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8/10
The sun shines bright on this anime. Weathering with You is a magical urban story that should please a lot of people
21 January 2020
As people, even with the new technology we've discovered, we're still controlled by the weather. The Earth has been consistently been shaped and molded by the weather for billions of years and will continue to do so after people are gone. Getting back to now, we tend to take for granted how much we've had to plan everything around extreme heat, rain, snow, or even the devastation of fires and tornados. It affects communications and transport. It can throw events inside or even cancel them if things are bad enough. As humans, our whole lives have to work around the weather. Living in Southern California, I'm used to consistent sunshine and the heat that comes with it. Most of the year its great, but during the summer, my whole way of life adapts to the indoors to avoid the over one hundred degree heat. I'm also lucky to be away from areas that have constant rain and humidity. Let's say science had found a way to make whatever whether we'd want, would you use it? I'd bet a lot of money that you would. The story of a girl who can bring the sun is mixed in with a love story in the new anime Weathering with You. Young Hodaka Morishima is a teenage runaway to goes to a rainy Tokyo looking for meaning and purpose. He's saved from falling off the boat by a man Keisuke Suga who tells the boy to come to him for help if needed. Hodaka unsuccessfully tries to make it on his own before he goes to Keisuke and gets a job at his publishing company. Hokaka also meets a college girl Natsumi who he assumes is Keisuke's mistress. Together, they all write articles about urban legends and conspiracy theories for a tabloid paper. While out on an assignment, he finds a teenage girl Hina and helps her escape a club trying to hire her. They make it to an abandoned building where she reveals she can bring the sunshine for brief periods after praying. The two realize that they could turn her magical skill into a business and help Tokyo with the greater then usual rainfall. Hodaka also uncovers that she is something called a "weather maiden" who, according to legend, can bring the weather. The two go about their business as Hodaka continues to write about her. But what happens when Hina uses up her time and what happens to Tokyo? Weathering with You is the highly anticipated follow up to the masterpiece of Your Name, which was directed by Makoto Shinkai. Honestly, this is another great movie that builds on what made Your Name incredible...perhaps a little too closely. It's a different story and a different kind of magic the characters face, but when you think about the plot points and how the love story plays out, it's similar to Your Name. those that haven't seen Your Name aren't going to notice, but it was a little distracting for me. I can't say the ruins everything because everything else is really good. I'll start by admiring how beautiful this movie is to look at. Anime is known for amplifying the hand drawn style, but this is something that really hypnotizes you and takes you into this Tokyo. As with Your Name, locations are beautiful, the weather is beautiful, and even the food is beautiful (including what has to be the best-looking Big Mac I've seen from a McDonalds). Almost any frame could be put on a matte and probably be called a masterpiece. The story may be hitting some beats of Weathering with You, but I still liked it. I think it's because they try to main the main characters different in Weathering with You. Hina is very likable as a girl who herself doesn't understand her powers. Though his teenage angst got a little annoying, you could still get behind Hodaka as a lot of kids who want to see the world would want to. The biggest difference is that their relationship affects a lot more people...and I mean the population of Tokyo. Much of where the future of the rain and city goes depends on the relationship of our heroes.

I'll give this eight anime McDonalds out of ten. While it's not as good as Your Name, that's like saying is off by a few points rather then a level. Keep in mind I saw the English dub, though I expect the Japanese language movie to be just as good. Anime fans will love this, and perhaps some of the mainstream crowd if their open to it. The sun shines on this movie.
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Uncut Gems (2019)
10/10
Uncut Gems is tense and gritty look at gambling addiction that is without a doubt a masterpiece
15 January 2020
I live near an Indian casino in California where it remains a top draw of the town, even on weekdays. There's something to be said for those who frequent casinos and gamble away on slot machines and cards. These are the people that want to strike it rich. That's no different then a lot of people, but the difference here is that these gambling addicts consistently either have a slow method that's effective or go with an "all in" method that's more dangerous. This is why I'm not much of a gambler; I would hate to go in at a high risk and lose everything.

Today's movie focuses on a character who has such a gambling addiction, that it's taken over his personality and put himself in danger several times. These are the kind of guys that defend to the death that there is such a thing as luck and that certain mythical elements can change it. It could be a lucky rock or even a lucky pair of underwear, but it's all on the faith that everything will come out good. You could even call it another form of religion. That's certainly what I got out of Uncut Gems.

In 2012, a scuzzy jeweler Howard (played by Adam Sandler) is at a crossroads as he tries to maintain his business, deal with his impending divorce from his wife Dinah (played by Idina Menzel), and pay off a huge $100,000 gambling debt he owes to a loan shark who also happens to be his brother-in-law. His luck might be finally changing as he receives a long awaited rock with diamonds from the black market of Ethiopia which he's relying on a large payout as he thinks it's worth over a million. But he also tries to maintain his relationships with his clients even if they don't see him in the same light.

One day, a basketball player Kevin Garnett visits Howards store and is mystified by the stone. Garnett insists on holding onto the rock temporarily while buying a large amount of jewelry. Howard takes this as a sign of good luck, agrees, and bets a large sum of money on it. Not only does the deal fall through later on, but the rock isn't returned after the game. This put's Howard on a lot of pressure as his life is on the rock's line and is willing to go through even scummier people to get it back.

If there's anything I can say about Uncut Gems, is that it's a really intense thriller I wouldn't have expected Adam Sandler a part of. Having seem him act well in Reign on Me, Funny People, and even Happy Gilmore, I had always hoped that Adam Sandler would find the right project to be a part of and this seems to be it. What works with Sandler is that he isn't the traditional Hollywood actor with the good looks. He's always been a draw because he's had more of a goofy everyman look that makes his character more desperate looking which ironically makes him the perfect actor to portray this character. Kudos to the production company for having confidence in this casting choice.

Adding on to the great casting is a story about a desperate person who only digs their own grave deeper and deeper. From the start of the movie, you get a sense that this character is going make mistakes and only make worse ones. Part of it is driven by other characters, but much of it is on the flaws of Howard. In a way, you see why you might like this guy if you met up with him at a bar, but your also would never be sure to be on his side or even trust him.

This movie was written and directed by the Safdie brothers who seem to have a passion for those really grainy grindhouse movies of the seventies. Uncut Gems has a similar look and tone that surrounds the movie is great atmosphere. New York, even modern New York can still look ugly from another perspective and this movie new how to capture that city's side.

I'll give this ten uncut gem rocks out of ten. It may not be a pleasant movie to see, but it's one that's bound to keep you engaged the entire time as you'll be curious to see where everything is going to lead. Its definitely a favorite of 2019 (shame on the academy Awards for not giving this one more credit). Come for a tense ride and stay for an interesting character study on gambling.
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The Two Popes (2019)
9/10
You have my blessing. The Two Popes is an engaging story about two people navigating the future of the Catholic Church
7 January 2020
How many of you have gone to your grandma's house and saw a picture of the pope hanging on the wall? Chances are, your grandmother looks to the pope at the same level of a saint or an angel. On one hand, I can understand why. The pope isn't just seen as the leader of the Catholic Church. He's also seen as the figure who stands as a symbol for that blurred line between human leadership and God-level spirituality. He represents a position we've had for a thousand years as people have looked to him as a leader in Christianity, even if their not religious or spiritual.

We also have to understand that, like any person, even the pope is just as human as you and me. We rarely get to know the few people that have the honorary position that is pope. What does it mean to represent the Catholic Church? How much power should it have? Should the church move in a direction to better align with the views of the modern world or stay the same? Like a lot of things, you'll get a different answer depending on who's the pope. Stuff like that is explored in The Two Popes.

In 2005, Pope John Paul II has died and the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (played by Jonathan Pryce) travels to Rome to elect the next one. Though he's popular amongst the other Cardinals, the frontrunner Joseph Ratzinger (played by Anthony Hopkins) has the majority vote and becomes Pope Benedict XVI. Seven years later, the Catholic Church becomes involved in controversy when the Vatican Leaks are unveiled and there's debate to how much Pope Benedict XVI had a part in that.

At the same time, Bergoglio is looking to resign as archbishop, but he needs the Pope's permission to do so and has failed to receive any notification that his letters had gotten to him. Just as he's about make a trip out to Rome, he's given an invite by Benedict XVI to the Pope's summer residence. It's here the two debate about the Church's place in the modern world and how much it's really tried to keep up with the modern world. Bergoglio is also taken aback at the luxury the Pope lives in, compared to his personal, down to earth views in which he'd rather be at a level simple to the people. The two talk about their histories, Christianity, and how Bergoglio may have a bigger role to play in the Catholic Church.

The Two Popes is more then just two older men talk about god and the Catholic Church. It's a beautifully crafted and engaging story of two people who dislike each other, but do everything to appear in a state of compromise. There's a reason that Pope Francis gets a lot of good press, and that's because he's one of the few high profile people who seems genuinely honest about his giving nature. This is also why the Catholic Church had needed someone like him for a while.

What makes this such a brilliant movie is how it seems both small with its plot and large with it's story. At first, I thought that this was going to be like The Trip where the focus was just on these two guys and the conversations they were going to have. But over the course, it covers a lot of topics, but the standout is about Pope Francis' backstory, what drew him to the church, and the regrets he's had. It's proof that even those with troubled backgrounds can still come out as saints.

What helps is both actors Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are phenomenal in their performances who each seem to represent different viewpoints of the church and why you'd have to agree or disagree with what they think is right. In fact, there were times in which I almost confused Jonathan Pryce for the real Pope Francis. I was also surprised that the entire movie was shot on soundstages, given how close it looks like their in the Sistine Chapel or the relaxation quarters of the Vatican. Impressive is the best word to describe the level of quality we have.

I'll give this nine Pope hats out of ten. Though parts of the backstory can go on a little longer then they need to, I found myself really engaged with The Two Popes. The language is written a lot like a play and it really makes the overall movie a lot better. Even if your not religious or spiritual, I still recommend this if you really want to understand that there is a lot of humanity within the Popes. I give this movie my blessing.
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Cats (2019)
2/10
What works on stage bombs as a film. Cats doesn't deserve a second life
27 December 2019
If you've known someone that's loved musical theater and Broadway, then at some point, Cats has been brought up. Some people love it and some just don't get it. I'll admit that I've seen the stage show twice (neither which were my idea) and it's not my thing. It's interesting to see the makeup and junkyard design for something that's still abstract and light on story. In fact, all I can say about it is that it centers around a tribe of cats and several of them do a song and dance to be chosen for another life. And given how it's sung through its entirety, that's either going to make it or break it for most.

I know that Cats had been one of Broadway's longest running shows and continues to play at a lot of community theaters and touring groups. Naturally, this was also something that had been attempted as a movie. Cats is already hard to do on stage and would never be easy to translate. I know that when the first trailers popped up, it got a lot of negative feedback for its choice of CGI animation on the human-like cats. Does Cats translate to the big screen?

A white kitten Victoria (played by Francesca Hayward) is abandoned in an alleyway by its owner and is discovered by a group of street cats called the "Jellicles". Some include a magician Mr. Mistoffelees (played by Laurie Davidson) and Munkustrap (played by Robbie Fairchild). They take a liking to Victoria and take her to the Jellicle Ball where they say that their leader will select one for the chance to be taken to the Heaviside Layer and be granted another life. Brown cat Macavity (played by Idris Elba) badly wants the honor and will try to sabotage the other cats.

Storywise, this is all you need to know. Like the stage show, the rest consists of other cats singing and dancing their songs on why they should be chosen. Such cats include Bustopher Jones (played by James Corden), Rum Tum Tugger (played by Jason Delrulo), Gus the Theatre Cat (played by Ian McKellen), Jennyanydots (played by Rebel Wilson) and Bombalurina (played by Taylor Swift). Also in the mix, and ostrasized by the other cats is Grizabella (played by Jennifer Hudson). Who will Old Deuteronomy (played by Judi Dench) chose?

So who was Cats made for? It seems like that only fans of the stage show are going to get much out of Cats. The rest, including myself, get something that may have a lot of ambition, but comes out in a giant mess. I'll start by saying that there's little focus on story (again, like the Broadway show). I'm normally fine with a movie that's more loose with story, but you better make sure the characters are at least interesting. The ironic thing is even with a lot of characters getting songs, I know very little about them. Many of them have few scenes (sometimes only one) and the main cat herself, Victoria isn't that interesting.

It made me realize that the stage show broke the forth wall and took the audience on an abstract journey. I kind of wished the movie would have done something similar. It tries by having a cat fill in the role of the audience, but that gives us without a character to latch onto.

Let's talk about the CGI. I knew that something different was going to be done for the movie, but along with it not looking finished, the human-like design is so freakish, that I could see children having nightmares. It's ugly, gross and I hate looking at it for nearly two hours!

As a musical, some of the songs like "Rum Tum Tugger", "Bustopher Jones" and "Jellicle Songs for Jellecle Cats" are entertaining. The rest are fine, but nothing that I'm going to remember. I didn't even care for the way "Memory" was rearranged, making small moments big and vice versa.

In addition to the set design, it is at least impressive to look at. But even as a movie that's so bad that's good, I still can't recommend it as its still too boring.

I'll give this two stage cats out of ten. I'm not sure what Warner Brothers was thinking with the story, visuals, music, and even overall concept. Cats doesn't deserve a second life and let's just leave it at that.
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4/10
In a galaxy far far away, The Rise of Skywalker presents a dull finale that feels more like fan fiction then a final chapter
26 December 2019
Have you watched The Mandalorian yet? This is something I get from not only Star Wars fans, but just from people in general who have said that the new streaming series is closer in tone to the original Star Wars movies then the new sequel trilogy has been. I took a look at the first episode and I did find myself more engaged then I though I'd be. It's also the first thing Star Wars related that people seem to genuinely agree is amazing without another side claiming it to be the worst thing. The expected anger would have come from the same group of people who also said so of The Last Jedi.

I had originally phrased The Last Jedi and saw it again before I saw the next chapter, and though I don't dislike it like a lot of people do, it is more flawed then I remember. I won't go into too much detail, but it feels like the first part of another trilogy rather then the second part of another. So now that J.J. Abrams is back for another, will he be able to follow up on two different stories to bring things to a proper conclusion? Let's see in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Sometime after The Last Jedi, the resistance is once again hiding from the First Order. Having killed Emperor Snoke before, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) manages to discover a still living Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid) who is aware of Ray and how she carries the last of the Jedi legacy. Kylo Ren is in search of her, but is unaware she is in Jedi training by General Leia (played by Carrie Fisher). Poe (played by Oscar Isaac) and Finn (played by John Boyega) return to reveal that Palpanine and a hidden army are located on Pasaana. Now they need to figure out where that is.

They uncover through Luke Skywalker's notes that a Wayfinder can locate Pasaana. While Leia stays behind to continue leading the resistance with R2-D2, the rest of the crew, along with Chewbacca, BB-8, and C-3PO, all head out on the Millennium Falcon to find the Wayfinder. Throughout the mission, they find Lando Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams), encounter flying Stormtroopers, and continue to fight for the resistance. With there be starship fights and lightsaber duels? You probably know the answer.

Rise of Skywalker has a lot to live up to. It's meant to close bother the original Skywalker story and conclude the sequel trilogy. On it's own, it's only okay at best. As a part of a bigger picture, it's bad. I can't blame J.J. Abrams completely as the last two movies felt like setups and they have to somehow figure out where everything was going to lead. I can say that a part of the story, some things are addressed and some others not.

I'll say that Adam Driver's saga is the only one I really liked. Along with the actor being charming, you get a lot of sense of conflict with this guy. He reminds me of Ewan McGregor from the prequel trilogy, who was one of the best elements in a so-so series of movies. It seemed like there was a lot of potential for Daisy Ridley as Ray, but I'm not sure what her arc was other then denying the past. Finn becomes a throwaway character as does a lot of the newer characters. Even the older characters like Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and Emperor Palpatine either seem tired or don't offer much new. The only one that did something unique is C-3PO, which I wont spoil.

The actions sequences are neat and the special effects are cool, but you kind of expect that at this point. Maybe if this was done ten years ago it would be groundbreaking. Now it just seems like every other blockbuster movie out there, even when compared to other science-fiction.

My main gripe with the movie is it's overall place within the Star Wars saga. Unlike the other movies, which had an episodic chapter tone, this feels like it's throwing a lot of fan theories at us to see what sticks. It's clear that nothing was planned, as a lot what happens in Rise of Skywalker is never hinted at in the previous movies. I'll bet a million dollars that there was no plan...or if there was one, it wasn't built as well. Perhaps they should have taken notes with what Marvel has done with their property.

I'll give this four star destroyers out of four. The more I thought about it, the duller is was and less I remember. The second half does has some good action, but chances are, ill be watching it in clips rather then the full movie again. It's not the worst Star Wars story to come out and it'll have it's fans. But I don't know how many would pick this over the original movies or even The Last Jedi, which at least tried something new. I'll be going somewhere far far away from this movie.
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7/10
Jumanji: The Next Level can be best described as Grumpy Old Men if it happened to be an action video game movie
13 December 2019
You know what any kid can relate to? Having to explain video games to adults, especially to seniors. Even I, an adult, can still have trouble when my grandmother wants an explanation of the news she hears about Fortnite or something about Nintendo. Looking at it from their perspective, I can't blame them. Video games are toys that are more complex and involve a level of storytelling that's miles away from the traditional "Cowboys and Indians" they played as children. Unlike a yo-yo or a Barbie toy that's self explanatory, video games always have different rules and instructions depending on it's genre. So how do you explain something that's always going to be different? I'd say it's best just throwing them in there and let experience be the guide.

When it came to learning about game figuring out how to win, it was oddly the premise from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Yes, it may have been a sequel to the 90s classic, but it was also an enjoyable action movie that got several laughs out of me. It was a big enough of hit to gain a sequel. So how do you continue the story without repeating it? Jumanji: The Next Level doesn't repeat...but also does...in a good way.

It's been a couple of years and the group of teenager from the first movie, Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany have all entered college and haven't seen each other in a while. Spencer is concerned that his dull experience in New York and sad demeanor will seem unimpressive compared to what his friends have done. Still, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany meet up at a restaurant to catch up, hoping that Spencer can talk about his troubles. They visit his house to find him, only to be greated by his grandpa Eddie (played by Danny DeVito) and another senior, Milo (played by Danny Glover).

The teens go into the basement to find the Jumanji game they thought was destroyed repaired and figure out that Spencer went inside. But just as they touch the controller, they're sucked in without picking their characters. Martha is still Ruby (played by Karen Gillan), but Fridge is now Professor Shelly (played by Jack Black), Eddie is Dr. Bravestone (Played by Dwayne Johnson) and Milo is now Moose (played by Kevin Hart). Along with two old men confused with the new environment their in, the game has changed and they still don't know where Spencer is.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a movie I liked, but didn't love. Jumanji: The Next Level is about the same. There's a lot of different things I like...and elements that seem have not changed for no reason. To start off, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart do a great job imitating Danny DeVito and Danny Glover. It's like watching Grumpy Old Men if it happened to be a video game action movie. And to see the other actors frustrate over their incompetence. Thankfully, they don't go on too long with that gag, though I can't say why without spoiling it.

When the movie cuts to the real world, the scenes are also fine, though when it comes to the characters, I don't know why they put Spencer's character back to square one, making him out of his element. I know college is going to be a different experience for kids, but he was the kind of guy who would have gained confidence from that place, let alone from the Jumanji game. I was hoping they'd say he was going through depression or something more. But, nope, he was just feeling self-conscious...because the movie said to.

The other teens don't have much in the way dilemmas their going through. This is probably why the majority of the story goes to Danny DeVito and his friendship with Danny Glover. It's a strange thing to put into the Jumanji series, but it works because both are phenomial actors.

As a blockbuster, the movie has plenty of action and tries to continue the tradition of jungle animals out on the hunt. It's not as scary as the original Jumanji of the 90s, but I still had fun, especially within a sequence involving rope bridges and a ton of baboons.

I'll give this seven Jumanji video games out of ten. This is an example of a movie that may have added new problems, but it also improves of a lot of things. I had fun watching this and I think a lot of families will have fun too. If you hear the drumbeats, it's Jumanji calling, so take a listen.
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9/10
It's You I like. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is like an episode of Mister Rogers; it's patient, gentle and makes you want to be a better person
6 December 2019
Though I'm not a parent myself, I do fear about how I'm going to bring up children. We have to accept that no one is perfect and we simply have to do the best we can. Still, that does make me thing about how I was raised as I think about the triumphs and mistakes my own parents have done. They are role models and I try to consider the other role models I've grown up with. One such man is Fred Rogers, the lovable host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He's the prime example of a saint, someone who's dedicated his life to helping children and how he approached it differently.

It was only recently we had gotten a wonderful documentary on Rogers in Won't You be my Neighbor. While that movie was a biography that dwelled into his personality and philosophy, today's movie tells a story about a man who comes to understand that Fred Rogers is a guy who's just as nice as he was on TV. It's understandable that one might be questionable about him, especially in an age where a lot of misinformation is spread and people are simply not as trusting. This story shine through in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

In the late 90's, a reporter Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys) has won awards, but has also gained a reputation for trying to expose his subjects, and is finding it harder to get assignments at Esquire. At the same time, he and his wife Andrea (played by Susan Kelechi Watson) have just had their first child born. The prospect of having become a father has frightened him as his relationship with his own father Jerry (played by Chris Cooper) is very dysfunctional. When Jerry ends up saying some things to Lloyd, the two end up in a fight at a family's wedding.

Lloyd is assigned to interview Fred Rogers for an article on American heroes. Though reluctant to take on a children's television host, he gets a phone call from him personally and travels to Pittsburgh. It's there where he goes to the set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood where he meets Rogers (played by Tom Hanks) who shockingly comes off as nice as he is on TV. Lloyd is determined to dive into Rogers' personality but starts to understand that perhaps the man's kindness starts to make himself reflect on his relationship with everyone.

It's already hard to hate or even dislike a guy like Mister Rogers. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood not only shows that Fred Rogers was just as human as anyone else, but just how he emphasized the importance of being patient and trusting. In order for this film to work, they needed a great actor for Rogers and Tom Hanks proves himself again a great actor. I was afraid that I was only going to see Tom Hanks, but I'll admit there were plenty of points where I got lost in his portrayal.

Rogers also happens to only be a supporting character. The story is really about Matthew Rhys as a cynical writer who changes for the better. He not only represents the soul whose closed off nature has made him a bad writer, but of modern society who has become more paranoid about people in general. His journey is not an easy one, and can be tough when confronted about his child and his father. The movie even has a trippy sequence where his insecurities are on display in front of Rogers'. But within the bigger picture, it's still a story about how far kindness can get you without becoming a victim to naivety.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is not just an impressive story, but it's even shot in an impressive way. There are a couple of moments where I felt like I was back to my childhood. Some of it is when it tries to recreate the show through its obvious video photography and even screen ratio size, and some it comes through the structure of the script which evolves in a gentile manner. It's like the movie really wanted to be a slightly darker and longer episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

I'll give this nine red trolley models out of ten. This is a movie I recommend for the family, even above Frozen 2 (which I'm sure most have seen already). I even recommend it for adults on their own. If anything, this may have been Tom Hanks most challenging role in a while. Its worth it alone to see him play such a kind figure. It certainly is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, so please got out and see this.
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Frozen II (2019)
5/10
The story of Frozen II gets lost in the woods despite good songs and animation. Perhaps its time to let it go
22 November 2019
The cold never bothered me anyway. Most people are likely to know that line came from the mega hit song "Let it Go" from the mega hit movie Frozen. In fact, I would think you'd have to know at that point as Frozen has become one of the movies that defied the 2010's with it's cultural significance, large amounts of awards won, large billion dollar box office grossing, and the countless parents that were forced to listen to the soundtrack over and over. Disney has made it their current go-to fairytale and seems to continue marketing it with whatever it can; dresses, toys, shorts, a Broadway musical, and inevitably, a sequel.

I personally found the movie very good but not one of the greatest from Disney. I've seen the movie a couple of more times to say my opinion hasn't changed. I don't even know if I would put it in my top ten (Fantasia is still my favorite), but I give it a lot of respect. The movie managed to tell a Disney-like story while trying to show off more character development then before. I'm certainly open to a sequel if it can match the original. Let's see if Frozen II can capture that lightning in a bottle.

Queen Elsa (played by Idina Menzel) seems to have found her footing as the ruler of Arendelle, occasionally using her ice powers when needed...usually for entertaining. She has also mended her relationship with her sister Anna (played by Kristen Bell), always grateful that she was saved from her before. Anna continues to be upbeat and his happy with her boyfriend Kristoff (played by Jonathan Groff), reindeer Sven, and talking snowman Olaf (played by Josh Gad). All is well until a mysterious voice starts to call out to Elsa. When she tries to follow it, Arendelle faces a force in nature to cause the people to evacuate.

Elsa is advised that the answer to voice will be found in the mysterious forest to the north where the previous king had visited before. Anna, Kristoff and Olaf insist on coming too, so they venture to the north why they find an unbreakable fog blocking their entrance. They do make it in, discovering a magical forest where a tribe of people that connect with nature live, along with an Arendelle army led by Destin (played by Sterling K. Brown) have been trapped. Elsa and Anna find a bigger history to their kingdom that might change the sisters forever.

Frozen II attempts to tell a much bigger story then before and I have to give it respect for that. It's fine if you want to tell a more complex story, but the problem is that it needs complex characters to go with it. Elsa and Anna are still likable and seem to go through each of their journeys fine, but it also hit me that their personalities seems to be back at square one from the first movie. Elsa is still a loner and Anna is still too open with her emotions. Wouldn't they have grown a little since the first movie?

My other problem happens to be a large one and that's the location. I'm all up for a change in scenery, but Frozen knew how to balance out the darker moments with the light. Frozen II seems to be more about the dark, which means were in the enchanted forest most of the time, and it's a very dreary and depressing place to be. You can shoot out as many magic ice beams as you want, but with it's more purple and grey setting, this is a rare scenario where I think more upbeat moments were needed.

It's not an all bad movie as there are some good things about it. All the voice acting is still great. The animation is better then the first. Some of the visuals like the water horses, various ice sculptures and more mythic settings are pretty to look at. Many of the songs are good, though not as iconic as "Let it Go". I'd say that both songs by Idina Menzel like "Into the Unknown" and "Show Yourself" are great. The others are fine, but Kristoff's song "Lost in the Woods" has an odd 80's power ballad feel which is not only out of place, but adds nothing to the story. It'll probably get a lot of feedback on the car radio, but parents can rest assured that none of them are going to be repeated for the next six years.

I'll give this five ice horses out of ten. Will Frozen II be a hit? Probably. Is it as good as the first? Definitely not. I don't think I'd watch this again on my own, but if I had kids, I wouldn't see a problem. What Disney needs to remember that perhaps asking what happens after "happily ever after" is not the best thing. I've never seen Frozen as a long series, so let's see if people think they should let it go.
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The Lighthouse (I) (2019)
10/10
Within the madness of mermaids, tentacles and a lot of alcohol, The Lighthouse is a frightening experience with a lot of layers
15 November 2019
If you're a science fiction or horror fan, especially of books, then you certainly have to know H.P. Lovecraft. His name along as created a sub genre called "Lovecraftian", which means dealing with a monster or force that's either cosmic or so otherworldly that humans can barley understand what's after them. This also makes this kind of work much more abstract, so it's understandable if it's not your taste. There are a lot of people who want a clear picture of monsters and ghosts, but what Lovecraftian stories do is explore the fear of not understanding what it is, yet knowing it could still be dangerous.

While today's movie was not written by Lovecraft, it has a lot of its similar style. It's story deals with forces that are either too abstract for our heroes to understand or could just be their own insanity. It just so happens to also have director Robert Eggers (The Witch) who has not only given the story a late nineteenth century setting, along with a black and white look. It also tackles the general fear of isolation and being alone, which itself terrifies me. All this it put into a complex package that is The Lighthouse.

Former timberman Ephraim (played by Robert Pattinson) is sent to an island off the New England coast where he's taken work as a "wickie" (a lighthouse keeper) under the supervision of a grizzled elderly Thomas (played by Willem Dafoe). Ephraim is given orders to not enter the light part of the light house (as that's Thomas' responsibility) and is given the majority of chores. At first, Ephraim is not much of a talker, despite the language and personality of Thomas. Slowly, he opens up a little more, listening to Thomas' tales and is given the warning never to kill a seagull, as they apparently carry the souls of dead sailors.

After a seagull is killed by Ephraim, the winds change and a powerful storm strikes the lighthouse. The two spend their night getting drunk and singing sea shanties. As days of the storm pass by, Ephraim is not only curious about the light, but is starting to see a lot of things like tentacles, mermaids and the heads of dead people. He even starts to lose focus on what day it is. Whether its him or Thomas going insane, or even ghosts even playing around, all is not well at this lighthouse.

Is The Lighthouse a horror movie? I would make the case similar to how The Shining is also a horror movie. They may not have jump scares or an over-the-top soundtrack, but it does tap into the idea that what we don't see is scarier then a typical monster. This makes the movie very effective thanks to both actors Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe who both embody ticking time bombs. Their characters each have unknown pasts that, even though we learn a little about, both seem like men who would be hard to trust in real life. Hence since neither are either heroes or villains, we can only witness what's going to happen.

You'd think it would become boring, but the script understands how these guys would comminute and makes them intriguing. I'll admit that while I did have some trouble understanding Willem Dafoe through his grizzled sailor voice, the point isn't to take everything he says seriously. In fact, much of what is said though his body language and how Robert Pattinson reacts to it. The best way I can describe this is like a silent movie that happens to have sound.

What helps that is that the movie is in black and white. I can't even imagine the movie in color. Along with giving it a classic horror film look, it builds the Lovecraftian tone of the unexpected. I'd say the other scary element is that the further the movie progresses, the more unpredictable it is. Yeah, you know it's got to build up to something, which I won't spoil, but the abstract nature of this creates several paths to take. I just happen to love the one taken in the movie.

I'll give this ten lighthouses out of ten. If your looking for something traditional, The Lighthouse is anything but that. What you do get is something that'll stick with you for a while, trying to analyze the images, sounds and even the story. I can see many conclusions to what people may draw but I can only recommend checking for yourself to see how. It's a movie that's just as addicting as the light at the top.
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Parasite (2019)
10/10
Without spoiling it, Parasite is the amazing film equivalent to "Is it wrong to steel bread to feed a starving family?"
14 November 2019
If there's an argument that's been a part of society since the dawn of time is that of class. From the days of cavemen, the Roman Empire, the Enlightment, and even modern times, philosophers, scholars and storytellers have explored the ideology of the wealthy and poor. It's something that people have wanted to fix to create more equality and people that discuss whether things should be equal at all. It's hard to give my opinion because we have so many viewpoints that's its challenging to paint who exactly is in the wrong. There are good wealthy people and bad poor people and vice versa. This is also something that many movies has dived into.

In fact, one of my favorite movies of the 2000's is the science-fiction thriller, Snowpiercer. It was a creative way to look at corrupted societies and how it unfavorably placed the poor without a way out. It's a movie with a lot of layers and Korean director Boon Joon-Ho knew it was important to make it just as entertaining as it was to explore and read into. It looks like he's made another movie about class, except Parasite is a smaller story about two families, but is still as impactful.

We start with a family of four living in the slums, in a basement under a store; father Kim Ki-Taek (played by Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (played by Jang Hye-jin), son Kim Ki-woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Kim Ki-Jeong (played by Park So-dam). They struggle for work enough that they take jobs constructing pizza boxes. When a friend of the son comes to visit, he offers Kim Ki-woo an English tutoring job to a wealthy family's daughter. He accepts and sees a world he only dreamt of; a fancy house built by a famous architect, wide space, a backyard and nice cars.

After some convincing from the family, a scheme is made so that the daughter is hired as an art therapist for the youngest son, the father as a new driver/errand runner, and the mother as the new housekeeper. The family is overjoyed that their con has fooled the other family. This leads into them celebrating when the other family leaves for a camping trip by eating and drinking in the living room. Things go wrong when the previous housekeeper returns to get something.

Though there is a second half to the movie, I can't talk about it without spoiling it. Parasite is one of those movies that spans a lot of genres, and yet keeps it focused enough to make it one of the best movies of 2019. It may sound like a typical dark comedy, but because the character development focuses on all four members of the family, it allowed the story to go in a variety of directions that I didn't expect. At the front, this is still a story on class difference. A lot of these movies will revolve around the theme of "helping the poor". Thankfully, Parasite is a smarter movie and tries something different.

Parasite doesn't try to make the wealthy family out to be villains. But they don't try to paint the main family in a complete positive light either. These are all grey characters that are simply living life and the lengths their going to climb up. This could mean conning themselves into good jobs or getting a party together for a child. If anything, it tries to lean into how stabbing others in the back to get what they want is bad, but even that can depend on a number of factors. This movie is the prime example of "would you steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family".

Not only is the movie written and directed beautifully, but it's acted amazingly. Though the movie is in Korean, you can tell the actors are still giving it their all as they each understand the complexities of their situation and why each one would make the decisions they make. This also remains one of the better ensemble pieces I've seen this year, hence why I'm not naming them one by one. I noticed this as well in Snowpiercer with how Bong Joon-ho knows how to cast as a whole and work with what he has.

I'll give this ten fancy houses out of ten. It may be in a different language, but this is already one of my favorite movies of the year. This is the kind of movie that can be hard to describe, but my best bet is to simply tell others to see it. I feel like that even talking about it a little could ruin it. Check it out and see just how complicated class difference really is.
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Doctor Sleep (2019)
7/10
The tones may not always match, but Doctor Sleep is an entertaining sequel that should make ghost story fans happy
12 November 2019
If your father went inside a hotel, went insane and tried to kill you, what are the odds your going to grow up normal? Certainly not in the world of Stephen King. Young Danny Torrance in The Shining may have had psychic powers, but certainty couldn't predict what would happen to his dad and even everything else that would happen afterward. I wouldn't matter for a while as The Shining only told the story in the moment and didn't see to find out what would happen to the child who went through an experience that no one, if any, have.

People certainly know the classic novel and more know the famous Kubrick adaptation from 1980. It remains one of the greatest horror movies even though Stephen King himself didn't like it. His complaint was that the movie didn't explore enough of Jack's character enough and only made him out to be a psycho on the inside. It's a legitimate criticism, but we still have the novel. It was famous enough that Stephen King wrote a sequel that follows Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep. Unlike the book which follows The Shining novel, Doctor Sleep incorporates the Kubrick movie in an attempt to bridge gaps.

In the years since the traumatic experience at the hotel, Danny Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor) has become al alcoholic mess who still dwell with bad memories and the occasional ghost. The ghost of Dick Hallorann (played by Carl Lumbly) did teach him how to lock away the spirits with his shining. Still, Danny stumbles his way to New Hampshire where he not only stays, but also decides to get help for his problems. Cut to eight years later where Danny now works at a hospice caring for the patients, but also acquiring the nickname "Doctor Sleep" for his ability to ease them into death.

At the same time, a woman named Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson) runs a cult called the True Not, where she and her members find children with "the shining" and consume their "steam" in order to slow down their own aging. Though they've never known about Danny, they kidnap a boy in Iowa, when a girl Abra (played by Kyliegh Curran) seems to sense them, but can also sense Danny. She tracks him down and talks about the two of them taking out the True Not, even if this means returning to the abandoned Overlook Hotel.

I've read Doctor Sleep and I can say the movie does a good job translating the story into something more cinematic. Stephen King stories are often troubled by that. In the case of Doctor Sleep, it does keep you interested in it's characters, both good and evil and how everything adds up (it helps as certain characters don't come across each other for a while). On it's own, it's entertaining and should please Stephen King fans. As a sequel to the Kubrick made The Shining, it still works even if the result is a tad awkward.

What made The Shining so scary was it's ability to shows characters layers peeled away to reveal who they really were. There wasn't really a plot but more of a situation to get to know these characters. Doctor Sleep now has a plot, but a good one nonetheless. The movie does make attempts at recreating styles and shots from the Kubrick movie and director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Gerald's Game) does a great job. It's just that some of the more Stephen King-like aspects such as the True Not, disappearing people and even Rose the Hat seem to be in different movies that don't fit The Shining of 1980.

I can't say that Doctor Sleep is a scary movie, but I don't think that was the goal. I think it was always meant to be more of a supernatural thriller. It may throw off those that were expecting a follow up to the Kubrick movie, but Stephen King fans will love it. I myself think that had the movie stood on it's own, away from the 1980 movie, then this would have been amazing. As is, it's still entertaining and I do recommend it, even if you've never read or seen The Shining.

I'll give this seven "Redrum" signs out of ten. While there are things that could have been structured and didn't need to make the connections, it makes up with great acting, a fun atmosphere and a story that seems like how you'd want to see an adult Danny Torrance. Return to the hotel and kill for it!
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6/10
Last Christmas, it'll give you plenty of heart, but the very next day, it may be a tad predictable
11 November 2019
It's the middle of November and I know what a lot of people have on their mind; Christmas, right? The TV channels are already airing a lot of the typical Christmas movies and the shops are all decked out for the season. Of course we still have Thanksgiving to get through, but it's perfectly understandable if you're a bit annoyed by the over-commercialization of the season. That might make you a Grinch or a Scrooge, but you also don't care. I would completely understand that as I wish everything would at least wait until after the food coma has set in from Thanksgiving, but I also understand from a business point of view.

When I was on my way to the movies, I overheard "Last Christmas" on the radio and thought to analyze it. It's not one of my favorite songs, but its one that happens to play every year (perhaps more due to the unfortunate death of George Michael). I think it's because of two things; first is the love story. The lyrics talk about a person getting a new chance to love but they deny it. Second is the synth sound that's both distinctly 1980's and is rarely heard in Christmas music. Now we have a song adaptation with Last Christmas because... I can't quite spoil it.

Young woman Kate (played by Emilia Clarke) is stuck in a rut, as she continually loses a place to stay and doesn't want to go home to her parents. She's also loose with men as she doesn't want something to commit to. Her only stable thing is her job, in which she works at a year round Christmas shop run by "Santa" (played by Michelle Yeoh). Despite her aspiring singing career, she seems to have no push or motivation to move beyond the Christmas shop, considering that she's also becoming lazier on the job.

While working, she comes across an odd man Tom (played by Henry Golding) who seems to be coming into her life more and more. At first she tries to push him away, but seems to start liking him quirk and how he seems to try to get her to do better. At the same time, after getting thrown out once more, she finally goes home where her parents berate her with more medical appointments from a heart condition and her countries traditions from Yugoslavia. Perhaps this Christmas, she may find more heart to give.

Last Christmas has been marketing itself as a romantic comedy a lot like those Hallmark movies...and that seems about right. That isn't to say that this is a bad movie, but the trailer is likely the best place to figure out if your going to like this movie or not. It has a similar story, similar kind of acting, and same kind of music. There's even a similar plot twist that I will not give away, but let's just say that it makes Last Christmas a literal adaptation of the Wham song.

If I'm gonna offer phrase, it's the script and it's actors. Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding do have a lot of chemistry and I was never board with their scenes. They make a lot of banter that a lot of young couples do (especially in Christmas shops, like in one scene). Though I was afraid, I also got into Michelle Yeoh's story of her running a Christmas shop and a potential suitor. It's clear that writer Emma Thompson and director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favor) know how to write comedy and even nice scenes with couples. Character is clearly the first thing forward.

As I said, there is a twist that happens in Last Christmas that will either make or break it. In my case, I thought it was fine as it adds needed weight for the main character. This is typical for a lot of holiday romance stories and I think this is what Paul Feig had wanted to make; an edgier version of those Hallmark movies. If this doesn't appeal to you, then your not going to like this. But if it doesn't bother you, you may be very forgiving of it's predictable nature as it's still an easy sit.

I'll give this six Last Christmas albums out of ten. While I don't know if this is going to be another Christmas classic, it's inoffensive enough that it'll still play around the holidays for a while. It'll put you in the right mood for the holiday. Just be willing to be okay with the slower aspects. Check it out to see if you'd recommend the very next day.
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5/10
Though better then Genisys, Terminator: Dark Fate repeats a lot and seems to create more questions then answers
4 November 2019
In the future, John Conner leads the resistance in the war against machines and Skynet....wait a minute, this is not the story your getting. And yet, we've got another Terminator movie out. Terminator has to be a story that filmmakers keep trying to revive despite never being able to reach the marks of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A lot of it has to do with James Cameron having made the first two movies and declined to get involved in the various sequels and TV series (for those that remember Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles). It's clear he's never envisioned it as something to make into a franchise.

But I also don't blame the studios for trying to make it into a franchise. After all, with the success of other movie universes like Marvel, Star Wars, The Fast and the Furious and even The Conjuring, it's possible that a great movie could evolve into something bigger. But what keeps setting this back is that there's been a large time gap since the second movie. With James Cameron back executive producing, there is hope that his storytelling can bring something new into the series, right? Let's see what Terminator: Dark Fate has to offer.

Sometime after the events of T2, an unknown future awaits after John Conner (played by Edward Furlong) is killed by a previously unknown T-800. We also cut to Mexico where a young woman Dani (played by Natalia Reyes) and her brother dream of a better life. At the factory where they work, a new kind of terminator sent from the future, a Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna), that attacks and targets the woman. She's saved by a solider also sent from the future, Grace (played by Mackenzie Davis), whose been enhanced with machine-like capabilities despite being human.

They escape the factory and the Rev-9 chases, showing off his power of being able to transform into two terminators. Just as their cornered, Sarah Conner (played by Linda Hamilton) stops him and help the group escape. Sarah learns from Grace that in the new timeline, Skynet may have not started the new war, but another machine called Legion does. Given how terminators are still being sent back, they assume Dani has something to do with that. The race is on to get across the boarder, meet up with an ageing terminator T-900 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), and fight for the new future created.

I'll say this right off the back; Terminator Dark Fate is better then Terminator Genisys, but not by a lot. On it's own, its an entertaining action movie that should probably do fine with people. As a sequel to The Terminator, it's a mess that only made more problems. I'll get the positives out of the way; the acting is good all around. The newcomers like Mackenzie Davis and Gabriel Luna are good along side Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton (it's nice to see her back after a while). And the action...for the first forty-five minutes is fun with the factory fight and the first car chase.

So where does it go wrong? It's story. It's clear from the beginning that now their taking John Conner out of the equation, it wants to do something different. The problem is that what it replace with, not only does it add nothing (if Legion just starts that same war that Skynet started, then why change it at all?) but it creates more questions; If Skynet is no longer a thing, why do similar Terminators still exist? If more terminators were sent back, why was this never addressed in T2? If they knew who created Skynet in T2 and stopped it, why not stop Legion as well? Are there other leaders of the resistance? Why don't they send more protectors? Why don't they send back more terminators? You see why this series is starting to make less sense?

My other issue with Dark Fate is that despite being a direct sequel to T2, the stakes of the story seem very low considering that since John Conner's death meant nothing. If this young woman is killed, couldn't another leader rise up? Plus even with questions out of the way, the premise of stopping the terminator seems like a step back. It may be a simpler storyline, but it's also a rehash.

I'll give this five T-800s out of ten. I'm only so harsh on this as T2 is not only James Cameron's best movie, but it's considered one of the greatest action movies of all time. So if your going to follow up and try again to revive the series, there had better be something of sequel strength. On it's own, it's only a passable action movie, but Dark Fate may be a true title as the fate of Terminator is not looking bright.
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7/10
Though the jokes are hit and miss, Zombieland: Double Tap is a funny sequel with more zombie kills
22 October 2019
"Not knowing who Bill Murray is like not knowing who Gandhi is!". This is one of many quotes from Woody Harrelson as a guntoating badass in the horror comedy, Zombieland. I certainly recall this comedy as it not only managed to come out during the height of zombies in pop culture, but it made it its own thing. Zombie comedies are nothing new considering Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, Return of the Living Dead, and even ParaNorman. What helps Zombieland is that despite having a world similar to a lot of other zombie movies, it was able to build it's world more clearly thanks to its rules as imposed by the characters and making the goals simple and easy to identify with. When was the last time you've seen someone whose goal is to get to the Twinkie factory?

While I don't count it as the best of the zombie comedies, Zombieland still made me wonder what adventures these characters would go on in this world. I assumed a TV series would happen, but it didn't. Instead, we got a sequel...ten years later. Timing doesn't matter as much, so lets see if Zombieland: Double Tap can still deliver with the same cast.

Ten years have passed since we've last seen them and they've been holding up in the former white house (rest easy, there's no political jokes). Tallahassee (played by Woody Harrelson), Columbus (played by Jessie Eisenberg), Wichita (played by Emma Stone) and Little Rock (played by Abigail Breslin) have become a close family as they live and survive in a world still infested with zombies. Because three of the main characters are adults, Little Rock wants to meet people her age. This is an odd request that Tallahassee denies. When Columbus finally proposes to Wichita, this scares her into leaving and taking her sister with her.

At first, Columbus goes through depression and then meets a new girl, a ditzy mall girl Madison (played by Zoey Deutch) and tries to move on. But Wichita returns, admitting that when she also denied letting Little Rock into meeting others her age, she ran away. The crew (and Madison) set out to Graceland, which was where Little Rock has wanted to go, where they meet Nevada (played by Rosario Dawson) who reveals that she was seen joining a hippie to a gunless commune. They make their way to the commune, along with a major hoard of zombies following behind.

Some might look at this and already get a sense of "more of the same". In a way, I think a lot of people are going to expect "more of the same" in Zombieland: Double Tap and that's also what I wanted...and it was fine. I can't go as far to call it great, but with this setup, are there a lot of great things that can be done? I still laughed a lot more then I thought and enjoyed a good zombie killing or two. I think how this turns out will depend on what you were expecting.

Story wise, the goal is still simple; to keep the family together. There's no talk of ending the zombie outbreak or trying to recreate society. It's still all about the characters survival. Zombieland has always worked on that and returning director Ruben Fleischer knew not to stray too far or get too emotional. Despite being a horror movie, I count this as a comedy first, especially when you realize that, like a lot of comedies, this has more of an episodic feel (which is why I always thought this would be good for TV). This did lead into more of an unpredictable plot which is a welcome change.

If I had to demerit this movie, its that the jokes are hit and miss. This is hard to talk about with comedies, but because their subjective, what I may find unfunny may be hilarious for someone else. For example, there's a moment where the main characters come across similar versions of themselves (clearly a homage to Shaun of the Dead), which didn't get much of a laugh, but the people I saw it with seemed to like it.

I'll give this eight Twinkies out of ten. As long as you weren't expecting a lot out of a second Zombieland, then I think you'll just be as happy as I was. Come see it and happy hunting!.
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3/10
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a boring, soulless formula that can turn it's audience into sleeping beauties
21 October 2019
Today's movie marks the return of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. For those that remember, Maleficent was the main villain in the animated Sleeping Beauty from Disney. Like a lot of people, I've always praised the green-skinned demon/fairy as one of my favorite Disney antagonists, due to her grace, elegance, and overall design. Some might wonder why not someone more modern like Gaston, Frollo or Ursula; someone that has more motivation and development. Part of it is a nostalgia factor. When I was a kid, I was both frightened and entranced by the horned villain. Something about her portrayal seemed commanding and serious while being an animated character.

Of course, 2015's Maleficent tried to do what the Wicked musical did: by taking a black and white villain and showing her side of the story while proving she wasn't as bad people thought. I thought the live action version had potential, but was bogged by a script that was afraid to go too far with making her character bad and seemingly making all the wrong choices to the other characters. But it was still a big hit, and if a hit movie comes from Disney, then a sequel is immanent. So now we have Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

In the years since the events of the first movie, Maleficent (played by Angelina Jolie) is still an outcast from the kingdom as people think she's evil. But her goddaughter Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) knows the truth and has taken position as Queen of the Moors, the forest where all the magical creatures lie. The big day comes when Prince Phillip (played by Harris Dickinson) finally proposes marriage and she says yes. Aurora tells Maleficent and the news doesn't go well. Through persuasion, Maleficent agrees to come to Price Phillips kingdom to meet his parents.

Aurora and Maleficent are introduced to Queen Ingrith (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) who already has a clear prejudice on magical creatures. The dinner goes awkward and gets worse when Ingrith announces that Aurora will be like a daughter to her. Maleficent is pushed to her limit and demands that Aurora leaves with her. She refused, Maleficent flies away, cursing her daughter, but also getting shot down with an iron pellet (iron is her weakness). While Aurora questions her choices in the queen's castle, Maleficent is rescued and brought to a land where more people of her kind exist and want revenge on the human world.

I already disliked the first Maleficent, so I had low expectations coming in. Unfortunately, the movie still seems to be misguided all over. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil certainly had a chance to do more of it's own thing. It just so happens that the same themes are present about how prejudice is bad and how humans in this world suck. So we already feel like were watching the first movie again.

Unlike the first where you got a sense the actors were trying, it seems like everyone is giving a similar dull performance. Angelina Jolie is dull, Elle Fanning is dull and even Michelle Pfeiffer is dull. I'm not sure if they were directed this way or if this was a contract-based obligated situation, but this only adds to the film's story problem; nothing really happens nor does anyone change. Oh sure, we do have a fair share of magical creatures, swordplay and even a third act war. But when you really think about it, it doesn't make any impact on the characters and how they view others. If the movie doesn't care how this does anything for Maleficent, then why should I.

Because of this, the movie comes out as more boring then anything. Though the first Maleficent was boring as well, I at least remember a summary of it. I doubt that I could recite any quotes or scenes from Maleficent: Mistress of Evil save for it's production design. I think this is a movie that put most of the direction into how it looks rather then what's on the inside. It's a cinematic plastic doll. It looks manufactured and feels manufactured. I'm sure this may have some fans, but I wouldn't be surprised if kids would rather watch another Marvel movie or even Frozen for the ninetieth time.

I'll give this three Maleficent dragons out of ten. As I said, the costumes, sets and effects still look nice, but without an engaging story or character, there's no reason to get on board. At best, this may have life in stores giving demonstrations for it's high definition quality. Otherwise, this is a sequel that can stay sleeping.
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8/10
Snoogins! Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is both a funny stab at movie reboots and a heartfelt father-daughter story
18 October 2019
If your any kind of film fan, then you would know Kevin Smith. He may be one of Hollywood's biggest geeks, but he's also an exceptional writer who managed to capture a generation X voice in the 1990s with movies like Clerks, Mallrats, and Chasing Amy. What's interesting is that not only were they all set in the same universe, but the characters that tied it all together were the drug dealing boys Jay and Silent Bob. They were primary the comedic team that served alongside the main characters, but they also did push the narrative forward whether it was helping Jason Lee in Mallrats or Silent Bob relaying his love story in Chasing Amy to Ben Afleck.

They eventually got their own movie in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The movie may have been about them trying to stop Hollywood from making a movie about the characters but it was also about fan entitlement and selling out to the larger movie industry. It's fair to say that it was ahead of it's time before social media would evolve the internet into a debate space. Given that Kevin Smith is usually ahead of the curve, it's nice to see him return the characters in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot to look at more current trends in the industry.

In obvious fashion, Jay (played by Jason Mews) and Silent Bob (played by Kevin Smith) are arrested after being caught growing their own marijuana. They manage to get the case dropped, but the same lawyer that defended them had also gotten them to sign their likeness and rights to their names to a film company that's producing a reboot of their Bluntman & Chronic movie that was done before in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

After they understand what a reboot is, they vow to get to Hollywood to stop the reboot from happening so they can get their names back. Along the way, Jay comes across his old girlfriend Justice (played by Shannon Elizabeth) who reveals his daughter Millennium Falcon (played by Harley Quinn Smith). He promises not to reveal himself as the father, but when she finds out that the two are going to Hollywood, she makes them take her and her friends too. As the crew makes haste to southern California, Jay starts to understand what it takes to be a father while Millennium Falcon her own dreams with the Bluntman & Chronic reboot.

As far as a sequel goes, I can say that Jay and Silent Bob Reboot doesn't disappoint. When you read the plot, it does sound a lot like the old movie and the same kind of mission that these guys are one. It just so happens that Kevin Smith made this. What that means is that the movie is very meta and is self aware about the things being repeated. It's not even that they'll wink to the camera (which happens literally a couple of times), but it's all adding to the theme of growing up as the other "View Askew" movies have done. It also happens that the boys are older now.

In Kevin Smith's movies, because Jay and Silent Bob are the go-to guys for comedy, they haven't needed the same development from before. This time, Jay does go through an interesting arc on not only what's important for his daughter, but figuring out who he's supposed to be. I can't quite call it a deep explorations, but it's still done in a funny and even touching way. The other character going through her arc is Harley Quinn Smith as Millennium Falcon who may be representing the kind of fans the industry is currently catering to, but she also represents the kind of younger women that Smith used to write for. It's a fascinating look at different generational viewpoints.

Does this make the movie better then the original? I'd say the movie has two faults. One is that even though it can be fun to have a variety of other celebrities like Fred Armisen, Matt Damon, Chris Hemsworth, and Jason Lee, but I'd say theres maybe one too many. Some of them contribute to the plot while others feel tacked on. My other problem is that the climax does go on a little longer then it needs to. It's probably a good thing the movie does shift away abruptly (in a funny way I won't spoil).

I'll give this eight Quick Stop signs out of ten. It goes without saying that if you've seen Clerks or Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back didn't win you over, your not gonna like this. This is made for Kevin Smith fans and those who like to laugh at the movie industry in general. It's a welcome return of the "View Askewniverse". Let's hope that Clerks III will come sooner then later. Snoogins!
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5/10
The creepy and kooky story of The Addams Family is more aimed for children this time
17 October 2019
"They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky. They're all together ooky, The Addams Family". I may be easy to say that most people know The Addams family, first as a comic strip before becoming a television series and even spawning two movies from the nineties, that are both good. So what do we like about them? Even though it's easy to point out a lot of the dark and macabre atmosphere and jokes the family embraces, lives by, and doesn't even care that the rest of the world finds them weird. The real connection is that despite the dark nature, the family is close and love each other in a way a lot of normal families wish they could.

I've liked the idea of keeping the series going and with a new movie going for an animated route, I'll admit that it isn't a bad idea. I know that there was a series back in 1992 (which I haven't seen) but perhaps more spooky elements and monsters and perhaps other Addams members we haven't seen could shine in animation. Though it's a little disappointing that with The Addams Family, it's clearly going for a more kid friendly audience, but I'm still open.

In a really funny introduction, Gomez (played by Oscar Isaac) and Morticia (played by Charlize Theron) are married, chased out of town by angry villagers, and find a home in an abandoned mental asylum where they bring along Fester (played by Nick Kroll), a sentient hand called Thing, and loyal butler Lurch. Cut to some years later where their children Pugsley (played by Finn Wolfhand) and Wednesday (played by Chloë Grace Moretz) are teenagers and have never left the house. The family seems content with their existence, but as most kids do, wonder about the outside world.

Pugsley is getting ready for an Addams tradition called a "Mazurka", which is a rite of passage for every Addams boy. Though he knows how important it is to his dad, he struggles with learning the old traditions. At the same time, Wednesday notices balloons and confetti from the outside world and wants to explore it more, much to the chagrin of her mother. In town, the rest of it has been beatified by reality TV star Margaux Needler (played by Allison Janney) who notices the old mansion not fitting in. As she descends upon the mansion to fix it, the Addams get a glimpse of the normal world.

It's clear that the writers know the Addams work best when their away from home and clashing with the modern world. The Addams Family certainly has funny ideas, but the overall result is simply okay. It's an okay story, okay acting, and even okay animation. I've said before that doing The Addams Family in an animated format has potential, but the final design of all the characters are weird. I'm not sure if that was the intention (and I know the designs are supposed to be close to the original comic), but the bodies are too thin against a lot of the heads.

The biggest problem however isn't the design, but rather the story. So the Addams would be chased out of town. Then what? Wouldn't their immortal selves easily overpower them? Would the townspeople even care enough to chase them out? I know the story is going for a social media related mob mass commentary, but the script doesn't know how to balance it out with what everyone else is going though. At least with the live action Addams Family, the villains kept trying to separate them, thus being more of a threat to their world.

Though it's slightly hindered by a PG rating, it still does give us plenty of dark imagry and gives us a neat mansion to look at. In fact, if the story wasn't given enough attention, they at least put in enough jokes to give me some laughs. One of the better parts was that Wednesday was becoming more rebellious by acting...normal. That alone got some good ideas (including a joke about a unicorn I won't give away). I think that the movie needed more focus from the Addams point of view as the final message is fine (even funny from their perspective), but the it's something we've heard a lot before.

I'll give this five Lurchs out of ten. At best, this might be a better Addams Family to show to kids, but even then, I would still pick the live action ones over this. At it's best, it's harmless. At it's worst, it's not as creative as it thinks. Take it for what it is, and see if this creepy and kooky story is for you.
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Gemini Man (2019)
3/10
Having 2 Will Smiths isn't going to save this boring, by-the-books thriller thats only selling itself off the gimmick
14 October 2019
How many times have you told yourself, "I wish I could told my younger version about "blank""? There's something about either revisiting your youth or even somehow getting something to the past, like a warning that could have avoided before. The idea is nothing new to the world of cinema as stories about people getting to their younger selves have been done before. Star Trek has done thing, video games like Metal Gear did it, and there was even an interesting movie called Looper that dealt with an assassin confronting himself. A part of it is a part of an idea of "what if you could communicate with another you?".

The gimmick of Gemini Man is Will Smith going against a younger clone of him. To be fair, this isn't a bad idea, especially that Will Smith is one of the few actors whose managed to maintain his fame and popularity even after all these years. I've even joked that Smith seems like an immortal person, has his charisma and charm has remained as timeless as he was on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It even had director Ang Lee taking a crack at the story and the complication of having a de-aged actor throughout the majority. Does Gemini Man work?

An aging assassin Henry Brogan (played by Will Smith) makes a successful kill before declaring his retirement. Like a lot of action movies, he expects retirement to stick, but already grows suspicious of a young woman working at the docks. This woman Dani (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) claims that she's a grad student, but he suspects her as a set spy for the CIA. At the same time, an old friend comes to tell him that the man he killed had been innocent. Henry seeks proof, but finds him home ambushed by other agents.

When he escapes with Dani to South America, he gets attacked again by an agent that seems to know all of his moves. He manages to get the would be attacker's motorcycle helmet off, revealing a face similar to his. Dani at first thinks that the other guy must be a son of Henry's, only to see through a DNA test that their identical; their the same man. It's revealed that the younger clone called Junior (also played by Will Smith) is the adopted son of Clay (played by Clive Owen) who runs Gemini, a black opts security company who've managed to make this human clone.

Gemini Man suffers from a major problem; it's boring. For a movie that has the charm of Will Smith and even an occasional exciting action scene, it's a movie that only seems to have a gimmick, but is unsure with what to do with it. I've heard that the script for this has been going around from studio to studio for thirty years and it shows. What it does have (retiring agent, an agency getting him back in, attackers at night, goofy sidekicks, etc...) all seem tired and dated.

Compare this to the more recent John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum which was light on story, but was still an entertaining movie. Unlike that one, Gemini Man happens to take too long to have the main character realize that he has a younger clone. Why? It was all over the trailers and advertising that this was going to be the full movie. In fact all this tactic does is slow everything way down for something the audience already knows. In fact, it's even frustrating that once things do come together and the characters figure things out, we have no idea what the endgame for the villain is. Is the clone for assassinations? Making their company bigger? Giving the villain more political power? None it of it ever answered.

Another problem is that the movie can be impressive...but only when it wants to be. The special effects to give us a younger Will Smith do look cool and does showcase what this can do for a lot of older actors. But the movie has a dreary look that looks more boring that anything. There's even a scene where an obvious day-for-night is used. That's a trick that only make it look lazy.

I'll give this three blood samples out of ten. Gemini Man feels like a movie that was made by committee, but scraped for being too obvious and hidden for twenty years until someone at Paramount thought they could still make a buck out of this. This is another Will Smith misfire that I can put alongside Collateral Beauty and After Earth. Even a hundred Will Smiths couldn't have saved this boring trash.
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Joker (2019)
8/10
As a cautionary tale on mental health, Joker's take on the clown prince of crime is great
7 October 2019
In the dark and crime ridden streets of Gotham, Batman may be fighting for justice, but the Joker is waging his own war. The way he sees it, the Joker considers himself the hero of his story; a world that is naturally prone to violence and chaos and he's the only one who finds the joke of it. Also unlike Batman who dresses in black to use the darkness to his advantage, the Joker is bright and colorful to not only be seen, but to be the star of his crime show. This is what makes the dynamic of these two the ultimate hero versus villain setup.

Most people know Batman's story of his parents slain which makes him want to stop others from having the same tragic events, but what about the Joker? When you really think about it, the movies have not tackled the backstory of the clown prince of crime. Batman and The Dark Knight certainly gives you an idea of their psychopathic characters, but not their roots. The closest we got was The Killing Joke graphic novel, which is still a critically phrased story. With Joker, we now see if film can deliver a worthy background.

In the early eighties in Gotham, a lonely man Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is trying his hardest to "bring joy and laughter to the people of Gotham" by working as a clown for hire and aspires to be a stand up comedian. He also suffers a neurological condition that causes him to laugh at random moments. Though he's told to "put on a happy face" by his mother Penny (played by Frances Conroy), the city's high crime and decay from graffiti and rats only make things worse for him. In fact, he finds that due to budget cuts, he won't be able to get any more medication to treat his problems.

While dressed as a clown, he gets into an incident where three people that work for Thomas Wayne get killed, several people in Gotham see him as a symbol to go after the wealthy establishment. Since nobody knows it was Arthur, he carries on with his standup. A botched performance ends up on the TV show of Murray Franklin (played by Robert De Niro), who invites the latter to explain. As the city seems to be hitting a boiling point of anger, combined with more problems for Arthur, he starts to realize just what kind of clown he is.

Joker is inspired by a lot of Martin Scorsese movies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. While I don't know if it reaches the same heights, I still enjoyed Joker a lot...or as much as you can get out of this kind of story. The first half of the movie really stands on it's own about a guy whose already broken and is getting worse by a world that doesn't seem to be listening. Despite some reports, I don't think were supposed to sympathize with this guy, even though we do see everything that happens to him, and can imagine why a guy like this would end up doing the things he does.

It works well thanks to Joaquin Phoenix who pulls off one of his great performances. A lot like De Niro in The King of Comedy, he starts off as a bit off, but not dangerous until he's pushed to his limit. But as I said, the movie does have him as the main character, but not one your supposed to side with. His evil deeds have merit within his mind and you understand why, especially after his scenes with his mother, other clowns, Thomas Wayne, and even De Niro.

The first half before he transforms is phenomenal. The second half is where things start to slip. It's not because it isn't good, but the tone does start to shift back into comic book territory. A lot of it comes when it makes it's connections to the Wayne family that the movie didn't need. It's easy to ignore a large chunk of that as the final movie was still satisfying. If I had any other problems, it would be that there are several spots where things could have ended upon. I won't spoil it, but get ready to think that the movie is going to end only to go on another ten minutes.

I'll give this eight clown noses out of ten. In terms of it's story, Joker does make for a good psychological look at the famous Batman villain.
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Abominable (I) (2019)
5/10
It's harmless for children, but Abominable feels similar to other DreamWorks movies
3 October 2019
Deep within the mountains of the Himalayas lies a mysterious creature called a yeti or an abominable snowman...wait a minute, didn't I talk about this before. When I put those together with the words "animated movie", your either going to bring up Smallfoot or Missing link, which had also talked about yetis. To be fair, a lot of similar ideas have been made into movies so it's not fair to discredit today's movie because of that. I can only assume that by the time Smallfoot was released, this was already halfway done, so they just had to go with what they had.

The big difference this time around are a couple of things. First, this is a collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and a Chinese company Pearl. Second, the story this time puts the focus on the humans rather then the monster. And finally, rather then making the yeti a walking, taking humanoid-type thing, this abominable snowman is more like a lovable dog that has magical powers. And honestly, because we always need family movies, families are probably not going to care about similar kinds of movies released, as kids can have something new. So let's see what Abominable has to offer.

In Shanghai, teenager Yi (played by Chloe Bennet) spends he days in Shanghai working odd jobs so that she can go travel and see more of China and perhaps the world. At the cost of her determination, she tends to avoid spending time with her mother and grandmother who are concerned that she's kept herself closed off since her father passed away. Though they think she's no longer interested in playing the violin, in secret she only plays alone. But a like a lot of stories involving monsters, she hears and finds a large animal on her roof, but sees not only is it not dangerous, but it's on the run from somebody.

She figures out that the monster is a child yeti that she calls Everest. That also because she sees that's him home and he needs help. They make it to a tanker, but also bring a long her friends Peng (played by Albert Tsai) and Jin (played by Tenzing Trainor). They make it to a jungle only to see the people looking for the yeti have caught up. These people are a wealthy explorer Burnish (played by Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (played by Sarah Paulson). It's a race to see if they can get the yeti home while making some friends.

If you can tell, Abominable follows the formula to a lot of DreamWorks animated movies that deal with opposite outcasts on journeys. Shrek did it, Kung Fu Panda did it, and How to Train Your Dragon did it. Does this bring anything new to the formula? Not a lot. Because the formula is really repeated. The villains don't understand the heroes, the hero has a popular friend whose going to see things their way, and even the monster has a mystical power. It even lacks the emotion that it's trying to pull off.

Perhaps if this came out in the early 2000's, this would have been more original and unique. But for what it is, it seems kind of tired. It's a shame because the movie does have two good things going for it. First is the animation. DreamWorks has remained a competitor of Disney for a while for a reason; the style is really good. You not only feel and see the emotion through all the characters, but you get that feeling from the yeti who doesn't even talk.

The other thing it has going for it is the voice acting. It's nothing amazing, but every actor seems to be giving their all.

At best, this may appeal to kids who simply want to have a fun little adventure, but there isn't much for adults. Sure, there may be a funny joke occasionally and there's even a beautiful scene or two (I did love them playing the violin close to a large statue and flying on a giant dandelion), but it only makes you wish they had thought more outside the box. As is, its at least harmless and it's short.

I'll give this five yetis out of ten. This is far from a bad movie, but it's also not that unique. It feels like a movie that was thought up quickly and the storytellers did their job enough to make it work. As I said, kids will like it fine, though I think I'd rather show them Smallfoot or Missing Link. At least with those, I'm going on a different adventure then Abominable.
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Downton Abbey (2019)
6/10
Downton Abbey is clearly for the fans of the show, even if it looks nice and elegant.
25 September 2019
What can I say about the TV series Downton Abbey? While I can't say a lot about the plot and characters, as I haven't seen the show, it has made a big impact, even here in America where it ran for six seasons (or series as the British say) on PBS. I know it has to do with a wealthy aristocratic family and the lives of them and the servants. Judging by the house, of course it would need to be run like it's own business. Im sure a lot of people came for it's story, but I think the major draw was the sets, costumes, and the feeling that your watching something classier then your typical cop show or reality show.

Having only seen two episodes, I see Downton Abbey as a high budgeted soap opera. There's nothing wrong with that as soap operas do keep the focus of the plot on the family, thus the need to write compeling charecters in order to make it work. It just so happens that because of the 1920s timeframe, Downton Abby gets to also throw in a lot of historical context in relation to the wealthy family. So let's see what the Downton Abbey movie brings to the screen.

In 1927, the head of the family, Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville) has received a letter that King George and Queen Mary will be visiting and staying at Downton Abbey as a part of the royal tour. He informs the rest of the family including his wife Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern), daughter Lady Mary Talbot (played by Michelle Dockery), her husband Tom Branson (played by Allen Leech) and his mother Violet (played by Maggie Smith) who all have different reactions. Some are excited and some are ready to confront other family regarding inheritance and just who is who.

Meanwhile, the staff, as lead by butler Thomas Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier), is thrilled that the royal family will be visiting the estate. However, the family feels that he won't be up to the responsibility, so they ask former butler Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter) to temporary return to manage things. Though the staff feels ready, their dismayed to not only find out that the royal family will be brining their own staff, but those at Downton Abbey are told to stay out of the way. Will the staff be able to prove themselves?

For someone who hasn't seen the show, what did I think of Downton Abbey? The story itself seems fine. I admire a movie for having a simple goal; to simply see that a royal visit goes according to plan. Now the use of a large cast is another thing. With the countless family members, staff members, and now with Buckingham Palace, that is a lot to juggle. Some of the side stories are easy to grasp and others clearly have more background thanks to the long running show. So the question is whether this was better as a show. I'd say so, but it isn't without it's merits.

The set design and costumes are really impressive, even if they are leftovers from the show. I can understand how a large audience can get sucked into this world. Some of me wishes I could be a part of this world, even though I know I could never high class enough. All the actors feel like their in the right place, but again, that probably has to do with the fact they've already done this for seven seasons.

Unlike a lot of movies based on TV shows that are adaptations, this is a continuation of a larger story. Would have I have gotten into it had I'd seen it? Probably. There were some parts I had sympathy for, such as the staff not wanting someone else to do their jobs. But whenever it cut to the aristocratic family, I feel like I'm steeping into an argument that started a while ago. Because of that, inclined to believe that the movie was made for the fans and not newcomers. It's not a way for someone unfamiliar to be introduced. It's something to satisfy someone whose had plenty of Downton Abbey and wants more.

I'll give this six Downton Abbey houses out of ten. Overall, I'm not sure if this was for me, but I can see a lot of people enjoying it anyhow. I'd say watch some of the show first to know what your getting into. Heck, it might be better if you see the entire series. So check out the show first before you check into the movie.
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7/10
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a very funny, inspiring story about a toxic person making a positive change
23 September 2019
Your going to hate me for asking you, but when was the last time you went to the gym or stepped on the scale? Some of your might say it was this morning where you got your daily run in. But a lot are probably going to squirm and either change the subject or admit it's been a while. No one wants to hear that they're unhealthy. I myself hate hearing that I need to lose a few pounds (okay, more like ten or twenty!), but I try my best to get to the gym at least 3 times a week for a little cardio.

What's also hard is trying to find the right way to lose weight. I'll also admit that despite going to the gym, it can be easy to feel out of place next to the bodybuilders or marathon runners. But this is why I like hearing stories about people that understand they need to help themselves and they actually go the distance to improve their lives. In today's movie, one woman who spends her nights drinking and making jokes at her work instead decides to lace up some shoes and start running. Let's see how it all goes in Brittany Runs a Marathon.

Young woman Brittany Forgler (played by Jillian Bell) is in a rut, who is single, isn't working in her favorite job industry and spends her nights with her roommate Gretchen (played by Alice Lee) partying. She also happens to be overweight, as she's not only aware, but makes a lot of jokes about that. Things take a turn when she goes to a new doctor in order to get new prescription pills (for drug use of course), only to be told her body fat and blood pressure is high, and also her liver is bad.

This seems to make enough of a mark that she visits a local gym, only to realize that she can't afford it. When she jokes that "people run in the streets for free", she simply tries running one block. The next day, she runs a little further. And then at the invite of her neighbor Catherine (played by Michaela Watkins), she joins a runners group that goes for two miles a day. As the running becomes easier for Brittany (along with weight loss), she decides, along with Catherine and another friend, to reach the goal of running the New York marathon. But during the journey, she starts to question who her friends are, especially after making friends with a house sitter Jern (Played by Utkarsh Ambudkar).

When I wrote my review for Trainwreck, I disliked it, despite the critical phrase, as not being that funny nor making Amy Schumer likable enough. That is not the case with Brittany Runs a Marathon as I found it very funny, very likable, and painted a genuine "nice" movie overall. A lot of it is on the lead actress, Jillian Bell who've I've seen on other movies like 22 Jump Street and Goosebumps, but this is her first staring role.

Jillian Bell actually reminds me of several women I've known; those that would always defend themselves with humor or those that seem to be aware of their toxic lifestyle and yet have a hard time escaping it. It's easy to see her troubles, but it's also easy to see what gets her out. Running is rarely easy, but this movie is a good reminder on how it can be enjoyable, especially if others are there to cheer you on. Even when she can be hurtful, it's easily forgivable as you understand what she's going through. Admit it; you've probably done it at least once just to make yourself fee better.

If the movie had a fault, it's in the third quarter when something happens that brings her down. I have no idea if it's a part of the real life story, but a lot of it feels like unnecessary filler just to give the main character more to complain about before she becomes pumped up again to go for her dream. While we do get some insight into her extended family, I kept thinking it could have been placed differently in the story and the low point could have used more creativity.

I'll give this seven running shoes out of ten. I have a hard time imagining someone not getting into Brittany Runs a Marathon and it's likable star. I really hope Jillian Bell gets more of a chance to shine in other projects (I know she has a character on Workaholics, but I haven't seen it). But for now, put on your running shoes and check it out.
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6/10
When the enemy draws first blood, Rambo: Last Blood gives us a short, but enjoyable run-and-gun movie with an older Stallone
23 September 2019
In the past, I've talked about Stallone and his most iconic character, Rocky Balboa. But I haven't had a chance to talk about his second most popular character, John Rambo. To start with, there's a large difference in character. Rocky is an upbeat, optimistic boxer who only wants to help others, even putting them over himself. Rambo is the opposite monster. Rambo is an expert super solider whose trained in gruella warfare and survival. At that cost, his humanity is consistently lingering and has a hard time finding peace. Unlike Rocky who only fights in the boxing ring, Rambo is unafraid to knife anyone in his way or use a machine gun to blow an entire army.

Because of their violent nature, the Rambo series has always been polarizing. I only consider the first one, First Blood, to be a phenomenal story from beginning to end. Rambo: First Blood Part II and beyond have made him in the "one-man army" that's often the subject when parodying 1980's action heroes. The other movies are still entertaining if I want my fair share of explosions and even a little history lesson depending on the enemy he's fighting. Rambo is back for another battle in Rambo: Last Blood.

Things have been going well for John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone). After finally returning to America in the last movie, he has taken over his late father's horse ranch in Arizona, along with a friend Maria (played by Adriana Barraza) and her granddaughter Gabriela (played by Yvette Monreal). Ever since her mother had died and her father abandoning her, Rambo has stepped into the father role as he's found new purpose in raising her. Though she's about to go to college, she still wonders about her father.

Through a friend, she manages to locate him in a town in Mexico. When she asks to go, Rambo and her grandmother say no as her going by herself would be too dangerous. She still does and does pay her father a visit. Not only is she dismayed to find he still wants nothing to do with her, but when out clubbing with a friend, she is kidnapped and drugged by a Mexican cartel. When Rambo receives word, he immediately drives down to search for her. He discovers through journalist Carman (played by Paz Vega) that the cartel is run by the Martinez brothers. Will Rambo go into solider mode at age seventy-three? You better believe it.

Rambo: Last Blood is the kind of movie I expect to watch in the late summer; a short but entertaining run-and-gun action movie with a star that proves he still packs that punch. It's also the kind of film I'd expect such a character to be in. Is it as good as the older movies? Well... the movie has a lot of opportunities that could be explored with John Rambo but don't. It depends on what kind of movie you'd expect.

To begin with, Stallone may be getting up there in age, but he still has the energy from years before to pull off a lot of action stunts that people in their seventies wished they could do. But the movie does make itself aware he's a different Rambo; a Rambo in which he's settled down for a while and only wants peace. Of course he's still sharpening his knives and digging tunnels, but he now seems like the guy who will only pull the trigger when pushed far enough.

Story wise, Rambo: First Blood is both at an advantage and a disadvantage. I do like seeing Rambo take on a Mexican cartel (any reports of the story being racist or offensive to Mexicans is untrue) and rescuing someone whose become like a daughter. The problem is that a lot that happens in the first hour doesn't feel like a Rambo movie. Much of the dialogue makes him a tad generic and could have been filled in by a random character. It honestly doesn't make him in Rambo until the last twenty minutes, which I won't spoil, but it was a lot of fun. It's also hard to complain as the movie is also the shortest of the Rambo movies (it's only eighty minutes).

I'll give this six Rambo knives out of ten. Though it's not as good as the original, I would rank it higher then Rambo III (which I consider the goofiest). Whether this is for you depends on your opinion of the other Rambo movies. It was a short but enjoyable blast. You just have to wait through a more typical story to get to the good stuff.
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Hustlers (2019)
7/10
Jennifer Lopez makes up for repetitive pacing in Hustlers, a cross between Showgirls, Boogie Nights and The Sting
13 September 2019
One of the quotes from today's movie reflects that, "The entire world is a strip club with some throwing money and the others collecting the money". It's also the film's reflection of it's setting in the aftermath of the 2007 financial collapse that lead into the Great Recession. It's no secret that a lot of people were affected by it, whether it was average Joes losing their low wage jobs or entire companies going under. It was a time that people reflected just how much they can do and if those at top should receive some type of consequence.

Our protagonists certainly thought so and used it as their justification to do the things they felt were right. What makes crime stories fascinating is that we're always going to see a different philosophy on just who the real villain is. Is it the people committing the actions against the law or the people after them who are just as likely to face their own corruption? This is also why several movies about the Great Recession like Up in the Air, The Big Short and 99 Homes have looked explore different viewpoints within a rough era. Hustlers takes it's turn at the time and several women involved in a specific industry.

It opens in 2007 where newcomer stripper Destiny (played by Constance Wu) is taken under the wing of veteran stripper/popular attraction Ramona (played by Jennifer Lopez). Ramona teaches Destiny several pole dancing and erotic dancing, along with introducing her to fellow strippers and how to get the most out of the Wall Street types who frequent the club. Destiny not only starts to rank in a lot of money, but she uses her new fortunes to care for her grandmother and newborn daughter. Things come to a halt at the start of the recession.

Years of the recession cause fewer people coming to the club and puts Destiny out of work. It doesn't help that her background gives her little chance for other work. She eventually comes across Ramona again where they blame the recession on the same Wall Street guys. To retaliate and to generate an income, they agree to bring in other strippers including Annabelle (played by Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (played by Keke Palmer) to take advantage of their beautiful nature to lure them into the clubs and take everything on their credit cards. All of this becomes chronicled by writer Elizabeth (played by Julia Stiles).

It may be easy to see Hustlers as something as exploitative as Showgirls. But to tell you the truth, I see it more like a cross of Boogie Nights and The Sting, and I ended up like the movie a more then I anticipated. I don't know if I can call it one of the best of 2019, but it has elements that are phenomenal. Speaking of which, I'll start by saying that Jennifer Lopez not only shines, but also gives what may be her best performance in a years. She paints a reflection of her eternal youth within a character whos the prime example of "looks can be deceiving".

Constance Wu fills in the role similar to Mark Wahlberg from Boogie Nights where she has two goals; to be the innocent whose filled in on the movie's information and to someone the audience can imagine themselves in. Hustlers uses this narrative to make their characters interestingly sympathetic, especially the lengths they go to accomplish their goals. Of course like a lot of crime stories, it all has to topple at some point and the movie has that...though it takes a lot of time to get there.

The first half of Hustlers was better then the second half. The con that's set up is a good one, but the pacing causes things to slow down too much. A lot of it is because much of the scenes repeat the con over and over. I know it's to show how much it works, but the movie also has a lot of slow motion edits which heighten moments at the strip club, but can come off as unnecessary during the con. If anything, the best moments from the second half are when the girls get together laugh about what happened and thus, seeing them connect.

I'll give this seven stripper poles out of ten. Hustlers is a movie that, regardless of how I felt, is probably going to do good business and have its eye on certain awards. It's too early to determine any guarantees, but I'll remember this; especially for Jennifer Lopez. I do recommend it in general and it'll make a good watch.
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The Farewell (I) (2019)
7/10
Awkwafina makes The Farewell an interesting character piece that explores families and Chinese tradition
11 September 2019
It's an old saying, but it's true when people tell you that we don't really know what we had until we lost it. This is usually the case from people that have lost a relative. A grandparent, cousins we rarely talk to or even a parent we're estranged from. Perhaps we would tell ourselves "we'll do more things next year" or "their not going anywhere soon", only to get the news that they were hit by a bus or succumbed to an illness they never disclosed. The people that experience this feeling of being too late will often feel guiltier and thus grieve a lot longer.

Because I'm close with my family, I'm usually ready when one is about to leave life. But I've had friends that have felt like they could have done more. Their not bad people and haven't done anything wrong, but it does remind us that there's a lot of value in something we can see anytime. So when we get the world that one of them is dying, do we spend time trying to keep them alive or do we carry on like everything is normal. Chinese tradition within death is explored within the new comedy/drama, The Farewell.

An aspiring Chinese American writer Billi (played by Awkwafina) is struggling to get her work made as she's rejected from a Guggenheim Fellowship, but tries to keep her life going. She has a lot of support from her grandmother Nai Nai who she talks to consistently. While visiting her parents, her father gets the word that Nai Nai has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and has been given a few months to live. It's also revealed that the extended family won't tell Nai Nai about her own illness and are even planning a quick wedding in Changchun, China as an excuse for everyone to see her one last time.

Billi is encouraged to stay home as her parents feel she's too emotional to keep the secret, but ends up flying out there on her own. Though she's clearly wants to tell, the rest of the family puts up a happy wedding act. When she asks why, her father, mother, and extended family admit it's because of Chinese tradition and that most families will do it to enjoy the time left. This puts Billi in a position that not only questions her own peoples traditions, but figuring out just what just who she is now that she's back in China for the first time in years.

The Farewell may seem like a depressing subject matter...and it can be. But at it's core, it's a character piece and a really good one to boast. I had no idea that this was an actual Chinese tradition, but it makes for an interesting one to discuss; this idea of whether people should know when their going to die. I myself would be at a crossroads. I guess it would depend on the person, but for Awkwafina's case, I can understand her struggle. The movie makes it clear that her grandmother was one of her last ties to her original country and how much she meant to her.

Speaking of which, Awkwafina turns in a surprisingly great performance, considering she's known for comedy. Though she's written as a bit of a stand in character, especially for a western audience, she's still a fleshed out human as someone whose also going through depression. With the death of her closet family member close, this can't be good for her. The Farewell does well to explore all these territories while trying to fill in on the rest of the family.

In a story like The Farewell, with a large cast, it's likely that some people are going to get lost in the shuffle. Though the wedding does go through, I did realize that I didn't care for these characters because I barley knew them. It would have been nice if the movie had gone further into some of the other family members besides Billi and her parents. You'd think this would put some of the other, younger family members on the spot. I respect the script for trying to keep the dilemma focused on one person, it's usually the rest the family that's going to add a lot.

I'll give this seven Chinese wedding invitations out of ten. The Farewell is a really good character piece, but I still think other avenue could have made it even better. Though there's a hacking plot, my favorite example of this kind of story is the anime, Summer Wars, which has similar subject matters. Nevertheless, I still recommend it as it kept my interest throughout a story that normally would have boarded me.
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