In Theaters: Our Friend, Outside the Wire, Locked Down, Shadow in the Cloud, Promising Young Woman, Wonder Woman 1984, Soul, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Songbird, Monster Hunter, The Prom, Mank, Hillbilly Elegy, The Croods: A New Age
Coming Soon: The Little Things, Malcolm & Marie, Judas and the Black Messiah, Nobody, Tom & Jerry, Coming 2 America, Chaos Walking, Raya and the Last Dragon
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Our Friend by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: ""So then Seth Rogan dropped his pants....Oh, wait....This isn't that kind of movie."
2020 didn't give us much to work with, considering how many movies were delayed, became difficult to find, or just faded away from existence, the new year has already begun to continue the previous year's trend of pushing everything back. This time I plan to be more prepared to get back to seeing things that I might not normally see on my own, allowing myself to continue to expand on what I watch and later recommend, while also giving time to smaller, more personal films.
Inspired by a true story, "Our Friend" follows "Matthew Teague" (Casey Affleck), along with his wife, "Nicole" (Dakota Johnson), as they struggle with her cancer diagnosis, which only gives her a limited amount of time to live. They find some much needed help getting through this from a dear friend, "Dane" (Jason Segel), who has never gotten far in life, but happens to be one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. Dane helps his friend's daughters, "Molly" (Isabella Rice) and "Evie" (Violet McGraw), through this distressing time, as Matthew and Nicole's cope with their dwindling time together, as Dane's presence helps make their difficulties bearable. Really, the plot is just how goodness, while it can't make pain go away, at least dilutes it and reminds you of the joys of life.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Blackfish", "Megan Leavey"), with a screenplay by Brad Ingelsby ("Out of the Furnace", "The Way Back") that adapts the "Esquire" article by the real life Matthew Teague, "Our Friend" isn't a particularly exciting, original, or even all that important a film. It's something that will easily be forgotten by the year's end, and if not openly sought out, would probably go under most people's radars. What the film really end up being is just very sweet, simple, and exactly the kind of thing you might need to give a look to on the chance that you're feeling a little depressed. The film does a solid job of balancing an off-kilter sense of humor to go with some heavy drama, which is handled in a realistic and mature fashion, without needing to overstate itself. Now that isn't to say that the movie isn't without its predictable beats or moments of unnecessary conflict (There's a late sort of twist that can be seen a mile away, and adds nothing), but in a way, some of that comes with the territory. The filmmakers at least find ways to counteract it with how likable it is, with the audience understanding or even relating to the flaws of the characters, giving off the feelings of knowing people in real life who might seem similar. (Some might even see a little bit of themselves in it)
Jason Segel is quite wonderful, generating a lovable warmth and sense of humor, yet also inhabiting a hidden sadness that perhaps many people like this try to keep out of sight from others. There are some fantastic performances from Casey Affleck (He's generally excellent) and an especially affecting Dakota Johnson. However, the film doesn't do much when it comes to supporting characters, who sort of just come and go throughout, though there is a brief standout moment from Gwendoline Christie (as "Teresa", a woman that Dane ends up taking a random hike with), who gets a very insightful little scene. There's a little forced conflict at some point, but thankfully, it's looked over quickly and avoids tossing in some kind of antagonist. It wouldn't have been necessary to do so, and I appreciate the filmmakers never forgetting what the movie in the end is truly meant to be about.
"Our Friend" is a rather straightforward sentimental film, that doesn't do anything too new, nor is it really meant to. It's just sincere and heartwarming, generating some mild, good natured laughs in the process to go with the human oriented drama. It's a movie that I see a lot of people just kind of ignoring, though could find an audience with those seeking a bit of a pick me up right now without much consequence. Considering this January's lack of cinematic content at the moment, we could all use it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language And Heavy Themes.
Outside the Wire by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Falcon", helping to stop an attempt at a violent insurrection to stop the American democratic process.
What is the whole deal with Netflix and their love of low budget, only somewhat science fiction, that to be perfectly honest, all kind of look the same? It's almost like Netflix is their go-to distributor when they're not certain if a big screen release will draw much of a crowd. Not to mention with the lack of theaters being open at the moment and the many bored souls that spend their days searching through Netflix to escape their real life problems, the movies truly have found a to flourish as best they can. At least until "Disney+" releases more Marvel stuff.
Taking place sometime in the not so far off future, "Outside the Wire" where the United States creates robotic soldiers, known as "Gumps", to combat Russian mercenaries led by "Victor Koval" (Pilou Asbæk). After disobeying orders (And getting a couple Marines killed), drone pilot "Lt. Thomas Harp" (Damson Idris), gets moved to Ukraine, where the US has their main base of operations to combat Koval's forces. Now disgraced in the eyes of his fellow soldiers, Harp is commanded by his new superior, "Eckhart" (Michael Kelly), to work under "Captain Leo" (Anthony Mackie), who as it turns out, is an artificially created, very advanced, and incredibly skilled android, created to be the perfect super soldier. To prevent Koval from getting his hands on nuclear missiles, Leo and Harp embark on a secret mission into Ukraine, where Harp begins to suspect there's something Leo isn't telling him. They encounter Koval's enforcers (Which also includes his own versions of the Gumps), a resistance group led by the almost equally ruthless "Sofiya" (Emily Beecham), and America's need to fire a drone strike first and ask questions later, while everyone's true motivations start to reveal themselves.
Directed by Mikael Håfström ("Escape Plan") and released through Netflix, "Outside the Wire" is a relatively small scale action flick with moderately high ambitions, but with one simple goal to be your average science-fiction thriller of the week. It'll be entertaining in the moment, with aspects that might even lend itself to something even more fascinating, but at the end of the day, the filmmakers have no intention of taking things as far as they possibly can go. The film borrows a lot of elements from various well known properties, though "Terminator" seems to be the most obvious one. That isn't a bad thing, and what keeps the film from being something completely forgettable. Topics about what humanity is willing to sacrifice during warfare, what technology and weaponry we should be allowed to use as we please, and the many that will always be caught in the crossfire no matter who is actually in the right throughout the conflict, are all addressed and given a somewhat unique spin. However, the movie also wants to be an explosion filled video game, and the two can only work with the absolute best working behind the scenes. What we get is decently made enough, but fairly bland and most of all, not near as good as it actually could be.
Anthony Mackie is still excellent in the film, generating a lot of charisma, mystery, and occasional intimidation, making for a very interestingly complicated character that keeps you guessing to what his true motives are. Damson Idris also does a good job playing the audience surrogate, and goes through a steady character arc. Some supporting characters add little, such as Emily Beecham's surprisingly inconsequential (And intellectually lacking) character and especially Pilou Asbæk, who is barely even a character. The special effects are solid for what they are, with the Gumps appearing rarely and not getting much focus, though the best use of CGI ends up being on Anthony Mackie's Leo. (His body is made up of a synthetic, gel like substance, which gives off a distinctive and original robotic design)
"Outside the Wire" has potential and only occasionally know its, but would rather give its audience the simplest of pleasures that usually come from a low budget action thriller. It's fun in the moment, with a few well crafted action sequences and drama that's enhanced by good performances. It's also unmemorable and when you really get down to it, just kind of weak. Not near enough has been invested into anything I can fully recommend except to quell those early January woes. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Language, And Military Machismo.
Locked Down by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Are they the ones who stole the election?
I'm officially starting to forget what normalcy looks like anymore, and it's not helping when movies are also referencing the pandemic. I'm having trouble remembering what the world was like before we had to wear masks everywhere we went. In just a few months, we will be reaching the anniversary for when it all went to sh*t, and I'm starting to feel like this might be the new normal. We already know things are going to be different and in others, are never going to be the same. When all of our movies are going to start referencing it, I don't think there will be any going back for quite a while.
"Locked Down" follows disgruntled married couple, "Linda" (Anne Hathaway) and "Paxton" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), on the verge of separation. However, before the two of them can leave each other, COVID-19 happens, initiating lockdown in London. Now stuck with each other and working from home the best they can, Linda and Paxton's relationship continues to deteriorate. Paxton, desperate to move up in the world, having been trapped in a job as a delivery truck driver due to a felony, finally gets his boss, "Malcolm" (Ben Kingsley), to allow for a chance a promotion. Due to Paxton's felony, he will be required to do deliveries with a false identity (The identity being "Edgar Allen Poe", since Paxton's boss is a moron). Meanwhile, Linda, who runs a fashion company, is tasked to fire some employees and clear out a "Harods" department store (One of the items to be cleared out being a rare diamond). Their schedules end up overlapping, with Paxton's last run being at Harods, making Paxton's job more difficult. Then the two get the wacky idea that since there is also a replica diamond at the store (And because of COVID restrictions, security will be lacking), to um, permanently borrow the diamond, with nobody being the wiser.
Released through HBO Max (Movie theaters? Who needs them?), "Locked Down" is a movie that might be construed as "Insensitive" or "Too soon", much like last year's horrifically offensive and insultingly stupid "Songbird", but I can assure people that it's nowhere close to that level. Directed by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", "Edge of Tomorrow"), with a screenplay by Steven Knight ("Hummingbird", "Locke", "Allied", "Serenity"......Not that "Serenity". The bad one), the film actually has something to say, and is a lot more competently made. Aside from the questionable timing, it's a fairly likable sort of romantic comedy, that while a little off in terms of execution and pacing, makes up for it with a somewhat eccentric, mostly dialogue heavy charm. Due to the fact that the film was in production right in the middle of the whole pandemic, there aren't many locations, secondary characters, or even much real movement at all. Most of the film focuses specifically on our leads, or maybe sometimes the people they talk to via Zoom calls, which are complete with constant freezing and sound issues. (It's nice to see a movie actually address that kind of thing) It just takes a while for things to really get moving, which is especially noticeable when the actual main plotline doesn't fully come into play into about halfway through. It's subtlety hinted at throughout, but if you didn't already know about the film's premise, it would almost feel out of nowhere.
What carries the film more than anything would be the flawless chemistry, and delightful onscreen presences of Anne Hathaway (Looking cute and endearing as usual) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Who it's nice to see doing a comedy, considering how great a dramatic actor he is) are hard not to like. They get some great banter between each other, and even though their characters are meant to be strained, you can still see these characters really do have a connection. Most of the movie is just focusing on them, though it does leave room for rather brief appearances from Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller (as Linda's boss), Stephen Merchant (as the head of security at Harods), Mindy Kaling (as a former co-worker of Linda's), along with amusing parts for Dulé Hill (as "David", Paxton's half-brother) and Jazmyn Simon (as "Maria", David's wife, who Linda may or may not have had a sexual experience with).
Brought down a bit by possible poor timing and an execution of style that will either make or break the film (It's not boring, but it's not exactly an "Exciting" film), "Locked Down" isn't a movie that will find itself appealing to everyone. It is however, quite fun, and despite the romantic comedy aspect to the premise, it defies a lot of the standard tropes that many films of that genre tend to overly rely on. Also, unlike "Songbird", the film has a bit of a point to itself, addressing that in a way us being in lockdown could be seen as a positive, aside from the obvious protection from the virus. It makes you think about what exactly you've been doing in your life and now you're forced to contemplate the future, especially when we as a species really took a lot of things for granted. Very fitting to think about considering how things in real life are very much going to be different from now on. 3 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Language And Pieces Of Fabric, Worn Over Your Face That Violate Your Constitutional Rights In Ways That Nobody Has Been Able To Actually Explain To Me.
Shadow in the Cloud by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: "Wait....This isn't prequel to 'Gremlins'?"
What's the best way to start off the new, hopefully better year? Aside from allowing deranged, bigoted loonies to storm our Capitol and attempt to overthrow democracy (Now that twist I did see coming years ago), it's to make way for something of little consequence, but enough good old fashioned cheesy entertainment value. It makes the January dumping ground much easier to get through.
Set in 1943, and after an amusing little animated PSA assuring that so called "Gremlins" aren't sabotaging war planes, "Shadow in the Cloud" follows a supposed British Flight Officer, "Maude Garrett" (Chloë Grace Moretz), who boards a B-17 bomber plane, "The Fool's Errand", with a mysterious package that she claims contains secret documents and must be delivered without question. Most of the bomber's crew is immediately antagonistic and sexist towards Garrett, with the captain, "John Reeves" (Callan Mulvey), sending Garrett to sit in the ball turret, forced to leave her package with the nice guy, "Walter Quaid" (Taylor John Smith). After the plane takes off in the middle of a storm, Garrett notices something is off about the flight, especially when she notices a terrifying looking shadow on the side of the plane. When parts of the bomber plane start to fall apart, it becomes apparent that something is wrong. With the sudden arrival of Japanese fighter planes, and the revelation that there is in fact a bloodthirsty gremlin on board, it's up to Garrett to take command of the situation, while her true mission slowly starts to become apparent.
Directed by Roseanne Liang, who also rewrote the screenplay previous written by known douchebag, Max Landis (He was completely removed from the project due to sexual misconduct and misogynistic comments, only receiving a legal credit. I'm assuming the feminist message was not the original draft), "Shadow in the Cloud" is not the kind of movie that will make any best or worst lists. Granted, the filmmakers know that. It's not supposed to. It has one simple job to do, which is provide silly, tongue in cheek popcorn flick fun, that also has a surprise sense of empowerment and believe it or not, a few unexpected twists. The movie is rather original in execution. It doesn't fully explain everything right off the bat, unraveling things as it progresses. The film spends a decent chunk of its short runtime focusing on the main character as she's confined to the ball turret.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the star of the show in more ways than one. Aside from being the lead, we see everything from her perspective, meaning the other characters are mostly heard through voice over, and the same goes for the creature itself. What we learn about her character is hinted at, but not explained right away. Moretz is also quite the badass in the action scenes, providing a showcase of her versatility as an actress, which is not something you expect to see in what's essentially nothing more than a B-Movie creature feature. The rest of the cast mostly serves their purpose, with Taylor John Smith playing the nice guy, Nick Robinson (as "Beckell", the rookie gunner) playing the inexperienced one, Byron Coll (as "Finch", one of the more antagonistic ones) playing the dick, and Callan Mulvey playing the stern captain, but the film is almost completely focused on Moretz, who makes up for the film's lack of depth with the supporting cast. As for the creature itself, it's a creepy looking, though not exactly realistic looking creation, that still manages to make for a scary threat.
"Shadow in the Cloud" is a cleverly directed (Liang makes great use of cinematography and seemingly intentionally lackluster visual effects), effectively suspenseful thriller, that's part monster movie, part war drama, and part female empowering epic. While it gets somewhat more hard to believe as it goes along (Considering what's revealed to be inside the package and what it goes through, how is it not damaged in anyway by the end of the film?), it's very entertaining to watch and has the makings of a future cult classic. Not a bad way to start off the new year. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Sexist Dudes, and Violent Winged Monkey Rats.
Promising Young Woman by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: A promising young future Oscar winner.
There are aspects of our culture that you would think that we would have overcome by now. Sure we still have our obsessive need to discriminate, hold on to worn out traditions, and try to reshape history so that it doesn't look as bad as it actually was. College rape culture though. We're past that one at least right? Like, nobody defends that, right? Um, right?
"Promising Young Woman" follows "Cassie Thomas" (Carey Mulligan) who, after a tragedy involving a close friend from college, "Nina", has made it her personal mission in life to pose as a drunk woman at bars and wait for supposed "nice guys" to pick her up, then take advantage of her while she's apparently inebriated. Once they're trapped, Cassie reveals her ruse to them and ruthlessly berates them for what they planned to do, keeping track of her targets while she does. She lives with her parents, "Stanley" (Clancy Brown) and "Susan" (Jennifer Coolidge), and has let her personal mission control her life, though she does start to change her mind when she falls for a doctor, "Ryan" (Bo Burnham). However, after learning the one responsible for what happened to Nina, the proclaimed cool guy that everybody likes, "Al Monroe" (Chris Lowell), returns to the picture to get married, Cassie goes after all of the ones who played a role in the incident, exacting her vengeance.
From first time director, writer, and producer, Emerald Fennell (With Margot Robbie also serving as a producer), "Promising Young Woman" is kind of demented. It's an unhinged, nonchalantly twisted piece of work that despite a humorous tone centered around it, still makes for one of the darkest movies this year. Basically the term "Pulling your punches" doesn't mean crap to this movie. It instead intends to take a hammer to your face, then kick you in the crotch just for the Hell of it. It's the right amount of uncomfortable, and Fennell's genre-bending screenplay and suspenseful direction bring it all together in a complex puzzle of strangeness. The movie is filled with well crafted scenes, along with simplistic, yet memorable cinematography. It looks gorgeously, with clever use of color and background imagery. Despite the really dark subtext, there are a lot of funny moments, even though these bits might make one cringe or wince at the same time.
Much of what carries the film is Carey Mulligan, who makes for an incredible presence in the film. Sympathetic one moment, terrifying the next, and at times, quite unlikable, the character goes through various moods and changes throughout, and Mulligan keeps the character grounded. She further compels the audience to follow her even when they're disturbed by some of her actions. While this is Carey Mulligan's show, the film has an excellent ensemble of recognizable faces, such as Bo Burnham (Who Mulligan has terrific chemistry with), Alison Brie (as "Madison", an old college acquaintance of Cassie's), Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox (as "Gail", Cassie's boss), Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield (as a dumb buddy of Al's), Alfred Molina (as "Jordan Green", Al's lawyer), Connie Britton (as the dean of Cassie's college), Molly Shannon (as Nina's mother), along with Adam Brody and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as a pair of Cassie's unsuspecting "victims").
"Promising Young Woman" addresses some worn out old sayings, such as "Well, what do you expect?", "Maybe she was asking for it.", or "Boys will be boys", without the need of portraying everything as good and evil, but also not letting those who allow for such actions off easy. It just so happens to do so with a somewhat sadistic smirk. While I can see some not exactly getting behind where the film eventually concludes, it remains fully committed to the twisting and turning tone that's been set up, and is either way, anything but predictable. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, And Untrustworthy Guys Who Just Can't Help Themselves.
Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Megatron. Are you talking to yourself again?"
I reviewed the previous season of the "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy" not just because of my love of "Transformers", but mostly because at the time, I was struggling to find movies to review. This doesn't mean that I'm going to start reviewing more shows, Netflix events, or limited series, anytime soon. I do however feel that I might as well review the rest since there's not only a good amount to talk about, but I still have to fix what the Michael Bay movies failed to do (And "Star Wars" fans have the balls to think that they know cinematic pain....), and prove to the uninitiated that underneath all of the toy based consumerism, there's something truly great about this franchise. There is a lot of toy based consumerism still. It's just really, really cool though.
Following the events of the first act, titled "Siege", "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" begins its second act in the epic battle between the heroic (But flawed) "Autobots" and the evil (But complicated) "Decepticons". After Autobot leader, "Optimus Prime" (Jake Foushee), sent the much needed "Allspark" into space to keep it out of the hands (And the luscious lips) of Decepticon leader, "Megatron" (Jason Marnocha), Prime, along with a few more Autobots, including the new recruit, "Bumblebee" (Joe Zieja), boarded the "Ark", to leave their homeworld of "Cybertron". The Ark vanishes, leaving their survival in question. Now "Elita-1" (Linsay Rousseau), must lead the remaining Autobot forces against Megatron, who works with Decepticon mad scientist, "Shockwave" (Todd Haberkorn), on a special plan known as "Project: Nemesis" (Which is powered by the harvested sparks of both Autobots and Decepticons). Meanwhile, Optimus and the others, as it turns out, are still alive in deep space, but are not in the hands of a group of factionless mercenaries, led by "Doubledealer" (Michael Schwalbe) working for the five faced "Quintesson", known as "Deseeus" (Voiced by Jolene Anderson, Keith Silverstein, Jay Sanford, Joseph Houghton, and also Linsay Rousseau). With more dangers left to face, Optimus and his allies continue their search for the Allspark and Megatron leads his forces to hunt them down. However, the battle for survival takes an unexpected turn involving the past, present, and future, that could alter the course of everything.
From Rooster Teeth Studios, "Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" should come with a quick warning before it starts for certain longtime fans. If you weren't a fan of the first part, you're definitely not going to be won over. A vocal minority of the fanbase just couldn't find themselves getting into the first act, and I can to a degree understand why. (Granted, after five live action films, with two of them being some of the worst things I've ever seen in a theater. That's not me being overdramtic. I'm being 100% honest there!) Told through six episodes once again, the story is darker, slower paced, has longer, drawn out moments of dialogue, and lacks the usual goofy sense of humor that many have gotten accustomed to. In a way, it's very different for this franchise. I think though, in spite of that, it's something that rather feels like a breath of fresh air for it. The factions aren't so simple, with the villains showing some depth and the heroes making more questionable decisions. I love the character interactions, especially when Optimus and Megatron are the main focus, though I truly appreciate the time given to Elita-1, who has always kind of been the background in most incarnations, but this time has her own major subplot. (A downside being that her storyline takes a backseat about halfway through before becoming more important towards the finale) The action is also thrilling to watch, with the animators having a lot of fun with the many abilities and transformations that the characters have, which are also integral to their personalities. Even bit players have a little extra something to them, which makes them more humanized (Well, humanized as far as an alien, transforming robot can be).
The voice cast, while talented, are some of the more mixed aspects, though thankfully the characters are well written enough to make up for it. Jake Foushee's Optimus has been a major point in the broken base, mostly because of how much more incapable he is as a leader this time around. I actually really like that aspect though. He's a flawed hero, that sometimes has a tendency to struggle with his perceived legacy, and I do think Foushee gets better, especially during the climax. A standout would be Jason Marnocha's Megatron, who makes for one of the compelling, yet still frightening incarnations of the character. He truly believes himself to be the true savior of his race, though commits horrible acts to achieve his goals, which only get more and more ruthless as he goes along. It's a great villain, and the places his story goes are both shocking and thoroughly exciting, even more so for a longtime fan. (They also toned down his lips. So that's already a positive.) Other beloved characters get their time in the spotlight, such as Elita-1, Bumblebee, Shockwave, and my personal favorite, Megatron's treacherous second in command, "Starscream" (Frank Todaro), while some others get surprise roles, such as an interesting take on "Sky Lynx" (Sean Wright), a towering "Scorponok" (Michael Dunn), and some that you would never expect to play a part here. One gripe I have is that Deseeus, along with the Quintesson/mercenary storyline, doesn't quite serve much purpose except to have a third party for the climax.
"Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Earthrise" has plot twists galore, a moody atmosphere, too many references to count, and well directed action, which would be nothing without the series' realization that character is what makes this all matter. Regardless of a few little shortcomings, you're invested in both hero and villain, and can at least understand why they make the choices they do. The final two episodes take this all to a place that I wouldn't have seen coming, and while it brings everything together, ends on an abrupt cliffhanger with many lingering questions. It's not for every fan, and I while I get why, I am thoroughly excited (And most of all captivated) by where it's all going to conclude. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated TV-Y7 For Some Bizarre Reason, Despite Some Gruesome Deaths. Sure They're Robots That Bleed Purple, But It's Still Disturbing To Watch.
Wonder Woman 1984 by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: An Angel with really shiny wings.
Is this really the future of cinema right here? Releasing upcoming films both in theaters and on streaming at the same time? This actually does somewhat have me worried. I don't think that the art of film is never going to recover, or that movie theaters will all shut down (Though they most certainly will take a hit. Then again though, what can you do?). I'm more worried that we might just be past the point of no return (People might just be too used to this), and that studios might be preparing for the long haul. We're going to be feeling the effects of Covid long after its gone, and that's hoping it goes away anytime soon. So with all that said, something inspiring good old fashioned superhero heroism in a year without it (It's jarring not to have a Marvel movie this year) was needed.
"Wonder Woman 1984" follows the powerful and immortal Themascarian Amazon princess and warrior, "Diana Prince" (Gal Gadot), aka "Wonder Woman", as she secretly fights crime all over the world, while also working in the Washington D.C. Smithsonian as an anthropologist. While in D.C., she befriends a socially insecure archaeologist, "Barbara Minerva" (Kristen Wiig) and studies ancient cultures, such as a mysterious relic, known as the "Dreamstone" (Which can supposedly grant any wish one desires. For a price of course). Diana is still heartbroken over the loss of her true love, "Steve Trevor" (Chris Pine) back in World War I, wishing that she can somehow be reunited with him. Her wish is granted, with Steve (Inhabiting the body of somebody else) is resurrected, bringing the two together once more. However, charismatic, power hungry oil tycoon and television personality, "Maxwell Lord" (Pedro Pascal), has been searching for the Dreamstone and plans to use it to achieve the greater power that he's always felt that was owed to him.
After schmoozing it off Barbara (Who has also made a wish to become both really hot and scary strong), Max wishes to become one with the Dreamstone, allowing him the ability to grant any wish, while achieving incredible power at the same time, along with total insanity. Diana and Steve know that such power in the wrong hands could unleash Monkey's Paw style chaos on the entire planet, with the lives of many now hanging in the balance. Now Diana and Steve must travel across the globe to track down Max and find a way to put an end to his madness before his actions bring an end to the world. Meanwhile, Barbara, who has no intention of losing the power and confidence she's always wanted, slowly begins her own transformation, putting herself at odds with Diana.
With Patty Jenkins ("Monster") returning to direct and co-write along with David Callaham and comic book writer, Geoff Johns (Known for his "Justice League" and "Green Lantern" runs), "Wonder Woman 1984" has a lot to live up to. This is not just considering the fact that the original was the first truly remarkable entry into the "DC Extended Universe", proving that the franchise could work with the right team behind it. It also all around wonderful film that just so happens to give the female audience their own superhero to look up to. (For the longest time, female comic book movies either failed miserably or were intentionally pushed to the side out of fear that they wouldn't be successful) This sequel goes much bigger, grander, and due to the 80s aesthetic, more colorful than ever before. Perhaps the film goes somewhat overboard in some places, but for what it gets right, it does so in spectacular fashion.
The film has a lot to get out of the way once it opens, with some new characters to introduce, along with detailed plotlines that can only get explanations as the film progresses. It can be bit to take in, especially when you know that the film is two and a half hours long. Then again though, once the film finds its footing, it gives the fans everything they could want from a "Wonder Woman" movie, mixed with a certain goofy charm that comes with the 80s. Clearly Patty Jenkins was inspired by the old fashioned sense of the older "Superman" films or the golden age era of comic books. Considering most DC films have this almost drug-addicted need to be as dark as humanly possible (What is it with Zack Snyder and his absolute hatred of color?), going back to the era that while of course, somewhat cheesy, at least gives you more personality and a sense of fun that's been sorely lacking from too many of these films. Also, who doesn't miss old school heroics? It's best shown in an early sequence involving Diana as she faces off against some incompetent criminals in a retro styled mall in a rather comedic, yet still badass fashion. The film remembers to keep a good sense of humor, which makes you actually care for the characters, especially when things get a bit more serious as the movie really gets into the complicated plot.
The film's visuals are gloriously wild and vibrant, and make for more than a few stunning action sequences, such as a chase scene in Cairo. There's also a beautiful scene with Diana and Steve piloting an invisible jet through a fireworks display (The fact that they even found a way to include the invisible jet without it looking silly at all deserves praise). Underneath all of that is something very human, which despite some of the story's more out there moments (What the Dreamstone is or where it came from is one of those "Just go with it" sort of plot points), is really what elevates the film past some shortcomings, preventing the film from being overindulgent. The lighter tone doesn't shy away from the film's deeper message, along with the dark implications of what such power in the wrong hands could be capable of. It also addresses what it takes to overcome such things, with themes of hope and believing that our humanity will win out in the end despite our obvious flaws. It's actually a very fitting metaphor for the film as a whole now that I think about it.
Gal Gadot, who by this point embodies the character so much that I can only see her in this part from now on, is stunning once again, showcasing the heroine's strength, weaknesses, and endearing grace in her expressions and body language alone. Her chemistry with Chris Pine, who also gets a lot of great comedic moments reacting to the new world around him, is what carries the film and gives it its heart. It's one of those movie relationships where you care so much for both characters and can't help but follow them through anything. Pedro Pascal, who is like Donald Trump except more charming, funny, capable, makes for a compelling antagonist (You know what, aside from the hair, he's actually nothing like Donald Trump), greedily hi-jacks his scenes, while Kristen Wiig is rather perfectly cast. Her later transformation into full "Cheetah" also looks pretty solid all things considered. (Although it's strange to say that the characters from last year's "Cats" are actually much scarier than the actual cat person whose supposed to be menacing) We also get brief appearances in flashbacks from Connie Nielsen (as "Hippolyta", Diana's mother) and Robin Wright (as "Antiope", Diana's aunt/mentor), who are very much welcome. Where the first film somewhat faltered once it reached its third act, this one ends up being elevated by its own. The finale, instead of going bigger and better, surprisingly keeps it contained despite the larger scale implications. However, once the point the film is making becomes apparent, it's perfectly explained. The emotions speak for themselves and resonate well in today's rather divided, antagonistic world. (I also appreciate the nod to a certain controversial moment from the comics and how its handled in a more thoughtful, less violent fashion)
A bit too much of a good thing at times, "Wonder Woman 1984" makes up for its flaws of ambition with honesty and a sincere nature. Unlike most films in the DC Extended Universe (Something I fear next year's "Zack Snyder's Justice League" will only further neglect), this movie offers hopeful inspiration, a sweet smile, and enough charm to make up for any mistakes. It's the heroism that you wish to see from your iconic heroes, and the kind that further motivate you to be better than you even think you could possibly be. Lets see your precious "Snyder Cut" do that! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Pervy Men, Superhero Action, And Too Much 80s For The Average Person To Handle.
Soul by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Music Smurf steps into a completely different movie.
Merry Christmas everyone! We've been through a lot this year, but we at least made it hear. Not to mention, our streaming services had special presents just for us. Released through "Disney+", both "Walt Disney Pictures" and "Pixar Animation Studios" (After the whole "Mulan" thing didn't quite work out) have decided to gift us with yet another instant classic for the whole family to enjoy. However, this one also has something deeper than what your children might be used to. Only Pixar has the guts to do something like this.
"Soul" follows middle grade school band instructor, "Joe Gardner" (Jamie Foxx), a lover of music and jazz, having always dreamed of becoming a professional musician, though sadly, never actually has been able to achieve his goal. Thanks to an old student turned drummer, "Curley" (Questlove),Joe is able to get a gig with renowned jazz musician, "Dorothea Williams" (Angela Bassett), which may change his life forever despite also getting offered a full time teaching position at the school. Joe, lost completely in the thought of his dreams finally coming true, ends up falling down an open manhole to an unexpected death. (Sort of) Joe's soul, now in a squishy, puffy form, begins to move on to the "Great Beyond", but Joe isn't ready yet, escaping into "The Great Before". Within the Great Before, at the "You Seminar" all souls are assigned personalities by astral beings called "Soul Concelors", all named "Jerry" (Alice Braga and Richard Ayoade).
At the seminar, Joe poses as an instructor to find a way back to Earth, being assigned assist a rather cynical soul, "22" (Tina Fey), who wants nothing to do with Earth or life itself, believing it to not be worth the hassle. While searching for 22's purpose in life, she and Joe find a way back to Earth with help from the spiritual sign twirling, "Moonwind" (Graham Norton), while they're being pursued by the overly into her job, "Terry" (Rachel House). Joe and 22's journey leads them to an unexpected place, which I dare not spoil. Lets just say that there's more to this movie than advertised.
Directed by Pete Doctor ("Monsters Inc.", "Up", "Inside Out"), with a co-directing credit to Kemp Powers (Who also co-wrote it along with Doctor), "Soul" has got to be one of Pixar's more ambitious and surreal projects yet. It's also got to be their most mature in many different, unpredictable ways. The movie doesn't flow exactly like your average family fare. Granted, Pixar, and a lot of the time Disney too, have been known for such things. Movies like "Up", "Finding Nemo", "Ratatouille", and the "Toy Story" series have some more grown up based themes, but this is on a whole new level. The humor is actually different as well. Sure we get some well timed slapstick and quick gags. There is a lot of humor that actually just comes from the characters interacting. It's also balanced out beautifully with a very deep, authentically real feeling story which fittingly focuses on the lively world that the characters inhabit. It's a film about life and what life can bring, and the movie, without having to overplay it, carefully crafts loads of great characters, who range from major to supporting roles. However, every single one of them is memorable and I love how the film finds a way of making them each play their part in the story.
The animation is a sight to behold, making for one of the best looking films (Animated or otherwise) out there. It looks real, though never too overly so. The human characters have slight exaggeration, but don't feel out of place (Look closely and you'll notice how nobody looks remotely the same). The souls and other abstract beings are simple in design, yet are used for some incredible imagery. It's all really original what the filmmakers have come up with, and jaw droppingly creative. (Also, the design on a certain cat, "Mr. Mittens", is just too adorable) The animation, which blends between styles (Traditional 2D animation is wonderfully utulized in a few sequences), could be a game changer for the art form, and I appreciate how well the its used in the film, without having to heavily rely on it. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, along with a few songs by Jon Batiste, really captures the look and feel of what's shown to us. It's fitting how the main character gravitates towards music (Jazz specifically, which always a fascinating sound to me), and how expertly it's interwoven into the narrative to coincide with the themes of life, death, fulfillment, and existence. All of this is something that your kids might not fully understand. With that said, the movie doesn't talk down to kids, but it also doesn't alienate them. It's a little baffling how the filmmakers knew how to give plenty to appeal to the youngsters, a human narrative for the adults, and some things for the whole family to contemplate together.
Jamie Foxx gives one of those all time great voice performances. Almost unrecognizable if you didn't know it, he perfectly encompasses his character, matching his expressions (Both in his human and soul form), bringing a lot of humor and depth. Tina Fey is also phenomenal, getting a lot of laughs, while providing an emotional core. There's a lot of strong supporting roles for Questlove, Angela Bassett, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, and a really warm performance from Phylicia Rashad (as "Libba", Joe's mother), while Rachel House and Graham Norton spend most of the time stealing whatever scene they're in. There's a sense of unpredictability to the film, a lot of which is nowhere to be found in the trailers and commercials (Unless you look very carefully), and I appreciate how it never goes the supposed easy route, even though it easily could have. To a degree, one wouldn't even mind if it had. Pixar deserves a lot of credit for not wanting to do your usual family fare, complete with all of the typical, obligatory tropes that come with it, but instead want to make an actual film that one would feel to urge to take inspiration from, even if you don't have any kids.
"Soul" is Pixar doing what it does best, while offering a much different outlook than even what the studio has been known for. It blends in some African American culture in a subtle manner, though also makes it easy for anyone to feel for and relate to. (There are so many subtle little details that it warrants another viewing, aside from how good the film is) There's something very special about this one. You get laughs, heart, and spiritual insight explained in a completely original fashion, along with of course, maybe a few moments that will certainly get a few small tears out of you. It's Pixar. You can resist all you want, but you know it's going to happen at some point. Thoughtful, fun, and stunning to the eye, it really makes you appreciate that after all you may have been through this year, you're still alive and still free to leave your mark on a flawed, yet beautiful place. How many movies this year have been able to do that? Let alone one aimed at all ages? 4 Stars. Rated PG For Some Slightly Mature Moments And Theoretical Constructs Too Much For Our Tiny Brains To Possibly Comprehend.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: A posthumous Oscar for a King.
The loss of Chadwick Boseman to colon cancer was one of the biggest gut punches to come out of 2020. An actor that I immediately knew had instant greatness back in 2013 with the movie "42" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one), and then skyrocketed into the mainstream, becoming a household name with his appearances in "Captain America: Civil War" and then of course, "Black Panther" (Should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that one too). He was an actor that was always good no matter what, and not to mention, just seemed like a really awesome guy too. The tragedy of his passing is something that only made what was already such a rough year even rougher, and I hope that the man's final, possibly greatest performance, finally gets him the recognition that he already deserved years ago.
Based on the play by August Wilson (Which is inspired by the real life "Mother of the Blues"), "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" takes place in the 1920s, with "Ma Rainey" (Viola Davis), prepares for a recording session with the rest of her bad, consisting of pianist, "Toledo" (Glynn Turman), bass player "Slow Drag" (Michael Potts), guitarist "Cutler" (Colman Domingo), and trumpeter "Levee Green" (Chadwick Boseman), who has big aspirations for his future, planning to leave the band and start his own. However, Levee's ambitions put him at odds with the rest of the band, along with Ma's arrival with her girlfriend, "Dussie Mae" (Taylour Paige), and her stuttering nephew, "Sylvester" (Dusan Brown), who Ma intends to give a part to on the album regardless of his stutter. Tensions continue to rise among the band members mostly due to Levee's antagonistic behavior, mixed in with Ma's larger than life personality, the racial injustice of the time, and the demons of the past that eventually affect the present.
Directed by George C. Wolfe (Mostly known only for his theater work), with a screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and a producing credit by Denzel Washington, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" plays out in a way that would seem stage-like at first, with the drawn out sequences of monologues in a single closed space or the lack of locations due to the film's short timeline. However, this is a film where those close quarters really work to the film's advantage, giving the viewer the same sense of anxiety and subtle apprehension of fear that the characters do. It's a very personal feeling that only enhances the film, which is also helped by the intricate, character heavy dialogue that provides instant insight into every character's motivations and their somewhat vague, yet just detailed enough backstories. There is a lot of very human interaction here, which has moments of humor, pathos, and allusions to the real life African American struggles.
This is further illuminated by the pitch perfect cast, which features some outstanding performances unlike anything you've ever seen from some of these actors. Viola Davis, who is almost unrecognizable at first, has got to have one of the most commanding presences I've ever seen in a film. Everything goes quiet when she enters the room, demanding both fear and respect at the same time, with small, poignant hints to the more mortal soul buried within her rough exterior. Chadwick Boseman, in one of his last (If not his last) performance, shows a different side to himself than what we're used to seeing. He portrays a character that plays up a cocky attitude and a lot of in your face charisma, while hiding something more tortured beneath the surface, just waiting to be let out with dangerous consequences. Pretty much everyone in the small cast gets a moment, though special recognition goes to Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, and Jeremy Shamso (as "Irvin", Ma's white manager, who is desperate to keep the peace).
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" tackles racial injustice, the art of music, and the cultural divide, along with the scars that history has left behind, which in many ways have yet to truly be healed if they ever actually can be. Everything boils to a dark, yet contained ending that further showcases these themes without overplaying it. It simply allows the audience to ponder the moments and take it with them once the film draws to a close. One of this year's best, which is also a touching tribute to one of the best actors taken away from us much too soon. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content And Language, Along With Cultural Appropriation.
Songbird by James Eagan ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I'm sorry I'm not wearing my mask....It's my constitutional right!"
Imbecilic. Brain-Dead. Simple-Minded. Thoughtless. An intellectual failure to all of the aspects that make us the supposed superior species on the planet. Guys, I can only find so many synonyms for the word "Stupid". So bear with me.
"Songbird" takes place in dystopian future world of.....2024. COVID-19 has become COVID-23. The United States is in a permanent lockdown, with the Department of Sanitation taking those infected into concentration camp-like facilities known as "Q-Zones". (It's Tucker Carlson's worst nightmare come to life!) However, packages continue to get delivered, thanks to the delivery business run by "Lester" (Craig Robinson). Set in Los Angeles, we follow a delivery package courier, "Nico" (KJ Apa), who is immune to the virus and is in a virtual relationship with a young caretaker, "Sara" (Sofia Carson), as she takes care of her sick grandmother, "Lita" (Elpidia Carrillo). Meanwhile in another storyline, a rich couple, "Piper Griffin" (Demi Moore) and her husband, "William" (Bradley Whitford), are most likely up to shady things, while taking care of their daughter, "Emma" (Lia McHugh). Then in yet another storyline, another courier, "Michael Dozer" (Paul Walter Hauser), a former war vet delivering packages with drones due to being in a wheelchair, befriends pretty aspiring singer, "May" (Alexandra Daddario), though she is trapped in an abusive affair with William. When Sara's grandmother becomes infected with the virus, it attracts the attention of the Department of Sanitation, along with their wacko leader, "Emmett Harland" (Peter Stormare). Determined to save the love of his life, Nico sets out to get some immunity bands for Sara and her grandmother (Although that doesn't actually mean that they are immune. So doesn't that meant that they risk the possibility of catching or at least spreading the virus? Didn't think that one through, did ya?), while avoiding Hardland and his Nazi-esque hazmat suit wearing henchmen.
Produced by Michael Bay, though directed by the mostly unknown Adam Mason (His IMDB page is mostly made up of short films), "Songbird" is basically a Michael Bay ripoff since it contains many of his trademarks and still has his stink all over it. (Everyone in Michael Bay's universe is ungodly sweaty) I'd say that the timing of this movie was terrible, if not for the fact that the filmmakers intentionally made it so. The premise and overall concept behind the movie is incredibly bizarre and for many, could be seen as horribly offensive, considering how many have both died and suffered over the course of this pandemic. However, the most offensive part of the entire film is just how intellectually impaired it seems to be. Calling it dumb would be too lenient a word, and would unfairly compare it to perfectly harmless and more enjoyable dumb things in life. The movie is a festering pot of stupid ideas that are barely connected to one another, and only crumble under each other's inept thickheadedness, that it only seems the filmmakers were hoping nobody would notice or care. The world that's set up doesn't make remotely any sense, and neither do the places the plot ends up going. Why are those immune to the virus (Or "Munies", as the film calls them) just told to go around making deliveries, instead of using these people to look for a cure? How exactly did the Department of Sanitation become so militarized? Where does Nico expect to go with Sara? The film never states that, if she's immune, Isn't she, you know, going to die? I could go on with these pointless questions that nobody has answers for.
The film's focus on KJ Apa and Sofia Carson (Both of which are capable actors), results in a cheesily written, agonizingly boring storyline that still isn't enough to fill up the film's short eighty-five minute runtime. Apa and Carson can't overcome the overabundance of cringe, and it's more depressing to watch than anything. Craig Robinson is the movie's attempt at humor (Although he doesn't actually contribute much the more I think about it), while Demi Moore looks like she would rather be anywhere but here. Bradley Whitford looks continuously perplexed, while Alexandra Daddario (And her pretty eyes) doesn't do anything aside from pad out the movie. Paul Walter Hauser is trying his best, but his subplot gets increasingly more ludicrous as it continues. The real scene-stealer, as expected, would be Peter Stormare, who at least gets a few laughs in the movie (Some of them even intentional). You have to give the guy credit, no matter what, he always gives it 110%.
Aside from making the intentional decision to refrain from explaining literally anything, "Songbird" also seemingly doesn't even know what its actual stance is on the whole lockdown situation is anyways. It's like the film is implying that while the virus is very much real, can kill you, and will affect those around you, love is more important and screw anyone who says otherwise. That's a horrible message to tell people! I work at a CVS and still get people telling me that the virus isn't real or that it's not that bad. Showing an apocalyptic future, with a Nazi regime forcing people to stay in lockdown is only going to give these morons more fodder. The direction is sloppy and obnoxious, the writing is full of clichés, and so slow paced that even with the short runtime, it feels like you've been watching it for hours. Worst of all, it's just so moronic, which is more insulting to those who have sadly lost loved ones to this pandemic and those will may continue to lose more to it before it's over. It would have been one thing if the film took a side on the debate (Why there's even a debate is beyond me), but the film lacks the brain power to even do that. If you have nothing important to say, maybe you should have kept your damn mouth shut! 1/2 Star. Rated PG-13 For Glistening Sweat, Little Social Distancing, A Little Blood, And A Whole Lotta Stupid!
Monster Hunter by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Mila Jovovich hunts only for food, not for sport.
Well, if you're going to make a big dumb video game adaptation, at least have the decency to go all the way. After a year's worth of terrible crap going on, we could use some good crap as a distraction. Also, who doesn't like big, scary monsters?
Based on the much loved "Capcom" game of the same name (With a few Americanized tweaks for those who I guess can't accept um, people hunting monsters...), "Monster Hunter" opens with a small military team, led by US Army Ranger, "Captain Natalie Artemis" (Mila Jovovich), as they are swept up in a strange storm that somehow teleports them into another world. This new world is similar to ours, except for the fact that it appears to be mostly desert and is filled with giant, deadly Kaiju-like monsters that have only one mission in life, which is to kill and eat whoever crosses their path. Eventually Artemis is all that's left, but she finds surprise help from a skilled warrior, known only as "The Hunter" (Tony Jaa). Knowing that a mysterious tower, which is located in the same raging storm that transported her into this alternate world in the first place, Artemis teams up with the Hunter to journey to the tower, avoiding the monsters blocking their path, such as giant spiders, a massive horned bull, and a certain fire breathing dragon your gamer friend might geek out over.
Written and directed by cinematic lunatic Paul W. S. Anderson (The guy responsible for all those "Resident Evil" movies), "Monster Hunter" is one of the better cases of false advertising being a good thing. At least, from an outsider just looking for a silly popcorn movie perspective. People weren't happy when it appeared that his long-running franchise was going to be changed for no good reason, and would focus on a bunch of bland military soldiers fighting monsters, despite what the premise of the games is actually supposed to be. However, all of that is merely the setup. After a pretty rocky first twenty minutes or so, the movie takes a shift for the better. All of that is thrown out the window (In surprisingly violent fashion), making way for something that, while not all that much more intelligent, is at least fairly entertaining to watch. Paul W. S. Anderson's direction style has always relied on excessive action and whatever over the top imagery you can throw at the screen. He's not without his occasional eye for wildly out there, but cool looking imagery, and can craft an solid actions setpiece. There's moments of suspense, and even though the CGI varies from looking fairly impressive to looking like obvious green screen, it feels fairly fitting for a film like this.
Say what you will about Mila Jovovich's career choices, but she always looks like she could very much handle herself in an action scene. She also does good work with the also very badass Tony Jaa. They're likable, look as believable as they possibly could be fighting larger than life monsters, and when they become the sole focus, the movie itself feels more attune with its own identity. Others such Clifford "T.I." Harris and Meagan Good (as fellow military soldiers) don't have any real effect on the story in the slightest, while Ron Perlman (as "Admiral", leader of the other monster hunters) and his hilarious wig/sideburns combo, pops up to be a scene stealer even in something so ridiculous. The monsters themselves are very intimidating, especially the killer spiders, who get a few good kills in and even a few decent scares. I also can't help but award half a star simply for the appearance of a,... Ahem, "Meowscular Chef", which is one of those things that must be seen to be believed. (He only appears in a couple scenes, but it's honestly, one of the greatest creations I've ever seen)
"Monster Hunter" is mind numbingly stupid, lacks much flow when it comes to story (Which is especially noticeable towards the end's poor attempt at a sequel), and is definitely something I could in good conscience say that you should risk your health to see in a theater. However, for something that I had written off as a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, it's still a pointless, brainless waste of time for only the most undemanding of audiences, and yet, it succeeds at being so with at least a sense of imagination. That's no small feat for a video game adaptation if you ask me. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters, Death By Spider Birth, And For Still Less Frightening Cat People Than Last Year's "Cats".
The Prom by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Donny and Marie make their long awaited comeback.
Can movies be comfort food? I'd like to think so, especially when we still have the rest of December to get through before we finally reach 2021 (Anyone else waiting for an apocalyptic event to happen? I hear we have a Michael Bay pandemic based movie on the way. Does that count?). Sometimes something silly and kind of cheesy to simply make you smile, and enjoy the simpler things in life.
Based on the 2018 Broadway musical from Matthew Sklar, "The Prom" follows New York stage actors, "Dee Dee Allen" (Meryl Streep) and "Barry Glickman" (James Corden), after their newest Broadway extravaganza, "Eleanor" (A musical based on Eleanor Roosevelt), fails miserably with the critics, mostly due to Dee Dee and Barry's public image. However, they see an opportunity for a better image when they discover that in a small town in Indiana, the leader of the Parent Teacher Association, "Mrs. Greene" (Kerry Washington) has had the local high school cancel the Prom because a young Lesbian girl, "Emma" (Jo Ellen Pellman), wanted to take her secret girlfriend/Mrs. Greene's daughter, "Alyssa" (Ariana DeBose). Dee Dee and Barry, along with some fellow washed up actors, such as a former chorus girl "Angie Dickinson" (Nicole Kidman), "Trent Oliver" (Andrew Rannells) an all over the place actor whose name nobody can remember, and their publicist, "Sheldon Saperstein" (Kevin Chamberlin), head out to Indiana in hopes of swooping in and saving the day. Of course, the entire situation becomes more of a debacle than it already was. With help from Emma's supportive, Broadway loving principal, "Tom Hawkins" (Keegan-Michael Key), they are able to get the prom back on, though still have to deal with the town's bigotry as well as their own personal problems.
Directed by Ryan Murphy (Does the man ever take a day off?), with a screenplay by Chad Beguelin and Bob Martin (Co-writers of the original Broadway show), "The Prom", much like from what I've head about the actual source material, is pretty generic and safe by stage musical standards. I'm mostly only assuming that the film adaptation isn't too much different and remains plenty faithful to the original. The movie doesn't do much new, and if you're not a fan of bombastic musicals, you are sure as Hell not going to be having any of this. Me, being someone with a bit of a guilty soft spot for them, had a complete blast with this movie. It's goofy and sparkly all over, but the film knows it's full of cheese and embraces it with sense of earnestness that's rather hard not to admire. The screenplay is smart enough to get by the predictable plotting, especially with the well timed funny back and forth between characters, which also find their place in the very poignant story without undercutting the message of understanding and accepting those different than you. (While bigotry is still allowed to exist, we will always need to heard this moral)
Meryl Streep, who actually may or may not be playing an exaggerated version of herself here (And boy, is he having the time of her life doing it), is just dazzling here, giving a reminder as to why the Academy seemed to be obligated to give her at least one Oscar nomination per year for a while. James Corden, though I can see why some in the LGBTQ community could see it as a questionable role (We are getting to the point that it might be best to you know, actually cast gay people as gay characters), is also pretty excellent and is much funnier here than he's been in a while. Streep and Corden together make for a flawless (And dare I say, fabulous) duo. Nicole Kidman, aside from being pretty on almost inhuman levels, gets one of the most memorable musical sequences (Though she has the smallest role out of the group), Kevin Chamberlin is a delight, and Andrew Rannells gets some of the biggest laughs, especially when seemingly poking fun at himself considering he too seems to be unknown despite appearing in various projects. (Wait! He was the narrator on "Sonic X"? I have questions....) Kerry Washington makes for a detestable antagonist, while Keegan-Michael Key has surprisingly fantastic chemistry with Meryl Streep. Special praise is also given to mostly newcomers, Jo Ellen Pellman and Ariana De Bose, who both convey human sympathy to their characters, as well as do a fine job keeping up with the more veteran performers.
I can't say the songs in "The Prom" are anything I am going to actively seek out. However, they're all catchy and fun to listen to, especially with Ryan Murphy's lively, boisterous direction, which has energy to spare. It's clear that a lot of hard work went into the production design, and it shows in how nearly excessively detailed the dance choreography is. The film is authentic and old fashioned to a fault. With that said, it's so likable and most importantly of all, just so much fun. Nothing particularly nutritious, but comforting nonetheless. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Adult Content And Enough Gayness To Make Any Bigot Wet Themselves.
Mank by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Citizen Oscar Winner.
I still think that regardless of how many last minute movies come out this year, we are not going to have an Oscars. An actual show even happening might now seems most unlikely (How strange would it be to see it done via "Zoom" call? How would that even look?). I've been wrong before, but no matter how many last minute hopefuls show up, it's not going to be the same either way. Still, even with the several wonderful performances I've seen this year, I'm very confident that the race for the Best Actor category might already be over.
"Mank" recaps the events that led up to the creation of one of cinema's greatest achievements, "Citizen Kane". The film follows once the renowned, but not washed up and depressing, Hollywood screenwriter, "Herman J. Mankiewicz" (Gary Oldman), also referred to as "Mank". He is recruited by actor/director/guy who voiced the giant evil planet in the animated "Transformers" movie, "Orson Welles" (Tom Burke), to write the screenplay for his next big movie. Throughout the film, we see flashbacks of what led Mank to where he is now, along with what would inspire the characters in "Citizen Kane", and the darker underbelly of old Hollywood that has a tendency to get left unaddressed these days.
From director David Fincher ("Zodiac", "The Social Network", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", "Gone Girl"), and based on a long unproduced screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher (Who passed away back in 2003, with screenplay having been written back in the 1990s), "Mank" feels personal and could be seen as a little indulgent by some. (Fincher has become known for stuff like that) In a way however, that personal feeling does add an extra layer of pathos to the film, which itself makes up for its moments of indulgence by being immensely entertaining. Fincher's direction, which is done in a very grainy black and white (Which is complete by occasional dark spots that appear on the screen. I know it's a bit of a gimmick, but damn is that cool!), is as old fashioned looking as you can get. It beautifully encompasses the time period itself, along both with that certain atmosphere and aesthetic that classic films have ingrained into our memories of it. It's perfectly fitting way to tell this story, complete with a lot of nods to the golden era of filmmaking, which any cinephile is sure to adore. The dialogue is fast and sharp-witted, but lingers long enough to be profound. There is something deeper here than first advertised, and even while Fincher's style can be hard to completely follow, you are captivated by it all.
The big seller here would be Gary Oldman. The man is generally nothing short of astounding (And the fact it took so long for him to get Oscar consideration, let alone an actual win, is one of the Academy's many crimes), but here, he's on another level, much like he was in 2017's "Darkest Hour". bringing vulnerability to go with the real life character's droll, seemingly self destructive nature. Amanda Seyfried (as "Marion Davies", mistress to "William Randolf Hearst", who Herman sees a kindred spirit in) is damn near unrecognizable, giving a very sincere look into subject that historically might have been overlooked. Lily Collins (as "Rita Alexander", Herman's secretary, who assists in writing the screenplay) is wonderful, while we get some more excellent performances out of Charles Dance (as "William Randolf Hearst", who is the likely inspiration for "Citizen Kane"), Arliss Howard (as "Louis B. Mayer", co-founder of MGM, who gets a very memorable monologue), Tom Burke (Who really sounds like Orson Welles), Tuppence Middleton (as "Sara", Herman's wife, who really had to put up with a lot), Tom Pelphrey (as "Joseph", Herman's brother), and a few other recognizable faces portraying other recognizable faces from cinema's history.
Much like its titular subject matter, "Mank" might be somewhat uneven in how it finds its way to its conclusion. But the subject is always interesting and oddly enthralling. You're left in awe of the technical achievement regardless. However, there is something quite unforgettable about it. It's one of those movies that's enjoyable in the moment, though only gets more and more fascinating the more you think about it. It's a true writer's and director's movie, through and through, which is very fitting in the end. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Adult Content, And All That 1930s to 1940s Way Of Speaking.
Hillbilly Elegy by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: ""I'M supposed to win the Oscar!" "...."No, I'M supposed to win It!"
How does one have Oscar bait when there might not be an Oscars this upcoming year? Granted, it still doesn't help when you really don't deserve to win anything. At all.
Based on the memoir of the same name by "JD Vance" (Portrayed by Owen Asztalos as a child, then by Gabriel Basso as an adult), "Hillbilly Elegy" follows JD as he temporarily leaves Yale Law School and his girlfriend, "Usha" (Frieda Pinto), to return to his Northern Kentucky home after getting a phone call from his sister, "Lindsay" (Haley Bennett). Lindsay informs JD that their mother, "Beverly" (Amy Adams), has overdosed on heroin and is in the hospital. Throughout the film, we see JD during his youth as he struggles with his emotionally abusive mother, troubled living conditions, and his eventual time living with his wise old, "Mamaw" (Glenn Close).
Directed by Ron Howard (THE Ron Howard), with a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor ("The Shape of Water"), "Hillbilly Elegy" has the makings of a good, inspiring melodrama, complete with high caliber actors, an acclaimed director, and an American based story that the Academy usually goes nuts over. All the ingredients are there. Unfortunately though,the final product is not only not up to the task, but it also seems to have the delusional idea that it actually is. It's one thing for a movie to not be very good. It's another for it to feel as if it's great despite not actually doing anything worth much praise. Maybe some mockery perhaps, but nothing praise worthy. For such a good director that Ron Howard can be, the movie feels detached and oddly underwhelming, even with the overly sweeping score and in your face "insightful" screenplay, which can't balance tone to save its own life. Where it mostly falters is how the story is told, with the present being used as a framing device and everything else being told in flashback, though still at times out of order. The story rushes through most of the events, seemingly hoping that either the actors can make it work, but the emotions aren't there. It's more annoying than inspiring, and it shouldn't have to be.
Amy Adams, who has been one of the greatest actresses working today, proves that everyone can have their off days. It's not entirely her fault, due to the inconsistent script. Either way, she overplays her performance, especially when the character is going through a rage-filled explosion. It's too over the top, and it ruins the sincerity of the film's more tender moments. Glenn Close, who in a way might still be overdoing it, at least does so in a more natural way. (Granted, the admittedly solid makeup helps) She gets some good lines to go with the more corny ones, and even though she could be seen as a stereotype, she at least feels real. Owen Asztalos doesn't have much range, while Gabriel Basso fairs a bit better, though Frieda Pinto, while charming (And very pretty), doesn't get much to do. The best performance to me comes from Haley Bennett, who aside from the excellent job done to make her look like a teenager at one point, then again as an adult, feels much more genuine than anyone else.
"Hillbilly Elegy" is a story that warrants telling, with a focus on an aspect of our country that some feel is overlooked. However, the movie when you get down to it, doesn't actually do it any real justice. It's so blandly done, and fails to keep your attention. It's forgettable schlock to say the least, though the possible award recognition it may or may not get (I know I'm not the only who can see the Academy wrongfully finding way to get this movie some nominations) makes it a little bit more infuriating. With the odds of an Oscars show seeming more unlikely than ever, a movie that doesn't really know the meaning of the word "Humble", shouldn't be given a participation trophy. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Mamaws Being Mamaws, And Too Many Accents To Count.
The Croods: A New Age by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Don't make me make any Crood remarks!"
From "DreamWorks Animation", 2013's "The Croods" was a surprise success both financially and critically, being the kind of lighthearted family film for all ages. Despite this, it kind of faded from memory, didn't it? I know there's a little Netflix show, but even then, nobody talks about it. So to see a sequel, even one with many delays, getting an actual theatrical release (During a pandemic too!) was a bit of a surprise. It's also a bit of a welcome one.
"The Croods: A New Age" reunites us with the prehistoric family of cavepeople, "The Croods". Led by the traditional father, "Grug" (Nicolas Cage), the rest of the strange family is made up of his wife, "Ugga" (Catherine Keener), the rebellious daughter, "Eep" (Emma Stone), the dimwitted son, "Thunk" (Clark Duke), the rabid daughter, "Sandy" (Kailey Crawford), the demented grandmother, "Gran" (Cloris Leachman), and Eep's boyfriend, "Guy" (Ryan Reynolds), along with their pets, an alligator-dog, "Douglas", their giant cat creature, "Chunky", and Guy's sloth belt named uh, "Belt". The Croods continue to struggle to survive the harsh landscapes and out of this world animal hybrids. However, Grug fears change is just over the horizon, with Eep and Guy planning to leave the pack to spend their lives together. The Croods end up discovering a mysterious wall that leads to a utopia, filled with food, safety, and a new, more advanced family known as the "Bettermans".
The Bettermans, made up of "Phil" (Peter Dinklage), his wife, "Hope" (Leslie Mann), and daughter, "Dawn" (Kelly Marie Tran), are old family friends of Guy, and welcome the cavepeople into their homes, though make many passive aggressive comments the entire time (And demand that nobody eat their bananas). Turns out the Croods are a little out of place in the newer, so called civilized society, with Phil and Hope determined to get rid of the Croods, believing Guy belongs with them. The two families are slowly pitted against one another, though a looming threat to all of them forces everyone to come together in the end.
"The Croods: A New Age" takes a fairly predictable, sitcom-esque plotline, but both has fun with it, and makes sure to keep the fast pace moving with a great cast, candy-like animation, and some really good humor. The movie doesn't avoid clichés, at all really. However, it's not like it's a bad formula to be honest. It's a classic family dynamic story, and while you don't get make surprises, the message is always going to be relevant. The gorgeous visuals are one of the major selling points. The first film was beautifully crafted, but this one is on an entire different level. The scope is grander, the colors are vibrant, and the world on display feels entirely real. The fast moving animation also makes for some well timed physical comedy, which is mixed with plenty of great visual gags and mile a minute dialogue.
While Nicolas Cage struggles to contain the urge to regress into his caveman-like lifestyle, one can't deny how perfectly cast he is here. Peter Dinklage is also a standout, with his awesome voice fitting his character's noticeably passive and pretentious mannerisms. Ryan Reynolds sounds like he's having a great time, while Emma Stone is charming as ever even when it's just her voice. The rest of the cast, such as Leslie Mann, Catherine Keener, Clarke Duke, and especially the still very lovable Kelly Marie Tran, all do excellent work. However, the funniest moments come from Cloris Leachman, who just shows up to say and do weird stuff, with her randomness repeatedly catching me off guard. Another scene-stealer comes in the form of the dreaded "Punch Monkeys" (Some violent apes, who only communicate by punching things), with the animation's eye for good old fashioned slapstick really shining through. The animators just looked like they were having an absolute blast with these characters.
"The Croods: A New Age" is one of the few films getting a theatrical release at the moment, and while I can't exactly say that families should risk their lives to see it right now (Especially since we're spiking with Covid cases yet again. Remember when we were told that this was all a hoax? In March?), it's still something that has plenty to offer all ages. From gloriously lively animation, the memorable characters, sweet messages, and too many big laughs to count. It's just a good time for the entire family if they're looking for some solid escapism that anyone can connect with. What's more relatable than a caveman Nicolas Cage? 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Cartoon Violence, Kill Circles, And Sadistic Simians.
Fatman by James Eagan ★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Oh well, Jewish people weren't getting Christmas presents anyway.
To say that this is a weird premise is putting things lightly. Completely asinine? Psychologically deranged? In bad taste? Mean spirited? Bad for anyone in a ten mile radius? Just like Mel Gibson!
"Fatman" follows the not so holly, jolly titular fat man himself, "Chris Cringle" (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. "Santa Clause", who has lost some of his Christmas spirit over the years. Chris, along with his wife, "Ruth" (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), have come to realize that children today are naughtier than ever, which leaves the Christmas icon unable to keep his workshop profitable, meaning that he can't pay his bills. So to make more money, Chris decides to outsource to the United States military, building components for their new fighter jets. Meanwhile, after getting a lump of coal as a present due to his ruthless nature, a spoiled rich boy, "Billy Wenan" (Chance Hurstfield), demands vengeance on the fat man. So Billy hires his hitman, known only as the "Skinny Man" (Walton Goggins), who also happens to have a personal vendetta against Chris, to hunt down the man in red and kill him. Following the letters to Santa, the Skinny Man makes his way to the North Pole to fulfill his contract, while Chris tries to keep his elves and his workshop running despite their new objective.
From first time directors, Eshorn and Ian Nelms (Who also wrote the screenplay), "Fatman" is an intentionally stupid premise where the humor of the film is meant to come from said stupidity being taken completely seriously. To make something like this work requires a lot of talent and the ability to expertly balance the clear incompatible genres. It's not impossible to make a really dark comedy like this work. However, it's just very noticeable and more disappointing when it doesn't. The film never does quite figure how to bring everything all together, with the various ideas failing to mesh. It's really all that funny, and much too slow paced (And self serious) to get enough stupid laughs out of. It's also well, too freakin stupid to take seriously.
Mel Gibson, say what you will about him both mentally and morally (Mostly morally), does somehow deliver a pretty solid performance here, He encompasses those traditional Santa mannerisms, along with an action hero gruffness. Chance Hurstfield does a good job playing an evil little sh*t, while Walton Goggins as perfected the art of playing crazy. (He just has that kind of face) Marianne Jean-Baptiste is quite excellent in the film despite all the absurdity. She gives such a heartwarming, strong willed, and most of all, quietly compelling performance. There's also some fun to be had with Eric Woolfe (as "7", the head elf at Chris' workshop), and I feel like there are a few undercooked ideas involving the others elves, the reindeer, or anything else involving the Santa Clause legend that could have been ripe for action movie parody.
While there are a few good one liners here and there, "Fatman" is too tonally jumbled and bizarrely boring (Santa Mel Gibson is being hunted by Walton Goggins. How do you make that boring?). It never goes far enough with the over the top possibilities, and also appears to have too much dedication to trying to make what appears to be an ahem, "legit" movie. It's "Fatman"! Nobody wants you to take this seriously! Maybe something great could have been done with better direction or writing (Probably could have helped if the filmmakers had a bigger budget too), but the end result fails to register. It's a funny idea and sporadically, you can get a dumb laugh. Sadly, the only real comparison I can make for this movie would be a lump of coal in your stocking. That just wrote itself right there. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And an Anti-Sematic Santa.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "So Megyn Kelly was wrong, Santa really is black?"
You know, when Netflix isn't going around, cancelling all of your favorite shows ("The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance" was amazing, and you guys should be ashamed of yourselves! And what about "One Day at a Time?...Bastards.), they have been killing it for the most part not only when it comes to Oscar hopefuls, but also, they've been providing some surprisingly excellent family entertainment. With last year's Oscar winning "Klaus", along with this years "The Willoughbys" and "Enola Holmes", we might just have another instant family favorite.
"Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" opens with a woman (Phylicia Rashad), telling her grandchildren a story on Christmas Eve. The tale follows fantastical inventor and toymaker, "Jeronicus Jangles" (Played by Justin Cornwell as a young man, then by Forest Whitaker), who is beloved by everyone and is currently on the verge of releasing his greatest invention yet, a sentient matador doll, "Don Juan Diego" (Voiced by Ricky Martin). However, Diego doesn't like the idea of being replicated due to narcissism, so he convinces Jeronicus' ambitious apprentice, "Gustafson" (Played by Miles Barrow as a young man, then by Keegan-Michael Key), to ahem, "borrow" Jeronicus' book of inventions. Jeronicus, distraught over the loss of his life's work, goes into a deep depression, leading to the loss of his confidence, and after the death of his wife, it also results in the estrangement to his daughter, "Jessica" (Played by Diaana Babnicova as a young girl, then by Anika Noni Rose). Years later, Jessica allows for her daughter, "Journey" (Madalen Mills), who also happens to be a gifted, aspiring inventor, to stay with her father up until Christmas is hopes of mending the broken relationship.
Meanwhile, Jeronicus is now a struggling washed up pawn shop owner, and has found himself unable to keep his shop open due to his lack of new inventions. While staying with Jeronicus, Journey discovers a failed invention from Jeronicus, a little flying robot called "The Buddy 3000", which comes to life through the power of belief. However, Gustafson, having become a renowned toymaker and also having gone through all of Jeronicus' stolen inventions, no longer has anything to present to the public. Working with Don Juan Diego, Gustafson schemes to get his hands on the Buddy, leaving it up to Journey to save the day and return Jeronicus' sense of wonder once more.
Released through Netflix and directed by David E. Talbert ("First Sunday"), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" from a distance looks like one of those Netflix holiday movies that most of us just shrug off and ignore, seemingly only existing for the least demanding crowd who just want some kind of Christmas movie. I wasn't even planning to review it and simply starting watching it out of curiosity. However, moments into the film, it becomes apparent that there really is something quite magical about it. For something that doesn't have the biggest budget in the world, the film is beautiful to look at, feeling like one of those colorful miniature Christmas towns brought to life, with the world itself being a mix between fairy tale whimsy and elaborate steampunk (Stunningly created through solid CGI and some occasionally flawless stop motion). The film's vague explanation for exactly what it is or how the world works (Magic is possible, but also appears to be scientific at the same time. Plus Jeronicus basically created sentient life and nobody bats an eye), but that is something that is easy to forgive, especially when the logistics of this fantasy world are really unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It's all made up for how much life the world has to it, along with the obvious care and detail that's been given.
The soundtrack is also very unique and most shocking of all, very memorable. The film is actually a musical, with songs written by Phillip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, Michael Diskint, and John Legend, which is made up of various music styles, such as a "Broadway" inspiration infused with "R&B". Usually modern day musicals, especially those not distributed by a more well known company ("Disney" really has beaten everyone down, haven't they?), don't tend to get me to not only get invested in the music, but also openly seek out the soundtrack afterwards. There are some terrific songs in the movie, such as the showstopping opener, "This Day", the powerfully sung "Make It Work" (Which allows Anika Noni Rose a chance to show off her amazing voice), and my personal favorite, "Magic Man G" (Who doesn't love a good villain song?). It's a great cast, with Forest Whitaker giving a very sincere and heartfelt performance, along with a wonderful Madalen Mills, who just embodies charm. Keegan-Michael Key is both dastardly and villainous, along with Ricky Martin, who sounds like he's having a great time. There are also a couple likable side characters, such as Lisa Davina Phillip (as "Mrs. Johnston", Jeronicus' nosy/very horny for a kids movie neighbor) and Kieron L. Dyer (as "Edison", Jeronicus' biggest, nerdiest fan). Also, the Buddy 3000 is a pretty adorable, instantly marketable little creation (Even if he does look a little like "WALL-E").
Not without its flaws (There is a lot going on throughout this movie all at once), "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" would honestly be the most wholehearted movie I've seen all year. It embraces holiday cheer with the biggest smile you'll ever lay your eyes on, providing a fast, funny, totally magical possible soon to be family favorite that has plenty of heart to spare. It also making way for a new, more diverse audience to enjoy just so happens to be an added bonus (It's literally for everyone!). Considering we still have another month of 2020 to go, we could all use something that doesn't appear to have a remotely cynical bone in its body. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Christmassy Chaos And Child Endangerment.
Run by James Eagan ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "Mommy already told you, no going to the movie theater until 2021!"
Only now after over seven months have I begun to get a grasp of the current situation at hand. Usually I base what movies are getting released by trailers and by constantly checking the "Box Office Mojo" release date schedule, then plan out what I'll be seeing accordingly, making changes if necessary. This year though, it's been impossible to know anything in advance, especially since movies just get dropped online without any fanfare. This time though, I've become prepared. Just check every streaming service. Odds are I'll find something. After taking a break from watching the "Animaniacs" reboot on "Hulu" (It's great by the way), I stumbled upon this.
"Run" follows teenage girl, "Chloe Sherman" (Kiera Allen) who, aside from being born premature (Which prompts her to use a wheelchair), suffers from a few diseases, and is homeschooled by her doting, but over-protective mother, "Diane" (Sarah Paulson). Recently, Chloe has begun to yearn for a chance to go to college, though her mother is wary of the possibility. However, Chloe only now has begun to question some of Diane's rules and choices. When she discovers some prescription pills seemingly written for her mother, Chloe starts to put together that things are not what they seem. As Chloe starts to unravel the disturbing mystery, Diane's true nature starts to become apparent, leading Chloe to find a way to escape her mother's grasp before she's sucked into and lost within her demented world for good.
Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty (Who did the underappreciated "Searching" back in 2018), "Run" is essentially one of those crazy thrillers that one would normally either shrug off or seek out because of our need for outlandish popcorn entertainment with a hint of insanity. However, this time, there is more substance beneath the surface, and quite frankly, something pretty intense and subtly frightening. Chaganty's direction is close quartered, intentionally slower paced, and always intense. It's unrelenting in its suspense, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat (Or couch, depending on where you're streaming it from), and making what should usually make us feel both loved and safe, instead feel nightmarish and deadly.
The film's main focus is squarely on our leads. Kiera Allen is a compelling heroine that is both vulnerable and beyond tough, feeling capable even when seemingly held back by her current predicament. Sarah Paulson meanwhile makes good use of the scenery, coming across as loving and sincere one moment, then unhinged and terrifying the next without much warning. However, it never feels over the top, and that's the beauty of her performance. It's also what makes it so scary. The smart screenplay, which also adds a little bit of a quirky sense of humor to itself (It's something that would normally feel tonally off, but ends up adding to the anxiety), finds a way to balance what might seem somewhat ludicrous and keep it grounded in reality.
"Run" at times somewhat pushes the logistics, but even so, things never go too far. It still gives the audience the twisted thrills they desire, while also thankfully not feeling the need to go for schlock. It's the kind of movie that you turn on just to waste time and maybe get a good laugh out of it, believing it to be similar to one of those hilarious "Lifetime" movies, but end up shockingly sucked into it. It messes with your head and generates a good, post-Halloween scare. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Content, Pill Popping, And Smotherly Love.
Freaky by James Eagan ★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: It's always the cute ones you have to look out for.
The Slasher film, being a sub-category of the horror genre, is something that I personally never really could get into despite my growing appreciation for horror films, especially lately. Not that there aren't some good ones, but I don't find them particularly scary and see a lot of them as just mostly over the top. I believe that the future of this genre requires more of an understanding of the former and most of all, the embracing of latter in a more humorous fashion.
"Freaky" follows shy high school student, "Millie Kessler" (Kathryn Newton), who struggles after the death of her father, living with her widowed mother, "Paula" (Katie Finneran) and police officer sister, "Char" (Dana Drori). With Homecoming about to happen, a deranged, violent serial killer, known only as "The Blissfield Butcher" (Vince Vaughn) is on the loose, killing teenagers around town, having gotten his hands on an ancient dagger, and targeting Millie. After cornering Millie when she's alone, the Butcher proceeds to attack her and stabs her with the knife, though is prevented from killing her when the stabbing engages a ritual which causes the two to switch bodies. Now Millie, trapped in the body of the Butcher, works alongside her best friends, "Josh" (Misha Osherovich) and "Nyla" (Celeste O'Connor), to find a way to get back into her body. Meanwhile, with the real Butcher now in Millie's body, he can continue his murderous rampage without anyone being none the wiser. (Hey, nobody would suspect a cute little blond girl.) With only twenty-four hours to re-switch bodies, Millie and her friends have to stop the Butcher before it's too late.
Directed by Christopher Landon ("Happy Death Day", "Happy Death Day 2U), "Freaky" shows off more of the director's talents and keen eye for the genre, embracing the silliness that people love while also remembering to have some sick, twisted fun with it so cynical critics like me can also enjoy it. Something that really works about the film is how it never goes for parody. Sure it's more of a comedy and has more than a few sly winks to the audience (By this point, being self-aware of yourself is the only way we can accept certain played out tropes), but it still plays out like a legit horror movie, complete with ridiculous kills and an absurd amount of violence. It's smart enough to know what makes these movies work for hardcore fans, yet also tries to inject just a little more depth to it. The explanations for what causes the entire premise is vague, but that works in the film's favor since in the end, none of that is actually important at all. It's surprisingly character driven, with well written dialogue, and even when it can't escape some mild predictability, the film counteracts that with a little lighthearted sweetness (Something that the "Happy Death Day" movies also had). Underneath the gory body count, the film has heart in the right place.
Vince Vaughn is funnier here than he's been in a long time, in a performance that's first off, absolutely hilarious, but also quite sincere. Essentially having to play Millie for most of the film, the character remains charming and easy to love even in the body of a deranged killer. There's something also weirdly empowering about it as well, which is not something I would have expected going into this movie. Vaughn also shines as a somewhat scary villain to in the few scenes where we actually get to see it on full display. Meanwhile Kathryn Newton herself, who is always endearing and thoroughly adorable, ends up being quite menacing, playing a bloodthirsty maniac in the body of a young girl that also happens to be really small compared to everyone else. The supporting cast are also a joy to watch, with standouts including Celeste O'Connor, Uriah Shelton (as "Booker", Millie's longtime crush), and a scene-stealing Misha Osherovich.
Deconstructing the genre, but never in a mocking fashion,"Freaky" isn't something I would call a game-changer (Though it shows signs of it), and while the film pokes fun at the tropes that many of us have just gotten accustomed to over time, it also can't help but follow them almost to the letter. Then again though, that's what the fans want, and the film thankfully retains its natural charismatic quirkiness, creating a gloriously wild, blood soaked good time. It's the kind of film that laughs with its audience, while also giving them just what they asked for. This is probably what the future of the slasher genre is going to look like, and it's much better for it. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gallons Of Gore, Chainsaw Slaughtered Teenagers, And Why I Always Feared Being Left Alone In Wood Shop Class.
The Informer by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Fitting in the first day and making new friends is always the hardest
So this week we got what I like to call the perfect "Have it on in the background" movie. I genuinely mean that as a compliment.
"The Informer" follows a former soldier and convict, turned FBI informant, "Pete Koslow" (Joel Kinnaman), who is tasked by his superiors, "Erica Wilox" (Rosamund Pike) and "Montgomery" (Clive Owen), to infiltrate the Polish Mob's drug trade within New York. While trying to bring down the mob's leader, "Ryszard Klimek" (Eugene Lipinski), also known as "The General", a rookie undercover cop (Arturo Castro), ends up dead, resulting in bad business for everyone, and the FBI deciding the abandon Pete. To protect his wife, "Sofia" (Ana de Armas) and daughter, Pete is instructed to take the fall for the murder, being forced to serve jail time for the General, just so he can disrupt his operations from within prison for the FBI, who have every intention of screwing him over if it becomes necessary to do so. While Pete struggles to survive prison, an NYPD cop, "Edward Grens" (Common), begins to do some digging around, uncovering the ongoing federal conspiracy, working with Pete to protect his family from both his enemies and supposed allies long enough for him to get out of prison.
Directed by Andrea Di Stefano, "The Informer" is a predictable thriller, that doesn't exactly warrant a high recommendation, but if you have nothing better going on in your life at the moment (And especially if I compare it to "After We Collided"), this movie at least accomplishes, you know, being an actual movie. The movie looks good, with some solid enough action and genuine suspense despite the lack of actual surprises. It's also just oddly sloppy, with elements that don't mean much later on and focus being pulled in different directions than from where the plot seemed to be intended. The thing is that it's a little hard to figure out if that was intentional or not. I guess it's just a bit of a mess of a movie, that only serves to get the job done as quickly as possible, and yeah, it does actually.
Joel Kinnaman does a good job here, remaining complicated, but sympathetic and of course capable in a well done action scene. There are some actually excellent performances from some of the actors, such as Rosamund Pike (Who is overqualified for this) and Common (Regaining his natural charisma after losing it in "Ava"). Clive Owen can play a scumbag in his sleep, and obviously does a great job doing it. Eugene Lipinski is an intimidating presence, though his role diminishes as the film progresses, to the point he straight up vanishes halfway through. Ana de Armas is criminally underused however, being stuck in the sidelines as a damsel in distress. For the most part, there is just enough depth to most of the lead characters, which make them just barely enough of something worth getting invested in.
"The Informer" isn't a movie that sticks with you. It's also not a bad one by any means. There's enough to it to make for an entertaining distraction, but quite frankly, there just isn't enough to talk about. Watching it, whether it's on TV or rented, simply as a means of wasting a couple hours or while you just need some background noise, you at least get something competently made, though very flawed regardless. I'd say that this was just something to waste a little time before the bigger last minute Winter releases come out, but you know, Covid just won't let us have fun again just quite yet. And fun isn't allowed until 2021....Maybe. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And Our Corrupt Officials At Work.
After We Collided by James Eagan ½ out of ★★★★
Image: "I promise, we'll never have to stoop so low for film work again."
There are many aspects about 2020 that happened that were completely out of our control. Some of us lost our jobs, financial stability, or others maybe even something more important. So much of what's made this year so bad, causing so much heartache and suffering were things that I'm sure many of us had no way of controlling. However, this right here could have been avoided. I know that. In a desperate move to find more movies to review for this site, I have done things that no man should ever have to do. I sought out the sequel to one of last year's worst movies (Which was based on a book that originated as overtly erotic One Direction fanfiction. I am not remotely joking about that!), and subjected myself to another hour and forty-five minutes of this. I asked for this torture, and now I must pay the price for it. About $6.
Following the events of "After" (Based on the book of the same name by Anna Todd), "After We Collided" opens exactly where we all expected the last film to go moments after it ended, with "Tessa Young" (Josephine Langford) and "Hardin Scott" (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), breaking up. (She's an easily corruptible blank slate looking to piss off mommy, and he's an emotionally unstable douchebag who gives off major homicidal stalker vibes) Tessa has moved on, getting her dream job at a publishing company, and appears to be doing well for herself, while Hardin wallows in self-pity, acts like a dick to everyone around him, and pines for Tessa 24/7. While out with her coworkers, including the oh so nerdy, "Trevor Matthews" (Dylan Sprouse), getting drunk at a nightclub, Tessa drunk dials Hardin, resulting in her ex coming over, and after some jealous rage, the two reconcile and do the wrap around butt grab. With Hardin's mother, "Trish" (Louise Lombard), comes to visit, Hardin has neglected to tell her about the break up, prompting he and Tessa to pretend they're still together, and yadda yadda yadda.....Look! Here's what happens. They pretend, fall back in love, there's stuff about Hardin having psychological issues, Tessa has her own problems, and I beg for the sweet, sweet release of death all throughout. Why did I do this to myself?
Directed by Roger Kumble ("Cruel Intentions", "Just Friends", "Furry Vengeance"....This is a perplexing filmography....), with Anna Todd co-writing the screenplay, "After We Collided" is no less melodramatic, ungodly boring, and as increasingly questionable as the first film, but this time things are much quirkier in the most random of places, more aggressively horny, and much more juvenile than ever before. The film, which has gone from a PG-13 to an R rating without warning (It took about ten F-Bombs, a shockingly detailed though nudity free sex scene, and more detailed sex talk for me to realize that something was off), goes out of its way to force its harsher rating, and the results are more obnoxious than anything. It's funny how the film wants to drive things over that edge, without going too much further than others in hopes of retaining the Young Adult audience, and if you ask me, that's actually kind of sick the more I think about it. It's bad enough already that I'm forced to watch a toxic relationship foolishly and stupidly try to explain itself. I thought we were done with "Fifty Shades of Grey"! We don't need a "Next Generation" version of it! There also seems to be more of a sense of humor this time around (Well, at least it looks like there is at times), with some goofier moments that feel as if they're meant to be intentionally funny, though don't even remotely get any chuckles. (It's actually much funnier when the film tries to be very serious.)
Josephine Langford totally Dakota Johnsons the best she can, looking like someone with possible acting talent, brought down by vile dialogue (Although a scene involving a cat fight at college party is particularly painful to watch). Hero Fiennes Tiffin shows very little signs of improvement, though I contribute most of the issue to his detestable character, who continues to be irritatingly whiny and occasionally creepy. Together, these two don't gel, and the characters themselves have no business being together, despite how much the movie seems to go out of its way to imply otherwise. One of those examples being Louise Lombard's character as a whole, who is meant to serve as the heart (And as a source of exposition), to Hardin's character. While she also seems to be trying, at times the character somewhat feels like she's enabling his character flaws, explaining it all away with a very heavy backstory, that doesn't feel remotely earned. It feels more like an excuse than anything. Candice King (as "Kimberly", a co-worker with Tessa) kind of drops in and out despite having a poorly placed subplot, Shane Paul McGhie (as "Landon", a friend to Tessa and Hardin) does nothing, and both Selma Blair (as "Carol", Tessa's revolting mother) and Dylan Arnold (as "Noah", Tessa's ex who has a little bit of an inappropriate relationship with Tessa's mother) return briefly to be some of the most bizarre movie characters I've seen in a long time. Also, the less said about Inanna Sarkis (as "Molly", the slutty girl who just wants to get into Hardin's pants), the better. The most enjoyable part of the entire film is easily Dylan Sprouse, who despite the film's attempts to turn him into a last second antagonist, still remains the most likable character in the entire movie. He at least gets some amusing lines and is more logical than anyone else here. (I honestly just feel more bad for him than anything)
Tonally off, painfully misguided, and worst of all, pretentiously slow paced, "After We Collided" crashes and burns in a fiery blaze, and not in one that's at least interesting to watch. Roger Kumble's direction is so lame and feels cheap, Anna Todd's screenplay makes a solid argument for one being banned from ever writing anything again, and the film's forced edginess is both laughable and just plain gross. I've also just learned that there are two more books, with the film adaptations being filmed back to back, meaning that we're only at the halfway point here! Halloween may have passed, but the thought alone is scarier than anything I have witnessed this year. Again though, I could have avoided this. In a way, I asked for it. 1/2 Star. Rated R For Excessive Use Of The Word F*ck, Nudity Free Yet Still Gratuitous Sex Scenes, Hardin's Ass, And For Being The Reason That Older People Think We've Lost Our Way.
Friendsgiving by James Eagan ★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: Oh my God, there's gonna' be SO much COVID!
Is this why we never get Thanksgiving movies? Or why nobody ever actually promotes Thanksgiving? (We seem to go from Halloween to Christmas in less than twenty four hours after the kids stop trick or treating) I am very desperate to review movies lately.....
"Friendsgiving" follows two best friends on Thanksgiving Day, a now single mother "Molly" (Malin Åkerman), who has just had a divorce, and the only semi-recently come out of the closet, "Abby" (Kat Dennings), who went through a bad breakup. Molly and Abby agreed to spend the holiday together, but there end up being a few complications. Actually, there ends being a lot of complications, with some of them not really making much sense. Firstly, Molly neglected to tell Abby about her rebound lover, "Jeff" (Jack Donnelly), along with others starting to invite themselves over as well, including Molly's neglectful mother, "Helen" (Jane Seymour), another friend, "Lauren" (Aisha Tyler) and her husband, "Dan" (Dean Cole), Molly's ex, "Gunnar" (Ryan Hansen), their weird friend, "Claire" (Chelsea Peretti), some lesbians, and other annoying, forgettable characters. Too many people cramped together, some more passive than others, and our leads going through very stressful points in their lives, what could possibly go wrong?
Written and directed by first timer, Nicol Paone, with producing credits from Malin Åkerman and Ben Stiller, "Friendsgiving" is a very low budget, sitcom-esque, and basically plot-free comedy that would be more forgivable if there was, well, actually comedy in the comedy. It's not to say that there aren't humorous moments (Or at least moments that I think were meant to be funny), but most of the time it feels that there really isn't much of a script, with lots of meandering around and too much reliance on ad libbing. For such a short runtime, there are times where nothing is happening, and it slogs through a seemingly endless amount of padding to get the film just over an hour an a half (Every few scenes, the movie stops to show characters dancing or mingling around the party like if there were commercial breaks intended for those moments). The movie also can't seem to figure out what kind of comedy it wants to be, ranging from cartoonishly goofy, comedic with a little drama mixed in, somewhat raunchy, and at times, jarringly surreal.
The best part of the movie easily would be Malin Åkerman and Kat Dennings, especially when they're together. They have good chemistry together, get the funniest lines, and most importantly, unlike most of the cast, at least feel like real people. A lot of the others aren't very interesting or just plain aren't very likable, relying on running jokes that don't amount to anything or having one joke being their only character type. Aisha Tyler and Dean Cole have their moments (Sadly, they get sidelines for a lot of the movie), Chelsea Peretti shows up just to say and do weird things, and Jane Seymour appears to have made a second career out of appearing in bad movies (Ryan Hansen has too, come to think of it). There are also appearances from Wanda Sykes, Fortune Feimster, and Margaret Cho (Who appear as "Fairy Gay Godmothers" to Abby during a hallucinatory, Shroom fueled trip), that got a chuckle out of me just because of how random it is.
A movie like "Friendsgiving" would have at least been a little more fun in a crowded theater, full of drunk women during a Girl's Night Out. However, without the novelty of cackling and hollering women, it's just really boring. It's a movie that feels like someone removed the laugh track (Which would have helped me at least know what was meant to be funny), and serves only as a time waster in more ways than one. I had to review something this weekend, and this was all I could find on such short notice. Hopefully my actual Thanksgiving will be more enjoyable....Although considering the upcoming election, maybe more social distancing wouldn't be a bad idea. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Dirty Sexy Talk, And For Lesbian Terminology.
The Witches by James Eagan ★★ ½ out of ★★★★
Image: I got ninety-nine problems but a Witch ain't one.
Not gonna lie. The 1990 movie, "The Witches". I don't remember any of it. Sure it's something that was well received at the time despite poor box office returns, and has since developed such a strong cult following, especially with my generation, due to how surprisingly frightening it is (Look at those screenshots of the practical effects from that movie. They're still quite amazing.). It struck a cord with people, and while I can see why, it just never stuck with me in the slightest. The only things I remember about it have to do with people on the internet reminding me about it. The positive of this being that despite the quiet, yet still vocal amount of excitement about this HBO Max released remake, I am basically going into the film basically with little attachments. So....Was the original this bizarre? Because even I was shocked by the utter weirdness of this movie.
Based on the book by Roald Dahl and a remake of the 1990 film directed by Nicolas Roeg, "The Witches", follows our lead protagonist, credited only as "Hero Boy" (Played by Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as a kid, and voiced by Chris Rock when narrating the film as an adult), who moves in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) after the death of his parents. Hero's grandma, who is a healer of sorts and the sweetest woman you'll ever meet, gifts Hero is a pet mouse named "Daisy" and helps Hero find happiness despite being orphaned. After Hero encounters a scary woman trying to sell him candy, Grandma explains that he just met a witch, saying that they live all across the world, targeting kids to turn into animals simply because they are nothing but embodiments of pure evil. Grandma, who is paranoid due to having an encounter with one as a child, takes Hero to a hotel, managed by "Mr. Stringer" (Stanley Tucci) to hide out. However, while Hero wanders the hotel, he realizes that an entire coven of witches, along with their leader, "The Grand High Witch" (Anne Hathaway), are gathering at the hotel to enact a dastardly plot to end all children around the world by turning all of them into mice. When Hero eventually finds himself mouse-ified, he'll have to team up with his grandma to find a way to become human again and stop the evil witches before they enact their plan.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", "Forrest Gump", "Romancing the Stone", "Cast Away") with a screenplay also written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro, "The Witches" is the kind of breezy, somewhat twisted, family adventure that I could have really gotten into more if only it figured out what it really wanted to be. It's all kinds of weird (And I only scratched the surface of it all during my plot summary), with some pretty haunting images, intentionally preposterous plot points, and a quirky sense of wickedness, which strangely appears to want to have a bit of an edge to it, though not too much at the same time. There are some freaky imagery, but the very lackluster (And overtly cartoonish) CGI take away most of that edge, giving the film a cheaper feel than most likely intended. Now it's not to say that the film isn't without some spooky moments (The Grand High Witch becoming more monstrous, revealing her claws, and a giant, shark like mouth, certainly looks a bit on the frightening side), but it's all quite tame. Granted, maybe that's all that families could ask for. Where the movie falters when it comes to identity and commitment, it makes up for in some genuine charm, a sweet story underneath all of the macabre, and enough ghoulish material to give the kids enough of a scare, while also not going anywhere too far so that the parents wouldn't need to feel the need to intervene.
Anne Hathaway, complete with the over the top look and silly accent (Still pretty attractive if you ask me.....), rips into the scenery without mercy, and is all the more enjoyable because of it. She makes for a despicable, often hilarious, and even a bit chilling villainess, and feels right at home within the twisted fairy tale-esque setting. Octavia Spencer is quite wonderful as well, bringing a lot of her usual warmth, and even getting a chance to take part in the craziness without feeling underused. Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, while not exactly a young actor with much range yet, can carry the film, while we get some solid supporting work from Codie-Lei Eastick (as "Bruno", an always hungry boy, who ends up turned into a mouse like Hero), Kristin Chenoweth (In a surprise voice role), and Stanley Tucci, who just plain looks like he's here to have a good time. (Oddly, he contributes very little, yet he nonetheless hi-jacks every scene he's in) Chris Rock, only appearing in a voice performance, is an inspired choice for providing narration.
Despite an identity crisis and maybe a little too much weirdness for its own good (Even for Roald Dahl it's a bit much), "The Witches" is a fun, heartfelt family feature that could make for a solid treat for the kids this Halloween. I can't really say that you wouldn't be able to do better (Or that the original might surpass it, despite myself remembering nothing about it), though for what it is, it does it job well enough with enough unpredictability and an unrelentingly bonkers attitude. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Scary Images, Mice Problems, And The Abuse Of Good Witches.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan by James Eagan ★★★★ out of ★★★★
Image: Let's all make sexy time!
When 2020 needed a hero, one mustached man answered the call. Someone to free us from this evil year's continued sense of monotonousness and unforgiving turmoil. Someone shine a ray of light, return hope to the world, and most importantly, find a way to just get us to freakin laugh at all. No matter how uncomfortable it gets. And trust me, the cringe is only what makes it better.
Following the events of 2006's acclaimed "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", the sequel, which is titled, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan", shows the now disgraced Kazakhstan reporter, "Borat Margaret Saggiyev" (Sacha Baron Cohen), as he is now given a chance to win back his country's favor, due to his previous documentary resulting in Kazakhstan becoming a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Borat's mission is deliver the Kazakhstan Minister of Culture (And known porn star), "Johnny the Monkey" (A literal monkey) to American President, "McDonald Trump" (Translation: Donald Trump), but due to an um, previous incident at Trump Tower, Borat has to instead bring the monkey to a man with such incredible sexual magnitude that he just can't dine alone with another woman, "Mike Pence". Having lost everything, with the exception of a fifteen year old daughter, "Tutar" (Maria Bakalova, who is actually twenty four in real life), Borat travels to America once again, though discovers that since everyone here knows who he is now, Borat is going to have to do this undercover.
When going to pick up Johnny the Monkey, who seemingly traveled to America via shipping crate, Borat is shocked to see that Tutar has stowed away within the crate (And has also eaten poor Johnny....). Borat, now under the threat of execution by his home country unless he wins Pence's favor, comes up with a new plan to give Tutar to Pence as a gift. It goes about as well as you would expect, so Borat settles for the next best thing, gifting Tutar to America's mayor (Not anymore after this....), "Rudy Giuliani". The father and daughter proceed to travel across the country, finding themselves in all sorts of crazy situations, confusing (And disturbing) those around them, and learn more about America's weird ways than ever before, all being done so while a major worldwide pandemic also happens to be going on (Ya know, Coronavirus? You heard of it? It's still going on! We've not "Turned the F*cking corner", a**hole!)).
Boy, a lot of changed over the course of fourteen years. Also, very little has changed in the absolute worst of ways. Released through streaming via "Amazon Prime", "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" (Not going to type the full title more than necessary. I want to get as many words as possible into these things, but that would just be plain silly), once again offers that biting, completely unhinged, and merciless satirical commentary that doesn't so much refuse to pull punches. It more along the lines keeps repeatedly punching until you just can't help but laugh through the pain, and laughing through the pain is exactly what one will do throughout this movie. The original mockumentary showed us some of the occasional worst our country had to offer, portraying bigotry from different angles (Racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, etc.) Directed by comedy writer, Jason Woliner, the film wisely decides not to just do the same exact thing as the first film (It's physically impossible to do so, and too many, including Sacha Baron Cohen himself have tried and failed), but instead escalate things further. This means, more offensive humor, more in your face displays of the unsightly and repulsive, and the need to do anything and everything to get a laugh, while also being really smart about it. Underneath the gross out humor, is an incredible and oddly careful amount of attention to every tiny detail that brings the movie together, which is even more jarring considering how the movie was made without any of our knowledge. (So remember that guy in the Trump fat suit that crashed the Mike Pence's CPAC speech? Or the guy who got a bunch of people at a right-wing rally to sing about injecting Barack Obama with the "Wuhan Flu"? That was all for this movie!)
What can one say about Sacha Baron Cohen? He is something else. Brilliant, fearless, out of his damn mind, and most likely on the verge of getting himself killed one of these days, but damn it, he really is the current generation's Peter Sellers (I know I can't be the only one thinking that). Aside from his pure, unbridled sense of giddiness to resurrect such a renowned character and inject him into current events, Cohen shows levels of commitment that I once thought were unheard of among even the best actors. He finds the humanity to what would be a somewhat detestable character, making him cringe-inducing, original, and even a little lovable. However, he's not just the focus this time. Maria Bakalova is a star in the making, going even further than Cohen has in terms of crossing the line, and yet, making for plenty of laugh out loud moments. Together, the duo is a comedic force to be reckoned with. As for the people caught in the crossfire of the documentary style, such as trying to get a baby figurine removed from Tutar's stomach at an anti-abortion clinic, Tutar learning about feminism from a babysitter (Who apparently wanted to "Kick Sacha Baron Cohen's Butt", in her own words), and Borat befriending (And temporarily living with) two right wing conspiracy theorists. Even when some of these pranks might be staged (Though it is so hard to tell, and you'd be surprised what people will say and do when their guard is down), they still generate laughs, as well as some much needed insight into the minds of people today. The best though are the ones that are obviously not staged, and the most damning. The biggest out of all of them being the now infamous sequence involving Rudy Giuliani (as he's interviewed by a dressed up Tutar), and while there are those looking to sympathize with him (Okay sure, maybe, just maybe, he really was just tucking in his shirt....the entire situation escalated as much as it did because of his own stupidity), it's still an uncomfortable, creepy, and eventually, hilarious scene that's not going to be going away anytime soon. Plus in the interview, Giuliani states that the Chinese manufactured the virus and intentionally let it get out. So you know, screw him anyway.
Offensive in all the right ways, occasionally painful to watch, but by the end, with much more to say than even the first film, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" is hilarious from start to finish, and boy does it finish on a high note. It culminates in probably one of the best plot twists I've seen in a movie in a long time, and only makes one go in for a second viewing simply to see how it all came together so beautifully. All of this may seem somewhat juvenile and mean spirited (And well, it kind of is), but of course there is a point to it that needs to be listened to. Even then, I would say that this one may be a little more accessible than the first film, since despite the harsh jokes and repeated jabs at the unsuspecting, there is something a bit warmer about the film. A hidden sweetness, whether it be the heartwarming and evolving relationship between father and daughter, or the surprise kindness that can be found even in today's world. (Believe it or not, once you get past the racism, Borat does encounter a decent amount of at least halfway amiable people) The film proves that even when a true life virus continues to threaten our way of life, laughter truly is the best medicine. New Borat Movie Very Nice! 4 Stars. Rated R For Lots Of Human Hair, Racist Beliefs, Monkey Business, Rudy's Hands (Ew...), Sexy Time, KKK Cosplay, A Lack Of Face Masks, And Those Who Kind Of Have It Coming Being Caught With Their Pants Down. Almost Literally.