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Reviewing since 2010. Still unpaid.

Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films: 

In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Missing, House Party, Plane, M3GAN, Babylon, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Mean One, Violent Night, The Fabelmans, Strange World, Disenchanted, The Menu, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, One Piece Film: Red, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Coming Soon: Knock at the Cabin, Magic Mike 3, Ant-Man 3, Creed 3, Cocaine Bear, Scream 6, 65, Shazam 2, John Wick 4, Dungeons and Dragons, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Renfield, Evil Dead Rise, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Book Club 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avatar: The Way of Water                        by James Eagan                        ★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: No....Flying, thingymabob was harmed in the filming of this movie.

2009's "Avatar" (Not to be confused with "Avatar: The Last Airbender". Seriously, I don't think enough people actually comprehend how weird it is to have two franchises sharing the same name), was James Cameron's epic passion project, and went on to become the highest grossing movie of all time at that moment. Surpassing Cameron's other massive success, "Titanic". In fact, it's still the highest grossing movie of all time (Not even "Avengers: Endgame" could beat it in the end). It had groundbreaking special effects, game changing 3D, and took us to a world that may have all been fake, but felt like it was completely real and lived in. And yet, nobody can agree on the film. There's a fanbase for sure, but while they're out there, they're not in the open. It's not like anything from "Marvel", or "Star Wars", or any other massive franchise. Nobody goes around quoting it, cosplaying as their favorite characters, talking about how great it is, or just even acknowledging it. Some hate the film. Some are just like "Meh". A lot just plain don't remember it. Honestly, I couldn't even pinpoint what my own thoughts were on it until seeing it for the second time only recently. Thirteen years. We don't know how this is going to work, or even what to expect. This could easily be the riskiest Hollywood move of the year, regardless of the film's quality.  

Set over ten years after the events of the first film, "Avatar: Way of the Water" returns us to the beautiful, blue alien world of "Pandora", where former soldier and former human, "Jake Sully" (Sam Worthington), who has become a full "Na'vi" (aka a tall, blue cat person), settling down with "Neytiri" (Zoe Saldaña). Jake and Neytiri now have three growing children, the strong eldest "Neteyam" (Jamie Flatters), the misunderstood "Lo'ak" (Britain Dalton), and the young daughter, "Tuk" (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss), having also adopted the rather mysteriously born, "Kiri" (Sigourney Weaver), the daughter of the Avatar belonging to the deceased "Grace Augustine" (Played also in the first film by Sigourney Weaver). At the same time, Jake and Neytiri's kids have also closely bonded with a teenage human orphan, "Spider" (Jack Champion), who has adapted to the ways of the Na'vi, choosing to be one of them, despite having other fellow human sympathizers being around. However, peace isn't destined to last, with the "Sky People" (aka, the humans of Earth), return to once again set their sights on colonizing Pandora, whether or not that will result in countless destruction. 

This also leads to the return of Jake's old nemesis, the deceased "Colonel Miles Quaritch" (Stephen Lang), whose memories have been placed within a new Na'vi body, and now he has only one thing on his mind. Good, old fashioned, gung-ho revenge. Jake realizes that to keep his family safe, they will need to leave their forest home, journeying off to find refuge with the water tribes. While the chief, "Tonowari" (Cliff Curtis) is willing to accept Jake and his family, his wife "Ronal" (Kate Winslet), is much less welcoming. Now Jake's family have to adjust to a completely new lifestyle, becoming one with the very water itself, while Quaritch ruthlessly hunts them down. 

Directed once again by James Cameron, who also co-wrote the film with Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver ("Jurassic World", "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), "Avatar: Way of the Water" has a lot going against it, despite being something made entirely out of pure, almost crazy directorial passion. We can start off by me admitting that the original "Avatar" is actually a fine, dare I say, good film, with lots of cinematic greatness (In terms of spectacle especially), that just so happens to falter when it comes to its derivative story, basic characters, cookie cutter dialogue, and lack of anything all that original outside of the visuals. It works for the most part, though I, like many, don't quite see what the big deal was outside of the incredible effects and world building. It's my pleasure to say though that while the new film still can't quite fix all the problems of its predecessor, it improves where it counts and also further embrace what worked the first time around. 

First things first, how does the film look in terms of visuals, scale, and effects? It's all brilliantly crafted, surpassing the original (Whose effects still hold up actually), from the jaw dropping amount of attention to detail, beautiful imagery that just sucks you in, and unbelievable 3D. This is literally the only movie that you have to see in 3D, on the largest screen possible, so that you can truly appreciate all of the love and care that's been taken to make Pandora look even more real than ever before. The motion capture is flawless, from the skin, the water, the water splashing on the skin, every hair, scar, blade of grass, all the creatures, everything. One could just go on and on about how amazing it looks, making just all other effects in film look subpar by comparison, but also just making real life look kind of crappy too. It's so unbelievable to the eyes that you don't want to go back to what limitations reality itself has to offer. The sheer scope of James Cameron's vision ignites the audience's imagination and results in what I can only describe as life itself being created before your very eyes. (On a side note, I heard lots of talk about an extreme frame rate, and I'm not sure if I actually got that during my screening. Either it wasn't a high frame rate, or my eyes just didn't notice it) The cinematography from the Russell Carpenter ("Titanic") and the powerful score by Simon Franglen (Who worked with the late James Horner, composer of the first film), also enhance the film's grand feel. 

In terms of characters and story, it's still fairly simple stuff, though there's a little more depth to it now. It's more than just "Pocahontas" in space this time around. Sam Worthington is no longer the bland, blank slate he was before, having settled into the struggling dad role, while Zoe Saldaña adds a few more complex layers to her character that we hadn't seen in the first one. Arguably, they're not even the main characters, with the film focusing on the newer cast, who prove to be far more interesting. Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, and Bailey Bass (as "Reya", the chief's daughter and Lo'ak's love interest), are all very endearing, while Sigourney Weaver (Who plays both the teenage Kiri and a quick cameo as Dr. Augustine) is absolutely wonderful. There's a lot more compelling work from our main characters that I don't recall quite getting from the first one. 

Kate Winslet and Cliff Curtis are great, while Jack Champion is essentially White Aladdin, with dreadlocks. Stephen Lang, who was as generic an army villain as you could get in the first film, really gets to dive more into his character, providing a little extra backstory and depth that was missing. Lang genuinely makes for a villain that's still plenty evil, though just oddly more complex (I actually can't tell if this is just Lang showing how much he's improved as an actor, or James Cameron addressing a mistake from the first film. Either way, it works). The rest of our villains are pretty one note, from Edie Falco (as "General Ardmore", the new big boss in charge of Earth's military) and her evil coffee drinking ass, along with a suitably vile Brendan Cowell (as "Captain Mick Scoresby", the head of a group of humans, hunting Pandoran whales). The creatures and the world of Pandora are characters themselves, particularly a large, scarred space whale called a "Tulkun", who is a remarkable, brilliant creation. Not only does it look real beyond belief, but also is such a lovable creature that you're immediately invested in Lo'ak's sweet subplot of befriending the animal and hope nothing bad happens to it. (I was repeatedly muttering "Don't hurt the space whale. Don't hurt the space whale.") All the cast really deserves all kinds of credit for having to perform so much motion capture, while also having to learn how to do so underwater as well. 

"Avatar: The Way of Water" isn't without some uninspired dialogue, that's delivered with 100% seriousness. (I know that it's basically supposed to be the alternative to Marvel's more self-aware, snarky sense of humor, but it just feels a little silly here. Charming, but silly) It is still a stronger film than the film, that's not without more than a few emotional moments, more complicated characterizations (Seriously though, how did freakin Miles Quaritch turn into an actually captivating character?), and awe-inspiring effects that make for the most pure of movie magic. It's a long haul (Over three hours), but stands on its own as a fine blockbuster that even with some of the usual gripes, I can't in good conscience tell somebody not to go see it. And yeah, the 3D is also completely necessary. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Science Fiction Violence, Traumatic Imagery, Excessive Blueness, And More Hot, Steamy Tail Sex. 

The Mean One                                        by James Eagan                                  ★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: Jim Carrey sure looks pissed this time.

I'm in a bit of a conundrum with this one. This film only announced its existence two months ago, somehow found itself released into a decent amount of theaters on what I can only assume is an almost nonexistent budget, and seems completely intent on being purposefully bad. So what can I say? It succeeded? Because it's not good. Did it fail? Well, I've seen much worse. Did it do its job? Um, I guess. It just is what it is. Cinema, man!

An unauthorized horror parody of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" by Dr. Seuss, "The Mean One" opens on Christmas Eve in the mountain town of "Newville", where a young "Cindy You-Know-Who" (Played by Saphina Chanadet as a child, then by Krystle Martin as an adult), witnesses her mother's horrific death at the hands of a Santa suit wearing, green skinned, Grinchy character referred to as "The Mean One" (David Howard Thornton). Years later, Cindy returns to town with her Christmas loving father, "Lou" (Flip Kobler), in hopes of some closure, discovering that the town has seemingly outlawed Christmas altogether. Cindy also seems to have antagonist relationships with the local sheriff, "Hooper" (Eric Baker) and the selfish town mayor, "McBean" (Amy Schumacher), though appears to hit it off with the nice deputy "Burke" (Chase Mullins). However, after Lou is brutally murdered by the Mean One for setting up Christmas decorations, Cindy sets out to prove his existence, learning more about the green menace from the local kook, "Doc" (John Bigham). Determined to put an end to this once and for all, Cindy readies herself for a final showdown with the Mean One before more bodies start to pile up, and worst of all, he steals Christmas!

Directed by Steven LaMorte (Who according to IMDB, directed a fan made, adult "Powerpuff Girls" movie), with a screenplay by Finn and Flip Kobler (Known for more straight to DVD Disney sequels than you would expect. Hint: It's more than three!), "The Mean One" is a cheaply made, straight to DVD or SyFy television film, put on the big screen, where one can only further tell just how poorly made it is. The sound design and ADR is less than TV quality, with home movie style direction, and effects work that anyone on the internet can do with enough time and effort. Don't even get me started on the camera work and the basic photography. This is a bad movie. As it's supposed to be. It just isn't, well, that kind of bad. I mean that as both a compliment, as well as an insult. It's obvious from the premise alone, which leans more into comedy than horror (Though only to a degree), that nobody is supposed to take any of this seriously. It's completely ridiculous in execution, with predictable plotting, a terrible script, and bizarre editing choices, likely due to a lack of budget. When the film goes wrong in ways that aren't intended, it's due to how it can't really decide what's actually supposed to be legitimately funny, and what's meant to be so bad it's funny. There are some clever jokes, mostly around how the filmmakers had to tip-toe around copyright infringement (The name "The Grinch" is never said where the audience can hear it), and bits of dark humor, such as the Mean One slaughtering a bunch of partying Santas, while still channeling Jim Carrey-esque cartoonish energy. There are far too many long portions of the ninety minute film that don't have much to chuckle at, in terms of humor or badness. 

David Howard Thornton, previously seen earlier in this year's "Terrifier 2", is still an impressive talent, with a remarkable amount of physicality despite being covered in make-up and prosthetics. Speaking of which, the costume is solid for what it is, though most of the credit has to go to Thornton's performance, which is just full of life. More than this movie really deserves. I feel bad for Krystle Martin (Known for her stuntwork), who is trying her very best. She's not exactly succeeding, but you can tell she's earnest. Most of the acting is pretty terrible, though I found Amy Schumacher to be creepy in a surreal fashion (She reminds me of a certain, specific couponer when I worked at CVS. Always smiling ear to ear, nearly cracking every time she heard something she didn't like, and always on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Looks almost exactly like her. Now that was truly scary). Easily the best performances come from John Bigham, who lives up to his name by hamming it up in charming delight, and Christopher Sanders (as the voice of the rhyming narrator), who sets the tone much better than the film itself can. 

 "The Mean One" could have benefited from either upping the carnage and gore (Instead of relying on lame CGI blood, that feels tacked on at the last second), or going more for broke in how far they could take such a bizarre idea. Despite some amusing and even clever moments, the film just isn't near fun enough, especially to see in a movie theater. It's not that fun in a good way, nor is it enjoyable enough in a bad way. (It's no "The Room", or "Birdemic") It doesn't have a pretentious bone in its body, and is over and done with quickly. I gotta commend the film for that. Just not exactly the bloody good time it could be, regardless of what kind of quality you're looking for. 1 1/2 Stars. Apparently Not Rated, Though Easily Could Make For A Light R Due To Language, CGI Blood, And Devious Copyright Infringement. Again, Probably The Smartest Thing About The Film. 

Violent Night                                         by James Eagan                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image:  I knew that Santa has been going through some sh*t....But geez!

I can't be the only guy suffering from Christmas fatigue, can I? After suffering a horrendous Christmas last year (Working retail on Christmas day, with all kinds of crappy people popping up to shop for literally nothing, kind of brings you out of it), and now having to deal with the holiday being shoved in my face even back in September, I've had some trouble getting excited. It's the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, it's not all that special when it's become so bitter and commercialized to the point one becomes desensitized to it all. Thankfully, the sight of Sheriff Hopper, dressed as Santa Claus, stabbing the absolute f*ck out of bad guys with a sharpened candy cane, just might be what I need to get into the Christmas spirit. Come on, you know you cracked a smile just reading that. 

"Violent Night" follows a washed up, worn down, and now completely cynical "Santa Claus" (David Harbour), who on Christmas Eve, spends his breaks from delivering gifts to all the good children of the world to get drunk, peeing while flying on his reindeer powered sleigh, and complaining about how things just aren't the same anymore. Having lost his Christmas spirit, Santa just half-asses it nowadays. Meanwhile, estranged couple, "Jason" (Alex Hassell) and "Linda" (Alexis Louder), agree to come together for the holidays, taking their sweet daughter, "Trudy" (Leah Brady), to visit Jason's absurdly wealthy mother, "Gertrude Lightstone" (Beverly D'Angelo), and the rest of his terrible family. While at the family gathering, which also brought in Jason's neurotic sister, "Alva" (Edi Patterson), her annoying influencer son, "Bert" (Alexander Elliot), and Alva's current, moronic movie star wannabe husband, "Morgan Steele" (Cam Gigandet), tensions are already running high enough a sit is. It only gets worse when a group of mercenaries arrive, kill all of the staff, and take the entire family hostage. 

These Christmas themed murderers, led by the especially vile "Mr. Scrooge" (John Leguizamo), wants access to Gertrude's secret vault where she happens to be storing millions of dollars. At this same time, Santa just so happens to be stopping by the Lightstone estate, and winds up caught in the crossfire. Now without his reindeer and with Trudy, armed with a walkie talkie, being his only ally, Santa must go to town on these dangerous villains, and save Christmas, along with reigniting his own holiday spirit at the same time. All in incredibly violent fashion. 

Directed by Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow", "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), with a screenplay from Pat Casey and Josh Miller (The "Sonic the Hedgehog" films), "Violent Night" is a monstrous hybrid of "Home Alone" and "Die Hard". The film is damn near unsettling in just how over the top the violence is, and yet, it's undeniably creative about it as well. This badass Santa uses whatever he can find to massacre our baddies, such as jabbing Christmas stars into people's eyes, giant hammers, choking with Christmas wreaths, and whatever other yuletide themed item he can possibly use. Wirkola, who I can see from his filmography just loves wildly cartoonish gore, looks to be having a blast with the carnage, creating a few elaborate action scenes, and tossing out loads of pitch black comedy while he does it. On the flip side, in terms of plotting, it's fairly generic stuff, even with the inspired premise. There aren't many surprises where the story goes, and could be seen as entirely derivative of other Christmas centered products. That doesn't in any way detract though from a film that seems to be fully immersed in its own mutilating mayhem.     

David Harbour completely commits to our drunken Santa, who despite his cynicism, does deep down only wants what's best for the children of the world and displays plenty of jolliness. You know, when he's not blowing the crap outta people with grenades or sending their heads to be chopped up inside lawn mowers. The relationship between Harbour and Lead Brady is legitimately cute and gives the film some surprise. Alex Hassell is enjoyably dorky, while it's nice to see more of Alexis Louder (Who previously had her breakout performance in last year's "Copshop"). Some of the supporting characters aren't much more than caricatures, though Beverly D'Angelo looks to be enjoying herself spouting out all kinds of vulgar language, and there are some good laughs out of Cam Gigandet (Whose character is literally introduced talking about how different 9/11 would have gone down if he had been there). Meanwhile, John Leguizamo is terrific here, playing a villain that's hilarious, easily detestable, and shockingly villainous in the most despicable of ways. (You really do love to hate him here) There's also some fun to be had with some of the extra villains, such as Brendan Fletcher (as "Krampus", an especially sadistic henchmen), who is one of those guys that really morphs into anything, along with Sean Skene and Mitra Suri (as "Frosty" and "Candy Cane", who both are amusingly quick to believe that they're actually fighting the real Santa Clause). 

"Violent Night" might be too crude, absurd, and nihilistic for some, but even in spite of all that and unlike say those disposable "Hallmark" and "Netflix" Christmas cash grabs, the film is too genuine about itself that you really have to commend it. Somehow it even finds a way to bring out a solid and sincere Christmas message, which believe it or not, is quite heartwarming despite all the goofiness. It's a fun, fast, preposterous, and yes, horrifically bloody holiday treat. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Nutcracking, Body Dismembering, And Santa Slaying.       

The Fabelmans                                       by James Eagan                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: "Boy, I sure respect the role of Film Critics now, more than ever!"

When you ask someone what director got you first interested in film, I know that Stephen Spielberg is the easiest, most obvious answer that anyone can make. It's too mainstream and unoriginal. I'm sure you pretentious film bros would look at such an answer with a scoff and simply turn away in a rude fashion. (It happens) Yet with me, yyyeah, Spielberg really was that director for me. It's not the most unique of choices, but it's the one that rings true for me. Aside from being introduced to such films as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Jurassic Park", "E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial", it just always astounded me that someone can create major blockbusters one moment, then do something more personal the next. It really set the stage for how I look at movies and while I don't see myself getting into the business anytime soon (I'm in my late twenties, so that's gonna quite the challenge), my mind is still filled with wonder from what can be crafted on the big silver screen, and Spielberg was the artist that I gravitated towards. When I think of pure movie magic, his name is what comes to mind. (We just won't talk about "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". Can't all be winners.)

Based somewhat on the life of Stephen Spielberg, "The Fabelmans" follows, er, well, the "Fabelmans", a Jewish family in the 1950s. We follow "Sam "Sammy" Fabelman" (Played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as a child, then by Gabriel LaBelle as a young man), who takes an instant interest in the world of cinema and how it's made, encouraged by his former pianist mother, "Mitzi" (Michelle Williams), and not fully understood by his engineer father, "Burt" (Paul Dano). After having to move to Phoenix, Arizona for Burt's new job, taking Sammy's sisters, "Reggie" (Played by Birdie Borria, then by Julia Butters), "Natalie" (Played by Alina Brace, then by Keeley Karsten), and "Lisa" (Sophia Kopera), along with family friend, "Bennie Loewy" (Seth Rogen), Sammy's passion for filmmaking goes from hobby to something that he wishes to do with his life. However, after the death of Mitzi's mother and some interesting words of wisdom from his great uncle, "Boris" (Judd Hirsch), Sammy starts to discover that his art, his maturity, and the structure of his family are about to clash into each other, especially once the family moves to California. 

Directed by Stephen Spielberg, who co-wrote the film with Tony Kushner (Having worked with Spielberg on "Lincoln", "Munich", and "West Side Story"), "The Fabelmans" could so easily have become somewhat of an overly sentimental, glossy fantasized version of one's own childhood. However, the film feels a bit darker than expected, seemingly poking a hole into that kind of fairy tale-like storytelling, and instead showing us the harsh, confusing, and always uncomfortable feelings that rear their ugly heads when confronted with the matter of fact truth of how things aren't always exactly like the movies. It's the kind of film that doesn't exactly take the cheap route, but instead shows us a more biting path. One that may seem colorful and picturesque at first glance, but is actually at times a bit hard to watch in places. With all that said though, this is by no means a cynical film. In fact, it's still an uplifting, whimsical coming of age story, that remembers to incorporate humor, heart, and whatever else makes people feel real. The screenplay is excellent at that, balancing out such tones without it ever feeling jarring, except for the ways that are intended. 

The race for Best Actress only continues to grow to the point that somebody is going to sadly get left out. Michelle Williams is phenomenal, conveying a sort of innocence to mask her character's emotional pain. Paul Dano, who was terrifying early this year in "The Batman", is endearing, being a bit flawed in how his ideology clashes with our main character, yet is still very well intentioned. (The man rocks a bow tie!) Gabriel LaBelle gives a breakout performance, carrying his character throughout the years, and to give Spielberg credit, he never portrays himself as a flawless person, making numerous emotional mistakes throughout. Seth Rogen proves once again that he has both the potential for comedy, as well as drama, while Judd Hirsch, who only appears for one long scene, is so brilliant that it would feel kind of wrong if he didn't get some kind of award recognition. The cast is rounded out with excellent performances all around, whether or not they're actually major parts, with Julia Butters, Jeanie Berlin (as "Haddash", Burt's grouchy grandmother), Sam Rechner (as "Logan", a bully to Sammy, who has a rather interesting reaction to seeing himself portrayed in a school film), Oakes Fegley (as "Chad", an especially anti-Semitic bully), Chloe East (as "Monica", Sammy's first girlfriend, who lets just say, really loves her some Jesus), among others, each having at least just a moment to stand out. 

 "The Fabelmans" has everything you want from a Stephen Spielberg production, from the purely cinematic feel, the jaw dropping cinematography by Janusz Kamiński (You can just tell that a lot of frames from this movie are going to be appearing in future film school textbooks), the music score from the great John Williams, and a certain kind of movie magic that we've all associated with the director. It's a beautiful love letter to the art of filmmaking, ingeniously crafting a semi-biographical story around it that feels honest and true, while also leaving the audience to be just as inspired by it. It allows us to peak inside the mind of someone that many of us see as a movie making genius, and shows us the person beneath. It's another instant classic. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Uncomfortable Content, Harsh Adulting, And One Of The Best Placed F-Bombs In Cinema History. 

Strange World                                       by James Eagan                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "My God! We've floated into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!"

It's frustrating when Disney, freakin Disney, isn't even taking time to promote their own animated films, which is what built the entire company, something is very much wrong. We do not appreciate animation these days, seeing it as something for the kids instead of just another form of cinema, worthy of praise from all ages. And I mean, all ages.

Set in the city of "Avalonia", "Strange World" proud adventurer "Jaeger Clade" (Dennis Quaid) has a falling out with his son, "Searcher" (Jake Gyllenhaal), who finds more of an interest in a bizarre plant with energy based capabilities. Determined instead to discover what's on the other side of the mountains that surround Avalonia, Jaeger disappears, while Searcher uses the plant, called "Pando", to create a new way of life for the people, using the plant to power their city. Years later, Searcher is a farmer, with a wife "Meridian" (Gabrielle Union), and a son "Ethan" (Jaboukie Young-White), who is slowly trying to find his own calling. When the president of Avalonia, "Callisto Mal" (Lucy Liu), discovers that the Pando appears to be dying, thus putting the entire supply in danger, she appoints Searcher to be a part of a expedition into a giant sinkhole beneath Avalonia to save it. With Meridian, Ethan, and their three legged dog, "Legend", tagging along, the crew discovers a strange world (Get it?) of baffling creatures just beneath their feet. Along the way, Searcher is reunited with Jaeger, who is still determined to traverse the other side of the mountains. With some aide from Ethan's new blobby friend, "Splat", the crew travels deeper into this bizarre land, discovering unimaginable secrets that could change their entire way of life, as well as a possible rekindling of the seemingly lost father-son relationship. 

Directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh", "Moana", "Raya and the Last Dragon"), along with co-direction from Qui Nguyen, who also wrote the screenplay, "Strange World" isn't anything new in terms of screenwriting or story. The film is quite predictable and doesn't stand out from some of the studio's best work. It also certainly won't become an instant classic. However, it doesn't always have to be. The film just needs to check all the boxes of the traditional family film, though maybe it doesn't hurt to spice things up to match with the times. We got our standard, though likable characters, along with beautiful, energetic animation that feels ripped right out of an old pulp comic (Which served as inspiration for the film itself). All of which, mixed in with a great sense of humor, are riddled with a certain Disney charm that, while doesn't change the game, is plenty fun. One thing that the film does both differently and wonderfully, is how it naturally just incorporates more diversity and representation, without having to stop and draw attention to itself in a backhanded fashion. 

Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly dorky, while Gabrielle Union is limited in her role, though she makes much more out of it simply because of her natural charisma. Jaboukie Young-White is excellent, playing a character who is stated as gay early on, and no big deal is made out of it. He's our main character, who just so happens to be gay, and the world didn't implode. (If the only downsides are that it will probably result in your kids becoming more accepting and decent people, or allows those who rarely get equal representation their chance, then there's only good things to come out of this) Dennis Quaid and Lucy Lui are very unrecognizable, vanishing completely into their voice performances, while we get some funny moments from Karan Soni (as "Caspian", one of the eager crew members) and Alan Tudyk (as the crew's pilot, who gets eaten seconds after the journey starts). The creatures are all creative and weird, with Splat being an obviously easy to market critter, though the dog Legend is quite the scene-stealer. (Something about how Disney animates animals always gets some big laughs out of me)

Lesser than what we have come to expect from Disney (And not on par with many of the animated films we've gotten this year), "Strange World" is still a sweet, funny, and delightful family treat that's perfect for a Thanksgiving movie day. Even when it doesn't explore anything new in terms of story, it instead at least incorporates good characters, magical visuals, and strong representation that at some point will become so normalized that the easily triggered slowflakes won't even have time to complain. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Contant, Epic Wokeness, And For Good, Decent, Open Minded And Understanding Individuals. Could Have Been G Actually. 

Disenchanted                                        by James Eagan                                ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "I SHALL have my Oscar!"

Before we get started, can we all take a moment to look back on how well the first "Enchanted" genuinely holds up? It's funny how I know everyone seems to like the film, and yet, it doesn't get as included along with Disney's modern canon as much as say "Tangled or "Frozen", when it's just as well done and wonderful for the whole family. It's still really funny, with an Oscar worthy (And super cute) Amy Adams, and both toys with the classic Disney formula while giving the audience just what they pay to see. It just took this long to make a sequel? And only release it on "Disney+" too? I think it deserves a little better than that don't you think?

Set ten years after the last film, "Disenchanted" follows former princess of the animated world of "Andalasia", "Giselle" (Amy Adams) and her one true love, "Robert" (Patrick Dempsey), after their supposed happily ever after, moving away from New York City to the small of "Monroeville". Giselle is having difficulty connecting with her now teenage stepdaughter, "Morgan" (Gabriella Baldacchino), and adjusting to her current fairy tale-free lifestyle, such as contending with "Malvina Monroe" (Maya Rudolph), the scheming head of the town council. After receiving a magic wand as a gift from "King Edward" (James Mardsen) and "Queen Nancy" (Idina Menzel), Giselle decides to use the wand to make her new town just like her fairy tale home. At first, everything seems perfect and colorful, though with Malvina becoming a more villainous queen. However, Giselle soon discovers that she is slowly becoming a wicked stepmother herself, and once it becomes permanent, it could bring about the end of Andalasia, as well as trap her in her new villainous state. 

 Directed by Adam Shankman ("Hairspray", "Rock of Ages", "What Men Want"), with a screenplay by Brigitte Hales ("Once Upon a Time"), "Disenchanted" is not as good as the first one. Let's get that out of the way early. It's almost completely unnecessary simply because of execution. It didn't exactly have to be that way, with the film's premise showing some promise early on. It incorporates some amusing ideas and clever takes on classic Disney tropes, especially when it comes to old perceptions of the natures of good and evil (Lending itself to some of the film's most humorous moments). The film looks good for the most part, and yet, the story and screenplay are predictable and weak, and the same goes for the forgettable songs from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, returning from the first film. Aside from a show stopping duet from Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph, along with an excuse to allow for Idina Menzel to show off her powerhouse voice, the songs feel bare bones and nowhere near up to par with what we know Disney can give us. 

In spite of the film's faults, one quality shines through regardless, and that's once again Amy Adams. Aside from being as adorable as ever,  Amy Adams is outstanding and wonderfully reminds the audience why she deserved to be included with the rest of Disney's iconic princesses. Going into full mom mode, Adams generates laughs and so much sugar sweetness, that you're sympathetic to her despite the mistakes she makes, and is even quite mystifying when her character shifts back and forth into villainy. She still has great chemistry with Patrick Dempsey, who has a funny subplot involving himself being tossed into the typical hapless hero role, while Griffin Newman (as the voice of "Pip", Giselle's chipmunk friend, who is transformed into a stereotypical evil tabby cat due to the spell) and Alan Tudyk (as the voice of talking scroll) also get quite a few laughs. Gabriella Baldacchino is good, though many of her character's actions are too derivative to the point of frustration. (Yes, they actually do pull the whole "You're not my real mother" line. That one needs to die already!) Maya Rudolph is fine, though makes for an unremarkable villain, while Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays (as Malvina's bumbling servants) look to be having fun. Others don't get that much to do, such as Idina Menzel, Oscar Nunez (as a coffee shop owner, turned into Malvina's magic mirror), and James Mardsen, who while still hilarious, sadly only appears for about five minutes in the entire movie. 

"Disenchanted" boasts a once again superb Amy Adams and moments of magic, yet is bogged down by a cut in half budget and a lack of real magic, giving off the slight feeling of one of those straight to video Disney sequels that we have long gotten past. It's not terrible, but just not needed in the end despite the potential that was just sitting there for about fifteen years. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Moments, Budget Constraints (So Much Offscreen), And Villainous Hotness. That's Always The Case.

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

Image: "Welcome to Flavortown, Beyatch!"

I gotta admit. Even though I saw the trailer for this movie at least once a week for five months straight, nothing could have possibly prepared me for the kind of bonkers ride I was about to take. In a way, seeing the trailer so many times actually made me think that the film was going to be something else, so it all sort of worked out in the end. And it made for one of my personal favorites this year.

"The Menu" opens with a boat dropping off a group of elitist people at a private island, where an exclusive and extravagant restaurant called "Hawthorne" is located, run by the renowned celebrity chef, "Julian Slowik" (Ralph Fiennes). The group consists of pretentious food critic, "Lillian Bloom" (Janet McTeer) and her stooge of an editor, "Ted" (Paul Adelstein), washed up actor "George Diaz" (John Leguizamo) and his annoyed assistant "Felicity" (Aimee Carrero), grouchy married couple "Ralph" (Reed Birney) and "Anne" (Judith Light), a trio of business bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr), along with Slowik fanboy "Tyler" (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, "Margot Mills" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Over a series of strange courses, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something just off about this specific menu, which just might ensure that nobody is getting off of the island alive. The one thing that just might be able to bring everything down is the mysterious appearance of Margot, who doesn't quite seem to fit into what Slowik has planned for his esteemed guests. 

Directed by Mark Mylod ("Succession"), with a screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy (Who also worked on "Succession"), "The Menu" matches the titular menu within the film, in which you really don't know where the Hell it's going to go, but you know it's going to be both scathing and super weird. The film drops you in quickly, coming across as if it's the start of a horror film, introducing us to an ensemble of unlikable characters, heading over to a secluded area where they couldn't possibly have any way of escaping. It's a slow burn, incorporating the titular menu's courses in a humorously describable fashion. This idea only proceeds to get more absurd as the film goes on, matching the craziness that's about to unfold. The satire isn't exactly new, but that doesn't make it any less razor sharp, targeting the most woeful of the culinary world, which can also lend itself to other comparisons. The rich, the elite, those who step on or look down on those with less, etc. The way that Mylod, along with the pitch black screenplay, brings everything together, lends itself to always relevant themes, along with a large amount of twisted laughs. This also doesn't prevent the film from being a genuinely suspenseful thriller, where you're pretty much on edge for a good chunk of the film's runtime (With Ralph Fiennes' theater shaking clap snapping you out of any moment of comfort). 

The cast is made up of a commendable company, with Ralph Fiennes playing things completely straight faced, which makes him both funnier and actually even more terrifying. It's a rather brilliantly complicated (Where one questions directly calling him outright evil), yet all too noticeably unhinged performance that the man deserves more Oscar nominations than he's gotten. Anya Taylor-Joy is perfect as usual, playing off against Fiennes in a captivating fashion, where you're also not entirely sure where her character is going to go either. Janet Teer and Paul Adelstein are suitably pompous, while Nicholas Hoult is hilariously annoying in the most buffoonish way possible. John Leguizamo is also quite excellent (And just might actually be poking fun at himself in some ways here), while Hong Chau (as "Elsa", Slowik's always stern and straight faced second in command) is an intense scene-stealer. 

"The Menu" is a biting satire, with a terrific cast, smart dialogue, and an aura of delightful wickedness. It also serves as a good thriller, that just so happens to be at its core, so ridiculous that you just have to laugh at the insanity. Thus making it both delicious and quite nutritious. It might be a bit too weird for some, though I can see something that can cater to those looking for intelligence in their movies, along with those just looking for a diabolical good time. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Violence, Stuffy Rich People, And For Tyler's Bullsh*t. 

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio                                                                                     by James Eagan                                                             ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "I'll bet the stuff that comes out of there is delicious!"

How in the world did we have three "Pinocchio" movies in one year? We had Disney attempt to remake their own classic to mixed results, along with a poorly animated Russian one where Pauly Shore said "Father, when can I leave to be on my owwwwwn?", and now we have a passion project from the great Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy", "Pan's Labyrinth", "Pacific Rim", "The Shape of Water", "Nightmare Alley") that he's been working on for over a decade. It's strange that even though Disney already made their own definitive version over eighty years ago, that we still have filmmakers trying to tell what appears to be the same story over and over again. However, it takes a lot of hard work, passion, and imagination to make it truly feel new again. And to maybe even give the once definitive version a run for its money in the process.  

Based on the classic tale, though with a few rather interesting tweaks, (And distributed by "Netflix" and "The Jim Henson Company") "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" opens at the rise of Fascism in Italy, with loving father and woodcarver, "Geppetto" (David Bradley), losing his son, "Carlo", in a bombing and going into a deep depression. In a drunken rage, Geppetto cut down a tree, that just so happens to be the home of our insect narrator, "Sebastian J. Cricket" (Ewan McGregor), and uses the wood to craft a wooden puppet. In the middle of the night, a magical, blue being, known as the "Wood Sprite" (Tilda Swinton), brings Geppetto's puppet to life and deputizes Sebastian as his conscience. The little puppet boy, named "Pinocchio" (Gregory Mann), is immediately fascinated by life and the world around him, though he is an instant troublemaker and isn't exactly the same good boy that Geppetto wanted him to be. In hopes to earn the love of his father, Pinocchio attempts to be like a real boy, go to school and obey the rules. 

However, Pinocchio finds himself sought after by many outside, less than noble forces, such as the evil "Podestà" (Ron Perlman), who wants to turn him into an example for his child soldiers, and the greedy "Count Volpe" (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey, "Spazzatura" (Cate Blanchett, making mostly monkey noises), who schemes to force Pinocchio into his puppet show. Pinocchio also learns a shocking truth, that he actually can't die. Pinocchio then sets out to make his father proud, thus learning lessons of love, humanity, life, and death, while Geppetto, realizing his mistakes, takes off after him.  

Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson (Known for his animation work, such as "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is yet another "Netflix" release that thankfully, due to early acclaim from festival screenings, has gotten some early, limited theatrical screenings. This allows audiences willing to seek it out and get the chance to witness what may be the most impressively made stop motion, animated film on the big screen. Just as it should be seen. The film is an incomprehensible achievement in animated storytelling, where much like "Wendell & Wild", you can see how much love went into carefully and intricately bringing this fairy tale to life like never before. It's a more mature, quite dark, and surreal take on the story, filled with frightening and uncomfortable images of oppression, themes of loss, and most surprising of all, points out the positives that come with our mortality. Despite all of that though, the film is still a funny, whimsical, and delightful, family friendly, musical adventure with something for everyone. The animation alone is worth it, with each character's intricately constructed models and designs showcasing both incredible levels of movement and personality at once. The world is beautiful, even when it's frightening to look at, and feels completely original even though it's based on one of the oldest properties we all know. The screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale ("Adventure Time", "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack", and creator of "Over the Garden Wall") is full of complicated characters and an anomalous sense of humor, that goes from quirky and cutesy, to kind of twisted, then veers even into a little political satire too while it's at it. (Mussolini's Italy is portrayed as a place of pure evil and persecution, yet also pokes necessary fun at the absurd levels of blind fanaticism)

The voice work is top notch and they all perfectly embody their characters (Right down to some even kind of resembling them too), with Gregory Mann portraying a more troublesome and flawed version of the character, who is still plenty charming, with room to improve, while a terrific David Bradley (Who you nerds might recognize as the caretaker, "Argus Filch", from the "Harry Potter" films), brings extra dimensions to Geppetto that we never really see. Ewan McGregor steals a lot of the movie, proving once again that the man is way too talented an actor to rarely get the recognition he very much deserves. Christoph Waltz oozes despicable villainy, along with a menacing Ron Perlman, while Tilda Swinton (In two roles actually) is as magnificent as ever. The rest of the cast consists of a few of del Toro's regulars and other standouts, such as Burn Gorman (as a priest, who looks like his voice actor so much that it's scary), Finn Wolfhard (as "Candlewick", the Podestà's abused son), along with Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro in a pair of unrecognizable parts. Also, I don't know whose idea it was to cast Cate Blanchett as a spitting monkey, but it's both odd and brilliant. The score from Alexandre Desplat ("The Shape of Water", "Little Women", and quite a few Wes Anderson films) is almost a character in of itself, which also features a few rather memorable songs too while it's at it. Special mention also go out to how the film takes the time during the credits to thank every single one of the animators that worked on the film, considering how often stop-motion is overlooked, and how they never get the appreciation they deserve for so much hard work.

A unique, peculiar, and all together charming future family favorite, "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is a touching, often hilarious, and magical masterwork of classic storytelling. It's a wondrous look into the bleakness of death and somehow finds the beauty in all of it. It never offers easy answers, yet still finds ways to be a fanciful feast of fun. It just might be the most thought provoking film you'll see this year, with messages for all ages (Proving that all of us still have plenty of growing up to do) and could even bring out a tear or two. A genuine labor of love. The best animated film of the year. Disney might need to step up their game a little next year. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Disturbing Images, Menacing Mussolini Militants, And Sebastian Stomping. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever                                                                                by James Eagan                                                                  ★★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: "He lives....In you!"

I remember back in early 2013 when I first saw the late, but very great Chadwick Boseman for the first time in the movie "42", and immediately knew that he was destined to become a star. Not just a star, but a tremendous actor, soon to be a household name. That's exactly what he became, especially after he became the "Black Panther", based on the comics from "Marvel". After 2018's monster hit movie, and one of the best to come out of "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (An Oscar nominated film, I might add), it was a gut punch when we lost Boseman to colon cancer in 2020. It's clear what we meant to everyone, and we were left wondering what exactly Marvel could even do with this. Not to mention, what should they do with this? How can you continue something that's lost its heart and soul, and do it respectfully? How would he have wanted it? These were questions that I couldn't answer. None of us could. It shows that once you get past the whole mega-franchise, there is that special sense of humanity that's always attracted moviegoers, and the ability to deliver us Earth-shattering, masterful cinema that also just so happens to be under the guise of a pretty looking comic book movie.

With the events of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" having come and gone, yet still buried deep in everybody's memories, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opens with the highly advanced, once secret but now in the open African nation of "Wakanda", suffering a tragic loss. "T'Challa/The Black Panther" (Played previously by Chadwick Boseman), has died, leaving the country without a king and a protector. This sparks debate among other countries as they attempt to pressure Wakanda and T'Challa's queen mother, "Ramonda" (Angela Bassett) to relinquish their "Vibranium" (A powerful, rare metal, that anyone, good or evil, would love to get their hands on). The loss of T'Challa has affected everyone, such as "Dora Milaje" general, "Okoye" (Danai Gurira) and T'Challa's spy lover, "Nakia" (Lupita Nyong'o), though his death has taken a very negative turn on his sister, "Shuri" (Letitia Wright), who has lost faith in her country's spiritual traditions as well as herself. Meanwhile, an American research team, using a device that can track Vibranium, uncover some underwater, only to end up slaughtered by the blue skinned, underwater dwelling people of "Talokan", led by their frightening, centuries-old king, "Namor" (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). 

Namor then approaches Romonda and offers an alliance against the rest of the world who might threaten their combined power, although this alliance can only come to be if they assist him in finding and killing the one responsible for the Vibranium tracking tech, revealed to be a young, genius inventor named "Riri Williams" (Dominique Thorne). Shuri and Okoye set out to get some assistance from their CIA ally, "Everett K. Ross" (Martin Freeman) in finding Riri to protect her from Namor's followers, only to draw themselves closer into war with the equally powerful, underwater nation. When Namor's offerings slowly become threats, seeking to completely bring down Wakanda, as well as the rest of the surface world, the people of the still grieving nation must come together as one and a new Black Panther must rise to the occasion. 

Directed once more by Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station", "Creed", "Black Panther"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole (Also returning from the first "Black Panther"), "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" wastes no time setting the tone, especially with the film's heartbreaking, powerfully silent opening. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't going to be like much of what we've seen in the rest of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the last couple films have been lighter in scope, more humorous in tone, and most focused either future setup or bringing about epilogues of sorts for certain characters, this one feels as if it's both a conclusion and a fresh start at the same time. For a good chunk of the film, it comes across more as a drama, with time taken to showcase how our characters (And perhaps, the actors themselves) are forced to come to terms with their hero's passing. It gets right down to the heart of the matter, portraying grief, suffering, loss, and acceptance in a respectful, and all too real fashion. It's not to say that this still isn't a comic book movie, but Ryan Coogler is poised to make sure that the audience understands that this is much more than that. 

The action and visual effects are top of the line, making for compelling imagery, especially during the film's intentionally murky, yet stunning underwater sequences (Which feel like it could exist in the real world and sets itself apart from the otherworldly and bright "Aquaman"). The epic scope is matched by the heart-racing score by the great Ludwig Göransson ("Black Panther", "The Mandalorian", "The Book of Boba Fett"), which is paired perfectly with the likes of Rihanna and others. The sights and sounds are beautiful to witness, and are brought to seamless life in the way we've come to expect from million dollar blockbusters. This isn't in the end though the usual fanservice delivering extravaganza as many fans would come in to expect. Whatever happens, whether it simply be part of this one story or serves a later purpose, has a role to contribute in a way that feels natural and without the need for studio mandated necessity. 

Chadwick Boseman's presence is still felt throughout the film, with the actors and actresses on screen doing marvelous jobs keeping his spirit alive. Letitia Wright is especially outstanding, showing how much her character has grown and changed since the first film. Her emotional plight elevates what one would see as simple escapism, and brings it to a place that many of us lively have found ourselves in after the death of a loved one. Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who I can see becoming a much more recognized name after this, is a terrifying, yet complex figure. He's given more backstory than your average comic book villain to the point where there are moments where you question his villainy, only to realize that his depth only ends up making him a much more imposing threat. We get some powerful work from Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett (Who gets more than a few scenes that shake you to your very core), along with necessary comic relief from Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, and Winston Duke (as "M'Baku", T'Challa's warrior former rival). We also see the return of a few familiar supporting faces from the MCU, such as Florence Kasumba (as "Ayo", one of the most frequent appearing Dora Milage) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as "Valentina Allegra de Fontaine", the new CIA director, whose ambitions are starting to become less morally ambiguous). Special mention also must go to a few new additions to still growing universe, such as Michaela Coel (as "Aneka", one of the less traditional members of the Dora Milage), Mabel Cadena (as "Namora", Namor's second in command), and Alex Livinalli (as "Attuma", a Talokanil warrior, with an instant rivalry with Okoye), continuing Marvel's trend for creating a universe, packed with major, supporting, and even minor characters that are equally memorable. (Also, can we take a moment to notice the awesomeness of water bombs? They're literal bombs that explode with water, and they're both cool and thoroughly frightening to see in action)

Not remotely sticking to the usual status quo, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is a touching tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, as well a very different entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet still, even more than some entries in the rest of the current phase, remembers what we adore most about this franchise. Not the big action. Not the numerous comic references. It's the humanity that's brought to the characters, and only gives us more incentive to see where they go next. It's a dramatic, exciting, and empathetic look into how loss can both break us and also put us back together. Much like the first film, it provides much needed representation, as well as political themes that are sure to get under the skin of the easily offended, and while it's still rooted in the lore of the larger MCU, it stands out on its own as just a great film. And of course, stick around for a post credits scene. One that might not be the next big reveal that some nerds might be looking for, but the one that's needed. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodier Than Usual Violence, Political Discourse, And Winged Feet (You Laugh Now, But Wait Till You See Them In Action). 

One Piece Film: Red                             by James Eagan                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: Fan reactions when "One Piece" finally ends.

It's great when a movie that's based on a show, especially one that happens to be based on one of the longest running anime of all time, can actually stand on its own perfectly well as just a solidly made film. It tells you everything you need to know in context of the story and its characters, generating humor, heart, and a classic sense of adventure. Anyone can get behind that, even when it's as weird as something like "One Piece". 

With the "Great Pirate Era" raging on, "One Piece Film: Red" continues the adventures of the infamous "Straw Hat Pirates", made up of the rubber skinned captain "Monkey D. Luffy" (Colleen Clinkenbeard), the three sword carrying bounty hunter "Roronoa Zoro" (Christopher Sabat), perky navigator "Nami" (Luci Christian), long nosed marksman "Usopp" (Sonny Strait), lovestruck cook "Sanji" (Eric Vale), talking little reindeer with a blue nose "Tony Tony Chopper" (Brina Palencia), straight faced historian "Nico Robin" (Stephanie Young), super speedo wearing cyborg "Franky" (Patrick Seitz), panty loving afro skeleton "Brook" (Ian Sinclair), and the newest addition, fishman "Jimbei" (Daniel Baugh). The crew decides to make a stop at an extravagant concert for world famous and much beloved singer, "Uta" (Her speaking voice provided by Amanda Lee, and her singing voice provided by Japanese singer Ado). It's revealed that Uta is not only a close childhood friend of Luffy's, but also is the daughter of Luffy's hero, the famous pirate "Red-Haired Shanks" (Brandon Potter). However, the ongoing conflict between the pirates and the "World Government", along with the many casualties caught in the crossfire, has darkened Uta's heart. Now Uta intends to use her own "Devil Fruit" powers (aka, fruits that grant individuals bizarre abilities) to bring about a new era that will end all conflict and create a fantasy world of peace. However, that dream of her's might also just bring about the end of the world as well.  

Based on the anime and manga from creator Eiichiro Oda (Who claims that the series will be reaching its conclusion in only a matter of years), "One Piece Film: Red" isn't just an overlong episode of the series. Nor does it feel like fanservice driven filler. It's actually a well told, heartfelt tale that's equally action packed, really funny, and just like the series itself, so full of life. The animation and visuals are beyond breathtaking, taking the series to epic new heights that need to be seen on the biggest screen you can possibly find. This is also most stunning during the film's musical sequence, with Ado's rather hypnotic singing voice perfectly matches the film's memorable and plenty catchy songs. The characters and voice work are excellent as usual (I watched it Dubbed, but I can safely assume the Subbed version is just as great), with Luffy's off-kilter, though still very moral perspective carrying over from the show. The rest of the crew gets their moments, with most of the humor coming from Usopp and Brook, along with a few returning recurring characters such as "Trafalgar Law" (Voiced by Matthew Mercer), Luffy's biggest fan "Bartolomeo" (Voiced by Tyson Rinehart), and an interesting subplot involving Luffy's old marine friend "Koby" (Micah Solusod). (There's also loads of other small parts and cameos that longtime fans will be delighted to see) Amanda Lee is quite compelling, giving her character a certain cutesy charm, mixed with the character's well intentioned villainy and turmoil. And yes, Shanks gets his biggest and most important role yet after nearly two decades of waiting.

A bit darker than expected with a plot takes a few turns than you would normally see coming, "One Piece Film: Red" is an epic addition to the Straw Hat crew's seemingly never ending journey, and makes for their best movie yet. It's an exciting, heartwarming musical spectacle filled with good humor and spellbinding animation. It's a treat for anime fans, as well as really anyone ready to set sail for some high sea adventure. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Content, Shonen Violence, And The Squeeing Of Both Male And Female Anime Fans All Over. I Joined In A Little Too. 

The Banshees of Inisherin                          by James Eagan                    ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "So, Colin.....You're saying you gained 60 pounds to play a Penguin?"

Have you ever just been so immersed within a film, entranced by the world created, and so fond of the characters, that you never want it to end? Like as if you could just watch the rest of their lives on screen simply because you don't want to leave? You're actually upset that it's over and that you can't see what happens next? That is this fecking movie in a nutshell. 

Set on a small Irish isle in the early 1920s, "The Banshees of Inisherin" follows "Pádraic Súilleabháin" (Colin Farrell), who makes the shocking discovery that his longtime best friend and drinking buddy, "Colm Doherty" (Brendan Gleeson), has just decided that he doesn't like Pádraic anymore. Pádraic isn't given any real explanation or reason other than him just being too dull to be around Colm, who would rather instead focus on composing his music. Pádraic, despite being liked well enough, doesn't have too many friends on the little isle, aside from his sister, "Siobhán" (Kerry Condon), the town pariah "Dominic" (Barry Keoghan), and his beloved donkey, "Jenny". Pádraic's futile attempts to win back Colm's friendship result in Colm providing him with an ultimatum. Stay away from him or else Colm will cut off his own fingers with his sheep shears. Sadly, rejection still doesn't sit well with Pádraic, whose desperation to win Colm over only get progressively worse as his life on the isle is about to take some drastic changes. 

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges", "Seven Psychopaths", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a change of pace from his usual work in some ways, yet feels entirely like something that could serve as a defining masterpiece of his career. It's a calm, dreary, exceptionally melancholy tale of friendship, fragility, and the abrupt changes to the statis quos that many of us so easily find ourselves wrapped up in. McDonagh's trademark way of twisting tones around is at its absolute best here, where the film is often really funny, though that is mostly there to hide an underlying sense of sadness that anyone can resonate with. At its core, it's a very human film that just so happens to be set around a situation that from a distance, sounds quite ridiculous. However, everyone's motivations all kind of make sense in their own quirky way. 

Colin Farrell, who is having a bit of a renaissance as of late with scene-stealing performances such as "The Batman" and "The Gentlemen", is positively compelling in a role that's at times hilarious, moving, and much more complicated than what we are first introduced to. Brendan Gleeson is also wonderful, with another character that expresses just as much in simple glances or expressions as he does with dialogue. The entire cast feel real, from a terrific Kerry Condon and an amusingly awkward Barry Keoghan, to an easily detestable Gary Lydon (as "Peader Kearney", Dominic's abusive cop father) and Sheila Flitton (as "Mrs. McCormick", the strange town elder, who is either psychic or just crazy). The dialogue is whip smart, delivering some of the most Irish Irishness that you will ever see on screen, showing us an aspect of humanity that feels so natural. It's not hard to get wrapped up in the lives of every single character on screen. It will be a crime if this somehow doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. (It might even deserve to win too now that I think about it)

Beautifully bleak and almost hilariously depressing to a degree, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a gorgeously shot portrait of full blown, masculine pettiness. The cinematography from Ben Davis ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") feels like true art coming to life, and is so engaging that I just never wanted to leave. It really connects to the soul in a way that you would never expect and you are just left with so many questions once it's all over. Perfect cinema, and quite possibly the best film of 2022 (So far. Still time to change). 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content, Killer Bread Trucks, And Lots Of Fecking Language. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery                                                                            by James Eagan                                                                 ★★★★ out of ★★★★  

Image: Guilty....All guilty.

Allow me to explain the series of circumstances and coincidences that led us to our current situation, which is how in the world I was able to see this movie this early. I mean, the movie doesn't get its Netflix release until December 25th, and even the early limited release isn't until Thanksgiving. So this is the earliest that I have ever seen a movie before the average viewing public. Let's all give a special round of applause to my Lyft driving dad for picking up the right person at the right time, charming the Hell out of them, and maybe performing a few favors or two (I don't ask), resulting in me getting a pass to the Austin Film Festival, allowing myself and my little sister a chance to go to this incredibly packed screening at the Paramount theater. Probably one of the best experiences I've had in the 12 years I've been doing this site.  

"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" once more reunites us with Southern gentlemanly detective, "Benoit Blanc" (Daniel Craig), who like the rest of us, wasn't having a good time during the 2020 COVID Pandemic. With no mysteries to solve (And only "Among Us" to play every hour of the day), Blanc jumps at the chance when he finds himself out of nowhere being invited to an island mansion (Shaped like a giant glass onion) in Greece, owned by famous tech billionaire, "Miles Bron" (Edward Norton), who Blanc has never even met. Bron has also invited his collection of colleagues and friends, such as Connecticut governor, "Claire Debella" (Kathryn Hahn), ultra men's rights activist and influencer, "Duke Cody" (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend "Whiskey" (Madelyn Cline), scientist "Lionel Toussaint" (Leslie Odom Jr.), along with controversial model (Who refuses to think before she speaks), "Birdie Jay" (Kate Hudson) and her frenetic assistant "Peg" (Jessica Henwick). Everyone is also shocked to see Miles' former business partner, "Cassandra "Andi" Brand" (Janelle Monáe), who previously had a huge falling out with the group, has also shown up. It's also revealed that Benoit Blanc apparently was never meant to receive an invitation, having possibly been brought in by an unknown party, just at the same time Bron plans to stage a murder mystery party where his friends must deduce who "killed" him. Turns out though that everyone has a real motive to want to see Bron dead and when an actual murder does occur, it's up to Blanc to solve the mystery. One that is in some ways much more complex than anyone could possibly imagine. And in other ways, actually based entirely all around pure stupidity. 

Written and directed by Rian Johnson ("Looper", "Knives Out", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which is still awesome and one day all of you will realize it too!), "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is a brilliant second installment to 2019's equally fantastic comedic, murder-mystery, which in a year of great films, was probably the best one not to get a Best Picture nomination. Distributed via Netflix, the film is yet another wonderful tribute to the classic whodunit, with a modernized, relevant spin, that also stands on its own perfectly as if it were just another entry in an ongoing series of a detective's many adventures. This chaotic and intentionally convoluted caper is filled with many pieces moving around at once, where your mind is so focused on one thing that you don't notice what could be staring at you right in the face. Johnson crafts so much intrigue and packs in so much character that you really don't want it to end. It really grasps the awkward mindset that I'm sure many of us were going through during the pandemic, along with some social commentary and fun poked at in terms of the absurdity of it all. 

Daniel Craig returns in all his Foghorn Leghorn drawl fueled glory, remaining an eccentric, yet thoroughly ingenious anomaly. Craig also retains a certain sense of mystery about himself, allowing for small hints into what exactly makes this man tick. The ensemble, which also includes a few delightful cameos and bit parts, is much like the first one in how intricate and defined each and every single one of them are (There's also a certain appearance that I feel definitely needs to be a recurring gag throughout future films). Not to mention, everyone also plays very unique roles that I've never seen them play before. Edward Norton is a marvelously dick-ish Elon Musk-esque dirtbag, while Dave Bautista is the total embodiment of the douchey, bro YouTuber that's corrupted so many. Kate Hudson is absolutely hilarious, while Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick (Who does a flawless American accent), Madelyn Cline, and Kathryn Hahn are all standouts in of themselves. However, the one that everyone will be talking about is Janelle Monáe, who is remarkable in ways that I dare go into. Not just in terms of spoilers, but also because I just plain can't explain it in a way to do it justice. The film plays with old tropes and twists that pay homage to the classics, while reinventing them further for today. 

Hilarious, poignant, unpredictable from start to finish, incredibly intelligent, and most of all, so much freakin fun, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is the definition of a good time at the movies. It needs to be seen in theaters, and we deserve to see what other possible cases that our friend, Benoit Blanc, gets himself involved with. Just like the original, it's sure to be an instant classic, and considering that I already purchased my tickets for the one week showing before I somehow found myself able to see it so early, I feel that I have no other choice but to attempt to solve this puzzle yet again. (Who knows what I missed the first time?) Mr. Johnson, Youdunit! Again! 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Rich People Privilege, And The Most Buffoonish Murder And Cover-Up Scheme In Cinema History. 

Till                                                               by James Eagan                         ★★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: I hope people are still listening.

Some might wonder why by the year 2022 are we still feeling the need to go back and revisit some of our country's most monstrous of mistakes, and yet, I always felt that it's almost always going to be necessary. The American dream as we know it, isn't exactly a real thing if you take a moment to think about it. Absolute equality and freedom are something that we as a people should always strive towards. Continuously and without ever achieving that goal. That's because it can't possibly ever be perfect, but we should want it to be and never give up the fight to make it so. We can't just say to ourselves "Yup, Racism is dead. Everything is good now. No need to improve anymore." That way of thinking only causes us to find ourselves slowly de-evolving back to our old, misguided ways. 

Based on unfortunately true events, "Till" tells the story of "Mamie Till" (Danielle Deadwyler), and her young son, "Emmett" (Jalyn Hall). Living in Chicago, Illinois during the mid-1950s, Emmett is allowed to go to Mississippi to visit his cousins, though Mamie is very much worried since her son has never truly experienced the real evil that comes from racism, especially in the South. While out with his cousins, Emmett whistles at a local shopkeeper, "Carolyn Bryant" (Haley Bennett), which results in him being kidnapped in the middle of the night by a pair of white men (Along with black men that were hired to assist), resulting in Emmett's horrific death at their hands. After Emmett's body is discovered in a river and sent back to his mother, with the young man's corpse being almost completely unrecognizable due to what his murderers did to him. Mamie, having before not wanting to get involved with the Civil Rights movements, decides that true change can't be achieved unless people are forced to see just what this kind of hatred looks like in the real world for themselves. Emmett's funeral is an open casket, and Mamie, who has become an opportunity of sorts for the NAACP to hopefully start to affect real change, travels to Mississippi to testify in a trial against Emmett's killers. A trial that most likely isn't destined to result on the side of American justice.  

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu ("Clemency"), who co-wrote the film with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp ("The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till"), "Till" isn't a shallow, whitewashed, overly sentimental dramatization of real life tragedy so that filmmakers can get themselves some Oscar buzz. That isn't even close to what this actually is. The film is harsh in its commentary, and heartbreaking in its drama, portraying true grief in a fashion that's free of Hollywood saturation. Chukwu shows us the harshness of the story, much like the way Mamie Till would have wanted it to be told, and entirely from the perspective of the African American viewpoint. No white saviors here. They're not even part of the equation. 

Front and center is Danielle Deadwyler, who has got to become an instant household name after this and very much deserves award recognition. It's a performance that could easily have been seen as too stagey or even misguided in execution, but Deadwyler commands the screen in a way that I really haven't seen a performer do in some time. (Chukwu also wisely keeps lots of long shots that focus only on her face) It's a excruciatingly raw and powerful performance that should become legendary, even if the Academy finds some bullsh*t excuse not to nominate her. Jalyn Hall's appearance is brief, though memorable in giving us even the tiniest glimpse into the unworldly, yet charming life that was wrongly cut short (We never see the murder, though we hear it and bear witness to the inhuman aftermath) The rest of the ensemble includes Tosin Cole and Jayme Lawson (as "Medgar and Myrlie Evers", famouse Civil Rights activists), Frankie Faison (as "John Carthan", Mamie's father, who accompanies her to Mississippi), Sean Patrick Thomas (as "Gene Mobley", Mamie's supportive future husband), John Douglas Thompson (as "Moses Wright", Mamie's uncle, who fails to prevent Emmett's kidnapping), an unrecognizable Whoopi Goldberg (as "Alma", Mamie's mother), and many others who, even in small parts, stand out. Also, Haley Bennett, who is actually a much more talented actress than people give her credit for, is suitably repulsive playing one God-awful human being. 

"Till" is a well paced, captivating drama that grips you from the word go, with the tension only rising before we reach the film's bittersweet conclusion (Although it's more bitter than sweet, considering we all know the outcome). It's a painfully honest look into the kinds of evil that society would allow, that's both heartbreaking, yet inspiring. Relevant, maddening, and beautiful in spite of harsh sincerity. It shows that the fight for justice and equality is in itself unfair and never ever truly ends, but one must never give up in pursuing it, even when it just seems like you're always destined to fail. It's the most American movie you'll see this year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Images, Southern Racism, And The Whitest Jury You Will Ever See (I Swear It's As If Someone Just Swapped Out Haircuts With These People). 

Wendell & Wild                                        by James Eagan                        ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "The 'Key' here is to 'Peele' away the skin."

We've only come further and further to the point where people today just don't seem to appreciate the art of Stop-Motion animation. Oh, I hear plenty of praise towards it all the time, growing up with such works as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (My all time favorite movie. Animated or otherwise), "Wallace & Gromit", "Coraline", and such, but none of these properties are by any means huge. In fact, most stop-motion films seem to bomb at the box office on a frequent basis. Now it looks like streaming is the only place you'll find them getting released, and that can either mean a chance at a wider audience at home or more of an excuse for others to neglect them. It's an art form that requires more blood, sweat, and tears than any other and we never will give it the justice it deserves. 

Released through Netflix, "Wendell & Wild" follows "Kat Elliot" (Lyric Ross), who after the deaths of her parents (Gary Gatewood and Gabrielle Dennis) when she was a little girl, is forced to return home to the now almost completely dead town of "Rust Bank". Having been tossed in and out of Juvie over the years, Kat has become cynical, refusing to connect with anyone, and is now transferred to an all girls school "Rust Bank Catholic" (or "RBC"), run by greedy priest, "Father Bests" (James Hong), having brought her in simply for profit reasons. Meanwhile, deep in the underworld, two demon brothers, "Wendell" (Keegan-Michael Key) and "Wild" (Jordan Peele), work for the towering demon, "Buffalo Belzer" (Ving Rhames), applying hair cream atop his massive head while the unfortunate souls of the dead are sent to the amusement park covering Belzer's body. After casually ingesting the hair cream, Wendell and Wild see a vision of Kat, scheming to use her to make their dream of their own fairground for the dead. Kat continues to alienate herself from anyone who attempts to befriend her, such as a quiet trans boy, "Raúl Cocolotl" (Sam Zelaya) and the posh, "Siobhan Klaxon" (Tamara Smart), daughter of the evil Klaxon Corp" heads (Maxine Peake and David Harewood). The Klaxons also plan to thoroughly demolish the town in favor of private prisons, even murdering Father Bests due to him being a loose end in their plot. 

When Kat makes the discovery from the mysterious "Sister Helley" (Angela Bassett), that she is actually a "Hell Maiden", she is contacted by Wendell and Wild, who promise to resurrect her parents so long as she summons them from the underworld so that they can make their "Dream Faire" a reality. Through some mishaps, Kat is able to summon the two demons, though they end up instead resurrecting Father Bests via Belzer's magical hair cream. Wendell and Wild now find themselves part of the Klaxons' corporate villainy, resurrecting more of the dead and putting Rust Bank on the brink of destruction, leaving only Kat to be the one to stop them. 

Directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach", "Coraline"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Producer Jordan Peele ("Get Out", "Nope", "Key & Peele"), "Wendell & Wild" is an eccentric combination of talents that feels like a surreal dream come true. It's a mix of unique ideas, visual storytelling, and glorious animation that needs to be seen to be believed, making for a vividly strange and thoroughly charming treat that might actually attract a more of a mature audience. Selick, who hasn't directed a film since 2009's cult classic, "Coraline", gives us a clear reminder as to why he's truly a master of this craft, proving the film with his usual distinctive style, while also embracing the drawbacks that come with stop motion. He said that he wanted to avoid looking too much like computer generation, and instead allows for noticeable details behind the animation, which only further showcases just how much hard work went into this project. 

The characters and their designs tell so much story on their own, with their movements encompassing their personalities. There are also plenty of unconventional stylistic decisions, such as slowed down frame rates and shadow puppet animation, that instead of taking one out of the film, only further draw you in. It's as if you're experiencing the most bonkers dream that you don't really want to wake up from. With the film's PG-13 rating, you can tell that the filmmakers are going for a slightly older audience this time around, with an even more macabre sense of humor. There are also some more mature themes, involving family, loss, and overcoming grief, along with something a bit more political, such as the intentional unfairness surrounding private prisons and the corporate greed behind them. It's complicated stuff and the film at times can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but everything does end up coming together by the end.   

The film features a terrific and very inclusive cast, that seems to go against perpetuated stereotypes in favor of crafting a world that very much feels lived in (Fitting, considering all of the topics of death involved). Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele once again reunite in magically hilarious fashion, delightfully playing what are essentially exaggerated, animated versions of themselves. Lyric Ross makes for a perfect straight face to much of the anarchy, along with an excellent Angela Bassett. There is hilarious work from Ving Rhames (Having a Hell of a time) and the always great (And clearly going to live forever) James Hong. The supporting cast is also commendable, from Sam Zelaya, Tamara Smart, Igal Naor (as "Manberg", the wheelchair using janitor, with his own demon hunting history), along with David Harewood and Maxine Peake, who are all kinds of over the top in just how evil they are. 

With "Wendell & Wild", Henry Selick's eye for spooky, quirky, and a very on brand sense of weirdness is pushed farther than ever, though that doesn't mean that the film isn't without heart and sincerity. At its core, there is a sweet story that should resonate with families, along with mesmerizing visuals and memorable characters to go with it. Think of it as a modern day "Alice in Wonderland", where not everything is meant to make sense as you descend into colorful insanity, but are too entranced to complain about it. Perfect timing for a Halloween movie night. And for God sake, Henry! Please don't wait thirteen years for your next film! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Catholic Chaos, And Bearz-A-Bub.

Prey for the Devil                                     by James Eagan                                ★★ out of ★★★★ 

Image: You know, I'm not sure the power of Christ is compelling her.

How does it feel knowing that the movie that's going to win Halloween weekend is going to just be "Black Adam" again by default? Step it up people! Everyone already started setting things up for Christmas a month ago! Where's your Halloween spirit? And someone explain to me that in a year of great horror, why did they decide to release the most meh one of them all on Halloween weekend?

"Prey to the Devil" follows a young nun, "Sister Ann" (Jacqueline Byers), who in a time of growing possessions and demonic activity, takes a further interest into the occult than her superiors would like. Due to her own history involving her deceased mother (Who she believes was possessed by a satanic entity), Ann proves to be uniquely talented, as she has developed a connection of sorts. Not to God, but the Devil himself. Despite women not being allowed to perform exorcisms, a professor, "Father Quinn" (Colin Salmon), decides to teach Ann further. As Ann bonds with a possessed young girl, "Natalie" (Posy Taylor), she struggles to prove her worth as the forces of Hell take it upon themselves to target Ann personally.  

Directed by Daniel Stamm ("The Last Exorcism"), with a screenplay by Robert Zappia ("Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" and......the "Kung Fu Panda" rip off, "Chop Kick Panda". Seriously. Look up this guy's filmography. It's completely bonkers!), "Prey for the Devil", or "The Devil's Light" as it was once called, is a movie that I have been getting the same trailer for since the later half of 2020. It's been pushed from an early 2021 release until now, with the same damn trailer finding its way into at least one of my weekly theater visits. I guess the studio just really had faith that this would be a surprise success, though clearly not one critically (Considering that as I'm typing this, there still are hardly any other professional critic reviews). The movie is fairly competent in terms of production, though completely generic in terms of story and screenplay. It's one of those films where you can predict not just everything that's going to happen, you can also just repeatedly tell what every single character is going to say. It's the most basic of dialogue to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible. Not to mention a good chunk of the film feels chopped up and rushed through, especially once we reach the final act. 

Much of the cast is doing what they can, with Jacqueline Byers especially making for a solid protagonist and someone severely deserving of far better material. The same goes for Colin Salmon, who doesn't appear much, yet remains thoroughly profound and professional no matter what. Posy Taylor is doing fine work, though she gets rather neglected the longer the movie goes along and by the time a lame third act twist occurs, none of it quite adds up. You also start to forget about other supporting players, such as Christian Navarro (as "Father Dante", a fellow student that apparently has a possessed sister that he hasn't told anyone about) and Virginia Madsen (as "Dr. Peters", a psychiatrist that works at the school), and little subplots that get resolved in unremarkable fashion.

"Prey for the Devil" boasts a positive message of faith and overcoming guilt, and is overall fine for what it is. Simple scares to go with a simple story, and breezes by in an hour and a half. It's not scary or unique in any way, and serves as a perfectly inconsequential last second movie rental, although putting it in theaters feels a bit sacrilegious. In a time where horror films have been making up for some of this year's very best, this kind of horror needs to just die out already. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jump Scary Faces, Satanic Sadism, And Good Old Fashioned Religious Based Sexism.   

Ticket to Paradise                                by James Eagan                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: "You know....I don't think we've ever realized just how beautiful we really are."

It's odd. I grew up during a time where a George Clooney and Julia Roberts movie, no matter what genre, was immediately destined to be the biggest hit of the week, though now it's just the extra movie of the week. ("Black Adam" is a big superhero movie, so that's expected and all, but that doesn't make it feel any less jarring) 

"Ticket to Paradise" follows two divorced parents, "David" (George Clooney) and "Georgia" (Julia Roberts), who are forced to put aside their differences when seeing their daughter, "Lily" (Kaitlyn Dever) off as she leaves on vacation to Bali after she graduated from college. During their time apart, David and Georgina have become especially bitter towards each other, though come to realize that they might yet again need to come together when Lily contacts them a short time later to announce her engagement to a local guy, "Gede" (Maxime Bouttier). David and Georgia travel to Bali where they hatch a scheme to prevent their daughter from making an assumed horrible mistake and prevent the wedding from coming to be. 

Let's keep this one short and sweet. Not by any means an insult to the film. It's just not meant to be anything that one needs to get into aggressive details over. Directed and co-written by Ol Parker ("Mama Mia! Here We Go Again"), "Ticket to Paradise" is a pleasant, fairly funny, and most importantly, thoroughly charming romantic comedy. It does an excellent job bringing together both sides of the age spectrum, without ever feeling the need to stereotype or exaggerate either one of them. Doing so would have been such an easy, and completely lazy, task that too many other less capable comedies would have gone for. That doesn't stop it from being beat by beat in terms of predictability, but hey, that's all part of the show. Our terrific cast is plenty game, with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both clearly having a blast, and are equally wonderful together (While also eagerly savoring their characters' extra dash of cynicism). Kaitlyn Dever and Maxime Bouttier are a cute couple that have a little more to their characters, which also feels like something that lesser films wouldn't have bothered with. Meanwhile, we get some pretty hilarious supporting work from Billie Lourd (as "Wren", Lily's best friend) and Lucas Brav0 (as "Paul", Georgina's complete dweeb of a new boyfriend). 

Short and simple, "Ticket to Paradise" offers no surprises for those who want to go see it. Well shot and likable enough to make for a good date night, and nothing loud, bombastic, or more of all, devoid of anything harmful. Granted, that also excludes anything too exciting or suspenseful. Very plain in a way, and like I said before, that's not really a bad thing. It's funny enough to overcome simple plotting, and full of too much charm to dislike in any way. Like a breezy vacation. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Dastardly Divorcees, And Good Old Fashioned American Tourism. Nobody Wants Us Around. 

Black Adam                                          by James Eagan                                  ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Man, he really had to start working out for this role.

This has been quite the "DC Comics" dream project for quite some time now, even before they began to bring together the "DC Extended Universe". At least fifteen years ago, the once villain, turned anti-hero (And rival to "Shazam"), "Black Adam" was also something of a dream to Dwayne Johnson too, who was cast at the time for a movie that never got made. Now after quite a few twists and turns (Mixed reviewed films, Superman's mustache, Syder Fan cultists, etc.), the long awaited shift that the DC film universe has finally come to fruition.

"Black Adam" opens in the ancient country of "Kahndaq", where a champion, "Teth Adam" (Dwayne Johnson), is granted the powers of "Shazam", though he vanishes after apparently liberating the enslaved people. Cut to the present, the country is now under the control of the high-tech crime syndicate, "Intergang", despite the world now being full of superheroes. Archaeologist and resistance fighter, "Adrianna Tomaz" (Sarah Shahi), along with her brother, "Karim" (Mohammed Amer) and the obviously traitorous "Ishmael Gregor" (Marwan Kenzari), seek out the powerful "Crown of Sabbac", which will supposedly unleash the powers of Hell or something evil. After Intergang attempts to kill them, Adrianna releases Adam from his prison, setting the ancient champion loose onto Kahndaq, where he is seen as the country's savior. 

This attracts the attention of the outside world, and hardcore government official, "Amanda Waller" (Viola Davis Cameo!), decides to send in "The Justice Society of America" to bring Adam down out of fear of what he can do. The collection of heroes consist of their flying, mace-wielding leader, "Carter Hall/Hawkman" (Aldis Hodge), the size-changing "Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher" (Noah Centineo), the wind controlling "Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone" (Quintessa Swindell), and a master of illusions and sorcery "Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate" (Pierce Brosnan), who with his gold, magical helmet can see the future. However, Adam isn't going to go down easy, and when he insistence on killing members of Intergang goes against the Justice Society's no killing policy, it puts both forces at odds with each other. Meanwhile, Ishmael has plans of his own to achieve the crown and if he is going to be stopped, the Justice Society is going to have to form an uneasy alliance with Adam, who may be harboring a few dark secrets of his own.  

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Commuter", "Jungle Cruise", "Run All Night"), serves as the eleventh entry into the DC Extended Universe, continuing to show signs that studio appears to be making its way into adding a little more cohesiveness to the franchise. Sadly, it's only a little more. Even after all the buildup, we're still not quite to the point where they can match what the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has been able to accomplish, though steps appear to have been taken. The film is actually a lot smaller than you would expect, with a plot and screenplay, provided by Adam Sztykiel ("Rampage"), Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, that really doesn't bring anything too new to the table. The biggest exception being that the film does seem to embrace the character's darker side. Sure, they straight up take out the character's original villainous tendencies, but that doesn't stop him from being a rather brutal force of destruction and harsh justice that veers far away from what you see from your average comic book protagonist. It's a well told action packed spectacle, full of all the usual superhero tropes, with just hints of something possibly more political (Basically nobody even in a comic book world seems to want to get involved with a non-white country under oppression unless they get something out of it). At its core though, the movie seems to know what it is, and delivers on what's promised, with some big, special effects heavy action scenes, and a showcasing of the titular character's immense power. 

Dwayne Johnson really brought this whole thing together and perfectly embodies his character's harshness, along with a certain vulnerability and lack of understanding that quickly shows that despite many of his decisions, he's by no means a villain. Aldis Hodge makes for an excellent foil to Johnson's Adam, playing the good guy who really needs a reminder as to why he is in fact the good guy. Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell are a lot of fun as the new recruits (And provide necessary humor) while Sarah Shahi and Mohammed Amer make for good audience surrogates. Bodhi Sabongui (as "Amon", Adrianna's son, who quickly takes a shine to Adam) is likable, though not exactly the best young actor in the world, while Marwan Kenzari essentially just plays "Jafar" again (And even turns into yet another giant, red CGI monster) and makes for a pretty bland villain. Pierce Brosnan, in a surprise to nobody, steals the show, being another one of those perfect comic book castings that fans are just absolutely going to fall in love with, remaining both classy and charming as Hell, while fully committing to the superhero aesthetic. 

"Black Adam" isn't the big game changer that many of us would want it to be (And it isn't up to par with some of DC's most recent material like "The Suicide Squad" and "The Batman"), yet it still accomplishes its goal of being a grandiose, edgier blockbuster, and gives us hope that possibly this shared universe can be salvaged in some way. It's essentially a better version of "Man of Steel", with some actual personality. The effects are solid enough (Though the less said about "Sabbac", the better. Think of the old "Steppenwolf", yet somehow worse), with a diverse cast of characters, and a couple unique statements to make to set it apart from your average superhero movie. While the film gives into the usual trappings during the final act (It's predictable stuff and by this point, you really can't get mad at it anymore), it does culminate in a satisfying, if not a little derivative, origin story worthy of the gods. Plus, a post credits scene that did admittedly bring a pretty big smile to my face. (And hey, he also had a smile this time too for once. You'll see what I mean) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Anti-Heroic Action, Severe Head Splitting, And Scrawny Dwayne Johnson. (He Is Real. And Very Unsettling) 

Halloween Ends                             by James Eagan                                     ★★ ½ out of ★★★★ 

Image: " Ugh...I just can't handle having family over for the holidays."

Horror has continued to thrive this year, with original ideas, great stories, memorable heroes and villains alike, and of course, genuine terror. From "Nope", "The Black Phone", "Scream", the surprise hit "Smile", both "X" and "Pearl", and "Barbarian", which I consider also to be one of the year's best films overall (Also, lets throw in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" too while we're at it. Bet ya never expected a Marvel movie to make you jump, huh?). The "Halloween" franchise, created in 1978 by John Carpenter, seemed poised to be a part of the new horror renaissance with 2018's surprisingly well received sequel/reboot (Also titled "Halloween, which ignored all of the other more questionable sequels), but only sadly went on to disappoint last year with "Halloween Kills". A lot is riding on the proposed grand finale to the entire franchise as a whole, and yeah, it's sufficient to say that expectations weren't exactly as high this time around.

Bringing the "Halloween" saga to its bloody conclusion, "Halloween Ends" takes place a few years after the previous entry, with Shatner mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), aka "The Shape", having completely vanished. The small town of Haddonfield is still forever plagued by his nightmarish murders, though three time survivor, "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), seems to be on the road to recovery, having grown closer to her granddaughter, "Allyson" (Andi Matichak). Meanwhile, a troubled young man, "Corey Cunningham" (Rohan Campbell), who was accused of murdering a kid he babysat (In an incident that was genuinely a complete accident), forms a relationship with Allyson, though he can't seem to escape the town's ridicule and assumptions. Following an attempt on his life by some truly evil teenagers, Corey stumbles into the sewers of Haddonfield, where he comes face to face with Michael Myers himself, now weakened and clearly aged. However, evil finds a way to seep itself back into the world, thus culminating in a climactic final showdown between Laurie and her seemingly unstoppable, almost inhuman nemesis. 

Directed and co-written once again by David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express", "Stronger"), "Halloween Ends" does a rather alright job as bringing everything to what's actually a fitting end. Frustratingly though, the road there is filled with admittedly great ideas, loads of potential, but too many aspects clashing into each other at once until it all spirals out of control in a messy fashion. The film opens strong, introducing a new storyline into the fold that could take the series into darker, more unexpected territory. Unlike the last film, this one doesn't quite seem as enamored with all the gore and the kills (And has much less stupidity), but instead spends its time setting up its characters and story, with some very harsh drama that only just so happens to revolve around a homicidal monster in human form. The film also seems to be deconstructing how people can deal with trauma and grief in both positive and negative ways, along with how this can possibly influence the evil that may be resting inside all people. It's something that the last film tried and didn't quite grasp, but here, it makes for a fascinating concept and a twist that puts a slightly different perspective on how we look at certain characters. It's also a really good looking film, with good cinematography and a moody buildup. There are signs of greatness in there. The biggest issue is that it's all too much for a film that's under two hours, goes at a break neck pace, and doesn't quite stick the landing when everything is resting on it 100% doing so. 

 In spite of the screenplay's shortcomings, Jamie Lee Curtis (Who thankfully is not resigned to a hospital bed for the film's entire length this time) is still phenomenal, showcasing why she's a iconic horror based heroine and gets the grand ending that she deserves (Especially after the character had been killed off twice already in the previous, now non-canon sequels). Andi Matichak and Rohan Campbell are both giving good performances, with their character arcs making for what should be compelling drama, but the film has so much to cram in despite having so little time. It's essentially a doomed romance that takes problematic turns due to just how damaged they truly are, and while that sounds pretty great and even poetic for what's in a way, just a slasher franchise, the execution is very sloppy. (I'm assuming that the film only took place over the course of a couple days and I'm not buying how quickly this all went down) It's not a jump the shark moment as such would lead you to believe (I mean, one of the other "Halloween" entries had Busta Rhymes beating up Michael and shouting "Trick or Treat Motha-F*ckah!". This is automatically much better), but it makes one realize just how pointless the last film was when that time could have been used to develop this film's erratic structure. Will Patton (as "Frank Hawkins", the deputy with a connection to Laurie) sadly gets sidelined, though does have rather cute chemistry with Jamie Lee Curtis in a couple scenes. As for Michael Myers himself, he's still a frightening force despite getting a little less screentime than you would expect. I very much appreciate that the film takes time to address that this is a dying old man, and that the legend behind who or what he is could instead only exist due to what others see him as, rather than what he actually is in the end. 

"Halloween Ends" is less about kills (Though they are quite gruesome and even a little memorable) and more interested in atmosphere, which captivates early on, until about halfway through when it starts to stumble over its own convoluted structure. It crams too much and drops the ball too often despite having the makings of a horror film with unexpected depth (Which is what the 2018 film was able to successfully convey). The climax comes rather quickly and rushes to the finish. It's not to say that as an ending, it's a bad one. In fact, this feels exactly how this story should probably conclude. You just wish the blade was sharp enough. It can still make a brutal, bloody cut, yet you know damn well it could do better. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence, Barbaric Band Geeks, And Bad Baby-Sitting (Although If You Ask Me, That Kid Had It Coming!).

Amsterdam                               by James Eagan                                            ★★ ½ out of ★★★★

Image: "It's all right, audience....We started dozing off about halfway through ourselves."

David O. Russell's reputation appears to have finally caught up with him, and for good reason. It seems that acting like a total dick around your stars, fellow directors, and other colleagues (And ahem, that um, other thing with his niece that really hasn't been acknowledged by anyone), can only be tolerated for so long. The time of directors acting like they're too much of a genius to be decent went away a long time ago. Not to mention, Russell's newest film appears destined to disappoint at the box office, as well as end up on the bad side of critics.

Inspired loosely by true events, "Amsterdam" follows two World War I veterans, the glass eye wearing "Dr. Burt Berendsen" (Christian Bale) and "Harold Woodsman" (John David Washington), and an eccentric nurse, "Valerie" (Margot Robbie), who all form a close bond while staying in Amsterdam after the war, before Burt departs back to New York City to be with his uncaring wife, "Beatrice" (Andrea Riseborough). Valerie also departs without a word, despite she and Harold having fallen in love. Years later, Burt continues to work as a doctor and Harold has become a lawyer, with the two reuniting when Burt is brought in to do an autopsy on their old military commander turned senator. The senator's daughter, "Elizabeth Meekins" (Taylor Swift), swears that there is something suspicious behind her father's death, and the moment Burt and Harold start to look into it, Elizabeth is killed by an unknown figure (Timothy Olyphant), and they are blamed for the murder. Burt and Harold's attempts to prove their innocence end up leading them to once again cross paths with Valerie, revealed to be the sister of the wealthy "Tom Voze" (Rami Malek) and his wife, "Libby" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Now the trio become embroiled in a strange conspiracy, leading them to former general, "Gil Dillenbeck" (Robert De Niro), and whatever actions they take next will determine the future of America as they know it.

Written and directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings", "The Fighter", "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle"), "Amsterdam" is his first film in about seven years, and looks to have failed to win people over. After lots of negativity in terms of critical reactions, the film doesn't reach the level of badness that one has been led to expect. In fact, there's plenty to enjoy about it. However, much of where the film goes wrong rests with David O. Russell himself, making for a disjointed mess with glimmers of charm. The plot is a constantly shifting web that feels far too convoluted for its own good, with the screenplay suffering from over-written dialogue that goes for quirky, though might end up just annoying people more than anything. There's some funny and even insightful moments, but every once in a while you find yourself begging for the drawn out dialogue to just shut the Hell up and tell the damn story, which is also fairly fascinating. The truth behind the film's narrative is centered around a real life, rather poorly planned conspiracy that could have easily turned disastrous, and it takes a few little turns that certainly were built up over the course of the movie. A lot of the other twists are fairly predictable and take too long to reveal themselves.

Our main cast is perfectly game, with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington making an excellent trio,  (Bale is especially wonderful, considering how completely different he was in "Thor: Love and Thunder", the man really is one of those actors you can rely on to give a unique performance). The ensemble is overall good, though many of the cast members don't get much to do or just play a certain obvious type that they've already played before. Chris Rock (as "Milton", an army buddy of Burt and Harold) is funny, Rami Malek is creepy. Anya Taylor-Joy is hot. An unrecognizable Timothy Olyphant is the bad guy. Andrea Riseborough is underused. Taylor Swift is basically a cameo. Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola (as a pair of detectives investigating the murder) are there. And Robert De Niro appears due to being a frequent David O. Russell collaborator. Some more noticeable standouts would be Zoe Saldaña (as "Irma", a nurse and love interest to Burt), along with an unconventional and amusing duo of Mike Myers and Michael Shannon (as "Paul Canterbury" and "Henry Norcross", mysterious benefactors who work with Valerie). 

"Amsterdam" looks well produced, features a big cast, and high ambitions, though all of which can at times feel excessive and overblown. Too many moving parts at once and continuous detours via monologues or various oddities, detract from what actually works well. It's too much of a director thinking he can just do anything, losing sight of his own distinct talents in the process. Not terrible or even bad by any means, just disheartening. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Meandering Monologues, And Eye Popping Investigations. 

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile                              by James Eagan                                ★★★ out of ★★★★

Image: Man, would he make some beautiful boots....Just saying.

There really is something so earnest when kids movies just go bananas and embrace the full blown absurd with a happy go lucky smile on its face. It's the kind of whimsy that leaves you both bewildered, yet oddly charmed. Most of all though, it'll make the kids happy, and that's always a good thing. I mean, if you like kids and all.

Based on the children's books by the late Bernard Waber, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" opens with charismatic, but rather aloof  and always in debt to someone showman, "Hector P. Valenti" (Javier Bardem), coming across a crocodile named "Lyle" (Whose singing voice is provided by Shawn Mendes), who is gifted with the ability to sing and dance. Hector prepares Lyle to join him on stage, but the poor croc has terrible stage fright and isn't able to perform. Completely broke, Hector departs from his New York City apartment on his own to pay off his many, many debts, promising Lyle that he will return. Over a year later, Hector is still nowhere to be found and a new family moves into the apartment, consisting of young "Josh Primm" (Winslow Fegley), along with his parents "Katie" (Constance Wu) and "Joseph" (Scoot McNairy). Josh is a timid kid, who isn't great at making friends, and stumbles upon the now full grown Lyle. After seeing how special Lyle truly is, Josh forms a bond with the lovable crocodile, and it doesn't take long for him to slowly strengthen the rest of the family as well. Though after Hector returns, with plans to continue his dreams of stardom and the constant nuisance of the next door neighbor, "Mr. Grumps" (Brett Gelman), Lyle will have to decide between possible fame or if this new family is where he is destined to be.

Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon ("Blades of Glory", "Office Christmas Party") with a screenplay by William Davies ("How to Train Your Dragon"), "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" is another sort of live-action cartoon that's in its own, weird little world, following some predictable beats and cheesiness, similar to last year's "Clifford the Big Red Dog" or 2019's "Dora and the Lost City of Gold". Much like those other kids films though, it's very genuine in how it conveys its bizarre creativity. It's certainly nothing on part with the "Paddington" films, but it's a sincerely sweet and charmingly goofy feature that has plenty to offer for the kids and will leave the parents having a little more fun than they expected. It's a screenplay that goes for silly, both in terms of its narrative and humor, which is matched by solid direction. The film looks like a small children's book, with bright, unsaturated colors and mostly unconvincing yet still appealing CGI work. (All the animals in the film, not just including Lyle himself, are all made up of special effects that don't look real, but feel at home with the film's quirky tone)

One of the film's most engaging aspects is just how into it the cast appears to be. Anyone could have normally just taken the paycheck and sleepwalked through the entire thing, but the cast looks to be having a really good time. Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy (One of those really underappreciated versatile actors), and a likable Winslow Fegley, make for a cute family, that doesn't fall into the usual family troubles tropes that you see in these kinds of kids movies (Really the main conflict with them is that things just aren't quite gelling together in their new environment. That's actually pretty refreshing to see). Meanwhile, Javier Bardem looks like he's having almost too much with this, having fully immersed himself into the film's eccentric personality, while Brett Gelman is an amusingly nonthreatening antagonist. Shawn Mendes' singing voice adds little to Lyle, who is an adorable green, scaly creation, though Mendes does fine, and it leads to quite a few surprisingly delightful music and dance numbers. (It feels like this is where most of the film's budget went into)

"Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" won me over rather quickly once it became apparent what kind of movie it actually is, though it does lose some steam during its rather rushed final act. (Granted, this isn't anything new for some kids films and it just stops it from becoming anywhere close to one of the great ones) It's a nice movie that the young ones can have a good time with, that's plenty harmless, yet still occasionally fun and so peculiar that you can't find a good reason to hate it. Welcome your peculiarity. Anyone can get behind that. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Maybe A Few Quick Adult Jokes And Lyle's Not-So Cat Friendly Diet, Though Still Really Tame Stuff As Usual.  

Blonde                                                    by James Eagan                                          ½ out of ★★★★

Image: She deserves better than this.

It wouldn't be the Oscar season without some controversy, and there's always one film that more than any other generates the biggest reaction from both sides of the critical spectrum. Everybody has something to say, and won't hold back in saying it. Some will see it as true art that tells it like it is, with nothing but the harshness that stories such as things must be told, with imagery, terror, and cinematic fantasia. Others will see it as a grotesque, mean spirited, wallowing mess of a director being so madly in love with himself that he can only feel good so long as someone, anyone, is left suffering from his supposed genius. There are only two kinds of opinions apparently..........And if you ask me the second one is completely right. Usually I'm the guy landing right down the middle with these things, but this is a pretty easy answer for me.    

Based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates, "Blonde" tells the very much dramatized (And pretentiously so) story of "Norma Jean Mortenson" aka "Marilyn Monroe" (Ana de Armas). Struggling with never having known her father and her abusive relationship with her mentally unstable mother, "Gladys" (Julianne Nicholson), Norma Jean slowly becomes one with her Marilyn persona, becoming an instant icon. However, the darker aspects of fame and fortune only further bear a heavy load on her already traumatized mind. Beneath the so called sex symbol is in actuality a graceful, terrifically smart, and vulnerable soul, looking to prove herself to the world, as well as herself. Apparently that makes for almost three hours of depression porn.  

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik ("Killing Them Softly", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), "Blonde" is a rather ambitious feature, changing up the typical biopic playbook by crafting its own, and one that is the living, breathing definition of one director's vision. Right on. I can get behind that. With that said, that vision is one of pure evil, filled with a sense of distaste for its own subject and just plain angry at the world around it. Shifting from black and white to color, then back again through a couple different aspect ratios (Don't ask me details on which is which. I'm not paid to know those things), the film claims to be telling Marilyn Monroe's life story in all its brutality, except it seems far more interested in how great it thinks it is. The visuals, while impressive for the most part, come across as more distracting and repetitive than engrossing, similar to last week's "Don't Worry Darling", except where that film just didn't seem to understand the point it was trying to make, this one appears to be intentionally missing it. Once you get past the artistic razzle dazzle, you start to see the ugliness beneath the surface. You also start to see that it's also just not really a well made movie when you get down to it.

The screenplay still tells a narrative that's derivative of almost every biopic concerning a tragic figure, especially an iconic one based in stardom. "Elvis" just did this, and yet, you really do appreciate what that film did with it, showcasing stylish whimsy and oddness to portray its excess, before eventually settling down into the darker reality and eventual devastating downfall of its subject. This movie never settles down, with bizarre sequences of surrealism to portray heavy subjects of child abuse, spousal abuse, drug abuse, rape, miscarriages, abortions, more rape, sexuality, suicide, and exploitation. I'm not saying all these themes can't be done in such a way, but Dominik only proves how he might be the absolute worst person for the job. He prefers to wallow in the pain and misery, though not entirely in a fashion that feels sympathetic. It's damn near gleeful in how much it revels in the torture, such as showing us an abortion from the perspective of Marilyn's vagina or a horrifying nightmare of her experiencing a miscarriage, all nude and covered in blood. It's unnecessary for sure, and downright repulsive. It's also, and this is the most offputting part, all something we've seen before. In fact, one has seen it enough in these kinds of movies to expect it.

The biggest and most unanimous praise has been for Ana de Armas herself, and despite all of the film's shortcomings, it could almost guarantee award recognition (And God help us, maybe even some Best Picture nominations. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but it's not out of the question). However, and trust me it feels a little weird to be the odd one out in this conversation, she's not full Oscar worthy here. She certainly looks the part and in theory does a damn fine job, and yet, the film just drags her down, with the ostentatious dialogue and Dominik's in your face direction. It makes her come across as a caricature, especially once the film reaches its lowest point, reducing her to a crying mess, constantly pleading for "Daddy". None of this is remotely her fault, though it makes the film just as annoying to watch as it is disrespectful. The film doesn't do near enough with its cast, though some such as Adrien Brody (as "Arthur Miller", credited only as "The Playwright") and Toby Huss (as "Whitey", Marilyn's close makeup artist, who vanishes from the film far too often) standout much more than the script allows them to. Others like Bobby Cannavale (as "Joe DiMaggio", credited only as "Ex-Athlete"), along with Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams (as "Cass Chaplin" and "Eddy Robinson Jr.", who Marilyn had an apparent polyamorous relationship with) are stuck in typical, underwritten roles.. Speaking of abuse, Julianne Nicholson is especially over the top in the film's opening act, which is far more uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. There's also the now infamous scene involving Caspar Phillipson (as "President John F. Kennedy", credited only as "The President), in a drawn out fellatio scene with extra rapey overtones, and boy, if you're going to make bold accusations such as this, there's gotta be more to it than simple shock value. 

Much of what "Blonde" ends up becoming is little more than shock value at its most detestable, and since most of these controversial topics became known before I was even able to see the movie for myself only points out just how pathetic it is. Maybe if I'd been able to see it during its initial release like all the professional critics, I could have found myself so caught off guard by the film's mean spirited nature that I would have been almost hypnotized by it. Thankfully, I can see through the film's facade and witness it for what it really is. It's an unremarkable biopic that only does the same as others have done before it, except with a gross sense of self-satisfaction and a good amount of glossy makeup to trick you into thinking it's high art. I'm not mad at it. It's more laughable in how much it thinks its getting you to feel such intense emotions, when in reality is nothing more than an excuse to talk about how horrible everyone else is though never saying anything new about it. It's so angry, but for no distinguishable reason. For something like "The Passion of the Christ", you at least knew that movie was being antisemitic (At least, I knew. I stand by it). It's not remotely right, but you knew what it was being angry about. (I never thought I would be typing those words to be honest) It's either mad at Marilyn Monroe, mad at the Hollywood system, or just mad for the sake of it. Just an excuse to show some suffering, even at the expense of someone who already suffered enough in real life as it is. Technically it might be the most offensive movie I've seen this year, and considering how I couldn't in a good conscience award "Redeeming Love" anything higher......1/2 Star. But hey, at least Casey Affleck thought it was beautiful. Rated NC-17 For Hardcore Nudity, Abuse, Implied Rape, Real Rape, And Whatever Else Gets You Sickos Off. 

Bros                                                    by James Eagan                               ★★★ ½ out of ★★★★  

Image: "So the 300,000th anti-gay, anonymous post says...."

This is truly a big deal, and that's why people are so afraid of it. Sure, some people just want to troll for the sake of trolling, but the fact that they're willing to take time out of their apparently unproductive day to do so only proves that even when romantic comedies decide to change with the times, they're as easily agitated as ever. It's a major step forward for a film to focus specifically LGBT characters, with a prominently LGBT cast, about LGBT problems and having absolutely no shame about it whatsoever. 

"Bros" follows New York museum curator and strong LGBTQ personality, "Bobby Lieber" (Billy Eichner), who is currently struggling to get his LGBTQ history museum off the ground. Failing to find love and claiming to have little to no interest in it, Bobby finds himself connecting with the most unexpected of guys, the much more bro-tastic "Aaron" (Luke Macfarlane). Despite seeming like an odd fit, Bobby and Aaron apparently make for quite the couple, attempting to find reasons for why their relationship shouldn't work and yet, somehow it just does anyway. More or less, that's really the plot right there. 

Directed by Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek", "Neighbors", "Storks"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eichner, "Bros" as one can tell takes the rom-com playbook and at first, only appears to put a different spin on it without ever really going against it. That's the basic intention of the filmmakers, before the movie later reveals itself to have other motives as well. It's about full blown representation, without the need to repress or hold back, which means that this movie is as gay as humanly possible and it's all the better for it. What should be fairly predictable and conventional, instead takes what works and turns it into something more, while also being suitably sweet and most of all, really hilarious. It's a rather honest film that doesn't hold back in mocking societal trends that we've just sort of grown to accept, while also embracing a sense of absurdity with its own meta commentary on gay culture in a way that doesn't seem to feel the need to hold the audience's hand. Regardless of sexual orientation, you understand it because of how relatable it is.   

Billy Eichner, showing off some more of his other acting talents along with his already known comedic ones, utulizes his usual stage persona, while also getting a bit deeper both humorously and even dramatically when the film calls for it. His chemistry with Luke Macfarlane is commendable in how it just showcases this kind of relationship in a more normalized manner. It's not the butt of the joke here or pushed to the sidelines like many of us have just become accustomed to. They're also just plain adorable together and immensely endearing, which is what the best romantic comedies need to successfully accomplish (And frustratingly most of the time end up failing). The film also includes Ty Madison, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Jim, Rash, Bowen Yang, Dot-Marie Jones, a scene-stealing Debra Messing (as herself), among others, popping up in places in a variety of supporting parts.

Heartwarming, funny as Hell, and unabashedly true to itself, "Bros" is a well directed, well written exploration of what can be very tired tropes and enhancing them for the modern audience to fall in love with. It's loads of fun and makes for the perfect date movie, regardless of who you love. Really, it's just for anyone looking for someone to love. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Sexuality, And Fascinating Abraham Lincoln Accusations. I Saw "Lincoln". I Can Believe It. 

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

Image: As it Was....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: I'm putting $50 on her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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