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.

Synopsis

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

The Verdict On Nobody: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Many people remember Bob Odenkirk from his time on the hit AMC show “Better Call Saul.” Me, personally, I never saw that show or “Breaking Bad” and always remembered him as that voice in “Incredibles 2” and not much else. The idea of him as a badass action star didn’t carry much shock value to it so I didn’t have high or many expectations for this new action vehicle for him. Granted, I didn’t think Liam Neeson was much of an action star and he’s become one of today’s leading action stars ever since he starred in “Taken.” “Nobody” does for Odenkirk what “Taken” did for Neeson and it does so in spectacular fashion. This is more than just another action flick, this is something that takes you by surprise and blows you away.

Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is an ordinary, everyday average guy who works a boring job, comes off as bland and dull to his family, and lives the same day over and over without complaining once. Things change when robbers break into his house. After failing to stop the robbery, he blows off steam beating on punks harassing a woman on a public bus. One of the punks is the younger brother of a crazed Russian mafia boss (Aleksey Serebryakov) who comes after Mansell for injuring his family. However, he learns the hard way that Mansell isn’t an ordinary guy. Mansell has a destructive set of lethal skills and the fighting awaken dark secrets and strengths Mansell hasn’t used in years; doing everything he can to protect his family.

There is something to be said about the fine art of simplicity. Not everything has to be excessively complicated, loaded with political stakes, or be a metaphor for some deep meaningful issue. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one and that perfectly sums up “Nobody”, it may be simple but it’s the best at what it does. The story is a dime a dozen: an old retired badass cop/warrior/FBI agent etc. gets dragged back into the ghoulish game when something threatens his peaceful life and innocent family. What works so well here is the fact Odenkirk truly is cemented as nobody. The narrative hammers in his mundane, daily routines and low opinions from his family perfectly; so much so that you join the characters in the film in their collective surprise and gasp when he busts out the skills and fights through horde after horde of thugs.

“Nobody” is a gritty, very human, and family-themed action film that grounds its character and its fight scenes in reality. Never going too bombastic but never allowing any standoff to feel like it’s too low-key either. Every piece, performance, and executed sequence plays out perfectly; I never once felt an ounce of disappointment from start to finish. Odenkirk probably delivers the best performance of his career here. He truly embodies the character and his fighting skills feel perfectly natural for someone like him so every scene feels that much more sincere and genuinely intense. There’s a subtle, subdued sense of authority and power in his voice that makes his return to form feel that more natural when the fighting really starts.

This isn’t a cheese-fest like say “Commando” or “True Lies,” this is a gritty, bloody knuckled bullet fest that relies on authenticity and gravitas to compliment the violent shootouts; no cheesy one-liners required. I especially loved the supporting cast like Christopher Lloyd, RZA, Connie Nielson, and Michael Ironside. They didn’t feel like stand-ins, they knew how to be just as memorable and Lloyd is in one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie towards the end. The only thing that could have benefitted from a little additional polish was Odenkirk’s family. We see just enough of them to understand his awkward relationship with them but not enough to feel like they were worth giving up his old career/lifestyle. They weren’t badly written or portrayed; they just needed a tad bit more exposure to remind us what Odenkirk is fighting for.

Overall, “Nobody” is a crack shot of a film that hits nearly every mark and level with little to no difficulty. Odenkirk was born for this role and he’s created a new action hero icon that could deliver more top-notch films if he decided to run with it. The story is simple but powerfully effective, the action sequences are unforgettable and the supporting cast just rounds up every last bit of excellence and smashes it all together in flawless fashion. This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and a must-own for me. I recommend a rental at the very least because this is the surprise hit you don’t want to miss out on.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 4

The Verdict On Godzilla vs. Kong: Is It Worth Your Time And Money??

Screenshot from Warner Bros. Pictures’ YouTube Channel

Decades ago, these two gigantic monstrous creatures battled it out in an epic crossover film and left fans starved for years and years to see them duke it out in an updated cinematic slugfest. Warner Bros had found new success by rebooting Godzilla and King Kong by starting their own cinematic monster universe. All the previous 3 films had built up to this moment when Kong and Godzilla would meet and fight and update the legendary clash of titans with today’s modern technology and effects. Despite speed bumps here and there and the last Godzilla film, “King of the Monsters” being the most financially disappointing; Warner Bros and horror director Adam Wingard brought their last hurrah to life and closed out their ‘Monsterverse’ with the grandest of grand finales in the Godzilla, long believed to be the protector of the human world, has been lashing out at a tech company and destroying anything and anyone in his way; seemingly without rhyme or reason. A researcher and a Titan expert (Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall) are tasked with bringing King Kong from Skull Island to the mainland in hopes of returning him home to the fabled home of the titans ‘Hidden earth’ before Godzilla finds him and starts an epic battle that will decimate everything. When the two titans clash, questions are answered and new mysteries discovered. A research team discovers a dark secret that could prove to be even worse than Godzilla or Kong and must be stopped before all of humanity falls to the Titan’s path of destruction.

I had high hopes for this battle. Crossover monster fight films are a rare genre but one that I enjoy when it comes up (Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, etc). However, I also had high hopes for the second r4eboot of Godzilla when Warner Bros first announced they were doing another American Godzilla film and in both cases, I was sorely disappointed. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is, in a way, everything you hoped from a film like this but it’s also everything that is horribly wrong with this whole ‘Monsterverse’ amplified over 9000. Make no mistake, this is a fight focused movie so you expect the fighting to be pretty epic and grandiose, and it is. When Godzilla and Kong do throw down it lives up to your expectations, the environment and creativity behind their bombastic brawling is a spectacle to enjoy on every possible level.

The trouble is, you still have to wade your way through some substandard human characters spouting jacked-up exposition gibberish as they gawk and watch the monsters fight. Everyone is here for the monsters, not the human characters, that is painfully clear from the beginning and it never gets any better. People don’t feel like people in this film, they act like 3rd rate clichés who serve no purpose except to explain what is happening or why it’s happening. There’s no depth or humanity to any one of these so-called characters. I don’t remember anyone’s name or what they were like or even what their motive was, nor do I care. It also doesn’t help that they are written in a way where they talk about such absurdly stupid concepts like having a dragon skull operate a robot or energy sources in hidden kingdoms inside of Earth in such a serious and dramatic way.

The film overcomplicates the simplest things, as if having two giant animals beat the crap out of each other wasn’t compelling enough. The original film from the 1970’s simplified things in such a way that it made sense but it also didn’t take itself too seriously and admitted how silly things could and should get. There was never a need to make Godzilla and Kong species natural rivals, the film just extends itself to create explanations that come off as stupid rather than logical. If there’s one thing the original monster movies got it’s that less is more. You don’t need epic reasons or anything sensible like that, just a decent, tolerable cast and two monsters fighting and boom: you got yourself a good time. But this, this failed attempt to replicate and escalate the magic of the original film just proves that you don’t always need everything explained. Sometimes you just want to see two monsters fight and sadly, “Godzilla vs. Kong” clearly never understood that.

Rating: 2 stars out of 4 

The Verdict On Honest Thief: Is It Worth Watching??

With so many big tent pole movies getting shoved off to be released god knows when or reduced to a measly direct to streaming service, my local theater could only offer re-showings of classic films or whatever slim pickings were left to put up. Usually, I know about movies years in advance due to my diligent research but lesser, small-sized films tend to slip through my radar and I end up not knowing much about them when they come out. This year, I barely knew anything about the majority of the movies being released; to the point, I didn’t even watch their trailers and decided to roll the dice and go in blind without knowing anything about the film. “Honest Thief” was my first experiment with that and thankfully, it proved to pay off in the end.

Tom Dolan (Liam Neeson) goes by the name “The In and Out bandit.” Over the course of several years, Tom has successfully stolen 9 million dollars from small-time banks and has never been caught or identified. But now he’s decided to turn himself into the FBI. He’s found love in Annie (Kate Walsh) and wishes to confess and be an honest man spending the rest of his free life with her once he’s released from prison. Unfortunately, things get complicated when he tries to turn himself over to two FBI agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) and they end up double-crossing him and trying to kill him so they can keep the full 9 million for themselves. Now Tom is on the run with the FBI thinking he’s fleeing from FBI custody and has to prove his name before he and Annie end up locked up or worse.

Some people go into films with high expectations and some go in with very low expectations, and then you get the people who have zero expectations and just plan to walk in and see what happens without even knowing what the movie is about. Normally that latter strategy is one I avoid as I feel it’s important to know what I’m putting my money into before committing to it. “Honest Thief” feels like another run of the mill Neeson lead action flick where he runs around being a middle-aged badass; proving to be a modern Stallone/Schwarzenegger style star when most of those guys were pulling back when they were Neeson’s age. In some ways, this film is pretty predictable for Neeson’s standard fare, but with slim to zero expectations, I found myself really enjoying this film even though there wasn’t anything truly special here.

Similar to how Disney’s “The Mandalorian” approaches storytelling, they take a very simple bare-bones concept and make it work with its stellar characters, writing, and action sequences. “Honest Thief” is by no means on “Mandalorian’s” level but the same principle stands: sometimes simple works and that can make for an entertaining film without being overly complicated. Once Neeson goes to turn himself in, everything goes up in the air and the film launches into a tense, continuously amped up thriller that manages to remain low key but still gripping and surprising. Nothing is grand or outrageously wild but the gravitas and emotional weight of Neeson’s story and performance carry the heart and weight of the film effortlessly.

It was a cat and mouse game juggling different lives and characters; constantly keeping you guessing when the other shoe will drop and how it will play out. The chemistry with the FBI agents felt natural, chaotic, and understandable; they played off each other and Neeson well. Though some characters (and most of the people who’ve seen the film) trivialize the aspect of someone turning their lives around for love, I found this to be a very sweet and simple, honest, and effective motivator for the events that played out. I’m genuinely pleased to see people still acknowledging that love is not a cliché but a meaningful component of our lives and stories. Kate Walsh was adorable and I loved her onscreen, my biggest problem comes from her romance with Neeson felt rushed and I don’t feel she or Robert Patrick got enough respectable screen time.

Overall, “Honest Thief” was a pleasant surprise I was happy to be blindsided by. A lot of how it plays out is by the numbers and certain areas get rushed where they should have taken their time, but the quality of the tension, action, and pace kept the movie from being anything but boring. Neeson kills it as always; never delivers a bad performance, Courtney makes a great villain and the simple but sweet story works just enough to make this an enjoyable experience despite the bumps along the way.

I give “Honest Thief” 2 ½ stars out of 4.

The Verdict On Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Is It Worth Watching??

2020 has been a miserable, horrible year and one section that has been struck with countless complications and delays in the movie industry. With so many big titles sidelined to streaming services or just getting outright pushed back further and further, there have been very few pieces of cinematic scraps for theatergoers to appreciate and attend. The world needed a pick me up and bad. Luckily for us and much to our surprise, Sacha Baron Cohen had secretly filmed and completed a sequel to his polarizing persona, Borat; entitled “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Very few knew this film had been made and its release on Amazon Prime took everyone by surprise. Despite his crass signature brand of humor, Cohen’s resurrection of his iconic 2006 role may be just the comedic shot in the arms everyone quarantined at home needed.

This time around, Borat returns to America with his daughter Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova) in hopes of offering her as a “marriage gift/proposal” to Mike Pence in order to improve his image with his homeland country of Kazakhstan. What transpires is Borat’s return to the public eye and learning to adjust and foster his unique brand of comedy/public exploration skills in a world ravaged by a pandemic, a presidential house rife with controversy and all around; trying to bring a few smiles and laughs in a movie that no one asked for, but turns out, we all actually needed.

“Borat,” much like Cohen’s specific brand of humor, is an acquired taste, to say the least. His polarizing characters have generated controversy and comedy alike and this new film is no exception to either. While most of the gross-out nudity and sexual humor from the first film is still present, it’s been toned down quite a bit and successfully uses it without relying on shock value to deliver the brunt of the gags. Most of the “story” relies on hitting on-point political and social issues that have been dominating our society since Trump became president, and have since escalated in wake of the all-consuming pandemic crisis. Never have the jokes hit more perfectly nor have they felt so deliciously well-timed than in this gloriously immature sequel. To even speak or describe most of the film’s side-splitting jokes would ruin the punchline and dampen the enjoyable experience for anyone curious to give this film a much-needed look.

Even one of the most well-known characteristics of the character of Borat (mocking/fearing the Jewish community) is given a serious and more respectful lens by the film’s end, which is something I was not expecting in the slightest. The standout scene-stealer is actually not Cohen himself but his “daughter.” A newcomer to the scene who has remarkable comedic timing and creates an absurd and amusingly occasionally touching dynamic with Cohen in some of the most unusual daughter-father bonding moments. But really, it’s the wild reaction and ugliness in certain circles that Cohen exposes that really amplifies the humor and awareness in our society; even during times as stressful as these does this prove how effective humor can be.

My only slight criticism would be the slight feeling of having the father/daughter issue being forced for the sake of making a cohesive story seem sensible. The original Borat film made no effort to disguise the film as anything else than Cohen in a costume and weird accent obtaining wild reactions on tape. Even when the original film did try and craft a story, it was always and rightfully sidelined for the physical and adult humor you expect and hope to see. At times the story elements can feel so absurd (as intended) that their earnest take on it works to the film’s advantage, but sometimes, it drags on too long and lingers a bit more than it needs to be. You should always stick to your talents and not strive to be something else, especially when you’re making a mockumentary parody film from a character from over 15 years ago.

Overall, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is an early Christmas present that the world can and should enjoy if you happen to have the means of seeing it. All of the flaws and fumbles of the original film have been toned down or updated with far better, more on point relevant humor that perfectly encapsulates people’s collective thoughts regarding this year’s disastrous turnout. It hits practically every mark, reflecting so much back at us through an ingeniously crafted comedic lens and even manages to grow and expand beyond the limitations of its predecessor. The sappy family story didn’t need as much attention as it thought it did but it’s a minor gripe at best. Love Cohen, hate him, trash his movies; whatever you want, this one is no joke.

I give “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” 3 stars out of 4.

Editorial credit: Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com