I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to call this one something of a "hidden gem" this summer (at least, not a lot of people are saying anything about it on my end), but I will say that if you're looking for something a bit different for a thriller, this is a pretty good place to look. It's a fine example of a current man vs nature story, Idris Elba is the headliner, and there's plenty of good intensity throughout the film to keep you on the edge of your seat. For me, there was only one thing really holding it back, but I'll get to that soon.
Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba) heads on a safari vacation to the Mopani Reserve in South Africa to reconnect with his old friend, a biologist by the name of Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley). Along with Nate are his two daughters, Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), and the point of the trip is for Nate to reconnect with his daughters, following the tragic passing of his wife/their mother. We find out that she grew up in the area, and that Martin had introduced the pair, initially. Things go pretty well until Nate, Martin and Nate's daughters happen across an entire small village of people who have seemingly been attacked by something vicious and huge or, more specifically, a lion who has gone totally nuts.
As for the rest of the film, I might say the best way to think about it is a very 'Jurassic Park'-like situation, but with one terrifying, big lion as opposed to say, a T-Rex, or a velociraptor. Now, some of that 'JP' comparison includes, as I previously mentioned, the one thing really holding the film back. Remember in the original 'JP' when the T-Rex got out, and Lex grabs a flashlight from the back of the jeep, shining it all over the place, practically signalling the Rex to attack said jeep? That type of stupidity is constant with the daughters here. I can't count how many times I shook my head, facepalmed or at least rolled my eyes. Nothing against these two young actresses, but the writers made these characters almost extra stupid, and it didn't help the movie to make them damsels in distress.
But what we're really here to see, obviously, is Idris Elba fighting a lion with his bare hands like some kind of badass warrior. Well, no worries, because there's plenty of facing off against this creature. But I have to admit that there are many times you must throw reality out the window because the way this lion plays with its prey isn't entirely believable (as in how uninjured the prey is after being toyed with). With that said, I don't pretend to know a whole bunch about lions and how they work. I just can't imagine being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after some of the attacks that take place throughout the film. Although I will say that the attacks in question ARE quite unnerving. A lot of it takes me back to 'The Edge' with the bear attack, or 'Frozen' with the wolf attack (that's the non-Disney version).
All in all, other than the two daughters driving me batshit crazy for a lot of it, this is a pretty solid title as far as it being suspenseful and even kinda scary a lot of the time. However, if you're someone who really hates seeing stupidity unfold during a movie - you know, "don't go in there, you just saw the killer go in there!" then I'd honestly recommend avoiding it. It's not JUST these two girls doing it, either. I may be being a little harsh, as I'm sure the director was going for "panic" and "not thinking straight" here, but that can only go so far until it gets tiresome. I don't see the film doing incredibly well this year, but between this, 'Thor', 'Sonic 2' and 'Three Thousand Years of Longing', Elba will definitely be fine.
DC League of Super-Pets
When it comes to DC's material, I tend to find that their animated stuff tends to far outweigh their live-action stuff. The thing is, when we think of DC animation, we probably think of material that's dark, edgy, and a little more adult. In this film's case, it's a DC animated film that leans much more towards a family-friendly and even cutesy story, looking a lot more like 'The Secret Life of Pets' than your typical DC superhero movie. For me, it's actually kind of refreshing, but I'll get to that in a bit.
We open with the well-known destruction of Krypton in a sort of "What If" scenario where, when Kal-El (eventually Clark Kent/Superman) is sent to Earth by his parents to live on, his puppy, Krypto, is sent with him. They grow up together over the years until they are found present day, living in Metropolis, and famous for their respective heroism. Currently, Clark/Superman (John Krasinski) is dating Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), which in turn makes Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) a little jealous. As a result, Clark visits an animal shelter to find Krypto a friend so he won't be lonely, but to no avail.
Superman and Krypto soon have bigger fish to fry when their nemesis, Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) is seen pulling an orange kryptonite meteor towards Earth that will apparently give him the superpowers he needs to fend off the Justice League; here consisting of Superman, Batman (Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), Green Lantern (Dascha Polanco), Cyborg (Daveed Diggs), The Flash (John Early) and Aquaman (Jemaine Clement). He's easily thwarted, but back at the aforementioned animal shelter, a guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon) has her own diabolical plans.
Having a tractor beam of her very own, Lulu hauls in a small chunk of the orange kryptonite that we soon find out only works on animals. Lulu breaks free with newly gained powers of telekinesis and flight, but the kryptonite also gives the other pets powers of their own. A dog named Ace (Kevin Hart) gains super strength and indestructibility; A potbellied pig named PB (Vanessa Bayer) can now shrink and grow like Ant-Man; a nearsighted turtle named Merton (Natasha Lyonne) gets super speed (of course), and a squirrel named Chip (Diego Luna) can now shoot electricity from his hands like some kind of Sith squirrel. When Lulu uses a bit of green kryptonite to capture Superman and the rest of the Justice League, however, it's up to the league of Super-Pets to save the day.
I have to give the film credit for being able to be a solid DC movie with a mostly family-friendly comedic format. The type of comedy within the film is very reminiscent of something like the 'Lego' Movies, and with good reason, as this is written and directed (mainly) by Jared Stern who wrote for both 'Lego Batman' and 'Lego Ninjago'. So this isn't without a few great unexpected comedic sequences; my personal favourite is the turtle giving out a few solid swear words that have been bleeped out but nevertheless catch you off guard. I further give credit to the film breathing new life into the superhero genre. Even if it is another superhero movie, the formatting of it is what I find refreshing.
This is by far a comedy first, so it's all of the favourite DC superheroes done to one extreme or the other. It also pokes fun at itself and DC quite a bit. But there's also a little bit of good drama spliced into the story here, and it actually manages to pull at the heartstrings a little bit here and there. Dog lovers, or indeed, anyone who has ever owned a pet (especially a dog) will understand why, and I find it evident in more than one scene. As far as animated films go this year, I have to say that this is by far one of the best. It's full of laughs, it's got just the right about of seriousness, and to top it all off, there's some relatability to it. This one comes recommended highly as a Super solid family feature this year.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
By now, I think it's probably safe to say that the Minions are typically seen as one of two things - adorable, innocent and fun or irritating, invasive and simply there for the cash-in. I tend to lean a little more towards the first opinion, although with the full realization that indeed, these little yellow fellows are money makers and that's generally the reason these films exist anymore. At no point was it more painfully obvious than the last 'Minions' movie of 2015.
Thankfully, this one managed to come along and actually make us care about Gru (Steve Carell) again for the first time since probably 'Despicable Me 2'. While the Minions do play their titular part as expected, the story is much more about, well, the rise of Gru. It's actually a pretty good example of a trailer that delivers all the Minion madness we've come to expect from these films (whether we like it or not), but the final product ends up much better than we thought it was going to be. And while it serves as yet another origin story, I kind of like how it works out, fitting right in-between 'Minions' and the first 'Despicable Me' - arguably the lowest and highest points of the series, respectively.
Here, we go back to 1976 when Gru, at just 11 years old, aspires to one day become a supervillain. His first step to success was to hire the Minions to assist him in his work. From there, Gru eventually receives an invitation to audition for the five remaining supervillain members of The Vicious 6. Now, let's just take a moment to take in the voice-casting here. The Vicious 6 consists of Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) - a disco-themed villain who has replaced their former leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin); Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme) - a Frenchman with a big lobster claw for a right arm; Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) - a Swedish roller skating champion; Stronghold (Danny Trejo) - the obvious brute of the group; and Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless) - an old nun master of the nunchaku.
Needless to say, due to Gru's young age, he's essentially taken as a joke rather than any sort of contender for the 6th member of the band. However, in the same room lies the famous Zodiac Stone. During its heist was when Wild Knuckles was actually betrayed by the rest of the group and presumed dead afterwards. In an attempt to prove himself worthy to join the group, with the help of Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob (all Pierre Coffin), Gru manages to steal the Zodiac Stone giving it to Otto - a chubby Minion with an actual personality. But when Otto foolishly trades the Zodiac Stone for a pet rock, a chain of events begins to unravel to truly test Gru's talents, including working alone after angrily firing the Minions, and martial arts training from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh).
Personally speaking, I find myself somewhat stuck with the whole Minion thing. I have always loved the first 'Despicable Me' movie as a solid, feel-good story. From there, while mildly enjoying each film after that for the silly fun they were, nothing has ever felt the same as that first movie - not even 'DM2', which is actually often referred to as the "best one" as well. But with that said, I think I might put this one in a second-place position. I kind of like the origin story of Gru here, the Minions, though heavily featured, do take a bit of a back seat to everything else, the voice-casting for the Vicious 6 is actually kind of amazing, and strangely enough, it actually makes for a decent story.
So, as far as Minions go, I tend to say that I have a "soft spot" for them. It's like this - if I were in a room full of Minions, I'd likely get annoyed and try to leave. But then I'd look back and see all their puppy dog eyes, feel really bad about getting annoyed and decide to go party with them. I absolutely get how they can irritate people, especially with the idea that they're so profitable, but I do still get a kick out of them. Somehow, they can still manage to tickle my funny bone. And here, it helps a great deal that the focus isn't on them so much as it's on the origin story of Gru. Hopefully, if they crank out any more of these, they can stick to this formula. The Minions will always work best as side characters, even if the movie they're in is named after them.
Jurassic World Dominion
Some of my friends can vouch for this, but my cinematic experience with said friends was bad enough that we each got free movie passes from it. We were constantly distracted by children running around and going "BA-BA-BA" and such, and yeah, it was irritatingly distracting. I therefore didn't quite get the experience I should have, but luckily for me, my hopes weren't exactly high anyway.
In case any of my readers don't remember, I wasn't too nice about 'JW: Fallen Kingdom', and so much of it had to do with the way it ended. Now, just because I sort of have to spoil the ending of that in order to get into this, I'm gonna say that if you care at all, you may as well back out now, because this is big spoiler territory from everything else, as it's a culmination of the 'Jurassic' generations. Once again, Hollywood says "this is the last one", to which I say "yeah right". If there's one thing I've learned about sequels, it's that the "end" is never the "end" if there's box office money to be had.
Anyway, 'Fallen Kingdom' ends with young Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon); a clone (a whole other story) releasing a whole whack of imprisoned dinosaurs into the world because "they're alive". One of the dumbest movie endings in my humble opinion. But (and I even say this in my review), I knew pretty quickly that the road was paved for a new title soon enough. The resulting film is 'JW: Dominion', and I have to admit that I may have liked it a touch better than 'Fallen Kingdom'... a bit! This is mostly because my expectations were low, even if Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) make a comeback to feed my fandom. I mean, that's what got me into my seat, so call me a "sucker".
This one takes place about four years after the last one, and as we all know at this point, dinosaurs are living among the human race. As one probably expects, it's not exactly 'The Flintstones', but certain creative (if far-fetched, but hey, this is a 'Jurassic' film) ideas are put into place, but it's mentioned really quickly that the human race isn't exactly surviving. So once again, way to go Maisie. In the meantime, Biosyn Genetics has been granted permission to create a dino sanctuary in Italy's Dolomite Mountains. There, they continue a bunch of their complicated research. Biosyn also wants to get their hands on Maisie for research purposes.
In the meantime, Maisie lives with Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who still works with the Dinosaur Protection Group, and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), who now works as a dinosaur wrangler, relocating stray dinosaurs. Long story short, Maisie is eventually located and kidnapped, along with the asexually produced Beta - baby to everyone's favourite raptor, Blue. As the trailer shows, Owen promises to get her back for Blue. As for Sattler and Grant, well, Sattler researches swarms of gigantic locusts who are eating crops that Biosyn isn't planting and Grant is there to help. And Malcolm? Well, he works for Biosyn, but soon finds out some hard truths about their experiments, causing him to want to expose CEO, Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) - the guy from the first film who gets Dennis Nedry to collect the samples.
For yours truly, there was enough fun to this that included some of our old favourite dinosaurs. The T-Rex comes along for another wrestling match against a something and a whatsit, we have Blue to fulfill the raptor aspect, and even one of my old favourites, the Dilophosaurus makes a comeback in a very fitting way. My praise for the film lies in bringing back certain aspects and characters, but my biggest criticism is, not even in the story-telling, but wondering what the hell all these dinosaurs are supposed to be. I haven't heard of more than probably half of the dinos in this, so not every scene was exciting so much as me going "huh?" Like Macolm says in the trailer "why do they always need to go bigger?" (seriously, every 'Jurassic' movie is guilty of it, except maybe 'Lost World', where the T-rex is still the big baddie).
I think this is fine for those who are into the whole 'Jurassic' thing. These have pretty well become another 'Fast' franchise that has audiences going in for a fun time rather than some kind of Oscar-seeker of a flick. I can't say I blame them. Every one of these films, for me, has something fun going on in it. But half the fun of these is pointing out how ridiculous things can get. I mean (in the trailer), why is that one guy casually riding a scooter when a T-Rex just snatches him off of it? We have to take these with a grain of salt, and I think my acceptance of that allowed me to enjoy this just a touch more than the last one. BUT... it's still pretty bad.
The Bob's Burgers Movie
When it comes to animated adaptations of adult cartoon shows, we have a good amount of winners. 'The Simpsons Movie' pulled it off somehow after 18 seasons, and even the crappy animation of 'South Park' outdid itself with their movie back in '99. I have to admit that while I love me some 'Bob's Burgers', the film actually left me kind of disappointed. That's not to say I didn't have fun with it, but it quite honestly felt like there needed to be more to it.
I think, first and foremost, one should probably be a bit of a fan before wandering into this. At the very least, take the time to get to know these characters a little, or I think some of the comedy that comes through with character charms can get lost on someone. Imagine seeing the 'Simpsons Movie' without knowing Homer first - it'd still be funny, but it's much funnier knowing the kind of clod that Homer is already. I feel like the same is true here of the Belcher Family; Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), Linda (John Roberts), Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman) and Louise (Kristen Schaal)
The film kicks off at the beginning of Summer when Bob and Linda find themselves in financial trouble. They are rejected on a business loan, given a week to make payment, and to make matters much worse, an underground water main breaks right in front of the Bob's Burgers restaurant (which Bob and Linda own and live above, for those of you who are new here). It turns out, however, that the hole in front of the restaurant is actually the scene of a crime, which gives Bob and Linda a sort of hopelessness in their whole situation. So the main Bob and Linda story is about them trying to save their restaurant and not be kicked out of their house, home and business.
Now, for as much as we love Bob and Linda, the kids are almost an even bigger part of the show. The thing is, none of their stories are necessarily interesting or very different from what the show has to offer. Tina's nervous about asking Jimmy Jr. to be her "summertime boyfriend" and has to overcome that, Gene is experimenting with a new musical instrument he created, and Louise (whose story is probably most intriguing) tries to show up a school bully to prove she's not a "baby" because of her bunny ears that she has such an attachment to. Louise, Bob and Linda are very much the carriers of this movie.
With that said, I will give the film credit that for once we see these kids in their respective situations begin to doubt themselves. What if Tina's crush on "J-Ju" is all it will ever be with no positive results? What if Gene's new instrument is just an annoyance? What if the bully is actually right about Louise's attachment to her bunny ears? It gets somewhat interesting, but I have to say that at the end of the day, it really just feels like a long episode of the show. This could have been a made-for-TV special presentation, and I feel it lacks the quantity that 'Simpsons' and 'South Park' did with their movies.
One thing for sure is that if you're looking for your favourite side characters here, don't get your hopes up too high. There are plenty of very brief, minor appearances, and Linda's annoyingly hilarious sister Gale isn't in it at all (which, admittedly, some might be happy about). Keep in mind that this is very much a movie focused on the family as opposed to anything going on, on the side. Perhaps the biggest star here, however, is the bumped-up quality of animation. Things are cleaner and smoother, and we see the characters move in ways we haven't seen before (like in 'South Park' when we first saw them moving in three dimensions).
I think if you plan on checking this out in theaters right now (as I write this, it's still about as fresh as Bob's Burger of the Day) do it soon because it's completely failing to follow 'Top Gun' and its massive box office success, AND 'Jurassic World' is coming. That said, please note that this is not at all a must-see in theaters, and is probably just as worth it to wait until you can rent it or it comes onto a streaming service. I enjoyed it but compared to movies like 'South Park' and 'Simpsons' adapting things into what feels like a movie as opposed to their regular show, it falls pretty short in comparison. BUT, it does have a Rotten Tomato average of 88.5%, so maybe I'm not the one to be listening to, and there was something I just didn't quite get. So, if curiosity hits you as a fan of the show, go nuts! I hope you like it more than I did (not that I hated it or anything).
When it comes to the Wizarding World franchise, I'd consider the 'Harry Potter' story to be where my interests lie, and I've never really felt the need for much more. That said, it didn't stop my curiosity in watching all three of the 'Fantastic Beasts' films that followed, as secondary as they are. While I enjoyed the first, I was disappointed in the second, and ended up meeting this one a little bit in the middle.
Before getting into it, however, it should be noted that I might as well have gone into this blind. While I did see the first two of these, I don't really remember any of it since my last time seeing them both was on the big screen, upon their respective releases. So there may have been some stuff that was a bit confusing throughout, but I was able to get the gist of things here, and I think it felt like it had more substance this time around as well. It's not quite the first 'Fantastic Beasts', which felt very 'Harry Potter', but it's better than 'Crimes of Grindelwald' which officially seemed to make the whole wizarding thing a bit "old" (at least for me).
In the grand scheme of a timeline, this one takes place about ten years after 'Crimes of Grindelwald', where Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen - Johnny Depp in the last movie) is moving to take control of the Wizarding World. For quite personal reasons, the great wizard Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) cannot face him alone. He then recruits our series hero, Newt Scamander to head a collective of wizards and witches, along with our favourite new Muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to try to stop him from going full Voldemort (before Voldemort is a thing). There's more to it, but I wanted to keep this one a bit simple.
To give credit to the rest of the team, however, Newt's brother, Theseus (Callum Turner) joins along with charming Charms teacher, Lally Hicks (Jessica Williams), French wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) who works as a spy, and Newt's assistant, Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates). Together, the collective tries to stop Grindelwald before things get out of hand, but also have to face Grindelwald's acolytes, led by Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who was understood in the last film to be the only one who could actually kill Dumbledore... and I don't really remember why. Although I'm not sure that's altogether important here.
I'm not entirely sure what all else to say about this one. Truth be told, there's a bit of me that's bored with the Wizarding World because it all seems to be about "world take-over" now, and while there's still a bit of "magic" left here, it is dwindling. The 'Harry Potter' series introduced us to so many cool concepts that go beyond cool new creatures, and there's a ton of solid character development within those pages - especially for Neville Longbottom. Here, things feel like more of the same and, I daresay, "adult" and even "political" as opposed to the original material. One could say this is the "prequel trilogy" (quite literally) of the 'Wizarding World' franchise (comparing it to 'Star Wars').
For me, the 'Harry Potter' series was just that bit more magical, charming and adventurous with great imagination packed behind every book/movie. The 'Fantastic Beasts' films feel, to me, largely like a big desperate attempt to keep the Wizarding World going for fans. But don't let me take that away from any fans either - I know this has its audience. I just so happen not to be someone these were really made for. I think I'll stick to my 'Potter'. Although one day I may give these three a marathon viewing to get the full effect that I'm probably missing at this point.
Just to add a whole bunch more confusion as to where things in Marvel are taking place, Sony brings in 'Morbius' while a future 'Blade' movie is slated for the MCU at some point in the near future. We don't particularly know what will happen with Sony's Spider-Man movies either, as Andrew Garfield has quite a lot of fans backing him up for another Sony movie. Time will tell, but before it all comes together, here's the next chapter in Marvel's Multiverse Movie Multitude.
We meet young Michael Morbius (Charlie Shotwell) at the age of 10, where he bonds with his surrogate brother, Lucien (Joseph Esson). The pair share a blood disease in common and reside at a hospital in Greece. After an incident involving Lucien and his medical equipment, it's discovered that Michael is highly intelligent - a regular MacGyver if you will. As a result, Michael and Milo's (by the way, Michael calls Lucien "Milo" in this) adoptive father and hospital director, Nicholas (Jared Harris), makes arrangements for Michael to attend medical school in New York City.
After 25 years, Michael (Jared Leto) is up for a Nobel Prize for his work on synthetic blood, which he publicly declines. In the hopes of splicing bat genes with his own, he hopes to cure his blood disease, and has therefore captured a collection of bats to experiment on, as discovered by his colleague, Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona). His experimentation, however, is illegal, but after confessing his plans to both Nicholas and Milo (Matt Smith), he receives funding to carry out his experiment on international waters.
The experiment, as we can all tell by trailers and common sense, transforms Michael into a vampire with seemingly uncontrollable bloodlust. Once his hunger is satisfied, he pretty much goes back to normal. The conclusion is that the cure works, and even enhances his abilities, gaining him things like echolocation, super strength and agility, and even being treated as a fellow bat by his bat buddies. The unfortunate drawback, however, is this thirst problem. His synthetic blood can only feed him for so long. But when Milo is refused help due to the cures unfortunate side effects, Milo takes matters into his own hands, giving us another Marvel non-MCU anti-hero in the form of Morbius, the living vampire.
This one clearly didn't do so hot with the critics, and a lot of that has to do with some of this origin story stuff being played out - especially when it's hard to figure out just who was asking for a 'Morbius' movie, as opposed to just having him come in as a villain somewhere in a future 'Spidey' or 'Blade' movie. Nevertheless, perhaps the most intriguing aspects of this movie, to no one's surprise, are the mid-credit sequences which, without saying too much, tie in with the events of the MCU's 'No Way Home'. It paves the way for some future stuff, but it's hard to say exactly what.
All in all, I came out of this with similar feelings that I had with the two 'Venom' movies. These films are by no means spectacular, but I'll be damned if I don't have fun with them. I wasn't on the lookout for this, but I can't deny it grabbed my attention, being somewhat familiar with the Marvel villain. I'm glad that I saw it, and didn't come out of it regretting a thing. There are a few rough spots here and there, and I can see where critics are coming from. But if you can view this with the proper lens, I think you can enjoy it for what it is. One thing's for sure - Leto was much better here than he ever was as the Joker (and I stand by that).
The Lost City
This one seems to have floated a little under the radar, as the titles surrounding its release date have seemingly had more pull. 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' was released the same week, and it's difficult to stand out when the following weeks would release 'Morbius' and 'Sonic 2'. But I digress. I'm actually kind of happy to say that I found this to be a bit of a hidden gem. Nowhere near perfect, but really quite fun, nonetheless.
A reclusive romance novelist named Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) writes her stories based on adventure, and they feature a recurring character named Dash McMahon whose basis is cover model Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum). During a book tour, we see the relationship between the two as people seem far more interested in the sexy model than the struggling author. Though off to a rough start, Sage is soon met by Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who, despite not enjoying her books, realizes that Loretta has done real, historical research in her writing.
As a result, Fairfax believes that he's stumbled on a lost city in the Atlantic in which a priceless relic called the "Crown of Fire" might be. But when Loretta disagrees to help Fairfax find this crown, she ends up kidnapped and hauled off to the island. When Alan witnesses this, he enlists the help of a former Navy SEAL named Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt). Without spoiling too much, things don't go all too well on this rescue mission, and soon the inexperienced Alan and Loretta find themselves on the run in the jungles of some unknown island.
A fun side to the movie includes Loretta's publisher, Beth Hatten (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), who goes on her own rescue mission, all the while having a back-and-forth with Oscar (Oscar Nuñez); a sort of random comic relief character who takes her to the island. It's a good chunk that doesn't really need to be there, but it's sort of parallel to Matthew McConaughey popping up to deliver a TIVO in 'Tropic Thunder'. It's there for a good, solid chuckle, and it's effective, but it's not really necessary. I admit to always being a fan of stuff like that, provided they have fun with it, which they did.
But when all said and done, the final question is whether or not the film is worth it. After all, there's quite honestly plenty here that we've seen done before, the ending is highly predictable, and not much comes as a surprise while you're watching it. The fun factor, however, is what drives this film. Bullock and Tatum actually play quite well off each other, but Tatum still delivers that humour the dudes can love just as much as the women, and he's thankfully not there to just be eye candy (as the film otherwise seems to suggest in its plot).
On top of that, there's really no performance here that was disappointing. Radcliffe owned his role as a sort of loser of a villain when we know him so well as Harry Potter; Bullock gives a good range in her performance; Pitt seems to really be accepting of his late roles of a "lesser" character (like Vanisher in 'Deadpool 2' for about 2 seconds), and they all provide the aforementioned "fun factor" to the film. It's another case of an old idea with a freshly visualized execution. It's not something one must-see in theaters, but I do still recommend checking it out whenever you get the chance.
Over the years, Roland Emmerich has often been seen by many to be a sort of "other Michael Bay". In order to enjoy his works, you have to take them with a grain of salt, throw reality out the window, and whatever you do, don't question a damn thing. It's pure fantasy with the box office in mind, and you're there for a theatrical thrill ride. So (a lot like with Bay), I will often come out of an Emmerich movie saying something like "that was stupid, but it was fun".
Somehow or another though, I left this with the idea that I had just been drastically insulted, but not sure if I was supposed to feel that way. I won't spoil anything but the "big reveal" to this movie is... REALLY out there - so much so that I couldn't even call it fun. The film honestly almost felt like a message to take conspiracy theorists seriously, and in this day and age, that's not a great message to try to convey. But again, I'm not sure if this was supposed to happen. What if Emmerich was secretly saying "see how dumb this is?" But then, if he was, he just made some money rather underhandedly.
The film opens during a Space Shuttle mission to repair a satellite. Bantering back and forth are astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry), and they are interrupted by a weird, black, swarming mass that ends up killing one of their crewmates. After a long investigation, Harper is ultimately fired with his unbelievable explanation, and NASA blames the fate of the crewmember on human error. As for Fowler, she was incapacitated during the swarm attack, so doesn't have much of a frame of reference for anything.
Ten years later, we meet our conspiracy theorist, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley). His theories kind of have to be seen to be believed, so I won't reveal them here. But his theories ultimately lead him to stealing an opportunity to use a research telescope that isn't well guarded at all. Here, he notices that the Moon's orbit is off course, and it seems to be heading towards Earth. Eventually, he goes public with it, after a down-on-his-luck Harper refuses to listen to his ramblings. But then, NASA discovers this abnormality on their own, and it all leads to "let's send a crew up to the Moon to stop it from crashing into Earth as well as find out what this weird swarm is all about".
There's not a whole hell of a lot more to it without spoilers, but once things really get going, the film just gets weirder, and weirder, and weirder. It's another one that's trying to combine a bunch of different movies, but to no real avail. In fact, it's been dubbed by a few to be the most recent "so bad, it's good" movie because it's just THAT crazy. There's so much in here that feels like it was written by a teenager, and though my plot description may seem weak, that really IS basically all there is to it.
Even though there's plenty of stuff that looks pretty cool here, it's not nearly enough to save anything. I would highly recommend saving the theatrical viewing and just waiting for home release on this one, even if you happen to be an Emmerich fan. For yours truly, this is probably his weakest movie. I didn't leave this one saying it was "dumb fun", it was just plain "dumb", and it's hard for me to give it the benefit of the doubt. This goes beyond his average disaster flick, and gets almost too bizarre, even for him. This is one I might suggest watching with a room full of friends though, as you rip on everything wrong with it - especially if you have some friends who know a thing or two about the Moon!
This is a movie that very much delves into family, as we open with a story along with a musical number, giving us a nice dose of magical family history. Years ago, a young woman named Alma Madrigal and her husband, Pedro, are forced to flee their home with their three newborn children, Julieta, Pepa and Bruno. Sadly, Pedro falls in combat, but Alma manages to escape the fight with the three kids.
Fortunately, Alma happens upon a magical candle which provides her with a sentient house, known as the "Casita" (which makes total sense when you look at translations) for them to live in. Eventually, a whole village grows around the Casita, and the now grown up Madrigal family helps the village to grow and thrive. The Casita further grants the family special abilities to help these villagers. However, Bruno, having gained the gift of precognition, causes a lot of controversy and is ostracized by the family.
The main story here focuses on the youngest daughter of Julieta (Angie Cepeda), Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who we discover is a bit of a black sheep in that she gains no special abilities. She does, however, have a big heart, and considers her family to be all the blessing she really needs. One night, when the film provides an awesome example of the ability-gaining process, Mirabel finds a crack in the Casita. Fearing the worst, she tries to warn the family, but goes unheard, so naturally, she takes the mystery into her own hands, and the adventure goes from there.
Along the way, we meet a variety of interesting family members and their abilities; namely, her sisters. There's her sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), with superhuman strength; cousin, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), who can make flowers grow; other cousin, Dolores (Adassa), with superhuman hearing and several more. All of the voice acting is solid here, and the songs are no exception. This is quite honestly one of few Disney animated films where I actually liked every song on its soundtrack. They all have this specific Colombian rhythm to them you can't help but find catchy.
On top of all that, I have to appreciate the originality of the film's overall concept, while still using that "uncanny abilities" concept. I also like the fact that they don't see these as superpowers as though they're superheroes. They just kind of help with things around their village without ever having to face some big evil villain who wants *insert greedy desire here*. This is actually a great example of how to expand on the, shall we say, "superhero" concept while keeping things rather quite original in other ways. It also feels as authentically Colombian as 'Coco' feels authentically Mexican.
There's even more to appreciate here as the film does things like have the heroine be the one who isn't superhuman in any way. It provides a good sense of "girl power" we should be seeing more of, but without cramming it down our throats. It's all topped off with a positive message about the importance of family, but does so in a way that I think whole families can relate to rather than just the kids watching. I have to admit, Disney animation has been reaching Pixar quality levels over the past several years, and this one is definitely no exception. I honestly loved it.
Let me just start this one off by saying that I went into this relatively clueless as to what was what when it came to the whole 'Dune' thing. I was introduced to 'Dune' completely backwards by playing the strategy game for my PC before even realizing that it was once a movie (extremely loosely) based on an original book of the same name. I did eventually try the David Lynch movie, but I never did make it through, and it never quite made it onto my "cult" radar. This is just me, but I thought it was about as dry as the desert it took place in. So when this came around, my reaction to the trailer was less than enthusiastic.
However, there were a few things about the trailer that grasped my curiosity. First and foremost, the scope of things made it look like the next epic waiting to happen. Then there were things like the cast, taking from just about anything else that exists on an epic scale; actors from Marvel, DC, 'Star Wars', and all lead by a young Oscar bait actor. As uninterested as I may have felt, there were those few things that managed to stroke my curiosity enough to check it out. All in all, I would say things went pretty much as I predicted. This is a good blend of things, but it does take a little while to get going.
Taking place 22,000 years into the future, the main setting of the film is planet Arrakis; a desert planet which plays host to the one and only source of "spice" in the universe. Spice makes interstellar travel possible, and boosts human vitality, so it's pretty valuable stuff. Arrakis is currently ruled by House Harkonnen; the "bad guys", and Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) of House Atreides; the "good guys", to attempt to replace the Harkonnen with the Atreides as the planet's head rulers. While apprehensive, Leto does see political advantages in controlling the spice planet, but there may be something more sinister to this strategy than meets the eye.
Duke Leto's concubine, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is part of a sisterhood that bears uncanny abilities called the Bene Gesserit who tell her to have a daughter, who would one say become a very big deal. She has a son instead, however, named Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who is nevertheless trained by Leto's aides, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and Thufir Hawat (Stephen McKinley Henderson) in different skills and disciplines. Paul ends up having some pretty haunting visions of the future, usually consisting of a mysterious girl with bright blue eyes we eventually know as Chani (Zendaya) and taking place on Arrakis where all sorts of unfortunate violence is ready to happen (at least according to his visions).
A lot of it ends up being about Paul being forced into a destiny that will involve him ultimately having to face his fears despite the visions he has. I also very much see it as a cautionary tale about war over supply and demand; generally comparing the spice to, quite simply, oil. However, the film explores other everyday avenues as well, and gives us a good visual of how things could get. It also touches on politics, religion, technology, and the human condition. While this still isn't completely up my alley, largely due to its pacing and somewhat blasé atmosphere (this is just personal), I have to give it credit for being what could be a pretty realistic future for humankind (especially considering how far into the future it takes place). Everything it shows us could be seen as metaphorical for our everyday here on present-day Earth.
This is yet another case of a film ultimately gaining my respect, and it certainly has the potential to grown on my through several viewings. But with that said, I'm not sure that this one was entirely for me. It's a very hard one to rate, because for as uninterested as I could get through it, I can't help but credit it for not only what I already have, but also being what appears to be a relatively faithful adaptation (again, I have no idea), coming out in two parts. And it does do a pretty great job of leaving us on that cliffhanger by the end. I'm certainly going to give this one another chance sometime down the line though, because there's that part of me that wants to be more interested than I am - it's almost like it's just missing a little something, but I can't place exactly what that something is.
No Time to Die
The 'Bond' films are another really strange property for yours truly. If I could use one word to describe it, it might be "disconnect". I came into things during the Brosnan era with 'Goldeneye', but didn't see all of his films. Add to that the fact that I never saw anything prior, and the Craig era is the only era I ever paid any real attention to. Craig is, therefore, my Bond, and retiring from here on out. Between 'Casino Royale' to here, I have seen them all in theaters, and they've all been a real treat (except maybe 'Quantum of Solace'). This one was no exception.
The film opens in the past where we meet a young Madeleine Swann (Coline Defaud), who we'll remember from 'Spectre', and her mother (Mathilde Bourbin). A mysterious man in a mask enters, who is after Madeleine's father, Mr. White (portrayed by Jesper Christensen in previous Craig films). White is gone, however, so he sets his sights on his family to hurt him even worse. In the process, Madeleine's life is spared, but she tragically loses her mother. We then fast-forward to present day where we see Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) with Bond (Daniel Craig), after the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) as they head for Matera where Bond will be able to say his final farewells to Vesper (previously played by Eva Green).
Bond is suddenly ambushed by Spectre assassins, which leads Bond to believe that he's been double-crossed by Madeleine. They escape together, but he puts her on a train and parts ways with her, and the credits begin with Billie Eilish's 'No Time to Die' theme. Personally, not my favourite, and as far as the Craig films are concerned, 'Skyfall' is very hard to top. But graphically, it looked pretty amazing. This might be a good time to mention that, though you don't necessarily need to, it might be good to brush up on some of the history of 'Bond' before moving forward. I've already referenced a few things from previous films, but just in case I miss something, I might suggest taking a look a this.
Anyway, five years pass, and we find MI6 scientist, Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik) kidnapped from his lab. He had developed a nanobot bioweapon able to infect upon touch, coded to an individual's DNA. The weapon is known as Project Heracles, and it was approved by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond is contacted by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) and his acquaintance, Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) in their attempt to locate and retrieve Obruchev. At first he declines, but he soon realizes that a lady named Nomi (Lashana Lynch) has since taken his place as "007" since his retirement. He informs Bond about Haracles, kicking Bond into action, and that's about al of the plot I'm gonna roll out here.
Being that this is the last of the Craig films, there's actually quite a bit that attaches itself to his previous films. I may even recommend a bit of a marathon before checking this one out, just to keep up to date. Truth be told, there were a few moments here and there when I had to try to remember who some of these characters were. It's not essential that you see the previous films beforehand, but I really think it would help a lot. There's four to go through, and 'Quantum' is actually pretty short, so it's not that bad of an undertaking. Also bear in mind that I'm not what one would call a 'Bond' fan. I don't have that attachment so many others do, so it's very likely that I miss a lot of the obvious to fans.
When all said and done, this is just like any other 'Bond' movie I end up seeing. Although it's not necessarily meant for me and my mindset, I can still see 'Bond' fans really liking this. I also had to admire the way the film ended, in that it really does seem to come to a close. The only real questions on my mind at this point though are "Who will be the next James Bond?" and "Will I like them better than I liked Daniel Craig?" Time will tell, but until then, I would claim this as a property that has my utmost respect, even though it's not altogether up my alley. I still have a fun time watching these movies though, and I hope they keep coming with or without Craig, just because if nothing else, they are fun action adventure flicks made for the big screen experience.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Cards on the table, back when a lot of my peers were so eager to see Venom show up in a Raimi movie, I thought that was pushing things. I knew and enjoyed the character from various comic book reads, the '94 animated series (which, in my opinion, STILL does the best Venom story overall), and the PS1 'Spider-Man' game that no one seems to remember for some reason. Familiarity was there, but knowing Spidey's rouges gallery, there was a LOT to go through. So for me, Venom was cool, but I didn't NEED to see him in a movie as a one-off villain. Bottom line, turn to the '94 cartoon for the best version (aside from comics).
Anyway, when it came to the 2018 film, I rolled with it and accepted it for the fun, albeit dark comedy that it was. I even reviewed it for my 2018 Halloween Special, because it totally had that Halloween vibe to it - almost horrific, but silly enough not to be. I gave a a 3/5, considered it a guilty pleasure and moved on, wondering what the future would hold with that stinger involving Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) and his clown hair. The answer came in a couple of forms - first and foremost being this continuing story that I enjoyed just about as much as the original. However, due to a stinger scene that I will not spoil here, more questions were answered as to even further films in this series. As a result, indeed, I did like this one a bit more (but not solely based on that).
We open back in 1996, where we meet a young Cletus Kasady (Jack Bandeira) communicating back and forth through holding cells with Frances Barrison, AKA Shriek (Naomie Harris); his love interest. It's unmentioned in the film, but some may recognize her as being a mutant from the comics, and... well, that's all I'm gonna say about that. I'll just say that her appearance on top of the mid-credit stinger and a couple of other curious details do help push this one up for me in quality as opposed to the first. Anyway, long story short, we see Shriek's powers at work as she attempts to escape from a team trying to take her to a facility, led by officer Patrick Mulligan (Stephen Graham) but is ultimately unsuccessful, and separated from Cletus.
In the present, Mulligan contacts Eddie Brock - still bonded with Venom (Tom Hardy) - to speak with Kasady, who he interviewed a year prior. Kasady offers him all of the information he can offer on his crimes in exchange for a favour, otherwise he ends up on death row. This, of course, eventually leads to a little piece of Venom bonding with Cletus to create our favourite symbiotic psychopath, Carnage, who helps Cletus with his search for his lost love. Meanwhile, there's a secondary plot involving Eddie's ex-fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) and her engagement to Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott) which kind of does the 'Spider-Man 2' in that so much of it has to do with his secret life interfering too much with his normal one.
Now, for as much as I love the casting of Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom, I think it's safe to say that Woody Harrelson is the one who really steals the show here as Cletus Kasady/Carnage. For yours truly, this was always a weird case. I saw Cletus a lot like a Joker-type psychopath, and therefore if he was ever cast in a movie, there's some flexibility depending on how you want to interpret the character. Eddie, on the other hand, wasn't so flexible. He needed specifics, and our experience with 'Spider-Man 3' really showed us that when we collectively gasped "Topher Grace!?" But damn, Harrelson sets the bar here. This is one of those cases where I feel if he's to be recast in the future (as Joker has been so many times) it would be a very tough act to follow.
On top of Harrelson's acting skills, I also really just love the way things look in these movies. Venom already always looked great, but what they do with Carnage here was just awesome. There's a big final fight where they show you all the crazy stuff Carnage can do, as Cletus has no problem with letting his symbiote take the wheel. So in case you haven't picked up on it, Carnage is what makes this movie worth watching more than anything. Otherwise, Eddie's relationship with Venom continues to be strained, and ultimately comedic, we see the return of Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu), and one can get a few good laughs from Venom playing off his hatred of "Dr. Dan". All in all, I feel pretty much the same as I did with the first one, but I did appreciate Cletus/Carnage just enough that this is a "High 3"
The Suicide Squad
Not to be confused with the 2016 David Ayer film 'Suicide Squad', this one has 'Guardians of the Galaxy' director James Gunn behind the wheel. As a fan of those 'Guardians' movies, when I heard about Gunn taking the helm of this project, I got pretty excited and it has been on my "must-see" list since the news first emerged. Although there was controversy surrounding his name, considering what I knew he could do with an ensemble cast and his directorial style, he was just perfect for the job.
The film opens, hitting the ground running as intelligence officer, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) deploys two "Suicide Squad" teams (or Task Force X teams) to the South American island of Corto Maltese after its government is brought down by anti-American radicals. Team One is led by Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), and further consists of Savant (Michael Rooker), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Javelin (Flula Borg), Mongal (Mayling Ng), Weasel (Sean Gunn), and of course the great Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). We learn the basics really quick for those who may not have bothered with the first film, and it's simple - in exchange for completing the tasks set by Waller, these criminals get ten years off their prison sentence.
Meanwhile, the second team, who has the same deal, approaches the island. Led by Bloodsport (Idriz Elba), this team further consists of Peacemaker (John Cena), King Shark (Sylvester Stallone/Steve Agee), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior). The team's collective purpose for this mission is to locate a man known as the Thinker (Peter Capaldi), a metahuman who heads a top secret experiment potentially endangering all of humanity known as "Project Starfish". The teams are to bring down the Nazi-era laboratory Jötunheim, which holds said project. The main focus here is on the second team, as plot-wise, Bloodsport is in this to protect his daughter from jailtime. He's the lead here while Harley plays everyone's favourite DC anti-hero.
I am very happy to report that James Gunn's directorial style was what I wanted to see and more. Not only does he totally succeed in delivering a lot of that humour we know him for with the 'Guardians' films, but he makes damn sure he delivers us a good R-rated superhero (or anti-hero) movie complete with violence, language, and even a bit of nudity. One could probably consider this DC's answer to the 'Deadpool' movies. There are plenty of laughs, and a lot of the laughs have to do with how over the top things can get. I honestly had a smile on my face through this whole thing, as it somewhat represents a release of all that pent of rage we've all been feeling under the shadow of Covid 19. One could consider this a pretty great outlet for the times.
With an ensemble cast like this, one probably gets to wondering how all these names are handled. This certainly sounds like it has the potential to be another 'X-3' with too many characters in so little time. I have to say that Gunn handles things very well. I had to appreciate that he managed to make Harley more of a background character, but she still manages to steal the show here just doing what she does. There is a moment that might make Harley fans wince and cringe a bit, but don't worry, she doesn't exactly disappoint. Harley fans should get just as much a kick out of her here as they did with the last two films featuring her.
One big question people have is "Is this a sequel?" Well, it's like this. Producer Peter Safran has described this as a total reboot, despite the fact that several cast members return as their respective characters. It's further confusing to try to figure out where 'Birds of Prey' lands in all of this too. Personally speaking, I think it's all open to interpretation. DC seems to have developed a bit of a talent over the past while in that they are making movies that could stand on their own instead of necessarliy being part of the DC Universe we see from 'Justice League'. Unlike the 'Avengers' films, there's not a whole lot of important connective material. So this very well could be a sequel, but really, it's meant to stand on its own. I think it plays more on the potential the original film had with same cast members. Again, look at 'Deadpool'. Ryan Reynolds was always perfect for the role, but 'Wolverine' really screwed it up.
As far as 2021 movies go, as well as DC titles, this is easily one of my favourites. I didn't come out of this quite as mind-blown as I expected, but I really enjoyed it. Gunn did a great job here, providing some new faces, tackling a huge cast, making things stylistic, and absolutely not holding back on the R-rated violence we fans not only want but somewhat expect from a movie like this. It's another comic book title that deserves an R-rating in order to do it justice. I also have to admire that he just plain went for it. I mean, Project Starfish is really crazy and even kind of stupid when you think about it, but somehow he made it work really well here. What more can I say? I am impressed, and would love to see Gunn take on more of these (if there are going to be any more).
Here we have the next Disney flick based on one of their rides. Perhaps one may remember 'The Haunted Mansion' with Eddie Murphy, or this other little title, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' - so this isn't exactly a first. The real question is, is it more 'Mansion' (which was very mediocre), or more 'Pirates' (which became its own successful franchise)? The short answer - as one might expect, it's somewhere in the middle, but it does lean much more towards 'Pirates' in style and execution.
The film opens with a little background, telling about how in the 16th century, a group of Spanish conquistadors go to South America to search for a tree whose petals can cure just about anything; known as the now mythological "Tears of the Moon". Things go down, and long story short, these conquistadors end up cursed by the jungle (a whole story that's unveiled later in the movie). We fast-forward to London, 1916, where Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), present Lily's research on the Tears of the Moon, and suggest its aid in the British war effort, using its pedals to heal their wounded. They further request access to an arrowhead, believed to be the key to finding this tree. The pair are brushed aside, but Lily acquires it anyway, and the adventure begins.
Eventually, the pair come across Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who poses as harbourmaster, Nilo (Paul Giamatti) when he realizes Lily has an arrowhead he apparently knows something about. He promises her and her brother a jungle tour that will potentially lead to the Tears of the Moon. However, on their tail, like any good 'Indiana Jones' movie, is a German Prince named Joachim (Jesse Plemons). He is also after the arrowhead and wants the Tears for his own selfish reasons. As the chase goes on, they encounter all the jungle can throw at them, but are they prepared to face some of the more dangerous things lurking in the jungle? Liker perhaps a few cursed conquistadors who can use jungle elements as, pretty much super powers?
This is a movie that seems to borrow a lot from pre-existing material, and makes me think of it as a cross between 'Indiana Jones' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. But I might suggest I had more fun with those titles. There are a few moments to this that don't make a lot of sense, and it was a fun adventure, but it was no 'Curse of the Black Pearl' (still the best 'Pirates' movie, in my opinion) where I had a great time with it. This was entertaining, and not a bad one for a family night out to the theater. I really think that if I was younger, I would have had much more fun with this than I actually did. But I will say that the film isn't without a few things to praise.
Although some of the CG is kind of weak, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed what they did with the cursed conquistadors. That part is very reminiscent of 'Dead Man's Chest', and the curse involved with that. The CG might not pop, but the concept of these half-man, half-whatever characters was always something I thought was cool. I also don't normally like Jesse Plemons in anything he does, but his performance here as a bit of a bumbler was actually kind of great. He's still the big bad guy here, and at moments to be taken seriously, but on the whole, it seems to be an almost unintentionally humorous portion of the movie.
My final thoughts on this are pretty simple. I think if you've got a family with children who are chomping at the bit to get back into theaters, this is a perfectly fine, fun adventure movie that's good for everyone. There may be some scary bits for the little ones, but that's about where I compare it to the 'Pirates' movies. If your kid can survive a 'Pirates' movie, they can survive this. While it may not be something I had a blast with, it's something I'd recommend as a "first time back" (namely for us Canadians who have been stuck a little longer) for a family outing. For just the average movie-goer though, it's all dependent on taste. There are better adventure flicks out there, but I have to admit that its been a while since I've seen a decent jungle flick, and this really wasn't bad at all.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
Upon starting this site, I haven't paid any attention to anything much Hasbro has put into theaters, save for 'Bumblebee'. So while that may be something to look at in the near future for a theme, a lot of it has to do with my lack of nostalgic interest. While most kids were playing with G.I. Joes (as seen here) and Transformers, I was busy with my Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles. So before getting into the review, everyone should know I took this with a grain of salt. As mentioned in my previous review for 'F9', I'm really just happy to be back in theaters, and I thought this would be fun.
Things open with a young boy experiencing a touch of childhood trauma when his father is killed in front of him in cold blood. When the boy is all grown up, he has since become a skilled martial artist who has dedicated his fight to one day avenging his father. So as we can see, it's a fairly typical revenge plot. In order to hide his identity, he calls himself "Snake Eyes" (Henry Golding) a call back to the events of his father's death). He fights in an underground circuit in LA, and is one day approached by a man named Kenta (Takehiro Hira); a wealthy Yakuza boss who offers to provide his father's killer if Snake works for him. At first, Snake's plan for vengeance is unfolding well, but soon he's asked to prove his loyalty by shooting Tommy (Andrew Koji), Kenta's cousin.
From here, Snake and Tommy escape to Tommy's dojo in Japan, and requests that Snake be initiated due to his skill, and owing a life debt to him. In order to become part of the clan, Snake must undergo three trials in order to determine whether or not he is worthy (again, fairly typical). As the film unfolds, we get to some double-agent stuff, and it keeps you guessing as to who's supposed to be bad and who's supposed to be good, but any 'Joe' fan will be able to work it out pretty easily. Things like the Joes and Cobra are certainly a thing here, but the focus is thankfully more on the developing characters of Snake Eyes and Tommy, and though things are fairly typical, I can't deny that it was still fun.
I would probably go so far as to say that of the 'Joe' movies, this is probably the best of them. But in saying that, one should probably remember that the bar hasn't been set all that high. However, I did think it was well executed with decent fight scenes, and you don't have to throw reality out the window quite as much as you had to with the other 'Joe' movies. I appreciated the focus on this, and it's nice that while there's a few Joe and Cobra characters, there is by no means an oversaturation of them. It does a good job of making sure we know this is Snake's story, and being perhaps the most popular 'Joe' character, it's simple enough to give a damn. It's also not one of these descriptive origins saying how he got everything he owns. There's essentially just a uniform scene, and maybe a sword.
So all in all, for a 'G.I. Joe' story, this really wasn't bad. One should probably know that I went into this with very low expectations though. I'm still in a stage of appreciating the effect the big screen has on me again as opposed to viewing the movie in any sort of real negative way. But even with that, I can't really deny that I got what I expected; perhaps even a bit better. My opinion is that this is actually a perfectly passable movie, but one might not need the big screen to see it. It could just as easily be a straight to video release with its predictability and common themes. But what can I say? It's a 'G.I. Joe' movie, so one can't really expect gold.
F9: The Fast Saga
Well folks, it has finally happened! Theaters are open again up here in Ontario, Canada, and I decided to make my return to the big screen with some mindless action. Despite the fact that this movie is the ninth chapter in an overall ridiculous franchise, this is going to get a little deeper than it probably should, on a personal level. But first, one must understand what going to the movies means to me. I'm typically there about once a week, but due to Covid, theaters have been closed, and I have been grounded. Before this, the last time I got to go was for 'New Mutants', almost a year ago.
Returning to the big screen with a movie like 'F9' was a friendly reminder of what the big screen experience was all about for yours truly. This kind of "throw-you-brain-away" action ride is exactly the type of thing the big screen was meant for. This series could be considered something of a present-day 'Die Hard' saga, complete with heavy, fast action, likable heroes and a whole lot of physics bending. I learned to throw reality out the window with these a long time ago, and this has to be, quite possibly, their best example of needing to do that yet. With these scenes, there was a lot of me laughing because for as stupid as they are, you can't help but think of them as part of the ride you're taking.
This chapter, however, does have an interesting balance to it as it opens in the past, portraying a younger Dominic Toretto (Vinnie Bennett) back in '89, where he and his brother, Jakob (Finn Cole) assist in the pit crew of their father, Jack's (JD Pardo) race. This is reflective to a story Dom tells in the first chapter, where he nearly beats a man to death for evidently crashing his dad's car, killing him. Fast-forward to the present, and Dom (Vin Diesel) has since retired from action, living with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and raising their son, little Brian (Isaac/Immanuel Holtane). Being typical of this kind of movie though, things cut right to the chase to pull Dom out of retirement.
Roman, Tej and Ramsey (Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Nathalie Emmanuel, respectively) pull up to Dom and Letty's peaceful existence to deliver the news that Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) has captured Cipher (Charlize Theron), but his plane was attacked by rogue agents only to crash-land in the fictional Montequinto. The deciding factor that puts Dom back in action is the realization that his brother, Jakob (John Cena) is involved. Without unfolding the whole story, however, things take off from there and we have the standard 'Fast' movie, starring pretty much literally everyone from the past. And the biting question everyone has is finally answered - yes, they do go to space in this movie.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is either the best or worst of the series, but I might suggest that it's probably the most interesting. It probably happened way before this, but with this chapter I definitely found that the series has totally come to terms with itself. This is less of a solid movie and more of a Saturday morning 'Fast & Furious' cartoon. I think that if you can go into these treating them as such, and never taking them seriously, you can have a really good time with them. This was no exception, and in fact is probably the cartooniest of all so far. They hit up space, the stunts are insane (you can't catch someone flying through the air on the hood of your car and have things be okay), and if you can't throw reality out the window with this, you're just plain doomed.
One thing that really stood out to me here, however, is that this was definitely one for the more solid fans of the franchise. They bring in so many characters from the past here that I had forgotten about some of them. So it might very well be worth doing a bit of homework on the series before going, whether that means going through all of the previous movies or just Googling a lot of the basics, it might be worth going through. Then again, if you're like me and just wanna buckle in and go for a ride without it really meaning much of anything other than fun, I say go for it. It's not what I'd call a good movie, but not a lot of these ever really are. But that does not mean you can't go back to the big screen after all this time and just have some fun with it.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
The year was 1996, I was in grade 9, and some friends and I arranged to check out the original 'Space Jam'. For whatever reason, be it the Tune Squad or my appreciation for basketball at the time, I dug it. I was a bit of an odd one out on it, but being 14 at the time, there was still that sliver of childhood hanging on and I tend to classify 'Space Jam' nowadays as a sort of time capsule for myself. While it's not nearly as good as I remember it, it's still a guilty pleasure. Naturally, I had to check out 'A New Legacy' and compare notes.
I have since faded away from basketball to the point that I can't really name anyone on any teams. I was never really a sports guy, but for a short time in my youth, basketball was an exception and 'Space Jam' managed to be that last little bit of fandom I had for the sport. Now that we have LeBron James in the Michael Jordan role, it's a bit harder for me to really care. Nothing against the man, I'm just so out of touch I know him by name only. However, since he was animated for so much of the time he spends with the Tunes, it does make for a better performance than Jordan gave. Animating him was actually a clever idea for this time around.
The film opens similarly to the original, portraying a young LeBron going after his dreams, and the credits open over a montage of his career, leading up to his life as a parent athlete. He wants his sons, Darius (Ceyair J Wright) and Dom (Cedric Joe) to follow in his footsteps, but Dom would rather do some programming, and dreams of developing video games. The family is invited to Warner Bros. studio to discuss a potential film deal, and the idea is presented by a secretly self-aware A.I. named Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). The A.I. impresses Dom, and he expresses an interest in a future with Warner Bros. But LeBron puts his foot down on him keeping up with basketball, as he's got such talent.
This argument eventually leads to the basement where Al G Rhythm zaps LeBron and Dom into the Warner Bros. super computer. As Rhythm kidnaps Dom in a very 'Hook'-like way (he tries to take Dom under his wing and turn him on his father), LeBron is sent into Looney Tunes world, where only Bugs (Jeff Bergman) exists. Before he's cast to Looney Tunes world, however, LeBron is ordered by Rhythm to assemble a Warner Bros.-based basketball team. I guess Rhythm's motive is more attention, so he wants to create an event to broadcast to the world. Anyway, long story short, Bugs and LeBron assemble the Looney Tunes team, including Lola (Zendaya) by visiting different Warner Bros. properties. This is where the marketing really takes off, and things become a giant ad for HBO Max.
I will admit, however, that sometimes the properties Bugs and LeBron visit stand out. For me, particularly, I really liked the style of the DC Comic world they find Lola in, stylized like a moving comic. Finding Granny and Speedy in Matrix world, however, was a touch cringe worthy, as the bullet time gag is insanely dated at this point. There's also a few things here you just wouldn't expect to find in a movie aimed mainly at kids, like 'Game of Thrones' references and Rick and Morty showing up out of nowhere - and they have dialogue! I loved the cameo, but it didn't feel like it made a whole lot of sense. However, it's not like the first film was without such things, like a 'Pulp Fiction' reference. So for myself, that's all forgivable. We should also figure that a good chunk of this is aimed at us in our 30s who liked the original when it came out.
As the movie goes on, it goes full 'Ready Player One' by bringing in an audience of Warner Bros. characters - everyone from Batman to Pennywise. It's fun to go around the background of this basketball game and see who you can find, but many stick out more than others. The Tune humour is pretty much what we expect, and I did enjoy the stylistic choices they used during the game, making it a replica of Dom's game he's been developing. I think ultimately this felt a bit deeper (and I use that term loosely) than the original, focusing on the family aspect and giving LeBron real motivation to win. For Jordan it was really just him helping the Tunes not get enslaved while the family aspect was really pushed to the side, and there to be cutesy.
I can't really deny that I had a fun time with it, but it's having fun on a pretty mild level. Despite its style, there wasn't a whole lot that truly stood out here (other than maybe giving Lola more of a personality), and I'd probably rate the original and this at the same level, but for different reasons. I might consider 'New Legacy' just a touch better, if only because being inside a supercomputer full of Warner Bros. characters makes more sense than.... they just live somewhere under the Earth. I think as long as you realize what it is you're in for, this could be just like the first one - a guilty pleasure, complete with extremely cringe-worthy Porky Pig rap scene for no reason. So it's pretty dumb altogether, but you could still have fun with it in the right frame of mind - just like the original.
Zack Snyder's Justice League
First, let's just hit rewind for a moment and go back to 2017's original cut. You can see right here for yourself that it was a DC I actually enjoyed at the time. As time passed by, however, I managed to get completely sidetracked by everything Marvel was doing. By the time of 'JL's release, we Marvel fan-boys had reached 'Thor: Ragnarok', and the immense deal that would be 'Black Panther' was on the horizon. Speaking for myself, I expected to be let down as I was with 'Batman v Superman', and for that matter, 'Man of Steel'. However, I had fun with it, but perhaps because I chose to rather than think thoughts like "here we go again".
Thus, the whole "#releasethesnydercut" thing that DC fans have been fighting with for years now was not a bandwagon that I ended up jumping on. I was actually somewhat satisfied with the original cut, and would tend to respond in true cinema-snob fashion - "It's just more Zack Snyder. Why is that a good thing all of a sudden?". Truth be told I've always found him kind of hit or miss, but my response would suggest I wasn't giving him a proper chance to hit. I had to finally take into consideration certain things like studio interference and tweaking, and above all else, the fact that I WANT to see more films where studios give its director full reign. So, I decided I wasn't being fair, and gave it a chance.
For those unfamiliar with the plot/extended plot, here's a refresher. Centuries ago, a being named Darkseid (Ray Porter), with the combined energy of three "Mother Boxes", attempted to take over the world. In a flashback sequence, we see a massive battle fought between an alliance of Amazons, Atlanteans, Lanterns (at least one) and other humans going up against Darkseid and his Parademon army. Earth wins, and the Mother Boxes are separated and hidden around the world. As the film opens, we see where they end up; one in Themyscira, one in Atlantis and one in Cyborg's closet (don't worry, we find out why). One by one they are triggered by Superman's (Henry Cavill) final screams in death (from the end of 'Batman v Superman'), which send a sort of shockwave across the globe.
One of Darkseid's servants, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), finds out about the reactivation of the Mother Boxes, and heads to Earth. He intends to invade and collect the boxes in an effort to regain Darkseid's favor. With the boxes, he will be able to terraform a new Earth in the image of their home world of Apokolips. Learning that there may be danger on the way, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) seeks the help of a handful of superheroes that include Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller) to battle what's coming. The problem is, what's coming may very well have only been held at bay because Superman was still alive to protect the planet.
All in all, it's the same idea as the first but with so much more depth. The first thing that might come to mind is the length of the film, running at a full 4 hours. What I delighted in, however, was that the film was split into six chapters and an epilogue. One could just as easily slow-burn this movie in sittings or watch it like its a miniseries, using the chapters as cut-off points if you need to break for a meal or something. So its length isn't something I feel I can totally criticize, but I will nitpick about the overuse of slow-mo in this that could easily cut a bit out of it. Superman's dying sequence is about 7 minutes long when it's all done, and that shows us the activation of the boxes and where they are located.
Sometimes, however, the slow-mo could be good. I appreciated the use of it when the film showed us things like Flash saving a woman from a near-fatal crash so casually, or perhaps to even establish certain moods for certain moments. But like with most of Snyder's films, there's also a lot of it just unnecessarily there. Thankfully, however, he doesn't use it for everything here. Plenty of action sequences are fast-paced when they need to be, and on the whole, everything looks pretty amazing. Add to that a lot of DC catch-up fan service that can only fit into a 4-hour long movie, like the introduction of a certain Martian. I say that like it's a negative, but I mean it when I say it's a positive. It all seems to be attached to something Snyder wants for the DC universe that may not come to pass... but you never say never with this kind of stuff.
By the end of it all, despite a few lingering criticisms, I was actually impressed. I wasn't quite as excited about it as others seem to be, but that's all just in the fact that I've always been a heavier Marvel guy than a DC guy - even before any of these cinematic universes. 'Batman' was about all I was ever into when it came to DC, whereas I grew up with 'Spider-Man' and 'X-Men' more on the comic book side of it. So a DC movie is fun for me to check out, but I'll never be as invested in them as I am with Marvel. Having said that, I can't really deny that once things got going, I did find myself far more interested this time than last time. We have more character background and development this time around, which was missing more than I initially considered the first time around - Cyborg perhaps being the best example.
I'm very happy that Snyder got to see his vision for this through, and further dedicate it to his late daughter, Autumn. When you see that sort of dedication float across the screen, you think something like "screw my opinion, this is for her". Her passing was what initially made Snyder step away the first time around and have Joss Whedon finish it. Me, being a Whedon fan as it was, perhaps gave the previous film a little more credit than it deserved, thinking things like "well, Whedon's better anyway". I said I'd eat my words, and eat my words, I did. When you get right down to it, the Snyder cut, while significantly longer, is still far superior. Snyder's direction does the job of taking us into that dark DC world here more than he ever has before, and nothing but the slow-mo style really got under my skin. This is a dark, DC comic book brought to life on screen more than it ever has been.
I don't know what's gonna happen for DC or what they have planned for the future (other than upcoming 'Suicide Squad' and 'Batman' movies) but I'd love to see things play through to where they can become the Pepsi to Marvel's Coke - perhaps second-fiddle, but an incredibly worthy second-fiddle. If producers can pay attention to what this film did for its fans, it would be a great first step! Why not just hit rewind a little bit and use this as the jumping off point for more DC movies in this universe. Perhaps a redo of 'Green Lantern'? Time will tell. Until then, if you have Crave/HBO Max and love your DC material, then you really should check it out (multiple sittings if necessary, but it's pretty worth it)
Raya and the Last Dragon
With another Disney+ Premier Access title, the first question to come to mind would probably be "is it worth it"? After all, 'Mulan' was sub-par, and it's truly surprising that Disney didn't drop their prices after so much outcry over such a cost. Here, in Canada, I'd be paying less to see this on an IMAX screen, in 3D. So with that, as a single person watching this, the answer is a straight up "no" - but honestly, no movie is worth such a cost to watch alone.
Before you get the wrong idea, however, I will say that a big chunk of that cost can be forgiven if you're sitting down to watch this with the family - I'd say three people, plus. That still doesn't mean that Disney can't stand to lower that price though. Remember, you still need to be a Disney Plus subscriber on top of that cost. My deep down personal opinion is that anyone can just wait it out for a few of months for easier access at a lower cost. However, that's also just speaking for myself. It all depends on what gets you hyped, really, and this IS the next big Disney title in the tradition of 'Tangled', 'Frozen', and 'Moana'; all very successful films for impressionable young women.
In this tale, we learn of a land called Kumandra which was once taken over by the Druun; a plague of evil spirits that turn people into stone, and multiply with every victim. A group of dragons who act as providers for Kumandra, use their remaining magic to create an orb that will ward off the Druun and revive the human population. In doing so, the dragons turn into stone, themselves. Kumandra then divides its borders in a power struggle for the orb, based on their placement along a dragon-shaped river. The orb stays in Heart, where our heroine, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her Father, Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). The other tribes consist of Fang, Spine, Talon and Tail; all of whom believe they deserve the orb for their own reasons. Benja dreams of one day making Kumandra whole again, however, and invites the tribes to join theirs for a peace offering of a meal consisting of ingredients from each nation.
With this, Raya meets the likes of a girl from the Fang tribe named Namaari (Gemma Chan), and discovers that they have a great deal in common, especially when it comes to their fascination with dragons. Raya's trust goes too far, however, when she shows Namaari the dragon orb. Namaari backstabs Rya to obtain the orb, and eventually all tribes get involved in a struggle. The orb drops, shatters, and each tribe obtains a piece of it in order to keep the now unleashed Druun at bay with its magic. One of the many victims turned to stone from the Drrun ends up being Benja, and for the six following, Raya sets out on an off-screen journey to try to find the last dragon, Sissu (Awkwafina). Sure enough she finds her, but Sissu isn't quite what Raya expected - and may not be what one would expect if one hasn't seen the trailer. The two then embark on a journey to find the other orb fragments and try to bring her father (and everyone else effected by the Druun) back to life.
For yours truly, the best way to describe this movie is that it's a pleasant surprise. I mean, where to begin? Fist off, Sissu was one of those characters I thought might be problematic at first, as she's actually a comedy relief character who, at first, feels like a bit of a speedbump. There's a lot of really cool, beautifully animated, intense moments before her reveal, so in the beginning, she kind of takes you out of it. The crazy thing is, however, she slowly evolved into one of my favorite characters in the film. She's got jokes, and plays a bit like 'Aladdin's Genie, but she's got some depth too, and her backstory she gives Raya is actually pretty heart-felt. There's a lot here that speaks to a lot of social situations these days, especially when it comes to people being people, and seemingly wanting war for their own gain instead of living in peace. I know things aren't as black and white as that, but at the very least, this is something that might make you think.
On top of a great story here, there's also a great bunch of likable characters. Not to spoil anything much, but Raya meets someone from each tribe along her journey who want to help her, as they have all experienced loss too. The execution is pretty reminiscent of 'Wizard of Oz', except that as we carry on Raya's journey, we see the potential for peace and unity with each new character. She's joined by a young, witty boy named Boun (Izaac Wang), a thieving baby named Little Noi (Thalia Tran), a muscle-bound but friendly warrior named Tong (Benedict Wong) and Raya's mount (a sort of giant armadillo-pug), Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk). Every character here is pretty great in their own way, but my personal favorite is Little Noi. That combination of extremely cute and totally badass gets me almost every time, and she's easily one of the best at it.
I could go on and on about praising this movie, but I do have to wrap up the review at some point. Just to make it quick though, it's also full of gorgeous animation, settings that transport you into the film's magical world, a wonderful score, great action sequences, a total lack of singing (which I typically don't mind, but it is still a breath of fresh air to not have another potential 'Let It Go' on our hands), it gauges every emotion, and last but definitely not least - it's a near all-female cast and a total "girl power" movie but it does it ALL without getting into anything typical. No boy-slamming, no love interest at all, a boy and a man join Raya on her journey, there's nothing about what men thought women should be, and it all felt so natural and flowing. Raya is just a character who is joined by other characters to accomplish a mission that will save humanity, namely her father. I award it BIG points for pulling off such a thing. Of the new list of empowered Disney "princesses", I have been pretty steady on having 'Moana' as my front-runner... but this definitely took her off that throne. Color me thoroughly impressed!