Eagan at the Movies

Reviewing movies because we care.

Reviews for Current Films, Classics, Video Games and Lots of Other Cool Stuff For Parents and Children

In Theaters: Crawl, Stuber, Midsommar, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Yesterday, Annabelle Comes Home, Anna, Child's Play, Toy Story 4, Shaft, Men in Black: International, The Secret Life of Pets 2, Dark Phoenix, Booksmart, Ma, Rocketman, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Aladdin

Coming Soon: The Lion King, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Hobbs & Shaw, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Kitchen, Good Boys, The Informer, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, 47 Meters Down Again!, Angry Birds 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

Crawl                   by James Eagan             ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: Where's Florida Man when you need him? 

 To be perfectly honest, I'm just glad it's not another shark attack movie. We have so many of those these days, and I think we give the other terrifying, man eating creatures of the world their time in the spotlight. Alligators, bears, your cat when it realizes you're edible, everyone deserves a shot at stardom. 

 "Crawl" follows "Haley Keller" (Kaya Scodelario), a young swimmer, who learns that her estranged father, "Dave" (Barry Pepper), is nowhere to be found when a dangerous, category 5 level hurricane hits Florida. Haley decides to head over to his old house to find him, along with his loyal dog, "Sugar". Haley investigates down into the crawl space under the house, where she discovers her wounded father, as well as a couple of killer alligators, with every intention of devouring anything that moves. When the weather starts to get worse and the water starts to rise, Haley must work together with Dave to find a way to safety before they either drown or become gator grub. That's the most straight forward plotline I've seen in a while.  

 "Crawl" has easily got to be the best movie to not be screened for critics. That's usually saved for the worst of films (And mostly anything from Tyler Perry.). The film isn't exactly something that sets out to change the game when it comes to survival horror genre in any way. It just does a solid job of providing a claustrophobic, anxiety filled, and fairly creepy creature feature. Directed by Alexandre Aja ("The Hills Have Eyes", "Piranha 3D"......Admittedly, not the most quality of filmographies), he knows how to utulize dark, cramped spaces, which makes for some solid scares and the suitably disturbing violence that comes from meeting an terrifying, agony filled fate from a hungry gator. (Although, it's still somehow notably less violent that "Stuber".) The setup is quick and to the point, and the plotting doesn't deviate from the designated route that's expected. It's just capably made, and at least injects a little new life into what can be seen as a tired idea. 

 It also helps that Kaya Scodelario (The "Maze Runner" series) has proven herself to be a compelling actress, and she gives it her all, elevating the seemingly by the number material. She has a relatable character arc and becomes increasingly badass as the movie goes on. Barry Pepper gives a pretty heartfelt performance, and Sugar is too adorably scruffy not to love. As for the killer reptiles themselves, they are fairly scary despite the mostly unconvincing CGI work. (There are times you can tell that they're just not there.) The film makes excellent use of their bone chilling hisses and monstrous roars. Other characters, who are mostly unnamed, are just here to be chomped. Luckily, the film mostly remains focused on the father-daughter relationship, which is surprisingly well done and sweet. 

 "Crawl" isn't anything all that original, and for the most part, is just a short, spine tingling survival movie. It's effectively creepy, well acted, and you'll find yourself shockingly more invested in its main characters than expected. It knows what kind of film it wants to be, but also knows how to liven things up with good scares and a certain sense of fun that this genre has really been missing lately. A nice summer surprise, though not exactly a positive traveling ad for anyone to visit Florida anytime soon. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Images And Ravenous Reptiles.

Stuber                                                                             by James Eagan                                 ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for stuber movieImage: Kumail Nanjiani speaking with what appears to be an empty seat. 

 This movie is definitely going to send the wrong idea. No ride from "Uber" is going to be this exciting or eventful. However, there is a good chance it will be just as vulgar and possibly as gratuitously violent.  

 "Stuber" follows ninny Uber driver, "Stu" (Kumail Nanjiani), who sadly has gotten stuck with the ridiculous nickname, "Stuber". Stu pines away from longtime friend, "Becca" (Betty Gilpin), but is too cowardly to do anything about it. Meanwhile, gruff, physically massive cop, "Victor Manning" (Dave Bautista), having recently lost his partner, "Sarah" (a Karen Gillan cameo) while chasing down violent drug trafficker, "Teijo" (Iko Uwais), has become obsessed with avenging her death. However, it's at the expense of bonding with his daughter, "Nicole" (Natalie Morales). After getting some laser eye surgery, Vic is left unable to follow an important lead on fining Teijo on his own, so he ends up essentially kidnapping poor Stu and making him his driver while attempting to solve the case. Stu finds himself trapped in Vic's emotionally draining and body riddled world of chaos, while bettering themselves as people in the process. 

 Directed by Michael Dowse (Who hasn't directed anything I've ever heard of), "Stuber" is a hilarious idea, that has the potential for great comedy. What we end up getting is a predictable, bloody mess that can't seem to overcome an uneven tone (Good lord is this gory!), though still offers quite a few moments of inspiration. It fact, it's almost saved by how occasionally laugh out loud it truly is. Despite the over the top and shockingly vicious nature of the film, we're still given a fairly fun ride that at least makes up for it's shortcomings with a fast pace and the comic timing of our lead actors. 

 It only mostly works as well as it does because of the chemistry between Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. Nanjiani, who is a better actor than he probably even realizes (Remember "The Big Sick"?), is already well adapt with delivering quick quips and funny reactions to absurdity. Dave Bautista (A scene stealer in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies), is wonderfully chaotic, and even is allowed to display moments of humanity at times. When they're together, it's hard not to get a decent amount of chuckles out of them. Others like Betty Gilpin and Mira Sorvino (as "Captain McHenry", Victor's boss) aren't given much of a role, while Iko Uwais is just here to play the most generic of villains.   

 A few good laughs is really all you can ask for with a comedy, which is what "Stuber" for the most part provides. It's sadly not enough to make up messy plotting, and a lack of commitment to what's possible with its premise. The amount of violence in the film kind of takes away some of the enjoyment, yet it's some of those moments that provide the funniest stuff. It's more than amusing to say the least, but I can't see myself telling anyone to go out of their way to see it. 2 ½ Stars. (A lesser critic would of made a ride sharing pun of sorts right about now. But not this critic!) Rated R For Heads Exploding, Bloody Violence, And An Obligatory Genital Shot. 

Midsommar                                                                  by James Eagan                                        ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for midsommar movieImage: Another man is condemned to death by Snu Snu.    

 For the longest time, the horror genre was something I generally dismissed. However, in recent years, it's gone through a sort of renaissance, where directors use it to develop new kinds of terror from unconventional places. Whether it be Jordan Peele ("Us", "Get Out"), scaring people with political satire, or Ari Aster ("Hereditary"), traumatizing you for life with unthinkable themes of dread, they've just gotten much smarter. It's about hiding the frightening thoughts behind seemingly unconnected premises. Where "Hereditary" gave the appearance of a family drama, this one might be the greatest breakup movie of our time. 

 "Midsommar" follows a distressed young college student "Dani Ardor" (Florence Pugh), who has just suffered a horrible tragedy when her sister kills both of their parents as well as herself. Dani's plight comes across as more of an annoyance to her jerkass boyfriend, "Christian" (Jack Reynor), who is secretly looking for a way out of the relationship. Dani and Christian are invited by Christian's Swedish friend, "Pelle" (Vilhelm Blomgren), to go on a trip to Sweden, where his ancestral commune will be performing a traditional, midsummer celebration that is only taken part in every ninety years. The trip also includes Christian's other friends, "Josh" (William Jackson Harper) and "Mark" (Will Poulter). The group arrives and end up taking part in the celebration, where it quickly becomes apparent that things are going get a little weird. First, everyone takes some drugs, the people act abnormally happy and take part in awkward traditions, and then.....people start throwing themselves off of cliffs. It only gets more bonkers from there.  

 Once again serving as both writer and director, Ari Aster, still fresh of the success of last year's "Hereditary" (A movie that literally gave me nightmares.), "Midsommar" plays out like a demented fairy tale that unlike his previous film, appears to have a very twisted sense of humor about itself. You could almost label as more of a dark comedy than as a straight up horror flick, though you're not exactly laughing at it. It's more because what's happening is so outrageously deranged, and the reasons as to why it's happening, it's clear that Aster is trying to screw with his audience in more ways than one. His direction is oddly playful, even when we are subjected to nightmarish imagery. (None of it is quite as disturbing as the now infamous decapitation in "Hereditary", but there is still likely a chance you won't be forgetting this anytime soon.) The film is gorgeously shot, leaving you to question what's real and what's simply imagination. (I'm going to assume that this is what drugs must feel like.) 

 Florence Pugh (Who just recently showed off her star making potential earlier this year in "Fighting with My Family"), is more than a revelation in her role. Compelling throughout, Pugh goes through a wide variety of unexplainable emotions that she conveys brilliantly. (Her expressions alone draw you into her character.) Jack Reynor (Someone I generally find rather annoying) gets to play a complete dick of a character, who at least this time, is intentionally written as such. Vilhelm Blomgren is a special kind of creepy (And you never really do quite figure out what's going on inside his head) and Will Poulter provides great comic relief. William Jackson Harper is good, though out of everyone, his role feels the least important. 

 Skillfully constructed and darkly humorous, "Midsommar" doesn't always deliver on its payoffs, but it remains anything but predictable. Themes of toxic relationships and severe anxiety are sure to resonate, and it's nothing short of genius how Ari Aster is able to blend them into a world of brightly colored dread seamlessly. The film offers an unexpected amount of delight, and you'll find yourself oddly grinning maliciously once we reach the film's batsh*t climax. You may need to take a long shower afterwards, but it's the most fun you'll have watching something you feel like you probably shouldn't be watching. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For......You Don't Want Know. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home              by James Eagan                                                    ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for spider-man far from homeImage: "It's perfectly safe. I'm only three for four when it comes to dropping people." 

 After "Avengers: Endgame", you would think that would be well, the end. We had literally the biggest movie of all time, fan favorite characters had their story arcs come to an end, and the scale of what we witnessed can never possibly be repeated. Yet, that was apparently the end to this third phase in the "Marvel Cinematic Universe". We had one last second epilogue to set up what's to come in the future. A new era begins now, and comic book dorks like me could never be happier.  

 (Note: If you somehow haven't seen "Avengers: Endgame", this might be considered a little spoiler-ish.) "Spider-Man: Far From Home" opens after the events of "Avengers: Endgame" and the second "Snap" (Now known as the "Blip"), which brought back everyone previously thought to be dead. People are adjusting to the new world, and everyone's favorite webslinger, "Peter Parker/Spider-Man" (Tom Holland) still hasn't gotten over the death of his mentor, "Tony Stark/Iron Man" (Previously portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.). With that said, people are trying to get back to their lives, and Peter is going on a school trip to Europe. However, Tony's former bodyguard, "Happy Hogan" (Jon Favreau) insists that Peter stop avoiding phone calls from eye patch wearing agent, "Nick Fury" (Samuel L. Jackson), who wants Spider-Man for an important superhero related mission. Peter is more preoccupied trying to ask out his crush, "MJ" (Zendaya), and wants some much needed time off.

 Sadly, Peter can't even leave New York without trouble following him, with the trip being hi-jacked by Fury after an attack from a group of destructive, dimension traveling entities, known as the "Elementals". Peter must team up with another dimensional traveler, "Quentin Beck/Mysterio" (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of magic, who may be the world's next big superhero. Peter must balance his social life, along with his new responsibilities, while assisting Mysterio in defeating the chaotic villains. Peter also discovers that not everything is as it seems as he works his way to becoming a worthy successor to the fallen Iron Man.     

 After the epicness and heartbreak of "Endgame", Marvel's twenty-third entry into the MCU, "Spider-Man: Far From Home" is exactly what we need right now, and ends this phase of the biggest film universe of all time on a exciting and endearing note. A light hearted, high school based romantic comedy, that also just so happens to be a superhero movie. Directed once again by Jon Watts, the movie delivers a certain youthful innocence and a great sense of humor to go with the superheroics. You still get jaw dropping special effects and exhilarating action setpieces, but also are given loads of big laughs and some of the most relatable character interactions you'll find in the MCU. (It kind of rivals other more "Reality" based films as well in that department.) The scale is smaller and the tone is lighter, though the film isn't afraid to get darker, especially in the second half.  

 Tom Holland is still the perfect embodiment of who I expect Spider-Man to be. Awkward and lovable, and the right amount of nerdy to go along with his genuine niceness. Zendaya is a delight once more, getting a bigger role this time, and having flawless chemistry with Holland. Their relationship is just plain adorable, and you just love seeing them together. Samuel L. Jackson (Great as usual) and Cobie Smulders (as "Maria Hill", Fury's assistant at S.H.I.E.L.D.), provide excellent foils to Peter's attempts to go about his normal teen life, despite all of the insanity going on around him. A lot of the humor comes from supporting memorable characters, such as Jacob Batalon (as "Ned", Peter's best friend), Tony Revolori (as "Flash", Peter's narcissistic rival), Angourie Rice (as "Betty", Ned's new girlfriend), along with Martin Starr and J. B. Smoove (as Peter's unqualified teachers, who have no business teaching anybody.) There is also a fun ongoing plotline with Jon Favreau and Marisa Tomei (as "May", Peter's very attractive aunt), revolving around Peter trying to figure out if they're dating or not. Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal is amazingly cast, and completely steals the show in a way I probably shouldn't get into. To all the longtime fans of "Mysterio" (With me being one of them), they get this character so right, leading to the film's craziest moments.

 Anyone with knowledge of the characters can likely easily figure out where some of the plot points in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" are going, though the way they play out are certainly clever and unexpected. The film doesn't quite measure up to the previous film (Not to mention, last year's surprise critical hit, "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", really raised the bar to a near unreachable level), what we get is still a spectacular amount of fun. In fact, it's some of the most fun the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had to offer yet. The heart is in the right place, and the twists and reveals lead to a mesmerizing finale. (Not to mention a last second surprise mid-credits scene that completely changes the game.) The Avengers as we know them may be gone for now, but their legacy is in the right hands. It goes to show that Marvel still has a few tricks up their sleeves, and we can only wait in anticipation for where it all goes next. Bring on the next twenty-three movies please! 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Destructive Action, Hormonal Teenagers, The Peter-Tingle, And Fake News. 

Yesterday                                                                     by James Eagan                                            ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for yesterday movieImage: "I just had the strangest dream. You were in Game of Thrones."

 We have right here, what could possibly be the most psychedelic movie of 2019. Should of figured that a movie that heavily involved the music of "The Beatles", would probably be pretty on the trippy side.  

 "Yesterday" follows struggling singer-songwriter, "Jack Malik" (Himesh Patel). Jack's only real support comes from his manager/childhood friend, "Ellie" (Lily James), and he's on the verge of just giving up. While riding a bike home late at night, all power goes out around the world for twelve seconds, resulting in Jack being hit by a bus. Jack wakes up in the hospital, mostly fine, but soon notices something major is off about the world. Apparently, "The Beatles" (You know the Beatles right? One of the greatest bands in the world? Responsible for some of the most beloved songs of all time? Those guys?), never existed. Jack decides to do the most human thing possible with this revelation, and proceeds to pass off the many songs from the Beatles as his own. This leads to Jack becoming an instant star. Fame of course starts to get the better of Jack as he's taken away from his old life, as well as Ellie, who has secretly been in love with him ever since they were kids. 

 Directed by Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire", "127 Hours", "Steve Jobs"), showing a remarkable amount of range with his filmography, "Yesterday" already has a brilliant premise. The film raises a lot of questions in a humorous and surreal manner. It's the suitably weird approach Boyle takes that adds to the fun. The film benefits from a peculiar, dreamlike style, with quirky images and good old fashioned British cheekiness, which is fitting considering all the Beatles music. (The movie also hilariously never actually explains what's going on. It just happens. Kind of refreshing actually.) The screenplay by Richard Curtis ("Love Actually", "About Time"), is thoroughly charming and genuinely sweet, though it does eventually devolve from something insightful and ambitious to something a bit more by the numbers. The film is more interested in being a romantic comedy, which to its credit, it does a solid job of it. Yeah, with how much the premise has to offer and how well the film does with it when it takes the time to do so, it's somewhat disappointing. Luckily, the film remains consistently funny throughout (And even tosses in the occasional big belly laugh that catches you off guard.), and offers a heartfelt, albeit slightly manipulative, story to make it better. 

 Himesh Patel (Who also does a solid job singing as well), is charming and relatable. His actions are human, and his reactions to the absurdity of the world around him are completely priceless. Lily James is as cute as she always is, and she has excellent chemistry with Patel. Kate McKinnon (as "Debra Hammer", Jack's new manager, who doesn't remotely try to hide how scummy she is) is her usual weird self. Some of the supporting cast, which include Joel Fry (as "Rocky", Jack's moronic friend), along with Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal (as Jack's parents, who really don't have much interest in Jack's music) provide plenty of laughs. Also, I had no idea Ed Sheeran (Who plays himself), was so funny. He looks like he's having a blast, and gets a few memorable moments. 

 "Yesterday" is a fitting tribute to the Beatles and what they represented to the world. The film doesn't go far enough with its idea and every romantic comedy trope makes an appearance in some shape or form. (All the classics, from forced conflict to predictable outcomes. The works.) It's still in capable hands, and the chemistry and lovability of the leads, make it worth while. Sweet, strange, and maybe a little kooky, it's what you think of when you think of the Beatles. The songs are all used well, and you get good humor to elevate a standard crowdpleaser, that thankfully, know its audience. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For British Cheekiness And Yellow Submarines.  

Annabelle Comes Home                                     by James Eagan                                            ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for annabelle comes home 2019Image: Can somebody just kill this doll already?

 They literally just materialized this out of nowhere. Producer James Wan's "Conjuring" universe began with two excellent horror movies, then have mostly left their spin-offs to focus on the more generic stuff. The big one being "Annabelle", who began as one of the creepiest parts of the original film, but has been one for two when it comes to her own movies. (First one sucked. The second was perfectly fine.) This new one, which was only announced a couple months ago, luckily decides to make up for predictability with something that I always felt made the main "Conjuring" movies stronger. Actual heart. (You know, to go with the traumatizing terror.)

 "Annabelle Comes Home" opens just as real life paranormal investigators, "Ed and Lorraine Warren" (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) obtaining the creepy doll, "Annabelle", who can be used as a conduit to attract other spirits and demonic entities (Mostly evil.....Actually almost entirely evil.). It's obvious that there is an evil presence connected to this doll, which is unlike anything the Warrens have ever faced before, which leads to them making sure Annabelle is locked up away from their other ghostly objects in their home. Cut to three years later, The Warrens' daughter, "Judy" (Mckenna Grace), is uneasy about what her parents do, and is looked down upon at school because of it. Judy's only real friend is her babysitter, "Mary Ellen" (Madison Iseman), who is taking care of Judy while the Warrens are away. When Mary Ellen's best friend, "Daniela" (Katie Sarife) invites herself into the Warrens' home, she wanders into Lorraine's room of evil artifacts, where her dumb self ends up letting Annabelle free. Without a means of escape, Judy, Mary Ellen, and Daniela must work together and face their own personal fears as Annabelle unleashes whatever demonic spirit decides to join the party.   

 Directed by first timer (And longtime writer of this series), Gary Dauberman, "Annabelle Comes Home" feels like the most necessary and relevant of the spin-offs. Dauberman has a lot of fun showcasing the Warren case files, with all kinds of creative and scary creatures that each pop up during quick, elaborate set pieces like one of those amusement park haunted houses. (Except if it had the ability to murder you.) The film's 70s setting adds to the atmosphere, and the movie takes its time setting up scares, tricking the audience, and messing with their heads. (There's a surreal scene with what I can only assume is a possessed TV that's a special kind of creepy.) Nothing exactly new or surprising here, just some old fashioned scare tactics that thankfully don't try to rely too much on jump scares. (They're still there obviously, though they are used much less this time.) 

 The film also realizes that to make an effective ghost/demonic possession story, you need to have something to latch on to. Our characters are all actually well defined and likable. Mckenna Grace ("Gifted") is a wonderful young actress, and actually makes a few smart decisions of her own throughout the film. Madison Iseman ("Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle") is very endearing, and while Katie Sarife's character doesn't make the best of decisions, there ends up being a reason behind it and makes for one of the most complicated characters. There's a subplot involving Mary Ellen's love interest, "Bob" (Played by Michael Cimino), that doesn't amount to much, but does offer some comic relief. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are only in a handful of scenes, but they're wonderful as usual. Meanwhile, the movie finally gets across what Annabelle is capable of, and what she does exactly. (She acts as the ringleader to all the killer demons and ghosts, masterminding the entire situation.) It helps you remember why everyone was so freaked out by her when they saw her in the original "Conjuring" in the first place. 

 Like all the other spin-offs, "Annabelle Comes Home" is basic in its story, and the seemingly limited budget makes somewhat more apparent this time (For how good the practical effects are, the CGI is lacking). However, it's the heart behind it that makes it more effective. You get some chills and might even jump a few times. You also get characters to root for, and some touching themes of death and faith, that are surprisingly strong. While still not on part with "The Conjuring", it's easily the best of these standalone films. A solid, spooky thrill ride. 3 Stars. Rated R For Demented Dollies And Ghastly Ghouls.     

Anna                by James Eagan            ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for anna 2019 movieImage: She's Russian into trouble.

 Another day, another pretty assassin movie. Sometimes movies give you so little to talk about don't they? 

  "Anna" follows the young woman sharing the same name as the title, "Anna" (Sasha Luss). Having suffered a rough, abusive life, Anna is recruited by KGB agent, "Alexander Tchenkov" (Luke Evans) to become an assassin. Anna is promised by Tchenkov (Who has the hots for her) and his superior, "Olga" (Helen Mirren) that when five years pass, that she will be allowed to leave and live as a free woman, which is something Anna has dreamed of her entire life. Posing as a model in Paris, Anna carries out her missions, no matter how degrading and violent. This eventually attracts the attention of CIA agent, "Leonard Miller" (Cillian Murphy), leading to Anna being forced to work for both government agents in hopes of finally finding a way out of this life.  

 Written and directed by Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "Léon: The Professional"), "Anna" sounds exactly like every other model turned assassin film you've ever heard of, and it is. However, Besson decides to make it much more frustrating and needlessly complicated in a likely attempt to cover up that fact. He still knows how to choreograph a good fight scene (A sequence in a diner is easily the highlight, though most of it was already shown in the trailer.), but the story is predictable right down to the several twists, and is muddled in the constant jumping around with the film's timeline. (It opens with a flashback before jumping forward five years, before moving back three, and back again.) When you figure out everything that's going to happen, it grows increasingly tedious when the movie takes its sweet time getting to the obvious point. It doesn't help that the tone suddenly shifts from very serious to surprisingly goofy and comedic part way through, which destroys the pacing completely. 

 The issues with the film have nothing to do with Sasha Luss, who you can tell has potential as an actress. She already has a compelling look to her, and her character's complex shifts throughout the movie. You do care for her, despite the film's inconsistent screenplay. Cillian Murphy is very charismatic in his part, and Helen Mirren adds some of her usual brand of much needed class to the film. Meanwhile, Luke Evans is pretty underutilized. Others characters appear to have mini-subplots, but most of them don't end up amounting to much. 

 Having been in production for years, "Anna" is generic, forgettable, and maybe a little creepy (Luc Besson does have a few sexual assault accusations against him. Kind of makes all of the sexual content and male gaze in the movie more unsettling.) The movie builds to a silly finale that seems to have the idea that it's more clever than it actually is. (We've seen this before. You're not doing anything new here.) Just another lackluster, assassin thriller that takes up theater space for a week or two before going away. Hey, I got over four paragraphs out of it. Nice! 1 ½ Stars. Rated R For Stylized Violence And Sexuality.    

Child's Play                                                                by James Eagan                                       ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for child's play 2019Image: Woody and Buzz's worst nightmare.

 This truly was one terrifying tale about inanimate playthings. We left the theater disturbed, with thoughts of our meaningless existences, where our journeys eventually take us, and what life truly means. Not to mention that horrifying dummies. God, "Toy Story 4" was terrifying. Also, "Child's Play" was pretty creepy.  

 "Child's Play" opens with tech company, "Kaslan Industries" releasing their new, high doll, "Buddi", which can serve as a smart-home appliance, as well as a supposed "Best Friend" for the kids. (Granted, the damn thing is ugly as sin. So this was a bad idea from the start.) One defective doll ends up in the hands of single mother, "Karen" (Aubrey Plaza), who gives it to her hearing impaired son, "Andy" (Gabriel Bateman). Having trouble making new friends, Andy ends up taking a liking to the doll, nicknamed "Chucky" (Voiced by Mark Hamill). A strange friendship develops between Andy and Chucky, though it slowly becomes apparent that something just isn't right. Chucky starts to display signs of jealously, confusion, and well, homicidal tendencies, resulting in Andy attempting to distance himself from the doll. Chucky isn't going to have any of that, and becomes determined to keep Andy as his best friend through any means necessary. Even if that means hacking up people with a knife in a delightfully grisly fashion.   

 A remake/reboot of 1988 film with Brad Dourif as the voice of the killer doll, "Child's Play" has little to do with the original aside from the name and basic premise. (The less we address the controversy involving the dick-ish attitude of the studio to the original creators, the better.) It's less traditional horror, and more of a dark, slasher comedy, and for all of the silliness that comes with the franchise, what we get is exactly the amount of demented fun we could ask for. Taking out the supernatural element and replacing it with technology, the film is still just as preposterous and goofy as ever. However, that's kind of the point of it all and where the enjoyment comes from. The film is also committed to a certain over the top goriness that you don't really see in horror films these days. It's not torture porn. It's meant to be damn near gleeful, taking a sort of cartoonish and even childlike pleasure in the violence, much like how our main villain handles it. Most of the time you're laughing at how absurd it all is. Director Lars Klevberg really captures that, directing the film almost as if it were aimed at a family audience. (Except with people getting their faces ripped off by lawnmowers.) 

 Aubrey Plaza, known for portraying weird and wild characters, wonderfully plays against type as a mother. (Though she does get to keep her trademark snark.) Gabriel Bateman makes for one of the elements that are stronger here and the original, portraying a kid completely scared out of his mind very well. (Lets face it. In the original, that little kid was pretty weak.) Brian Tyree Henry (as "Detective Mike", Andy's cop neighbor, who investigates the murders Chucky is committing) is great as always, and just brings more gravitas to the film. Meanwhile, Mark Hamill, wisely deciding not to imitate Brad Dourif's classic portrayal, makes one completely his own. He's somewhat more sympathetic at first, starting out like childlike and innocent, then slowly developing into the murderous psycho we all know and love. Other characters mostly fill the background, and most of the victims are unlikable dicks who have it coming. 

 While never particularly scary (Though plenty creepy), "Child's Play" succeeds with a pitch black sense of humor, and a giddy appreciation for the macabre. It makes for an intentionally ridiculous, bloody blast, that might be even more fun than the original. (Be honest. The original, while a delight, is pretty dated stuff.) None of it really makes much sense and things do get a little bit rushed once we reach the finale. Still, it's clever, playful, and endearingly sadistic. Just like Chucky! Bless his ugly little heart. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Brutal Slashing And Stabbings, And Creative Watermelon Designs. 

Toy Story 4                                                                   by James Eagan                               ★★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for toy story 4Image: And the toys plummet from the sky.....The end.

 Maybe they should have left "Toy Story" alone. The franchise ended on a perfect note. So, maybe, Pixar decided to continue with the one of the few things that can bring people together in this divisive world. We really should learn to stop questioning them by this point, shouldn't we?  

 "Toy Story 4" picks up some time after the last film's supposed happily ever after. Now our beloved toys, which are led by ragdoll cowboy, "Woody" (Tom Hanks), now belong to "Bonnie" (Madeleine McGraw) after being passed down by their previous owner, "Andy". Everything seems wonderful for Andy's old toys, including "Buzz Lightyear" (Tim Allen), "Jessie" (Joan Cusack), etc. However, Woody has sadly been going through a bit of a rut, where Bonnie doesn't seem to have much interest in playing with Woody as she does with the other toys. Regardless, Woody is loyal to a fault, and will do anything he can to ensure Bonnie's happiness. One her first day of kindergarten, a nervous Bonnie decides to make a new friend to cope. That isn't a metaphor by the way, Bonnie creates life in the form of googly eyes and pipe cleaners attached to a spork, named "Forky" (Tony Hale).

 Forky as it turns out, is one suicidal spork, whose only purpose is to end up in the trash, and Woody has to go out of his way to keep Forky safe for Bonnie. When Bonnie takes all of the toys for a RV road trip with her family, Forky ends up flying out the window, and Woody leaves the others to track him down. With the two of them ending up in an old antique shop, Woody is reunited with his old love, "Bo Peep" (Annie Potts), who now spends her time being ownerless and saving other lost toys from harm. When Forky is kidnapped by damaged doll, "Gabby Gabby" (Christina Hendricks), who wants to rip out Woody's voice box to fix her broken one, Woody sets out on a mission to save Forky, with some help from Bo, tiny pocket cop, "Giggle McDimples" (Ally Maki), literally attached stuffed animals, "Duck and Bunny" (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), and daredevil toy/Canada's Greatest Stuntman, "Duke Caboom" (Keanu Reeves).      

 Pixar changed the game with animation with the original "Toy Story" (A franchise that is twenty years old by this point), then continued with the equally (If not even more) wonderful "Toy Story 2", and then seemingly concluded the series with "Toy Story 3" (Which as we all remember, brought all of us claiming to be adults to tears). Yet, they had the gall to not only continue, but also keep the already perfect quality of the series in tact in a way that nobody could of ever expect. With that said, the film is not quite what you would expect. Pixar's animation has reached levels that were previously thought impossible. Every frame and character is exceptional detailed and beautiful, showing how far the studio has come from the original, which was already groundbreaking at the time. Every piece of fluff, fabric, and plastic looks authentic, and blends together in a way that's yeah, pleasing to look at, but also instills a certain identity that only Pixar can provide. 

 Directed by Josh Cooley (Who has worked as a storyboarder and writer on several Pixar films), "Toy Story 4" is brilliantly compacted into a brisk hour and forty minutes, with plenty of time given for intimate character moments, a deep emotional core, and most welcome of all, some of the funniest moments of any film to come out this year. The screenplay by Stephany Folsom and longtime Pixar collaborator, Andrew Stanton, is gut busting in how funny it is. Thanks to well timed slapstick and some fantastic, mile a minute dialogue between characters. Not to mention just how memorable they are, though maybe a few get sidelined for obvious reasons (Whether it be the fact that some actors have passed over twenty years, or what the film in the end decides to focus more closely on.) 

 Tom Hanks is as wonderful as ever. First off, his character has received some of the best character development in film (Animation or otherwise), having gone from a jealous jerk to someone willing to sacrifice his own happiness for someone else, despite his better judgement. This really is Hanks' movie, with his character's story taking an unexpected turn that may feel a bit off at first, but the more I think about it, it seems fitting. The excellent Annie Potts gets her biggest role in this series, with her character also having changed over time in a natural way. Tim Allen is a blast once again, while our massive returning supporting cast all give it their all. This includes Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn (as "Rex", the panicky dino), Pixar's good luck charm John Ratzenberger (as "Ham", the sarcastic pyggbank), Blake Clark (as "Slinky", the loyal slinky dog), Timothy Dalton (as "Mr. Pricklepants", the pretentious stuffed hedgehog), Jeff Garlin (as "Buttercup", the stuffed unicorn with a dark sense of humor), Bonnie Hunt (as "Dolly", who tries to keep Bonnie's toys from freaking out), the late, great Don Rickles and Estelle Harris (as "Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head", married potato people), and the always hilarious Kristen Schaal (as "Trixie", the dinosaur gifted with Kristen Schaal's voice). Some are sidelined more than maybe wanted, but you do get why, and thankfully, they all still leave an impression. 

 The film makes up for the lack of screentime for a few classic characters with some fitting new additions, who are destined to become instant favorites. Tony Hale is marvelously (and relatably) bewildered by his existence. He's lovable, and is an absolute riot. Christina Hendricks' cute voice perfectly matches her antagonist's look, whose story arc develops past the concept of what would seem like just another villain. Keegan Michael-Key, and Jordan Peele provide most of the film's laughs, with a running gag that just gets more and more hysterical the further it goes. Ally Maki is a blast, while Keanu Reeves (Who is currently going through an intimate romance with today's moviegoers) sounds like he's having the absolute time of his life. 

 "Toy Story 4" continues this franchise's trend of getting an emotional rise out of its audience, and managing to draw a few tears from every age. (Though people my age, having grown up with these toys, will probably find themselves even more broken up than expected.) Themes of existence, the inevitability of life, and finding (And also accepting) your purpose, are not something you would expect a film about talking toys to deal with. (It's not as overtly dark as the last film, but the questions raised will likely keep both the kids and adults up at night.) While thoughtful, heartwarming, and filled with great humor throughout, it can still seem like we're getting an unnecessary (Albeit still terrific) fourth entry in an already perfect trilogy. Then it all becomes apparent by the end what the point is and how important it is. (Might be a little controversial though. Time will tell on that one.) Either way, it results in the unexpected fourth adventure with our favorite pieces of plastic and fluff that we didn't even know we needed. Kids. Parents. Adults who awkwardly come into the theater alone. Everyone leaves happy, and like every movie in this series, comes out a little more mature every time. 4 Stars. Rated G. (Though There Is Plenty Of Nightmare Inducing Imagery Involving Ventriloquist Dummies. When Are Those Not Scary?)  

Shaft                  by James Eagan                  ★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for shaft 2019 movieImage: "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? Damn right." 

 So the "Shaft" franchise has been around for over forty eight years, and I only just now figured that out. I didn't even know what this was until I saw the poster or even thought about it until I went to go see it earlier today. This brings up an obvious question. Was anybody really asking for this? 

 This new "Shaft" follows "John Shaft Jr." (Jessie Usher), or just Junior, the son of legendary private investigator, "John Shaft II" (Samuel L. Jackson). Junior works for the FBI (Mostly just as a data analyst. Much lamer than an actual agent.), having distanced himself and his mother, "Maya" (Regina Hall) as far away from his father as possible. However, when Junior's childhood friend, "Karin" (Avan Jogia), is found dead under mysterious circumstances, he is left with nobody else to turn to except for his dad. Shaft, seeing a connection between Karin's death and the involvement of an old arch-nemesis, "Gordito" (Isaach De Bankolé), Shaft decides to help Junior solve the crime. Thus begins the wonderful bonding between father and son, which also includes lots of shooting, drugs, and that cool music that goes "bow-chicka-wow-wow". 

 A standalone sequel/s[in-off/attempted reboot (Attempted. The box office decided that.), "Shaft" is an affectionate tribute to old fashioned, blacksploitation films that came before it. Sometimes, it surprisingly works. There are some genuinely well place one-liners sporadically sprinkled throughout to go with the absurd level of violence. However, when a joke falls flat, it does so in a depressingly, groan worthy fashion. Once you really get into the film, you start to realize that in terms of plotting, it's complete crap. Everything is needlessly convoluted and cobbled together, with plot points losing relevance and fading away as the film progresses.    

 The film truly comes to life when Samuel L. Jackson comes on screen, and he's a delight. First, he's clearly having a ball here, and his natural on screen charisma just elevates even the weakest of material. (I wouldn't be surprised if he ad-libbed a decent amount of his funniest moments.) Jessie Usher handles himself well with Jackson, and while he's not the most interesting of characters, the two of them end up having some solid chemistry. Regina Hall, while not in the film near enough, continues to be a highlight when it comes to mostly mediocre comedies. (Remember "Little"?) Alexandra Shipp (as "Sasha", Junior's love interest) isn't given much of a role, but is too cute and naturally charming to not like. Richard Roundtree (as "John Shaft 1", the original Shaft) doesn't even come in till the last twenty minutes, and it only shows how clunky the film really is. (It doesn't help that his role was advertised so much as if he was a major part.) Our villains feel like after thoughts, with little menace or character of their own.

 "Shaft" is gleeful with its over the top violence (Maybe to an uncomfortable degree for some), and there are times when you can see where the idea could of worked much better. It ends up being an issue with direction. Ironically named director Tim Story (Both "Ride Along" movies) can't seem to tell a focused story. He makes the movie look good enough, but never to the point where it leaves the impression. A few laughs can't make up for things just not working, and if you're not having enough fun, you can't help but focus on the many aspects that don't work. Just couldn't dig it, man. 2 Stars. Rated R For Loads Of Language, Violence, And Innuendo.    

Men in Black: International                         by James Eagan                                               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for men in black internationalImage: "For the last time....Stop calling me Thor!"

 It's a little ironic that despite the how much of an impact that the original "Men in Black" (Which still holds up as one of my personal favorite movies. And not just because of the nostalgic novelty of it being a part of my childhood.) has had on what has become the modern summer blockbuster, it could never truly continue to do so as a film series past the first one. We had a mostly lame sequel and even the third film, while enjoyable, was still missing what the first film could accomplish. (You know? State of the art special effects, big budgets, action and humor, and of course, loads of charm from our main characters. All of that good stuff.) It's a franchise that just never quite evolved, and in a way, ended up becoming much less influential that other major summer blockbusters that it itself likely inspired. Thy are silly Alien movies after all. 

 "Men in Black: International" follows the black suit and glasses wearing secret organization that fights aliens, but this time does not focus on Agents "J" and "K" (Formerly played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones). We meet "Molly" (Tessa Thompson), a young woman who at a young age had an incident with an alien and didn't have her memory properly wiped by "MIB" (The Men in Black). Since then, Molly has been obsessed with finding the organization, and eventually tracks down their headquarters. Molly shows enough promise to impress MIB head, "Agent O" (Emma Thompson), who recruits her, dubbing her "Agent M". O takes notice of something going on over in the UK branch and sends M over to London to check it out. Once there, M is partnered up with the formerly heroic, but now slacking "Agent H" (Chris Hemsworth).

 Under orders from the UK branch head, "High T" (Liam Neeson), M and H are on a mission to get some serious information that an alien collective known as "The Hive" are after. The Hive, taking the form of a pair of homicidal twins (Portrayed by professional dancers, Les Twins), plan to dominate the world and assume the image of anyone they choose. This means that MIB is likely compromised, leaving M and H to go rogue, stumbling upon an unstoppable and unstable superweapon that could doom the entire galaxy.  

 Directed by F. Gary Gray ("Straight Outta Compton", "The Fate of the Furious"), "Men in Black: International" is pure formula from start to finish, and can mostly benefit from playing things just safe enough to make something at least entertaining. The film isn't without a lot of moments that offer a level of fast paced, light hearted goofiness. It's effectively diverting, though lacking in originality, much substance, and most shockingly, memorability. The screenplay by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway ("Iron Man", "Punisher: War Zone", "Transformers: The Last Knight". Talk about going downhill.) goes through every studio manufactured plot point you would expect, without much of an impact. It's not that what we get is bad, but it's just a little too generic. I understand the mentality as to why the filmmakers decided to go down this route. We've just become more accustomed to a little more risk with our popcorn flicks. Hell, we even demand it now. 

 One of the most successful aspects to the film is the casting of Tessa Thomspon and Chris Hemsworth, who we know already have great chemistry together after seeing them in "Thor Ragnarok". Hemsworth (A comedic riot in "Avengers: Endgame") has perfect timing, even making the weaker of jokes funnier because of it. He works well with Thompson, and I appreciate the film avoiding the most annoying of clichés by forcing a romantic element to their relationship. Kumail Nanjiani (as the voice of "Pawny", a tiny alien servant, who believes M is his new queen.) is basically just here to make quips and ad-lib, but it does make for a few amusing moments. Not enough is done with Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson (as "Riza", H's three armed, criminal ex-girlfriend), and Emma Thompson (Though she's delightful as always.). Les Twins don't have much personality, but make for an intimidating, villainous presence. (There's also a sequence in a night club, which allows them to show off their impressive dancing skills that you end up wishing could of gone on for longer.) 

 Occasionally fun, but completely forgettable, "Men in Black: International" is the perfect definition of a 2 ½ Star movie. The effects aren't anything special, though are creative enough (Especially when it comes to the alien designs), the story is formulaic, with every twist and turn being obvious to figure out from the start, and Gray's direction is slick and stylish enough to make up for how little emotional weight there actually is to the movie. It's a nice time waster and all. However, like I've noticed about most of our summer blockbusters this year, it doesn't hurt to ask for a little bit more. Especially since we know that it's entirely capable for a long running franchise to do so. For a movie planning to expand its universe, it still feels pretty small. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Slight Adult Content And Language, But Never Enough To Offend. The Most PG-13 Movie You'll Ever See. 

The Secret Life of PEts 2                                   by James Eagan                                            ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for the secret life of pets 2Image: "No, I told you. This is not a toilet bowl."

 It's nice to see "Illumination", the animation studio responsible for the "Despicable Me" series and the "Minions", finally deciding to calm the heck down. Usually they go nuts with their advertisements, taking up all the space on TV, and showing their trailers during almost every theatrically released film almost a year ahead of the film is even released itself. Now, they appear to be a bit more confident in themselves, and not bombard the public with constant advertisements. I mean, by this point, they're basically up there with the other major animation studios (They might even be a bit more successful than "DreamWorks" as of late.), and they know there will be plenty of families, especially those with little kids, who will be excited to see what they release next. 

 A sequel to the hit 2016 movie, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" this time follows three separate storylines that focus on the collected characters from the first film. First, there's terrier "Max" (Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) and the shaggy, gentle natured "Duke" (Eric Stonestreet) getting used to their new lives when their owner, "Katie" (Ellie Kemper) has a baby, "Liam". Despite at first not fully understanding what a kid is, Max eventually becomes very protective of Liam, mostly out of fear that he's constantly in peril. When the family goes on a trip to a farm outside of the city, Max meets "Rooster" (Harrison Ford), a tough sheepdog, who isn't afraid of anything. Rooster becomes a mentor to Max, who learns to overcome his own fears of the unknown. Second, fluffy Pomeranian, "Gidget" (Jenny Slate), who has always had a crush on Max, is left to watch over Max's favorite squeaky toy. She loses it in the apartment of some old cat lady and her army of feral felines. So Gidget turns to overweight cat, "Chloe" (Lake Bell) to teach her how to learn the cat-like ways to sneak in to get the toy back. And the third follows the bunny "Snowball" (Kevin Hart), who has since become a superhero (In his own head), going by the name "Captain Snowball". Snowball takes on a mission to help a Shih Tzu, "Daisy" (Tiffany Haddish) rescue an abused tiger from an evil circus owner, "Sergei" (Nick Kroll). All three storylines do of course culminate by the end, with all of the pets coming together to save the captured tiger.     

 As you can tell early on, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" isn't exactly one for narrative focus. On one hand, it could make it a bit weaker than the original. However, I think it better gets the point across. (It is called "The Secret Life of Pets" after all.) The first movie, while fun and good for the kids, had a simple, predictable plot that was essentially "Toy Story", except with animals. The way this film is structured just shows what kind of cartoonish antics they get into when humans aren't looking, and how they perceive the world around them. It can be a little frenetic, but I think works, especially because of the animation, voice work, and the fact that it's actually really, really funny. Directed by Chris Renaud (Who did the first film, along with the first two "Despicable Me" movies.), the animation has Illumination's usual brand of bouncy, stretchy animation that gives each character their own sense of identity, even without them speaking, along with adding to some well timed slapstick. It works well when taking an exaggerated look into what goes through the minds of our pets (Such as dogs loving to go for rides in the car, cats reacting to red dots, etc.) The humor works best when things get unexpectedly weird, catching you off guard with a quick belly laugh. 

 We also have a terrific voice cast, that while doesn't always utilize everyone near enough, still inject their own personality to their characters, and make them their own. I would say I actually prefer Patton Oswalt over Louis C.K.. Oswalt already has a funny voice, and it just feels like a more natural fit. Kevin Hart, who has a voice genetically created for a shouting, talking rabbit, is once again suitably over the top in a good way. Jenny Slate is adorable and perfectly cast, along with Lake Bell (Whose character best represents any cat you've likely ever had) and Tiffany Haddish, who also just has a voice that's naturally perfect for voicework. Others like Eric Stonestreet, Hannibal Buress (as "Buddy", a dachshund), Bobby Moynihan (as "Mel", a pug), an unrecognizable Nick Kroll, and a hilarious Dana Carvey (as "Pops", an old, grouchy Basset Hound) are all mostly here because they were in the first movie, but still have their moments and don't phone it in. The best new addition would be Harrison Ford, who sounds like he's just plain having fun, and gets to deliver the best lines in his usual Harrison Fordy way. 

 Short and simple, "The Secret Life of Pets 2" makes up for an admittedly limited plot with wacky antics, a lot of cuteness, and most importantly, by just being funny. The stories are loosely connected, offering some character, but nothing of much substance. It's lesser compared to other animated films in the sense that there is little depth or even anything that I would say that parents without kids could probably enjoy. It's mostly for the kids, but still offers good laughs and pet loving sweetness. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Humor And Feline Substance Abuse.  

Dark Phoenix                                                        by James Eagan                                            ★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for dark phoenix movieImage: Jean Grey finishes crushing the X-Men franchise once and for all.

 For nearly twenty years, the much loved comic book characters, the "X-Men", in a way, have been responsible for the formation of what we have come t expect from a superhero movie. With strong, relevant themes,  and memorable characters, the films have had their ups (The first 2 "X-Men" movies, as well as "Deadpool".), their downs (X-Men: The Last Stand", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"), and some truly terrific work ("X-Men: Days of Future Past", "Logan") that rivals even some of the films the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us. There's been spin-offs, a sorta reboot (Time travel and whatnot.), and a lot of attention to world building. It's fitting that such a long running, influential franchise comes to a suitably epic, meaningful, and satisfying finale that, much like "Avengers: Endgame" brings everything the fans could of asked for to a proper close.....*Sigh* Maybe in another timeline.  

 "Dark Phoenix" takes things into the 90s, where mutant and human relations are at an all time best. Everyone appears to be getting along finally, with the mutant superhero group, the "X-Men", led by the telekinetic "Charles Xavier/Professor X" (James McAvoy), being cheered on by the public. Still based at "Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters", the X-Men are called in to save some astronauts that are trapped above the Earth's atmosphere due to a mysterious solar flare. (Since when do the X-Men have a space ship?) Xavier's shapeshifting childhood friend, "Raven Darkhölme/Mystique" (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a team consisting of intellectual, but animal-like, "Hank McCoy/Beast" (Nicholas Hoult), the weather controlling "Ororo Munroe/Storm" (Alexandra Shipp), teleporting creature, "Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler" (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the speedy "Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver" (Evan Peters), the eye beam shooting "Scott Summers/Cyclops" (Tye Sheridan), and Scott's ultra powerful girlfriend, "Jean Grey" (Sophie Turner).

 The mission goes awry and Jean is left to use all of her power to save everyone, absorbing the solar flare. Despite claims that doing so should of killed her, Jean appears stronger than ever, earning the new nickname "Phoenix". However, a secret that Xavier kept hidden from Jean comes to light, resulting in Jean feeling betrayed by her mentor. All the rage and fear that Jean kept bottled up is unleashed, leading to tragic results. Sides are taken as everyone wants to track down the missing Jean, with even reformed mutant criminal, "Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto" (Michael Fassbender) coming out of retirement with the intention of killing Jean. Everyone's actions have consequences and Jean's uncontrollable powers threaten to destroy the fragile peace between humans and mutants. Aaaand then aliens show up, led by "Vuk" (Jessica Chastain), who want to manipulate Jean for their own villainous plans. Kind of jumped the shark with that one.           

  Another attempt at adapting the popular X-Men comic storyline, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" (The first being the disappointing "The Last Stand"), "Dark Phoenix", like before has moments where you can see what could of been. Sadly, what we get feels like a TV series being prematurely and unceremoniously cancelled at the worst possible moment. Both directed and written by Simon Kinberg (A longtime writer of the series), the film lacks a sense of finality or even much actual depth, which is uncharacteristic for this franchise. Kinberg gives the film a decent enough look, with eye popping cinematography, which looks great on an IMAX screen. The visual effects are a bit more mixed, with some looking pretty solid, and others feeling unfinished. Rushed would be the best way to describe how this movie feels, and little has been done to make it feel like a genuine ending. The biggest issues would be with the script, which really just repeats things that we've seen before from the franchise, and offers little explanation or even resolution for where it all goes. It doesn't even quite feel like an ending. 

 The excellent cast may not have the best material to work with, but some of them are still able to give committed performances. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are pros by this point, and even with little time together on screen, their back and forth still works simply because of their chemistry. Nicholas Hoult does get to do some good work, especially later in the film when things get a bit darker. Meanwhile, Sophie Turner really gets to shine here, still giving a compelling performance despite how rushed everything is. She's someone who you can tell is only going to improve the more she's in. (Also, it's kind of funny how she's making appearances into two critically decimated finales in the same year. Some people still aren't over "Game of Thrones".) Tye Sheridan does fine, but the relationship between him and Turner does not have enough weight to make the emotions resonate. Others like a slightly bored looking (But still very pretty. I always have to point that out) Jennifer Lawrence, and a tragically underutulized Evan Peters are sidelined quickly, without an actual payoff.

 Then we get to something I honestly never though anyone would ever say. Jessica Chastain had no reason to be in this movie. (I know, I can't believe I'm saying that either.) Not only is she the most generic of villains and the performance she's forced to give has little menace to it, her whole storyline (And basically everything that involves the aliens) could of been left out entirely. There isn't any buildup or clarification as to who these villains are or even what they want to accomplish. They're just villains, who show up to be evil. (Not to mention, "Captain Marvel" did a better job with these types of characters earlier this year anyway.)

 There are moments and scenes that really do work in "Dark Phoenix" every now and then. Take the aliens out of the equation (And yeah, all of that is crap.), the film has a good, dark storyline that you can see has the makings for something that would anywhere else make for a great sendoff to these characters. The score by Hans Zimmer is epic, and those few strong, individual moments show what this movie could of been. It came down to whether this just doesn't work as finale, or even as an actually good X-Men movie at all. It's clearly been forced to conclude against its will with the whole Disney/Fox buyout, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe having the intention of taking the X-Men characters back to use at a later point, but even then, there's just something missing from the film.

 While not the worst in the series, what we get is a weak, very messy film, that just has the bad luck of being the apparent sendoff to a long running, and overall very important franchise. For something that once started out so iconic and even served as a stepping stone for what the superhero genre has become today, it all goes out with a slight flicker of smoke rather than a bang. It just makes me more sad than anything. (Just think of "Days of Future Past" as the sendoff, skip to "Logan", and stop there. It's gut wrenching, but you're better off that way.) 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Sci-Fi Action And Violence, And Disappointing Resolutions. 

Booksmart                                                                 by James Eagan                                        ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for booksmartImage: "It's summer....What are we still doing here?"

 Another movie I know I'm really late on. Vacations take up a lot of time, and I was forced to enjoy the final days of rest before returning to your repetitive daily routines. It's good to be home, and it's good to get back to getting movies the minute they're released. I can also try to convince people that there may be the occasional little movie that they too let slip past their radar. Not all of the best movies of the summer are the traditional blockbusters. 

 "Booksmart" follows high school seniors and best friends for life, "Amy" (Kaitlyn Dever) and "Molly" (Beanie Feldstein). The two have refrained from engaging into the typical debaucherous acts that most of their classmates have been a part of in favor of going to the most elite colleges and aiming for the best careers. However, it turns out the partiers and slackers, who always saw Amy and Molly as stuck-up, have also gotten into those same colleges. Deciding to break some rules before graduation and end their high school lives on a high note, Amy and Molly head out on a journey across town to go to a big, crazy party across town, complete with the consuming of alcoholic beverages and other things that would make your grandmother cry if she knew you were doing them. It turns out though that getting to the party is going to be more of a wild ride than expected, with the two becoming part of a few life changing misadventures along the way. 

 The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, "Booksmart" is what would appear to be just another coming of age story, with the outcome being one that you could easily predict. The film in a way doesn't deviate away from that formula's path, but instead takes the most unpredictable of routes getting there. First off, it's not a just simple gender swapping of the premise, the screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman lets that play into the themes of the film. (It's not like "The Hustle", which only had a gender swapped premise, but few other defining aspects.) It's very relevant what the movie deals with, but despite a raunchier, dirtier sense of humor, it's handled maturely and even realistically.  

 The biggest draw would be the leads, both of which have such good chemistry together, I honestly think they might be best friends in real life. Beanie Feldstein (Who you might remember as a scene-stealer in 2017's "Lady Bird"), already has comedic chops, and really gets the chance to shine here. Kaitlun Dever (Who I've mostly only seen in dramatic work, such as "Detroit".), shows an immense amount of potential, balancing more serious parts with the comedic ones. They're a perfect onscreen combo that you fall in love with, and you feel such a strong connection with them that you're upset once it's over. (I also appreciate that while the movie portrays them as the nerdy, more school prioritized girls, they're not shown to be overly socially awkward or even bullied. They're just a bit out of place with the party based climate.) The film's excellent ensemble gives room for loads of characters to get their moment in the spotlight. It includes, but isn't limited to Skyler Gisondo (as "Jared", the rich kid, who is desperate to please everyone in any way possible.), Diana Silvers (as "Hope", the seemingly simple pretty mean girl), Jessica Williams (as "Miss Fine", the teacher everyone loves), and an absolutely hilarious (and outrageously bizarre) Billie Lourd (as "Gigi", a strange, drug addicted party girl, who just keeps appearing everywhere Molly and Amy go.). There's also some funny smaller parts from Jason Sudeikis (as the school principal), along with the underused (But still delightful) Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte (as Amy's parents). 

 "Booksmart" is elaborately crazy and full of originality despite being a premise we've seen before. It has an identity that's all its own, much like its leads. Laugh out loud, but also sweet and sincere. Olivia Wilde's direction is charming in of itself, giving off an indie movie-like feel, without any hint of the occasional pretentiousness that can come with that style. Everything feels genuine, and by the end, there is something inspiring about it. An R-Rated, very adult comedy might have something to offer young girls despite its rating. It's one of the most endearing movies you'll see this year. 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Teen Sex Talk, Lots Of Language, And Full Frontal, Barbie Doll Nudity. 

Ma                  by James Eagan               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for ma movieImage: See? This is why I don't drink. 

 I know I'm a little late on this one. I've been on vacation and haven't had all the time in the world for certain movies. So I'm sorry that my much needed rest and relaxation time prevented me from seeing Octavia Spencer torture a bunch of stupid teenagers. 

 "Ma" follows high school student, "Maggie" (Diana Silvers), moving with her single mother, "Erica" (Juliette Lewis), back to her mother's hometown. Maggie is a shy one, but does make friends with a bunch of delinquents, including "Haley" (McKaley Miller) and nice guy, "Andy" (Corey Fogelmanis), who clearly has a thing for Maggie. While trying to get an adult to buy some beer for them, Maggie's new friends are able to convince a seemingly sweet, lonely lady, "Sue Ann" (Octavia Spencer) to do it. Sue Ann decides to let the kids come over to her place, where they can drink and party in her basement. (So long as they don't wander upstairs at any point.) Everything at first seems perfect, with the young twerps having a place to hang out, giving Sue Ann the nickname "Ma". However, we wouldn't have a movie unless something went horribly, horribly wrong. The past starts to rear its ugly head, and Ma reveals her true colors, resulting in all kinds of insanity. 

 "Ma" is the cheap, somewhat trashy, totally bonkers thrill ride that something like "The Intruder" wanted to be. Oh yeah, it's nonsensical and doesn't really offer anything new or of substance. But it just so happens to be done as well as you could ask, and even manages to reach a certain level of uneasiness that should make the horror fanatics queasy. Directed (And Co-Written) by Tate Taylor ("The Help", "Get On Up", "The Girl on the Train"), the film has an extra layer of competence that prevent the movie from falling into the generic crazy thriller pile that films like it are generally destined to find a place in. Even through some predictable beats, the intentionally campy tone and occasionally off-kilter sense of dark humor add a little fun to liven things up. The movie also delivers quite a few cringey scenes that even made me squirm in my seat a little. (There's a scene involving dog blood, a knife, and Octavia Spencer caressing a frightened man's penis......It only gets worse from there.) 

 Octavia Spencer (Who has worked with Director Taylor a few times, and even won herself an Oscar for one of them), looks like she's have the time of her life. She's delightfully demented, fascinatingly complex, and even pretty frightening in a role that goes all over the place in the best way imaginable. You should be able to see the twists coming a mile away, but she doesn't phone it in or even go too over the top. It's the right amount to understand how this character got to where she was, but also to show how creepy and deadly she can truly be. Diana Silvers is a likable lead, while Juliette Lewis gets saddled with a mostly sidelined role. Most of the characters end up being underdeveloped (Pretty half of Maggie's friends) or are detestable idiots (The other half of Maggie's friends), though that's usually the case with these kinds of movies. Allison Janney cameos (as Sue Ann's mean boss), so that was fun. 

 "Ma" is....well, "Ma". You come for the silliness, but unlike some wannabe guilty pleasures, this one knows how to give the audience what they ask for. Nothing more, nothing less. Though not something I'd recommend seeing in theaters (Save that for the need to see on the big screen movies like "Avengers: Endgame" or "John Wick".) However, it's a nice gather your friends at home and shout at the screen kind of movie. It's worth it alone for the sight of Octavia Spencer running over someone with her car, then listening to Earth, Wind, & Fire's "September" right afterwards. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Bloody Violence, And Teenage Stupidity. 

Rocketman                                                                 by James Eagan                                           ★★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for rocketman movieImage: Elton John in his Sunday best. 

 To those who really weren't really big fans of last year's Oscar nominated big screen, music based biopic, "Bohemian Rhapsody", your prayers have been answered. Even I, someone who thinks the movie was mostly solid (Though Rami Malek's performance makes the whole thing worth it), can admit, there was just something missing from it. The music. I'm honestly surprised more biopics about musicians aren't turned into straight up, traditional musicals. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. 

 "Rocketman" tells the true story of renowned musician, "Reginald Dwight"......or as you all know him, "Elton John" (Taron Egerton). The film follows Elton as he recounts his life while in rehab. After a growing up with a complicated and not particularly loving relationship with his mother, "Sheila" (Bryce Dallas Howard) and father "Stanley" (Steven Mackintosh), Elton leaves home to pursue life as a rockstar. Meeting his long time collaborator and close friend, songwriter "Bernie Taupin" (Jamie Bell), the duo become big enough to tour across America. Further complications arise, with Elton accepting with his homosexuality, his romantic and eventually antagonistic relationship with his manager "John Reid" (Richard Madden), and the extravagant and just plain crazy lifestyle that comes with stardom. Complete with sex, drugs, and the most bizarre and colorful outfits you'll ever see. 

 Directed by Dexter Fletcher ("Eddie the Eagle", and served as Bryan Singer's replacement for wrapping up "Behemian Rhapsody". The comparison is even more fitting now.), "Rocketman" takes the musical biopic to an imaginative level unlike anything I've ever seen before. Staged almost like a whimsical, Disney-esque fantasy (Except with more drug use and debauchery), the film is a sparkling sight to behold, with a wild sense of fun and wonder. The songs fit perfectly, going through many of Elton John's greatest hits (Including "Crocodile Rock", "Bennie and the Jets", "Tiny Dancer", the titular "Rocketman", and the most impressive sequence involving the song "I'm Still Standing".), making for elaborately set up, showstopping musical numbers. It's all very fitting considering who the subject is. The screenplay by Lee Hall ("Pride and Prejudice", "War Horse", and the upcoming adaptation of "Cats"), is sharp-witted and insightful, providing the best look into a man with deep, personal issues, using flashy behavior as a coping mechanism.      

 The theme is best displayed by a brilliantly layered and emotionally complex performance from Taron Egerton. Having previously worked with both Elton John and Producer Matthew Vaughn in the last "Kingsman" film (Where John played an even more exaggerated version of himself), you can see where the casting of Egerton came from. He's an inspired and seemingly unlikely choice, that really gets down how we perceive about Elton John, but also conveys what we don't know about him. (For someone so bold, he was kind of a shy dork when he was younger.) It's a different look and one that Egerton is able to make his own, without it seeming like an impersonation. Egerton may be the star, but others such as a very likable Jamie Bell and an enjoyably smarmy Richard Madden, get their time in the spotlight. Some excellent work from Bryce Dallas Howard (Really playing against what I'm used to seeing her in.), Gemma Jones (as "Ivy", Elton/Reggie's caring grandmother), and Stephen James (as "Dick James", John's first manager). Like all biopics, some things are dramatized and skimmed over, such as John's misguided marriage to "Renate Blauel" (Briefly played well by Celinde Schoenmaker). They're made up for by great scenes among the characters and the actors playing them, but it's a typical flaw in trying to tell a true life story in a two hour format. 

 "Rocketman" is a rocking musical extravaganza, that also happens to tell a real person's story in the way they likely would prefer it to be told. It even provides more insight into aspects of that person's life that I didn't about, and I love when a biopic can accomplish that. A compelling look into excess and showmanship, that will also have you tapping your foot the whole way through. A much better use of Elton John's music than "Gnomeo and Juliet". 3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Sexual Content, Substance Abuse, And Bulge. So Much Bulge.  

Godzilla: King of the Monsters           by James Eagan                                                ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Related imageImage: The most aggressive form of heartburn. 

 It's the simplest of simple cinematic pleasures. The giant monster (or Kaiju) movie. They've been around since the dawn of film, with everyone's favorite scaled beast, "Godzilla", being the one to solidify their popularity. (Well, there was also "King Kong". But we'll be settling that debate next year. Stay tuned.) Who doesn't love a bunch of super powered monsters beating the crap out of each other, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake? The best part is now we have big budget, cutting edge special effects instead of guys in Halloween costumes to entertain us. 

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" follows the events of the 2014 film, with humanity now having to accept the existence of gigantic monsters, known as "Titans". The king, being the mighty, atomic powered lizard, "Godzilla" (Played by himself obviously), who despite saving the day in the last movie, also happens to be a giant, fire breathing monster capable of apocalyptic levels of destruction. The now no longer secret organization, "Monarch" argues to the government that humanity will have to learn to coexist with Godzilla, as well as the plethora of monsters slowly starting to reveal themselves, such as the pterodactyl-like "Rodan" and the big, beautiful bug, "Mothra".

 Former Monarch scientist/Monster hater, "Mark Russell" (Kyle Chandler) is called back into the organization by "Dr. Ishirō Serizawa" (Ken Watanabe) when an important device called "Orca", along with Russell's estranged wife, "Emma" (Vera Farmiga) and daughter, "Madison" (Millie Bobby Brown), are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group, led by "Alan Jonah" (Charles Dance). Orca has the ability to transmit sound frequencies that can be heard by the Titans, allowing them to be controlled, and Jonah plans to use it to unleash the dreaded "Monster Zero" aka "King Ghidorah", a three headed dragon-like beast of unimaginable power. Things however are not as they seem, and it becomes apparent that the only way to defeat Ghidorah, and prevent him from taking command of all Titans across the planet, is to work side by side with Godzilla. 

 Directed by Michael Dougherty ("Trick 'r Treat", "Krampus"), "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is exactly the massively scaled, immensely destructive monster movie that's been advertised. Nothing too much more sadly, but still effectively invigorating nonetheless. The visual effects are stunning, and dare I say, groundbreaking. The monsters never looked better and more intimidating. Dougherty's eye for spectacle is on full display, providing an audience of just how larger than life these creatures are, as well as what they're capable of. In terms of plotting, things are a bit more clumsy.  The 2014 film held back most of the destruction, leaving things open to interpretation, and this movie sets out to go bigger and better. It piles on as much chaos and destruction as possible, and while it's certainly frightening and even impressively done, it also veers a bit into destruction porn territory. Because of this, the story doesn't really amount to much, and neither do the characters. None of which are bad per se. They're just basic, without much development and instead going for a predictable path. 

 The characters are more archetypes than anything, but at least the ensemble cast is fantastic and made up of people who generally bring their best regardless of what the script offers. Kyle Chandler (An actor known for always popping up in movies, and doing a good job no matter how big the role.), gets the chance to be the main star, and along with the always wonderful Vera Farmiga, make for some of the more compelling characters. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven from "Stranger Things") gets her first movie role, and once again proves to be a very talented young actress with tons of potential. Ken Watanabe, returning from the last film, gets the best lines like before, while Zhang Ziyi (as "Dr. Chen", a Monarch scientist) is mostly here to deliver sciencey talk. Thomas Middleditch (as "Dr. Sam Coleman, the scientist trying to reason with the government) and Bradley Whitford (as "Dr. Rick Stanton", a snarky scientist) are here to provide comic relief. Others like the returning Sally Hawkins ("Dr. Vivienne Graham", Serizawa's partner) and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (as "Jackson Barnes", the soldier with all the one liners) are underutilized. Despite limited characterization, everyone still does a fine job. (Watanabe and Whitford especially.) The stars of the show are the monsters themselves. Godzilla has never looked more powerful, and King Ghidorah is one menacing monstrosity. (Think a horrifying blend of a Hydra and a dragon, radiating with electricity and an sinister grin.) Also, credit to the filmmakers for making a creature as goofy sounding as Mothra work. (She gets to take part in the film's most entrancingly beautiful moment.)

 "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" is a suitable love letter to those classic monster movies to a fault. Things get sillier and more explosive, and while the film does offer a nice environmental message (The monsters are essentially just really big animals acting on instincts after all.), it eventually takes a backseat to action. What we get is a fun, visually jaw dropping presentation. Still, after "Avengers: Endgame" (A summer blockbuster with well defined characters, memorable dialogue, and deeper emotional stakes), this feels rather ironically small for something so large in scope. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Monsters And Radical Environmentalism.  

Brightburn                                                                by James Eagan                                          ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for brightburnImage: Um.....Trick Or Treat?

 It's impossible to create a brand new move genre. We have so many already, from comedy to horror, as well as Science Fiction and the most profitable one being the superhero genre. One thing I have noticed with the new age of film is that the newest trend is mixing them together, even when they don't look like a traditional fit. Even for its apparent flaws, "Brightburn" proves that there is a lot of untapped potential here.   

 "Brightburn" takes place in the small town of "Brightburn, Kansas", where married couple "Tori" (Elizabeth Banks) and "Kyle" (David Denman), dream of having a child of their own. Their prayers are answered when a spaceship falls from the sky and crashes into their barn. (This story starting sound a little familiar?) Inside the ship is a baby that they decide to raise as their own, naming him "Brandon" (Jackson A. Dunn). At first, everything seems fine. Brandom grows up as a normal young boy, but when he hits 12, changes start to happen. (And I'm not talking about puberty.) Brandon soon realizes that he has some strange abilities, such as super strength and super immunity to physical harm. What sounds like a traditional superhero origin story suddenly takes a dark turn as Brandon's abilities start to send him down the wrong path, with horrifying results.  

 Produced by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy", "Super"), and written by his family members, Brian and Mark Gunn, "Brightburn" takes the superhero genre, or in this case, the story of "Superman", and asks the question "What if it all went horribly wrong?". The film is essentially the possessed child horror story with a twist that while doesn't exactly go against the predetermined story structure. However, it still finds a way of delivering some effective menace and clever use of the tropes that we see in what would make for a basic superhero origin story. Director David Yarovesky (A frequent collaborator with James Gunn) makes excellent use of the film's small budget (Ranging from less than $8 Million). There already is something freaky about someone, let alone a child with a temper, being granted so much power, with little disregard for how this power will affect those around him. It takes what we perceive as heroic acts in other films, and uses them to generate scares with gorey outcomes.   

 Elizabeth Banks, proving she doesn't get near enough credit in more serious roles, does a fantastic job portraying a mother refusing to accept the worst of her child. In some aspects, the situations could look somewhat silly and hard to take seriously, but she plays it completely straight, complete with a look of pure terror to make it work. David Denman does some good work, while young Jackson A. Dunn delivers a calm, chilling performance that shows a certain restrained villainy that actually makes him much creepier. The costume itself is suitably creepy, making for some great imagery and well, is just plain awesome. You know, for a future homicidal maniac with the ability to burn your skull with his laser eyes. 

 The level of violence in "Brightburn", while bloody and gross, do serve an overall purpose as to what a being like this would be capable of. (Basically all of those things you never see in superhero movies taken to scarier, more violent level.) It works to the film's advantage as a horror flick, leading to unique deaths and unsettling images. Not without its clichés and a predictable story that concludes exactly where you would expect it to, the film delivers on its premise and sets the stage for maybe others to mix up our traditional genres a bit more from now on. I want my superhero/musical/romantic comedy/action period piece! 3 Stars. Rated R For Ahem, Jaw Dropping Violence. Heh...You'll Get It When You See The Movie.  . 

Aladdin                                                                          by James Eagan                                        ★★★ OUT OF ★★★★

Image result for aladdin 2019 movieImage: "Ready to get jiggy wit it?" 

 Disney's continuous digging up of their old animated classics and remaking them into the live-action format is still one of those things about modern filmmaking that still raise a few eyebrows. Aside from the boatloads of cold hard cash that come with these films, you can see where the idea to do this came from and why they're not planning on stopping anytime soon. Some might even warrant some modernization and could also improve on the original ("The Jungle Book" being the obvious one.). Still, you do hope that maybe a little bit more originality is somewhere on their minds in the future. 

 Just in case you don't already know this story (How can you not?), "Aladdin" follows.....well, "Aladdin" (Mena Massoud). A skilled thief, referred to as a "Street Rat", Aladdin spends his time getting into trouble in the wondrous desert kingdom of "Agrabah", with his monkey pal, "Abu" (Voiced once again by Frank Welker). After an incident in the marketplace, Aladdin meets the beautiful "Jasmine" (Naomi Scott), not knowing at first that she is the princess. Jasmine's father, "The Sultan" (Navid Negahban) hopes that Jasmine will settle on one of her many suitors and marry, but she has much bigger dreams of becoming a proper ruler without the need to marry some dude. Aladdin and Jasmine clearly have a connection, but when Aladdin realizing who she is, he doesn't think he has much of a shot. However, The Sultan's scheming vizier, "Jafar" (Marwan Kenzari), seeking to seize the throne, comes to Aladdin with an offer. Jafar leads Aladdin to the "Cave of Wonders", where he is instructed to deliver Jafar a specific oil lamp in exchange for more riches to impress Jasmine.

 Things go awry, resulting in Aladdin and Abu being trapped in the cave with a living magic carpet and the lamp, which out also has magical secrets of its own. Once rubbed, it releasing the one, the only, "Genie" (Will Smith), who has the power to grant Aladdin three wishes. Never having had a friend like him, Aladdin is transformed into the wealthy prince "Ali", in hopes of winning Jasmine's heart. With some help from the Genie, Aladdin of course has some lessons to learn and hopefully won't forget who he is despite his new persona, while also having to deal with Jafar's plots to gain greater power. (It's so odd writing the plot for a movie I've seen hundreds of times, except in live-action form.) 

 An remake of the much beloved (And still terrific) 1992 animated film, "Aladdin" is much like 2017's "Beauty and the Beast" in which you're left with the question as to how necessary the film truly is considering how little time has passed since the original film was released. It doesn't help that the original has aged so well, and Robin Williams' voice  performance as the Genie has become such a staple of so many childhoods. (I know I'm not the only one who believes that he should of gotten an Oscar nomination for it.) For what we get, it's a well made, delightful and magical family film that has enough charm to make up for some occasional clunkiness. Directed by Guy Ritchie (The two "Sherlock Holmes" films.), it's nice to see what he can do when he restrained, though not even Disney can't control his reliance on his sense of stylized filmmaking. (The man just loves speeding things up and slowing things down doesn't he?) Aside from those moments of Guy Ritchie-ness, he gets to show off a wide sense of scope, beautiful visuals, and an incredible production design. (I can see a Best Costume Design nomination in the future.) 

 Mena Massoud, in his first major big screen role, has a look that fits the original character well and is as easy to root for as he should be. Naomi Scott is also a perfect fit for her character, and even gives her a little extra depth than before. (Jasmine already was a fairly strong character to begin with, but I appreciate the slight, modernized tweaks.) Nasim Pedrad (as "Dalia", Jasmine's sassy handmaiden/best friend) is a fun addition to the story, and offers something to differentiate itself from the original in a way that doesn't feel forced. On the weaker side, Marwan Kenzari (aka "Hot Jafar" as the internet has been referring to him as.), while plenty slimy, doesn't have enough of the original character's menace and enjoyable wickedness to make for a memorable villain. Also, the film doesn't do near enough with Alan Tudyk (as the voice of "Iago", Jafar's parrot sidekick). 

Then we get to Will Smith, who has been left with an impossible task in the eyes of the people. Robin Williams' performance was remarkable, and even now, it's still so funny and insanely lovable. Luckily, Smith doesn't so much try to replicate it, but instead make it own. He ends up giving one of his better performances in some time, even with the freaky realistic CGI. (Still looks better than "Sonic the Hedgehog" though.) Smith gets tons of laughs with his mile a minute delivery, and livens up the film after its somewhat uneven start. The visual effects, while flawed (It may be beautiful green screen. But it's still green screen.), are still marvelous to look at. I especially love what the film does with Abu and the Magic Carpet. They're the right amount of cartoonish, yet still blend into the live-action flawlessly. 

The songs in original were some of Disney's best, and this "Aladdin" does well with them for the most part. Yeah, some songs aren't as extravagant now (You can do more with animation after all.), but they certainly look good with the Bollywood-esque inspiration. The best show-stopper, much like in the original film, would be "Friend Like Me", while the weakest song would be the one new addition, "Speechless". (Aside from Naomi Scott getting to belt it out and show off her singing voice, the song adds little and feels out of place. You know, because it wasn't in the original movie.) The question as to how necessary all of these remakes are still debatable and "Aladdin" doesn't change the game, but settles for doing more of the same. However, it's not like there's anything wrong with the same if you do it right. Some off pacing and a few weaker elements are made up for by plenty of laughs, whimsy, and fun that the whole family can enjoy. Not exactly a diamond in the rough, but not without its worthy merits. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Frightening Moments And Blue People Servitude.     

The Sun IS Also A Star                                          by James Eagan                                               ★★ ½ OUT OF ★★★★

 

Image result for the sun is also a starImage: ""This new Maroon 5 album is amazing!" 

 Another day, another cheesy young adult romance novel turned into film. There's an audience for it, mostly consisting of young girls looking for something dreamy. They also usually involve some kind of depressing subject matter or someone on the verge of death. (Guess that really gets them going.) We have one here that appears to be trying to go for something a little different. Which is good, because these movies are bringing me the Hell down, man. 

 "The Sun Is Also A Star" follows two young adults, "Natasha Kingsley" (Yara Shahidi) and "Daniel Bae" (Charles Melton). Natasha is a physics student, with a very fact based outlook on life, looking for a way to prevent her and her family from being deported back to Jamaica. Daniel is more of a dreamer, hoping to become a poet despite his parents having decided that he will become a doctor ever since the day he was born. While Natasha goes to meet with a lawyer (John Leguizamo) to reopen her family's case to stay in America and Daniel goes out for his college interview, the two end up having themselves a "Meet-Cute" (You know the term. When a couple meets in silly, cutesy fashion. Hasn't happened to me yet.) Natasha isn't much of a believer in fate and love, and Daniel is determined to prove the existence of such things to her. Asking for one day to get Natasha to fall in love with him, Daniel and Natasha spend the day together, with it becoming apparent that there is a clear connection between the two. Sadly, real life starts to rear its ugly head, threatening a possible relationship between these love birds. 

 Based on the novel by Nicola Yoon (She also wrote the original novel for that other romance, "Everything, Everything") "The Sun Is Also A Star" doesn't so much change up the typical romantic novel based formula. It just happens to do a better job with it than others, though throughout the film, there are shining moments that show it actually could of achieved something much better. Directed by Ry Russo-Young ("Before I Fall"), the film is shot beautifully, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning, which for a film like this, isn't necessary, but is very much welcome. The direction adds a sort of fairy tale like, glossy look to the film, which on a way feels fitting to what the story is supposed to be. The screenplay by Tracy Oliver ("Girls Trip", "Barbershop: The Next Cut") offers some moments of insight and the occasionally funny line, but can't resist falling into sappiness and even a little pretentiousness with its themes of fate and love. (It's the kind of dialogue where you want to shout at the screen "We get it already!") 

 Where at times, the script falters, the chemistry between our two promising leads is very much a highlight. Yara Shahidi ("Black-ish", and its spin-ff "Grown-ish") is terrific, with a compelling storyline that's easy to understand and relate to. Charles Melton ("Riverdale") is charming, and you can see how these two, despite some differences, could find each other and find a connection. (Although his lips are incredibly distracting. You hinge on every word he says simply because your eyes can't help but focus on them.) John Leguizamo is good, though its very obvious where his character goes and it's pretty hard to believe. (Nothing is THAT coincidental.) Another solid part comes from Jake Choi (as "Charles", Daniel's antagonistic older brother), whose plotline does add a little conflict and doesn't end the way expected. (They don't force a villain where it isn't needed.)

 By the numbers for the most part, "The Sun Is Also A Star" avoids most of the melodrama that plagues films like it. Nobody is dying, there isn't some evildoer trying to get in the way, and the contrivances are limited. (They're still there though. It's a staple of this genre.) The film ends up concluding on a surprisingly mature, realistic note that's unique and dare I say poetic. It really is a heartfelt, fitting way to end the film......And then it makes the mistake to keep going. The film truly ends on the most basic of notes, which while not bad exactly, it's just unnecessary and feels like the filmmakers didn't have the balls to commit. In the end, it's a fantasy, though not a bad one. However, you do feel like it could of been more if it really wanted to be. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content And Lovey-Dovey Talk.