Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings Review: One Of The Most Beautiful Films We’ve Seen In Years

If there’s one thing the monumentally successful “Black Panther” film taught Disney it’s that representation not only matters, but it’s also exceedingly well received and successful when handled properly. Disney’s gross mishandling of “Black Widow” with their streaming service caused major changes to their movie release patterns. There was a lot riding on “Shang Chi”, both financially and culturally and Disney needed to give this new hero in the making its proper dues and respect. While a lesser-known character compared to the likes of Iron Man or Spider-Man, Marvel has made stranger characters into household names like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man.” With no big names attached and a culture putting a lot on this film being a success, let’s hope this film plays out like we all hope it will.

Our titular hero Shang Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of an immortal crime lord; The Mandarin (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) who has long controlled the criminal underworld for centuries thanks to his super-powered mystical rings. After trying to live a normal life with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina), his father sends warriors to bring him back into the fold and make him his right-hand man. Shang Chi discovers his father and his armies are planning to unleash a destructive and deadly force upon the world. Now he must discover his true identity and master his abilities to stop his father and save the world from a threat just waiting to be unleashed.

The Marvel films have never been lacking in the action department. But it wasn’t until I got a glimpse of the kung-fu fighting styles of the cast in “Shang Chi” that I realized that there has been a serious lacking of proper martial arts content. Much like “Black Panther,” “Shang Chi” is a completely self-contained Marvel story that manages to stay well connected with the established universe, as well as be its own thing and develop its own unique world, rules, powers, and unique environments. “Shang Chi” is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in years. Not just talking special effects here, but also the deep, meticulous care and effort that are put into the epic storytelling and the majestic visuals of the martial arts being displayed by phenomenally talented actors.

The “bus scene” alone is worth the price of a movie ticket. Every shot, kick, punch and flip is expertly crafted to make the fighting look and feel as real as possible. Fantastical fights are in here aplenty but the film never backs down from delivering a multitude of incredible martial arts battles that never fail to entertain you. Simu Liu is new to me but he clearly has talent beyond his physical capabilities. He presents a believable, down to Earth guy who masterfully balances humor, stoicism, and being a badass while making it come off naturally all at the same time. His chemistry with comedy queen Awkwafina is always on point. They have a realistic rhythm that keeps the humor and heart strong and effective without it ever feeling forced. They’re one of the best duos in Marvel’s history and I truly hope she sticks around as long as War Machine or Wong has.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is a unique villain as at times, he feels as much like the leading man as Shang Chi is. He’s conflicted, dangerous, powerful, cold but also relatable, wounded, and full of pain and grief that makes him far more than just a world-conquering supervillain. The world-building brings the story to many different locations and settings; engaging everything from mystical dragon lands to cage fighting in the underworld. There’s even a stellar cameo from Ben Kingsley; one of the few strong connections to the Marvel universe in this film. He’s as delightful as he was in “Iron Man 3” and to see this film use him and make him part of the journey shows a great sense of connectivity I am thankful was not dismissed.

My only criticism comes from the lack of proper use of Katy and Shang as a duo and a potential couple. The film teases some possible romance blossoms blooming but kind of forgets about and never comes back to it. If they dismissed it, it’d be one thing but to tease it and kind of drop the ball on it later feels like a wasted opportunity. Again, I hope Awkwafina follows Simu Liu in future sequels. Overall, minor gripe aside, “Shang Chi” is a wonderfully inventive new approach for Marvel that delivers on every possible level. This film may seem like it was only made for some people but in truth, it was made for everyone and it shows, Marvel fan or not. See why this film is such a stellar, well-deserving success, and go see this film whenever you can.

We give “Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten rings” 3 ½ stars out of 4.

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story Pulls No Punches In New Trailer

Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.


Walt Disney Company recently released a new trailer, poster, and stills for Academy Award® winning director Steven Spielbergs film adaptation of the musical West Side Story, which will open only in cinemas on Boxing Day, 2021.

Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, West Side Story” tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. This reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Rachel Zegler (María); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); Ana Isabelle (Rosalía); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Brian dArcy James (Officer Krupke); and Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works). Moreno  one of only three artists to be honored with Academy®, Emmy®, GRAMMY®, Tony®, and Peabody Awards  also serves as one of the films executive producers.

Bringing together the best of both Broadway and Hollywood, the films creative team includes Kushner, who also serves as an executive producer; Tony Award® winner Justin Peck, who choreographed the musical numbers in the film; renowned Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and GRAMMY Award® winner Gustavo Dudamel, who helmed the recording of the iconic score; Academy Award®-nominated composer and conductor David Newman (Anastasia), who arranged the score; Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie), who supervised the cast on vocals; and Grammy®-nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan (Beauty and the Beast,” “Chicago), who served as executive music producer for the film. The film is produced by Spielberg, Academy Award®-nominated producer Kristie Macosko Krieger and Tony Award®-winning producer Kevin McCollum. West Side Story has been adapted for the screen from the original 1957 Broadway show, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and concept, direction, and choreography by Jerome Robbins.

From 20th Century Studios, The Walt Disney Company will release West Side Story” in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, 2021. Check out the trailer below:

The Verdict On The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Photo Credit: Screenshot from Lionsgate Movies’ YouTube Video

Back in the days of early action films, buddy comedy films were a dime a dozen. Every polar opposing star would get paired up with another polar opposing star and the hope was the chemistry would explode into a dynamic duo kind of picture that somehow (hopefully) capture lightning in a bottle. There are plenty of examples where it worked beautifully (Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour), and there are just as many examples where it failed horribly (I Spy, Showtime) and for a long, while they all kinda dried up and died out. Then 2017’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” comes along and surprisingly has the bark, bite, and bombastic bullet showers to prove that well-written, well-cast buddy cop-like films still had some fire in him. While the first film was an unexpected hit, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” didn’t seem to learn from its predecessor.

After struggling to recover his failing bodyguard protection service, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) tries to take a vacation to get his mind off the various troubles caused by his last client: infamous hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). The vacation ends abruptly with Darius’s wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek) literally explodes onto the scene and says her husband has been kidnapped and she needs Bryce’s help to get him back. Now, Bryce, Sonia, and Darius are being catapulted onto another crazy, explosive adventure that will put them all through collective misery as they try and stop whoever is after the Kincaids and hopefully try and survive the whole process.

The phrase bigger is better is often used when it comes to sequels. The budget, the cast, the stakes; everything is escalated into massive proportions and in some cases, this can serve as a massive backfire. “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” doesn’t feel like a sequel or even a movie but more like an exaggerated, blown-up R-rated cartoon; flinging flashy nonsense, huge explosions, and Salma Hayek screaming randomly at everyone she fires while Ryan Reynolds suffers visibly at every wake and turn. Now the first film wasn’t a supremely reality grounded film but it had a more sensible and effective sense of pacing with its humor and its action. This film has NO pacing. It’s barely 10 minutes into the movie things are already going “Michael Bay” and the movie never once tries to stop or slow down from there.

In a lot of ways, this strongly reminds me of the film “Red 2,” sequel to “Red” starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren. Like in “Red 2”, “Hitman’s Wife’s bodyguard” just throws out everything that made the first film good and spackles all the holes with 50% larger explosions and absurdly over the top yelling, screaming, running, and jacking everything up far higher and louder than it needs to be. The first film struck an excellent chord with Reynolds and Jackson’s chemistry. They were annoying and shooting the Hell out of each other every 5 minutes and their animosity was a true comedic joy to watch. They matched each other move for move and yeah, it was childish, but it gave you just enough humor and heartfelt moments at the right times that it felt like you were getting more for your money than just quips and fireworks.

Salma Hayek is clearly having a good time here but I can’t say the same for everyone else. She’s far too goofy and obnoxiously loud that she doesn’t know what tone it down means, actually, no one in this film does. Much of Jackson and Reynolds’ banter is watered down and left largely at Reynolds’ expense. Which can be funny I admit, at times, but so much is at his expense that it just feels like he’s a punchline who happens to be along for the ride and not much of a character with much depth or interest and the background depth he DOES get kinda feels flat and lacking proper implementation. Antonio Banderas is your standard villain of the week with no gravitas, memorability, or even much relevance. His scheme had a unique doomsday kind of weapon that could have provided some interesting visual sequences….had they used it more than just one single time.

Overall, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard’s Wife” is like when your kid bangs on the pots and drums and calls it music; it’s noise that someone is calling entertainment when it’s not. Much of the magic and well-crafted humor of the first film has long been lost; replaced with louder yells, bigger bombs, and zero pacing from the starting line. I’m glad everyone had fun making this film, I truly am. But if you want me to enjoy it enough to say I’d recommend it to someone else or shell out more hard-earned money to see the 3rd installment, you’re gonna need a better boat; not a BIGGER one…a better one.

I give “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” 1 ½ star out of 4 stars.

The Verdict On Black Widow: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Saying the world grinded to a halt in the face of the pandemic is a gross understatement. Everything we knew and did in life was altered and that includes movies. Numerous films were delayed for months, some even multiple years; coming out far longer than it originally intended to. No case was as severely afflicted as it was with Marvel’s “Black Widow”; the first step in the MCU’s next phase of films and the last appearance of the character immortalized by Scarlett Johansson ever since her tragic fate was spilled out during “Avengers: Endgame.” The release of this film was also supposed to be a big step in the right direction as it would be the character’s first solo film ever despite having been on the Marvel scene since way back in “Iron Man 2” in 2010. DC’s Wonder Woman has released two solo films long before “Widow’s” release so it begs the question: is it too late for a solo “Black Widow” film? Let’s find out.

Picking up almost immediately after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) is on the run from the US government after breaking ties with them and is now being forced into hiding. During her fugitive status, Natasha comes across her younger sister Yelena (Florence Pugh); another “Widow” like her who has discovered a dark secret surrounding the “Red Room” program that turned both girls and many others into highly dangerous super assassins. Now Natasha must find the Red Room with the help of her estranged family (David Harbour, Rachel Weisz) and enter a world of conspiracy, murder, and corruption as Natasha faces the past she left behind to become an Avenger.

One of the most frequent complaints lobbed at Marvel films is that even when they try to be different or utilize different genres for variety, they all feel and look generally the same. While that argument can be made towards some “Black Widow” most certainly does not fall into that trap. “Widow” strips down much of the fantastical superpowers and connecting Easter Eggs to tell a hard-boiled, down, and dirty spy story that feels like “The Bourne Identity” mixed with Marvel characters. Right from the very beginning, things are grimmer, darker, and loaded with graphic violence that even the edgiest of previous Marvel films have never been gutsy enough to attempt. This feels like a true “Black Widow” story; mixing origin stories and exploring deeper mysteries about the character that have never been fully explored until now.

Through her previous appearances, Natasha has always alluded to having a blood-soaked past and is responsible for many horrible things. But outside of brooding side banter, we never got a true indication of how dark her dark side actually was. The Red Room has been teased since “Age of Ultron” finally gets clarity and we see the sinister source of Natasha’s training with greater clarity and understanding. Florence’s relationship with Scarlett is one of the film’s best assets and they use it to great satisfaction. Their back and forth competitiveness and estranged relationship feel natural yet appropriately awkward considering their lines of work. While Weisz is a bit forgettable here, in my opinion, David Harbour is the real scene-stealer; a bombastic, over-the-hill Russian super-soldier called “Red Guardian.” He is this film’s greatest treasure and I applaud any excuse given to see more of him in any kind of future installments.

One area of concern falls with the film’s dual villains: Task Master and Dreykof (played loathingly by Ray Winstone). While both have a strong sense of lethality and danger about them, the problem is they never push/utilize these villains to their utmost potential and end up coming short in some key areas. The Task Master’s unique gimmick of copying anyone’s fighting style is the closest thing this film has to a “superpower.” But the character’s enigmatic history, once revealed, ultimately nullifies the potential this character could have had as a recurring villain or even as this film’s current one. Dreykof is given the right amount of universal malice and vileness you’d expect from someone running this program. He delivers on prime evil but ends up short when understanding why he is so despicably evil or why he made women the source of his program, to begin with. The villains themselves are not the problem but their sense of fulfillment is lacking.

Overall, “Black Widow” was well worth the wait and is an excellent send-off for the MCU’s most badass female hero. Maybe this should have been made sooner or come out faster but late or not, I’m glad this is the film we got. Johansson gives it her all and the excellent chemistry she shares with Pugh and Harbour just keeps the energy and enjoyment rising higher and higher. Aside from a few weak characters and a couple of villains needing a little bit of a stronger shot in the arm, I hope Scarlett and Marvel fans can look back on this film and be proud of how this turned out because I sure am. “Wonder Woman” may have come out first but in my opinion, “Black Widow” comes out on top easily.

I give “Black Widow” 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from Marvel Entertainment’s YouTube Channel

The Verdict On Cruella: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Screenshot from Walt Disney Studios’ YouTube channel

Maleficent; that was the first thing that came to mind when I heard they were giving Cruella Deville her own live-action prequel/origin story. The unwatchable cinematic butchery that was Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” made it impossible for me not to dread what backward, hack story editing job Disney would perform on Cruella’s story in order to make her more likable, relatable, or some other totally inconsistent perception that has never been associated with the cruel fashion designer since her cinematic debut back in 1961. Cruella is an odd choice for an origins story and I never was her biggest fan, to begin with, but the unique setting piece and distinctive style gave this film an intriguing edge that I thought and hoped would work well.

At the young age of 12, Estelle suffers a horrid tragedy as she loses her home, her mother, and her school in one wicked night. After surviving off the streets for 4 years through thievery with her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), a grown-up Estelle (Emma Stone) finds herself stumbling into an opportunity to enter the fashion world and make an honest living working for the Baroness (Emma Thompson) as an up and coming fashion designer. As secrets become revealed, Estelle wishes to remake herself for this new life and get revenge on those who wronged her in the past. Now Estelle is making her big debut and becoming who she was destined to be; despite how many hearts and lives she has to ruin in the process.

Unlike Maleficent who lives in a fantasy world of dragons and magic, “Cruella” transports us to a very believable and, dare I say, understandable existence for the villainess-to-be to inhabit. We see her from the literal beginning all the way to her rise to power and fame. The fashion landscape provides a unique environmental structure to mold our hero/villain into the witch she will one day become, and I have to say, after watching this film I can actually see this young Estelle/Cruella turning into the bony, cackling witch from the original animated film down the line. “Cruella” constantly shifts our perception of the character; showing her violent, aggressive side as well as her lonely, ambitious side to make us neither fully support her but neither do we fully condemn her. In the grand scheme of grand schemers, Cruella’s evil ambitions are considerably smaller compared to the likes of Scar, Hades or Ursula. Therefore, this approach works well with Cruella’s backstory and makes it easier to connect with her.

They say the devil is in the details and there is no greater detailed devil than in the choice to have Emma Stone play the future, Ms. Deville. She is completely immersed in the character; diving fully into her personality, her eccentricities, and her outlandish presence. Stone plays Cruella like a living embodiment of damaged goods; longing to wish for a better life and yet twisting yourself into the deep end of the pool at the risk of drowning in the darkness you once stood against. We see signs of her worst behaviors bubbling to the surface as the film progresses, including towards Horace and Jasper, who become so much more 3 dimensional and personal to her backstory; it makes their inevitable devolution into hired goons in the future all the more tragic. As for our villain’s villain, Emma Thompson steals the show almost as much as Emma Stone does. She’s a perfectly cold, shrewd woman who rivals Cruella imperfectly in every way.

The use of fashion, both as a weapon as and as cinematic eye candy was the most impressive and surprising aspect of the whole film. Cruella’s style is perfectly embodied in the costume designs. They feel like living, flowing works of art; warped into numerous unique styles that even make trails of garbage dangling from a dump truck look fashionable. The few areas of weakness I felt needed enhancing fell with Cruella’s evil nature (this is a Disney film after all so naturally much will be held back) and also the soundtrack. “Cruella” is a 2 hour 60 and 70’s jukebox; blasting oldies from those eras almost every 10 minutes. Unlike “Guardians of the Galax” which used its soundtrack as a part of the film’s narrative, “Cruella” just bombards you with so many songs the movie cannot feel like it can’t breathe on its own. It’s like we get it, we know what era we’re in; just let the movie be and give the natural sounds some breathing room.

Overall, “Cruella” is a considerable improvement after the disastrous approach they took to Sleeping Beauty with “Maleficent.” Emma Stone and Emma Thompson are beyond incredible. Their performances truly break them both into new territories and the unique blending of trauma, adventure, heist themes, and fashion themes work surprisingly well together. The music can be a bit overbearing and I do wish Disney would take a bigger chance on keeping their villains’ roots black as their hearts but this is a grand step in the right direction. “Cruella” isn’t exactly what I thought it would be but it’s definitely something I want more of.

I give “Cruella” 3 stars out of 4 stars.

The Chilling Trailer for Port Arthur Massacre Movie ‘Nitram’ Has Just Dropped

Photo Credit: Madman Films

Madman Entertainment has just released the official trailer for NITRAM and it looks quite chilling..

NITRAM depicts the events leading up to one of the darkest chapters in Australian history in an attempt to understand why and how this atrocity occurred. Directed by Justin Kurzel (True History of the Kelly Gang, Snowtown) and written by Shaun Grant (Penguin Bloom, Snowtown), the feature film stars Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out), Essie Davis (The Babadook, Game of Thrones), Judy Davis (My Brilliant Career, The Dressmaker) and Anthony LaPaglia (Lantana, Balibo).

In a statement, the filmmakers commented: “NITRAM was written as a response to the proliferation of regular mass shootings across the world and is an exploration of the issues and events that led to this atrocity, rather than a re-enactment of it, to bring the gun control debate to the fore and to try to ensure history does not repeat itself.”

NITRAM is the first Australian film to compete at Cannes for the Palme D’Or in a decade. NITRAM marks Kurzel’s third feature film to screen at Cannes and his second in competition. The film will have its Australian premiere at Melbourne International Film Festival this August, and a national cinema release soon afterwards. A Good Thing Productions film in conjunction with Stan, NITRAM is produced by GoodThing Productions’ Nick Batzias and Virginia Whitwell (2040, The Australian Dream), alongside Kurzel and Grant.


NITRAM (Caleb Landry-Jones) lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (Anthony LaPaglia) in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However, when that friendship meets its tragic end, and NITRAM’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent into a nightmare that culminates in the most nihilistic and heinous of acts. You can watch the trailer below:


The Verdict On Mortal Kombat: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Photo Credit: Screenshot from IGN’s YouTube Video

It’s hard not to talk about the “Mortal Kombat” franchise without discussing the original film from 1995, and of course, video game films in general. For the most part, “Mortal Kombat” was one of the exceedingly few examples of a video game movie that was critically and financially successful. But video game films quickly became viewed as disasters waiting to happen and after numerous bankrupting failures (Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Monster Hunter, House of the Dead, etc.), not to mention the unwatchable mess that is “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation”, it seemed unlikely “Mortal Kombat” would ever be anything more than an ultra-violent video game series. Come 2021 and Warner Bros surprised everyone with a bloody, brutal, dark and gritty new take on the franchise that hopes to turn things around and top the original in every way possible.

MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is an ordinary man who lives an ordinary life fighting ordinary people. Until he is attacked by an ice-wielding super warrior; Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) because of a strange dragon tattoo. He learns from his new friends Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax Briggs (Mehcad Brooks) that tattoo means he is chosen to fight the forces of evil in an epic tournament called ‘Mortal Kombat’ that will decide the fate of the world. Under the tutelage of Raiden, god of thunder (Tadanobu Asano), he must train alongside other gifted warriors like Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and rogue mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson) in order to stop Shang Tsung (Chin Han) from invading the realm of Earth and defeating Earth’s champions before they even have a chance to compete in the tournament.

I’ve long wanted to see the director take another bloody stab at remaking Mortal Kombat for a new audience and age and one thing I can safely say right off the bat is: they definitely got the gore right. Many fans criticized the first film for watering down the blood and violence; keeping it PG-13 rated neutered the fatalities and many of the game’s central elements felt stripped away. However, one thing the original film kept that this new one seemed to ditch was the set piece of a tournament. This time around, the tournament is preempted by multiple surprise attacks and blindside fights where the villains try and kill Earth’s champions before the tournament can begin; leading to a chaotic narrative that tries to not feel like it’s all over the place but essentially still is.

The film feels like it’s jumping around too much to keep things focused and cohesive. Even in a video game series about fighting and slicing people in half with buzz saw hats, there is a story to follow. There’s creative effort to include as many characters and signature attacks and finishing moves as possible, so that is why is struck me as odd to invent a tragically boring character like Cole Young who fails to feel interesting on any level and performs like a generic self-audience-insert character made just so we can have someone explain all the exposition to. Josh Lawson and Tadanobu Asano feel like the only actors truly trying here; offering new sides to their characters and fulfilling their roles with enough energy and accuracy that most of the cast cannot deliver.

 Aside from stellar action sequences, updated effects and better costumes, the only real leg up this new take over the original is their new takes on Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Their vividly explored backstories, histories, and hatred for each other were beautifully handled this time around. They became much more than silent fan service ninjas. They felt like real, dangerously intense warriors whose powers were masterfully brought to life with stunning effects that blur the line between practical and CGI. Overall, “Mortal Kombat” offers some interesting new takes and styles that certainly deliver on flashy kills and updated effects and costumes. However, its lack of the tournament as a backdrop and the chaotic nature of the story makes the film feel like a random jointed haze of excellent fights and rushed expositions. I feel this new take on the franchise has the chance to grow into something bigger and better, but at this time, “Mortal Kombat 2021” still hasn’t cleared many of the hurdles the first film handled so well so many years ago.

I give “Mortal Kombat (2021)” 2 ½ stars out of 4 stars.

The Verdict On The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Screenshot from Warner Bros. Pictures YouTube video

Horror franchises have a very limited shelf life. Stories of boogeymen killers like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers lose their lethal luster after so many sequels. Eventually, they become joke characters relying on outrageous gimmicks or twists to make them relevant again or at the very least somewhat entertaining. One thing that definitely doesn’t hold up though is the horror itself: the scares and the fear these films are meant to generate. One rare exception is “The Conjuring” series; exploded from one single film into a full-blown trilogy and several spinoffs with sequels of their own (Annabelle, Curse of La Llorona). The real-life paranormal investigators of Ed and Lorraine Warren have brought many true scary stories to the silver screen and this may possibly be the last so let’s hope “The Devil made me do it” really does it.

Set in the 1980s, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) perform an exorcism on a young boy to save him from a demon. Unfortunately, the demon finds another body in a nearby family friend Arne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor), and forces him to commit a heinous act that catapults the case to national news. Now, Arne is on trial for what he did while he was possessed and is targeted for a death sentence. Ed and Lorraine have to investigate the origins of this demon, find its source and convince a court of law to accept the existence of demons in order to save Arne from a terrible fate. What Ed and Lorraine will find will shock them to their core and directly contribute towards many lives hanging in the balance of this case.

Despite the summary, very little of this film actually takes place or deals with any courtroom drama. Those expecting a similar setup as “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” will be sorely mistaken as this plays out much more like an expected sequel to “The Conjuring” than anything else. “The Devil made me do it” is by no means a softball horror film, in comparison to its previous installments, it does feel a bit lighter on the scares and ventures off into more average/generic territories than anything groundbreaking. The big significance here is the popularity of the case and this possibly being the last installment in the “Conjuring” films. If this is your first time seeing one of these films, it’ll feel fresh and freaky but if you’re a seasoned veteran it’s probably going to come across as something you’ve kind of already seen before.

The scares this time involve aspects outside of the haunted house setting, which is a welcome change and provides a unique bit of mystery for the Warrens to solve alongside local police and investigators. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga always provide a touching, endearing portrayal of the real-life paranormal investigators; maintaining a dynamic that is endearing and touching in even the darkest of times. There is a stellar and downright terrifying opening sequence with an exorcism that truly captivates the audience; unfortunately, the film never manages to reach that high point again at any time. Even when the mystery is what’s going on is fully unraveled, it doesn’t feel particularly interesting or impressive compared to past films.

This also happens to be the first “Conjuring” film creator James Wan did not direct and I can’t help but feel that directly contributed to the average quality of this film. Wan understands true terror and how to package that in a way that consumes its viewers and forces them to keep watching no matter how horrific or intense things get. He grounds his characters and their terrifying experiences in ways that new director Michael Chaves simply does not understand. The scares don’t feel as impactful when they happen and most of them can be perceived much easier than before. If this is the last entry in the film series then it’s regrettable to go out on such a mediocre note.

Overall, “The Devil made me do it” doesn’t do anything particularly bad or shameful but it just doesn’t break any new ground or raise the stakes any higher. The cast is solid, the drama is compelling but the new director’s inexperience is evident and it makes the audience realize that the first two films are high notes that this film cannot ever really reach no matter how hard it tries. It’s not bad for a watch but not much more than that.

I give “The Conjuring: the devil made me do it” 2 stars out of 4 stars.

The Verdict On The Courier: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

There are some actors who are so talented, they can make any bad movie or bad line come off as natural and impressive and it’s not a quality every actor possesses. Sometimes an actor can carry a whole movie on their own and even though you don’t want one person to carry the whole production, it’s nice knowing their talent can take you quite a bit of distance. Benedict Cumberbatch is definitely talented enough to carry a film by himself, I have never seen him give a bad performance before and today’s film is no exception. However, the entertainment and investment in a film also depend largely on how the rest of the content flows, and that brings us to the contradictory conundrum problem of how to view/rate a movie like “The Courier.”

Set during the upcoming threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in the shadow of the Cold War a letter from Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) an agency of the Soviet Union received by M16 stating the concern of Penkovsky about world safety and his anxiety about nuclear war, So Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) a CIA Agent reached out to MI6 Agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), who recruited British salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) to be their spy and uncover information that can stop the Cuban Missile Crisis before it’s too late; based on a true story.

I’m always iffy about true story films and even more so about ones based on my least favorite genre of film: war stories. Granted, “The Courier” is a spy movie at heart and while all of its heavy-handed dialogue and dramatic political tension may engage others, it only served to alienate and bore me as the movie drudged on and on. I mean no disrespect to anyone who worked on this film or the real-life people and events it’s based on, but no matter how many dramatic music cues, close-ups or theatrical gestures the characters make; some things just aren’t that thrilling and don’t translate interestingly enough to film. At no point did I care much about what anyone was saying or doing. More than half the movie was just a bunch of shifty people walking in shadows in trench coats and having supposedly serious conversations in dramatic fashions.

I know very little about how authentic or accurate Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Greville Wynne was but I can certainly say he played the role with masterful effort and class. In a lot of ways, it felt like I was watching his character/role from “Black Mass” expanded into the leading role (even though they are obviously completely different roles.) The problem is, as great as he is, it wasn’t enough to alleviate the cloud of dull dust that had settled on every other minor and major supporting character. It looks beautiful, it’s shot very well and framed excellently…but it doesn’t help if everything that is being framed is exhaustingly boring. Nothing really happens, just a lot of deep conversations about being a spy, risks spies are exposed to and it just keeps dragging on and on with little variation.

I can’t help but feel if I would have understood things faster and clearer if I just read a history book and find out what happened in a condensed fashion instead of watching this. Least then it would have been over faster and I would have gotten the accurate story (not sure how accurate any of this film is.) I understand Hollywood’s need to spice things up with flare and all that, but there are only so many times you can have someone talk intensely about the same subject for 2 hours straight before it feels tiresome and you lost whatever fragment of interest you had left. I can’t even remember anything that really happened in the movie or anyone’s name outside of Cumberbatch. I remember it was shot well and I remember it was about the Cuban Missile Crisis but that’s about it.

Overall, “The Courier” just can’t keep up with the thematic edge it’s framing this information around; it’s just not that interesting. Cumberbatch is, as always, a delight to watch and the cinematography is admirably well done. But what good is a movie if you can’t remember it a few hours after seeing it? That’s the problem I have with “The Courier.” I remember the history and I remember Benedict Cumberbatch but anything and anyone else in the film quickly fades away into afterthoughts not worth revisiting. The star power of Cumberbatch cannot turn a boring film into an exciting one and I hope the portrayals here were accurate to real-life because otherwise, I honestly don’t know what else this movie has going for it.

Rating: I give “The Courier” 2 stars out of 4.

The Verdict On Wrath Of Man: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Jason Statham has made a name for himself; well, two names actually. On the one hand, he’s a freshly bruised face to the action movie genre and knows how to put his physical skills to the test in explosion fashion (The Transporter trilogy, Safe). On the other hand, he’s also dabbled in the wackier, stranger side of action films that make little sense; except an excuse for him to do some crazy stuff on screen and somehow make it stupid and equally entertaining with ease (The Crank films, Hobbs and Shaw). “Wrath of Man” definitely skews more towards the former despite the flashy presentation and editing work (thanks to “Sherlock Holmes” director, Guy Ritchie). In some ways, it’s a typical Jason Statham movie and in some ways, it’s not typical at all…but in a good way.

Our story follows the mysterious one-man army known simply as H (Jason Statham). He’s recently started working as an armored car driver at a cash truck company in Los Angeles. His co-workers and would-be robbers learn painfully and quickly how dangerous H can be and that he is far more than a mere truck driver. H nearly died in a shootout years earlier that cost him the life of his son. Now he’s using the armored car job to lure criminals out in hopes of finding the people responsible for killing his son and making them pay with their lives.

Jason Statham has this habit of always playing himself (or an exaggerated badass version of himself) in all his movies; it’s the same role every time essentially. However, it’s a role he does well and there’s hardly been a single film he’s starred in that didn’t deliver on the action side of things. “Wrath of Man” is a different breed of film for Statham and his unique set of physical talents as it takes him on a much darker ride than most people are used to. Much like “Safe,” Statham is put into a harsher, more violent, and grim story/situation that kind of sucker punches you out of nowhere. To say too much more about the story would delve too deeply into spoiler territories and there is much within the plot that can be easily spoiled if one is not careful.

I think a lot of people write Statham off as a one-note action star that can’t branch out into many other fields/genres and I think that’s an unfair and inaccurate depiction. “Wrath of Man” proves he is capable of handling and taking on much more than people give him credit for. Guy Ritchie is known for this stylistic sense of flare and distinct action sequences; his work always carries that distinctive edge that makes a Guy Ritchie movie feel like a Guy Ritchie movie. The story here jumps around erratically; using a similar mixed-up narrative that Quentin Tarantino is known for. It works more than it fails in this film’s case but it does make you stop and wonder where this scene fits in the timeline if you’re seeing it for the first time.

The only downside with Ritchie’s narrative style here is that it ends up making the film feel longer than it actually is and that is not a good thing to have. Usually, the longer a film feels the worse the experience is even though that is not the case here. Perhaps if some cues or signs indicating when and where this scene was happening could have helped clear up a few of those misunderstandings, but these are minor gripes at best. There’s also a great yet underrated supporting cast to talk about with the likes of Josh Hartnett, Scott Eastwood, and Eddie Marsan filling in some deeply interesting supporting roles. Again, can’t say too much without giving away too much. Rest assured this is definitely not an action movie I would call predictable.

If anything comes from “Wrath of Man” beyond box office bucks, I hope this gives directors and producers a new sense of appreciation and foresight when hiring Jason Statham for roles meatier than just a generic bad-ass kicking guy with a new name/film/location, etc. This film clearly shows he can go dark and badass without missing a beat and is capable of much more with the right amount of artistic direction. “Wrath of Man” doesn’t always know what its timeline is or its tone but it knows how to make excellent use of Statham’s skills that other films have not and I hope this trend continues because this is a side of him I don’t think anyone can get sick of.

Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 4