Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing
Double-click to start typing

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Bodies Bodies Bodies, Prey, Bullet Train, DC League of Super Pets, Nope, Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank, Where the Crawdads Sing, Thor: Love and Thunder, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Minions: The Rise of Gru, The Black Phone, Elvis, Lightyear

Coming Soon: Beast, Pinocchio, Bros, Don't Worry Darling, The Woman King, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Pearl, Black Adam, Halloween Ends, Black Panther 2, Strange World, Avatar 2

Rating system:

★★★★: Classic  

★★★½: Very Good   

★★★: Good  

★★½ : Eh

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

★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?  

: Hope You Have A Good Date  

½: Little To No Redeeming Value

No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: To catch a Peradator.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Jolly Good Show Everyone! Jolly Good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men                                                   by James Eagan                                      ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'm positive you won't find me even the slightest bit creepy." 

This is a twisted little film that takes an important subject that should bother all of us. It's one that has repeatedly been ignored or watered down by the more ignorant, who refuse to see the truth. It's a theme that affects everyone and I'm glad that this is the film to at long last acknowledge it. That theme being that Rory Kinnear is really, really creepy. I'm sure he's a lovely person in real life, yet I've never trusted him. Finally, a movie just embraces it and gives us pure, unfiltered, and unapologetic Rory Kinnear based nightmare fuel. You will be seeing that face tonight while you sleep. 100% chance of that. 

"Men" follows the recently widowed "Harper Marlowe" (Jessie Buckley), who decides to take a holiday to a quiet, more secluded English countryside house after the death (Possible suicide?) of her husband, "James" (Paapa Essiedu). All the circumstances and the lead up to James' demise have prompted Harper to seek out some kind of tranquility and peace, being greeted by the slightly off, though seemingly still friendly caretaker "Geoffrey" (Rory Kinnear), who rents out the house to her. Everything seems normal at first, until Harper takes a stroll into the forest, where she encounters a screeching, nude man (Also Rory Kinnear), who stalks her all the way back to the house, only to have him apprehended by the police (One of which too is played by Rory Kinnear). Harper continues to struggle with her husband's death, and the other dudes in the town (Again, all played by Rory Kinnear), don't seem to be helping. Things further escalate as Harper finds herself in a nightmare that yeah, I can only assume will turn up any woman's anxiety up to the highest level. 

Written and directed by Alex Garland ("Ex Machina", "Annihilation"), "Men" is the definition of a divisive film, and it seems that even Alex Garland himself apparently knew it. Aside from the lack of subtlety in terms of its themes and certain allegories (I see a lot of easily poked and proddled dudes going ballistic over this one), It's also one of those films that doesn't tell you everything, whether it be immediately or even at all. There are very few explanations, though the execution, while at times muddled, is nonetheless suspenseful, captivating, and at times, just plain freaky. The movie is loaded with outlandishly unsettling imagery, that only escalates as it goes along, getting more and more wild and disturbing until we reach a truly baffling climax. It's a credit to Garland in how he at first makes the film seem rather normal, with a hint of something being just slightly off in the sense that if you were in that situation you would just blow things off as just, well, odd. The oddities though all lead somewhere, and yeah, it doesn't always quite make sense, but holy Hell, the images you will be subjected to will stick in your head regardless. Narrative-wise though, I can see some getting lost in how the film presents itself, and even I'm not fully sure I get it all. The film's structure is intended to frustrate and it can probably do more than that to certain audiences. 

Whether or not the film connects with you in a positive manner, the performances are not to be overlooked. The recently Academy Award nominated Jessie Buckley (Always thought she was great!) is sublime here, having to convey trauma and terror in equal measure to a character attempting to overcome both psychological dread, as well as the living Hell unfolding right in front of her. Meanwhile, Rory Kinnear, all jokes aside, is actually quite brilliant, playing a variety of roles who are all uniquely creepy, detestable, terrifying, and all together immensely entertaining, in perfect measure. The film's budget both adds and takes away though in some respects, with the visual effects work (And yes, there is a bit more than expected. It's too spoiler-ish to get into right now), being a little less than convincing. Sometimes that adds to the creep factor (There's a little bit of de-aging work that lacks polish, though somehow it does make it work in a way), but most of the time it's just distracting. Honestly, the film's more practical effects (And that is including the silly wigs given to Rory Kinnear), which at least look so bizarre that it enhances the craziness. 

"Men" doesn't always work in the way it should, yet when it does, it's hauntingly effective. It's a weird mix of psychological horror, old school jump and scream frights, and an on the nose gender-based bit of commentary, that's difficult to argue with despite being incredibly obvious. It's a wild experience to say the least, and though it kind of loses sight of its goal once we reach the end (It's one of those movies where you leave telling yourself that you totally understood that simply to sound smart), the road taken is too unforgettably bonkers that you just gotta see it for yourself. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Rory Kinnear Penis (And Other Body Parts.....You'll See What I Mean), And Men Just Being Men. (I Mean, Yeah, Some Of Us Are Pretty F*cked Up Guys. Don't Get All Defensive). 

Firestarter                                                  by James Eagan                                ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: I'd advise not putting her in timeout.

We have a brand new adaptation of a popular Stephen King novel (Not to mention it's already a remake of what's sort of considered a 1984 cult film), and literally nobody anywhere seems to care. There were more people at "Family Camp" than this movie. (Well, one other person, but that makes it even sadder) Getting to see any more on opening night in a completely empty theater is always tragic, especially when in the end, it's not bad enough to deserve it, yet still too forgettable to say it doesn't. 

"Firestarter" opens with government experimentation, where college students are brought in for all kinds of terrifying tests that intend to give the subjects superpowers. Years later, telekinetic father, "Andy McGee" (Zac Efron) and his wife, "Vicky" (Sydney Lemmon) raise their daughter, "Charlie" (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has developed pyrokinetic abilities that she is unfortunately unable to control. The family has had to constantly move and change their names in attempts to hide from the government agency intent on finding them and exploiting their power. "Hollister" (Gloria Reuben), having taken over the operation, is determined to bring Charlie in, sending relentless bounty hunter "John Rainbird" (Michael Greyeyes), to track the family down. Rainbird attacks, leaving Andy and Charlie on their own, with their chances of escape starting to slip away. Left no other choice, Andy decides to help Charlie harness her gift, hoping to prevent the young girl from going nuclear and harming both herself, along with the rest of the world. 

Directed by Keith Thomas ("The Vigil"), with a screenplay by Scott Teems ("Halloween Kills"), "Firestarter" rather frustratingly takes an already been there done that premise, and instead of attempting to reinvent it, refresh it, or even just do the bare minimum with what's already come before it, just exists on screen for barely an hour and a half. There are moments where something of value might have been able to find its way out, though sadly whether it be a limited budget or uninspired direction, the film is actually quite boring despite such a rushed pace. You don't get enough time to connect with anything the way you should. When it's supposed to be scary, it falls flat, though the film's surprisngly detailed level of violence does deliver some decent shock value (Let's just say people burn good in this movie). The drama and heart that's supposed to be where the film's center lies is squandered, along with a pretty tense musical score from John and Cody Carpenter, along with Daniel Davies. 

None of the acting is bad here, it's just underwritten where it matters, leaving the performances to do pretty much all of the heavy lifting. While some of her dialogue is lacking ("Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire" should never have left the writers room), Ryan Kiera Armstrong is a talented young actress, whose big break here hopefully doesn't drag her down. I actually need to give credit to Zac Efron, who is also solid, for willingly stepping to the side to give Armstrong her time to shine. Others like Sydney Lemmon (I know nothing of the source material and I knew exactly where her story would go), Kurtwood Smith (as "Dr. Wanless", the remorseful scientist behind the experiments, who only appears for a one and done scene), and a very committed John Beasley (as "Irv", who gives Andy and Charlie a ride and a temporary place to stay), are all giving good performances, despite how little they have to work with. Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben are however pretty generic in the villain department. The film oddly lacks extras and background characters, with empty backgrounds and bland looking sets. 

Unimpressive from the get go, "Firestarter" actually gets a little worse the more I think about it. It's one of those more upsetting wastes of potential, that serves as a theater filler until the next big blockbuster comes out. A few good performances and even a little jaw dropping gore don't make up for the film's shortage of inspiration. It's a whole lot of nothing that just plays on screen for an empty auditorium. Short and painless, yet boring and completely unremarkable.It crashes and burns pretty hard. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Burnt Bodies, Crispy Kitties, And Pre-Teen Pyromania.   

Family Camp                                           by James Eagan                                   ★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Uh...I'll spend my summer wherever they're not, thank you."

To any devout Christians who either regularly read my stuff, or just so happen to have stumbled upon this by accident, I have a very serious question to ask you. Do you actually like this crap? If I were Christian, I would be pretty offended here. I would ask for more than just pandering, simplified, uninspired, insultingly lame loaves of stale white bread, posing as apparent cinema. 

"Family Camp" follows the usual sitcom family tropes with a little extra Christian flair. We got workaholic dad, "Tommy" (Tommy Woodard), along with his frustrated wife, "Grace" (Leigh-Allyn Baker), their cellphone obsessed daughter "Hannah" (Cece Kelly) and weird son "Henry" (Jacob M Wade). Grace notices how dysfunctional their family is at the moment, so she convinces them to take a trip to their church run family camp, to become closer with each other, God, and all those privileged white people problems. Immediately, Tommy finds himself a new rival, the overly enthusiastic (And almost demonically Christian) "Eddie" (Eddie James), who along with his wife "Victoria" (Gigi Orsillo) and their creepy twins, always win the camp's series of competitive games. Several pratfalls later, Tommy and Eddie find themselves lost in the woods and have to rely on their wits (And you know, God's divine plan I guess) to find their way to safety. Personally I think god has other things to worry about than a couple of idiots without any sense of basic survival skills. 

From "The Skit Guys" (The Christian based comedy duo of Tommy Woodard and Eddie James, which means it's as boringly bland as humanly possible), "Family Camp" is directed and co-written by Brian Cates (In his first ever theatrical film, which found its way into a pretty decent amount of screens somehow), and is only being review by me because, well, I kind of live for this kind of garbage. On the downside, there's nothing all that offensive about it (Aside from the stupidity on display). On the upside, the only real comedy comes from just how horrifically made it all really is. It's the kind of cheap, quickly cobbled together, waste of a perfectly good giant silver screen, that never gets an intentional laugh, features unlikable characters, and a special breed of ineptitude that you almost need to see for yourself. It's not the worst made thing in the world, but it's par for the course. It would be nothing to write home about, and also something that I probably wouldn't have even seen (But still would have totally mocked) if not for the impressive amount of showtimes it appears to have acquired. Even with "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" pretty much taking up most of the auditoriums in every theater, this seems to have found itself a decent amount all things considered. Now I'm betting most of those screenings are completely empty, but that's still quite shocking. Especially for something that would look horrible even by television standards. It's a very blasé looking film, giving off that whole studio backlot sort of look, with the most basic forms of film editing and an oddly grainy palette. It's so unimpressive to look at, and the film offers zero laughs to make up for it. The jokes are as stale as they come, with lazy gags and a nonexistent story that only exists when the film's runtime requires it. It also takes an oddly dramatic turn towards the last act that feels rather privileged. (Nobody here was suffering in any way. Except for me, maybe) 

Tommy Woodard comes across as a dollar store Ed Helms, while Eddie James is not only obnoxiously annoying, his character ends up being more of a terrible person than the film acknowledges (This is most apparent with a confusing later reveal that's kind of unforgivable if you ask me). Leigh-Allyn Baker, Gigi Orsillo, and Robert Amaya (as the camp counselor, who I swear to God is gay. This is my headcanon and nobody can tell me otherwise) are all stock stereotypes, along with just about everyone else. The closest thing to resembling an earnest performance would be Mark Christopher Lawrence (as "Dave", the kindly pastor), who at least drops some religious knowledge of making time for faith and family, while balancing out work life in a way that you can't exactly argue with. It's a little hypocritical considering the film wants to have it both ways in that regard with something that only wasted everybody's time and even then, I don't recall anything about Tommy's big business deal actually going anywhere. (Did he make partner? I don't remember) 

"Family Camp" is boring, lousy, pretty annoying, and clocks in at almost two hours, with so much that could have been cut down. You're not an epic! You're "Family Camp" for Christ's sake! It also features possibly the worst CGI effect I've ever seen on a big screen in my life, centered around some weird Beaver that just keeps popping up for no reason. It's so hauntingly ugly and visually vomit-inducing that I feel the need to take back any sort of complaint I've ever had about lackluster CGI. I know you guys don't have any money, but that thing was damn near blasphemous if you ask me. Pandering and pointless. You Christians deserve better, and should ask for more. 1 Star. Rated PG For Crazy Christian Chaos, Moronic Mustached Men, Several Attempts At Homicide, And As Usual, God Awful Religious Rock Music. (Again, Do You Guys Actually Like This? How?)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness                                                         by James Eagan                                                                  ★★ out of ★★★★        

Image: You know, Stephen. Bronco Henry wouldn't have let this happen. Just saying.

I really think we need to give the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" credit for what they've been able to do over the last decade. From humble beginnings with 2008's "Iron Man", with their films getting only bigger (And even better in some cases), retaining an ever-expanding cinematic universe that the average moviegoer can get invested into just as much as my fellow comic book nerds. So I mean, who could blame them for having so much confidence in themselves to just say "Screw it! Let's get WEIRD!" and expect everyone to just go with it?  

Following the events of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and Disney+'s "Wandavision" (Oh! And "Loki", and maybe "What If...?" too. Oh! And a whole lotta of other stuff also...), "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" once again follows former neurosurgeon turned Master of the Mystic Arts, "Doctor Stephen Strange" (Benedict Cumberbatch), as he attends the wedding of his former flame, "Christine Palmer" (Rachel McAdams), claiming to be happy with how his life has since turned out despite that obviously not being the case. Strange then rescues a teenage girl, "America Chavez" (Xochitl Gomez), from a demonic squid, discovering that she has the power to jump between universes and someone is sending monsters after her. Along with the current Sorcerer Supreme (Due to some technicalities), "Wong" (Benedict Wong), Strange vows to keep America protected from whatever else the ever changing (And always quite frightening) multiverse has to offer. Knowing that witchcraft is involved, Strange turns to former Avenger turned recluse, "Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch" (Elizabeth Olsen) for help in containing the threat. When greater, more powerful threats reveal themselves, Strange and America find themselves on the run across the multiverse and face even more insanity along the way, such as winding up in a universe where a mysterious group, known as the "Illuminati", sees Strange himself as the multiverse's most dangerous enemy. I'm actually leaving a lot out of this because it goes into a lot of spoilerish territory and if there's one thing this movie does best, it's shock value. Something I didn't expect to say about a movie advertised on Disney Channel.   

A sequel to 2016's "Doctor Strange", though really serves more of a continuation from the character's continuous appearances over the course of other movies, "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is directed by Sam Raimi, and he wastes no time letting you know so. With a screenplay by Michael Waldron ("Loki", "Rick and Morty"), the has all of Raimi's trademarks, showing that apparently Marvel is okay with letting directors just do their own thing. We get a macabre sense of humor, almost intentionally offputting special effects, that weird zoomy slanty thing that he does with the camera (You know the thing!), and his weird infatuation with his background extras. It's always been quite charming to me, and it gives the film a gleefully over the top personality that makes for a ton of popcorn fueled fun at the movies. The thing is though, I've kind of gotten used to Marvel being about a bit more than that lately. ("Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" are legitimately great movies on their own that just so happen to be big blockbusters) It also just might be a little too much Raimi for some. Be honest, a little Raimi goes a long way. We have "Spider-Man 3" to prove that. 

 It's a lot going at once, with weirdness piled on upon more weirdness, and to my surprise, a little more terror than I was expecting. It's a genuinely frightening adventure, with unpredictable twists and turns (One theory I was able to deduce a couple weeks ago, but it's still quite jarring to see in action), and more than a few moments that are going to leave the audience speechless. (Probably not best for the youngest ones) I really gotta respect Marvel for allowing it, and Sam Raimi seems to be having a blast, embracing the odder side of the Marvel universe. The biggest issues are with how quick the film is to just jump right in, leaving out some of the depth that we generally get from some of the more superior films in the MCU. It's all a little off in places and I feel that it lies with the direction. Pardon the pun, but the film is strange and not always in a way that feels entirely right. It's not confusing or lacking in cohesion. At least for me anyways. I actually found it  pretty easy to follow. It's just that the film crams in a lot in a rather short amount of time, and tops it all off with Raimi's own unique and appealing, though divisive and often perplexing style. Such as with the visuals, which are pretty mind blowing (Especially in IMAX), but even then, sometimes they don't always look great. The thing is though, it feels like it was meant to be that way. Sort of cheesy and bombastic, feeling like a "Hammer Horror" film more than a superhero movie. It's cool, and entertaining as Hell. Yet, it lacks the usual amount of charm that we want from these movies. Not to mention, it also makes for a bit of a messier story. 

Benedict Cumberbatch is great as usual, perfectly encompassing the flawed hero to the point that I can never imagine anyone else ever playing this role anywhere else. You know he might be a bit of a danger in some ways, but you also know that there's a good person in there worthy of becoming something better. He also gets a chance to devour some of the scenery as a more "Sinister Strange" variant, who engages with the one we know in a brilliantly done magical musical note duel (Where they literally bring the music notes to life and attempt to kill each other with them). Benedict Wong is reliably great, while Xochitl Gomez is also a solid up-and-comer, making up for some of her character's underutulized potential. Not to mention, she does have a good bit of friendly banter with Cumberbatch. Chiwetel Ejiofor (as a variant of "Karl Mordo", Strange's former mentor turned archnemesis) doesn't get much to do, though always has screen presence, and the same goes for Rachel McAdams, who will never not be charming. Elizabeth Olsen meanwhile is just outstanding as she's ever been (You know, maybe she should have won that Emmy for "Wandavision") and gets the role of the lifetime here, making for an even more complex character than what we already know her to be. (Plus, no matter what anyone says, she's officially the strongest Avenger. Sorry dudebros!) I also find it funny that Michael Stuhlbarg (as "Nicodemus West", Strange's old work rival) gets a major credit in the cast, despite only appearing for a minute or two (I mean, he's always great, but it just caught me off guard) There is a collection of cameos (Honestly, their roles are a little bigger than that) that will get a desired reaction out of the audience, and it leads to one of the film's most memorable sequences. I also can't get too into who or what the villain really is, but it makes for possibly one of Marvel's best in terms of menace and nuance. The film further continues something that I've really loved about this current phase of the MCU since "Avengers: Endgame" in how the world has just accepted the current way of things. It makes it all feel more real and lively. On a side note, the score by Danny Elfman (A frequent collaborator with Sam Raimi, along with a few Marvel properties) is perfectly composed.  

"Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" is exactly as advertised. Madness. It goes hog wild towards the end, and has a lot of great things going for it (I will stan Zombie Strange!). The writing just isn't up to par with what we've seen before and while much of the film's stylistic choices make for plenty of cinematic entertainment value, it somewhat dilutes the impact of something I feel is supposed to mean more. It's a Sam Raimi movie for sure and the one he wanted to make for sure. I can appreciate Marvel Studios allowing for a director to just take the keys and go wherever they pleased, while he grins a devious grin the entire time. (And maybe hits a pedestrian or two along the way) It also does make for one of the weaker entries to come out of the MCU in a while (Next to last year's "Eternals", which had a similar flaw actually). It's still a damn good time at the movies, and sure as Hell is a lot more brave than naysayers might want to admit. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, and Head-Exploding, Slicing And Dicing, Neck Snapping, Character Killing Cruelty.   

Memory                                          by James Eagan                                       ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I've been trying to forget 'Taken 3' for a while now."

So? Um, is "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" out yet?

"Memory" follows an aging hitman, "Alex Lewis" (Liam Neeson), who knows that his time is almost up, suffering from Early-onset Alzheimer's, and really wants to retire as soon as possible. Alex gets tasked with another job to take out a couple of targets from a dangerous, fairly hidden organization with high connections, and seemingly is prepared to get the job done as usual. However, his next target ends up being a young teenage girl, but can't bring himself to complete the contract, demanding that it be called off. Suddenly though, Alex finds time missing and he's now being pursued by the organization, hoping to silence him before he exposes their entire operation. Meanwhile, a cynical FBI agent, "Vincent Serra" (Guy Pearce), along with his partners, "Linda Amistead" (Taj Atwal) and "Hugo Marquez" (Harold Torres), had just gotten the now dead girl (Who was a victim of Mexican cartel sex trafficking) into protective custody and seek justice, though have to contend with a bureaucratic and corrupt system that also seems to just want this case to go away. With everything connecting to respected philanthropist, "Davana Sealman" (Monica Bellucci), Alex struggles to retain his further deteriorating memory loss as well as his own health, taking the law into his own hands, though soon learns that Vincent might be the only one who can help him finish his mission, preventing the real villains from getting away scot-free once again. 

Directed by Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") with a screenplay by Dario Scardapane ("The Punisher"), "Memory" is both based on the Belgian novel, "De zaak Alzheimer"  by Jef Geeraerts, along with being remake of the film version "The Memory of a Killer". It boasts a fascinating idea, some heavy and relevant themes, and interesting moral questions with no real easy answer. It's a competently made film that's just missing something that would warrant a trip to the movie theater. It's not really an action thriller. It's more procedural, and even then, it's a very convoluted, slow one at that. It very much gives off the feel of an old people movie, where the filmmakers don't want to make things too exciting to overstimulate its audience. Even with dark material and some strong violence, the film is fairly safe in terms of execution. Martin Campbell is a good director and he does a solid enough job with the film, but it's not particularly glamorous to watch, feeling smooth and shiny, without much extra finesse to add to much excitement or suspense. It's incredibly lacking in that department, and it's sad because the film doesn't always fall flat. There are some okay twists, moments of intensity, and good questions for the audience to ponder, especially revolving around how justice can sometimes fail. Sometimes terrible things will happen, the people involved will get away with it, and there's no reason for it. It can just suck and possibly, some rule bending could be necessary under the right circumstances. 

Liam Neeson is also very good here, knowing his age and limitations, and conveying some genuine tragedy with his complex character. His actions are never condoned, though we do see a real human being in there, especially as his illness and humanity starts to catch up with him. Guy Pearce's accent is inconsistent, though he does fine, along with Taj Atwal and Ray Stevenson (as "Danny", the harsh detective, determined to bring Alex in). Subplots involving others, such as Harold Torres (In a last second reveal that you see coming a mile away), only overcomplicate things. Monica Bellucci is as gorgeous as ever, playing a villainess that doesn't always act like one directly, though understated, which is the best way to play a character such as this. There is actually a lot going on at once, with a bunch of other characters appearing in parts both larger or smaller, leading to underwritten results. 

I'm not going to say that "Memory" is exactly forgettable (Because that would be insanely obvious), but it is irrelevant. It's not bad, with some good performances and a cool premise. It also stumbles when trying to juggle a bunch of stories and characters at once, failing to grab its audience with anything that demands a big screen viewing. It feels like a rainy day movie, where you don't exactly lose anything by watching it, yet you don't have a reason to do so unless there's literally nothing else to do. You know, except wait for "Doctor Strange" next week. It's gonna be crazy, isn't it? 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Harsh Violence, Harsh Themes And Situations, And Geriatric Justice.        

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent                                                               by James Eagan                                                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★   

Image: "I knew it! My talent is massive!"

It's high time we finally answered a question that's plagued mankind for, um, about say thirty or forty years. What exactly IS Nicholas Cage? 

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" follows the story of Nicholas Cage as "Nicholas Cage", as he struggles to keep his fading career afloat. While his Nic Cageyness seems to get in the way of him finding new roles, it also has begun to interfere with his family life, straining his relationship with his ex wife, "Olivia" (Sharon Horgan) and daughter, "Addy" (Lily Sheen). Completely broke and with nowhere else to turn, Cage decides to call it quits, agreeing to take a job suggested to him by his manager, "Fink" (Neil Patrick Harris), which will involve him being the guest of honor at a billionaire's birthday party for $1 million. The billionaire, "Javi Gutierrez" (Pedro Pascal), it turns out is a massive Nicholas Cage fanboy, obsessing over his work, and demanding that Cage not keep his miraculous talent from the world. It turns out that Cage actually quite likes Javi, with the two becoming fast friends. However, Cage ends up abducted by a pair of CIA agents, "Vivian" (Tiffany Haddish) and "Martin" (Ike Barinholtz), who reveal that Javi is apparently one of the most dangerous men in the world, being a violent arms dealer that's kidnapped a politician's daughter and they want Nic Cage to find her. Cage is forced to further bond with Javi to track down the girl, though is now torn between his duty and his new friendship. 

Directed and co-written (With Kevin Etten) by Tom Gormican ("That Awkward Moment"), "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is a total farce, completely devoid of realism, based in the most surreal, screwball cinematic of worlds. However, beneath all of that, is something a little deeper and a bit smarter than advertised. This truly is the kind of movie where the filmmakers are really embracing the stupid. And not just stupid, the most gonzo form of stupid. Basically the kind of stupid that I love. The weirdness is almost weaponized, especially as the film only gets more and more crazy. It's absurdly brilliant in a way, though also just brilliantly absurd. At its heart, there is both a rather heartwarming buddy story, along with an unconventional (And at times, kind of sad) character study. 

Nicholas Cage is terrific, playing a version of himself that's either completely exaggerated or even more likely, only somewhat exaggerated. It's certainly hilarious to watch, especially when he goes full Cage in over the top insanity that we've come to know him for. There is a little levity in places and the film does address how this method of acting (Or even if it might just be the way he is) can alienate those around you, further leading to poor decisions and a lack of appreciation for the craft that you once loved. This isn't just his movie though. An even bigger scene-stealer comes in the form of an ingenious turn from Pedro Pascal. This is a man that has already played a variety of roles, from comedic, action based, or dramatic, and yet, still finds a way to always surprise me. The chemistry between the two of them is where the film mostly focuses, and it's not just hysterical, it's also kind of sweet in its own buffoonish sort of way. It's mostly their movie, so others like Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, and others are mostly secondary. They're all good in the movie, but just not given as much to do by comparison. Paco León (as "Lucas", Javi's obviously demented cousin) is a creepy villain, though as usual, the bad guys for comedies such as this are more of a means to an end. There's also some impressive (And fairly jarring) effects work on a certain character that I won't spoil because the complete shock of what's on screen should come as a complete surprise. (The less you know, the better)

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is often deeper than it first appears, riotously funny more often than not, and pretty much always incredibly weird. It gives off the feel of a more classic screwball comedy, and just makes for an immense, rather immeasurable amount of fun. Even when it narratively lacks cohesion, the film is so meta about it that you get the idea that it's all intentional and regardless, you're too seduced by the insanity to really care. Nic Cage's infectious levels of wacko are kind of impossible to not to enjoy. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Hardcore Bromances, And Manly Appreciation Of The Masterpiece Of Cinema We Know As "Paddington 2". 

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

Image: The January 6th Insurrection has begun!

You know something, Vikings were terrible people. Sort of with pirates, we kind of sugarcoated that one. Killing, conquering, raping, pillaging, failure to wear proper clothing and shave when necessary. I appreciate how this movie just jumps right in, presents things as they are, and basically has no intention of really redeeming anyone because, well, vikings were terrible people. That's just how it was, and you're gonna deal with it for about 137 minutes.

Based on the Scandinavian legend of "Amleth" (Which is itself what inspired "Hamlet"), "The Northman" follows "Amleth" (Played by Oscar Novak as a child, then by Alexander Skarsgård), son of "King Aurvandill War-Raven" (Ethan Hawke) and "Queen Gudrún" (Nicole Kidman). Fearing his death and that Amleth will not be ready to lead, Aurvandill begins to teach young Amleth in his ways of the warrior, though all of that is cut short by the sudden betrayal by Aurvandill's ironically named brother, "Fjölnir the Brotherless" (Claes Bang). After witnessing the death of his father, the capture of his mother, and the slaughtering of his people, Amleth flees his traitorous uncle, swearing revenge. Years later, Amleth has become a viking, engaging in many of their violent acts of shirtless terrorism before learning what has befallen his uncle. Since Amleth's escape, Fjölnir has lost his kingdom, having to flee with Gudrún, his family, along with a collection of followers and slaves to become a farmer in Iceland. After receiving a vision from an eyeless "Seeress" (Björk), claiming that Amleth will finally have his revenge after a fated duel to the death, Amleth brands himself and poses as a slave to be taken to his uncle. There he befriends and falls in love with another slave, "Olga" (Anya Taylor-Joy), and plots out a scheme to avenge his father, save his mother, and kill Fjölnir. This will involve a mystical sword, along with his own will to resist any temptations of detouring from the fate he's decided for himself. 

Directed (And Co-Written with Icelandic poet/novelist Sjón) by Robert Eggers ("The Witch", "The Lighthouse". He really likes to have "The" at the beginning of his titles), "The Northman" is easily his most accessible film to the average moviegoer, though that's not by any means an insult. His uniquely surreal and occasionally offbeat style of direction is still on full display, except this time with a bigger budget and a more straightforward story. It's a classic tale of revenge, that does offer a few clever twists and turns, and most remarkable of all, never feels the need to water anything down. It's ungodly brutal, in terms of violence and intensity, with everything and everyone being realistically filthy, cruel, and more complex than you might expect. The cinematography by the Academy Award nominated Jarin Blaschke ("The Lighthouse") is drawn out in places, and jaw dropping in how these sequences flow into each other, with unrelenting violence and an exquisite attention to detail. You're allowed to see every single minor factor of a battle sequence, from whatever is going on in the background or what else could possibly contribute to what's about to happen in the foreground. It's not a particularly glamorous epic for sure, with nobody dying easily, and yet, the visuals are hauntingly stunning to look at. It's a little more old fashioned in that sense, coming across as a retelling of the "Hero's Journey", complete with little sidequests (Such as having what I can only describe as a boss battle with a skeletal warrior where the reward is a mystical sword), and the lead-up to a climactic (And very nude) showdown inside a volcano. Except this time, the hero isn't always heroic, the villains aren't always villainous, and the whole world seems to live by a more accepting feeling of both the warrior-like savagery and what may or may not be truly something supernatural.

Alexander Skarsgård, who is looking rather painfully ripped in this movie, is thoroughly mesmerizing to watch, with little dialogue in places, having to rely on his body language and expressions to convey his character's trauma, turmoil, and brutality. He's human, but barely. Anya Taylor-Joy is her usual spellbinding self, while Nicole Kidman is relishing what ends up being a much more important role than at first hinted at (It's not exactly a shock where this goes, but she hits it out of the part regardless). Claes Bang is also a frightening, though also impuissant presence, being more than just the antagonist waiting to be defeated. Others such as Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe (as "Heimir the Fool", Aurvandill's court jester), and an otherworldly Björk, all appear briefly, though leave important impressions that carry on throughout the rest of the film. 

There are a couple surprises that aren't exactly all that unique and the lack of rootable characters could turn off some audiences searching for something a bit more amiable, though that I think is makes "The Northman" much stronger. There's no sanitation here. In more ways than one. It's like a rabid wild animal, tearing into everything in sight, but with a sense of tragedy behind its barbarity. Regardless of how you feel watching it, you can't look away and you're entranced in Robert Eggers' visual masterwork on display. Unrelenting. Unforgiving. Unforgettable. It's a true legend of old in cinematic form. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence And Loads Of Masculine Nudity. For The Ladies. I Think.

The Bad Guys                                    by James Eagan                              ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Those Veterinarians won't be neutering anything, anymore."

You know what? It's about dang time! Kids today deserve their anti-heroes just as much as we do. Enough with those white bread, goody two-shoes main characters. What is wrong with giving the kiddos some lovable lawbreakers to look up to? Come on, we do it all the time as it is, and at least these bad guys don't kill anyone. Ok, maybe one likes to eat guinea pigs, but some of them have it coming. 

Loosely inspired by the Children's books by Aaron Blabey, "The Bad Guys" follows a group of animal criminals known as you guessed it, "The Bad Guys". Led by the charismatic "Mr. Wolf" (Sam Rockwell), this group of baddies, which also consists of Wolf's best friend and cranky safecracker "Mr. Snake" (Marc Maron), their hacker "Ms. Tarantula" (Awkwafina), their so-called master of disguise (Which everyone somehow still falls for) "Mr. Shark" (Craig Robinson), and their rather manic muscle "Mr. Piranha" (Anthony Ramos), have been listed as the villains of every story by society, so they've just decided to embrace it. Having always been able to stay one step ahead of the chief of police "Misty Luggins" (Alex Borstein), the Bad Guys make a go for the unobtainable Golden Dolphin award, which is about to be presented by respected, but kind of pompous guinea pig philanthropist, "Professor Marmalade IV" (Richard Ayoade) by the fox governor, "Diane Foxington" (Zazie Beetz). The attempted heist goes south, but before the Bad Guys can be put away once and for all, Mr. Fox suggests that if they were given a chance to go good, that they might be able to become upstanding, beloved members of society. Professor Marmalade takes the Bad Guys up on this offer, coming up with a social experiment of sorts that will see if they can go from bad to good, though this is actually at first just a ploy so that our "heroes" can avoid prison and eventually steal the Golden Dolphin from right under everyone's noses. However, as time goes on, Mr. Fox starts to realize that he might actually like being a good guy (Especially since it makes his tail wag), and though that might put a rift between him and the rest of the crew, who are more family than just friends. 

From DreamWorks Animation, "The Bad Guys" is directed by animator Pierre Perifel, with a screenplay by Etan Cohen ("Tropic Thunder", "Men in Black 3", "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"), and serves as a rather unique entry into the studio's pretty massive and already rather diverse animation catalog. The animation is less realistic, and much like Pixar's "Turning Red", the fimmakers seem to have taken some notes from "Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse". It's stylishly combining a 2D frame rate, mixing it with 3D models, and outrageously expressive characters. The film affectionately embraces this look and thrives off of it. Aside from just plain being incredibly appealing to look at, it allows for a sporadic sense of personality that tells you everything you need to know about a character or the world established itself, without anyone needing to say anything. It's not to say that the film doesn't have a smart script on its hands, which appeals to all ages, and in some cases, offers more for the adults to enjoy. It's a clever, intentionally over the top and cartoonish parody of heist comedies such as "Ocean's 11", though also has the often charmingly drawn out dialogue that you might find more in a Tarantino film (The film literally opens with two characters seemingly talking about essentially nothing that would have any effect on the plot before performing a robbery). It's often laugh out loud, and it offers a lot for everyone in the family circle. The plot follows some of the essential points of your usual caper film, which makes for one or two reveals that you can see coming rather easily, though some of that is part of the fun. There's some double crosses, last minute switcheroos, and the film actually does a better job at handling them than a decent amount of films that it just so happens to be paying homage to. 

The film features a memorable cast of characters, each voiced to utter perfection. The star is Sam Rockwell, channeling his inner "Clooney" (Something that's even referenced at one point), and remains charismatic and cool while also being more vulnerable and funny at the same time. Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, and a wildly loony Anthony Ramos are all excellent matches for their characters, while Marc Maron is an especial standout and sounds very much at home, dripping with so much snakelike sarcasm. Zasie Beetz and a hilarious Alex Borstein are both a delight, while Richard Ayoade, who sounds like he's having a blast, is a scene-stealer. It's one of those films where you like everyone so much and you're having too much fun to bother with certain questions, such as why some characters are anthropomorphic animals and others aren't (In fact, most of the background characters are actually human), and the whole last act involving a mind control meteorite (Though that does not in fact come out of nowhere. It's actually hinted at throughout the entire movie).          

Aside from one or two lowbrow gags and some easy to predict plot points, "The Bad Guys" is one of those films that, even where the flaws become noticeable, you can't necessarily fault the film for having them since they play a part in the tropes that the film is satirizing. It just works in the most creative of ways, full of big laughs to go along with the sweet message. The film has a big heart, yet retains its snarky sense of humor. It's the kind of animated film that will delight children, but is also fun enough that any adult that just so happens to be going in alone won't feel out of place. Just as a good family film should. Brisk, hilarious, gorgeous to look at, and devilishly charming. The Bad Guys are pretty darn great. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Rude Humor, Cartoonish Thievery, And The Henchman Ironically Referred To As Cuddles. Terrifying. 

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore                                                          by James Eagan                                                                   ★★ out of ★★★★               

Image: "Make me NOT Johnny Depp!"

It feels like so much time has passed and soooo much has happened since the last "Fantastic Beasts" film. While the original "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was a solid success, the second entry, "The Crimes of Grindelwald" was a disappointment for both critics and fans, and just didn't have the staying power that was expected. Since that film, we've had a resurgence of all that Johnny Depp/Amber Heard discourse, endless delays, attempts to keep this franchise at five films somehow despite nobody wanting it to be, Ezra Miller went on to terrify all of Hawaii, and then J. K. Rowling just decided to wake up one day and announce herself as a transphobe on Twitter for literally no reason. It's been about four years, and overall interest in the series has been turned upside down. Unfairly? Maybe in some cases. Who knew just watching the adventures of wizards and witches, along with their "Pokémon" animals, would end up being so complicated? 

Continuing our journey into the prequel for the "Wizarding World" of the beloved "Harry Potter" franchise, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" returns us to eccentric magic zoologist turned reluctant hero, "Newt Scamander" (Eddie Redmayne), as he witnesses the birth of twin adorable creatures known as "Qilins" (Think Bambi, except with scales and the ability to determine the pureness of one's soul, along with predict the future). Sadly one of the creatures is captured by the fanatical followers of dangerous dark wizard, "Gellert Grindelwald" (Mads Mikkelsen, replacing Johnny Depp and his silly hair), who plots to use the Qilin (Or a dead one if necessary) for his own ends. Grindelwald, much like how J. K. Rowling is with transgender people apparently, hates non-magical people (aka "No-Majs" aka "Muggles"), and wants to raise an army to attack their world so that pure-blood wizard-kind can rule over all. To do so though, he'll need to basically become the president of the magical world first. Since Grindelwald now has the ability to track everyone's movements (And is on the verge of being acquitted of all of his crimes due to popular demand), Newt and famed influential wizard/Grindelwald's former flame, "Albus Dumbledore" (Jude Law) have to try out a new plan of attack. To add more complications, Dumbledore can't directly act against his ex-lover due to an old enchanted blood pact, which will result in the both of their gruesome and painful demises if broken. 

Since it would be a little odd to just ask Dumbledore to take one for the team, Newt gathers an unlikely crew to enact an ingenious, though still nonsensical plan to keep Grindelwald busy. The team includes Newt, his lovable fantastic beasts, Newt's super serious brother "Theseus" (Callum Turner), quirky schoolteacher "Eulallie "Lally" Hicks" (Jessica Williams), famous wizard of an old family "Yusuf Kama" (William Nadylam), Newt's even more awkward assistant "Bunty Broadacre" (Victoria Yeates), and Newt's Muggle friend, "Jacob Kowalski" (Dan Folger), who is still pining for his own ex-love, "Queenie Goldstein" (Alison Sudol), despite her switching allegiance to Grindelwald. While embarking on their perilous adventure, the team must avoid Grindelwald's followers, including the artist formerly known as "Credence", "Aurelius Dumbledore" (Ezra Miller), who hasn't taken to discovering that he's a long lost relative of the Dumbledore family very well at all. With an upcoming election that will determine the fate of both magical and non magical people, Newt and his friends must find a way to prevent Grindelwald's rise to power, while also discovering some of Dumbledore's own baggage as they do. 

Directed by David Yates (Who has directed the previous films, along with the last few "Harry Potter" films), with a screenplay by J. K. Rowling and Steve Kloves (Screenwriter for almost all of the "Harry Potter" films, as well as "The Amazing Spider-Man"), "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" still can't quite capture the magic that many of us grew up with and narratively continues to struggle in places, but thankfully, seems to be more focused on its endgame this time around, and more or less remembering to give time to what worked before while also sidelining what doesn't. Sometimes that can be at the expense of certain storylines, though when the film gets it right, it's pretty spectacular for the most part. Most of the issues remain early on, with the overall plan being a bit hard to follow, even though it's explained to have been made intentionally so. You are left wondering for a bit how necessary some of the lingering story arcs from the previous films are, along with new ones that inject themselves into what's already fairly complicated as it is. Not too long though, the film starts to settle down, tells you what it's all about, and why it's happening, while doing so with humor, likable enough characters, and obviously, wondrous visuals. The effects work here is quite stunning to look at, with Yates' direction making for a few elaborately clever setpieces, such as a frightening escape from a wizard prison that's protected by man-eating crabs or a mind-bending duel between Dumbeldore and Credence. The epic score by the great James Newton Howard also just captivates you, further adding to the experience. While the last film seemed to lack much memorability (I actually forgot they killed off Zoë Kravitz, and rather unceremoniously so), this one has more than a few moments that stand out, ranging from the grand spectacle and some of the film's more quieter, character moments. 

Eddie Redmayne is a suitably and appealingly nerdy hero, whose awkwardness makes for a relatable everyday guy that just happened to have found himself at the center of attention. Jude Law is one of those perfect castings that while the last film never fully used near enough, this one makes up for by allowing him to fully embody the character. Law really says a lot with simple glances and momentary quips of humor, showing that underneath that wise and genial mentor that we all know, is someone quite sad and even tragic. Despite the title, we still don't learn too much more about Dumbledore and that actually ends up being the better, retaining some of the mystery that made him already such a fascinating character to begin with. Johnny Depp's recasting ends up being the better in the sense that while he played it up as a little too scenery chewy when he should have been more restrained. Mads Mikkelsen on the other hand, gets this character right, making for a villain that feels charming, manipulative, and frighteningly real. It's a sense of menace that subtley gets under your skin and remains even when he's not on screen (Similar to how Voldemort was in the original films). Not to mention, the chemistry between Law and Mikkelsen is undeniable (No matter how much they apparently try to edit it out in China. You can't pass them off as just "Good Friends").

There are a few standouts when it comes to the supporting characters, such as a delightful Jessica Williams, a menacing Poppy Corby-Tuech (as "Vinda Rosier", Grindelwald's evil, though obviously very sexy, second in command), Alison Sudol (Despite getting much less screentime sadly), a well cast Richard Coyle (as "Aberforth", Dumbledore's brother), and actually Callum Turner, who went from rather bland and boring to fairly charming between films. Ezra Miller does a fine job, though his entire plotline, which carried on from the first two films, still doesn't always gel with everything else, and the same goes for the more predictable arcs go for William Nadylam (Whose character is sent as a spy, with obvious results) and Victoria Yeates (Who is almost completely secondary until she's not). The biggest scene-stealer once again is Dan Fogler, serving as both excellent comic relief, but also someone who carries much of the film's heart. I've seen some compare him to Ewan McGregor in the "Star Wars" prequels, in which no matter what happens, whether it be weak dialogue, a dumb plot, or whatever amount of convolution, he's consistently wonderful and you remain invested simply because out of everyone, you just want to make sure at least he makes it out okay. Also, Katherine Waterson (as "Tina", Newt's love interest and Queenie's sister), does still thankfully make an appearance, though it's very minimal. As for the titular Fantastic Beasts, they get much bigger roles now (Another improvement over the last film), such as "Pickett", Newt's trusty "Bowtruckle" (Think an expressive stick bug) and "Teddy", Newt's shiny thing loving "Niffler" (Think a Platypus, with a never-ending Kangaroo pouch).

Much like the rest of the trilogy, "Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore" still feels overcrowded in places and doesn't leave the impact that the world of "Harry Potter" once did. However, the film feels more balanced than the others, with David Yates' beautiful direction, an impressive score, a few characters to love (Especially Mikkelson's memorable villain), and concludes on a satisfying, rather heartwarming note. It's not a grand finale, but it feels better this way. It's even somewhat poetic if you think about it.  Disjointed, though still charming and fun, while only occasionally reaching the captivating levels of what came before it.  As a whole, these films have never been well, fantastic. Just some compelling moments sprinkled around something you feel could have been so much more. Still, the ending is strong and serves as a good wrap-up. (Plus considering those box office numbers, they probably should stop here anyway) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Wizarding Wallops, The Slitting Of Magic Bambi's Throat (Okay, That Was Just Upsetting!), And J. K. Rowling's Inability To Realize That She Truly Is The Villain Of Her Own Story. 

Father Stu                                         by James Eagan                                         ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "I'm telling you, I'm not shooting or blowing up anything on this movie."

This is gonna go one of two ways. We're either going to get a well meaning, though uninspired, frustratingly generic, and thoroughly dull sermon only designated to the choir, or we'll get ourselves an offensively cruel, mean spirited, and creatively horrific insult to both the religious and the unconverted. That's how these faith based films play out. Oh okay, sometimes they might be pretty decent. That's few and far between. Sadly, what we get here is the former. "Redeeming Love" reminded me how terrible these can be, and for it to just be miraculously meh, that's no fun. 

Based more or less on a true story (It's really hard to tell these days), "Father Stu" follows former boxer, "Stuart "Stu" Long" (Mark Wahlberg), who after being forced to quit boxing due to an injury, he gets the nonsensical idea to go to Hollywood to become a movie star. Despite his mother, "Kathleen" (Jacki Weaver), thinking that this is a horrible idea, Stu is determined to make his new dream happen. It doesn't. While working at a deli mart, Stu spots a woman, "Carmen" (Teresa Ruiz) and is immediately smitten, but considering that she's a devout Catholic, Stu decides to do the same. Stu gets baptized, realizes that he actually likes him some Jesus, and despite a few hiccups, seems to be on the right path to righteousness. And then he gets into a horrific accident, and after seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary, Stu once more makes a rather irrational decision, to become a priest. An idea that even his estranged, angry at the world father, "Bill" (Mel Gibson) thinks is absurd. However, as Stu gives up everything to make his new goal a reality, he finds himself diagnosed with inclusion body myositis (And given no hope for a cure). In spite of all these setbacks and bad hands being dealt, Stu is by no means intending to give up, with his newfound faith carrying him through. 

Written and directed by Mel Gibson's current girlfriend, Rosalind Ross in her directorial debut, "Father Stu" is very much a faith based movie, though there seems to be more of an R rated edge. Not in terms of violence (This isn't like "The Passion of the Christ" or "Unplanned"), but very much so in language and subject matter. I am a fair guy, and I really have to give credit to where it's due in how the filmmakers never back down from that. For a good chunk of the movie, it's kind of a comedy with just a religious message wedged deep inside. This means that the usual schmaltz gets nudged to the side, and there are some humorous bits of dialogue that find their way out. It's also a fairly inspiring and refreshingly honest story, that even shows some of the more questionable bits of faith (Along with how you can be tested in ways that are both unfair and impossible to explain). The film is competent, and I freakin hate that about it. Where the film falters come from some sloppy direction, a lack of story focus, and the tone is constantly shifting all over the damn place. No matter how much the film seems to want to be open to a broader audience, it has to pander to its audience in ways that are more laughable than inspiring. (The cheaply done vision of the Virgin Mary appearing to a dying Stu, is a standout in terms of lameness) 

Mark Wahlberg thoroughly commits to the role, right down to pouring in some of his own money into the project, and aside from his hard to decipher accent (God, movies need subtitles), is quite good. He's kind of jerkish, but never mean spirited and open minded. It is cool to see someone just at first coming to realize that he might actually just enjoy going to church, without the need for a come to God moment (That happens later, but still. He was already down for it). Jacki Weaver brings a lot to what could be a thankless role, and the same goes for Teresa Ruiz, who is plenty cute and charming. There are some solid secondary performances from a playing against type Malcolm McDowell (as the uptight Monsignor), Cody Fern (as "Jacob", Stu's roommate and sort of rival), and a brief appearance from Niko Nicotera (as a mysterious barfly that gives Stu some random good advice), in a part that could have been so cheesy if not for how sincere his performance felt. Aaron Moten (as "Ham", Stu's supportive, always smiling black friend) is just the supportive, always smiling black friend. Meanwhile, Mel Gibson, who continues to become more bearlike as he gets older, feels as if he might be phoning it in. He gets some growls, smartass lines, maybe an offensive-ish joke or two (Because the character getting called out on a racist joke doesn't suddenly make it okay), and then the movie in the film act seems to imply that this was just as much his story as Stu's, despite the screentime being nowhere close. 

"Father Stu" has its heart in the right place and doesn't feel the need to bring anyone else down unlike many other faith based films, along with having production values miles ahead of anything from "PureFlix". It still doesn't feel theater worthy. Disjointed and inconsistent, the film squanders some potential in hopes of drawing in a big religious crowd and telling them the same ol same ol, in as simplistic a way as possible. It didn't have to be this way, though I have to remember that it could have been worse. Granted, you kind of wish it was. At least you have more to talk about. 2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Unsettling Images, And Petty Priests. 

Ambulance                                            by James Eagan                                 ★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "Bro! It's a Michael Bay movie! We gotta' have more Bro-Ness!"

This is a frightening time that we're in right now. It's a sign of the end of days. The apocalypse! Or it's just me acknowledging when somebody does something right. Bottom line, I liked a Michael Bay movie, and I don't know what to do with myself right now. 

An Americanized remake of the Danish film of the same  by Laurits Munch-Peterson, "Ambulance" follows a pair of step-brothers, the former soldier "Will Sharp" (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and the wealthier, though through not so legal means, "Danny" (Jake Gyllenhaal). Will is desperate to afford an experimental operation for his wife, "Amy" (Moses Ingram), so he turns to Danny, who just so happens to have an upcoming job that will bring in $32 million in cash. The job however is a good old fashioned bank robbery, and seemingly at first, everything is running 100% smoothly and Danny's crew of red shirts just might be able to pull it off. However, an average cop, "Zach" (Jackson White), just so happens to be stopping by the bank to ask out one of the tellers at the absolute worst moment, resulting in the situation getting blown out of control, leading to a shootout, with all of Danny's crew getting killed, and the Special Investigations unit of the Las Angeles Police Department, headed by the one-liner delivering "Captain Monroe" (Garret Dillahunt), arriving on the scene. After Zach is short and left for dead, Will and Danny attempt to escape, only to find out that their only way out is to hide inside an ambulance, where an EMT, "Cam Thompson" (Eiza González), is attempting to treat the wounded Zach. Once LAPD discovers Will and Danny, having taken Cam and Zach as hostages, trying to flee the scene in the armored ambulance, it becomes a wild chase all across the city, where despite Danny's insistence, there doesn't remotely appear to be a way of getting away this time. 

Directed by Michael Bay (The "Transformers" films, "Bad Boys", "The Rock"), with a screenplay by Chris Fedak (Known for TV work like "Chuck" and "DC's Legends of Tomorrow"), "Ambulance" is what a more restrained, held back version of your usual Michael Bay action thriller. It's not to say that there aren't some of his usual trademarks, such as some implausible leaps of logic, tough guy talk (And some tough girl talk too!), sweaty people, hyperactive editing, and a whole lot of needlessly insane zooming around of buildings as if something just threw the camera into the sky. Some of his more agitating aspects are straight up eliminated (Not much racist comedy this time), and even though of his usual shortcomings find their way in, the movie works more than it doesn't. For starters, it's very straightforward, keeping everything contained, moves along at a fast pace, and makes for a surprisingly, if not unremarkable, bottle film. The action setpieces are pretty clever, spanning all across the city as both our "heroes" and the ones giving chase are forced to adapt to each other's constantly changing plans for either escape or capture. The film keeps you on the edge as it rarely slows down, except only to make room for better than average character work and even a little humor. (This is actually saying something since I usually can't stand the attempts at humor in Michael Bay films. Remember the Twins from "Transformers 2"? Never forget!) Of course some cars blow up real nice, but there's at least some tension to build up what's coming, along with some spectacular sound design, which almost shakes the back of your seat. You're sucked in more than you might want to admit. 

Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are both really great together, feeling like actual brothers at times, and each have a bit more nuance than even would be necessary for what could just be a simple action movie. Gyllenhall is especially good as a character who could seem friendly and reasonable one moment, before turning ruthless and out of control almost without warning. Eiza González is also kind of excellent here, not falling under the creepiness that comes with many of Michael Bay's films, where the camera unsettling has to focus on the woman's figure in increasingly pervy detail. She's not just here to be hot....I mean, she's still really hot (But that's just Eiza González). She's also a compelling character who gets just as much focus as our leads. In some ways, this might even be more her story than theirs. There are a variety of supporting roles, such as a terrifically understated Garret Dillahunt, Keir O'Donnell (as "Anson Clark", an FBI agent, who knows Danny personally), Olivia Stambouliag (as "Dhazghig", the smartassed tech expert tracking the criminals), and a few rather unnecessary villains (It's mostly made up of pretty stereotypical Mexican cartel types). Moses Ingram, who I've learned is very talented actress, is frustratingly used only as a sympathetic prop. Some later developments don't always mesh, though the film's sense of humor finds a way to humanize the characters and you feel a little saddened when the film suffers a death or two. 

Not everything adds up the way it should, and Michael Bay can't seem to resist certain baffling filmmaking urges (Seriously, why did the camera do a loop-the-loop?), though "Ambulance" makes for a serviceably fun, often decently compelling ride. There isn't much to write home about (I mean, why else did you think it took me this long to write this review? Aside from me playing "LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga" every chance I get), though to admit that I actually found myself recommending a Michael Bay film unironically, even going as far to say that it's just a good movie (And trust me, it still doesn't feel right saying that). You did good Mike. Never forgiving you for what did to "Transformers" though. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Violence, Untrained Surgery, And Maniacal Mexicans.   

Sonic the Hedgehog 2                        by James Eagan                          ★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: For the very, very, very lightweight Hedgehog championship of the world.

Look! I know what you're thinking. You see how relatively high that score is and think to yourself that I've clearly lost my mind. I assure you that I have not! No! This is a special case right here. You have no idea what we "Sonic the Hedgehog" fans have had to go through. The memorable ups, and the many, many, many, many, many painful downs that have plagued this franchise, let alone what we fear the first live-action movie could have been. Not to mention that first character design before the filmmakers were basically bullied into doing the right thing and completely re-doing it. (God, can you imagine an entire movie with that first design? It probably would have been unwatchable) So the first movie being a solid ride was one thing, but this right here? We need this. Just let us have this!

Based on the much beloved video game series (Especially by a certain, easily impressionable film critic right here), "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" follows the titular blue blur, "Sonic the Hedgehog" (Voiced by Ben Schwartz), who after the events of the first film, has decided to use his speed based powers to become a superhero, only to constantly fail miserably. Still living with his adoptive human parents, "Tom Wachowski" (James Marsden) and his wife, "Maddie" (Tika Sumpter), Sonic has pretty much integrated himself with the human world, though yearns for the big day to come when he finally proves himself as a hero. When Tom and Maddie leave for Hawaii, for the wedding between Maddie's sister, "Rachel" (Natasha Rothwell), who still hates Tom, and her new husband to be "Randall" (Shemar Moore), Sonic is left alone to get himself in all kinds of possible juvenile havoc. 

Meanwhile, the maniacally evil "Dr. Robotnik" (Jim Carrey), has not only gotten himself a brand new stache and a whole lotta crazy, but he's also returned with a new ally, a strong red Echidna, "Knuckles" (Voiced by Idris Elba), who intends to destroy Sonic by any means necessary as part of a long, ongoing feud involving their ancestors. Sonic finds himself his own new ally/future best friend, a flying yellow fox, "Miles "Tails" Prower" (Voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey). Tails has come to Earth to help Sonic prevent Robotnik and Knuckles from getting their hands on a mystical, powerful artifact known as "The Master Emerald", which will allow anyone to turn their thoughts into power, meaning of course Robotnik is going to use it for galactic domination. Sonic and Tails go on an adventure all around the world to find out where the Master Emerald is hidden, with Robotnik, Knuckles, and an army of mechanized menaces right behind them, with Sonic (And maybe even Knuckles too) proceeding to fulfill their ultimate destiny.   

Directed once again by Jeff Fowler, with a screenplay by Pat Casey, Josh Miller, and John Wittington ("The LEGO Batman Movie"), "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" is one of those films, along with the first one too, where if you take a moment to think about it, you realize just how horrible everything could have been and appreciate just how much the filmmakers actually seem to genuinely care. The movie doubles down on what the fans specifically want to see, and while there are some typical kid movie obligations here and there, they're nothing that bring the film down and even for some, they're things that audiences seem to honestly like anyways. The film is a fast paced, funny, and wildly lovable adventure that packs in all kinds of references for us nerds, along with just enough to stand on its own as just a good choice for a family movie night. It's certainly silly and could be seen as pure, sugary nonsense by anyone completely uninterested in the ongoing exploits of the speedy blue hedgehog.

 It's the kind of movie where I can see some of the more stuffy, older crowds just shrugging it off, and I can't necessarily argue with them. I'd just be personally lying if I didn't admit that I had an amazing time, grinning like I would have as a kid would be watching this. There is a genuinely solid, sweet family oriented story here, with Jeff Fowler getting to show off more as a director, particularly in the more animated sequences, which are surprisingly stunning. Sure the visual effects aren't exactly realistic looking, but they shouldn't be (I mean, you do remember what happened when they tried to go for more realism with that terrifying original design). Everything is very expressive, full of personality, and constantly moving in a visually appealing fashion. It's an immense amount of fun, especially when fans of the games are given plenty of Easter Eggs to keep an eye out for without the film feeling the need to stop itself to make a point of them. The plot is pretty safe, with little surprises in terms of predictability, though there are some great reveals that will have any longtime Sonic fan absolutely losing their minds. There are some aspects that you kind of have to deal with when it comes to family movies such as this, and yet, it's quite shocking how much of it works more than it doesn't. The best case being an almost unnecessary dance number involving Sonic, Tails, and a violent Siberian tavern, that still ends up being rather amusing in its own simple way. (Plus "Uptown Funk" is a really catchy song, so you pretty much have your audience engaged against their better judgement) It's not like "Alvin & the Chipmunks" or "The Smurfs". There's a certain charm that keeps it from ever becoming annoying, and some of that is because the filmmakers seem to be smart enough about knowing how to play this sort of game that Hollywood requires, without feeling like anything of worth needs to be sacrificed in favor of the least common denominator. 

Ben Schwartz is a wonderful pick to voice the character, channeling a kid-like innocence, mixed with a smart mouthed attitude, but still retaining a good heart regardless. (Think Spider-Man, if he was a furry) More classic characters from the games start to make their big screen appearances, with Tails' current voice actress, Colleen O'Shaughnessey remaining as endearing as always. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is perfect in more ways than anyone could have anticipated. He's intimidating, totally badass, yet naively delightful and often hilarious, due to the character's overly self-serious nature, which clashes with the goofy tone spectacularly. The film wisely decides to focus more on these characters than the human ones, though that's not to say I have anything against the human characters. James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are still really likable, with their storyline as Sonic's surrogate parents serving as the main heart of the film. The choice to make them secondary is just more fitting, though thankfully they're not removed entirely. There are still some other fun human characters, like Natasha Rothwell (In a subplot that kind of goes nowhere, yet has some of the film's funniest moments), Adam Pally (as "Wade", Tom's incompetent friend, who serves as a temporary sheriff), and especially Lee Majdoub (as "Stone", Robotnik's minion, who is very much in love with the evil doctor and the film doesn't even try to hide it). Now we get to Jim Carrey, who is phenomenal in every kind of over the top way imaginable. He embraces more of the "Eggman" persona, bringing the love to hate villain to life in a way that's both outrageously funny, bizarre, and even a little scary at times (He's got to be one of the most frightening versions of the character yet) Plus it's just great to see Jim Carrey having a time of his life. It's just so wholesome. 

Not perfect. Not by any means. You're either in or out, especially if you don't think a movie called "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" needs to be about two hours (I never felt the runtime, but I can see how others might). The film understands its audience in ways that many video films (And even just any type of film with a dedicated fanbase) rarely seem to, offering some big laughs, along with charming characters and an enthusiastic, rather infectious heart. For the fans like myself, you're gonna love it. Applauding when necessary and quite possibly leaving thinking it could be the best video game movie ever made (You know, that might actually be true. The bar isn't that high after all) For others, I'd say no parent probably would be at home here. With that said though, as a family movie night? It's kind of perfect, being something that will thrill the kiddies, while giving the adults some more amusement than they would expect (Mostly Jim Carrey related). Am I being a little biased? You're darn right I am. It's a Sonic the Hedgehog movie, through and through! P.S. Stick around for that post credits scene. You won't regret it. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Speedy Action, Excessive Jewel Grabbing, Exquisite Mustache Twirling, And The Future Furries That Will Be Created Simply Through The Theater Pounding Sexiness That Is Idris Elba Voicing Knuckles. I'm Sure He's Aware Of The Effect He Has On Women.      

Everything Everywhere All at Once                                                                            by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★   

Image: Yeoh, she looks mad!

You ask me, what is this movie? What's the specific genre? Where does it fall? The answer is.......Yes. And it's amazing! 

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" follows an aging Chinese-American woman, "Evelyn Wang" (Michelle Yeoh), who is at what she feels is the lowest part of her life. While preparing for a community Chinese New Year party, Evelyn's world is in a complete rut, such as her strained marriage to her husband, "Waymond" (Ke Huy Quan), her even more struggling relationship with her daughter, "Joy" (Stephanie Hsu), the arrival of her elderly father, "Gong Gong" (James Hong), and an upcoming audit on her family owned, relatively meak laundromat. While on their way to speak to a rather stern IRS inspector, "Deirde Beaubeirda" (Jamie Lee Curtis), Waymond's personality suddenly shifts, transforming him into "Alpha Waymond", an alternate, more agile version of Evelyn's husband from another universe. Alpha Waymond explains that all of the many universes are in danger from a powerful being known as "Jobu Tupaki", and through the power of mind transferring technology (Which can allow other versions of other selves to inhabit the bodies of their variants), has come to this Evelyn, believing she's the only one who can save the multiverse. Probably best I don't explain any further. Not just because that would get into semi-spoilerish territory, but also because I legitimately have no idea else how to describe this in written detail. Maybe another version of me could have. 

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, known collectively as "Daniels" ("Swiss Army Man"), along with some producing credits to Anthony and Joe Russo (Known for their work in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe", so all the multiverse shenanigans are pretty fitting), "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is the most on the nose title in cinematic history. It could also possibly be the most "Movie" movie of all time. Anything and everything that can possibly be imagined, within any scenario, at any given point in time, is literally just thrown on screen, almost seemingly at random. It's a wild sense of imagination that the filmmakers showcase, with vividly batsh*t visuals, that range from surreal, bizarre, both at once, and something in-between. They're ferociously intricate and unrelenting, and the same goes for what's taken to get to them. The very concept is out there, with our lead character having to perform random acts of nonsense to connect to another version of herself and take on their abilities. These acts vary between causing yourself physical harm in some way, out of nowhere confessions of love, shoving whatever object you find up your ass, or whatever else comes to mind. Not to mention the onslaughts of nonsense involving the alternate realities, like one where Evelyn is a famous kung-fu star, one world where everybody has hot dogs for fingers, or one where everyone is just a rock. I can't fully describe all of this in a way that does it justice. Where the film goes and how it gets there isn't exactly what matters. In the end, that's not really the focus. Beneath all the crazy displays of seemingly randomness, jaw droppingly out there surrealism, and straight up nonsense, is actually a compelling character study and a heartwarming, often hilarious family based drama. 

Michelle Yeoh gets the time in the limelight that she's most assuredly deserved for some time, and gives, lets just say, several amazing performances all wrapped in one. It takes a special kind of talent to pull off these many emotions, reactions, and feats of bombastic insanity with so much grace and beauty. Whether she has disgusting hot dog fingers, gets into a fight with a talking raccoon, or just has to convey the most real of human sentiment, she's more than captivating. She's a complex character that doesn't always say or think the right thing, though you understand that it doesn't come from a heartless place. She's not the only one who gets to prove her real worth, a rather endearing and kind natured Ke Huy Quan and a total breakout performance from Stephanie Hsu, all work well with Yeoh, feeling like a natural dysfunctional family that you obviously want to work through their problems. The great James Hong also gets probably one of the biggest roles I've ever seen him get, while a rather intentionally unglamorous Jamie Lee Curtis is a notable scene-stealer. 

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" doesn't hold back in its weirdness, nor does it care if it always makes sense. It's a hysterical, mentally certifiable ride that takes on every single genre it can, while never forgetting its humanity and the touching (And very necessary) story that just so happens to be encompassed within. Unforgettable imagery, with characters you just adore, and a fantastical sense of lovable, unrestrained chaos that the big screen is made for. It's some of the most fun you're bound to have in a theater this year, and who knows, you just might take something of note with you home after. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Weaponized Googly Eyes, Fanny Pack Fighting, Passionate Hot Dog Rubbing, And Raccacoonie.

Morbius                                              by James Eagan                                       ★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: Un-dead on arrival.

Things were never looking up for this movie from the start, were they? Originally scheduled for a relatively early 2020 release before Covid made sure that never happened, the newest entry "Sony's Spider-Man Universe" (That is what it's called right? Even though it has nothing to do with him so far) based on the "Spider-Man" villain from the comics referred to as "Morbius the Living Vampire", seemed to imply some kind of multiversal coming together of some kind. There were shots in the trailers of "Oscorp", some graffiti of "Spider-Man" with the word "Murderer" on it (Referencing the events of "Spider-Man: Far From Home"), some connections to "Venom", and of course, an appearance from "Adrian Toomes/The Vulture" (Played amazingly by Michael Keaton in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"). Since this film's many delays though, we've had not just another "Venom" movie, but also the absolutely awesome in every way "Spider-Man: No Way Home", which culminated in some beloved heroes and villains from other franchises coming together in a multiverse-based epic, that also concluded itself as possibly the greatest "Spider-Man" origin story ever told. So it's pretty obvious that LOTS of changes were made.    

"Morbius" follows respected, though eccentric scientist, "Michael Morbius" (Jared Leto), who suffers from a rare blood disease that's been slowly killing him over time, leaving him weak and unable to walk without crutches. Dr. Morbius' experiments are funded by his childhood friend, "Milo" (Matt Smith), who also suffers from the same disease, which may be heading down some questionable territory. Now through the use of some vampire bat DNA, Morbius and his fellow doctor/I guess love interest, "Martine Bancroft" (Adria Arjona), begin their testing on a cargo ship in international waters (Because I'm pretty sure the government wouldn't sanction that), only as one would expect, for the experiment to go all kinds of wrong. After injecting himself with this unstable bat serum, Morbius becomes a "Living Vampire", slaughtering and draining the blood of everyone on the ship except for Martine, before going into hiding. Morbius starts to gain new abilities, such as increased speed, strength, some abs and muscles, and a trusty sonar power, though he fears what monster he will become if he isn't able to control his blood lust. This leads to Morbius attempting to fend off the beast by consuming artificial blood, even though the effects rarely last. Meanwhile, Milo, desperate to save himself, also takes a special interest in what his friend has become and is totally down with the whole killing and eating people to stay alive thing. Framed for murder and now being hunted by a pair of FBI agents, "Simon Stroud" (Tyrese Gibson) and "Alberto Rodriguez" (Al Madrigal), Morbius must hone his vampireness, prevent Milo from becoming an even more unstoppable monster, and work his way into a cinematic universe of some kind, no matter how much story and character development has to be sacrificed to make it happen. 

Directed by Daniel Espinosa ("Safe House", "Child 44", "Life"), with a screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless ("Dracula Untold", "The Last Witch Hunter"), "Morbius" has clearly been poked, prodded, chopped up, and rung out all over, and while it's not exactly the complete disaster that fans were fearing......It's just a plain old, generic disaster. It's basically the kind of film that makes any Marvel hater think to themselves, "You know, it really could be so much worse". The film goes through the early 2000s motions, with a basic origin story, along with the usual stop the bad guy with the same exact powers, and predictable plot points, that mostly don't have the intended impact due to how underdeveloped things are. It's an uninspired screenplay, with cookie cutter dialogue that lacks that Marvel charm that you get from films in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". Little humor, weak drama, and not much characterization aside from what's on the surface. The budget, while smaller than what Disney provides the MCU, isn't exactly small, and from time to time, the effects look solid enough. Even when the CGI is obvious, they're not bad looking (Morbius and Milo's vampire forms are cool-ish, even when they look cartoonish). Too bad most of the action either relies on too much slo-mo, or remains too out of focus in darker settings, wasting the potential that could have been had with them. The plot is rather rushed through, with most of Morbius' harnessing of his powers being left offscreen, while certain elements feel underwritten (Such as many of the film's relationships), lack much cohesion (How did nobody notice Morbius hanging out a crowded hospital? Were they even looking for him?), or are just straight up dropped from the film completely (Such as a little mini-plot with a little girl being put into a coma, who vanishes from the film at some point and is never mentioned again). You can tell there have been over two years worth of cuts and re-editing done here, and most of the time, it feels like something important is missing. 

Jared Leto, who we all love to mock and joke about (For good reason too), is actually quite held back this time, playing things somewhat aloof, but straight. It's nice to see, even if the character isn't the most interesting of protagonists. Adria Arjona is lovely, but trapped in the lamest of love interest roles, which is something that the genre has long been able to get away from in recent years, while Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal are both almost completely useless and damn near unnecessary (They shockingly contribute little, and only discover what the audience has already seen for themselves). Meanwhile, Jared Harris (as "Dr. Emil Nicholas", a kind mentor and father-figure to both Morbius and Milo), is criminally underutulized with a formulaic role that could have been filled by anyone, with most of his scenes from the trailer seeming to have vanished. The real savior of the film is Matt Smith, who is literally sinking his teeth into the role, being a source of both humor and horror, generating delightfully unhinged villainy with a malicious grin (Plus, it's rather refreshing to see a villain who openly wants to become a monster from the beginning and embraces it without much reasoning besides "Hey, it looks pretty cool!"). It's one of those cases where the villain easily outshines the hero, and you're left wondering if we're following the wrong person.

Despite a semi-promising start, "Morbius" loses track of its narrative, whether it be to basic filmmaking ineptitude, or probably more likely, a whole lot of editing and cutting down, resulting in a rushed final product. Characters die, but there isn't any time given to mourn them, and once we reach the underwhelming climax, you're left shocked at how quick the film is to get to its own end credits. It's not absolutely horrendous, yet you almost wish it were. Whenever Matt Smith isn't on screen, the film drags and prods along, seemingly trying to lead to something at every turn yet never fully taking off. (Hey, at least the "Venom" movies have their own identities  that make them stand out in some way) The only really terrible aspect would be those post credits scenes, and dear God, they're even worse than you've probably been told by now. You're either left confused and uninterested in what the film appears to be setting up in a half-assed fashion, or praying to God (Or Disney! Same thing!) that it never comes to pass. Now that's the kind of evil that deserves a stake right to the heart. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Blood Guzzling, And What Happens When Sony Isn't Contained.