In Theaters (Or On Your Phone If You're Streaming): Violent Night, The Fabelmans, Strange World, Disenchanted, The Menu, Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, One Piece Film: Red, The Banshees of Inisherin, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Till, Wendell & Wild, Prey for the Devil, Ticket to Paradise, Black Adam, Halloween Ends
Coming Soon: Avatar 2, Puss in Boots 2, I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Babylon, M3GAN, House Party, Plane, Knock at the Cabin, Magic Mike 3, Ant-Man 3, Creed 3, Shazam 2
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Image: I knew that Santa has been going through some sh*t....But geez!
I can't be the only guy suffering from Christmas fatigue, can I? After suffering a horrendous Christmas last year (Working retail on Christmas day, with all kinds of crappy people popping up to shop for literally nothing, kind of brings you out of it), and now having to deal with the holiday being shoved in my face even back in September, I've had some trouble getting excited. It's the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, it's not all that special when it's become so bitter and commercialized to the point one becomes desensitized to it all. Thankfully, the sight of Sheriff Hopper, dressed as Santa Claus, stabbing the absolute f*ck out of bad guys with a sharpened candy cane, just might be what I need to get into the Christmas spirit. Come on, you know you cracked a smile just reading that.
"Violent Night" follows a washed up, worn down, and now completely cynical "Santa Claus" (David Harbour), who on Christmas Eve, spends his breaks from delivering gifts to all the good children of the world to get drunk, peeing while flying on his reindeer powered sleigh, and complaining about how things just aren't the same anymore. Having lost his Christmas spirit, Santa just half-asses it nowadays. Meanwhile, estranged couple, "Jason" (Alex Hassell) and "Linda" (Alexis Louder), agree to come together for the holidays, taking their sweet daughter, "Trudy" (Leah Brady), to visit Jason's absurdly wealthy mother, "Gertrude Lightstone" (Beverly D'Angelo), and the rest of his terrible family. While at the family gathering, which also brought in Jason's neurotic sister, "Alva" (Edi Patterson), her annoying influencer son, "Bert" (Alexander Elliot), and Alva's current, moronic movie star wannabe husband, "Morgan Steele" (Cam Gigandet), tensions are already running high enough a sit is. It only gets worse when a group of mercenaries arrive, kill all of the staff, and take the entire family hostage.
These Christmas themed murderers, led by the especially vile "Mr. Scrooge" (John Leguizamo), wants access to Gertrude's secret vault where she happens to be storing millions of dollars. At this same time, Santa just so happens to be stopping by the Lightstone estate, and winds up caught in the crossfire. Now without his reindeer and with Trudy, armed with a walkie talkie, being his only ally, Santa must go to town on these dangerous villains, and save Christmas, along with reigniting his own holiday spirit at the same time. All in incredibly violent fashion.
Directed by Tommy Wirkola ("Dead Snow", "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), with a screenplay from Pat Casey and Josh Miller (The "Sonic the Hedgehog" films), "Violent Night" is a monstrous hybrid of "Home Alone" and "Die Hard". The film is damn near unsettling in just how over the top the violence is, and yet, it's undeniably creative about it as well. This badass Santa uses whatever he can find to massacre our baddies, such as jabbing Christmas stars into people's eyes, giant hammers, choking with Christmas wreaths, and whatever other yuletide themed item he can possibly use. Wirkola, who I can see from his filmography just loves wildly cartoonish gore, looks to be having a blast with the carnage, creating a few elaborate action scenes, and tossing out loads of pitch black comedy while he does it. On the flip side, in terms of plotting, it's fairly generic stuff, even with the inspired premise. There aren't many surprises where the story goes, and could be seen as entirely derivative of other Christmas centered products. That doesn't in any way detract though from a film that seems to be fully immersed in its own mutilating mayhem.
David Harbour completely commits to our drunken Santa, who despite his cynicism, does deep down only wants what's best for the children of the world and displays plenty of jolliness. You know, when he's not blowing the crap outta people with grenades or sending their heads to be chopped up inside lawn mowers. The relationship between Harbour and Lead Brady is legitimately cute and gives the film some surprise. Alex Hassell is enjoyably dorky, while it's nice to see more of Alexis Louder (Who previously had her breakout performance in last year's "Copshop"). Some of the supporting characters aren't much more than caricatures, though Beverly D'Angelo looks to be enjoying herself spouting out all kinds of vulgar language, and there are some good laughs out of Cam Gigandet (Whose character is literally introduced talking about how different 9/11 would have gone down if he had been there). Meanwhile, John Leguizamo is terrific here, playing a villain that's hilarious, easily detestable, and shockingly villainous in the most despicable of ways. (You really do love to hate him here) There's also some fun to be had with some of the extra villains, such as Brendan Fletcher (as "Krampus", an especially sadistic henchmen), who is one of those guys that really morphs into anything, along with Sean Skene and Mitra Suri (as "Frosty" and "Candy Cane", who both are amusingly quick to believe that they're actually fighting the real Santa Clause).
"Violent Night" might be too crude, absurd, and nihilistic for some, but even in spite of all that and unlike say those disposable "Hallmark" and "Netflix" Christmas cash grabs, the film is too genuine about itself that you really have to commend it. Somehow it even finds a way to bring out a solid and sincere Christmas message, which believe it or not, is quite heartwarming despite all the goofiness. It's a fun, fast, preposterous, and yes, horrifically bloody holiday treat. 3 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Nutcracking, Body Dismembering, And Santa Slaying.
Image: "Boy, I sure respect the role of Film Critics now, more than ever!"
When you ask someone what director got you first interested in film, I know that Stephen Spielberg is the easiest, most obvious answer that anyone can make. It's too mainstream and unoriginal. I'm sure you pretentious film bros would look at such an answer with a scoff and simply turn away in a rude fashion. (It happens) Yet with me, yyyeah, Spielberg really was that director for me. It's not the most unique of choices, but it's the one that rings true for me. Aside from being introduced to such films as "Raiders of the Lost Ark", "Jurassic Park", "E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial", it just always astounded me that someone can create major blockbusters one moment, then do something more personal the next. It really set the stage for how I look at movies and while I don't see myself getting into the business anytime soon (I'm in my late twenties, so that's gonna quite the challenge), my mind is still filled with wonder from what can be crafted on the big silver screen, and Spielberg was the artist that I gravitated towards. When I think of pure movie magic, his name is what comes to mind. (We just won't talk about "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". Can't all be winners.)
Based somewhat on the life of Stephen Spielberg, "The Fabelmans" follows, er, well, the "Fabelmans", a Jewish family in the 1950s. We follow "Sam "Sammy" Fabelman" (Played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord as a child, then by Gabriel LaBelle as a young man), who takes an instant interest in the world of cinema and how it's made, encouraged by his former pianist mother, "Mitzi" (Michelle Williams), and not fully understood by his engineer father, "Burt" (Paul Dano). After having to move to Phoenix, Arizona for Burt's new job, taking Sammy's sisters, "Reggie" (Played by Birdie Borria, then by Julia Butters), "Natalie" (Played by Alina Brace, then by Keeley Karsten), and "Lisa" (Sophia Kopera), along with family friend, "Bennie Loewy" (Seth Rogen), Sammy's passion for filmmaking goes from hobby to something that he wishes to do with his life. However, after the death of Mitzi's mother and some interesting words of wisdom from his great uncle, "Boris" (Judd Hirsch), Sammy starts to discover that his art, his maturity, and the structure of his family are about to clash into each other, especially once the family moves to California.
Directed by Stephen Spielberg, who co-wrote the film with Tony Kushner (Having worked with Spielberg on "Lincoln", "Munich", and "West Side Story"), "The Fabelmans" could so easily have become somewhat of an overly sentimental, glossy fantasized version of one's own childhood. However, the film feels a bit darker than expected, seemingly poking a hole into that kind of fairy tale-like storytelling, and instead showing us the harsh, confusing, and always uncomfortable feelings that rear their ugly heads when confronted with the matter of fact truth of how things aren't always exactly like the movies. It's the kind of film that doesn't exactly take the cheap route, but instead shows us a more biting path. One that may seem colorful and picturesque at first glance, but is actually at times a bit hard to watch in places. With all that said though, this is by no means a cynical film. In fact, it's still an uplifting, whimsical coming of age story, that remembers to incorporate humor, heart, and whatever else makes people feel real. The screenplay is excellent at that, balancing out such tones without it ever feeling jarring, except for the ways that are intended.
The race for Best Actress only continues to grow to the point that somebody is going to sadly get left out. Michelle Williams is phenomenal, conveying a sort of innocence to mask her character's emotional pain. Paul Dano, who was terrifying early this year in "The Batman", is endearing, being a bit flawed in how his ideology clashes with our main character, yet is still very well intentioned. (The man rocks a bow tie!) Gabriel LaBelle gives a breakout performance, carrying his character throughout the years, and to give Spielberg credit, he never portrays himself as a flawless person, making numerous emotional mistakes throughout. Seth Rogen proves once again that he has both the potential for comedy, as well as drama, while Judd Hirsch, who only appears for one long scene, is so brilliant that it would feel kind of wrong if he didn't get some kind of award recognition. The cast is rounded out with excellent performances all around, whether or not they're actually major parts, with Julia Butters, Jeanie Berlin (as "Haddash", Burt's grouchy grandmother), Sam Rechner (as "Logan", a bully to Sammy, who has a rather interesting reaction to seeing himself portrayed in a school film), Oakes Fegley (as "Chad", an especially anti-Semitic bully), Chloe East (as "Monica", Sammy's first girlfriend, who lets just say, really loves her some Jesus), among others, each having at least just a moment to stand out.
"The Fabelmans" has everything you want from a Stephen Spielberg production, from the purely cinematic feel, the jaw dropping cinematography by Janusz Kamiński (You can just tell that a lot of frames from this movie are going to be appearing in future film school textbooks), the music score from the great John Williams, and a certain kind of movie magic that we've all associated with the director. It's a beautiful love letter to the art of filmmaking, ingeniously crafting a semi-biographical story around it that feels honest and true, while also leaving the audience to be just as inspired by it. It allows us to peak inside the mind of someone that many of us see as a movie making genius, and shows us the person beneath. It's another instant classic. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Uncomfortable Content, Harsh Adulting, And One Of The Best Placed F-Bombs In Cinema History.
Image: "My God! We've floated into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!"
It's frustrating when Disney, freakin Disney, isn't even taking time to promote their own animated films, which is what built the entire company, something is very much wrong. We do not appreciate animation these days, seeing it as something for the kids instead of just another form of cinema, worthy of praise from all ages. And I mean, all ages.
Set in the city of "Avalonia", "Strange World" proud adventurer "Jaeger Clade" (Dennis Quaid) has a falling out with his son, "Searcher" (Jake Gyllenhaal), who finds more of an interest in a bizarre plant with energy based capabilities. Determined instead to discover what's on the other side of the mountains that surround Avalonia, Jaeger disappears, while Searcher uses the plant, called "Pando", to create a new way of life for the people, using the plant to power their city. Years later, Searcher is a farmer, with a wife "Meridian" (Gabrielle Union), and a son "Ethan" (Jaboukie Young-White), who is slowly trying to find his own calling. When the president of Avalonia, "Callisto Mal" (Lucy Liu), discovers that the Pando appears to be dying, thus putting the entire supply in danger, she appoints Searcher to be a part of a expedition into a giant sinkhole beneath Avalonia to save it. With Meridian, Ethan, and their three legged dog, "Legend", tagging along, the crew discovers a strange world (Get it?) of baffling creatures just beneath their feet. Along the way, Searcher is reunited with Jaeger, who is still determined to traverse the other side of the mountains. With some aide from Ethan's new blobby friend, "Splat", the crew travels deeper into this bizarre land, discovering unimaginable secrets that could change their entire way of life, as well as a possible rekindling of the seemingly lost father-son relationship.
Directed by Don Hall ("Winnie the Pooh", "Moana", "Raya and the Last Dragon"), along with co-direction from Qui Nguyen, who also wrote the screenplay, "Strange World" isn't anything new in terms of screenwriting or story. The film is quite predictable and doesn't stand out from some of the studio's best work. It also certainly won't become an instant classic. However, it doesn't always have to be. The film just needs to check all the boxes of the traditional family film, though maybe it doesn't hurt to spice things up to match with the times. We got our standard, though likable characters, along with beautiful, energetic animation that feels ripped right out of an old pulp comic (Which served as inspiration for the film itself). All of which, mixed in with a great sense of humor, are riddled with a certain Disney charm that, while doesn't change the game, is plenty fun. One thing that the film does both differently and wonderfully, is how it naturally just incorporates more diversity and representation, without having to stop and draw attention to itself in a backhanded fashion.
Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly dorky, while Gabrielle Union is limited in her role, though she makes much more out of it simply because of her natural charisma. Jaboukie Young-White is excellent, playing a character who is stated as gay early on, and no big deal is made out of it. He's our main character, who just so happens to be gay, and the world didn't implode. (If the only downsides are that it will probably result in your kids becoming more accepting and decent people, or allows those who rarely get equal representation their chance, then there's only good things to come out of this) Dennis Quaid and Lucy Lui are very unrecognizable, vanishing completely into their voice performances, while we get some funny moments from Karan Soni (as "Caspian", one of the eager crew members) and Alan Tudyk (as the crew's pilot, who gets eaten seconds after the journey starts). The creatures are all creative and weird, with Splat being an obviously easy to market critter, though the dog Legend is quite the scene-stealer. (Something about how Disney animates animals always gets some big laughs out of me)
Lesser than what we have come to expect from Disney (And not on par with many of the animated films we've gotten this year), "Strange World" is still a sweet, funny, and delightful family treat that's perfect for a Thanksgiving movie day. Even when it doesn't explore anything new in terms of story, it instead at least incorporates good characters, magical visuals, and strong representation that at some point will become so normalized that the easily triggered slowflakes won't even have time to complain. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Contant, Epic Wokeness, And For Good, Decent, Open Minded And Understanding Individuals. Could Have Been G Actually.
Image: "I SHALL have my Oscar!"
Before we get started, can we all take a moment to look back on how well the first "Enchanted" genuinely holds up? It's funny how I know everyone seems to like the film, and yet, it doesn't get as included along with Disney's modern canon as much as say "Tangled or "Frozen", when it's just as well done and wonderful for the whole family. It's still really funny, with an Oscar worthy (And super cute) Amy Adams, and both toys with the classic Disney formula while giving the audience just what they pay to see. It just took this long to make a sequel? And only release it on "Disney+" too? I think it deserves a little better than that don't you think?
Set ten years after the last film, "Disenchanted" follows former princess of the animated world of "Andalasia", "Giselle" (Amy Adams) and her one true love, "Robert" (Patrick Dempsey), after their supposed happily ever after, moving away from New York City to the small of "Monroeville". Giselle is having difficulty connecting with her now teenage stepdaughter, "Morgan" (Gabriella Baldacchino), and adjusting to her current fairy tale-free lifestyle, such as contending with "Malvina Monroe" (Maya Rudolph), the scheming head of the town council. After receiving a magic wand as a gift from "King Edward" (James Mardsen) and "Queen Nancy" (Idina Menzel), Giselle decides to use the wand to make her new town just like her fairy tale home. At first, everything seems perfect and colorful, though with Malvina becoming a more villainous queen. However, Giselle soon discovers that she is slowly becoming a wicked stepmother herself, and once it becomes permanent, it could bring about the end of Andalasia, as well as trap her in her new villainous state.
Directed by Adam Shankman ("Hairspray", "Rock of Ages", "What Men Want"), with a screenplay by Brigitte Hales ("Once Upon a Time"), "Disenchanted" is not as good as the first one. Let's get that out of the way early. It's almost completely unnecessary simply because of execution. It didn't exactly have to be that way, with the film's premise showing some promise early on. It incorporates some amusing ideas and clever takes on classic Disney tropes, especially when it comes to old perceptions of the natures of good and evil (Lending itself to some of the film's most humorous moments). The film looks good for the most part, and yet, the story and screenplay are predictable and weak, and the same goes for the forgettable songs from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, returning from the first film. Aside from a show stopping duet from Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph, along with an excuse to allow for Idina Menzel to show off her powerhouse voice, the songs feel bare bones and nowhere near up to par with what we know Disney can give us.
In spite of the film's faults, one quality shines through regardless, and that's once again Amy Adams. Aside from being as adorable as ever, Amy Adams is outstanding and wonderfully reminds the audience why she deserved to be included with the rest of Disney's iconic princesses. Going into full mom mode, Adams generates laughs and so much sugar sweetness, that you're sympathetic to her despite the mistakes she makes, and is even quite mystifying when her character shifts back and forth into villainy. She still has great chemistry with Patrick Dempsey, who has a funny subplot involving himself being tossed into the typical hapless hero role, while Griffin Newman (as the voice of "Pip", Giselle's chipmunk friend, who is transformed into a stereotypical evil tabby cat due to the spell) and Alan Tudyk (as the voice of talking scroll) also get quite a few laughs. Gabriella Baldacchino is good, though many of her character's actions are too derivative to the point of frustration. (Yes, they actually do pull the whole "You're not my real mother" line. That one needs to die already!) Maya Rudolph is fine, though makes for an unremarkable villain, while Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays (as Malvina's bumbling servants) look to be having fun. Others don't get that much to do, such as Idina Menzel, Oscar Nunez (as a coffee shop owner, turned into Malvina's magic mirror), and James Mardsen, who while still hilarious, sadly only appears for about five minutes in the entire movie.
"Disenchanted" boasts a once again superb Amy Adams and moments of magic, yet is bogged down by a cut in half budget and a lack of real magic, giving off the slight feeling of one of those straight to video Disney sequels that we have long gotten past. It's not terrible, but just not needed in the end despite the potential that was just sitting there for about fifteen years. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated PG For Crude Moments, Budget Constraints (So Much Offscreen), And Villainous Hotness. That's Always The Case.
Image: "Welcome to Flavortown, Beyatch!"
I gotta admit. Even though I saw the trailer for this movie at least once a week for five months straight, nothing could have possibly prepared me for the kind of bonkers ride I was about to take. In a way, seeing the trailer so many times actually made me think that the film was going to be something else, so it all sort of worked out in the end. And it made for one of my personal favorites this year.
"The Menu" opens with a boat dropping off a group of elitist people at a private island, where an exclusive and extravagant restaurant called "Hawthorne" is located, run by the renowned celebrity chef, "Julian Slowik" (Ralph Fiennes). The group consists of pretentious food critic, "Lillian Bloom" (Janet McTeer) and her stooge of an editor, "Ted" (Paul Adelstein), washed up actor "George Diaz" (John Leguizamo) and his annoyed assistant "Felicity" (Aimee Carrero), grouchy married couple "Ralph" (Reed Birney) and "Anne" (Judith Light), a trio of business bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr), along with Slowik fanboy "Tyler" (Nicholas Hoult) and his date, "Margot Mills" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Over a series of strange courses, it quickly becomes apparent that there's something just off about this specific menu, which just might ensure that nobody is getting off of the island alive. The one thing that just might be able to bring everything down is the mysterious appearance of Margot, who doesn't quite seem to fit into what Slowik has planned for his esteemed guests.
Directed by Mark Mylod ("Succession"), with a screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy (Who also worked on "Succession"), "The Menu" matches the titular menu within the film, in which you really don't know where the Hell it's going to go, but you know it's going to be both scathing and super weird. The film drops you in quickly, coming across as if it's the start of a horror film, introducing us to an ensemble of unlikable characters, heading over to a secluded area where they couldn't possibly have any way of escaping. It's a slow burn, incorporating the titular menu's courses in a humorously describable fashion. This idea only proceeds to get more absurd as the film goes on, matching the craziness that's about to unfold. The satire isn't exactly new, but that doesn't make it any less razor sharp, targeting the most woeful of the culinary world, which can also lend itself to other comparisons. The rich, the elite, those who step on or look down on those with less, etc. The way that Mylod, along with the pitch black screenplay, brings everything together, lends itself to always relevant themes, along with a large amount of twisted laughs. This also doesn't prevent the film from being a genuinely suspenseful thriller, where you're pretty much on edge for a good chunk of the film's runtime (With Ralph Fiennes' theater shaking clap snapping you out of any moment of comfort).
The cast is made up of a commendable company, with Ralph Fiennes playing things completely straight faced, which makes him both funnier and actually even more terrifying. It's a rather brilliantly complicated (Where one questions directly calling him outright evil), yet all too noticeably unhinged performance that the man deserves more Oscar nominations than he's gotten. Anya Taylor-Joy is perfect as usual, playing off against Fiennes in a captivating fashion, where you're also not entirely sure where her character is going to go either. Janet Teer and Paul Adelstein are suitably pompous, while Nicholas Hoult is hilariously annoying in the most buffoonish way possible. John Leguizamo is also quite excellent (And just might actually be poking fun at himself in some ways here), while Hong Chau (as "Elsa", Slowik's always stern and straight faced second in command) is an intense scene-stealer.
"The Menu" is a biting satire, with a terrific cast, smart dialogue, and an aura of delightful wickedness. It also serves as a good thriller, that just so happens to be at its core, so ridiculous that you just have to laugh at the insanity. Thus making it both delicious and quite nutritious. It might be a bit too weird for some, though I can see something that can cater to those looking for intelligence in their movies, along with those just looking for a diabolical good time. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Language, Violence, Stuffy Rich People, And For Tyler's Bullsh*t.
Image: "I'll bet the stuff that comes out of there is delicious!"
How in the world did we have three "Pinocchio" movies in one year? We had Disney attempt to remake their own classic to mixed results, along with a poorly animated Russian one where Pauly Shore said "Father, when can I leave to be on my owwwwwn?", and now we have a passion project from the great Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy", "Pan's Labyrinth", "Pacific Rim", "The Shape of Water", "Nightmare Alley") that he's been working on for over a decade. It's strange that even though Disney already made their own definitive version over eighty years ago, that we still have filmmakers trying to tell what appears to be the same story over and over again. However, it takes a lot of hard work, passion, and imagination to make it truly feel new again. And to maybe even give the once definitive version a run for its money in the process.
Based on the classic tale, though with a few rather interesting tweaks, (And distributed by "Netflix" and "The Jim Henson Company") "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" opens at the rise of Fascism in Italy, with loving father and woodcarver, "Geppetto" (David Bradley), losing his son, "Carlo", in a bombing and going into a deep depression. In a drunken rage, Geppetto cut down a tree, that just so happens to be the home of our insect narrator, "Sebastian J. Cricket" (Ewan McGregor), and uses the wood to craft a wooden puppet. In the middle of the night, a magical, blue being, known as the "Wood Sprite" (Tilda Swinton), brings Geppetto's puppet to life and deputizes Sebastian as his conscience. The little puppet boy, named "Pinocchio" (Gregory Mann), is immediately fascinated by life and the world around him, though he is an instant troublemaker and isn't exactly the same good boy that Geppetto wanted him to be. In hopes to earn the love of his father, Pinocchio attempts to be like a real boy, go to school and obey the rules.
However, Pinocchio finds himself sought after by many outside, less than noble forces, such as the evil "Podestà" (Ron Perlman), who wants to turn him into an example for his child soldiers, and the greedy "Count Volpe" (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey, "Spazzatura" (Cate Blanchett, making mostly monkey noises), who schemes to force Pinocchio into his puppet show. Pinocchio also learns a shocking truth, that he actually can't die. Pinocchio then sets out to make his father proud, thus learning lessons of love, humanity, life, and death, while Geppetto, realizing his mistakes, takes off after him.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson (Known for his animation work, such as "Fantastic Mr. Fox"), "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is yet another "Netflix" release that thankfully, due to early acclaim from festival screenings, has gotten some early, limited theatrical screenings. This allows audiences willing to seek it out and get the chance to witness what may be the most impressively made stop motion, animated film on the big screen. Just as it should be seen. The film is an incomprehensible achievement in animated storytelling, where much like "Wendell & Wild", you can see how much love went into carefully and intricately bringing this fairy tale to life like never before. It's a more mature, quite dark, and surreal take on the story, filled with frightening and uncomfortable images of oppression, themes of loss, and most surprising of all, points out the positives that come with our mortality. Despite all of that though, the film is still a funny, whimsical, and delightful, family friendly, musical adventure with something for everyone. The animation alone is worth it, with each character's intricately constructed models and designs showcasing both incredible levels of movement and personality at once. The world is beautiful, even when it's frightening to look at, and feels completely original even though it's based on one of the oldest properties we all know. The screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Patrick McHale ("Adventure Time", "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack", and creator of "Over the Garden Wall") is full of complicated characters and an anomalous sense of humor, that goes from quirky and cutesy, to kind of twisted, then veers even into a little political satire too while it's at it. (Mussolini's Italy is portrayed as a place of pure evil and persecution, yet also pokes necessary fun at the absurd levels of blind fanaticism)
The voice work is top notch and they all perfectly embody their characters (Right down to some even kind of resembling them too), with Gregory Mann portraying a more troublesome and flawed version of the character, who is still plenty charming, with room to improve, while a terrific David Bradley (Who you nerds might recognize as the caretaker, "Argus Filch", from the "Harry Potter" films), brings extra dimensions to Geppetto that we never really see. Ewan McGregor steals a lot of the movie, proving once again that the man is way too talented an actor to rarely get the recognition he very much deserves. Christoph Waltz oozes despicable villainy, along with a menacing Ron Perlman, while Tilda Swinton (In two roles actually) is as magnificent as ever. The rest of the cast consists of a few of del Toro's regulars and other standouts, such as Burn Gorman (as a priest, who looks like his voice actor so much that it's scary), Finn Wolfhard (as "Candlewick", the Podestà's abused son), along with Tim Blake Nelson and John Turturro in a pair of unrecognizable parts. Also, I don't know whose idea it was to cast Cate Blanchett as a spitting monkey, but it's both odd and brilliant. The score from Alexandre Desplat ("The Shape of Water", "Little Women", and quite a few Wes Anderson films) is almost a character in of itself, which also features a few rather memorable songs too while it's at it. Special mention also go out to how the film takes the time during the credits to thank every single one of the animators that worked on the film, considering how often stop-motion is overlooked, and how they never get the appreciation they deserve for so much hard work.
A unique, peculiar, and all together charming future family favorite, "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" is a touching, often hilarious, and magical masterwork of classic storytelling. It's a wondrous look into the bleakness of death and somehow finds the beauty in all of it. It never offers easy answers, yet still finds ways to be a fanciful feast of fun. It just might be the most thought provoking film you'll see this year, with messages for all ages (Proving that all of us still have plenty of growing up to do) and could even bring out a tear or two. A genuine labor of love. The best animated film of the year. Disney might need to step up their game a little next year. 4 Stars. Rated PG For Disturbing Images, Menacing Mussolini Militants, And Sebastian Stomping.
Image: "He lives....In you!"
I remember back in early 2013 when I first saw the late, but very great Chadwick Boseman for the first time in the movie "42", and immediately knew that he was destined to become a star. Not just a star, but a tremendous actor, soon to be a household name. That's exactly what he became, especially after he became the "Black Panther", based on the comics from "Marvel". After 2018's monster hit movie, and one of the best to come out of "Marvel Cinematic Universe" (An Oscar nominated film, I might add), it was a gut punch when we lost Boseman to colon cancer in 2020. It's clear what we meant to everyone, and we were left wondering what exactly Marvel could even do with this. Not to mention, what should they do with this? How can you continue something that's lost its heart and soul, and do it respectfully? How would he have wanted it? These were questions that I couldn't answer. None of us could. It shows that once you get past the whole mega-franchise, there is that special sense of humanity that's always attracted moviegoers, and the ability to deliver us Earth-shattering, masterful cinema that also just so happens to be under the guise of a pretty looking comic book movie.
With the events of "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame" having come and gone, yet still buried deep in everybody's memories, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" opens with the highly advanced, once secret but now in the open African nation of "Wakanda", suffering a tragic loss. "T'Challa/The Black Panther" (Played previously by Chadwick Boseman), has died, leaving the country without a king and a protector. This sparks debate among other countries as they attempt to pressure Wakanda and T'Challa's queen mother, "Ramonda" (Angela Bassett) to relinquish their "Vibranium" (A powerful, rare metal, that anyone, good or evil, would love to get their hands on). The loss of T'Challa has affected everyone, such as "Dora Milaje" general, "Okoye" (Danai Gurira) and T'Challa's spy lover, "Nakia" (Lupita Nyong'o), though his death has taken a very negative turn on his sister, "Shuri" (Letitia Wright), who has lost faith in her country's spiritual traditions as well as herself. Meanwhile, an American research team, using a device that can track Vibranium, uncover some underwater, only to end up slaughtered by the blue skinned, underwater dwelling people of "Talokan", led by their frightening, centuries-old king, "Namor" (Tenoch Huerta Mejía).
Namor then approaches Romonda and offers an alliance against the rest of the world who might threaten their combined power, although this alliance can only come to be if they assist him in finding and killing the one responsible for the Vibranium tracking tech, revealed to be a young, genius inventor named "Riri Williams" (Dominique Thorne). Shuri and Okoye set out to get some assistance from their CIA ally, "Everett K. Ross" (Martin Freeman) in finding Riri to protect her from Namor's followers, only to draw themselves closer into war with the equally powerful, underwater nation. When Namor's offerings slowly become threats, seeking to completely bring down Wakanda, as well as the rest of the surface world, the people of the still grieving nation must come together as one and a new Black Panther must rise to the occasion.
Directed once more by Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station", "Creed", "Black Panther"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole (Also returning from the first "Black Panther"), "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" wastes no time setting the tone, especially with the film's heartbreaking, powerfully silent opening. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't going to be like much of what we've seen in the rest of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the last couple films have been lighter in scope, more humorous in tone, and most focused either future setup or bringing about epilogues of sorts for certain characters, this one feels as if it's both a conclusion and a fresh start at the same time. For a good chunk of the film, it comes across more as a drama, with time taken to showcase how our characters (And perhaps, the actors themselves) are forced to come to terms with their hero's passing. It gets right down to the heart of the matter, portraying grief, suffering, loss, and acceptance in a respectful, and all too real fashion. It's not to say that this still isn't a comic book movie, but Ryan Coogler is poised to make sure that the audience understands that this is much more than that.
The action and visual effects are top of the line, making for compelling imagery, especially during the film's intentionally murky, yet stunning underwater sequences (Which feel like it could exist in the real world and sets itself apart from the otherworldly and bright "Aquaman"). The epic scope is matched by the heart-racing score by the great Ludwig Göransson ("Black Panther", "The Mandalorian", "The Book of Boba Fett"), which is paired perfectly with the likes of Rihanna and others. The sights and sounds are beautiful to witness, and are brought to seamless life in the way we've come to expect from million dollar blockbusters. This isn't in the end though the usual fanservice delivering extravaganza as many fans would come in to expect. Whatever happens, whether it simply be part of this one story or serves a later purpose, has a role to contribute in a way that feels natural and without the need for studio mandated necessity.
Chadwick Boseman's presence is still felt throughout the film, with the actors and actresses on screen doing marvelous jobs keeping his spirit alive. Letitia Wright is especially outstanding, showing how much her character has grown and changed since the first film. Her emotional plight elevates what one would see as simple escapism, and brings it to a place that many of us lively have found ourselves in after the death of a loved one. Tenoch Huerta Mejía, who I can see becoming a much more recognized name after this, is a terrifying, yet complex figure. He's given more backstory than your average comic book villain to the point where there are moments where you question his villainy, only to realize that his depth only ends up making him a much more imposing threat. We get some powerful work from Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett (Who gets more than a few scenes that shake you to your very core), along with necessary comic relief from Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, and Winston Duke (as "M'Baku", T'Challa's warrior former rival). We also see the return of a few familiar supporting faces from the MCU, such as Florence Kasumba (as "Ayo", one of the most frequent appearing Dora Milage) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (as "Valentina Allegra de Fontaine", the new CIA director, whose ambitions are starting to become less morally ambiguous). Special mention also must go to a few new additions to still growing universe, such as Michaela Coel (as "Aneka", one of the less traditional members of the Dora Milage), Mabel Cadena (as "Namora", Namor's second in command), and Alex Livinalli (as "Attuma", a Talokanil warrior, with an instant rivalry with Okoye), continuing Marvel's trend for creating a universe, packed with major, supporting, and even minor characters that are equally memorable. (Also, can we take a moment to notice the awesomeness of water bombs? They're literal bombs that explode with water, and they're both cool and thoroughly frightening to see in action)
Not remotely sticking to the usual status quo, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" is a touching tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, as well a very different entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet still, even more than some entries in the rest of the current phase, remembers what we adore most about this franchise. Not the big action. Not the numerous comic references. It's the humanity that's brought to the characters, and only gives us more incentive to see where they go next. It's a dramatic, exciting, and empathetic look into how loss can both break us and also put us back together. Much like the first film, it provides much needed representation, as well as political themes that are sure to get under the skin of the easily offended, and while it's still rooted in the lore of the larger MCU, it stands out on its own as just a great film. And of course, stick around for a post credits scene. One that might not be the next big reveal that some nerds might be looking for, but the one that's needed. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodier Than Usual Violence, Political Discourse, And Winged Feet (You Laugh Now, But Wait Till You See Them In Action).
Image: Fan reactions when "One Piece" finally ends.
It's great when a movie that's based on a show, especially one that happens to be based on one of the longest running anime of all time, can actually stand on its own perfectly well as just a solidly made film. It tells you everything you need to know in context of the story and its characters, generating humor, heart, and a classic sense of adventure. Anyone can get behind that, even when it's as weird as something like "One Piece".
With the "Great Pirate Era" raging on, "One Piece Film: Red" continues the adventures of the infamous "Straw Hat Pirates", made up of the rubber skinned captain "Monkey D. Luffy" (Colleen Clinkenbeard), the three sword carrying bounty hunter "Roronoa Zoro" (Christopher Sabat), perky navigator "Nami" (Luci Christian), long nosed marksman "Usopp" (Sonny Strait), lovestruck cook "Sanji" (Eric Vale), talking little reindeer with a blue nose "Tony Tony Chopper" (Brina Palencia), straight faced historian "Nico Robin" (Stephanie Young), super speedo wearing cyborg "Franky" (Patrick Seitz), panty loving afro skeleton "Brook" (Ian Sinclair), and the newest addition, fishman "Jimbei" (Daniel Baugh). The crew decides to make a stop at an extravagant concert for world famous and much beloved singer, "Uta" (Her speaking voice provided by Amanda Lee, and her singing voice provided by Japanese singer Ado). It's revealed that Uta is not only a close childhood friend of Luffy's, but also is the daughter of Luffy's hero, the famous pirate "Red-Haired Shanks" (Brandon Potter). However, the ongoing conflict between the pirates and the "World Government", along with the many casualties caught in the crossfire, has darkened Uta's heart. Now Uta intends to use her own "Devil Fruit" powers (aka, fruits that grant individuals bizarre abilities) to bring about a new era that will end all conflict and create a fantasy world of peace. However, that dream of her's might also just bring about the end of the world as well.
Based on the anime and manga from creator Eiichiro Oda (Who claims that the series will be reaching its conclusion in only a matter of years), "One Piece Film: Red" isn't just an overlong episode of the series. Nor does it feel like fanservice driven filler. It's actually a well told, heartfelt tale that's equally action packed, really funny, and just like the series itself, so full of life. The animation and visuals are beyond breathtaking, taking the series to epic new heights that need to be seen on the biggest screen you can possibly find. This is also most stunning during the film's musical sequence, with Ado's rather hypnotic singing voice perfectly matches the film's memorable and plenty catchy songs. The characters and voice work are excellent as usual (I watched it Dubbed, but I can safely assume the Subbed version is just as great), with Luffy's off-kilter, though still very moral perspective carrying over from the show. The rest of the crew gets their moments, with most of the humor coming from Usopp and Brook, along with a few returning recurring characters such as "Trafalgar Law" (Voiced by Matthew Mercer), Luffy's biggest fan "Bartolomeo" (Voiced by Tyson Rinehart), and an interesting subplot involving Luffy's old marine friend "Koby" (Micah Solusod). (There's also loads of other small parts and cameos that longtime fans will be delighted to see) Amanda Lee is quite compelling, giving her character a certain cutesy charm, mixed with the character's well intentioned villainy and turmoil. And yes, Shanks gets his biggest and most important role yet after nearly two decades of waiting.
A bit darker than expected with a plot takes a few turns than you would normally see coming, "One Piece Film: Red" is an epic addition to the Straw Hat crew's seemingly never ending journey, and makes for their best movie yet. It's an exciting, heartwarming musical spectacle filled with good humor and spellbinding animation. It's a treat for anime fans, as well as really anyone ready to set sail for some high sea adventure. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Some Adult Content, Shonen Violence, And The Squeeing Of Both Male And Female Anime Fans All Over. I Joined In A Little Too.
Image: "So, Colin.....You're saying you gained 60 pounds to play a Penguin?"
Have you ever just been so immersed within a film, entranced by the world created, and so fond of the characters, that you never want it to end? Like as if you could just watch the rest of their lives on screen simply because you don't want to leave? You're actually upset that it's over and that you can't see what happens next? That is this fecking movie in a nutshell.
Set on a small Irish isle in the early 1920s, "The Banshees of Inisherin" follows "Pádraic Súilleabháin" (Colin Farrell), who makes the shocking discovery that his longtime best friend and drinking buddy, "Colm Doherty" (Brendan Gleeson), has just decided that he doesn't like Pádraic anymore. Pádraic isn't given any real explanation or reason other than him just being too dull to be around Colm, who would rather instead focus on composing his music. Pádraic, despite being liked well enough, doesn't have too many friends on the little isle, aside from his sister, "Siobhán" (Kerry Condon), the town pariah "Dominic" (Barry Keoghan), and his beloved donkey, "Jenny". Pádraic's futile attempts to win back Colm's friendship result in Colm providing him with an ultimatum. Stay away from him or else Colm will cut off his own fingers with his sheep shears. Sadly, rejection still doesn't sit well with Pádraic, whose desperation to win Colm over only get progressively worse as his life on the isle is about to take some drastic changes.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges", "Seven Psychopaths", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a change of pace from his usual work in some ways, yet feels entirely like something that could serve as a defining masterpiece of his career. It's a calm, dreary, exceptionally melancholy tale of friendship, fragility, and the abrupt changes to the statis quos that many of us so easily find ourselves wrapped up in. McDonagh's trademark way of twisting tones around is at its absolute best here, where the film is often really funny, though that is mostly there to hide an underlying sense of sadness that anyone can resonate with. At its core, it's a very human film that just so happens to be set around a situation that from a distance, sounds quite ridiculous. However, everyone's motivations all kind of make sense in their own quirky way.
Colin Farrell, who is having a bit of a renaissance as of late with scene-stealing performances such as "The Batman" and "The Gentlemen", is positively compelling in a role that's at times hilarious, moving, and much more complicated than what we are first introduced to. Brendan Gleeson is also wonderful, with another character that expresses just as much in simple glances or expressions as he does with dialogue. The entire cast feel real, from a terrific Kerry Condon and an amusingly awkward Barry Keoghan, to an easily detestable Gary Lydon (as "Peader Kearney", Dominic's abusive cop father) and Sheila Flitton (as "Mrs. McCormick", the strange town elder, who is either psychic or just crazy). The dialogue is whip smart, delivering some of the most Irish Irishness that you will ever see on screen, showing us an aspect of humanity that feels so natural. It's not hard to get wrapped up in the lives of every single character on screen. It will be a crime if this somehow doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. (It might even deserve to win too now that I think about it)
Beautifully bleak and almost hilariously depressing to a degree, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a gorgeously shot portrait of full blown, masculine pettiness. The cinematography from Ben Davis ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") feels like true art coming to life, and is so engaging that I just never wanted to leave. It really connects to the soul in a way that you would never expect and you are just left with so many questions once it's all over. Perfect cinema, and quite possibly the best film of 2022 (So far. Still time to change). 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content, Killer Bread Trucks, And Lots Of Fecking Language.
Image: Guilty....All guilty.
Allow me to explain the series of circumstances and coincidences that led us to our current situation, which is how in the world I was able to see this movie this early. I mean, the movie doesn't get its Netflix release until December 25th, and even the early limited release isn't until Thanksgiving. So this is the earliest that I have ever seen a movie before the average viewing public. Let's all give a special round of applause to my Lyft driving dad for picking up the right person at the right time, charming the Hell out of them, and maybe performing a few favors or two (I don't ask), resulting in me getting a pass to the Austin Film Festival, allowing myself and my little sister a chance to go to this incredibly packed screening at the Paramount theater. Probably one of the best experiences I've had in the 12 years I've been doing this site.
"Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" once more reunites us with Southern gentlemanly detective, "Benoit Blanc" (Daniel Craig), who like the rest of us, wasn't having a good time during the 2020 COVID Pandemic. With no mysteries to solve (And only "Among Us" to play every hour of the day), Blanc jumps at the chance when he finds himself out of nowhere being invited to an island mansion (Shaped like a giant glass onion) in Greece, owned by famous tech billionaire, "Miles Bron" (Edward Norton), who Blanc has never even met. Bron has also invited his collection of colleagues and friends, such as Connecticut governor, "Claire Debella" (Kathryn Hahn), ultra men's rights activist and influencer, "Duke Cody" (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend "Whiskey" (Madelyn Cline), scientist "Lionel Toussaint" (Leslie Odom Jr.), along with controversial model (Who refuses to think before she speaks), "Birdie Jay" (Kate Hudson) and her frenetic assistant "Peg" (Jessica Henwick). Everyone is also shocked to see Miles' former business partner, "Cassandra "Andi" Brand" (Janelle Monáe), who previously had a huge falling out with the group, has also shown up. It's also revealed that Benoit Blanc apparently was never meant to receive an invitation, having possibly been brought in by an unknown party, just at the same time Bron plans to stage a murder mystery party where his friends must deduce who "killed" him. Turns out though that everyone has a real motive to want to see Bron dead and when an actual murder does occur, it's up to Blanc to solve the mystery. One that is in some ways much more complex than anyone could possibly imagine. And in other ways, actually based entirely all around pure stupidity.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson ("Looper", "Knives Out", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which is still awesome and one day all of you will realize it too!), "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is a brilliant second installment to 2019's equally fantastic comedic, murder-mystery, which in a year of great films, was probably the best one not to get a Best Picture nomination. Distributed via Netflix, the film is yet another wonderful tribute to the classic whodunit, with a modernized, relevant spin, that also stands on its own perfectly as if it were just another entry in an ongoing series of a detective's many adventures. This chaotic and intentionally convoluted caper is filled with many pieces moving around at once, where your mind is so focused on one thing that you don't notice what could be staring at you right in the face. Johnson crafts so much intrigue and packs in so much character that you really don't want it to end. It really grasps the awkward mindset that I'm sure many of us were going through during the pandemic, along with some social commentary and fun poked at in terms of the absurdity of it all.
Daniel Craig returns in all his Foghorn Leghorn drawl fueled glory, remaining an eccentric, yet thoroughly ingenious anomaly. Craig also retains a certain sense of mystery about himself, allowing for small hints into what exactly makes this man tick. The ensemble, which also includes a few delightful cameos and bit parts, is much like the first one in how intricate and defined each and every single one of them are (There's also a certain appearance that I feel definitely needs to be a recurring gag throughout future films). Not to mention, everyone also plays very unique roles that I've never seen them play before. Edward Norton is a marvelously dick-ish Elon Musk-esque dirtbag, while Dave Bautista is the total embodiment of the douchey, bro YouTuber that's corrupted so many. Kate Hudson is absolutely hilarious, while Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick (Who does a flawless American accent), Madelyn Cline, and Kathryn Hahn are all standouts in of themselves. However, the one that everyone will be talking about is Janelle Monáe, who is remarkable in ways that I dare go into. Not just in terms of spoilers, but also because I just plain can't explain it in a way to do it justice. The film plays with old tropes and twists that pay homage to the classics, while reinventing them further for today.
Hilarious, poignant, unpredictable from start to finish, incredibly intelligent, and most of all, so much freakin fun, "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is the definition of a good time at the movies. It needs to be seen in theaters, and we deserve to see what other possible cases that our friend, Benoit Blanc, gets himself involved with. Just like the original, it's sure to be an instant classic, and considering that I already purchased my tickets for the one week showing before I somehow found myself able to see it so early, I feel that I have no other choice but to attempt to solve this puzzle yet again. (Who knows what I missed the first time?) Mr. Johnson, Youdunit! Again! 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Rich People Privilege, And The Most Buffoonish Murder And Cover-Up Scheme In Cinema History.
Image: I hope people are still listening.
Some might wonder why by the year 2022 are we still feeling the need to go back and revisit some of our country's most monstrous of mistakes, and yet, I always felt that it's almost always going to be necessary. The American dream as we know it, isn't exactly a real thing if you take a moment to think about it. Absolute equality and freedom are something that we as a people should always strive towards. Continuously and without ever achieving that goal. That's because it can't possibly ever be perfect, but we should want it to be and never give up the fight to make it so. We can't just say to ourselves "Yup, Racism is dead. Everything is good now. No need to improve anymore." That way of thinking only causes us to find ourselves slowly de-evolving back to our old, misguided ways.
Based on unfortunately true events, "Till" tells the story of "Mamie Till" (Danielle Deadwyler), and her young son, "Emmett" (Jalyn Hall). Living in Chicago, Illinois during the mid-1950s, Emmett is allowed to go to Mississippi to visit his cousins, though Mamie is very much worried since her son has never truly experienced the real evil that comes from racism, especially in the South. While out with his cousins, Emmett whistles at a local shopkeeper, "Carolyn Bryant" (Haley Bennett), which results in him being kidnapped in the middle of the night by a pair of white men (Along with black men that were hired to assist), resulting in Emmett's horrific death at their hands. After Emmett's body is discovered in a river and sent back to his mother, with the young man's corpse being almost completely unrecognizable due to what his murderers did to him. Mamie, having before not wanting to get involved with the Civil Rights movements, decides that true change can't be achieved unless people are forced to see just what this kind of hatred looks like in the real world for themselves. Emmett's funeral is an open casket, and Mamie, who has become an opportunity of sorts for the NAACP to hopefully start to affect real change, travels to Mississippi to testify in a trial against Emmett's killers. A trial that most likely isn't destined to result on the side of American justice.
Directed by Chinonye Chukwu ("Clemency"), who co-wrote the film with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp ("The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till"), "Till" isn't a shallow, whitewashed, overly sentimental dramatization of real life tragedy so that filmmakers can get themselves some Oscar buzz. That isn't even close to what this actually is. The film is harsh in its commentary, and heartbreaking in its drama, portraying true grief in a fashion that's free of Hollywood saturation. Chukwu shows us the harshness of the story, much like the way Mamie Till would have wanted it to be told, and entirely from the perspective of the African American viewpoint. No white saviors here. They're not even part of the equation.
Front and center is Danielle Deadwyler, who has got to become an instant household name after this and very much deserves award recognition. It's a performance that could easily have been seen as too stagey or even misguided in execution, but Deadwyler commands the screen in a way that I really haven't seen a performer do in some time. (Chukwu also wisely keeps lots of long shots that focus only on her face) It's a excruciatingly raw and powerful performance that should become legendary, even if the Academy finds some bullsh*t excuse not to nominate her. Jalyn Hall's appearance is brief, though memorable in giving us even the tiniest glimpse into the unworldly, yet charming life that was wrongly cut short (We never see the murder, though we hear it and bear witness to the inhuman aftermath) The rest of the ensemble includes Tosin Cole and Jayme Lawson (as "Medgar and Myrlie Evers", famouse Civil Rights activists), Frankie Faison (as "John Carthan", Mamie's father, who accompanies her to Mississippi), Sean Patrick Thomas (as "Gene Mobley", Mamie's supportive future husband), John Douglas Thompson (as "Moses Wright", Mamie's uncle, who fails to prevent Emmett's kidnapping), an unrecognizable Whoopi Goldberg (as "Alma", Mamie's mother), and many others who, even in small parts, stand out. Also, Haley Bennett, who is actually a much more talented actress than people give her credit for, is suitably repulsive playing one God-awful human being.
"Till" is a well paced, captivating drama that grips you from the word go, with the tension only rising before we reach the film's bittersweet conclusion (Although it's more bitter than sweet, considering we all know the outcome). It's a painfully honest look into the kinds of evil that society would allow, that's both heartbreaking, yet inspiring. Relevant, maddening, and beautiful in spite of harsh sincerity. It shows that the fight for justice and equality is in itself unfair and never ever truly ends, but one must never give up in pursuing it, even when it just seems like you're always destined to fail. It's the most American movie you'll see this year. 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Disturbing Images, Southern Racism, And The Whitest Jury You Will Ever See (I Swear It's As If Someone Just Swapped Out Haircuts With These People).
Image: "The 'Key' here is to 'Peele' away the skin."
We've only come further and further to the point where people today just don't seem to appreciate the art of Stop-Motion animation. Oh, I hear plenty of praise towards it all the time, growing up with such works as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (My all time favorite movie. Animated or otherwise), "Wallace & Gromit", "Coraline", and such, but none of these properties are by any means huge. In fact, most stop-motion films seem to bomb at the box office on a frequent basis. Now it looks like streaming is the only place you'll find them getting released, and that can either mean a chance at a wider audience at home or more of an excuse for others to neglect them. It's an art form that requires more blood, sweat, and tears than any other and we never will give it the justice it deserves.
Released through Netflix, "Wendell & Wild" follows "Kat Elliot" (Lyric Ross), who after the deaths of her parents (Gary Gatewood and Gabrielle Dennis) when she was a little girl, is forced to return home to the now almost completely dead town of "Rust Bank". Having been tossed in and out of Juvie over the years, Kat has become cynical, refusing to connect with anyone, and is now transferred to an all girls school "Rust Bank Catholic" (or "RBC"), run by greedy priest, "Father Bests" (James Hong), having brought her in simply for profit reasons. Meanwhile, deep in the underworld, two demon brothers, "Wendell" (Keegan-Michael Key) and "Wild" (Jordan Peele), work for the towering demon, "Buffalo Belzer" (Ving Rhames), applying hair cream atop his massive head while the unfortunate souls of the dead are sent to the amusement park covering Belzer's body. After casually ingesting the hair cream, Wendell and Wild see a vision of Kat, scheming to use her to make their dream of their own fairground for the dead. Kat continues to alienate herself from anyone who attempts to befriend her, such as a quiet trans boy, "Raúl Cocolotl" (Sam Zelaya) and the posh, "Siobhan Klaxon" (Tamara Smart), daughter of the evil Klaxon Corp" heads (Maxine Peake and David Harewood). The Klaxons also plan to thoroughly demolish the town in favor of private prisons, even murdering Father Bests due to him being a loose end in their plot.
When Kat makes the discovery from the mysterious "Sister Helley" (Angela Bassett), that she is actually a "Hell Maiden", she is contacted by Wendell and Wild, who promise to resurrect her parents so long as she summons them from the underworld so that they can make their "Dream Faire" a reality. Through some mishaps, Kat is able to summon the two demons, though they end up instead resurrecting Father Bests via Belzer's magical hair cream. Wendell and Wild now find themselves part of the Klaxons' corporate villainy, resurrecting more of the dead and putting Rust Bank on the brink of destruction, leaving only Kat to be the one to stop them.
Directed by Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas", "James and the Giant Peach", "Coraline"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Producer Jordan Peele ("Get Out", "Nope", "Key & Peele"), "Wendell & Wild" is an eccentric combination of talents that feels like a surreal dream come true. It's a mix of unique ideas, visual storytelling, and glorious animation that needs to be seen to be believed, making for a vividly strange and thoroughly charming treat that might actually attract a more of a mature audience. Selick, who hasn't directed a film since 2009's cult classic, "Coraline", gives us a clear reminder as to why he's truly a master of this craft, proving the film with his usual distinctive style, while also embracing the drawbacks that come with stop motion. He said that he wanted to avoid looking too much like computer generation, and instead allows for noticeable details behind the animation, which only further showcases just how much hard work went into this project.
The characters and their designs tell so much story on their own, with their movements encompassing their personalities. There are also plenty of unconventional stylistic decisions, such as slowed down frame rates and shadow puppet animation, that instead of taking one out of the film, only further draw you in. It's as if you're experiencing the most bonkers dream that you don't really want to wake up from. With the film's PG-13 rating, you can tell that the filmmakers are going for a slightly older audience this time around, with an even more macabre sense of humor. There are also some more mature themes, involving family, loss, and overcoming grief, along with something a bit more political, such as the intentional unfairness surrounding private prisons and the corporate greed behind them. It's complicated stuff and the film at times can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but everything does end up coming together by the end.
The film features a terrific and very inclusive cast, that seems to go against perpetuated stereotypes in favor of crafting a world that very much feels lived in (Fitting, considering all of the topics of death involved). Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele once again reunite in magically hilarious fashion, delightfully playing what are essentially exaggerated, animated versions of themselves. Lyric Ross makes for a perfect straight face to much of the anarchy, along with an excellent Angela Bassett. There is hilarious work from Ving Rhames (Having a Hell of a time) and the always great (And clearly going to live forever) James Hong. The supporting cast is also commendable, from Sam Zelaya, Tamara Smart, Igal Naor (as "Manberg", the wheelchair using janitor, with his own demon hunting history), along with David Harewood and Maxine Peake, who are all kinds of over the top in just how evil they are.
With "Wendell & Wild", Henry Selick's eye for spooky, quirky, and a very on brand sense of weirdness is pushed farther than ever, though that doesn't mean that the film isn't without heart and sincerity. At its core, there is a sweet story that should resonate with families, along with mesmerizing visuals and memorable characters to go with it. Think of it as a modern day "Alice in Wonderland", where not everything is meant to make sense as you descend into colorful insanity, but are too entranced to complain about it. Perfect timing for a Halloween movie night. And for God sake, Henry! Please don't wait thirteen years for your next film! 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Scary Images, Catholic Chaos, And Bearz-A-Bub.
Image: You know, I'm not sure the power of Christ is compelling her.
How does it feel knowing that the movie that's going to win Halloween weekend is going to just be "Black Adam" again by default? Step it up people! Everyone already started setting things up for Christmas a month ago! Where's your Halloween spirit? And someone explain to me that in a year of great horror, why did they decide to release the most meh one of them all on Halloween weekend?
"Prey to the Devil" follows a young nun, "Sister Ann" (Jacqueline Byers), who in a time of growing possessions and demonic activity, takes a further interest into the occult than her superiors would like. Due to her own history involving her deceased mother (Who she believes was possessed by a satanic entity), Ann proves to be uniquely talented, as she has developed a connection of sorts. Not to God, but the Devil himself. Despite women not being allowed to perform exorcisms, a professor, "Father Quinn" (Colin Salmon), decides to teach Ann further. As Ann bonds with a possessed young girl, "Natalie" (Posy Taylor), she struggles to prove her worth as the forces of Hell take it upon themselves to target Ann personally.
Directed by Daniel Stamm ("The Last Exorcism"), with a screenplay by Robert Zappia ("Halloween H20: 20 Years Later" and......the "Kung Fu Panda" rip off, "Chop Kick Panda". Seriously. Look up this guy's filmography. It's completely bonkers!), "Prey for the Devil", or "The Devil's Light" as it was once called, is a movie that I have been getting the same trailer for since the later half of 2020. It's been pushed from an early 2021 release until now, with the same damn trailer finding its way into at least one of my weekly theater visits. I guess the studio just really had faith that this would be a surprise success, though clearly not one critically (Considering that as I'm typing this, there still are hardly any other professional critic reviews). The movie is fairly competent in terms of production, though completely generic in terms of story and screenplay. It's one of those films where you can predict not just everything that's going to happen, you can also just repeatedly tell what every single character is going to say. It's the most basic of dialogue to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time possible. Not to mention a good chunk of the film feels chopped up and rushed through, especially once we reach the final act.
Much of the cast is doing what they can, with Jacqueline Byers especially making for a solid protagonist and someone severely deserving of far better material. The same goes for Colin Salmon, who doesn't appear much, yet remains thoroughly profound and professional no matter what. Posy Taylor is doing fine work, though she gets rather neglected the longer the movie goes along and by the time a lame third act twist occurs, none of it quite adds up. You also start to forget about other supporting players, such as Christian Navarro (as "Father Dante", a fellow student that apparently has a possessed sister that he hasn't told anyone about) and Virginia Madsen (as "Dr. Peters", a psychiatrist that works at the school), and little subplots that get resolved in unremarkable fashion.
"Prey for the Devil" boasts a positive message of faith and overcoming guilt, and is overall fine for what it is. Simple scares to go with a simple story, and breezes by in an hour and a half. It's not scary or unique in any way, and serves as a perfectly inconsequential last second movie rental, although putting it in theaters feels a bit sacrilegious. In a time where horror films have been making up for some of this year's very best, this kind of horror needs to just die out already. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Jump Scary Faces, Satanic Sadism, And Good Old Fashioned Religious Based Sexism.
Image: "You know....I don't think we've ever realized just how beautiful we really are."
It's odd. I grew up during a time where a George Clooney and Julia Roberts movie, no matter what genre, was immediately destined to be the biggest hit of the week, though now it's just the extra movie of the week. ("Black Adam" is a big superhero movie, so that's expected and all, but that doesn't make it feel any less jarring)
"Ticket to Paradise" follows two divorced parents, "David" (George Clooney) and "Georgia" (Julia Roberts), who are forced to put aside their differences when seeing their daughter, "Lily" (Kaitlyn Dever) off as she leaves on vacation to Bali after she graduated from college. During their time apart, David and Georgina have become especially bitter towards each other, though come to realize that they might yet again need to come together when Lily contacts them a short time later to announce her engagement to a local guy, "Gede" (Maxime Bouttier). David and Georgia travel to Bali where they hatch a scheme to prevent their daughter from making an assumed horrible mistake and prevent the wedding from coming to be.
Let's keep this one short and sweet. Not by any means an insult to the film. It's just not meant to be anything that one needs to get into aggressive details over. Directed and co-written by Ol Parker ("Mama Mia! Here We Go Again"), "Ticket to Paradise" is a pleasant, fairly funny, and most importantly, thoroughly charming romantic comedy. It does an excellent job bringing together both sides of the age spectrum, without ever feeling the need to stereotype or exaggerate either one of them. Doing so would have been such an easy, and completely lazy, task that too many other less capable comedies would have gone for. That doesn't stop it from being beat by beat in terms of predictability, but hey, that's all part of the show. Our terrific cast is plenty game, with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both clearly having a blast, and are equally wonderful together (While also eagerly savoring their characters' extra dash of cynicism). Kaitlyn Dever and Maxime Bouttier are a cute couple that have a little more to their characters, which also feels like something that lesser films wouldn't have bothered with. Meanwhile, we get some pretty hilarious supporting work from Billie Lourd (as "Wren", Lily's best friend) and Lucas Brav0 (as "Paul", Georgina's complete dweeb of a new boyfriend).
Short and simple, "Ticket to Paradise" offers no surprises for those who want to go see it. Well shot and likable enough to make for a good date night, and nothing loud, bombastic, or more of all, devoid of anything harmful. Granted, that also excludes anything too exciting or suspenseful. Very plain in a way, and like I said before, that's not really a bad thing. It's funny enough to overcome simple plotting, and full of too much charm to dislike in any way. Like a breezy vacation. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Dastardly Divorcees, And Good Old Fashioned American Tourism. Nobody Wants Us Around.
Image: Man, he really had to start working out for this role.
This has been quite the "DC Comics" dream project for quite some time now, even before they began to bring together the "DC Extended Universe". At least fifteen years ago, the once villain, turned anti-hero (And rival to "Shazam"), "Black Adam" was also something of a dream to Dwayne Johnson too, who was cast at the time for a movie that never got made. Now after quite a few twists and turns (Mixed reviewed films, Superman's mustache, Syder Fan cultists, etc.), the long awaited shift that the DC film universe has finally come to fruition.
"Black Adam" opens in the ancient country of "Kahndaq", where a champion, "Teth Adam" (Dwayne Johnson), is granted the powers of "Shazam", though he vanishes after apparently liberating the enslaved people. Cut to the present, the country is now under the control of the high-tech crime syndicate, "Intergang", despite the world now being full of superheroes. Archaeologist and resistance fighter, "Adrianna Tomaz" (Sarah Shahi), along with her brother, "Karim" (Mohammed Amer) and the obviously traitorous "Ishmael Gregor" (Marwan Kenzari), seek out the powerful "Crown of Sabbac", which will supposedly unleash the powers of Hell or something evil. After Intergang attempts to kill them, Adrianna releases Adam from his prison, setting the ancient champion loose onto Kahndaq, where he is seen as the country's savior.
This attracts the attention of the outside world, and hardcore government official, "Amanda Waller" (Viola Davis Cameo!), decides to send in "The Justice Society of America" to bring Adam down out of fear of what he can do. The collection of heroes consist of their flying, mace-wielding leader, "Carter Hall/Hawkman" (Aldis Hodge), the size-changing "Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher" (Noah Centineo), the wind controlling "Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone" (Quintessa Swindell), and a master of illusions and sorcery "Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate" (Pierce Brosnan), who with his gold, magical helmet can see the future. However, Adam isn't going to go down easy, and when he insistence on killing members of Intergang goes against the Justice Society's no killing policy, it puts both forces at odds with each other. Meanwhile, Ishmael has plans of his own to achieve the crown and if he is going to be stopped, the Justice Society is going to have to form an uneasy alliance with Adam, who may be harboring a few dark secrets of his own.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra ("The Commuter", "Jungle Cruise", "Run All Night"), serves as the eleventh entry into the DC Extended Universe, continuing to show signs that studio appears to be making its way into adding a little more cohesiveness to the franchise. Sadly, it's only a little more. Even after all the buildup, we're still not quite to the point where they can match what the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has been able to accomplish, though steps appear to have been taken. The film is actually a lot smaller than you would expect, with a plot and screenplay, provided by Adam Sztykiel ("Rampage"), Rory Haines, and Sohrab Noshirvani, that really doesn't bring anything too new to the table. The biggest exception being that the film does seem to embrace the character's darker side. Sure, they straight up take out the character's original villainous tendencies, but that doesn't stop him from being a rather brutal force of destruction and harsh justice that veers far away from what you see from your average comic book protagonist. It's a well told action packed spectacle, full of all the usual superhero tropes, with just hints of something possibly more political (Basically nobody even in a comic book world seems to want to get involved with a non-white country under oppression unless they get something out of it). At its core though, the movie seems to know what it is, and delivers on what's promised, with some big, special effects heavy action scenes, and a showcasing of the titular character's immense power.
Dwayne Johnson really brought this whole thing together and perfectly embodies his character's harshness, along with a certain vulnerability and lack of understanding that quickly shows that despite many of his decisions, he's by no means a villain. Aldis Hodge makes for an excellent foil to Johnson's Adam, playing the good guy who really needs a reminder as to why he is in fact the good guy. Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell are a lot of fun as the new recruits (And provide necessary humor) while Sarah Shahi and Mohammed Amer make for good audience surrogates. Bodhi Sabongui (as "Amon", Adrianna's son, who quickly takes a shine to Adam) is likable, though not exactly the best young actor in the world, while Marwan Kenzari essentially just plays "Jafar" again (And even turns into yet another giant, red CGI monster) and makes for a pretty bland villain. Pierce Brosnan, in a surprise to nobody, steals the show, being another one of those perfect comic book castings that fans are just absolutely going to fall in love with, remaining both classy and charming as Hell, while fully committing to the superhero aesthetic.
"Black Adam" isn't the big game changer that many of us would want it to be (And it isn't up to par with some of DC's most recent material like "The Suicide Squad" and "The Batman"), yet it still accomplishes its goal of being a grandiose, edgier blockbuster, and gives us hope that possibly this shared universe can be salvaged in some way. It's essentially a better version of "Man of Steel", with some actual personality. The effects are solid enough (Though the less said about "Sabbac", the better. Think of the old "Steppenwolf", yet somehow worse), with a diverse cast of characters, and a couple unique statements to make to set it apart from your average superhero movie. While the film gives into the usual trappings during the final act (It's predictable stuff and by this point, you really can't get mad at it anymore), it does culminate in a satisfying, if not a little derivative, origin story worthy of the gods. Plus, a post credits scene that did admittedly bring a pretty big smile to my face. (And hey, he also had a smile this time too for once. You'll see what I mean) 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Anti-Heroic Action, Severe Head Splitting, And Scrawny Dwayne Johnson. (He Is Real. And Very Unsettling)
Image: " Ugh...I just can't handle having family over for the holidays."
Horror has continued to thrive this year, with original ideas, great stories, memorable heroes and villains alike, and of course, genuine terror. From "Nope", "The Black Phone", "Scream", the surprise hit "Smile", both "X" and "Pearl", and "Barbarian", which I consider also to be one of the year's best films overall (Also, lets throw in "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" too while we're at it. Bet ya never expected a Marvel movie to make you jump, huh?). The "Halloween" franchise, created in 1978 by John Carpenter, seemed poised to be a part of the new horror renaissance with 2018's surprisingly well received sequel/reboot (Also titled "Halloween, which ignored all of the other more questionable sequels), but only sadly went on to disappoint last year with "Halloween Kills". A lot is riding on the proposed grand finale to the entire franchise as a whole, and yeah, it's sufficient to say that expectations weren't exactly as high this time around.
Bringing the "Halloween" saga to its bloody conclusion, "Halloween Ends" takes place a few years after the previous entry, with Shatner mask wearing serial killer, "Michael Myers" (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle), aka "The Shape", having completely vanished. The small town of Haddonfield is still forever plagued by his nightmarish murders, though three time survivor, "Laurie Strode" (Jamie Lee Curtis), seems to be on the road to recovery, having grown closer to her granddaughter, "Allyson" (Andi Matichak). Meanwhile, a troubled young man, "Corey Cunningham" (Rohan Campbell), who was accused of murdering a kid he babysat (In an incident that was genuinely a complete accident), forms a relationship with Allyson, though he can't seem to escape the town's ridicule and assumptions. Following an attempt on his life by some truly evil teenagers, Corey stumbles into the sewers of Haddonfield, where he comes face to face with Michael Myers himself, now weakened and clearly aged. However, evil finds a way to seep itself back into the world, thus culminating in a climactic final showdown between Laurie and her seemingly unstoppable, almost inhuman nemesis.
Directed and co-written once again by David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express", "Stronger"), "Halloween Ends" does a rather alright job as bringing everything to what's actually a fitting end. Frustratingly though, the road there is filled with admittedly great ideas, loads of potential, but too many aspects clashing into each other at once until it all spirals out of control in a messy fashion. The film opens strong, introducing a new storyline into the fold that could take the series into darker, more unexpected territory. Unlike the last film, this one doesn't quite seem as enamored with all the gore and the kills (And has much less stupidity), but instead spends its time setting up its characters and story, with some very harsh drama that only just so happens to revolve around a homicidal monster in human form. The film also seems to be deconstructing how people can deal with trauma and grief in both positive and negative ways, along with how this can possibly influence the evil that may be resting inside all people. It's something that the last film tried and didn't quite grasp, but here, it makes for a fascinating concept and a twist that puts a slightly different perspective on how we look at certain characters. It's also a really good looking film, with good cinematography and a moody buildup. There are signs of greatness in there. The biggest issue is that it's all too much for a film that's under two hours, goes at a break neck pace, and doesn't quite stick the landing when everything is resting on it 100% doing so.
In spite of the screenplay's shortcomings, Jamie Lee Curtis (Who thankfully is not resigned to a hospital bed for the film's entire length this time) is still phenomenal, showcasing why she's a iconic horror based heroine and gets the grand ending that she deserves (Especially after the character had been killed off twice already in the previous, now non-canon sequels). Andi Matichak and Rohan Campbell are both giving good performances, with their character arcs making for what should be compelling drama, but the film has so much to cram in despite having so little time. It's essentially a doomed romance that takes problematic turns due to just how damaged they truly are, and while that sounds pretty great and even poetic for what's in a way, just a slasher franchise, the execution is very sloppy. (I'm assuming that the film only took place over the course of a couple days and I'm not buying how quickly this all went down) It's not a jump the shark moment as such would lead you to believe (I mean, one of the other "Halloween" entries had Busta Rhymes beating up Michael and shouting "Trick or Treat Motha-F*ckah!". This is automatically much better), but it makes one realize just how pointless the last film was when that time could have been used to develop this film's erratic structure. Will Patton (as "Frank Hawkins", the deputy with a connection to Laurie) sadly gets sidelined, though does have rather cute chemistry with Jamie Lee Curtis in a couple scenes. As for Michael Myers himself, he's still a frightening force despite getting a little less screentime than you would expect. I very much appreciate that the film takes time to address that this is a dying old man, and that the legend behind who or what he is could instead only exist due to what others see him as, rather than what he actually is in the end.
"Halloween Ends" is less about kills (Though they are quite gruesome and even a little memorable) and more interested in atmosphere, which captivates early on, until about halfway through when it starts to stumble over its own convoluted structure. It crams too much and drops the ball too often despite having the makings of a horror film with unexpected depth (Which is what the 2018 film was able to successfully convey). The climax comes rather quickly and rushes to the finish. It's not to say that as an ending, it's a bad one. In fact, this feels exactly how this story should probably conclude. You just wish the blade was sharp enough. It can still make a brutal, bloody cut, yet you know damn well it could do better. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence, Barbaric Band Geeks, And Bad Baby-Sitting (Although If You Ask Me, That Kid Had It Coming!).
Image: "It's all right, audience....We started dozing off about halfway through ourselves."
David O. Russell's reputation appears to have finally caught up with him, and for good reason. It seems that acting like a total dick around your stars, fellow directors, and other colleagues (And ahem, that um, other thing with his niece that really hasn't been acknowledged by anyone), can only be tolerated for so long. The time of directors acting like they're too much of a genius to be decent went away a long time ago. Not to mention, Russell's newest film appears destined to disappoint at the box office, as well as end up on the bad side of critics.
Inspired loosely by true events, "Amsterdam" follows two World War I veterans, the glass eye wearing "Dr. Burt Berendsen" (Christian Bale) and "Harold Woodsman" (John David Washington), and an eccentric nurse, "Valerie" (Margot Robbie), who all form a close bond while staying in Amsterdam after the war, before Burt departs back to New York City to be with his uncaring wife, "Beatrice" (Andrea Riseborough). Valerie also departs without a word, despite she and Harold having fallen in love. Years later, Burt continues to work as a doctor and Harold has become a lawyer, with the two reuniting when Burt is brought in to do an autopsy on their old military commander turned senator. The senator's daughter, "Elizabeth Meekins" (Taylor Swift), swears that there is something suspicious behind her father's death, and the moment Burt and Harold start to look into it, Elizabeth is killed by an unknown figure (Timothy Olyphant), and they are blamed for the murder. Burt and Harold's attempts to prove their innocence end up leading them to once again cross paths with Valerie, revealed to be the sister of the wealthy "Tom Voze" (Rami Malek) and his wife, "Libby" (Anya Taylor-Joy). Now the trio become embroiled in a strange conspiracy, leading them to former general, "Gil Dillenbeck" (Robert De Niro), and whatever actions they take next will determine the future of America as they know it.
Written and directed by David O. Russell ("Three Kings", "The Fighter", "Silver Linings Playbook", "American Hustle"), "Amsterdam" is his first film in about seven years, and looks to have failed to win people over. After lots of negativity in terms of critical reactions, the film doesn't reach the level of badness that one has been led to expect. In fact, there's plenty to enjoy about it. However, much of where the film goes wrong rests with David O. Russell himself, making for a disjointed mess with glimmers of charm. The plot is a constantly shifting web that feels far too convoluted for its own good, with the screenplay suffering from over-written dialogue that goes for quirky, though might end up just annoying people more than anything. There's some funny and even insightful moments, but every once in a while you find yourself begging for the drawn out dialogue to just shut the Hell up and tell the damn story, which is also fairly fascinating. The truth behind the film's narrative is centered around a real life, rather poorly planned conspiracy that could have easily turned disastrous, and it takes a few little turns that certainly were built up over the course of the movie. A lot of the other twists are fairly predictable and take too long to reveal themselves.
Our main cast is perfectly game, with Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington making an excellent trio, (Bale is especially wonderful, considering how completely different he was in "Thor: Love and Thunder", the man really is one of those actors you can rely on to give a unique performance). The ensemble is overall good, though many of the cast members don't get much to do or just play a certain obvious type that they've already played before. Chris Rock (as "Milton", an army buddy of Burt and Harold) is funny, Rami Malek is creepy. Anya Taylor-Joy is hot. An unrecognizable Timothy Olyphant is the bad guy. Andrea Riseborough is underused. Taylor Swift is basically a cameo. Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola (as a pair of detectives investigating the murder) are there. And Robert De Niro appears due to being a frequent David O. Russell collaborator. Some more noticeable standouts would be Zoe Saldaña (as "Irma", a nurse and love interest to Burt), along with an unconventional and amusing duo of Mike Myers and Michael Shannon (as "Paul Canterbury" and "Henry Norcross", mysterious benefactors who work with Valerie).
"Amsterdam" looks well produced, features a big cast, and high ambitions, though all of which can at times feel excessive and overblown. Too many moving parts at once and continuous detours via monologues or various oddities, detract from what actually works well. It's too much of a director thinking he can just do anything, losing sight of his own distinct talents in the process. Not terrible or even bad by any means, just disheartening. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Meandering Monologues, And Eye Popping Investigations.
Image: Man, would he make some beautiful boots....Just saying.
There really is something so earnest when kids movies just go bananas and embrace the full blown absurd with a happy go lucky smile on its face. It's the kind of whimsy that leaves you both bewildered, yet oddly charmed. Most of all though, it'll make the kids happy, and that's always a good thing. I mean, if you like kids and all.
Based on the children's books by the late Bernard Waber, "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" opens with charismatic, but rather aloof and always in debt to someone showman, "Hector P. Valenti" (Javier Bardem), coming across a crocodile named "Lyle" (Whose singing voice is provided by Shawn Mendes), who is gifted with the ability to sing and dance. Hector prepares Lyle to join him on stage, but the poor croc has terrible stage fright and isn't able to perform. Completely broke, Hector departs from his New York City apartment on his own to pay off his many, many debts, promising Lyle that he will return. Over a year later, Hector is still nowhere to be found and a new family moves into the apartment, consisting of young "Josh Primm" (Winslow Fegley), along with his parents "Katie" (Constance Wu) and "Joseph" (Scoot McNairy). Josh is a timid kid, who isn't great at making friends, and stumbles upon the now full grown Lyle. After seeing how special Lyle truly is, Josh forms a bond with the lovable crocodile, and it doesn't take long for him to slowly strengthen the rest of the family as well. Though after Hector returns, with plans to continue his dreams of stardom and the constant nuisance of the next door neighbor, "Mr. Grumps" (Brett Gelman), Lyle will have to decide between possible fame or if this new family is where he is destined to be.
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon ("Blades of Glory", "Office Christmas Party") with a screenplay by William Davies ("How to Train Your Dragon"), "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" is another sort of live-action cartoon that's in its own, weird little world, following some predictable beats and cheesiness, similar to last year's "Clifford the Big Red Dog" or 2019's "Dora and the Lost City of Gold". Much like those other kids films though, it's very genuine in how it conveys its bizarre creativity. It's certainly nothing on part with the "Paddington" films, but it's a sincerely sweet and charmingly goofy feature that has plenty to offer for the kids and will leave the parents having a little more fun than they expected. It's a screenplay that goes for silly, both in terms of its narrative and humor, which is matched by solid direction. The film looks like a small children's book, with bright, unsaturated colors and mostly unconvincing yet still appealing CGI work. (All the animals in the film, not just including Lyle himself, are all made up of special effects that don't look real, but feel at home with the film's quirky tone)
One of the film's most engaging aspects is just how into it the cast appears to be. Anyone could have normally just taken the paycheck and sleepwalked through the entire thing, but the cast looks to be having a really good time. Constance Wu, Scoot McNairy (One of those really underappreciated versatile actors), and a likable Winslow Fegley, make for a cute family, that doesn't fall into the usual family troubles tropes that you see in these kinds of kids movies (Really the main conflict with them is that things just aren't quite gelling together in their new environment. That's actually pretty refreshing to see). Meanwhile, Javier Bardem looks like he's having almost too much with this, having fully immersed himself into the film's eccentric personality, while Brett Gelman is an amusingly nonthreatening antagonist. Shawn Mendes' singing voice adds little to Lyle, who is an adorable green, scaly creation, though Mendes does fine, and it leads to quite a few surprisingly delightful music and dance numbers. (It feels like this is where most of the film's budget went into)
"Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile" won me over rather quickly once it became apparent what kind of movie it actually is, though it does lose some steam during its rather rushed final act. (Granted, this isn't anything new for some kids films and it just stops it from becoming anywhere close to one of the great ones) It's a nice movie that the young ones can have a good time with, that's plenty harmless, yet still occasionally fun and so peculiar that you can't find a good reason to hate it. Welcome your peculiarity. Anyone can get behind that. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Maybe A Few Quick Adult Jokes And Lyle's Not-So Cat Friendly Diet, Though Still Really Tame Stuff As Usual.
Image: She deserves better than this.
It wouldn't be the Oscar season without some controversy, and there's always one film that more than any other generates the biggest reaction from both sides of the critical spectrum. Everybody has something to say, and won't hold back in saying it. Some will see it as true art that tells it like it is, with nothing but the harshness that stories such as things must be told, with imagery, terror, and cinematic fantasia. Others will see it as a grotesque, mean spirited, wallowing mess of a director being so madly in love with himself that he can only feel good so long as someone, anyone, is left suffering from his supposed genius. There are only two kinds of opinions apparently..........And if you ask me the second one is completely right. Usually I'm the guy landing right down the middle with these things, but this is a pretty easy answer for me.
Based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates, "Blonde" tells the very much dramatized (And pretentiously so) story of "Norma Jean Mortenson" aka "Marilyn Monroe" (Ana de Armas). Struggling with never having known her father and her abusive relationship with her mentally unstable mother, "Gladys" (Julianne Nicholson), Norma Jean slowly becomes one with her Marilyn persona, becoming an instant icon. However, the darker aspects of fame and fortune only further bear a heavy load on her already traumatized mind. Beneath the so called sex symbol is in actuality a graceful, terrifically smart, and vulnerable soul, looking to prove herself to the world, as well as herself. Apparently that makes for almost three hours of depression porn.
Written and directed by Andrew Dominik ("Killing Them Softly", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), "Blonde" is a rather ambitious feature, changing up the typical biopic playbook by crafting its own, and one that is the living, breathing definition of one director's vision. Right on. I can get behind that. With that said, that vision is one of pure evil, filled with a sense of distaste for its own subject and just plain angry at the world around it. Shifting from black and white to color, then back again through a couple different aspect ratios (Don't ask me details on which is which. I'm not paid to know those things), the film claims to be telling Marilyn Monroe's life story in all its brutality, except it seems far more interested in how great it thinks it is. The visuals, while impressive for the most part, come across as more distracting and repetitive than engrossing, similar to last week's "Don't Worry Darling", except where that film just didn't seem to understand the point it was trying to make, this one appears to be intentionally missing it. Once you get past the artistic razzle dazzle, you start to see the ugliness beneath the surface. You also start to see that it's also just not really a well made movie when you get down to it.
The screenplay still tells a narrative that's derivative of almost every biopic concerning a tragic figure, especially an iconic one based in stardom. "Elvis" just did this, and yet, you really do appreciate what that film did with it, showcasing stylish whimsy and oddness to portray its excess, before eventually settling down into the darker reality and eventual devastating downfall of its subject. This movie never settles down, with bizarre sequences of surrealism to portray heavy subjects of child abuse, spousal abuse, drug abuse, rape, miscarriages, abortions, more rape, sexuality, suicide, and exploitation. I'm not saying all these themes can't be done in such a way, but Dominik only proves how he might be the absolute worst person for the job. He prefers to wallow in the pain and misery, though not entirely in a fashion that feels sympathetic. It's damn near gleeful in how much it revels in the torture, such as showing us an abortion from the perspective of Marilyn's vagina or a horrifying nightmare of her experiencing a miscarriage, all nude and covered in blood. It's unnecessary for sure, and downright repulsive. It's also, and this is the most offputting part, all something we've seen before. In fact, one has seen it enough in these kinds of movies to expect it.
The biggest and most unanimous praise has been for Ana de Armas herself, and despite all of the film's shortcomings, it could almost guarantee award recognition (And God help us, maybe even some Best Picture nominations. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but it's not out of the question). However, and trust me it feels a little weird to be the odd one out in this conversation, she's not full Oscar worthy here. She certainly looks the part and in theory does a damn fine job, and yet, the film just drags her down, with the ostentatious dialogue and Dominik's in your face direction. It makes her come across as a caricature, especially once the film reaches its lowest point, reducing her to a crying mess, constantly pleading for "Daddy". None of this is remotely her fault, though it makes the film just as annoying to watch as it is disrespectful. The film doesn't do near enough with its cast, though some such as Adrien Brody (as "Arthur Miller", credited only as "The Playwright") and Toby Huss (as "Whitey", Marilyn's close makeup artist, who vanishes from the film far too often) standout much more than the script allows them to. Others like Bobby Cannavale (as "Joe DiMaggio", credited only as "Ex-Athlete"), along with Xavier Samuel and Evan Williams (as "Cass Chaplin" and "Eddy Robinson Jr.", who Marilyn had an apparent polyamorous relationship with) are stuck in typical, underwritten roles.. Speaking of abuse, Julianne Nicholson is especially over the top in the film's opening act, which is far more uncomfortable for the wrong reasons. There's also the now infamous scene involving Caspar Phillipson (as "President John F. Kennedy", credited only as "The President), in a drawn out fellatio scene with extra rapey overtones, and boy, if you're going to make bold accusations such as this, there's gotta be more to it than simple shock value.
Much of what "Blonde" ends up becoming is little more than shock value at its most detestable, and since most of these controversial topics became known before I was even able to see the movie for myself only points out just how pathetic it is. Maybe if I'd been able to see it during its initial release like all the professional critics, I could have found myself so caught off guard by the film's mean spirited nature that I would have been almost hypnotized by it. Thankfully, I can see through the film's facade and witness it for what it really is. It's an unremarkable biopic that only does the same as others have done before it, except with a gross sense of self-satisfaction and a good amount of glossy makeup to trick you into thinking it's high art. I'm not mad at it. It's more laughable in how much it thinks its getting you to feel such intense emotions, when in reality is nothing more than an excuse to talk about how horrible everyone else is though never saying anything new about it. It's so angry, but for no distinguishable reason. For something like "The Passion of the Christ", you at least knew that movie was being antisemitic (At least, I knew. I stand by it). It's not remotely right, but you knew what it was being angry about. (I never thought I would be typing those words to be honest) It's either mad at Marilyn Monroe, mad at the Hollywood system, or just mad for the sake of it. Just an excuse to show some suffering, even at the expense of someone who already suffered enough in real life as it is. Technically it might be the most offensive movie I've seen this year, and considering how I couldn't in a good conscience award "Redeeming Love" anything higher......1/2 Star. But hey, at least Casey Affleck thought it was beautiful. Rated NC-17 For Hardcore Nudity, Abuse, Implied Rape, Real Rape, And Whatever Else Gets You Sickos Off.
Image: "So the 300,000th anti-gay, anonymous post says...."
This is truly a big deal, and that's why people are so afraid of it. Sure, some people just want to troll for the sake of trolling, but the fact that they're willing to take time out of their apparently unproductive day to do so only proves that even when romantic comedies decide to change with the times, they're as easily agitated as ever. It's a major step forward for a film to focus specifically LGBT characters, with a prominently LGBT cast, about LGBT problems and having absolutely no shame about it whatsoever.
"Bros" follows New York museum curator and strong LGBTQ personality, "Bobby Lieber" (Billy Eichner), who is currently struggling to get his LGBTQ history museum off the ground. Failing to find love and claiming to have little to no interest in it, Bobby finds himself connecting with the most unexpected of guys, the much more bro-tastic "Aaron" (Luke Macfarlane). Despite seeming like an odd fit, Bobby and Aaron apparently make for quite the couple, attempting to find reasons for why their relationship shouldn't work and yet, somehow it just does anyway. More or less, that's really the plot right there.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller ("Get Him to the Greek", "Neighbors", "Storks"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eichner, "Bros" as one can tell takes the rom-com playbook and at first, only appears to put a different spin on it without ever really going against it. That's the basic intention of the filmmakers, before the movie later reveals itself to have other motives as well. It's about full blown representation, without the need to repress or hold back, which means that this movie is as gay as humanly possible and it's all the better for it. What should be fairly predictable and conventional, instead takes what works and turns it into something more, while also being suitably sweet and most of all, really hilarious. It's a rather honest film that doesn't hold back in mocking societal trends that we've just sort of grown to accept, while also embracing a sense of absurdity with its own meta commentary on gay culture in a way that doesn't seem to feel the need to hold the audience's hand. Regardless of sexual orientation, you understand it because of how relatable it is.
Billy Eichner, showing off some more of his other acting talents along with his already known comedic ones, utulizes his usual stage persona, while also getting a bit deeper both humorously and even dramatically when the film calls for it. His chemistry with Luke Macfarlane is commendable in how it just showcases this kind of relationship in a more normalized manner. It's not the butt of the joke here or pushed to the sidelines like many of us have just become accustomed to. They're also just plain adorable together and immensely endearing, which is what the best romantic comedies need to successfully accomplish (And frustratingly most of the time end up failing). The film also includes Ty Madison, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Jim, Rash, Bowen Yang, Dot-Marie Jones, a scene-stealing Debra Messing (as herself), among others, popping up in places in a variety of supporting parts.
Heartwarming, funny as Hell, and unabashedly true to itself, "Bros" is a well directed, well written exploration of what can be very tired tropes and enhancing them for the modern audience to fall in love with. It's loads of fun and makes for the perfect date movie, regardless of who you love. Really, it's just for anyone looking for someone to love. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Strong Adult Content, Sexuality, And Fascinating Abraham Lincoln Accusations. I Saw "Lincoln". I Can Believe It.
Image: As it Was....
Ego is a powerful thing. It's your first time as a film director, bringing to the screen a unique comedy that makes a profit thanks to a small budget, garners critical acclaim, and most of all, gets you a massive following of people who just can't wait to see what you do next. Then you find studios from all over clamoring for your next project, which will be bigger than your first by a long shot. An ensemble cast, a sizable budget, and early Oscar predictions showing up before we see a single frame of the final product. It's your magnum opus. Unfortunately then that movie turns out to be "Don't Worry Darling" and all of the behind the scenes drama sounds like it would have made for much better cinema.
"Don't Worry Darling" follows a loving housewife, "Alice Chambers" (Florence Pugh), who does what any 1950s wife does. She cooks and cleans, waits for her always working husband, "Jack" (Harry Styles), and gossips with the other housewives within their colorful, seemingly perfect town of "Victory" (Located literally in the middle of nowhere). Founded by the charismatic "Frank" (Chris Pine), Victory has a few rules, such as all the men working on this mysterious project outside of the town, along with nobody being allowed outside the borders, being told to stay where it's safe. After one of Alice's friends, "Margaret" (KiKi Layne), suffers a mental breakdown after venturing off outside the town, Alice also starts to get a little curious about what Frank is really doing, discovering that her so called perfect life is in reality a terrifying nightmare that she may not be able to escape from.
Directed by Olivia Wilde ("Booksmart"), with a screenplay by Katie Silberman (Collaborating with Wilde once again), "Don't Worry Darling" has been plagued with controversy (Actor disputes, actor removals, divorces, and um, people spitting on each other?), going from one of the year's most anticipated movies to one that's become a source of much internet mockery. The film has ambitions and Wilde doesn't seem to hesitate at letting the audience know that, with grand sets, elaborate costumes and psychotic imagery. And while it's certainly all glossy, it still feels incredibly hollow. Dare I say, obnoxiously so. It feels over-produced for a story that isn't quite as deep as it seems to think it is, with a concept that we've seen done elsewhere and twists that lack much inspiration. The very self-serious screenplay doesn't really develop a good chunk of its characters, with many of them fading into the background, leading to a less than cohesive story that takes far too long to get to the punchline.
Regardless, one can't deny just how wonderfully talented Florence Pugh is, as she capably carries the film without question or delay. She's continuously compelling, even when the film itself isn't. This is particularly offputting though when she's paired with Harry Styles (Current boyfriend to Olivia Wilde), who despite being talented in his own right, feels frustratingly miscast. Styles, who shifts randomly with his accent in odd places (That makes less sense as the movie goes on), isn't a terrible actor. He just really isn't one at all. It's too big of a part for someone without the experience (And possibly the acting chops), going up against such a powerhouse like Pugh. The chemistry just doesn't work. Chris Pine though is a very creepy presence, along with Timothy Simons (as "Dr. Collins", Frank's second in command, keeping tabs on the "well being" of the locals), while the film doesn't actually make much use of Gemma Chan (as "Shelley", Frank's wife) and Nick Kroll (as "Bill", Jack's co-worker). Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde (as "Bunny", Alice's gossipy best friend), comes across as fairly over the top, even for a movie that just seems to thrive on surreal weirdness.
"Don't Worry Darling" is a good looking movie, with the exception of a poorly cut together final car chase climax, with good looking people, and that in the end, makes it all the more shallow. It treads familiar territory, without much to say of its own, wasting all kinds of potential and anticipation. It's so predictable that I just assumed a lot of things were just known simply by watching the trailer, only to find out that those aspects were meant to be surprising. It generates more unintentional comedy than titillating drama (The film's sex scenes and a couple late flashbacks are especially silly), and annoys the audience with its pretentiousness rather than captivating them. It's a major disappointment that leaves one with plenty to worry about who could possibly be affected the most by the final product's already diminished reputation. 1 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Very Sexual Content, Freaky Images, And Moist Harry Styles. Trust Me Ladies. This Ain't Gonna Get You As Hot And Bothered As You Think.
Image: You know, I bet I could make it work still.
Director Ti West, only a few months ago released his twisted, satirical homage to the slasher genre, "X". It was a fun, grotesque feature that would have felt right at home during a late night drive in movie. Production on a prequel also began almost immediately once the film was finished, continuing a classic trend of old fashioned horror, grindhouse features. In Ti West's own words "You can't make a slasher movie without a bunch of sequels", and to see it happen not only so quickly, yet also done so cleverly in a way that actually surpasses the films that its inspired by, showcase yet another filmmaker with a promising future ahead of him. A very bloody one probably, but it seems that he might be relishing that part.
Set during 1918, during the Spanish Flu pandemic as well as World War I raging on, "Pearl" follows the murderous villainess from "X", simply only referred to as "Pearl" (Mia Goth). With her husband away fighting in the war, Pearl is stuck on her family's farm, with her strict and overbearing mother (Tandi Wright) and her sick, wheelchair-bound father (Matthew Sunderland). Pearl's dreams and ambitions to become a star just like those fancy picture shows only grow as she develops a crush on a projectionist (David Corenswet), plans to take part in a dancing audition with her sister in law, "Mitzy" (Emma Jenkins-Purro), and partakes in some, lets just say, strange hobbies (Screwing scarecrows, killing geese, feeding her alligator, etc.). Pearl's temperament and resentment about not getting the life she feels she's owed start to fester, resulting in her inner madness being set free in one Hell of a bloodbath.
Directed by Ti West ("X", "The Sacrament", "V/H/S"), who co-wrote the film with Mia Goth, "Pearl" is almost a complete departure from the previous film, both in tone, style, and execution, yet keeps this extra layer of devilish darkness waiting and demanding to be unleashed onto the screen. The film feels like a colorful, whimsical, 1950s coming of age story that just so happens to be out of its freakin mind. For a genre that didn't seem to be taking chances as of late, the horror-slasher flicks have begun to toy further with the audience's expectations. You come in for simple slashes and blood splats, but find yourself immersed in this saturated world. It makes for a lot of dark humor for sure, yet also adds to the film's sense of dread. The whole time whenever the film appears overly happy and bouncy like an old live-action Disney movie, you are just waiting for something to go horribly wrong. There are intentional tonal shifts between the bright and joyful to dark and unpleasant. West makes the film feel so genuine that you get lost within it, and that makes the moments of terror really jump out at you.
Much of what really carries this film, aside from West's eye for batsh*t imagery, is Mia Goth. She's proven to be a multi-talented actress already in "X", but now, she's more front and center than ever. With those expressive eyes of her's, she is a terrifying wonder to behold, going from adorably eccentric to tragically dejected, then to creepily paranoid before jumping off the slippery slope into a nightmarish rabbit hole of uncontrollable rage. From a hauntingly delivered monologue (Which I think went on for like five to eight minutes straight) to one of this year's most memorable final shots, Goth's performance is very much deserving of praise, recognition, and hopefully, only more to come from her in the future. The other performances are also excellent and played completely straight in what could have gone into a place that's hard to take particularly seriously, even with the filmmakers keeping a tongue in cheek tone throughout. Tandi Wright is an imposing presence, with David Corenswet and Emma Jenkins-Purro portraying characters that have just a little more depth than what we at first see. Matthew Sunderland, who spends the entire movie in a wheelchair, neither speaking or moving in the slightest, conveys so much with just the simplest of looks. (I'm not even sure how to describe it, but whatever he did, it was effective!)
Surpassing "X" (And continuing the weird connection between the development of the porn industry), "Pearl" is an extra dose of derangement that offers a dazzling execution of once tired tropes, with Ti West's unconventional direction and Mia Goth's hypnotizing performance, making for another late night trip to the pictures. It's another savagely gory, all kinds of wrong, and most of all, just plain tons of fun in the most devious of ways. (Also, be sure to stick around again this time after the credits) Talk about yet another "Goddamn F*cked Up Horror Picture". 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Violence Of The Bloody And Gruesome Variety, Firey Familial Fights, Forking People Up, And A Smile That Will Forever Haunt You Every Time You Shut Your Eyes
Image: I'm putting $50 on her.
From the clear inspiration that the "Dora Milage" from "Black Panther" took from these historical amazon-like warriors, further demonstrating how even when world history seems to want to skim over or exclude whatever it can, some legends live on one way or another, whether they like it or not.
Inspired by relatively true events, "The Woman King" follows the "Agojie", a protective unit made up of only female warriors, serving their West African kingdom of Dahomey. During the 1820s, the Agojie general, "Nanisca" (Viola Davis), who has become a close confidant of the king, "Ghezo" (John Boyega), prepares her warriors for upcoming conflict with Oya general "Oba Ade" (Jimmy Odukoya), as well as hoping to get their people out of the slave trading business. A young woman, "Nawi" (Thuso Mbedu), under tutelage from "Izogie" (Lashana Lynch), shows incredible promise, along with a disregard for certain traditions. As Nawi sets out to complete her training and her relationship with Nanisca deepens, the conflict only escalates, with the Dahomey's entire future hanging in the balance.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Secret Life of Bees", "The Old Guard"), with a screenplay written by Dana Stevens ("The Nightingale") and a story credit to Maria Bello, "The Woman King" as one would expect, likely left out some facts, dramatized others, and repurposed itself for the movie loving public. This has always been the way of things. The purpose behind the film is more to showcase these real life, extraordinary warriors in an action packed, crowdpleasing epic. It's a beautifully cinematic story, with spellbending sequences of action and harsh training that despite the PG-13 rating, are still plenty brutal and merciless. (You damn near feel those cuts, bruises, and stabs, without needing to see much blood at all) The worldview showcased is also very unique, in part because the filmmakers never feel the need to whitewash things. (I mean that in the literal sense too) The film never turns away from some of the more complicated aspects of the story, such as the Dahomey kingdom being willing to participate in the slave trade themselves, as well as the wealth that their king was able to accumulate. One could argue that the film still doesn't dive deep enough, yet to see this kind of conflict being told as more than a simple good guy vs bad guy sort of story, is both commendable and necessary. It's a true tale of redemption in that way, as many of the heroic characters are shown with their flaws and mostly unsugarcoated.
Viola Davis commands the screen more than she ever has before, with a grueling, yet sincere performance that proves how she really can do anything. It's not just her movie though. Thuso Mdedu is equally powerful, making for an unexpected breakout role, while Lashana Lynch provides heart and humor, along with a wonderful Sheila Atim (as "Amenza", Nanisca's close second in command). All the women are commendable regardless of how large of a role they play. Having gone through some real life training to prepare and look the part, they are a true force to be reckoned with. John Boyega is charismatic and regal, while retaining a commanding sense of authority. As for our villains, they're plenty despicable, if one note, with Jimmy Odukoya snarling his way through and Hero Fiennes Tiffin being all kinds of slimy (Much like his character from those "After" movies, except this was intentional). Jordan Bolger (as "Malik", Santo's mixed race friend, who becomes a love interest for Nawi) is fine, though I'm probably guessing that this plotline likely didn't happen this way in real life (Or at all) and it feels pretty unnecessary as usual.
"The Woman King" falters when it comes to some of its more overly thematic moments that you can probably get a historian to thoroughly unravel. The film still brings the story to life in a grandiose way, with well put together action scenes, complex characters, and the chance to give these mighty warriors the kind of cinematic treatment they deserve. It's sure to enlighten, somewhat educate, and maybe even inspire. All great things if you ask me. 3 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence, Enslavement, And For Probably Scaring The Crap Out Of A Bunch Of Bigoted White People. You Know Damn Well They Have Nightmares About This Kind Of Situation.
Image: "Nothing bad ever happens from pulling on a harmless little rope."
This right here! This is what "The Invitation" should have been. Sure, the trailer didn't have much choice than to state that this is a horror movie, but the way so much is kept hidden from the audience is how you make true horror work. One second you think it's one thing, before something out of your worst nightmares takes it down a completely different route, only for the rug to get pulled out from under you once again just for fun.
"Barbarian" opens with "Tess Marshall" (Georgina Campbell), on her way to a job interview, having booked an Airbnb outside of Detroit, located in a run down, almost completely abandoned neighborhood. Tess finds out that someone else, "Keith" (Bill Skarsgård), has also rented out the small house. Looking like both were accidentally booked at the same time, Tess and Keith agree to stay together for the night and sort things out the next day. Despite some awkwardness, the two seem to hit it off pretty well. However, when Tess discovers something under the house, it begins an unhinged descent into Hell that nobody could have suspected. Meanwhile, a bro-ish, piece of sh*t actor, "AJ Gilbride" (Justin Long), who actually own the Airbnb, is having some trouble with some sexual assault allegations. Since he's got nowhere else to go at the moment, AJ decides to stop at the house, finding himself also roped into the bloody nightmare that's about to unfold.
Written and directed by actor Zach Cregger (Whose only other directing credit is listed as a co-director for "Miss March". Talk about a step up!), "Barbarian" is nothing that's been advertised. Whether you go in blind or otherwise, it might be one of the most original films I've seen in some time. Expectations and what we see as cinematic norms are thrown out the window in favor of a grindhouse inspired mishmash of tones, terror, and even a couple of twisted laughs. Cregger's direction is ingenious, managing to shift between various styles depending on what kind of genre the movie wants to be at the moment. Going in, if you didn't somehow know that this was at its core a horror movie, you'd almost think it was just the simple story of a woman trying to make her way through life, possibly meeting a nice guy, and getting the job of her dreams. It's a pleasant start, with this slight sense of uneasiness that slowly creeps its way into the story. Next think you know, you find yourself trapped in a torturous and sadistic playhouse that you never could have imagined seeing on screen. Before you even have time to comprehend what in God's holy name is going on, the film pulls another twist that lands you once again inside another movie that I can only describe as comedically abhorrent. The film only continues to lose its mind in the most grotesquely awesome way. This is the definition of an edge of your seat thriller, where your mind struggles to keep up, suffering intentionally done mood whiplash.
The direction and screenplay, which is also so clever in how it chooses to tell its story without feeling the need to explain right away (Like a puzzle, made out of sliced up body parts), can only be fully brought to life by the committed performances onscreen. Georgina Campbell is excellent in what should be ranked up along with other legendary heroines of horror. You immediately like her, care about her, and want her to survive, as she avoids typical horror movie mistakes and provides heart where you wouldn't even know it to be necessary. Bill Skarsgård, who we all know as Pennywise from the "It" movies, also gets to show off more of his acting chops in a role that plays against the audience's assumptions. Meanwhile, Justin Long is more than just brilliant here. I would consider him Oscar worthy in how much of an ass he can be, in a way that you wish was a caricature. He's a riot, even though you just hate his guts, and even then, his story isn't exactly predictable. Also, gotta give a special shoutout to Richard Brake (as "Frank", a man that the film stops in the last act to follow during one long sequence), for providing the kind of predatory menace that you can't look away from.
There is so much about "Barbarian" that I can't possibly get into. So many twists and turns, both in terms of narrative and filmmaking structure. It's a demented, scary, at times actually pretty funny, and all together memorable masterwork of pure evil, with shock and fear at every corner. Beneath the gory surface though, is something far more intelligent than you would really even normally need. Classic frights, with a diabolically deranged mind and the insight to do something than stands out from everyone else. It's possibly even one of the best horror movies I've seen in theaters. If this doesn't become an instant classic in the eyes of horror fanatics, I'm going to do something possibly barbaric myself. 4 Stars. Rated R For Hardcore Violence, Unpleasant Themes, Maximum Droopage, And Motherly Love.
Image: If you ask me, he's giving a very wooden performance.
Not the most eventful "Disney+" day was it? We're greedy for all those "Star Wars" and "Marvel" reveals, along with maybe a couple unexpected surprises or two. Unfortunately we didn't get much this year. Just a remake of one of Disney's earliest and still greatest features via Disney+. Seems that this whole re-imagining of nostalgic, great animated films might be dying out. Especially since, after stuff like "The Jungle Book" and "Cinderella", or even "Cruella", going to add more to the story than what we knew, instead we're just getting the same thing except not quite as good. I've been easy on some of these. "Beauty and the Beast" worked, while "The Lion King" was a visual marvel and "Aladdin" was just a fun, weird little time. So why is the one that actually could have added possibly a little extra substance to an eighty year old film, ends up being Disney's weakest one yet?
Based on the 1940 animated classic, which itself is based on the beloved fairy tale, "Pinocchio" opens with lonely woodcarver, "Geppetto" (Tom Hanks), who longs for more of a family aside from his CGI cat and fish, "Figaro" and "Cleo" in a workshop full of Disney Easter Eggs. So one night Geppetto makes a wish upon a star for a son, which a traveling cricket, named "Jiminy Cricket" (Voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), happens to witness. That wish results in his recently constructed wooden marionette puppet, "Pinocchio" (Voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), is magically brought to life. He's then visited by the magically "Blue Fairy" (Cynthia Erivo), who deputizes Jiminy as Pinocchio's conscious and tells the little puppet that if he truly wants to be become a real boy, he will need to prove himself as brave, truthful, and unselfish. Geppetto, ecstatic over little Pinocchio, allows him to go to school, where he's immediately swept up into a series of adventures. Pinocchio comes into contact with a shady duo, the fox "Honest John" (Voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and his mute cat companion "Gideon", who make promises of fame and fortune, before allowing him to be abducted by the vile puppeteer, "Stromboli" (Giuseppe Battiston). Then Pinocchio finds himself roped into the devlishly wild carnival of juvenile delinquents called "Pleasure Island", run by the pure evil "Coachman" (Luke Evans). All of this results in a quest to rescue Geppetto from the jaws of a giant, man eating monster, tentacle whale, "Monstro".
Directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future", "Cast Away", "Forrest Gump", and one of my all time favorites "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Weitz ("The Golden Compass", "Cinderella", "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"), this brand spanking new "Pinocchio" doesn't do too much new in the end. That's not unexpected though and Disney charm is its own beautiful, corporately constructed, and generally effective dose of love and magic that always finds a way to shine through almost every time. Some of the magic is there and the film isn't without a few changes, but unlike some of the more successful live-action remakes, this feels much more rushed. It follows the same exact story structure, only once in a while making a few changes, cutting stuff out, and updating minor aspects. Sadly, not only is the original not really in need of much of this, what we get is more offputting than whimsical. What brings it down more than anything is Zemeckis' direction, which is all over the place. It's already a weird tale, which in animated form is easy to go along with. At times Zemeckis is able to convey that kind of child-like wonder, with visually appealing colors and imagery. Then other times, the effects are god awful and undercooked. Possibly Zemeckis wanted to go for something that didn't look entirely real, but it's kind of hard to look at in places. The green screen is always at full display in both the background and foreground, and it only gets worse as the film progresses. Despite being a small scale story, it's still grand in execution, yet the budget doesn't look up to the task. I know I shouldn't expect the high standards of 2016's "The Jungle Book", which was visually incredible, funny, and still told a classic story with added emotion. Still, with how much these remakes just seem to get under people's skin, this is the first one where I think I kind of get it to a degree.
The cast thankfully really brings their all, even when just re-doing a lot of what we've already seen before. Tom Hanks is wonderfully cast and too wholesome to dislike. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth is solid, conveying the character's wide eyed likability well, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an inspired choice for Jiminy Cricket, doing a fantastic job. Keegan-Michael Key is also perfectly cast, getting some of the funniest lines, though sadly gets only one long scene, with the character getting cut out pretty quickly. (Honest John and Gideon were my favorite characters! Shame on you!) Cynthia Erivo doesn't get much to do here either, while Luke Evans on the other hand, who is completely unrecognizable, quite steals the movie with one Hell of a creepy performance. Some new additions like Kyanne Lamaya (as "Fabiana", a puppeteer working for Stromboli, who befriends Pinocchio) and Lorraine Bracco (as the voice of "Sofia", a talking seagull), who are both fine, though inconsequential. The effects on the animated characters veer back and forth between charmingly weird to unsettling for the wrong reasons. (So easy to throw around the whole Uncanny Valley argument these days, but yeah, there's a lot of that. We're not even going to get into the donkeys) The film also needlessly seems to get the idea that it needs to tone itself down, such as the kids drinking root beer at Pleasure Island instead of actual beer. This is a PG rated movie and it somehow feels tamer than the older G rated one.
While the film isn't without some magic and even adds a more unique, rather ambiguous ending than before, this "Pinocchio" doesn't hold a candle to the original. That's not unexpected. However, it also feels more like a kids movie, rather than one that's meant for the whole family. The heart is there, though less prevalent. While even the other remakes have at least felt like events, this feels right at home only on streaming. Not at all terrible. Just a nonentity. Of course, none of this helps when the original animated version has aged so well and is still worthy for anyone, child or otherwise, to enjoy and resonate with. When Disney disappoints, it kind of hurts more than you expect. 2 Stars. Rated PG For Dark Imagery, Smoke Monsters, Wacky Italians, Juvenile Jackasses, And Bigotry Against Good Hardworking Wooden People.
Image: "This had better be important. I have a better movie to get to."
A dark, violent, gritty and unforgiving Medieval epic is so hard to come by right now. You either flop hard like last year's "The Last Duel" or end up coming across as incredibly silly and dated. It's seen as old cinema or the things of fantasy, which is also hard to get right these days. Such a cool, classical, legendary time period. This needs to be on the big screen. Not this movie of course. I just mean the subgenre as a whole. Bring it back!
Inspired by the legends of Bohemian military commander, "Jan Žižka" (Ben Foster), "Medieval" follows him before his later, great battles. During the fourteenth century, the current king of Bohemia, "Wenceslaus IV" (Karel Roden), is sure to also become the emperor of Rome, though the kingdom is in political turmoil at the moment. Due to the machinations of the greedy "Henry III of Rosenberg" (Til Schweiger), "Lord Boreš" (Michael Caine) devises his own plan, which involves Jan Žižka, who was a mercenary at the time, and his band of merry psychopaths to kidnap Rosenberg's soon to be bride, "Lady Katherine" (Sophie Lowe), to force his support of the king. However, after Žižka and his group take Catherine, they soon realize that they've been lured into an even more deadly scheme by the king's sinister brother, "Sigismund" (Matthew Goode), to claim power. After Sigismund has his bloodthirsty enforcer, "Torak" (Roland Møller) goes after his family, Žižka must gather a new band of rebels to save the kingdom from tyranny. Eventually, Žižka and Katherine become what stands between the kingdom falling into chaos, with Žižka becoming a hero of knightly legend.
Written and directed by Petr Jákl (In what I'm guessing is his first American theatrical release), "Medieval" is actually the most expensive Czech Republic film ever made at the moment. While the $20 million budget may seem small here, you can tell there was work put into this. A lot of it. You can also see the potential for a brutal historical based epic that incorporates old fashioned tale telling with the harsh, gruesome reality of just how down and dirty it really was. Hell, one might even be able to find inspiration from it in how good can triumph over evil in the neverending fight for freedom. Great stuff! It just frustratingly doesn't come together. The film doesn't have many original ideas, substituting them for grisly violence, predictable plotting, and a pretty poor script. Generic is the biggest word that comes to mind. What stands out about the film more than anything is how violent it is. The film takes the barbarism of the middle ages to new heights, where not one single death is remotely pleasant or painless. Faces are smashed or sliced clear off, while heads take several hits before decapitation and everybody is in nothing but pure agony as they see what their bodies look like turned inside out. At a point however, it gets a little over the top with it and damn near cartoonish. Sometimes during an action scene, the film will even stop dead to showcase soon to be dead people screaming outrageously over their missing limbs and it comes across as more humorous than disturbing. (Think that scene from "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller's arm blown off, except taken seriously)
The film is short on character, and it's most apparent with Ben Foster himself. First off, Foster, despite being a really good actor, feels so miscast in a distracting fashion. He's the one that looks as if he's doing medieval roleplay, and none of this helps when the character is by far the least interesting person in the entire movie. Most of his depth happens either offscreen, in flashbacks, or is just told via backstory, yet we barely see any of it. Much of the supporting characters also don't amount to much, with several subplots and schemes going on at once to the point it gets so jumbled together. The movie isn't without some solid performances, such as Michael Caine (Albeit barely in it) being the respectable, sophisticated actor we all know him to be. Matthew Goode is great as our slimy, conniving villain, along with an intimidatingly psychopathic Roland Møller. Sophie Lowe is also quite compelling, even when the script fails her. (The last second romance between her and Foster though is completely out of nowhere and unnecessary)
There is some fascinating intrigue and the makings of a great knightly saga, but "Medieval" wastes good storytelling ideas on a poor screenplay that leaves much unearned. The pacing is off due to constant plot juggling and the tone is unable to figure out if it wants to be a real, hardhitting action/drama, or something more chaotic and over the top (Apparent most in an unintentionally hilarious sequence involving a horrendous CGI lion). The sword is willing and ready, yet sadly, just too dull. 2 Stars. Rated R For Countless Cut Off Limbs, Head Smashing, Throat Slicing, Bone Breakings, And Ben Fostering.
Image: "It's OK....Our careers might still recover from this."
6% on Rotten Tomatoes? With an 29% audience score? Not to mention it being the #1 movie on Netflix despite this. Also, I don't really have anything to review this week anyways. What? I've been dealing with forgettable, unremarkable bad movies, that are either just boring or lame. I need more of the in your face badness like "Redeeming Love". I live for this crap! At least, I thought I did....
Released via "Netflix", "Me Time" follows "Sonny Fisher" (Kevin Hart), a dad who stays at home, while his architect wife, "Maya" (Regina Hall), is generally away at work, leaving him with little time to do anything of excitement. However, when Maya decides to take a trip with their kids, "Ava" (Amentii Sledge) and "Dash" (Che Tafari), that leaves Sonny with some "Me Time". Since Sonny literally doesn't do much outside of his family, he reunites with his old, totally bro-ish best friend, "Huck" (Mark Wahlberg) for his upcoming birthday. Turns out though that Huck is still a reckless, buffoonish manchild, taking Sonny, along with a bunch of people they don't know onto a bus to the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, Huck also owes a loan shark, "Stan Berman" (Jimmy O. Yang), who gives him a day to pay him back or else. Then to make matters more worse, Huck convinces Sonny to engage in random debauchery, such as breaking into the house of Sonny's one-sided rival, "Armando" (Luis Gerardo Méndez) with their chaotic Uber driver, "Thelma" (Ilia Isorelys Paulino). And then to make matters even worse, they throw a house party. Also, to make matters even worse still.... this f*cking movie is longer than an hour and a half.
Both written and directed by John Hamburg ("Along Came Polly", "I Love You, Man", "Why Him?"), "Me Time" is another one of those Netflix movies of the week, that most of the time is too bare-bones that I usually don't even end up reviewing them. (Yeah, I saw "The Gray Man" and it was perfectly mediocre. "Red Notice" too.) This time though, they take it to a whole new level of blandness. If we're being completely real here, I went into this expecting something offensive, stupid, and bad in a way that makes for one of those epic, ten paragraph reviews for the ages. Well.... it is stupid. They got that one right. It's certainly not funny. It's also so uninteresting and uninvolving, leaving one to wonder what exactly the intent was for it in the first place. It's a cheaply made film, that goes for easy jokes such as farts, ass, dicks, poo, and the usual stuff. However, it's not even gross out anymore. It's too lazy to be lazy by this point. When a comedy is funny, you're willing to forgive some shoddy filmmaking to a degree. Sadly, since there aren't any laughs to be had, you're left baffled by the film's inability to decide on what the plot even wants to be. It keeps changing throughout, with random subplots that pad things out and a disturbing lack of creativity. Everything revolves around whatever joke is being set up at the time, cobbled together to pose as a movie. Whether it be running over a turtle or Kevin Hart getting mauled by a PS2 level CGI Mountain Lion (The only time I got a laugh, mostly due to how poorly done it is), the movie doesn't have near enough of a story to justify itself.
Kevin Hart is playing the most underdeveloped version of himself. It's the kind of shtick that we've become accustomed to, and yet, at least sometimes you can get a laugh or two out of him. Something feels off this time though. Sure, he's screaming a lot and flailing his arms around. It's a bit insincere this time. Most of which is because he has absolutely no chemistry with Mark Wahlberg, who is also actually kind of terrible in this. He's meant to be the dumb loser that just parties his way through life and aside from being obnoxiously dumb, but he isn't playing this right. His stupidity is inconsistent (Borderline inhuman), and too unbelievable. Both Hart and Wahlberg have their talents, though none of it is on display here. Many of these plotlines either don't go anywhere of importance or end up resolved in a predictably moronic fashion. Regina Hall is at least thankfully charming, but you expect that from her.
While I can get behind the film showing stay at home dads in a positive light (Jokes aside, it's usually something that movies mock and it's cool to see one that's saying it's a respectable thing), "Me Time" isn't bad in any kind of fun way. The direction is flat, while the screenplay comes across as made up on the fly, with characters that are too imbecilic to be likable. It's one of those toss whatever you can at the screen kind of comedies, that sure, doesn't so much offend, but rather drains you of any sense of passion. You're not angry watching it. That would require investment. I can't assume that the filmmakers didn't give a sh*t, though nothing about the movie indicates that they did. If they don't care, you don't care. Waste of perfectly good "me" time. 1 Star. Rated R For Juvenile F Bombs, Bed Poopings, Animal Abuse (CGI or otherwise), and Marky Mark's Funky Bunch.
Image: "For the last time....I'm not Will Smith!"
Unpredictable storytelling is hard to come by these days, and that's because we feel that we've gotten so used to what we perceive as a standard narrative structure. It's hard to be surprised when you've seen so much and know most of the techniques. It's not something that bothers me. I'm just used to it and have accepted it. So believe me when I say that I legitimately had no idea where this was going, how it would get there, or what it even was for nearly all of the runtime.
Inspired by the short story "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye" by A. S. Byatt, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" follows an intelligent, though seclusive narratologist (Person who studies narrative structures and their impact on perspective), "Alithea Binnie" (Tilda Swinton), as she takes a trip to Istanbul. Alithea finds herself in possession of an old bottle, which unleashes a "Djinn" (also known as a Genie), named er, "Djinn" (Idris Elba), who offers to grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom. As the two talk in her hotel room, Alithea doesn't quite see herself in need of wishes, since she's already seemingly content with life. This prompts Djinn to recount to her some stories involving his past, along with the wishes he'd granted along the way, leading up to ending up in her possession.
Directed by George Miller (The "Mad Max" series, such as the Oscar nominated"Mad Max: Fury Road", along with "Happy Feet". Also Oscar Nominated!), who co-wrote the screenplay with Augusta Gore, "Three Thousand Years of Longing" is a fairy tale gone completely mad with eccentricity. Miller crafts a topsy turvy carnival of chaos and surrealism, and doesn't seem to remotely care if you're on board or not. From the stylish and outrageous visuals, bizarre sense of humor, and indescribable tone, the film is almost in its own genre, mixing in magical fantasy, human drama, and sincere romance into a blender of bewilderment. Does this make any sense? To be honest, not really. A lot of this doesn't add up in a cohesive way that one can explain to a thoroughly comprehensive mind. If you're looking for logistics and explanation, your head will be tilting so much from confusion that it might snap your neck. Somehow though, at least to me, I feel that all of this is precisely the point.
Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba are the only characters that we actually get to know, with others being left to brisk appearances. What we know about them is what's told to us through narration. In the end, Swinton and Elba are who we're supposed to focus on and their chemistry is quite beautiful. Their back and forth is a joy to watch, and it develops into a more personal, quite compelling arc that weirdly warms your heart. I could have almost watched three hours of just the two of them talking, and that leads to a glaring, if not unconventional issue with the film. It's too short. The film clocks in at around an hour and forty-eight minutes and breezes by, yet seems to leave so much unsaid and under developed. I guess it could be seen as a positive on how you're left wanting more, but the story comes across as chopped up, even though I'm just assuming this was all what George Miller wanted. The visual effects aren't by any means real looking, with loads of obvious green screen and CGI that never blends into the real world in a seamless manner. This does feel fitting, adding to the otherworldly storybook-like cinematography. Miller's eye for unique imagery is also on full display, creating moments where you just don't know where you are or what you're seeing. (Side-note: It's also interesting to see people walking around, wearing masks. Most films these days don't really seem to mention Covid unless it's of plot relevance)
"Three Thousand Years of Longing" seems to be intent on breaking down what we seem to identify with as narrative storytelling, and it's hard to tell if the final outcome is brilliant or just plain sloppy. It's a puzzle that doesn't completely come together, though remains a fairly compelling, and admittedly unforgettable attempt at creating the kind of cinematic experience of beauty, love, loss, and wonder, that could go into a genre all its own. There's offbeat humor, along with some heart that comes through into the film's final, less extravagant act. George Miller's flawed, divisive, artistically wondrous, and awkwardly charming little fantasy is quite the story to watch unfold, even if you're not sure what in the Hell you just saw. 3 Stars. Rated R For Adult Themes, CGI Nude-Ish Idris Elba, Loads Of Jiggling Body Fat, And Whatever That Guy With The Big Mouth Was Supposed To Represent.
Image: "So looking forward to having you for dinner."
Don't you just hate when you watch a movie and you repeatedly think to yourself how easily all of this could have been better. First off, you feel like a total dick for thinking that you could remotely handle the complications and tribulations that go into filmmaking. Then you get over it and remember how much easier it is to critique than do it yourself (At least I admit it), and continue to put together more ways how an interesting interpretation of old fashioned vampire horror could not only be original, but also might even be something thoroughly its own. Also, don't show the whole damn movie in the trailer.
"The Invitation" follows "Evie" (Nathalie Emmanuel), who after losing her mother to cancer, takes a DNA test, where she discovers a second cousin (And an entire family) that she never knew the existence of. After meeting her new, very British cousin, "Oliver" (Hugh Skinner), he invites her to meet the rest of his family at an upcoming wedding, being held at a beautiful, though eerily Gothic mansion in the English countryside. The wedding is being arranged by the devilishly handsome and charismatic "Walter" (Thomas Doherty), who Evie quickly takes a shine to. Despite some antagonistic behavior from Walter's smarmy butler, "Mr. Fields" (Sean Pertwee), along with a pair of bridesmaids, "Viktoria" (Stephanie Corneliussen) and "Lucy" (Alana Boden), Evie and Walter begin to grow closer. Little does Evie know, something more sinister is going on beneath the surface, ready to ahem, sink its teeth into her.
Directed by Jessica M. Thompson ("The Light of the Moon"), who co-wrote the screenplay with Blair Butler ("Hell Fest"), "The Invitation" takes a modernized, feminist approach to vampire mythology, with some twists that could have been made more special if only the filmmakers had just taken a slightly different approach. And when I say slightly, I mean, very slightly, since the film feels so close to getting to something that could stand out from the usual, crowded horror fare. It just missed the mark, though in ways that you feel could have easily been avoided. The film boasts some atmospheric production design, though it is directed like it should be on TV instead of on a theatrical screen. There's this sort of strange level of cheapness that gets in the way, and it's especially distracting when it comes to the god awful special effects work, which really are unnecessary. They're vampires. You could really just give them sharp teeth and we'd accept that. All the CGI jumping around and demon faces just look silly when you clearly don't have the budget for it. These moments are only here for cheap jump scares and fake outs. It's typical PG-13 horror movie stuff and feels rather studio mandated.
Nathalie Emmanuel is regardless, very charming and very lovely. She and Thomas Doherty also have solid chemistry together, and it brings me to something that really would have elevated the film. It should have been played straight, saving the reveal that it's a horror movie for later in the film (Not to mention, the big moment from the trailer basically happens almost an hour in anyways). It would have been a jarring, though enjoyably campy surprise, especially when Doherty gets to chew the scenery (Literally) and looks like he's having a blast. Others like Stephanie Corneliussen, Alana Boden, and especially Hugh Skinner, play up that camp, along with a scene-stealing Sean Pertwee (Essentially playing an evil version of Alfred from "Gotham"). Everybody is good in the movie and make the most of the tonal shifts. This could have come together, if only the filmmakers (Or possibly the studio) had just taken a different route.
"The Invitation" ends up being a playful take on a certain story, and it doesn't take long to figure that out. Clever, though fairly annoying once you notice how often the film stops dead for an Easter Egg or forced reference every chance it gets. The ideas behind the film are commendable and could lead somewhere fun, though maybe there wasn't much confidence behind them or last second reshoots, and what we are left with feels more outdated and ancient than the monsters on screen. Throw in a terrible, poorly cobbled together epilogue (Okay, that definitely had to be a reshoot! Doesn't even feel like the same movie), and you get generic dullness that will fade from memory pretty quickly. It's best to save yourself the trouble and decline the invite. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Slight Blood And Rich White People Just Being Rich White People.
Image: "Purple Headed Warrior....AWAY!!!!"
My knowledge of "Dragon Ball" is still um, pretty much nonexistent. Sure, I saw 2019's "Dragon Ball Super: Broly", which despite my lack of intel on the franchise (Aside from how awful the live-action "Dragonball Evolution" was for everyone), I genuinely enjoyed as a good time. It wasn't anything that made me think about converting into whatever Dragon Ball fans call themselves (Dragonites? Wait, that's a "Pokémon"....). Now while I can't say that I'm planning that anytime soon after this movie, I am going to give it more consideration. Why? Well, because I think I get it now. I get why this is a thing.
Continuing from where I assume the long running anime franchise currently is at the moment, "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" opens with corporate villain, "Magenta" (Charles Martinet), plotting to resurrect his "Red Ribbon Army" to take over the world with superpowered androids. He partners himself up with a bizarre scientist, "Dr. Hedo" (Zach Aguilar), who has a love for superheroes and agrees to work with the baddie due to some old fashioned villainous manipulation. Meanwhile, "Piccolo" (Christopher Sabat) spends his time watching over "Pan" (Jeannie Tirado), the powered up daughter of "Gohan" (Kyle Hebert), who Piccolo worries has become unfocused with his training. After he learns of Magenta's scheme, which involves Hedo's recently created androids, "Gamma #1" (Aleks Le) and "Gamma #2" (Zeno Robinson), and with both "Goku" (Sean Schemmel) and "Vegeta" (Also Christopher Sabat) busy training elsewhere, Piccolo has to make due with what he has if he's going to stop the Red Ribbon Army from unleashing an unspeakable, highly dangerous evil onto the world.
Those completely unfamiliar with the concepts of "Super Saiyans" (God-like, Monkey Superman People), will stuck in a state of confusion while watching "Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero", and normally I would be too if not for what little of the lore I've absorbed through osmosis (I got nerdy friends). By this point, I've accepted that this world runs on a cartoonish mix of comic book and video game logic. With edible power ups, over the top abilities, oddly specific weak points, and the fact that everyone is rather blasé about an end of the world level threat. Now that I can understand it, I can also see just how fun it really is, and credit to the filmmakers on crafting a well put together story that for the most part remains focused. The set up is quite simple and to the point, yet remains fairly unpredictable, action packed, and most surprisingly, very funny. It's this that adds a lot of charm to the characters, and even when the movie seems to stop to just give focus to other recurring players simply because they either usually participate in larger roles in the anime (Or are just plain popular with the fanbase), they're also so damn likable that you really don't mind it all.
Major characters like Goku and Vegeta are left on the sidelines, leaving the film to really focus on Piccolo. He's an overly serious character, which makes for a good amount of humor, but also makes him quite endearing. Christopher Sabat plays him hilariously straight, and the relationship between him and Gohan is both funny and even kind of sweet. The Gammas are scene-stealers (And go through more character development than your usual one-off character would), while Charles Martinet (The voice of Mario from the "Super Mario" series) is a delight as our main villain. Minor appearances or not, everyone is chock full of anime-esque personalities and you just like watching them. The animation can be a bit jarring at first (The film is completely done in a CGI style meant to emulate 2D animation, despite actually being 3D), but it retains its identity, and once we do reach the action packed final act, it's pure, explosive animated spectacle at its finest. (Plus, it's just nice to see someone appreciating what you can do with animation.....Unlike "HBO Max" apparently right now)
"Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero" is absurdly bombastic, just as it should be, and never takes itself too seriously. Major exposition dumps and backstory are explained in a tongue in cheek fashion, and yet, none of this detracts from the film's epic ambitions for crafting one Hell of a superhero extravaganza. For the fans, I'm sure they're gonna have a great time. As for a non fan like myself, I found myself entranced by its wild, appealingly energetic aura. It's a total blast, and I mean that almost in a literal sense. And you know what? Maybe I might finally give this whole "Dragon Ball" thing a try. I'm only like a few decades or so late. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Saiyan Power Action, Lots Of Wide Open-Mouthed Screaming, And Pervy Kitty God People. I Think It Makes Sense In Context.
Image: "I am aware of the effect I have on Lions."
This is the lion equivalent of a shark attack movie. Short and sweet. Let's get to the point, shall we?
"Beast" follows a family on a trip to South Africa. The recently widowed "Nate Samuels" (Idris Elba), brings his daughters "Meredith" (Iyana Halley) and "Norah" (Leah Sava Jeffries), to meet with an old family friend, "Martin" (Sharlto Copley), for a tour around a game reserve. Nate also wants to use this as a chance to bond with his daughters, following their mother's death. However, due to the actions of a group of greedy poachers, an especially bloodthirsty and violent lion is currently on a rampage throughout the reserve. The lion soon has Nate and his family in its sights, and now everyone must band together if they are to survive.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur ("2 Guns", "Everest", "Adrift"), with a screenplay by Ryan Engle ("Rampage"), "Beast" is not a particularly complicated film. Stop me if you've heard this story before. An estranged parent, following the death of a loved one, has to reconnect with his kids, and they get stuck somewhere involving a scary monster, creature, or entity intent on brutally killing them. Maybe it's a shark (It usually is), but maybe it's something else. The tropes are all there, go through some predictable beats, and maybe get some matinee-level thrills. Does this movie do all of that? Yeah. Right down to the letter. It fulfills its duty, without going for anything more. That makes the film something that doesn't necessarily demand a big audience, yet is sure to give anyone looking for a ninety minute sort of horror, creature feature what they pay for. As far as these kinds of movies go, it's solidly made. The movie looks good, with some cool drawn out shots meant to keep the pace moving, and takes a little time at least trying to set up its characters. It's nothing deep, though it's enough to make you care. The horror aspect sadly comes from a few too many cheap jump scares, which feel even less necessary when the movie doesn't exactly lack genuine terror. Watching a large, feral, and highly intelligent being that can rip a man to shreds, is already frightening, especially when it can either just get the job done without mercy, or take its time to toy with you a little. Because of this, when the film goes for the easy scares, it feels extra lazy.
What isn't lazy is how dependable the actors are. Idris Elba is pretty wonderful, elevating disposable material simply with his professionalism. Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries are solid young actresses, while Shartlo Copley, not playing a villain for once, takes what could be a predictable role and makes it into something more worthy. I appreciate the film not demonizing the killer lion in any way or trying to make more of the situation than what it is. (It's not a mutated lion, or anything like that) In the end, it's a remarkably smart, very pissed off animal, that retaliates against some of humanity's most needlessly cruel. (This is what happens when you disrespect nature) That actually makes the lion even more scary if you ask me.
"Beast" is short on depth, but also short on its runtime. A quick film, with low aspirations, yet capable people in front and behind the camera, crafting a perfectly fine, eventually forgettable thriller. With some nice cinematography, fine effects work (Everything is CGI, but I mean, come on. How else are you supposed to do a movie like this?), and maybe a few okay scares, it's something you can only recommend on a rainy day and still get your money's worth. 2 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Animalistic Brutality And Poor Vacation Destinations.
Image: "We're starting to run out of bodies."
What happens when a bunch of toxic young people, with probably too much to drink and a little too much cocaine to snort, shack up during a hurricane? Oddly, exactly what you think and not at all would think at the same time.
"Bodies Bodies Bodies" follows new couple, "Sophie" (Amandla Stenberg) and "Bee" (Maria Bakalova), as they travel to a mansion owned by the family of Sophie's best friend, "David" (Pete Davidson), right before a hurricane is scheduled to hit. The so called "hurricane party" also includes more of Sophie's old friends, such as "Jordan" (Myha'la Herrold), "Alice" (Rachel Sennott), David's girlfriend "Emma" (Chase Sui Wonders), along with Alice's older new boyfriend "Greg" (Lee Pace). Tensions and old grudges are already a little high, but while stuck inside during the hurricane, Sophie suggests playing a game called "Bodies Bodies Bodies", where one person will pretend to be a killer in the dark and the others have to find out whodunit. However, when somebody actually turns up dead, paranoia starts to take over and nobody is sure who to trust anymore.
Directed by Halina Reijn, with a screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, "Bodies Bodies Bodies" is a tribute to the worst that the future generation has to offer, and one that things like TikTok and Twitter have inexplicably allowed to fester into physical being. It's a sort of slasher about truly terrible people that you may even have talked to online or might even know in person, and it's as obnoxious as you would expect. That's also what kind of works about it. The entire movie is based around both self-righteous and self-centered stupidity, which continuously spirals out of control until the bodies start to pile up. The levels that the film goes to are hilariously extreme, yet if you actually take a moment to think about it, as over the top as it may seem, it's not really that far fetched. Characters will break into unimportant arguments about held back grudges or personal grievances even after someone drops dead, or will inject themselves into a situation that really has nothing to do with them in the slightest. They pretend to be knowledgeable, though repeatedly make moronic mistakes that could end up being deadly. It's basically typical horror movie logic, except intentionally made even more dumb than it usually is. Even with the darkly humorous tone, the film isn't without legitimate suspense, with Reijn's direction playing pretty straight into what appears to be a slasher flick, with a tense, escalating score. It's a very smart move, that only further highlights when you start to piece together what's really happening.
Image: To catch a Peradator.
I always felt that the "Predator" series never quite understood the real potential that's just sitting right in front of our very eyes. They always seem to get close, yet always miss that certain mark that I've been waiting for. One of the best parts of the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger led "Predator" was that last half hour, when the titular creature went face to face with our lead, in one final, brutal hunt that's equal parts frightening, tribal, and absolutely compelling. Now imagine that, except for the entire runtime. That's this movie.
The fifth entry in the "Predator" franchise (Though chronologically now the first), "Prey" opens in the early 1700s, following a young Comanche woman, "Naru" (Amber Midthunder), who wishes to prove herself to the rest of her tribe. Naru dreams of becoming a great hunter like her older brother, 'Taabe" (Dakota Beavers), though their mother "Aruka" (Michelle Thrush), sees her as more of a healer than a hunter despite her skills. After Taabe kills a rogue mountain lion, Naru and her loyal dog, "Sarii", venture out to perform their own secret hunt, only to discover that there is something far more deadly currently stalking the area. This violent hunter, or "Predator" (Dane DiLiegro), is looking for sport and glory, relentlessly pursuing anything that crosses his path before horrifically gutting them, and now it's up to Naru to finally prove if she's truly worthy of becoming the hunter before, you know, she becomes the hunted.
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg ("10 Cloverfield Lane"), with a screenplay by Patrick Aison, "Prey" is the "Predator" movie that I've always wanted. No longer constricted by tightly wound, rather incomprehensible timelines of the current movies, the film embraces the idea of a more anthology inspired story. It stands on its own as just a damn good creature feature, while telling a story that even without the inclusion of a homicidal, armed to the teeth alien, is very much engrossing. The film really showcases the Comanche heritage, doing so with respect and without feeling the need to, ahem, "white" it up in any way. Sure the characters are speaking English throughout the film (Although it's apparently also been dubbed in the Comanche language, so in case you'd rather watch it that way), but the film does seem to address that it's simply just the Native characters speaking to each other, while any other characters (Such as a villainous group of French hunters) are left untranslated. Not to mention, there are long sequences where dialogue isn't necessary, relying on the performances and the gorgeous cinematography to do the storytelling and character building. The movie has been released exclusively through "Hulu", yet feels perfectly cinematic, working with what has to be a small budget to still find a way to achieve big screen level thrills.
What carries a large portion of the film is the performance of Amber Midthunder. She, along with her incredibly expressive eyes, is powerful, without ever needing to overstate herself. A strong lead, who is shown to struggle plenty throughout, only playing more into her intellectual skills as a hunter rather than physical. She's a heroine to root for, and nonetheless a badass warrior. The Predator himself (Who is less evolved and more feral than the ones we've seen before) is a terrifying presence. His true tribal instinct is best shown in a scene where he takes on an army of French hunters in a foggy clearing, providing a look into the creature's violent nature and even a little of his personality at the same time. (There's a little dark humor when the hunters have to pause to reload their guns, before getting slaughtered in suitably gory fashion) The dog Sarii is also quite the adorable scene-stealer (And brings some much needed levity to such a dark film). As for the visual effects, they blend in almost seamlessly, and it's a credit to Trachtenberg's direction, knowing when to show our villain and how. In a remarkable change of pace, the film doesn't feel the need to shoot everything in darkness to hide the fakeness. Even in bright daylight, it's all beautifully shot and on full display.
"Prey" is a short-ish movie by comparison, coming in at just an hour and a half, taking its time before really getting into the nitty gritty of what exactly is going on. The slow burn I feel is welcome and only adds to the atmospheric setting, but I can see some fans craving more action. However, when the film reaches its more savage second act, with the Predator's eye for creative kills becoming more prevalent, you get your money's worth and then some. Toss in a close quarters, down and dirty epic final fight between two intelligent, unyielding warriors, you got yourself the best "Predator" movie yet. It shows that with a little imagination, you can do wonders to a once scrambling franchise. 3 1/2 Stars. Rated R For Bloody, Gory Carnage And One Ugly Motherf*cker.
Image: "Always remember to hydrate after your 20th kill."
The whole trained killer, smartassed, semi-quirky assassin thriller seems to be slowly becoming a genre in itself. There's always been the Guy Ritchies or Quentin Tarantinos, with their wisecracking, dialogue heavy gangsters and hitmen, but now ever since "John Wick" (And maybe "Deadpool"), there seems to be this new colorful, somewhat smarmy, anime-ification of what we perceive as another run of the mill action blockbuster.
Based on the book, "Maria Beetle" (Or "Bullet Train" as it's known in English) by Kōtarō Isaka, "Bullet Train" follows a worn down assassin, referred to as "Ladybug" (Brad Pitt), who after suffering much bad luck in his life, just wants to take simple jobs now and move on from the killing business. His handler has given him a pretty standard mission, which is to board a bullet train on its way from Tokyo to Kyoto, where all he has to do is grab a specific briefcase and get off. Sounds easy, right? Obviously it never is. At the same time, two other assassins, "Tangerine" (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and "Lemon" (Brian Tyree Henry), are escorting the son (Logan Lerman) of crime boss leader, "The White Death", while also transporting the exact briefcase that Ladybug just so happens to have been sent there to grab. Also at the same time, a grieving father (Andrew Koji) boards the train to find the person who attempted to kill his son, only to end up caught in a game orchestrated by a seemingly innocent, yet clearly sadistic girl, "The Prince" (Joey King). All of these various assassins and more have their own plans, resulting in all out chaos onboard the train, with poor Ladybug, who really just wants to relax, caught right in the middle of it.
Directed by David Leitch (Co-Creator of the "John Wick" series, along with directing "Deadpool 2" and "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw". So again, very fitting), "Bullet Train" is as over the top a cartoon as they come, and I can't exactly say it's not derivative of other similar works. Characters have weird code names instead of actual ones. There's intentionally excessive banter, along with piled on flashbacks and loads of little background items that you just know are going to come into play much later in the film. Also, we won't even get into the logistics, considering physics and gravity are made meaningless once we reach the exhausting finale. When I say that though, I don't fully mean it as a bad thing. It may not be original, but it's entirely earnest and creative. It results in a thrilling ride that doesn't make much sense and makes up for that in a rather irresistibly snarky way. (No car on the train is just a simple train car, with each one having its own sort of kitschy tone) Leitch obviously knows his way around an action sequence or two, where anything and everything is used as a weapon. These elaborate sequences are exhilarating, hilarious, and unique to set the film's more imitative elements more forgivable since you're having too much fun to let it bother you.
The cameo-filled cast (Most of which I think it's best I don't spoil) gives everyone their moment in the limelight, and most of all, everyone involved appears to be having an absolute blast. Brad Pitt is an especially brilliant lead, being literally just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pitt shows off his star power, while also mocking the typical action hero archetype in a nuanced fashion. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry make for quite the duo, supposedly being twins despite the fact that they um, clearly aren't. There is some compelling work from Andrew Koji, the reliably great Hiroyuki Sanada (as "The Elder", the father to Koji's character), and a memorable appearance from Benito A. Martínez Ocasio a.k.a. "Bad Bunny" (as "The Wolf", an out of nowhere assassin who has it out for Ladybug). Joey King, who also rocks the accent, is one Hell of a scene-stealer in one of the movie's most vile characters. Plenty more show up along the way, partaking in the colorful fight scenes, deliver constantly snapping dialogue, and leave an impression, even if they're only onscreen for a couple minutes.
Not everything quite comes together with "Bullet Train", in which if you've seen enough movies like this, you're bound to probably even figure out a few of the twists without much trouble. There is so much going on at once, and to such a ludicrous degree that some might be more annoyed than enthralled. A lot of this is meant to be that way, but it's not hard to see how it could become grating. The movie, which is over two hours and really doesn't feel like it, breezes by, with characters that you find yourself captivated by, an offbeat sense of humor, and the kind of gonzo adrenaline fueled madness that's so damn cheerful that you really have to appreciate it for commitment. 3 Stars. Rated R For Gruesome Violence Beyond Reason, Sneaky Snakes, Panda Punching, And Thomas The Tank Engine Trivia.