutal and merciless. (You damn near feel those cuts, bruises, and stabs, without needing to see much blood at all) The worldview showcased is also very unique, in part because the filmmakers never feel the need to whitewash things. (I mean that in the literal sense too) The film never turns away from some of the more complicated aspects of the story, such as the Dahomey kingdom being willing to participate in the slave trade themselves, as well as the wealth that their king was able to accumulate. One could argue that the film still doesn't dive deep enough, yet to see this kind of conflict being told as more than a simple good guy vs bad guy sort of story, is both commendable and necessary. It's a true tale of redemption in that way, as many of the heroic characters are shown with their flaws and mostly unsugarcoated. 


Viola Davis commands the screen more than she ever has before, with a grueling, yet sincere performance that proves how she really can do anything. It's not just her movie though. Thuso Mdedu is equally powerful, making for an unexpected breakout role, while Lashana Lynch provides heart and humor, along with a wonderful Sheila Atim (as "Amenza", Nanisca's close second in command). All the women are commendable regardless of how large of a role they play. Having gone through some real life training to prepare and look the part, they are a true force to be reckoned with. John Boyega is charismatic and regal, while retaining a commanding sense of authority. As for our villains, they're plenty despicable, if one note, with Jimmy Odukoya snarling his way through and Hero Fiennes Tiffin being all kinds of slimy (Much like his character from those "After" movies, except this was intentional). Jordan Bolger (as "Malik", Santo's mixed race friend, who becomes a love interest for Nawi) is fine, though I'm probably guessing that this plotline likely didn't happen this way in real life (Or at all) and it feels pretty unnecessary as usual. 


"The Woman King" falters when it comes to some of its more overly thematic moments that you can probably get a historian to thoroughly unravel. The film still brings the story to life in a grandiose way, with well put together action scenes, complex characters, and the chance to give these mighty warriors the kind of cinematic treatment they deserve. It's sure to enlighten, somewhat educate, and maybe even inspire. All great things if you ask me. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Enslavement, And For Probably Scaring The Crap Out Of A Bunch Of Bigoted White People. You Know Damn Well They Have Nightmares About This Kind Of Situation.     

Barbarian                                        by James Eagan                                   ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Nothing bad ever happens from pulling on a harmless little rope."


This right here! This is what "The Invitation" should have been. Sure, the trailer didn't have much choice than to state that this is a horror movie, but the way so much is kept hidden from the audience is how you make true horror work. One second you think it's one thing, before something out of your worst nightmares takes it down a completely different route, only for the rug to get pulled out from under you once again just for fun.   


"Barbarian" opens with "Tess Marshall" (Georgina Campbell), on her way to a job interview, having booked an Airbnb outside of Detroit, located in a run down, almost completely abandoned neighborhood. Tess finds out that someone else, "Keith" (Bill Skarsgård), has also rented out the small house. Looking like both were accidentally booked at the same time, Tess and Keith agree to stay together for the night and sort things out the next day. Despite some awkwardness, the two seem to hit it off pretty well. However, when Tess discovers something under the house, it begins an unhinged descent into Hell that nobody could have suspected. Meanwhile, a bro-ish, piece of sh*t actor, "AJ Gilbride" (Justin Long), who actually own the Airbnb, is having some trouble with some sexual assault allegations. Since he's got nowhere else to go at the moment, AJ decides to stop at the house, finding himself also roped into the bloody nightmare that's about to unfold. 


Written and directed by actor Zach Cregger (Whose only other directing credit is listed as a co-director for "Miss March". Talk about a step up!), "Barbarian" is nothing that's been advertised. Whether you go in blind or otherwise, it might be one of the most original films I've seen in some time. Expectations and what we see as cinematic norms are thrown out the window in favor of a grindhouse inspired mishmash of tones, terror, and even a couple of twisted laughs. Cregger's direction is ingenious, managing to shift between various styles depending on what kind of genre the movie wants to be at the moment. Going in, if you didn't somehow know that this was at its core a horror movie, you'd almost think it was just the simple story of a woman trying to make her way through life, possibly meeting a nice guy, and getting the job of her dreams. It's a pleasant start, with this slight sense of uneasiness that slowly creeps its way into the story. Next think you know, you find yourself trapped in a torturous and sadistic playhouse that you never could have imagined seeing on screen. Before you even have time to comprehend what in God's holy name is going on, the film pulls another twist that lands you once again inside another movie that I can only describe as comedically abhorrent. The film only continues to lose its mind in the most grotesquely awesome way. This is the definition of an edge of your seat thriller, where your mind struggles to keep up, suffering intentionally done mood whiplash. 


The direction and screenplay, which is also so clever in how it chooses to tell its story without feeling the need to explain right away (Like a puzzle, made out of sliced up body parts), can only be fully brought to life by the committed performances onscreen. Georgina Campbell is excellent in what should be ranked up along with other legendary heroines of horror. You immediately like her, care about her, and want her to survive, as she avoids typical horror movie mistakes and provides heart where you wouldn't even know it to be necessary. Bill Skarsgård, who we all know as Pennywise from the "It" movies, also gets to show off more of his acting chops in a role that plays against the audience's assumptions. Meanwhile, Justin Long is more than just brilliant here. I would consider him Oscar worthy in how much of an ass he can be, in a way that you wish was a caricature. He's a riot, even though you just hate his guts, and even then, his story isn't exactly predictable. Also, gotta give a special shoutout to Richard Brake (as "Frank", a man that the film stops in the last act to follow during one long sequence), for providing the kind of predatory menace that you can't look away from. 


There is so much about "Barbarian" that I can't possibly get into. So many twists and turns, both in terms of narrative and filmmaking structure. It's a demented, scary, at times actually pretty funny, and all together memorable masterwork of pure evil, with shock and fear at every corner. Beneath the gory surface though, is something far more intelligent than you would really even normally need. Classic frights, with a diabolically deranged mind and the insight to do something than stands out from everyone else. It's possibly even one of the best horror movies I've seen in theaters. If this doesn't become an instant classic in the eyes of horror fanatics, I'm going to do something possibly barbaric myself. 4 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Violence, Unpleasant Themes, Maximum Droopage, And Motherly Love.      

Pinocchio                                          by James Eagan                                         ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: If you ask me, he's giving a very wooden performance.


Not the most eventful "Disney+" day was it? We're greedy for all those "Star Wars" and "Marvel" reveals, along with maybe a couple unexpected surprises or two. Unfortunately we didn't get much this year. Just a remake of one of Disney's earliest and still greatest features via Disney+. Seems that this whole re-imagining of nostalgic, great animated films might be dying out. Especially since, after stuff like "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella", or even "Cruella", going to add more to the story than what we knew, instead we're just getting the same thing except not quite as good. I've been easy on some of these. "Beauty and the Beast" worked, while "The Lion King" was a visual marvel and "Aladdin" was just a fun, weird little time. So why is the one that actually could have added possibly a little extra substance to an eighty year old film, ends up being Disney's weakest one yet?


Based on the 1940 animated classic, which itself is based on the beloved fairy tale, "Pinocchio" opens with lonely woodcarver, "Geppetto" (Tom Hanks), who longs for more of a family aside from his CGI cat and fish, "Figaro" and "Cleo" in a workshop full of Disney Easter Eggs. So one night Geppetto makes a wish upon a star for a son, which a traveling cricket, named "Jiminy Cricket" (Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), happens to witness. That wish results in his recently constructed wooden marionette puppet, "Pinocchio" (Voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), is magically brought to life. He's then visited by the magically "Blue Fairy" (Cynthia Erivo), who deputizes Jiminy as Pinocchio's conscious and tells the little puppet that if he truly wants to be become a real boy, he will need to prove himself as brave, truthful, and unselfish. Geppetto, ecstatic over little Pinocchio, allows him to go to school, where he's immediately swept up into a series of adventures. Pinocchio comes into contact with a shady duo, the fox "Honest John" (Voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and his mute cat companion "Gideon", who make promises of fame and fortune, before allowing him to be abducted by the vile puppeteer, "Stromboli" (Giuseppe Battiston). Then Pinocchio finds himself roped into the devlishly wild carnival of juvenile delinquents called "Pleasure Island", run by the pure evil "Coachman" (Luke Evans). All of this results in a quest to rescue Geppetto from the jaws of a giant, man eating monster, tentacle whale, "Monstro".  


Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Cast Away", "Forrest Gump", and one of my all time favorites "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass", "Cinderella", "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"), this brand spanking new "Pinocchio" doesn't do too much new in the end. That's not unexpected though and Disney charm is its own beautiful, corporately constructed, and generally effective dose of love and magic that always finds a way to shine through almost every time. Some of the magic is there and the film isn't without a few changes, but unlike some of the more successful live-action remakes, this feels much more rushed. It follows the same exact story structure, only once in a while making a few changes, cutting stuff out, and updating minor aspects. Sadly, not only is the original not really in need of much of this, what we get is more offputting than whimsical. What brings it down more than anything is Zemeckis' direction, which is all over the place. It's already a weird tale, which in animated form is easy to go along with. At times Zemeckis is able to convey that kind of child-like wonder, with visually appealing colors and imagery. Then other times, the effects are god awful and undercooked. Possibly Zemeckis wanted to go for something that didn't look entirely real, but it's kind of hard to look at in places. The green screen is always at full display in both the background and foreground, and it only gets worse as the film progresses. Despite being a small scale story, it's still grand in execution, yet the budget doesn't look up to the task. I know I shouldn't expect the high standards of 2016's "The Jungle Book", which was visually incredible, funny, and still told a classic story with added emotion. Still, with how much these remakes just seem to get under people's skin, this is the first one where I think I kind of get it to a degree. 


The cast thankfully really brings their all, even when just re-doing a lot of what we've already seen before. Tom Hanks is wonderfully cast and too wholesome to dislike. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is solid, conveying the character's wide eyed likability well, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an inspired choice for Jiminy Cricket, doing a fantastic job. Keegan-Michael Key is also perfectly cast, getting some of the funniest lines, though sadly gets only one long scene, with the character getting cut out pretty quickly. (Honest John and Gideon were my favorite characters! Shame on you!) Cynthia Erivo doesn't get much to do here either, while Luke Evans on the other hand, who is completely unrecognizable, quite steals the movie with one Hell of a creepy performance. Some new additions like Kyanne Lamaya (as "Fabiana", a puppeteer working for Stromboli, who befriends Pinocchio) and Lorraine Bracco (as the voice of "Sofia", a talking seagull), who are both fine, though inconsequential. The effects on the animated characters veer back and forth between charmingly weird to unsettling for the wrong reasons. (So easy to throw around the whole Uncanny Valley argument these days, but yeah, there's a lot of that. We're not even going to get into the donkeys) The film also needlessly seems to get the idea that it needs to tone itself down, such as the kids drinking root beer at Pleasure Island instead of actual beer. This is a PG rated movie and it somehow feels tamer than the older G rated one. 


While the film isn't without some magic and even adds a more unique, rather ambiguous ending than before, this "Pinocchio" doesn't hold a candle to the original. That's not unexpected. However, it also feels more like a kids movie, rather than one that's meant for the whole family. The heart is there, though less prevalent. While even the other remakes have at least felt like events, this feels right at home only on streaming. Not at all terrible. Just a nonentity. Of course, none of this helps when the original animated version has aged so well and is still worthy for anyone, child or otherwise, to enjoy and resonate with. When Disney disappoints, it kind of hurts more than you expect. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Dark Imagery, Smoke Monsters, Wacky Italians, Juvenile Jackasses, And Bigotry Against Good Hardworking Wooden People.  

Medieval                                               by James Eagan                                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image:  "This had better be important. I have a better movie to get to."


A dark, violent, gritty and unforgiving Medieval epic is so hard to come by right now. You either flop hard like last year's "The Last Duel" or end up coming across as incredibly silly and dated. It's seen as old cinema or the things of fantasy, which is also hard to get right these days. Such a cool, classical, legendary time period. This needs to be on the big screen. Not this movie of course. I just mean the subgenre as a whole. Bring it back! 


Inspired by the legends of Bohemian military commander, "Jan Žižka" (Ben Foster), "Medieval" follows him before his later, great battles. During the fourteenth century, the current king of Bohemia, "Wenceslaus IV" (Karel Roden), is sure to also become the emperor of Rome, though the kingdom is in political turmoil at the moment. Due to the machinations of the greedy "Henry III of Rosenberg" (Til Schweiger), "Lord Boreš" (Michael Caine) devises his own plan, which involves Jan Žižka, who was a mercenary at the time, and his band of merry psychopaths to kidnap Rosenberg's soon to be bride, "Lady Katherine" (Sophie Lowe), to force his support of the king. However, after Žižka and his group take Catherine, they soon realize that they've been lured into an even more deadly scheme by the king's sinister brother, "Sigismund" (Matthew Goode), to claim power. After Sigismund has his bloodthirsty enforcer, "Torak" (Roland Møller) goes after his family, Žižka must gather a new band of rebels to save the kingdom from tyranny. Eventually, Žižka and Katherine become what stands between the kingdom falling into chaos, with Žižka becoming a hero of knightly legend.


Written and directed by Petr Jákl (In what I'm guessing is his first American theatrical release), "Medieval" is actually the most expensive Czech Republic film ever made at the moment. While the $20 million budget may seem small here, you can tell there was work put into this. A lot of it. You can also see the potential for a brutal historical based epic that incorporates old fashioned tale telling with the harsh, gruesome reality of just how down and dirty it really was. Hell, one might even be able to find inspiration from it in how good can triumph over evil in the neverending fight for freedom. Great stuff! It just frustratingly doesn't come together. The film doesn't have many original ideas, substituting them for grisly violence, predictable plotting, and a pretty poor script. Generic is the biggest word that comes to mind. What stands out about the film more than anything is how violent it is. The film takes the barbarism of the middle ages to new heights, where not one single death is remotely pleasant or painless. Faces are smashed or sliced clear off, while heads take several hits before decapitation and everybody is in nothing but pure agony as they see what their bodies look like turned inside out. At a point however, it gets a little over the top with it and damn near cartoonish. Sometimes during an action scene, the film will even stop dead to showcase soon to be dead people screaming outrageously over their missing limbs and it comes across as more humorous than disturbing. (Think that scene from "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller's arm blown off, except taken seriously)


The film is short on character, and it's most apparent with Ben Foster himself. First off, Foster, despite being a really good actor, feels so miscast in a distracting fashion. He's the one that looks as if he's doing medieval roleplay, and none of this helps when the character is by far the least interesting person in the entire movie. Most of his depth happens either offscreen, in flashbacks, or is just told via backstory, yet we barely see any of it. Much of the supporting characters also don't amount to much, with several subplots and schemes going on at once to the point it gets so jumbled together. The movie isn't without some solid performances, such as Michael Caine (Albeit barely in it) being the respectable, sophisticated actor we all know him to be. Matthew Goode is great as our slimy, conniving villain, along with an intimidatingly psychopathic Roland Møller. Sophie Lowe is also quite compelling, even when the script fails her. (The last second romance between her and Foster though is completely out of nowhere and unnecessary)


There is some fascinating intrigue and the makings of a great knightly saga, but "Medieval" wastes good storytelling ideas on a poor screenplay that leaves much unearned. The pacing is off due to constant plot juggling and the tone is unable to figure out if it wants to be a real, hardhitting action/drama, or something more chaotic and over the top (Apparent most in an unintentionally hilarious sequence involving a horrendous CGI lion). The sword is willing and ready, yet sadly, just too dull. 2 Stars. Rated R For Countless Cut Off Limbs, Head Smashing, Throat Slicing, Bone Breakings, And Ben Fostering.  

Me Time                                            by James Eagan                                            ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "It's OK....Our careers might still recover from this."


6% on Rotten Tomatoes? With an 29% audience score? Not to mention it being the #1 movie on Netflix despite this. Also, I don't really have anything to review this week anyways. What? I've been dealing with forgettable, unremarkable bad movies, that are either just boring or lame. I need more of the in your face badness like "Redeeming Love". I live for this crap! At least, I thought I did....  


Released via "Netflix", "Me Time" follows "Sonny Fisher" (Kevin Hart), a dad who stays at home, while his architect wife, "Maya" (Regina Hall), is generally away at work, leaving him with little time to do anything of excitement. However, when Maya decides to take a trip with their kids, "Ava" (Amentii Sledge) and "Dash" (Che Tafari), that leaves Sonny with some "Me Time". Since Sonny literally doesn't do much outside of his family, he reunites with his old, totally bro-ish best friend, "Huck" (Mark Wahlberg) for his upcoming birthday. Turns out though that Huck is still a reckless, buffoonish manchild, taking Sonny, along with a bunch of people they don't know onto a bus to the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, Huck also owes a loan shark, "Stan Berman" (Jimmy O. Yang), who gives him a day to pay him back or else. Then to make matters more worse, Huck convinces Sonny to engage in random debauchery, such as breaking into the house of Sonny's one-sided rival, "Armando" (Luis Gerardo Méndez) with their chaotic Uber driver, "Thelma" (Ilia Isorelys Paulino). And then to make matters even worse, they throw a house party. Also, to make matters even worse still.... this f*cking movie is longer than an hour and a half. 


Both written and directed by John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly", "I Love You, Man", "Why Him?"), "Me Time" is another one of those Netflix movies of the week, that most of the time is too bare-bones that I usually don't even end up reviewing them. (Yeah, I saw "The Gray Man" and it was perfectly mediocre. "Red Notice" too.) This time though, they take it to a whole new level of blandness. If we're being completely real here, I went into this expecting something offensive, stupid, and bad in a way that makes for one of those epic, ten paragraph reviews for the ages. Well.... it is stupid. They got that one right. It's certainly not funny. It's also so uninteresting and uninvolving, leaving one to wonder what exactly the intent was for it in the first place. It's a cheaply made film, that goes for easy jokes such as farts, ass, dicks, poo, and the usual stuff. However, it's not even gross out anymore. It's too lazy to be lazy by this point. When a comedy is funny, you're willing to forgive some shoddy filmmaking to a degree. Sadly, since there aren't any laughs to be had, you're left baffled by the film's inability to decide on what the plot even wants to be. It keeps changing throughout, with random subplots that pad things out and a disturbing lack of creativity. Everything revolves around whatever joke is being set up at the time, cobbled together to pose as a movie. Whether it be running over a turtle or Kevin Hart getting mauled by a PS2 level CGI Mountain Lion (The only time I got a laugh, mostly due to how poorly done it is), the movie doesn't have near enough of a story to justify itself. 


Kevin Hart is playing the most underdeveloped version of himself. It's the kind of shtick that we've become accustomed to, and yet, at least sometimes you can get a laugh or two out of him. Something feels off this time though. Sure, he's screaming a lot and flailing his arms around. It's a bit insincere this time. Most of which is because he has absolutely no chemistry with Mark Wahlberg, who is also actually kind of terrible in this. He's meant to be the dumb loser that just parties his way through life and aside from being obnoxiously dumb, but he isn't playing this right. His stupidity is inconsistent (Borderline inhuman), and too unbelievable. Both Hart and Wahlberg have their talents, though none of it is on display here. Many of these plotlines either don't go anywhere of importance or end up resolved in a predictably moronic fashion. Regina Hall is at least thankfully charming, but you expect that from her. 


While I can get behind the film showing stay at home dads in a positive light (Jokes aside, it's usually something that movies mock and it's cool to see one that's saying it's a respectable thing), "Me Time" isn't bad in any kind of fun way. The direction is flat, while the screenplay comes across as made up on the fly, with characters that are too imbecilic to be likable. It's one of those toss whatever you can at the screen kind of comedies, that sure, doesn't so much offend, but rather drains you of any sense of passion. You're not angry watching it. That would require investment. I can't assume that the filmmakers didn't give a sh*t, though nothing about the movie indicates that they did. If they don't care, you don't care. Waste of perfectly good "me" time. 1 Star. Rated R For Juvenile F Bombs, Bed Poopings, Animal Abuse (CGI or otherwise), and Marky Mark's Funky Bunch.

Three Thousand Years of Longing                                                                              by James Eagan                                                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★   

Image: "For the last time....I'm not Will Smith!"


Unpredictable storytelling is hard to come by these days, and that's because we feel that we've gotten so used to what we perceive as a standard narrative structure. It's hard to be surprised when you've seen so much and know most of the techniques. It's not something that bothers me. I'm just used to it and have accepted it. So believe me when I say that I legitimately had no idea where this was going, how it would get there, or what it even was for nearly all of the runtime.  


Inspired by the short story "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" by A. S. Byatt, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" follows an intelligent, though seclusive narratologist (Person who studies narrative structures and their impact on perspective), "Alithea Binnie" (Tilda Swinton), as she takes a trip to Istanbul. Alithea finds herself in possession of an old bottle, which unleashes a "Djinn" (also known as a Genie), named er, "Djinn" (Idris Elba), who offers to grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom. As the two talk in her hotel room, Alithea doesn't quite see herself in need of wishes, since she's already seemingly content with life. This prompts Djinn to recount to her some stories involving his past, along with the wishes he'd granted along the way, leading up to ending up in her possession. 


Directed by  George Miller (The "Mad Max" series, such as the Oscar nominated"Mad Max: Fury Road", along with "Happy Feet". Also Oscar Nominated!), who co-wrote the screenplay with Augusta Gore, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is a fairy tale gone completely mad with eccentricity. Miller crafts a topsy turvy carnival of chaos and surrealism, and doesn't seem to remotely care if you're on board or not. From the stylish and outrageous visuals, bizarre sense of humor, and indescribable tone, the film is almost in its own genre, mixing in magical fantasy, human drama, and sincere romance into a blender of bewilderment. Does this make any sense? To be honest, not really. A lot of this doesn't add up in a cohesive way that one can explain to a thoroughly comprehensive mind. If you're looking for logistics and explanation, your head will be tilting so much from confusion that it might snap your neck. Somehow though, at least to me, I feel that all of this is precisely the point. 


Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are the only characters that we actually get to know, with others being left to brisk appearances. What we know about them is what's told to us through narration. In the end, Swinton and Elba are who we're supposed to focus on and their chemistry is quite beautiful. Their back and forth is a joy to watch, and it develops into a more personal, quite compelling arc that weirdly warms your heart. I could have almost watched three hours of just the two of them talking, and that leads to a glaring, if not unconventional issue with the film. It's too short. The film clocks in at around an hour and forty-eight minutes and breezes by, yet seems to leave so much unsaid and under developed. I guess it could be seen as a positive on how you're left wanting more, but the story comes across as chopped up, even though I'm just assuming this was all what George Miller wanted. The visual effects aren't by any means real looking, with loads of obvious green screen and CGI that never blends into the real world in a seamless manner. This does feel fitting, adding to the otherworldly storybook-like cinematography. Miller's eye for unique imagery is also on full display, creating moments where you just don't know where you are or what you're seeing. (Side-note: It's also interesting to see people walking around, wearing masks. Most films these days don't really seem to mention Covid unless it's of plot relevance)


"Three Thousand Years of Longing" seems to be intent on breaking down what we seem to identify with as narrative storytelling, and it's hard to tell if the final outcome is brilliant or just plain sloppy. It's a puzzle that doesn't completely come together, though remains a fairly compelling, and admittedly unforgettable attempt at creating the kind of cinematic experience of beauty, love, loss, and wonder, that could go into a genre all its own. There's offbeat humor, along with some heart that comes through into the film's final, less extravagant act. George Miller's flawed, divisive, artistically wondrous, and awkwardly charming little fantasy is quite the story to watch unfold, even if you're not sure what in the Hell you just saw. 3 Stars. Rated R For Adult Themes, CGI Nude-Ish Idris Elba, Loads Of Jiggling Body Fat, And Whatever That Guy With The Big Mouth Was Supposed To Represent.      

The Invitation                                        by James Eagan                                  ★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: "So looking forward to having you for dinner."


Don't you just hate when you watch a movie and you repeatedly think to yourself how easily all of this could have been better. First off, you feel like a total dick for thinking that you could remotely handle the complications and tribulations that go into filmmaking. Then you get over it and remember how much easier it is to critique than do it yourself (At least I admit it), and continue to put together more ways how an interesting interpretation of old fashioned vampire horror could not only be original, but also might even be something thoroughly its own. Also, don't show the whole damn movie in the trailer. 


"The Invitation" follows "Evie" (Nathalie Emmanuel), who after losing her mother to cancer, takes a DNA test, where she discovers a second cousin (And an entire family) that she never knew the existence of. After meeting her new, very British cousin, "Oliver" (Hugh Skinner), he invites her to meet the rest of his family at an upcoming wedding, being held at a beautiful, though eerily Gothic mansion in the English countryside. The wedding is being arranged by the devilishly handsome and charismatic "Walter" (Thomas Doherty), who Evie quickly takes a shine to. Despite some antagonistic behavior from Walter's smarmy butler, "Mr. Fields" (Sean Pertwee), along with a pair of bridesmaids, "Viktoria" (Stephanie Corneliussen) and "Lucy" (Alana Boden), Evie and Walter begin to grow closer. Little does Evie know, something more sinister is going on beneath the surface, ready to ahem, sink its teeth into her. 


Directed by Jessica M. Thompson ("The Light of the Moon"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Blair Butler ("Hell Fest"), "The Invitation" takes a modernized, feminist approach to vampire mythology, with some twists that could have been made more special if only the filmmakers had just taken a slightly different approach. And when I say slightly, I mean, very slightly, since the film feels so close to getting to something that could stand out from the usual, crowded horror fare. It just missed the mark, though in ways that you feel could have easily been avoided. The film boasts some atmospheric production design, though it is directed like it should be on TV instead of on a theatrical screen. There's this sort of strange level of cheapness that gets in the way, and it's especially distracting when it comes to the god awful special effects work, which really are unnecessary. They're vampires. You could really just give them sharp teeth and we'd accept that. All the CGI jumping around and demon faces just look silly when you clearly don't have the budget for it. These moments are only here for cheap jump scares and fake outs. It's typical PG-13 horror movie stuff and feels rather studio mandated. 


Nathalie Emmanuel is regardless, very charming and very lovely. She and Thomas Doherty also have solid chemistry together, and it brings me to something that really would have elevated the film. It should have been played straight, saving the reveal that it's a horror movie for later in the film (Not to mention, the big moment from the trailer basically happens almost an hour in anyways). It would have been a jarring, though enjoyably campy surprise, especially when Doherty gets to chew the scenery (Literally) and looks like he's having a blast. Others like Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, and especially Hugh Skinner, play up that camp, along with a scene-stealing Sean Pertwee (Essentially playing an evil version of Alfred from "Gotham"). Everybody is good in the movie and make the most of the tonal shifts. This could have come together, if only the filmmakers (Or possibly the studio) had just taken a different route.


"The Invitation" ends up being a playful take on a certain story, and it doesn't take long to figure that out. Clever, though fairly annoying once you notice how often the film stops dead for an Easter Egg or forced reference every chance it gets. The ideas behind the film are commendable and could lead somewhere fun, though maybe there wasn't much confidence behind them or last second reshoots, and what we are left with feels more outdated and ancient than the monsters on screen. Throw in a terrible, poorly cobbled together epilogue (Okay, that definitely had to be a reshoot! Doesn't even feel like the same movie), and you get generic dullness that will fade from memory pretty quickly. It's best to save yourself the trouble and decline the invite. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Blood And Rich White People Just Being Rich White People.  

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero                                                                                    by James Eagan                                                                   ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★      

Image: "Purple Headed Warrior....AWAY!!!!"


My knowledge of "Dragon Ball" is still um, pretty much nonexistent. Sure, I saw 2019's "Dragon Ball Super: Broly", which despite my lack of intel on the franchise (Aside from how awful the live-action "Dragonball Evolution" was for everyone), I genuinely enjoyed as a good time. It wasn't anything that made me think about converting into whatever Dragon Ball fans call themselves (Dragonites? Wait, that's a "Pokémon"....). Now while I can't say that I'm planning that anytime soon after this movie, I am going to give it more consideration. Why? Well, because I think I get it now. I get why this is a thing. 


Continuing from where I assume the long running anime franchise currently is at the moment, "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" opens with corporate villain, "Magenta" (Charles Martinet), plotting to resurrect his "Red Ribbon Army" to take over the world with superpowered androids. He partners himself up with a bizarre scientist, "Dr. Hedo" (Zach Aguilar), who has a love for superheroes and agrees to work with the baddie due to some old fashioned villainous manipulation. Meanwhile, "Piccolo" (Christopher Sabat) spends his time watching over "Pan" (Jeannie Tirado), the powered up daughter of "Gohan" (Kyle Hebert), who Piccolo worries has become unfocused with his training. After he learns of Magenta's scheme, which involves Hedo's recently created androids, "Gamma #1" (Aleks Le) and "Gamma #2" (Zeno Robinson), and with both "Goku" (Sean Schemmel) and "Vegeta" (Also Christopher Sabat) busy training elsewhere, Piccolo has to make due with what he has if he's going to stop the Red Ribbon Army from unleashing an unspeakable, highly dangerous evil onto the world. 


Those completely unfamiliar with the concepts of "Super Saiyans" (God-like, Monkey Superman People), will stuck in a state of confusion while watching "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero", and normally I would be too if not for what little of the lore I've absorbed through osmosis (I got nerdy friends). By this point, I've accepted that this world runs on a cartoonish mix of comic book and video game logic. With edible power ups, over the top abilities, oddly specific weak points, and the fact that everyone is rather blasé about an end of the world level threat. Now that I can understand it, I can also see just how fun it really is, and credit to the filmmakers on crafting a well put together story that for the most part remains focused. The set up is quite simple and to the point, yet remains fairly unpredictable, action packed, and most surprisingly, very funny. It's this that adds a lot of charm to the characters, and even when the movie seems to stop to just give focus to other recurring players simply because they either usually participate in larger roles in the anime (Or are just plain popular with the fanbase), they're also so damn likable that you really don't mind it all. 


Major characters like Goku and Vegeta are left on the sidelines, leaving the film to really focus on Piccolo. He's an overly serious character, which makes for a good amount of humor, but also makes him quite endearing. Christopher Sabat plays him hilariously straight, and the relationship between him and Gohan is both funny and even kind of sweet. The Gammas are scene-stealers (And go through more character development than your usual one-off character would), while Charles Martinet (The voice of Mario from the "Super Mario" series) is a delight as our main villain. Minor appearances or not, everyone is chock full of anime-esque personalities and you just like watching them. The animation can be a bit jarring at first (The film is completely done in a CGI style meant to emulate 2D animation, despite actually being 3D), but it retains its identity, and once we do reach the action packed final act, it's pure, explosive animated spectacle at its finest. (Plus, it's just nice to see someone appreciating what you can do with animation.....Unlike "HBO Max" apparently right now)


"Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" is absurdly bombastic, just as it should be, and never takes itself too seriously. Major exposition dumps and backstory are explained in a tongue in cheek fashion, and yet, none of this detracts from the film's epic ambitions for crafting one Hell of a superhero extravaganza. For the fans, I'm sure they're gonna have a great time. As for a non fan like myself, I found myself entranced by its wild, appealingly energetic aura. It's a total blast, and I mean that almost in a literal sense. And you know what? Maybe I might finally give this whole "Dragon Ball" thing a try. I'm only like a few decades or so late. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Saiyan Power Action, Lots Of Wide Open-Mouthed Screaming, And Pervy Kitty God People. I Think It Makes Sense In Context. 

Beast                                                by James Eagan                                      ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I am aware of the effect I have on Lions."


This is the lion equivalent of a shark attack movie. Short and sweet. Let's get to the point, shall we? 


"Beast" follows a family on a trip to South Africa. The recently widowed "Nate Samuels" (Idris Elba), brings his daughters "Meredith" (Iyana Halley) and "Norah" (Leah Sava Jeffries), to meet with an old family friend, "Martin" (Sharlto Copley), for a tour around a game reserve. Nate also wants to use this as a chance to bond with his daughters, following their mother's death. However, due to the actions of a group of greedy poachers, an especially bloodthirsty and violent lion is currently on a rampage throughout the reserve. The lion soon has Nate and his family in its sights, and now everyone must band together if they are to survive.


Directed by Baltasar Kormákur ("2 Guns", "Everest", "Adrift"), with a screenplay by Ryan Engle ("Rampage"), "Beast" is not a particularly complicated film. Stop me if you've heard this story before. An estranged parent, following the death of a loved one, has to reconnect with his kids, and they get stuck somewhere involving a scary monster, creature, or entity intent on brutally killing them. Maybe it's a shark (It usually is), but maybe it's something else. The tropes are all there, go through some predictable beats, and maybe get some matinee-level thrills. Does this movie do all of that? Yeah. Right down to the letter. It fulfills its duty, without going for anything more. That makes the film something that doesn't necessarily demand a big audience, yet is sure to give anyone looking for a ninety minute sort of horror, creature feature what they pay for. As far as these kinds of movies go, it's solidly made. The movie looks good, with some cool drawn out shots meant to keep the pace moving, and takes a little time at least trying to set up its characters. It's nothing deep, though it's enough to make you care. The horror aspect sadly comes from a few too many cheap jump scares, which feel even less necessary when the movie doesn't exactly lack genuine terror. Watching a large, feral, and highly intelligent being that can rip a man to shreds, is already frightening, especially when it can either just get the job done without mercy, or take its time to toy with you a little. Because of this, when the film goes for the easy scares, it feels extra lazy.    


 What isn't lazy is how dependable the actors are. Idris Elba is pretty wonderful, elevating disposable material simply with his professionalism. Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries are solid young actresses, while Shartlo Copley, not playing a villain for once, takes what could be a predictable role and makes it into something more worthy. I appreciate the film not demonizing the killer lion in any way or trying to make more of the situation than what it is. (It's not a mutated lion, or anything like that) In the end, it's a remarkably smart, very pissed off animal, that retaliates against some of humanity's most needlessly cruel. (This is what happens when you disrespect nature) That actually makes the lion even more scary if you ask me.


"Beast" is short on depth, but also short on its runtime. A quick film, with low aspirations, yet capable people in front and behind the camera, crafting a perfectly fine, eventually forgettable thriller. With some nice cinematography, fine effects work (Everything is CGI, but I mean, come on. How else are you supposed to do a movie like this?), and maybe a few okay scares, it's something you can only recommend on a rainy day and still get your money's worth. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Animalistic Brutality And Poor Vacation Destinations. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies                              by James Eagan                      ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★       

Image: "We're starting to run out of bodies."


What happens when a bunch of toxic young people, with probably too much to drink and a little too much cocaine to snort, shack up during a hurricane? Oddly, exactly what you think and not at all would think at the same time. 


"Bodies Bodies Bodies" follows new couple, "Sophie" (Amandla Stenberg) and "Bee" (Maria Bakalova), as they travel to a mansion owned by the family of Sophie's best friend, "David" (Pete Davidson), right before a hurricane is scheduled to hit. The so called "hurricane party" also includes more of Sophie's old friends, such as "Jordan" (Myha'la Herrold), "Alice" (Rachel Sennott), David's girlfriend "Emma" (Chase Sui Wonders), along with Alice's older new boyfriend "Greg" (Lee Pace). Tensions and old grudges are already a little high, but while stuck inside during the hurricane, Sophie suggests playing a game called "Bodies Bodies Bodies", where one person will pretend to be a killer in the dark and the others have to find out whodunit. However, when somebody actually turns up dead, paranoia starts to take over and nobody is sure who to trust anymore. 


Directed by Halina Reijn, with a screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, "Bodies Bodies Bodies" is a tribute to the worst that the future generation has to offer, and one that things like TikTok and Twitter have inexplicably allowed to fester into physical being. It's a sort of slasher about truly terrible people that you may even have talked to online or might even know in person, and it's as obnoxious as you would expect. That's also what kind of works about it. The entire movie is based around both self-righteous and self-centered stupidity, which continuously spirals out of control until the bodies start to pile up. The levels that the film goes to are hilariously extreme, yet if you actually take a moment to think about it, as over the top as it may seem, it's not really that far fetched. Characters will break into unimportant arguments about held back grudges or personal grievances even after someone drops dead, or will inject themselves into a situation that really has nothing to do with them in the slightest. They pretend to be knowledgeable, though repeatedly make moronic mistakes that could end up being deadly. It's basically typical horror movie logic, except intentionally made even more dumb than it usually is. Even with the darkly humorous tone, the film isn't without legitimate suspense, with Reijn's direction playing pretty straight into what appears to be a slasher flick, with a tense, escalating score. It's a very smart move, that only further highlights when you start to piece together what's really happening.  


The cast is excellent, playing off each other well and conveying just enough to make up for the quick runtime. Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova (Recently Oscar nominated for "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm") are terrific leads, who have superb chemistry with each other and serve as the most complex of the characters. There are times you do genuinely like them, but also know that just like everybody else, there is something of a negative influence somewhere in there. Myha'la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace (Always unrecognizable even when he's supposed to be more normalized), and an especially great Pete Davidson are all delightfully unsavory, though Rachel Sennott in particular quite steals the movie, suitably finding ways to become the center of attention even in the most dire of situations. 

"Bodies Bodies Bodies" does border on grating, which is what it's meant to be, but that also can make it the kind of movie that many would come out of annoyed by. Sure it's purposeful, yet this much negativity in one place mixed with the recurring sense of discombobulation just isn't for everyone to enjoy. The satire is sharp, with laughs being both loud and awkward, and it culminates in a later twist that I'm actually pissed I didn't see coming earlier. It's too perfect a reveal that you think back afterwards on how you just should have known from the start. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language, Adult Content, Bloody Images, And Dim-Witted Debauchery.  

Prey                                                   by James Eagan                                  ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: To catch a Peradator.


I always felt that the "Predator" series never quite understood the real potential that's just sitting right in front of our very eyes. They always seem to get close, yet always miss that certain mark that I've been waiting for. One of the best parts of the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger led "Predator" was that last half hour, when the titular creature went face to face with our lead, in one final, brutal hunt that's equal parts frightening, tribal, and absolutely compelling. Now imagine that, except for the entire runtime. That's this movie. 


The fifth entry in the "Predator" franchise (Though chronologically now the first), "Prey" opens in the early 1700s, following a young Comanche woman, "Naru" (Amber Midthunder), who wishes to prove herself to the rest of her tribe. Naru dreams of becoming a great hunter like her older brother, 'Taabe" (Dakota Beavers), though their mother "Aruka" (Michelle Thrush), sees her as more of a healer than a hunter despite her skills. After Taabe kills a rogue mountain lion, Naru and her loyal dog, "Sarii", venture out to perform their own secret hunt, only to discover that there is something far more deadly currently stalking the area. This violent hunter, or "Predator" (Dane DiLiegro), is looking for sport and glory, relentlessly pursuing anything that crosses his path before horrifically gutting them, and now it's up to Naru to finally prove if she's truly worthy of becoming the hunter before, you know, she becomes the hunted. 


Directed by Dan Trachtenberg ("10 Cloverfield Lane"), with a screenplay by Patrick Aison, "Prey" is the "Predator" movie that I've always wanted. No longer constricted by tightly wound, rather incomprehensible timelines of the current movies, the film embraces the idea of a more anthology inspired story. It stands on its own as just a damn good creature feature, while telling a story that even without the inclusion of a homicidal, armed to the teeth alien, is very much engrossing. The film really showcases the Comanche heritage, doing so with respect and without feeling the need to, ahem, "white" it up in any way. Sure the characters are speaking English throughout the film (Although it's apparently also been dubbed in the Comanche language, so in case you'd rather watch it that way), but the film does seem to address that it's simply just the Native characters speaking to each other, while any other characters (Such as a villainous group of French hunters) are left untranslated. Not to mention, there are long sequences where dialogue isn't necessary, relying on the performances and the gorgeous cinematography to do the storytelling and character building. The movie has been released exclusively through "Hulu", yet feels perfectly cinematic, working with what has to be a small budget to still find a way to achieve big screen level thrills. 


What carries a large portion of the film is the performance of Amber Midthunder. She, along with her incredibly expressive eyes, is powerful, without ever needing to overstate herself. A strong lead, who is shown to struggle plenty throughout, only playing more into her intellectual skills as a hunter rather than physical. She's a heroine to root for, and nonetheless a badass warrior. The Predator himself (Who is less evolved and more feral than the ones we've seen before) is a terrifying presence. His true tribal instinct is best shown in a scene where he takes on an army of French hunters in a foggy clearing, providing a look into the creature's violent nature and even a little of his personality at the same time. (There's a little dark humor when the hunters have to pause to reload their guns, before getting slaughtered in suitably gory fashion) The dog Sarii is also quite the adorable scene-stealer (And brings some much needed levity to such a dark film). As for the visual effects, they blend in almost seamlessly, and it's a credit to Trachtenberg's direction, knowing when to show our villain and how. In a remarkable change of pace, the film doesn't feel the need to shoot everything in darkness to hide the fakeness. Even in bright daylight, it's all beautifully shot and on full display. 


"Prey" is a short-ish movie by comparison, coming in at just an hour and a half, taking its time before really getting into the nitty gritty of what exactly is going on. The slow burn I feel is welcome and only adds to the atmospheric setting, but I can see some fans craving more action. However, when the film reaches its more savage second act, with the Predator's eye for creative kills becoming more prevalent, you get your money's worth and then some. Toss in a close quarters, down and dirty epic final fight between two intelligent, unyielding warriors, you got yourself the best "Predator" movie yet. It shows that with a little imagination, you can do wonders to a once scrambling franchise. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody, Gory Carnage And One Ugly Motherf*cker.     

Bullet Train                                         by James Eagan                                    ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Always remember to hydrate after your 20th kill."


The whole trained killer, smartassed, semi-quirky assassin thriller seems to be slowly becoming a genre in itself. There's always been the Guy Ritchies or Quentin Tarantinos, with their wisecracking, dialogue heavy gangsters and hitmen, but now ever since "John Wick" (And maybe "Deadpool"), there seems to be this new colorful, somewhat smarmy, anime-ification of what we perceive as another run of the mill action blockbuster.   


Based on the book, "Maria Beetle" (Or "Bullet Train" as it's known in English) by Kōtarō Isaka, "Bullet Train" follows a worn down assassin, referred to as "Ladybug" (Brad Pitt), who after suffering much bad luck in his life, just wants to take simple jobs now and move on from the killing business. His handler has given him a pretty standard mission, which is to board a bullet train on its way from Tokyo to Kyoto, where all he has to do is grab a specific briefcase and get off. Sounds easy, right? Obviously it never is. At the same time, two other assassins, "Tangerine" (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and "Lemon" (Brian Tyree Henry), are escorting the son (Logan Lerman) of crime boss leader, "The White Death", while also transporting the exact briefcase that Ladybug just so happens to have been sent there to grab. Also at the same time, a grieving father (Andrew Koji) boards the train to find the person who attempted to kill his son, only to end up caught in a game orchestrated by a seemingly innocent, yet clearly sadistic girl, "The Prince" (Joey King). All of these various assassins and more have their own plans, resulting in all out chaos onboard the train, with poor Ladybug, who really just wants to relax, caught right in the middle of it. 


Directed by David Leitch (Co-Creator of the "John Wick" series, along with directing "Deadpool 2" and "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw". So again, very fitting), "Bullet Train" is as over the top a cartoon as they come, and I can't exactly say it's not derivative of other similar works. Characters have weird code names instead of actual ones. There's intentionally excessive banter, along with piled on flashbacks and loads of little background items that you just know are going to come into play much later in the film. Also, we won't even get into the logistics, considering physics and gravity are made meaningless once we reach the exhausting finale. When I say that though, I don't fully mean it as a bad thing. It may not be original, but it's entirely earnest and creative. It results in a thrilling ride that doesn't make much sense and makes up for that in a rather irresistibly snarky way. (No car on the train is just a simple train car, with each one having its own sort of kitschy tone) Leitch obviously knows his way around an action sequence or two, where anything and everything is used as a weapon. These elaborate sequences are exhilarating, hilarious, and unique to set the film's more imitative elements more forgivable since you're having too much fun to let it bother you. 


The cameo-filled cast (Most of which I think it's best I don't spoil) gives everyone their moment in the limelight, and most of all, everyone involved appears to be having an absolute blast. Brad Pitt is an especially brilliant lead, being literally just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pitt shows off his star power, while also mocking the typical action hero archetype in a nuanced fashion. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry make for quite the duo, supposedly being twins despite the fact that they um, clearly aren't. There is some compelling work from Andrew Koji, the reliably great Hiroyuki Sanada (as "The Elder", the father to Koji's character), and a memorable appearance from Benito A. Martínez Ocasio a.k.a. "Bad Bunny" (as "The Wolf", an out of nowhere assassin who has it out for Ladybug). Joey King, who also rocks the accent, is one Hell of a scene-stealer in one of the movie's most vile characters. Plenty more show up along the way, partaking in the colorful fight scenes, deliver constantly snapping dialogue, and leave an impression, even if they're only onscreen for a couple minutes.


Not everything quite comes together with "Bullet Train", in which if you've seen enough movies like this, you're bound to probably even figure out a few of the twists without much trouble. There is so much going on at once, and to such a ludicrous degree that some might be more annoyed than enthralled. A lot of this is meant to be that way, but it's not hard to see how it could become grating. The movie, which is over two hours and really doesn't feel like it, breezes by, with characters that you find yourself captivated by, an offbeat sense of humor, and the kind of gonzo adrenaline fueled madness that's so damn cheerful that you really have to appreciate it for commitment. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence Beyond Reason, Sneaky Snakes, Panda Punching, And Thomas The Tank Engine Trivia.  

DC League of Super-Pets                       by James Eagan                           ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'll bet Batman can't lick himself where I can."


Can we all take a moment to soak up the fact that in just a couple years, this will be the one of the only forms representation that the "Justice League" will have gotten theatrically aside from 2017's version of that movie, while Marvel will apparently be moving onto their sixth "Avengers" movie by 2025? I mean, we DC fans need to take what we can get, but that is one of those little tidbits of geek knowledge that keeps me up at night. 


Based on the characters from "DC Comics", "DC League of Super-Pets" follows "Krypto, the Superdog" (Dwayne Johnson), the ever loyal canine companion to the man of steel himself, "Superman" (John Krasinski). Having been with Superman his entire life, Krypto starts to worry about him being replaced by Superman's new love interest, "Lois Lane" (Olivia Wilde). After another run of the mill battle with evil billionaire supervillain, "Lex Luthor" (Marc Maron), a crystal known as "Orange Kryptonite" ends up in a pet shelter, giving powers to a maniacal, hairless former test guinea pig, "Lulu" (Kate McKinnon), who now plots for world domination in hopes of impressing Lex. The crystal also gives powers to a group of shelter pets, including a cynical dog "Ace" (Kevin Hart), an excitable potbellied pig "PB" (Vanessa Bayer), a fidgety squirrel "Chip" (Diego Luna), and senile turtle "Merton" (Natasha Lyonne). After Lulu defeats Superman, along with the rest of the "Justice League", and strips Krypto of his powers, Krypto is left to turn to these new superpowered pets in hopes of saving his owner and the world itself from Lulu's madness. 


From "Warner Animation Group", or "WAG" (The "LEGO" movies, "Storks", "Scoob!"), "DC League of Super-Pets" is very much a corporate move kind of film, bringing in well known properties, and cobbling them together into a fairly predictable story for kids. Directed by Jared Stern (One of the writers of "The LEGO Batman Movie"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Whittington ("Sonic the Hedgehog 2"), the movie is safe and all kinds of fluffy, which is appropriate considering the titular leads. The typical kids movie gripes are there and feel very much telegraphed. So it's a credit that the final product, despite the lack of originality, is still a lot of good fun, filled with charming characters and good laughs meant to entertain the entire audience. Not just the kids. What the animation lacks in aggressive detail, it makes up for in personality, with expressive character designs and fluid movement that's certainly appealing to watch. There's also a couple decent action scenes that find their way in. There's plenty of easy chuckles meant for the young ones, though the film has clearly been made by people who know their comic booky source material, filling the movie with loads of humorous references and sight gags. Stuff like this is what should keep the parents entertained especially since that, regardless of the popularity of superhero films today, not many over a certain age would likely go to see this on their own. (Even us geeks would either wait till DVD or forget about it) None of that matters though so long as the kids are happy, and the movie does its job, without feeling the need to dumb itself down. 


The film features a large, and actually rather excellent voice cast, where everyone brings their A game, even when in smaller parts. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, who actually fairly plays against type this time, work very well with each other. They've done so in the past, and show that even in animated form, that kind of star chemistry has a tendency to shine through. Vanessa Bayer, Diego Luna, and a hilarious Natasha Lyonne, are all delightful, while Kate McKinnon completely steals the show, relishing a villain that's equal parts preposterous, funny, and malevolent. John Krasinski makes for a really likable Superman (And unlike the Zack Snyder version, has a little thing called "Personality"), while Marc Maron makes his Lex Luthor feel like a no-brainer. Other smaller parts include Jemaine Clement (as "Aquaman"), John Early (as "The Flash"), Jameela Jamil (as "Wonder Woman"), Daveed Diggs (as "Cyborg"), Dascha Polanco (as "Green Lantern". The "Jessica Cruz" version. My personal favorite!), and a flawless Keanu Reeves (as "Batman"), which feels so right on both a comedic level and just overall the more I think about it. 


While the story is nothing special and even when you're left getting more than chuckles, you do wonder how much of it is genuinely clever or just corporately constructed, "DC League of Super-Pets" never outstays its welcome. It's fast paced, silly entertainment that should still offer more to any of you looking to take your kids to something safe, though thankfully not pandering. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing that talks down to anyone. It's just a really good boy. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Doggie Doo Doo Jokes, Killer Kittens (Probably The Hardest Laugh I Got In The Entire Movie), And Trash-Talking Turtles. 

Nope                                                     by James Eagan                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Nope, there's no way we're keeping the spoilers from getting out."


Jordan Peele strikes me as one of those filmmakers that clearly has taken so much inspiration from a number of places, yet uses that inspiration to not copy, but craft something completely original in every imaginable way. Thus, he has given something that possibly will inspire a future filmmaker to do just the same. Movies like "Get Out" and "Us" are so unlike anything I've seen from any other fimmaker working today. It's very Hitchcock-esque, right down to the confusion that it might send some audiences into, while also playing out in a way that should logically bring everyone in. 


"Nope" opens with Hollywood horse trainer, "OJ Haywood" (Daniel Kaluuya), witnessing the death of his ranch owning father, "Otis" (Keith David), via random, unexplainable falling debris. Trying to keep things moving with his sister, "Emerald" (Keke Palmer), or "Em", as she's called, OJ notices a strange occurrence one night, with all electronics going out (Phones included), the horses being sent into a frenzy, and the sudden appearance of what can apparently only be an alien UFO. So of course they have to get footage of it. With some help from a curious Fry's employee, "Angel" (Brandon Perea), OJ and Em plan to to find a way to get the UFO on camera, though soon realize that maybe there are certain creatures or entities that man was not meant to toy with. That seems like enough plot for you guys. Being surprised is always more fun. 


Written, produced, and directed by Jordan Peele, "Nope" isn't what the trailer might be leading some of you to believe. Is it a horror movie? Well, yeah, but not completely in the way you would think. There is something quite frightening about it, yet also atmospheric and magical at the same time. Think a classic Spielbergian summer blockbuster, that pulls you into an epic, though at its core, is also a fairly simple character driven story. Peele creates a slower, more down to Earth form of tension (By the way, that pun was totally accidental), which takes quite a bit of time before allowing the audience to grasp what's really going on. You're basically in the shoes of the characters, deducing the possible motivations, abilities, or even the very existence of the so-called invaders. And where it goes, you'll never expect. It's a gorgeously shot, visually haunting experience, that incorporates more than one genre at once. There's Sci-Fi horror, mixed with a little dark comedy, and some genuine drama, that also just so happens to have more than a few freaky images that might even keep you up at night. Peele's eye for scope, especially when you wouldn't expect it, are grandiose, exploding off the big screen. This isn't the kind of movie where you'd usually see something of such scale, and it looks beautiful, blending into reality without question. This also makes for some suspenseful sequences, ranging from what we could consider traditional horror, to leaving so much to our imagination that we end up scaring ourselves. (Just knowing so little about what this supposed UFO is going to do in the moment is actually pretty frightening itself). 


Daniel Kaluuya, who might be a good luck charm for Jordan Peele, is somber and sympathetic. He plays off rather wonderfully against the more bouncy and charismatic Keke Palmer, who really needs to 100% be more of a star after this movie. There's a lot of great humor that comes from them, as well as empathy, where you truly buy them as brother and sister. Brandon Perea brings out most of the humor (And also contributes more than just what the comic relief normally does), while Michael Wincott (as "Antlers Holst", an eccentric cinematographer, who OJ and Em later convince to join them) is quiet and compelling. Meanwhile, Steven Yeun (as "Ricky Park", former child star, turned theme park owner), gets to steal a couple scenes, along with wearing one fancy looking cowboy hat. I can't go into too much detail about the extra-terrestrials, but the design is rather inspired and almost incomprehensibly otherworldly. 


"Nope" is the kind of summer flick that offers fear and wonder, along with a little something to say about humanity's need to take control over the uncontrollable to fill the cravings for spectacle even at the expense of others or even themselves. Peele's direction and screenplay, mixed with incredible cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema ("Interstellar", "Ad Astra", "Dunkirk", "Spectre") and a memorable score from Michael Abels ("Get Out", "Us"), elevate what could have just been old fashioned B movie thrills to one of the Summer's must see blockbusters. Scary, darkly hilarious, and in a league of its own. It's got the makings of something that we're going to be talking about for quite a while. 4 Stars. Rated R For Language, Bloody Rain, And Hardcore Monkey Business.    

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank                                                                             by James Eagan                                                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "You're getting fixed one way or another!" 


One thing that I got a little too used to during Covid was certain movies getting both a theatrical and streaming release on the same day, meaning that sometimes a trip to the theater wouldn't be necessary. It makes perfect sense for the big budget blockbusters and crowdpleasers to get the big screen treatment, but the convenience of it all when it came to films that were just, um, not exactly necessary, to be available at any time. (Especially when some streaming services are producing theater quality stuff as it is) It just kind of worked, and some perfectly okay films just found their place there. 


A animal filled, animated remake of "Blazing Saddles" (In fact, the movie was previously titled "Blazing Samurai",) "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" opens in a completely cat populated Japan, where evil official, "Ika Chu" (Ricky Gervais), is preparing for the arrival of the "Shogun" (Mel Brooks). One small issue is that Ika Chu's view is plagued by a small, poor village resting just outside his palace, and plots to do away with it in hopes of future expansion. After the village's previously samurai flees in terror, Ika Chu is forced to appoint a new one, though intentionally picks out the worst possible person for the job, which is a dog named "Hank" (Michael Cera). Since the cat villagers are incredibly racist (Or speciesist?), Hank is immediately shunned, though he finds some help from a worn down, former samurai, "Jimbo" (Samuel L. Jackson). Jimbo agrees to train Hank to be a samurai, while Ika Chu continues to scheme for the town's destruction, such as sending in the massive sumo cat, appropriately named "Sumo" (Djimon Hounsou), to destroy Hank. As Hank's training continues, his ego starts to grow, and he eventually has to learn that there is more to being a samurai other than swinging a sword around. All while throwing in so many cat and dog puns. Not that you would expect anything less.


Directed by Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King", "Stuart Little", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman") and animator Mark Koetsier, with an extra credit to Chris Bailey, "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" has clearly gone through many changes, shifts, and production issues for years, considering it's been in development since 2014. The screenplay has a collection of writers, such as Ed Stone, Nate Hopper, and even a credit to Mel Brooks (Who served as Executive Producer), and it feels as if the final product is not exactly what was once envisioned. With that said, for all those troubles and its questionable place on so many theater screens, what we get is by no means a disaster. In fact, it's not without its charms, though nothing particularly special or memorable. At both its best and its worst, it's a serviceable and occasionally funny, though mostly lackluster and safe bit of fluff for the kids. The animation is by no means terrible, but it's also not up to par with anything from Pixar. There is life to it however, and some of the physical gags get some okay laughs (Such as Ika Chu's henchmen just randomly using an old cat woman as a punching bag or Sumo's excessive jiggling). There are some good meta jokes, fourth wall breaks, and references to the modern day, like the character running right into the movie's opening title or phone conversations being made via just an incredibly long line of cats just repeating everything one by one. Sometimes these jokes are so absurd and even a little cleverly so, that you find yourself having a bit of fun. Sadly, when the jokes fall flat, they're major groaners. Some pop culture references, cheap butt jokes, and other such bodily function humor find their way in, and they make the film seem even more kiddie than it needs to be. (There is a major fart joke that got a chuckle out of me, though it is pretty lowbrow and serves as another "Blazing Saddles" reference) It's also such a basic story, with cookie cutter characters, that don't stand out in a meaningful way.


Michael Cera and Samuel L. Jackson was quite good however, injecting a lot of life into their characters, without just seeming as if they're nothing more than celebrity voice castings. Others like Ricky Gervais, who still gets a funny line or two despite this, and George Takei (as "Ohga", Ika Chu's minion), are kind of phoning it in as villainous versions of themselves. Djimon Honsou and Mel Brooks sound like they're having fun, while Michelle Yeoh (as "Yuki", one of the cat villagers) is criminally underused. A couple standouts would be Aasif Mandvi and Gabriel Inlesias (as "Ichiro" and "Chuck", a pair of bumbling villagers), who just pop up and get a few simple chuckles. For the most part, that's what the movie is. A few simple chuckles. 


Released through "Paramount Pictures" and "Nickelodeon Movies" (Which even more makes me wonder what harm would there have been if it had just been released on "Paramount+"), "Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank" is a lot better than expected, though nothing that surpasses mid-tier kid friendly amusement. The messages of bigotry and doing the right thing are simple, yet still serve as important lessons overall. It's good for a little fun for the most part, but in an unremarkable way that still makes you think that doesn't quite do it for the whole family. At least not to the degree that much better family films have already done this year. Streaming or not. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor, Titanic Toilet Trouble, And Doggie Discrimination.

Where the Crawdads Sing                       by James Eagan                              ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "These singing Crawdads sure are good for bait."


You know something? Two hours of slow paced, melodramatic dullness is not something that a certain unpaid film critic previously diagnosed with severe anxiety needs right now. 


Based on the book by Delia Owens (Did you hear about that whole "Killing of a poacher" story? Does nobody talk about that?), "Where the Crawdads Sing" follows "Catherine Kya" Clark" (Daisy Edgar-Jones), also referred to as the "Marsh Girl", due to her secluded lifestyle within the North Carolina marsh. After the body of a local guy, "Chase Andrews" (Harris Dickinson) is found within the swampy marsh, Kya is automatically assumed to be the prime suspect by the townspeople. Kya is arrested and put on trial, where her kind lawyer, "Tom Milton" (David Strathairn) are put up against an unforgiving opposition. Throughout the film, we're shown Kya's life leading up to this moment, from the loss of her family and mother (Ahna O'Reilly), growing up with her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt), and her friendship and romance with "Tate Walker" (Taylor John Smith), who teaches how to read and write. Sometime later after Tate leaves for college, Kya meets Chase and forms a secret romance with him as well, though it quickly takes a turn as you would expect. With almost the entire town out to get her, Kya's struggles lead her up to this very moment, as she must prove her innocence and get the life that she never knew she wanted. 


Directed by Olivia Newman ("First Match"), with a screenplay by Lucy Alibar ("Beasts of the Southern Wild"), "Where the Crawdads Sing" is a "Been there, done that" sort of drama that doesn't quite justify a trip to a theater when it just as easily (And more appropriately) could have been released through one of the many streaming services. The film is competently made, with decent direction for what it is, solid cinematography, and quite a few good performances. The tired and predictable story, uninspired screenplay, and milquetoast execution, are what bring the film down, wasting its good qualities. It's based on a well known source material, though I've never read it, but doesn't do anything to separate itself from others like it. The character motivations and twists you see coming very quickly, right down to the final scene. Derivative storytelling can be overcome, but not when the pacing is so sluggish and drawn out, you're left demanding either something to liven up things or a speedy wrap-up. These characters don't stand out, and there are a few extra mini-plotlines that just sort of come and go (Such as Kya trying to earn money to pay off her property, which I completely forgot about until its abruptly ended). 


Daisy Edgar-Jones, regardless of the screenplay, does show signs of someone with much to offer. She is definitely a captivating presence, and successfully carries the film, even when it lets her down. Taylor John Smith is fine, though fairly bland, while Harris Dickinson, despite it being very obvious where his character is going to go, does a solid job with it (And like Edgar-Jones, hides his accent flawlessly). There are also some warm performances from Michael Hyatt and Sterling Macer, Jr. (as "Mabel" and "Jumpin", wife and husband shop owners, who immediately sympathize with Kya), along with an especially great David Strathairn. There are moments when the drama works (Especially in the courtroom scenes, though I do personally have a soft spot for those in movies), with themes of prejudices and sexism always being relevant, and you just wish it was all mixed into a much better movie. 


"Where the Crawdads Sing" takes too much time to overindulge itself in its own dramatic weight, despite not being exactly anything original. By the end, I was standing at the door, waiting for the film to get to its apparent conclusion, while it just runs out that clock till the credits roll. You've seen better. You've seen worse. You definitely don't need to see it in theaters. Sometimes I think we need to go back to having at least certain movies released both through theaters and streaming at the same time, because sometimes the theater-going process just isn't worth it. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Human Ignorance, And Marshy Murders.      

Thor: Love and Thunder                     by James Eagan                            ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm sorry....I was looking for a little fellow named Harry Potter."


A common complaint about the current Phase Four of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", is that it's starting to feel a little bit like Phase One all over again. It's a complaint that, even though fatigue is yet to set in for me (I'm a comic book nerd. It's going to take a lot for that to happen), I completely understand. For every "Spider-Man: No Way Home" or "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" (Which either give you all that fanservicey goodness or provide a new, expanded look at the still growing universe), there's something like "Eternals" or "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" (Which are both solid films, though don't have the same kind of quality that we've come to expect). The plan for where everything is going right now isn't apparent like before, and everything feels as if we're just watching some continuous movie-length epilogues. While Marvel's shows have certainly been going for something different ("Moon Knight", "Ms. Marvel". Love em!), the films have been more uneven as of late. For a cinematic universe that for a while was constantly firing on all cylinders, repeatedly proving naysayers wrong, and finding new ways to change the game every chance they got, maybe the cracks are starting to show for some. The moment Marvel finally loses that charm that moviegoers have grown accustomed to, it will be a sad day. It's not today though, but it's gonna come at some point.  


Set after the events of "Avengers: Endgame", "Thor: Love and Thunder" reunites us with that incredibly muscular, and lovably somewhat oafish God of Thunder, "Thor" (Chris Hemsworth), as he's still along with his rock buddy, "Korg" (Voiced by Taika Waititi), traveling the universe with the "Guardians of the Galaxy", made up of, ahem, "Peter Quill/Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), "Mantis" (Pom Klementieff), "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), "Nebula" (Karen Gillan), "Kraglin" (Sean Gunn), "Groot" (Voiced by Vin Diesel), and "Rocket Raccoon" (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), all in glorious cameo form. After losing all his depression weight, Thor is back in shape, armed with his magical ax "Stormbreaker", gets him some screaming goats, and ready to perform his usual heroic duties. Meanwhile, Thor's human ex, "Jane Foster" (Natalie Portman), has gone through some changes of her own, having acquired Thor's previously destroyed hammer, "Mjolnir", having become a newer, much prettier Thor herself. When "New Asgard" is attacked by the relentless and vengeful, "Gorr the God Butcher" (Christian Bale), who kidnaps some children in his quest to eradicate all of the gods of the universe, Thor partners up with the new Jane, along with Asgard's current ruler, "Valkyrie" (Tessa Thompson), in a quest to save the kids, defeat Gorr, and you know, learn a little bit about love in the process. 


Directed by returning director Taika Waititi (Who previously gave us the last entry, "Thor: Ragnarok". An MCU favorite), having also co-wrote the screenplay with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, "Thor: Love and Thunder" continues the Phase Four trend of letting directors apparently just do whatever they want. Has it always worked? Not perfectly. It's the kind of entry that could be too much for some, and seem more like filler in the grander MCU. Is it still a completely hilarious, heartfelt, action packed summer blockbuster that you'd be insane to miss? Hell yeah! It's got plenty of those Marvel trademarks, while retaining a lot of the freshness that helped people gravitate towards "Thor: Ragnarok" in the first place, with more attention to the humor as well as the old school, 80s comic aesthetic. That means loads more of color and even when the visual effects are obvious CGI work and green screen, it's very lively, leading to quite a few masterful sequences, such as a mind blowing battle between our heroes and Gorr in a dimension that's almost entirely black and white, only to occasional burst with hypnotic color. It also continues a trend that I've loved from the rest of this phase in which how he continue to see every day life adapt to the rest of the Marvel universe, such as Asgard becoming a pretty cheap tourist attraction (As it would). There's still so much personality that you're willing to forgive an occasional hiccup when it comes to minor storytelling moments, which are also easy to ignore when you're getting more laughs than not. This does lead to some big tonal shifts that personally never bothered me, though I can see how it can be off-putting in places for others. Despite the lighthearted sense of humor, the film isn't always light. Things get dark and heavy pretty quickly, even with what appear to be lowered stakes. The drama even leads to some tearjerker moments that later end the film on an unexpected bittersweet note. 


Luckily as usual, the characters are a joy to watch, and the performances are pretty much all perfect. Chris Hemsworth, of course, remains excellent in the part, being the sort of likable buffoon, who is certainly a badass, though also has a good nature to him. This movie, even more than the first two, makes better use of his chemistry with Natalie Portman, who is given a much grander role this time around after sitting the last film out. (The movie is essentially a romantic comedy of sorts between the two of them....along with Thor's hammer and ax. It makes sense in context) Their relationship ends up being where most of the film's heart lies, and it feels much more personal now than before. Taika Waititi is a delight, as is the equally scene-stealing Tessa Thompson. There are some quick cameos, returning characters, and surprises along the way, though the Guardians of the Galaxy appearance is predictably brief and leaves some anticipation for their next movie. Russell Crowe (as "Zeus", the king of the Olympians, who also seems more interested in his orgies than he does Gorr's plans of genocide) is quite amazing, looking like this probably the most fun he's had in some time and gets some of the film's biggest laughs. Christian Bale, despite some limited screentime, is marvelous, making for a terrifying villain, with a creepy design, a frighteningly understandable motivation, and a haunting presence. Bale is very much committed, and makes his villainous stand out from your usual MCU baddie. 


 "Thor: Love and Thunder" takes a lot of inspiration from the Jason Aaron run in the comics (The one I just finished reading recently and see as the definitive version of the comic), and the movie obviously can't quite reach that storyline's level of greatness. The film has its issues, though its best aspects work too well to ignore. It's still a vibrant, funny, and overall heartfelt blast of summer fun (With also a couple solid post credits scenes that you might wanna stick around for). It may not be all the way up to par with the MCU's best entries, though it shows that the special spark hasn't quite been snuffed out just yet. Still a classic "Thor" adventure if you ask me. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor, Asgardian Action, Screaming Goats, And Rock On Rock Lava-Lovemaking. 

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On                                                                                   by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "You're just a shell of your former self."


When it comes to critiquing film, it's all a matter of opinion in the end. Sure, somebody can have one that's the opposite of your own could be (And to be honest, you can be left questioning why repeatedly after), but it's not too hard to see how someone can come to a different conclusion, even if the reasoning isn't exactly something that makes a whole lot of sense. However! There are just some things that are physically impossible to dispute! To put this into the kindest words possible, if you do not at least like this movie, you are an absolutely heartless, soul-free husk of a human being, that's clearly never enjoyed any form of love or joy in their entire life. Nothing personal. You're just a monster. Just in my opinion. My factual opinion....You monster.


Based on the YouTube released short films, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" follows the titular shell, with shoes on, "Marcel" (Voiced by Jenny Slate). The little shell lives with his grandmother, "Nanna Connie" (Voiced by Isabella Rossellini), being the remaining two of their kind to live in an Airbnb after losing track of the rest of their friends and family. A divorced documentary filmmaker, "Dean Fleischer-Camp" (Played by himself, who served as both the creator of the original shorts, as well as the director of the film itself), takes an interest in Marcel, and decides to film little videos surrounding him, uploading the videos onto YouTube. The various videos simply show how Marcel lives, along with his innocent outlook on life, which all become instant sensations. As Marcel's popularity grows, this sparks a search to find out where his old family has gone. With a possible interview coming up on his favorite show, "60 Minutes", Marcel has to face his fear of change if he has any hope of reuniting with his loved ones. 


Directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, who also co-wrote the screenplay with co-creator Jenny Slate and Nick Paley, "Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is a short, simple tale of family, love, bravery, and life itself, though never once tries to overplay itself. It's not some pretentious schlock that lets ambition convince itself that it's smarter than it actually is. It's 100% sincere in every way, utilizing a small budget, old school stop-motion special effects (Or at least, giving off the feel of it anyways), and the documentary aesthetic, to craft an instant classic of a family film that not only has something of profound nature to say, though also has an irresistible personality to boot. It's genuinely really funny and smart, with weaponized levels of cuteness that instantly win you over. The film has some of the best use of the mockumentary style, which never breaks once throughout the quick runtime, with Fleischer-Camp retaining a sense of something personal. Much of the film rests on the tiny shoulders (Um, you know, metaphorical shoulders) of its tiny, lovable little star. Marcel is a character for the ages, which both adults and children will find something to resonate with. The literally wide eyed shell showcases a certain warm purity, that you want to follow along with, and Jenny Slate's spot on voice work only further enhances the aroma of charm that Marcel constantly expels. Isabella Rossellini is also absolutely wonderful here, portraying a kindly parental figure, and conveying so much heart, where anyone with a close relationship to a grandparent will find themselves shedding a tear or two. 


"Marcel the Shell with Shoes On" is pure joy and a wonder throughout, with a moving outlook on the positives, and even the negatives, of life itself through the lens of someone who hasn't been beaten down by harsh cynicism. It makes you take a moment to appreciate that outlook, and contemplate your own views. Packed with heart, but also a lot of laughs and a lack of any sense of pessimism whatsoever. It's a masterpiece of likability and pure delight, where if you don't at least smile once, there clearly must be something wrong with you and you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. That little shell, with shoes on, is quite possibly the greatest hero of our generation, and he deserves nothing but your admiration. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Slightly Adult-ish Humor, Though It's Tame Enough For All Ages. 

Minions: The Rise of Gru                                                                                               by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'm sorry, but this is America, damn it. The language barrier is going to be a problem."


Those Minions. They certainly became a cultural phenomenon haven't they? Back when the first "Despicable Me" came out in 2010 (Hey, when I started reviewing movies! Has it really been twelve years? And three Batmen?), I doubt anyone predicted how much of a pop cultural success they would be. Love them or hate them (Because the internet never allows for there to be something in the middle), they're here to stay and remain as popular as ever. Also, they're pretty funny guys. I mean, you've gotten a few chuckles out of them from time to time, right? Don't lie.  


Set in the 1970s (And a good while before the previous "Despicable Me" trilogy), "Minions: The Rise of Gru" opens with a couple of dastardly villains, known as "The Vicious 6", consisting of the aging leader "Wild Knuckles" (Alan Arkin), the afro-sporting "Belle Bottom" (Taraji P. Henson), lobster-like "Jean Clawed" (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the nunchuck wielding nun, "Nunchuck" (Lucy Lawless), the rollerscating "Svengeance" (Dolph Lundgren), and the metal handed "Stronghold" (Danny Trejo), as they steal a stone of magical power. After Wild Knuckles is betrayed and kicked out of the group, the Vicious 6 set out to bring in a new member, just in time to unleash the stone's power onto the world. This immediately catches the attention of young future supervillain, "Gru" (Steve Carell), and his army of cheesepuff, nonsensically balling, and meme-making "Minions" (All voiced by franchise co-creator, Pierre Coffin). Sadly, the rest of the Vicious 6 don't take Gru very seriously, prompting him to steal the stone for himself, only to have one of his minions lose it. After firing the minions for incompetence, Gru is kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, who is seeking revenge on his former partners in crime. The minions are determined to rescue their former "Mini-Boss", with a trio of the little puffballs ("Kevin", "Stuart", and "Bob") heading to San Francisco to find him, while another minion, "Otto", tries to recover the missing stone. With enemies such as the Vicious 6 and Wild Knuckles' henchmen to deal with, the minions find a surprising ally in the form of a wise Kung-Fu fighter, "Master Chow" (Michelle Yeoh), while Gru gets the chance to bond with his all time favorite villain/captor. 


Directed by animator and co-director of "The Lorax", Kyle Balda, and from "Illumination Entertainment" (One of the few semi-new animated companies to find success in the Disney-run world), "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is a direct follow-up to 2015's "Minions" film, and continues that film's more zany style compared to the main installments in the franchise. The story is pretty secondary, feeling like a means to an end for silly gags. This one is a bit more focused however, embracing the time period and loading the film with more connections to the rest of the franchise. The filmmakers aren't going for smarts, but it's clever in execution. Not to mention the animation is wildly creative, leading to some of the biggest laughs, which make up for some of the less inspired stuff (Anything to do with butts and farts). Some of the best material in the entire franchise come from the series' love for that old fashioned, cartoon-style villainy, where everything is so absurdly goofy, that you're willing to just go with certain plot developments (The stone is just another magical MacGuffin. Nothing more). Sequences such as the Minions going through Kung-Fu training or essentially hi-jacking a plane for no necessary reason, don't always feel important to the story, but they get quite a few laughs. If you're already here just to have a little quirky fun, the film delivers even when it just doesn't add up. Granted, if you're asking too many questions, you're in the wrong theater. 


Character and excellent voice work have been one of the franchise's stronger aspects, with Steve Carell returning, having only tweaked his voice slightly to make the character sound younger. He's still a likably despicable delight, and the minions certainly get plenty of chuckles, with Pierre Coffin's incomprehensible chatter being a bit much to take for some, though it comes with the territory. A lot of the supporting voice cast is pretty excellent, from a terrific Alan Arkin (A character that gets a surprise amount of depth, becoming the film's source of  heart later in the last act) and the always great Michelle Yeoh. Our big bads are amusing, though mostly just pop up for sight gags, though Taraji P. Henson sounds like she's really having a good time here, being as over the top of a cartoon as she possibly can. There are some good cameos from returning characters, being given a little extra backstory, such as Julie Andrews (as Gru's neglectful mother) and Russell Brand (as "Dr. Nefario", Gru's future mad scientist).


Made for a less demanding young audience, though with an occasional joke thrown in the keep the adults smiling, "Minions: The Rise of Gru" is childishly innocent fun, though with a refreshing mean streak (They are villains after all), much like pretty much all the other films in the franchise. it's nothing groundbreaking, and it feels much lesser compared to other animated family films that have come out this year, from "The Bad Guys", "The Bob's Burgers Movie", and "Lightyear" (Which for some reason isn't doing that well). It's also a guaranteed hit, that offers a brisk, barely hour and a half of wacky insanity to pass the time. Just as a Minions movie should be. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Crude Jokes, 70s Style Choices, And Plenty Of Partial Minion Nudity. Fanservice For Somebody Out There! 

The Black Phone                                     by James Eagan                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★

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


You'd almost swear that this was a Stephen King movie. All those trademarks are there, from the suburban setting, the late seventies to eighties time period, young people being advanced for their ages, bullies, scary stuff, unexplainable supernatural elements, and that grim, grainy look that we all associate with King's work. Hell, it might even be a coming of age story....that just so happens to be going on during a horror-thriller. That's essentially what "It" was.  


Based on the short story by Joe Hill (Son of Stephen King. See?), "The Black Phone" is set in 1978, where a Denver suburb has been plagued by various child abductions, from an unknown maniac known only as "The Grabber". One kid, "Finney" (Mason Thames), is frequently bullied. Not just at school, but also at his home by his depressed, alcoholic father, "Terrence" (Jeremy Davies), who takes out his sadness on both Finney and his sister, "Gwen" (Madeleine McGraw). While Finney has plenty of awkwardness to deal with, Gwen also appears to have inherited some sort of ability from her deceased mother, where she happens to witness visions of the Grabber or his victims in her dreams, which has brought on the attention of local detectives, "Wright" (E. Roger Mitchell) and "Miller" (Troy Rudeseal). While walking home from school, Finney comes across a bizarre man (Ethan Hawke), who dresses in all black, drives a windowless black van, and carries black balloons. Turns out this obvious psychopath is the Grabber, who proceeds to kidnap Finney and lock him inside a soundproof, dungeon-like basement, which has a bed and a mysterious, disconnected black phone. The Grabber, who wears a frightening devil mask, with interchangeable facial expressions, has Finney trapped as part of some kind of sick game, with no hope of escape in sight. However, while Gwen tries to use her dreams to find out where her brother is, Finney starts to hear supernatural calls from the black phone, which all come from the spirits of the Grabber's previous victims, giving Finney advice on how to escape from the Grabber's clutches and return to his family.  


Directed by Scott Derrickson ("Sinister", "Deliver Us from Evil", "Doctor Strange"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with his frequent collaborator C. Robert Cargill (A former film critic. So, there's hope for me yet?), "The Black Phone" is a tense, unsettling spooky story, that also feels a very effective drama at the same time. The film wisely takes its time, developing its main characters, setting up the mood and atmosphere, and establishing this grounded world with the more unbelievable before getting into the advertised terror. It's not really a traditional horror movie, where the intention is to get you to jump in your seat and spill your popcorn everywhere. It's the kind of horror I appreciate, where the fear comes from your uneasiness and the ambience. It makes for one of those edge of your seat kind of thrillers, which is helped by Derrickson's direction, as well as the solid screenplay, that offers up character, humor, and heart, to go with the twisted narrative. The film also relishes in its time period, using it effectively to create a time capsule of sorts. 


The film is carried well by the very talented Mason Thames, who showcases a lot of potential here. He's obviously frightened, but never whiny. He makes mistakes, but learns from them and proves to be much smarter than your average horror movie protagonist. The chemistry between him and Madeleine McGraw is where much of the film's soul lies. Speaking of McGraw, she's also quite the find, being full of so much personality and natural charm. Both are terrific young actors, who I hope only go up from here. Ethan Hawke is a nasty, uncomfortable piece of work, generating the kind of evil that you dread taking human form, yet you know deep down has to exist somewhere. The lack of insight into his motivations or even his goals add to the creep factor, leaving much to the imagination (Plus there's something about that mask that just feels unnatural). Jeremy Davies brings more to what ends up being a more human character than these kinds of films give time to. The film takes moments to show that there is a human being to him, and maybe even something redeemable. There's also an amusing part for James Ransone (as "Max", an incompetent boob, who insists that he's actually helping on the missing kids case, despite his lack of insight on anything), and I appreciate that the police this time aren't exactly portrayed as bad at their jobs, but rather stuck without some important details.


With some brilliant sound design (The film toys with various sounds that you hear from the phone during a few sequences), along with clever filmmaking techniques that I wish more films would utulize (There's an excellent scene where one character finds themselves right in the middle of a flashback, without at first advertising it) "The Black Phone" is a disturbing, yet still oddly uplifting scary tale, that features the kind of human warmth to get you caring about its characters. It never needs to dwell on details when it comes to its supernatural elements (It feels better actually just going with it, letting yourself draw your own conclusions), but instead tell just a well paced story, that offers likability and maturity to go with the terror. It's a breath of fresh air for the genre, that captures the fear of both young and old, along with the possible wonders and even the sense of hope that comes with it. It's a film about maturing in the end, and even while you may be cowering in the corner at one moment, you might find yourself growing into more of an adult than you already thought you were. 4 Stars. Rated R For Some Disturbing Images, Subject Matter, And Improper Praying. 

Elvis                                                    by James Eagan                                ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: If you ain't never caught a Rabbit, you ain't no friend of his.


Baz Luhrmann doing an Elvis biopic. That's either got to be the best combination you could dream of, or the worst possible disaster that makes yearly worst movie lists. It seems like a perfect match that can so easily go off the rails, especially since Luhrmann, love his work or otherwise, is known for intentionally going off the rails in flashy fashion. Icons don't deserve that, and thankfully, this combination feels just right, in all it's showy, bombastic, glittery glory. 


"Elvis" follows the true story of widely known, much beloved singer, actor, and incredible performer, "Elvis Presley" (Austin Butler), with said story instead being told by his former manager, "Colonel Tom Parker" (Tom Hanks). While insisting that he's in no way a villainous figure in this tale, Parker details Elvis' career, from his beginnings as just a secondary act, before convincing him to go bigger. Elvis, along with both his incredible voice, eye for showmanship, and extreme onstage gyrations, become an instant success, though this complicates his relationship with his worried mother, "Gladys" (Helen Thomson). As Elvis' popularity grows (As does the controversy he causes), Parker's influence further sinks itself in. Even after his time in the army and his marriage to his wife, "Priscilla" (Olivia DeJonge) Parker attempts to control Elvis' career his way, leading to soon to be tragic results. 


Directed by Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge!", "The Great Gatsby"), who co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborators Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce, along with Jeremy Doner ("The Killing"), "Elvis" gives the regarded real life figure the semi-epic, excessively colorful, and explosively showstopping treatment, that even when you question how much this truly should be working, it's rather unarguably effective. It's also shockingly fitting. Luhrmann's eccentricities are all on full display here, with his usual bombastic flair, modern music choices against a dated backdrop (Mostly covers of Elvis' work), and off-kilter editing choices. It's a dream-like state that the film lures you into, and you too find yourself captivated by its surreal beauty, only to have it all ruthlessly shattered the further the film goes along. It's a very clever way of telling the story, showing off all the fame and fortune first, with some colorful visual appeal, before letting the story's darker subtext eventually take over. Despite an almost three hour runtime, you never feel it, since the filmmakers wisely tell you all you need to know like a biopic should, but in a more unique way that doesn't just feel like an overproduced Wikipedia entry. On the downside though, obviously the film is going to leave out some more questionable details, though by this point, you feel like an idiot to even complain about that anymore, since nearly every single biopic about anyone does the same thing. 


Austin Butler is given quite the task here, having to portray a person that we've seen impersonated, parodied, and imitated so many times over, and make them feel like the real deal. It's not an easy job to do and could have easily fallen apart, though Butler proves to be a natural choice. Honestly, he might be the only choice. He's terrific, showcasing the real life figure's larger than life onstage personality, as well as his more innocent worldview as well as his depressing later life. The music sequences are of course outstanding, and Butler really sells the living Hell out of them. Tom Hanks is one that somewhat borders on caricature, though like much of Luhrmann's signature style, it doesn't feel out of place. Hanks sure does bring a certain uneasy menace to the character, in a way that you could almost see yourself trusting him despite how obvious of a conman he really is. Some excellent supporting roles come from Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh (as "Vernon", Elvis' weak willed father), Luke Bracey (as "Jerry Schilling", a close member of Elvis' band), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (as "B. B. King", who served as one of Elvis' inspirations and friends), and Dacre Montgomery (as "Steve Binder", a director for one of Elvis' most famous specials). Olivia DeJonge is also pretty wonderful, and though the film doesn't quite address the um, uncomfortable age gap, if the real life Priscilla Presley has nothing but praise for this portrayal, I guess I really have no real say in the matter. (At least in terms of how it's shown here) 


"Elvis" does address how African American culture influenced much of Elvis' work, along with the cultural impact that he had on the country (Not to mention how it just drove girls completely wild). It starts off by showing the golden, compelling side of fame, before taking a dark turn into the scheming, scummier side of the entertainment business. It takes the usual biopic structure, toys with it, yet remembers to show the human being at center, along with why he became so awe-inspiring in the first place. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Ghastly Gratuitous Gyrations.  

Lightyear                                                 by James Eagan                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I should have used the litter box before we left!"


I've been personally going through a bit of a rough time as of late. After suffering a couple of panic attacks (Stress, work, overall frustration and severe anxiety. You know the drill!), I've been trying to recover and get back to the things I love. Of course, reviewing movies is one of those things and I don't want anxiety to ruin that for me. Especially when it's a "Disney" or "Pixar" movie, since those are supposed to fill you with good, positive feelings. Positive feelings would be good right about now, and it would be nice if Anxiety could just, you know, go away and let me enjoy things again! 


Essentially supposed to be the movie that Andy from "Toy Story" saw back as a kid, which in turn made him want a "Buzz Lightyear" toy in the first place, "Lightyear" follows the origin of the titular Space Ranger of "Star Command", later turned Tim Allen voiced toy, "Buzz Lightyear" (Chris Evans). Buzz, along with his commanding officer and best friend, "Alisha Hawthorne" (Uzo Aduba), land their turnip shaped ship full of fellow rangers, travelers, and explorers, on a seemingly habitable planet, only to discover just how dangerous it is (Giant bugs, man-eating vines, etc.). As they attempt to flee the planet, Buzz is unable to successfully pilot the ship away, resulting in heavy damage, leaving the entire crew to be stranded on the deadly planet. A year later, the crew has formed a struggling, but functional colony, though preparations are made for Buzz, who seeks to redeem himself, to use an experimental form of hyperspace fuel to possibly get everyone back home. However, Buzz's test flight isn't successful and also results in four years having passed in between flights. Buzz is still determined to make it work, taking repeated flights and getting a little emotional support from his robot kitty, "Sox" (Peter Sohn), leading to even more time passing before his very eyes. 


Now the new officer in charge, "Commander Burnside" (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), plans to shut down any future test flights, believing them to be no longer necessary due to the colonists continuing to adapt. Buzz, along with Sox, take matters into their own hands, steal a ship, and perform one final flight, which jumps them even further in time. One that just so happens to be even more perilous. Now the colonists are under attack from an alien ship, filled with robots led by the mysterious "Emperor Zurg" (James Brolin). Separated from the rest of Star Command, Buzz and Sox have to rely on a crew of misfits and untrained rookies, including Alisha's granddaughter "Izzy" (Keke Palmer), a paroled convict "Darby Steel" (Dale Soules) and the hyper clumsy "Mo Morrison" (Taika Waititi), if they're going to stop Zurg's robots and finally complete their mission. 


From Disney and Pixar, inspired by the "Toy Story" saga (The rare perfect four entry film series. Seriously!), "Lightyear" isn't exactly up to par with some of the company's instant classics. Let's just get that out of the way as early as possible. It's not one of Pixar's absolute best (And it raises a few amusing questions, such as how are we to believe this is a movie that came out in the 90s? It's far too progressive for that time. It might even be too progressive for now) and that's okay. Just because it's not in the top ten, doesn't mean it's still not excellent animated filmmaking. On its own, it's actually a pretty legitimately well thought out Science-Fiction story, with great universe-building, mesmerizing visuals and action, and fascinating, rather mature themes that provide a little extra depth to your usual family entertainment. Pixar's animation somehow continuously finds a way to improve, and in ways that you never fully anticipate. It's a flawless looking film, with an aggressive amount of attention to the little details (Such as the skin, sweat, and expressions). This makes for a few energetic action scenes, proving once again the kind of action-oriented setpieces that you can only get with animation. (Seriously, why don't we have more of these?) The scope alone is epic, with a grand scale that almost feels like a major blockbuster (And considering "Jurassic World Dominion" last week, it's even better than some major blockbusters). Director and Co-Writer Angus MacLane (Who has been with "Pixar" since "A Bug's Life" and served as a Co-Director for "Finding Dory"), gives the film that big, summer movie feel, and it's also helped by score from the always great Michael Giacchino ("Spider-Man: No Way Home", "The Batman", "War for the Planet of the Apes", and quite a few Disney/Pixar projects). 


Chris Evans is essentially the only choice that could have come to mind to play what's meant to be a more real version of the character, staying true to the toy we all know and love, while also providing him with his own usual Captain Americany charm. Keke Palmer is terrific, along with some good comic relief from Dale Soules and Taika Waititi, who plays um, Taika Waititi (Or at least a fully animated version of himself). Uzo Aduba is wonderful in a small-ish, though emotional vital part, while James Brolin is a menacing presence, with a few unexpected reveals that take the film down a darker territory that might even freak out the kids a little. Meanwhile, Peter Sohn almost single-handedly steals the show (With his kitty cat eyes and paws), getting some of the biggest laughs, while also most likely selling a whole lotta toys in the process. (I mean, I kind of want a Sox plush too, and I'm twenty-eight years old!). 


 "Lightyear" tells a straight-forward story that doesn't stand out in the way you expect from Pixar, but the humor, emotion, and most importantly, the fun is all still there. It's the kind of movie that I definitely could have seen myself watching and adoring as a kid, mostly because it gives you everything you could ever want. It's more conventional than your usual Pixar film, though it works well when it matters. It's a cool summer movie for the family, filled with more references than one can count, taking things to infinity and beyond if you will. (From other Pixar movies, to the "Toy Story" movies themselves. It warrants a second viewing to catch them all). A big heart, with a likable cast of characters, and game-changing animation, it further showcases how far this company has come since the original "Toy Story". Possibly even the beginning of a future franchise? You know you'd watch it. No matter how old you are. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Sci-Fi Action, Time Travel Twists, And Meat Sandwiches.  

Jurassic World Dominion                         by James Eagan                            ★★ out of ★★★★   

Image: "We've finally found our Creator....Steven Spielberg!"


Where to begin with this one? It all started with a scary science-fiction novel by Michael Crichton, which Stephen Spielberg took and crafted "Jurassic Park" into an epic blockbuster, semi-family oriented horror flick, thus creating a phenomenon. Kids, like me, grew upon it, loved it, quoted it, and geeked out over it (Plus we loved dinosaurs. Who doesn't love dinosaurs). Then we got the sequel "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (Critchton also sh*t that sequel book out. Almost literally), which disappointed, followed by "Jurassic Park 3", which is a lot of fun, though nothing to write home about. After years of nothing, The franchise got its anticipated reboot, "Jurassic World", which made mountains of cash, resulting in "Fallen Kingdom", which was all kinds of stupid. But now, both generations are coming together in a grand finale, that will tie up any loose ends, bring back in the naysayers, and give all the longtime devotees their just rewards. Be a shame for all that Dino legacy to end in fossilized shame. 


Set a few years after the events of "Fallen Kingdom", "Jurassic World Dominion" reveals to us a world where humans and dinosaurs no have no choice but to coexist, if any of these species are to survive. Dinosaurs are everywhere, and humans are forced to cope, even though it's starting to become increasingly obvious who the future dominant species is soon to be. Now former vet, "Owen Grady" (Chris Pratt) and former "Jurassic World" manager "Claire Dearing" (Bryce Dallas Howard), are raising cloned (Maybe part raptor), "Maisie Lockwood" (Isabella Sermon), in secret in the woods, along with keeping an eye on lovable man-eating blue-coated Velociraptor, "Blue". It's discovered that Blue has somehow given birth to a baby raptor, "Beta", which is something that's supposed to be unheard of. This discovery leads to both Beta and Maisie getting captured by mercenaries, with Owen and Claire traveling all around the world to save them, meeting an Air Force pilot seeking some redemption, "Kayla Watts" (DeWanda Wise). Meanwhile, "Dr. Ellie Sattler" (Laura Dern), has been tracking down a pack of killer locusts that are decimating crops and further upsetting an already fragile ecosystem, and it all leads right back to the shady organization, "Biosyn", along with its head, "Lewis Dodgson" (Campbell Scott) (Dodgson? Dodgson? We have Dodgson here?!) Ellie teams up with her old, worn out friend, "Alan Grant" (Sam Neill), to get themselves into Dodgson's compound with some help from "Ian Malcolm" (Jeff Goldblum), where Beta and Maisie also just so happened to have been taken. Trapped within a sanctuary full of dangerous lizards, ranging from "Tyrannosaurus Rex", to the even bigger "Giganotosaurus", our heroes of both generations must come together, prevent Dodgson's machinations, save Maisie and Beta, and not get eaten by whatever sharp toothed creature is lying in wait for them. 


Directed and co-written by Colin Trevorrow (Returning from the first "Jurassic World", and "The Book of Henry". Remember that?)  with Emily Carmichael ("Pacific Rim: Uprising"), "Jurassic World Dominion" continues down the full blown "Fast & Furious" route, where brains and logic have been tosses out the window in favor of what looks cool, makes for a nice future theme park ride, and big special effects that are obviously top of the line. The film starts off with a bit of promise, showing off the new world order, with humanity being forced to try to live among larger than life creatures, changing the very laws of nature as we know it, and possibly heading us towards the possible apocalypse unless we can find a way to cope or evolve. Sadly, all of that gets dropped early on with the inclusion of the killer locusts and the evil corporation, leading to yet another park for our characters to get trapped in, resulting in more Dino chases and well, just more of the same. It makes for an occasional fun action setpiece, such as a chase in the middle of a Mediterranean city (Complete with a guy on a scooter getting eaten, which is the funniest thing ever!), an admittedly scary sequence where some of the characters are trapped in the darkness with spinned, bloodthirsty dinosaurs, and yeah, old Rexy comes back to engage in a climactic finale. It's the characters, the dialogue, and most importantly, the plot that doesn't work. The entire situation feels contrived and coincidental, needlessly complicated where it shouldn't be, and goes over the same themes we've already heard many times before. It's too far out to be as grounded as the original "Jurassic Park", and not even as crazy as "Fallen Kingdom", instead feeling bland and fairly boring. 


Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both good again, and Isabella Sermon shows decent promise, especially since the film wisely tries to retcon some of the character's more questionable reveals in the last film (I mean, she still did also unleash all the Dinosaurs onto the world, but hey, she was a little girl at the time). It's also great to see the OG cast members, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum return, and their chemistry is still pretty spot on. (Goldblum obviously gets in a few good one-liners) BD Wong (as "Dr. Henry Wu", head Dino-geneticist, who has come to realize the errors he's recently made) is a great actor, who gets pretty underutulized. Campbell Scott gets some funny lines, but just comes across as more awkward than villainous (And considering that he's essentially supposed to be the big bad of this entire franchise? Talk about a letdown) Some new characters like DeWanda Wise and Mamiudou Athie (as "Ramsay Cole", an assistant to Dodgson, who is also a fan of Ian Malcolm) are good, but you just wish you could see more of them, and a lot of the newer villains, such as Scott Haze (as "Rainn Delacourt", a tattooed, sneering henchmen) and Dichen Lachman (as "Soyona Santos", the sexy looking, smuggling villainess) both just kind of peter out. The same goes for other returning faces like Omar Sy (as "Barry", Owen's buddy from the first "Jurassic World"), Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda (as "Franklin" and "Zia", Claire's friends from the previous film), to just pop up and dip out when the film no longer needs them. Poor Blue also, despite being one of the main faces of the franchise, only appears twice, being sidelined throughout the entire film. 


"Jurassic World Dominion" doesn't have, and the pun is completely intended here, the usual bite that the franchise has been known for. Sure these have usually been kid-friendly, but all ages like seeing people get chomped up real good PG-13 style by giant lizards. When is that not awesome? There actually is very little of that this time, giving off a rather watered down feeling. (Aside from a pretty solid reference to the infamous Dilophosaurus scene from the original, this is a very tame movie. However, that also makes it a very unremarkable one. It serves as a not as terrible version of the last "Transformers" movie or along the lines with the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, where this doesn't feel as if "Yeah, we've all been building up to this moment". It instead feels like "Well.....That's about all we got folks. At least it looked cool, huh? Buy our toys!" Remind me to thank Colin Trevorrow for an underwhelming weekend. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Lousy Locusts, Dangerous Dinos, Silly Science, And That's, That's Chaos Theory. 

Downton Abbey: A New Era                                                                                        by James Eagan                                                                     ★★ out of ★★★★    

Image: Jolly Good Show Everyone! Jolly Good!


I may be a professional, unpaid and if you ask me, underappreciated film critic, but I too deserve a little vacation every now and then. Plus my other, actually paying, and only slightly more stressful job is paying for it. I haven't had the time for any other movies, and also, there just aren't any other movies out. (I'm also binging "Stranger Things" like everybody else, and there's a lot of it this season!) So why not just give time to the most calm, collected, and very English of cinema? It's literally the most relaxing movie I could watch right now. 


Based on the very popular British series, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" returns us to the "Downton" estate, reuniting us with the loads and loads of characters that inhabit the place. The basic plotline follows the Dowager Countess of Grantham, "Violet Crawley" (Maggie Smith), revealing that she's come into the possession of a villa in France, left to her by a possible former flame. Meanwhile, due to the estate needing the money (I guess. I mean, they're pretty damn rich still), "Lady Mary Talbot" (Michelle Dockery) agrees to allow for movie director "Jack Barber" (Hugh Dancy) to finish shooting his upcoming silent film at Downton, bringing along his entire crew, along with famous actors, "Guy Dexter" (Dominic West) and "Myrna Dalgleish" (Laura Haddock), though Violet's son/Mary's father, "Robert" (Hugh Bonneville), wants nothing to do with it, and uses this as an excuse to check out the villa and sort out some legal mumbo jumbo. Meanwhile, Robert, his wife "Cora" (Elizabeth McGovern), former head butler "Charles Carson" (Jim Carter), and um, the rest (Bare with me. There's a lot of people in this!), venture off to the villa and become part of familial mystery surrounding it, Mary struggles to keep everything together, with Jack's film production in constant turmoil, and her own marriage problems with her always away husband (Matthew Goode wasn't available at the time I think).


Directed by Simon Curtis ("My Week with Marilyn", and also Elizabeth McGovern's real life husband), with a screenplay by Julian Fellowes (Writer and creator of the series), "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is more something that will please fans of the series, and not much for someone whose just a casual moviegoer. Having only seen the first movie, I've had to judge both of these movies on their own. It has typical television series turned movie flaws and too many characters and subplots to juggle, and that's all perfectly fine. Especially since on its own, it's quality entertainment to say the least. In the sense of something that just calms the nerves and makes you feel good, the film succeeds there with flying colors. It's a well directed, gorgeously shot, fairly simple little story, that at least provides us with a likable cast, playing likable characters, overcoming predictability and slight aspirations. 


There are exquisite performances all around, from the wonderfully classy Michelle Dockery, to the always great Maggie Smith. Everybody remains professional and equally terrific no matter how minuscule their role. You can't really single anyone in particular out, with Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Laura Carmichael (as "Edith Pelham, Marchioness of Hexham"), a charmingly confused Kevin Doyle (as "Mr. Molesley), Laura Haddock (Who has a lot of fun with her character's out of place accent), Hugh Dancy, a lovably adorable Sophie McSherra (as "Daisy", one of the estate's assistant cooks), along with a rather heartwarming subplot involving a devilishly charismatic Dominic West and Robert James-Collier (as "Thomas Barrow", the head butler, who might still be my personal favorite character). If somebody hasn't been mentioned, it's no fault of their own, since nobody is sleep-walking here. There just might be too many to mention, which also can be a bit of a minor issue within itself. I give credit to the filmmakers for how everything is actually well wrapped up in a nice bow (Or as well as a two hour film based around an ongoing series with piles of characters with their own arcs to complete). Still, it can feel like overload in places for those who aren't fans of the series, and maybe it can feel the same way for the fans as well, since they're more used to a few episodes of the show being used to bring everything together, instead of a brisk theatrical runtime. 


Flaws and all, "Downton Abbey: A New Era" is a lot of fun. It's nothing explosive, big on summer oriented special effects, or action of any sorts. It's not that kind of movie. It's more therapeutic. It's a movie that brings down the blood pressure, warms the heart, offers some good natured humor, and also prevented this guy from having another panic attack. I learned a lot about myself during this vacation. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Mild Adult Content, Though Mild Is Really Putting It.....Um.....Mildly. 

The Bob's Burgers Movie                                                                                               by James Eagan                                                               ★★ ½ out of ★★★★    

Image: "Is this what it takes to turn you on, Bobby?!"


"Bob's Burgers" is one of those great shows that you kind of tend to forget is great. It's always on, no matter the channel, with twelve seasons, the series is the closest we've gotten to another "Simpsons". It's edgy enough, though really tame by adult animation standards, which works for the whole family to enjoy, with lovable characters, loads of big laughs (Ranging from the obvious to something in the background), plenty of sweetness, and surprising rewatch value, where sometimes you notice little in-jokes that you didn't notice the first time. I rarely watch it consistently, yet when I do catch it, I always remind myself "Oh yeah, I love this show. How can I not?", and this movie makes an excellent argument as to why I need to get back to doing so as soon as possible. 


Based on the decade old television series, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" follows the "Belcher" family, as they continue to keep their always struggling burger restaurant afloat. The parents, "Bob" (H. Jon Benjamin) and "Linda" (John Roberts), plan to offer a complimentary burger over to the bank in hopes of convincing them to extend their loan, while the kids, the always awkward "Tina" (Dan Mintz), the always weird "Gene" (Eugene Mirman), and the always bunny hat wearing "Louise" (Kristen Schaal), plan out their upcoming summer. Of course, problems arise, with the bank refusing to extend the loan (Giving the Belchers a week to pay them off), Tina unable to drum up the courage to finally get her crush "Jimmy Jr." (Also H. Jon Benjamin) to be her summer boyfriend and give him her bread bracelet, Gene's dream of getting his almost nonexistent band "The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee" to headline at the upcoming "Wonder Wharf" (The town amusement park) anniversary getting constantly shot down, and Louise starting to question her maturity, being called a baby by some mean girls due to her bunny hat ears. It gets even worse when a random sinkhole just appears outside the restaurant, which literally just blocks off the entrance. 


In an attempt to prove her bravery, Louise accidentally stumbles upon a dead body in the sinkhole, belonging to a dead carny named "Cotton Candy Dan". The prime suspect ends up being the Belchers' aloof, eye-patch wearing landlord, "Calvin Fischoeder" (Kevin Kline), thus putting the Belchers even closer to losing everything. While Bob and Linda, with help from their buddy, "Teddy" (Larry Murphy), who never has anything better to do anyways, Louise takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of things, believing Fischoeder to be innocent. So she, Gene, and Tina set out to uncover the mystery of who really murdered Cotton Candy Dan and save the restaurant, though uncover some unexpected twists and turns along the way.  


Directed by series creator Loren Bouchard (Who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nora Smith) and Bernard Derriman, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" doesn't hide the fact that it's essentially three or four episodes smushed together, and doesn't exactly scream for a necessary big screen viewing. However, what sets it apart from other animated television shows turned theatrically released movies, is that the film overall is so much better than it has any real right to be. It never feels like a cash grab. It just feels like a longer, more cinematic version of the much loved show, and it's still so charming beyond belief. The movie is jam packed with the usual character and the offbeat humor that fans of the series will have most likely come out to see in the first place, making for a wonderful time for the whole family to enjoy. It's not big in scope, though the animation budget has clearly increased, and looks rather beautiful on the big screen (Not everything needs to be Computer Generated). Even without the grander storyline, it feels pretty perfect that the movie keeps things smaller in scale, which has always been part of the show's appealing nature. It instead relies on the comedy and the likable cast to carry things. Both of which are still remarkably strong even though the show has been going on since early 2011. 


The returning cast of characters include major, supporting, guest, and everything in between, giving roles or appearances to almost everyone that the filmmakers can. H. Jon Benjamin, John Roberts, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, and the show's typical MVP Kristen Schaal, are as delightful as ever, along with Larry Murphy giving Teddy a hilariously and intentionally usefully useless subplot (Where he convinces Bob and Linda to take a burger cart onto the Wharf, mostly just so he can hang out with them). Some other major supporting roles go to the recurringly odd Kevin Kline, Zach Galifianakis (as "Felix", Mr. Fischoeder's more inept brother), Gary Cole (as "Sgt. Bosco", who is convinced he's important to the case, despite doing absolutely nothing of use), David Wain (as "Grover", Mr. Fischoeder's lawyer/cousin, that repeatedly gets pushed around), and a few other surprises from fan favorites all around. The overall mystery as to what's really going on isn't too hard to figure out, though it's still a lot of fun nonetheless and takes some creative twists. The only real complaint I have is that while the film features a handful of musical numbers, you wish that there were more because they're surprisingly solid.   


For what it lacks in scale, "The Bob's Burgers Movie" makes up for in every other department, with colorful animation, lovable characters, irresistible heart, and nonstop hilarity, which much like the show seemingly, doesn't get stale. It offers plenty for fans of the series to go bananas over, yet also works well on its own, serving as a great time for any audience. Meaty, juicy, and full of big buns, it finds a way to earn its place on the big screen, which may even prompt one to take more time to appreciate the show on the smaller screen too. Genuinely good natured and imaginative silliness like this will never go out of style. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Occasionally More Edgy Jokes, Though It's So Tame That It Could Have Earned A PG Rating. Again, Everyone Will Have Fun With This One. 

Top Gun: Maverick                                by James Eagan                      ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: He feels the need.....For safety!


So THIS literally came out of nowhere. I saw the original "Top Gun", directed by the late Tony Scott, and I liked it just fine, though it's a pretty dated, cheesy, and flawed old school blockbuster. Aside from some still very impressive visuals, I can't exactly say I see why to some it's kind of a phenomenon to some. Hell, the fact that it was a big hit at the time is a bit of a surprise. Yeah, "Danger Zone" is catchy as can be, but the movie doesn't strike me as something that demands a thirty plus year later sequel. And then I saw it. So, how did you guys take THAT and turn it into possibly one of the best movies of the year? Like in terms of just modern blockbusters, along with genuinely top notch filmmaking?


"Top Gun: Maverick" reunites us the highly skilled, though reckless test pilot, "Captain Pete Mitchell" (Tom Cruise), aka "Maverick", as his most recent insubordination gets him into hot water with his superior, "Rear Admiral Chester "Hammer" Cain" (An Ed Harris Cameo). Due to the involvement of his former rival, turned close friend and wingman, the now four star Admiral "Tom "Iceman" Kazansky" (Val Kilmer), Maverick gets transferred to back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program, also known as "Top Gun". Maverick is tasked by the antagonistic "Vice Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson" (John Hamm), to train a group of young pilots for a mission to destroy a uranium enrichment facility controlled by an unknown enemy (And by "Unknown", I mean that the film intentionally leaves it vague to who exactly the enemy is here). 


The group includes a bunch of cocky, top of the line fighter pilots, such as "Jake "Hangman" Seresin" (Glen Powell), "Natasha "Phoenix" Trace" (Monica Barbaro), "Robert "Bob" Floyd" (Lewis Pullman), "Reuben "Payback" Fitch" (Jay Ellis), "Mickey "Fanboy" Garcia" (Danny Ramirez), "Javy "Coyote" Machado" (Greg Tarzan Davis), and "Bradley "Goose" Bradshaw" (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick's deceased best friend and former wingman "Goose" (Played by Anthony Edwards in the original), who is immediately at odds with Maverick. While making time to get cozy with an old flame, "Penny" (Jennifer Connelly), Maverick has to make this unlikely team ready for a seemingly impossible mission, which may even be almost designed to be a one way trip, hoping to prepare them for the unexpected, beat the odds, and make it back home. 


Directed by Joseph Kosinski ("Tron: Legacy", "Oblivion", "Only the Brave"), with a screenplay by Ehren Kruger (A handful of "Transformers" movies and "Ghost in the Shell"), Eric Warren Singer ("Only the Brave", "American Hustle") and Christopher McQuarrie (Writer and director of the most recent "Mission: Impossible" movies), "Top Gun: Maverick" being just better than the original isn't exactly something that would be unheard of. It's just....Nobody expected it to be this much better. The film either eliminates, or just does a better job at executing, some of the first film's more frustrating flaws (The cheese especially being one of them), and instead crafts a visually masterful experience, making for the perfect argument why some movies just need/deserve to be witnessed on the best IMAX screen imaginable. The filmmakers first off raise the stakes, with an admittedly vague (I feel it's necessary though), but dangerous mission that would certainly call for this level of training. (The first film's main goal was basically just a dick measuring contest when you get down to it) The characters are more fleshed out, taking what first appear to be stock personalities, but making them feel more real, while also incorporating genuine humor and drama into the mix. Every action feels of vital importance. Kosinski, who has always had an eye for good visual work, proves how tremendous a director he's become. The cinematography is awe-inspiring and almost too good to be true. It's impossible to tell what's practical or just really good CGI, and it's most apparent when things get more intense during the flight scenes involving aerial combat. These sequences explode off of the screen, with a sense of scope that makes you feel as if you're right there in the cockpit with the pilots, which of course for me, is quite terrifying considering my fear of heights. 


The dialogue among characters has improved, sprucing up some of the usual tough guy speak, with sprinkles of awareness. The film seems to acknowledge some of the film's flaws in a way, though remembers what worked with it as well. Tom Cruise is phenomenal, reminding everyone why he's a movie star, who just finds a way to command the screen with a simple smile (That freakin charisma is infectious.) However, despite his character remaining as rebellious as ever, he's shown to have been humbled and has matured into the kind of more unorthodox hero that anyone can get behind and be inspired by. Miles Teller is perfectly cast, along with Jennifer Connelly having excellent chemistry with Cruise and adding a lot more depth to what could have been just an average, run of the mill love interest. Jon Hamm is a great foil to the characters, while others in the main cast, such as  Monica Barbaro, Lewis Pullman, and a suitably jock-level jerkass Glen Powell keep things entertaining.. As for Val Kilmer, he has only one scene in the movie, and man it's one Hell of a scene. I dare not spoil it. It's just a moment of powerful filmmaking that might invoke tears and applause. 


"Top Gun: Maverick" is blockbuster cinema at its most magnificent. Sure, I love me some comic book movies or any major franchises as much as the next guy, but it's pretty refreshing to see something more human and real, reach those same levels of grandeur. It gives those pulsating thrills, audience pleasing humor, epic scale, and soft-spoken drama, that the best kinds of summer movies can give us, resulting in cheers from the crowd that feel rightfully earned. You can grab your popcorn and enjoy the model of a major theater outing, though still get something whip smart and sincere at the same time. Takes your breath away. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Hotshot Hotshots, And Some Sweaty Beach Football.

Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers                                                                                       by James Eagan                                                                   ★★ ½ out of ★★★★        

Image: "f heard if we pay extra, they'll gladly crack our nuts!"


There are a handful of things that will always win me over, even when the film I'm watching has more than a few noticeable flaws. Varying animation styles for one. Excessive background and in-jokes that warrant repeat viewings. And then, some good old fashioned, cynical corporate satire. Base it around a beloved children's property that many near thirty year-olds grew up with (Such as myself), and you got yourself a winner in my eyes. 


Set in a live-action/animated hybrid world, similar to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" follows the titular chipmunks, "Chip" (Voiced by John Mulaney) and "Dale" (Voiced by Andy Samberg), who were once at the top of their stardom in the early 90s, with their hit show "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" (Even if you don't remember the show, you sure remember that theme song. Don't you dare lie about it!). However, Dale wants to branch out, planning to make his own solo career, which results in the series' cancellation and the estrangement between the once best friends. Years later, Dale, having gotten some CGI surgery, has nothing going for him, going to cons where nobody acknowledges his existence, while Chip has become a successful, though lonely insurance salesman. The duo end up being forced to reunite once their old friend and former co-star, "Monterey Jack" (Voiced by Eric Bana), whose serious cheese addiction has gotten him into trouble with some dangerous people. 


When Monterey Jack vanishes, and the local authorities, in the form of the Gumby-esque "Captain Putty" (Voiced by J. K. Simmons) and the human "Ellie Steckler" (KiKi Layne), can't seem to find the kidnappers, it's up to Chip and Dale to get back into the game and solve the case. Their investigation leads them into the clutches of crime boss, "Sweet Pete" (Voiced by Will Arnett), the former "Peter Pan", turned overweight, middle aged gangster, who has been taking once famous toons, giving them them surgical changes, and then forcing them to become part of those unsettling bootleg animated films that somehow stumble upon while going down the internet rabbit hole. Chip and Dale's friendship is put to the test as the two avoid Sweet Pete's minions as they attempt to save their friend, and maybe rekindle their once close relationship. 


Released through "Disney+" and directed by Akiva Schaffer ("Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" has the makings of something that could go so very wrong in the absolute worst of hands. It could have just been references for the sake of references, hoping to get some nostalgia points, and pop out lowest common denominator jokes that might either only appeal to the youngest and least demanding, or leave them just as annoyed as their parents will be. Luckily, this is not that kind of disaster. What the film does is cleverly embrace what it advertises, which is the "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" aesthetic for sure, along with a certain sarcastic, slightly cynical streak. The filmmakers put a lot more thought into something that should have been a streaming based throwaway, packing the film with loads upon loads of Easter Eggs, though either doesn't stop the movie dead to focus on them or even actually has some of them play a role of some sort in the overall story. It's not the most complex of plotlines and even has a few predictable beats, but what's brilliant about the film is how uniquely it tells it, such as by basing around animation based satire, which is bound to delight any nerd with love for the craft. It's actually very well directed all things considered, even when the CGI shading on some of the 2D characters doesn't always look the best, but it could be tossed up to budget constraints.


 It's a streaming level budget, with a theatrical level screenplay, which is smart, original, and yes, thoroughly hilarious. There are far too many fantastic gags to count, from the mocking of more questionable animation styles (Such as overly photo-realistic characters and their lifeless eyes), to the bizarrely legal ripoff films that blatantly plagiarize without remorse, and some of the smaller details that only animation dorks can appreciate. The world created is also genius, such as how cartoon characters just exist in the real world, whether as every day people, celebrities, or some inhabiting a seemingly bright and colorfully happy side of town, where literally everyone is apparently doing something shady, such as illegal muppet fighting or underground cheese houses filled with mouse addicts (The cheese being a substitute for Crack in case you haven't figured it out).  


It's a great voice cast that the film has gathered together, with John Mulaney and Andy Samberg making for a perfect duo, who don't just inject new life and character to the beloved animated chipmunks, but give them a little extra depth than I think they've ever gotten before. Will Arnett is a dastardly, humorously vile villain, while we get some scene-stealing parts from J. K. Simmons, Seth Rogen (as Sweet Pete's henchman, "Bob", a motion capture Viking, who just, you know, sounds like Seth Rogen), an unrecognizable Eric Bana, Keegan-Michael Key (as "Bjornson", a muppet cheesemonger, who works for Sweet Pete), and a few other surprises in the form of cameo after cameo in which some play bigger roles than you would expect. The biggest surprise comes from Tim Robinson, voicing a hideous version of a certain blue blur and his disgusting human teeth, which repeatedly made me burst out laughing. I'm not sure how Disney pulled off a lot of these bit parts and in-jokes, but that one? Someone snuck that in there somehow, and whoever did deserves an honorary award for surreal comedy. The weakest stuff would be with KiKi Layne, who is cute and likable, though just serves the role as the bland human character.


"Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers" features many sight jokes that warrant repeat viewings (Was that "Dobby the House Elf" selling "Gucci"?), along with a certain amount of fun that may give the kids some bright and brisk entertainment, though will more likely have the adults (Say late 20s, early 30s. My people!) rolling on the floor with laughter. It should have been little more than a gimmick (Or at least say, another "Space Jam". Both of them!), but instead offers something much smarter than it really has any right to be. It certainly made a certain unpaid film critic, working fifty hours a week at an understaffed CVS a much needed smile to his face. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Some Crude Jokes, Cheese Addiction, Disney-Fied Dismembering, And Those Human Teeth.....Those Hideous, Unnatural Human Teeth.