Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Writers: Juel Taylor, Tony Rettenmaier, Keenan Coogler, Terence Nance, Jesse Gordon, and Celeste Ballard

Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Khris Davis, Sonequa Martin-Green, Cedric Joe, Jeff Bergman, Eric Bauza, and Zendaya

Plot: After LeBron James rejects Warner Bros’ algorithm’s plan for him to star in everything, he is forced to play a game a game of basketball where the fate of all of his fans are on the line.

Review: Let me just start off by saying that I love the original Space Jam. I know it’s not the classic piece of cinema that us millennials like to pretend it is. It’s a deeply flawed movie that just tugs on all of my nostalgia. There was just something deeply satisfying about watching two of the biggest staples of my childhood teaming up on screen together. Unfortunately, Space Jam: A New Legacy did not quite tickle that same itch for me. It was entertaining enough. I was never bored. All of the elements of a Space Jam movie were there, but it never actually FELT like Space Jam. Or at least not in any way that mattered.

On paper, A New Legacy brought an absolutely incredible amount of IP together for this movie. Not content to just feature our favorite Tunes, Warner Bros brought in the entire HBO Max library. We’re talking everything from Casablanca to Game of Thrones. The Jetsons to A Clockwork Orange. If WB has the rights and it’s popular, they’re in there somewhere. Unfortunately, they’re also kinda just there. Heck, they’re barely even acting like the character we know and love. It’s cool to see Pennywise show up, but just having him acting like a typical basketball fan in the background kind of ruins the point of the character. These characters serve no purpose to the plot. They’ve just been dragged out because WB could. It’s an aesthetic. A product placement. Something to be tossed in without any real thought or care. I guess it’s just to get us to chuckle out of recognition. But, to be fair, this isn’t their movie. They are background set dressing, right? It’s kind of unfair to judge the whole movie for that.

Sure. That’s true to a certain degree. This is a Looney Tunes movie after all. Unfortunately though, the Looney Tunes don’t really fare all that much better. Each of them gets a moment to shine, but honestly it’s not much more than that. You would get a better feel for these characters by watching just one of their shorts than you would this two hour movie. Daffy Duck, arguably the second most famous in the group, especially gets the shaft. I can’t remember a single funny or even noteworthy thing he did all movie. And that’s really unfortunate. This is Space Jam! It’s a Looney Tunes franchise! While it’s true that they’ve always split the screen with other icons, it feels so disproportionate here. Seriously, it feels like they’ve been pushed down to third or even fourth fiddle here. First and foremost, it’s the LeBron James show in ways that make MJ’s ego look small. Second is the WB IP. Third is Don Cheadle’s (honestly terrific) scene chewing villain. Then, maybe I’d slot the Looney Tunes in there. Maybe. Honestly, whenever I’m asked about this movie in the future, I’m probably going to remember everything but the Tunes. And that’s a real bummer. Space Jam works because Bugs and Michael Jordan are BOTH iconic. It was a celebration of what made both great together. A New Legacy feels like it exists just to stoke LeBron James’ ego.

Now that I’ve complained about it a lot, let me clarify that I did not really dislike this movie. It was fine. I was entertained by it. The plot about LeBron learning to accept that maybe his son has other interests other than basketball was touching. The jokes were funny, especially those made at LeBron’s expense. As a Cleveland fan, there are a couple that hit especially close to home that I’m surprised he let remain in. And, though it’s easy to criticize as heartless corporate synergy, I do really like this one extended sequence that involves rounding up the Tunes from other Warner Bros worlds. Call me an easy target if you will but seeing Bugs Bunny in Mad Max gear is guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

So, overall, I’ve got very mixed feelings on Space Jam: A New Legacy. Was it the disaster many are saying it is? I don’t think so. I had a good time watching it. Will I ever revisit it? Probably not. I can get a more satisfying Looney Tunes fix from elsewhere and I don’t really ever find myself needing a LeBron James fix. It was pretty much just a nice Friday evening activity. In one ear and out the other. Nothing to write home about, but no completely heinous complaints either. Except of course the Looney Tunes getting the shaft. I’ll never stop complaining about that.

TL;DR: Space Jam: A New Legacy is entertaining enough, but I wish there were more Looney Tunes in this Looney Tunes movie.

Score: 6/10 (OK)

Review: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (2021)

Director: Adam Robitel

Writers: Will Honley, Maria Melnik, Daniel Tuch, Oren Uziel, Christine Lavaf, and Fritz Bohm

Starring: Taylor Russell and Logan Miller

Plot: As Zoey and Ben are investigating Minos, the company tricks them into participating in yet another escape room.

Review: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions is one of those movies that you just can’t wait to complain about, because it’s that dumb. Right after seeing it alone, I went out to dinner with friends. While there, they were greeted with a 20+ minute rant about the sheer stupidity that I had just witnessed. Spoilers and all. Because, honestly, screw it. I will try to be a bit more careful here though. I’ll have my semi-professional review and then just a total spoiler filled rant. But, for those who do want to see this movie, I will mark when I get into spoiler territory.

I’m not going to lie. Back in January 2019, I was really shocked by how successful the original Escape Room was. I had absolutely no interest in seeing it, because I thought it looked really, really bad. But, it made 17 times its budget, so there’s no arguing that it was successful enough for a follow-up. With that coming up this weekend, I felt the need to go back and dive into the OG. And, honestly, it’s not the worst. For a cheesy PG-13 Saw knockoff with a touch of The Hunger Games, not bad. At least the puzzles were interesting and the characters were worth getting to know. It’s not good, but I could see someone being entertained by it on a Sunday afternoon HBO viewing. It’s like right on that border of being barely watchable. This one though… oof. It’s about as bad as I assumed the first one was.

To me, the biggest drop off between the two movies is the quality of the characters. In the original, we got to know each of them pretty well. Throughout the adventure, we learned of their strengths and weaknesses; their personal lives and their tragedies. This made it feel a bit more grown up. Every time someone died, you’d legitimately get a little sad. Despite their flaws, you wanted most of them to make it out alive. Tournament of Champions replaces all of them with generic slasher film filler with about the same level of acting ability to boot. I couldn’t really tell you anything about any of the new characters here. They were all super bland, mildly annoying stand-ins that were there to die (off screen because, you know, PG-13). And, even our two leads from the previous movie seemed less interesting here. Ben has gone from not really caring about anything and kinda being a pain to just being a full blown simp to Zoey. Meanwhile, they’ve turned Zoey into some sort of escape room messiah, who seems to constantly know what to do next. I never felt that sense of doubt she prominently displayed over and over in the previous entry. They’re all just blank slates playing their parts now. The humanity has been sucked out. And, personally, I feel like that’s what makes not only the first movie work, but the entire horror genre. You want to feel something as you watch these characters parish. Otherwise, it’s just slasher porn. And that’s a lesser horror genre. Especially at PG-13.

Also, at this point, the villains of this franchise are comically over powered. I can buy that they were able to take six random people, trick them into playing a deadly game, and then hiding the bodies. Sure. I can even (barely) buy into the elaborate sets they’ve built to take these people out. But, I can only buy it once or, at most, once a year. But, this movie makes it seem like they do this shit all the time. Like, they’ve done it often enough that they had a social media influencer round. Do you know how long it’d take to get to that gimmick? The Amazing Race was on season 28 before they did it! And Survivor was in it’s 40th season when they finally had enough former winners to play! Heck, The Hunger Games was 75 years in before they brought anyone back! Basically, the people who coordinate this event are scrapping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ideas. To me, that means they must be doing it dozens of times. That’s a lot of replica beach, bank, and NYC street replicas to build, not to mention the death traps. And, apparently, the fact that they track these people their entire lives, as is evident by their ability to trick these players into returning. There is simply no way any corporation would ever have this kind of money or power to throw away on killing a couple random citizens. No matter how badly they wanted the entertainment.

And, finally, keeping up with this movie is just exhausting. They fly through the traps at such a rapid pace that you never get the chance to piece together the clues yourself. The camera will show something for the first time as the characters are figuring it out. There is no “can you figure it out?” element here. There are just a slew of answers flying at you constantly. It’s like if a murder mystery only showed the killer as he was being taken away in handcuffs. That’s not a satisfying payoff. It’s not how you tell a story. We have to feel like we’re along for the ride too. Then, the third act is nothing but twist after twist after twist. They don’t even give us a second to adjust before they’re changing everything up again. I think it’s supposed to blow you away with how much control this company has over everything, but, as I said, it just makes the whole thing more cartoony. They constantly suck the impact out of different character moments, earlier scenes, or even the previous movie. By the time the final misdirect came, I was so infuriated that I couldn’t wait to rant to someone about it. (More on that in a moment.) It’s just all so very frustrating. The first movie was so simple. Keep it simple, stupid.

Overall, I was not at all happy with Escape Room: Contest of Champions. It took everything that barely worked about the first one and threw it out the window. The characters are bland. The rooms are worse. And the whole concept is starting to get a little too big to be believable any more. I’m not sure I could recommend this to anyone, even if you’re a massive fan of the first. But, then again, I might be wrong. There’s probably someone out there who will enjoy the heck out of this. It ain’t me though. That’s for damn sure.

TL;DR: Everything that made the first barely work is gone here, making Escape Room: Tournament of Champions a completely unsatisfying sequel.

Score: 3/10 (Awful)

SPOILERS: Ok, so let me get into spoilers for a second here. This is your final warning. Do not read past here if you don’t want spoilers. 3…2…1… Alright. For those of you that are unfamiliar or forgot, the first Escape Room movie ends with our two leads Zoey and Ben escaping and living fairly normal lives. Zoey, getting over her fear of flying with the help of all the horrific shit they’ve been through, says that she’s ready to fly to New York to investigate Minos more. Then, we get a cliffhanger ending as we see that they’re prepared for her and have turned a plane into an escape room. THEN, cut to this movie and Zoey’s still afraid to fly. They drive to NYC instead. Only for her to then build up her confidence again through the rooms and decide she’s ready to fly back. Only for it to then be revealed that this was all part of their plan and the plane is an escape room. Then, it cuts to credits. So, basically, THIS IS THE SAME FREAKING CLIFFHANGER TWIST ENDING THAT YOU GAVE US IN THE LAST MOVIE! YOU CAN’T “SURPRISE” US WITH THAT AGAIN! IT’S THE SAME THING! WE SAW IT! WE’VE MADE NO PROGRESS! WE’RE IN THE EXACT SAME PLACE WE WERE BEFORE! WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THE PLANE THE START OF THE TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS? WHY CHANGE UP THE MODE OF TRANSPORTATION? IT WOULD MAKE WAY MORE SENSE THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO TRICK SIX PEOPLE INTO GETTING ONTO ONE PLAY THAN IN ONE SUBWAY CAR! YOU’RE TWO MOVIES IN AND ALREADY JUST SPINNING YOUR WHEELS! Honestly, that “twist” alone knocked the whole score down a point. Truly pathetic. God, I hope we don’t get a third one… Please.

Review: Black Widow

Black Widow (2021)

Director: Cate Shortland

Writers: Eric Pearson, Jac Schaeffer, and Ned Benson

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz

Plot: While on the run after the events of Civil War, Natasha is contacted by members of her former spy family to finish a job she thought was in her past.

Review: First of all, let me say how fantastic it felt to be back in a crowded theater for the big screen premiere of the newest MCU movie. It’s been two years since that happened and I didn’t realize exactly how much I missed it. Second, I’d like to admit that I was wrong. While I was, of course, intrigued by Black Widow as a massive MCU fan, my hype level honestly wasn’t that high. With her already out of the picture and it looking relatively low stakes, I thought it was just another filler Marvel movie. Or worse, a mandatory one. Like, it almost felt they didn’t really want to make a Black Widow movie but thought they had to. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because this is an important, fun, action packed entry that I feel ranks right up there with Marvel’s best.

In fact, my only real complaint about this movie is that we are getting it now. Natasha has deserved a movie for years. She’s been an established core member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a decade now. Also, there were several times where I thought about how much more impactful everything would’ve been had this movie come out where it’s set in the timeline. I think this movie would’ve benefited. There’s inherently less drama involved with a prequel. But, I also think Natasha’s arc in Endgame would’ve been richer had we known this happened to her a few years prior. Her already devastating arc could’ve been upgraded to one of the more emotional moments in a movie packed full of them. Not to mention that the average moviegoer doesn’t keep track of timelines and/or canon. Even though Black Widow goes out of it’s way to explain where it fits, you know people are still going to be confused.

But, the logic of the release date aside, this is a damn near perfect showing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While she’s always been a fan favorite in her supporting role in other people’s movies, this is really Scarlett Johansson’s time to shine as Black Widow. At this point, she’s got the character down so well. She’s this tough as nails, broken woman with a tragic past that also manages to be the heart and soul of every team she’s on. And the story is one that could only be told with her as the central character. Through getting to know her over this past decade, we’ve learned about her past and it was nice to sort of see the gaps filled in, while also attempting to provide herself with closure. It’s truly a terrific character and one that will be missed going forward. Even if it’s a tad late, I’m glad Marvel gave Scarlett this last chance to shine in this role.

I do have to say though. As good as she was, Scarlett was dangerously close to having losing the headliner spot to her co-stars. Because, as is Marvel tradition with a new franchise, we’re introduced to a whole new batch of characters. Here that takes the form of Natasha’s family… or at least the closest thing she has to it. And, oh my god, these are all such amazing additions to the lore. First off, there’s Melina, the mother figure who is also one of the more elite, strict spies in Russia but also has a bit of a soft spot for her “girls.” Rachel Weisz kills it here with her deadpan sense of humor. Nothing she says is inherently funny, but she got quite a few laughs out of me with her delivery. Then, there’s the always terrific David Harbour as Red Guardian. Though he’s often quick to compare himself to Captain America, he’s more like the Russian version of Mr. Incredible. He’s a very rude, self centered man, but also very emotional, caring man. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of him. But, the absolute scene stealer had to be Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, aka the other Black Widow. This is absolutely an instant classic MCU character. She’s so good here. Yelena is Natasha’s “sister,” who went through all of the same hardships as her sibling but never got the opportunity to leave. So, not only is she a damaged, tortured killing machine, but she’s also got to live in her sister’s shadow. As you can imagine, this leads to a very resentful, sarcastic person. She’s insanely badass. She fights just as well, if not better than Natasha. She’s always making incredibly inappropriate dark jokes about sensitive topics. But, she is also incredibly fragile. She’s not afraid to get a bit emotional. Honestly, I’d say she has some of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the entire MCU without having to rely on your connections to the previous movies. This could be your first Marvel movie and you’d fall just in love with her as someone who’s seen all 24. Actually, I’d almost say that about this entire group. They’re so good. They alone make this top tier Marvel.

And, of course, this movie has all of the staples of the Marvel Cinematic Universe you’ve come to know and love. There are huge set pieces (though obviously don’t expect anything like 30 main characters fighting over a gauntlet). The action is fantastically choreographed. It didn’t feel like they were just going to the legs wrapped around the head thing that Black Widow seems to do in every movie. More screen time gave her more of a chance to change it up. Likewise, Taskmaster’s ability to mimic any fighting style was cool to see represented on screen. I very much enjoyed noticing all of the little details that they’ve stolen from our previously established heroes. In fact, I’d say these are some of the best fight scenes in Marvel. It definitely felt more brutal. There are some bodily injuries here that definitely push the boundaries of that PG-13. It’s also incredibly funny. I laughed just as much at this movie as I did something like Ant-Man, which is surprising. And, of course, it wouldn’t be the MCU without winks and nods to other projects both already past and upcoming, which I obviously won’t give away here. Let’s just say that the end credit scene has me PUMPED.

Overall, I was really surprised by Black Widow. As I said, I wasn’t expecting much and I walked away with it being one of my favorite entries. I can’t wait to experience it over and over again in the coming years. Because these characters are worth spending time with and this is the perfect swan song for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. She’ll for sure be missed, but I hope we see a lot more of these new characters in the future. But, yeah, go see Black Widow. It’s a lot of fun. It’s funny. And, perhaps most surprisingly, it’s very, very touching.

TL;DR: Black Widow is one of Marvel’s best with a perfect combination of action, comedy and heart.

Score: 10/10 (Masterpiece)

Review: F9: The Fast Saga

F9: The Fast Saga (2021)

Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Daniel Casey, Justin Lin, and Afredo Botello

Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron

Plot: Dominic and Letty Toretto are pulled out of retirement when his little brother kidnaps Mr. Nobody.

Review: Listen. I’m not a person who can’t appreciate fine dining. I love a good lobster tail or a nice juicy steak. But, I also really like McDonald’s. Are they tricking me in any way? No. I know that’s not what real food tastes like. I’ve had a real burger. That ain’t it. But, there’s something so enjoyable about biting into a Quarter Pounder’s greasy, borderline edible, processed meat patty. That’s how I feel about the Fast & Furious franchise, up to and including F9. Is it fine art? No. Is it even good? I honestly don’t know if I could tell you. Did I thoroughly enjoy it? Absolutely.

Honestly, I feel like you already know what you’re getting into with these movies. If you’ve seen the last handful, you’ve probably made up you’re mind about this one. These movies are ridiculous. They’re filled with goofy car stunts, impossible stunts, bad jokes, possibly worse acting, family, girls, Corona™, a huge way over the top sequence at the end that makes the rest of the movie look tame by comparison, and more melodrama than your average Grey’s Anatomy episode. You can nitpick them to death (and trust me there are things to nitpick) or you can just roll with it. Laugh off the dumb things that are happening on screen because you’re just there to have a good time. Plus, it’s not like these movies don’t also know that they’re dumb. Tyrese spends half of this movie calling out that fact. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to accept that fact as well. Me personally, I like to live my life a quarter mile at a time.

That having been said, let’s compare it to the rest of the franchise. Because I do have to admit that F9 doesn’t quite reach the same highs as some of the other movies for a couple different reasons. First of all, it’s very heavily weighed down by the whole brother subplot. They don’t show it in the trailer, but about 25% of this movie is flashbacks to Dom and his brother’s younger days. And while the modern stuff feels light and fun, this feels over dramatic and a tad too dark. Other than one sequence that was a nice throw back to the series roots, I was never really entertained by these sections. Plus, it felt a bit overlong. They could’ve cut half of these flackbacks and still told the same basic story, especially with some of the details being stuff we Fast Fans already know. Second, without getting into spoiler territory, this movie goes some places with it’s climax that even for them is a little silly. As I’ve said, I’m one that’s inclined to just go with the flow in these movies but this stretched that willingness a bit. Not to the point where I was walking out or anything. More of a “Really? That’s where this is going? Ok then…” sort of feeling. And lastly, honestly, I missed The Rock and Jason Statham. Hobbs and Shaw was pretty good, but it wasn’t worth losing them for. I hope by the finale in Fast 11 Johnson and Diesel can work out their beef. Because the franchise just doesn’t feel right without two more big, muscley, bald men. Though I will say that John Cena was a very welcome addition and I was happy to have Han back. Even if Tokyo Drift feels a tad lessened for it. Lucas Black and Bow Wow could’ve stayed away though. Nah. I’m kidding. It was nice to have them back too. Kinda. Sorta.

So, overall, can I recommend F9: The Fast Saga? I honestly don’t know. It’s definitely on a person by person basis. I can say that I enjoyed it. It’s far from a perfect movie, but I had a good time. If you’re looking for high art and/or are not willing to accept this movie’s goofier elements, you’re not going to enjoy it. I would definitely use the last couple as barameters. If you loved them, you’ll at least like this one. But if you were even slightly mixed on them, I could see you not buying into this one. Because it does get even goofier than some of the previous entries. So, you know what you like. You do you. I’m gonna keep on loving this crazy franchise and eating at McDonald’s.

Oh, and F9: The Fast Saga may be the worst official title in the history of cinema.

TL;DR: In a series of crazy movies, F9: The Fast Saga, might just be the most insane for better and for worse.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Tom O’Connor, Brandon Murphy, and Phillip Murphy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Salma Hayek, Frank Grillo, Richard E. Grant, Antonio Banderas, and Morgan Freeman

Plot: Bryce is pulled back into the world of body guarding after Darius is kidnapped by the mob.

Review: I gotta be honest. I’m not a fan of this franchise. After the trailers for the first one failed to gain my interest, I put off watching it for the next four years. Honestly, I probably would’ve never seen it if it weren’t for my “obligation” to eventually see this one and write up this review. Even all of this week, knowing I had to see it before the weekend, I kept finding excuses to postpone it. Then, it was honestly worse than I anticipated. I had to take a break, even if it meant canceling my already reserved showtime for the sequel. But, I made it through. And, now I’ve seen Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard and it’s… honestly a lot of the same.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t like any of these characters. I find them all to be over the top, annoying caricatures. I feel like I’m supposed to be slightly annoyed with them, but I just straight up hate spending time in this universe. That can’t be the intended result. And I don’t know what it is either. I usually enjoy all of these actors. But, there’s something about the way these characters are written that rubs me the wrong way. Reynolds’ character comes across as a whiny douchebag to me, while Jackson and Hayek are just homicidal psychopaths. The movies obviously want me to root for these guys, but I just can’t find it in me to do so. That’s a major problem.

I love a good action movie and I love a good comedy. Unfortunately though, I feel like this franchise isn’t particularly great at either. The action feels generic and boring. Instead of showing us something new, they’re just shaking the camera around and giving us CGI blood and explosions. Meanwhile, it feels like instead of writing a handful of really funny, solid jokes, they just wrote a million half-assed ones and decided all of them would make the cut. I feel like they fire off four or five jokes a minute, but only one or two hits for the entire runtime. There’s just no art or style to this at all. It’s like they got some of the biggest names and then called it a wrap. Guaranteed success right? Well, apparently it worked because now there’s a sequel.

I’m really disappointed in this franchise honestly. It shouldn’t be this bad. There are a lot of really funny, talented people signed on. At the very least, I should be having dumb fun that feels like it flies by. But, instead, I’m constantly bored and feel like these movies drag on forever. I was shocked to see that the first movie got mixed reviews. The 24% that this one has on Rotten Tomatoes seems more appropriate. And, while a lot of critics seem to think this one’s a lot worse, I’d honestly put it on par with it’s predecessor. So, I guess if you liked the first one, I think you’ll like this one too. They’re not for me though.

TL;DR: Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is an action comedy that fails to bring the action or the comedy.

Score: 4/10 (Bad)

Review: 12 Mighty Orphans

12 Mighty Orphans (2021)

Director: Ty Roberts

Writers: Ty Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer

Starring: Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Jacob Lofland, Levi Dylan, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen

Plot: A new coach turns a team of orphans who’ve never played football before into one of the most innovative teams in history.

Review: Whoever was in charge of choosing the release date for 12 Mighty Orphans deserves a raise. Because, holy shit, this is a Father’s Day movie if I’ve ever seen one. It’s the sort of flick that your dad would rent from Redbox and then rave about to you. Then, you’d go out of your way to watch it and it’s… fine. I guess. Of course, he’d ask you about it the next time you saw each other and what are you going to do? Insult your dad’s taste? No! You’re going to over exaggerate how much you liked it to make him happy. And for years, you’re dad will think you’ve bonded over 12 Mighty Orphans, when in reality you’ve forgotten all about it. Yeah. Someone at Sony knows their market.

I didn’t dislike 12 Mighty Orphans. In fact, I don’t really have anything bad to say about it. The problem lies in that I don’t have much good to say about it either. Everything about it is fine. The plot is very predictable, but fine. The acting is alright, aside from a fun, over the top, scene-chewing, villainous performance from Wayne Knight. The directing is decent enough. It’s an interesting enough diversion for an afternoon, but doesn’t have anything that’ll make it stand out. It’s just one of a million other underdog sports movies.

So, would I recommend 12 Mighty Orphans? Sure. There’s worse ways to waste two hours. But it’s not an especially strong recommendation either. It’s in one ear out the other. A forgettable, perfectly adequate, fine sports movie… that your dad will love.

Side note: Every time I go to type 12 Mighty Orphans, there’s a moment where I start to type 12 Angry Orphans and then completely blank at what the actual title is. So, there’s that…

TL;DR: While there’s nothing wrong with 12 Mighty Orphans, there’s nothing that makes it stand out either.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

Review: Luca

Luca (2021)

Director: Enrico Casarosa

Writers: Jesse Andrews, Mike Jones, Enrico Casarosa, and Simon Stephenson

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Marco Barricelli, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, and Jim Gaffigan

Plot: Two friends explore a human town, where they have to hide the fact that they’re sea creatures.

Review: You know what’s gotta be tough? Being a just very good Pixar movie? It’s just not fair. The studio has been cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece for the last 26 years. So much so that they’re “just” very good movies end up getting swept under the rug. When a movie like Luca gets released, the headlines say it’s “Lacking the Pixar Charm” or “One of the Studio’s Weaker Efforts” and people toss it aside, even though it’s still better than like 75% of animated movies. And I really, really don’t think that’s fair. Luca deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, because it’s still a super solid movie.

But, I’m also not going to pretend it’s a masterpiece. The reviews aren’t over exaggerating when they say that this is a weaker entry. It’s probably their least creative endeavor since The Good Dinosaur in 2015. While the story is great, it just doesn’t feel exciting and new like many of Pixar’s best. I’d say that it’s closer to Brave, which told a very good version of a familiar tale. There’s no breaking ground here. It’s a story you’ve heard variations of before. Essentially, teenage kid lusts for a life outside of his normal space, meets someone who can give it to him, and then has to hide who he truly is while working towards that goal. Without going into spoilers, I’m sure you can more or less figure out where it goes from there. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with it. People recycle stories over and over. It just feels different because this is Pixar. We hold them to a higher standard, whether fair or not.

Unfortunately, that was my thought process through the first half. I kept comparing Luca to other Pixar movies and, while I was enjoying myself, the movie was suffering for it. Then, I made a conscious decision to put that aside. Not that it was hard to do, because these characters are super engaging. Luca and Alberto are the perfect representation of friendship at that age. They bond instantly, hang out constantly, do dangerous stuff, share the same ambitions in life, and have each other’s back 100%. But, they also represent the hard times that come with a relationship that strong, like the awkwardness of someone bringing in a third member or how it feels when those life goals start to differ. You know? Stuff every middle schooler goes through at some point. It’s really one of the most realistic portrayals of friendship I’ve seen in a kids’ movie. I’m glad that it exists to show them they’re not alone. By the end, I was so attached to these characters that the movie actually made me cry. (For those keeping score at home, I think this is like the 20th Pixar movie that’s achieved that goal.)

Also, to call this movie bad or even average in any sort of way would be an insult. While most everything has been done before, it’s rarely done this well. Even when Pixar “phones it in” they’re better storytellers than most. The characters are more likeable. The animation is gorgeous. The gags are all hilarious. And, scenes you’ve watched a million times before are just executed better here. For example, there’s a scene where Luca learns about the human world through reading. He discovers the work of Da Vinci, Pinocchio, and what’s beyond our planet. Every fish out of water (pun kinda intended) story has a montage like this, but this one is a beautifully put together dream-like sequence that put the biggest smile on my face. That’s the Pixar difference. That’s what makes A Bug’s Life better than Antz. What makes The Good Dinosaur better than Dinosaur. And what makes Luca better than the dozens of other movies you can compare it to. There’s just too much charm to write off.

Overall, I really liked Luca. I think it’s a really good version of a story we’ve heard before. The characters are what really brings it home though. I loved the lead characters so much. Plus, there’s a ton of Pixar charm here, even if it’s not quite as much as we’re used to getting.

TL;DR: Even though it’s definitely one of Pixar’s weaker movies, it’s not fair to write off the touching and entertaining charm Luca brings to the table.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (2021)

Director: Will Gluck

Writers: Will Gluck and Patrick Burleigh

Starring: James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki, and Margot Robbie

Plot: As Bea’s book gains more popularity, Peter Rabbit struggles with his reputation as a bad boy.

Review: As a pretty lenient movie fan, it’s rare that I find myself in the minority when I dislike a movie. But, man, I do not get the Peter Rabbit movies. Why do these get a pass while so many other slapsticky kid stuff gets thrown to the side? Especially when it’s so far removed from the source material? Both of these movies have fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes! I just don’t get it.

To be completely honest, I didn’t hate the first movie. I probably would just barely give it a passing grade. It is what it is. It’s a dumb, slapsticky movie for kids. I didn’t laugh at all of the physical humor, but there was the occasional throw away line that made me laugh. And, that’s mostly true for this one as well. I’ll admit that I laughed out loud a couple of times, but I was mostly just having a pretty miserable time.

Here’s the thing though. Peter Rabbit is not meant to be like this. They’re Winnie the Pooh. The adventure comes from the fact that nothing really happens. It’s old fashioned. It’s serene. And, honestly, it’s very calming. This franchise is just a kick to the balls and then whatever pop culture joke James Corden thinks is funny. That almost worked for the first one. Because, like I said, it is what it is. However, this movie points it out. When Bea’s book becomes popular, there’s a corporation that wants to turn it into this “radical” franchise. They joke about sending the characters on spy missions, fighting crime, and adapting to the modern pop culture. Meanwhile, they do just that. Half of the first movie is Home Alone level hijinks and this one has an actual boat chase scene! It’s directly what you’re saying is wrong about modern pop culture. Sure. There’s a wink and a nod, so they aren’t completely oblivious. But, it’s hardly 21 Jump Street. This just felt like the writers having a moment of self realization and then continuing to do what they were already doing. Either that or they’re begging for their artistic integrity back as the studio mandates overwhelm them. Honestly, it’s probably the second one. And, if that’s true, I feel bad, but it still doesn’t make up for the crap you’re putting on screen. I just feels cynical.

But, honestly, I think this will hit with its target audience. The kids behind me at the theater loved it. It’s just silly for silly’s sake. There’s no rhyme or reason behind any of the gags. And the story seems to exist merely to get to the next one. It’s all over the place. But, kids don’t care. Pixar and Disney write fantastic kids’ movies, but they’re not doing it for the kids. They’re doing it for us. Because kids will eat all of this up regardless. They’re frankly kind of dumb. (Sorry if I insulted you or your children. It’s not fair to insinuate that you’re dumb for liking Peter Rabbit 2. I just don’t get it personally.) Honestly, maybe the villain of this movie and the studio at large is correct. Maybe kids wouldn’t have bought into old fashioned Peter Rabbit. But they could’ve at least tried.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t dig Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. I didn’t hate it either though. It did make me laugh occasionally. The whole thing felt just a tad cynical and reeking of irony to me. But, also, this movie is currently sitting at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, so what do I know? Right?

TL;DR: Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway tries to hide it’s cynicism with a wink and a nod, but it just did not work for me. \

Score: 4/10 (Bad)

Review: In the Heights

In the Heights (2021)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Quiara Legria Hudes

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, and Jimmy Smits

Plot: In the summer before he’s finally leaving, a 20-something immigrant realizes how important his New York community is to him.

Review: I think it’s official. I love Lin-Manuel Miranda. Because I love a good musical and, if the dude knows one thing, it’s how to write a good musical. Last year, I spent my Independence Day watching Hamilton for the first time on Disney+ and it blew me away. As dedicated readers will know, I ended up ranking it as my number one favorite movie of last year… even though I’d barely count it as a movie. And, honestly, I enjoyed In the Heights just as much. I had a whole showing to myself and it was an EXPERIENCE. I laughed. I cried. I almost got up to dance a couple of times. Seriously, I enjoyed this movie so freaking much. It was a delight.

Having no access to Broadway and having a rule against listening to soundtracks before seeing a version of the musical first, this was my first experience with In the Heights. Literally everything was new to me. So, a lot of my thoughts on it are super fresh. Basically, what I’m saying is don’t judge for me mixing the play and the movie together, because, to me in this particular moment, they’re one entity.

First of all, this is exactly the musical we needed right now. While there’s a border crisis going on and immigration is a hot button issue debated on every news network for hours on end, it’s nice to remember that these are human lives we are talking about. They come over here to make better lives for themselves and their families and it’s not fair that our society throws them to the side. This gives you example after example of the shit this population has to deal with as we make our way around Washington Heights getting to know each of its residents. It’s the shit that the more privileged of us don’t ever have to worry about. We get minimum wage jobs to start off. For many like this, that’s their life’s work. It’s truly heartbreaking, especially as we see them lusting over money that many would consider chump change. And don’t even get me started on when this movie covers the process of having an undocumented immigrant become a legal one. It’s a struggle we barely ever see on the big screen and I’m glad we finally got to shine a big budget light on it.

But, of course, it’s not all gloom and doom. It’s a musical. And, for the most part, musicals are fun. Miranda, especially, seems to have a way with turning serious issues into fun, upbeat productions. In Hamilton, it was a rallying cry to the country to remember the ideals we were founded on. For In the Heights, it’s spotlighting the working class that’s very often shunned. In a way, it feels you with the same pride and optimism. Not to mention, the music is has a very similar vibe to it. If you’re one of those people that have been vibing to the Hamilton soundtrack for months, it may be time to transition. Because these songs are amazing. The way he balances storytelling and heart and hummable lyrics is amazing. Like I said, I think I love Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s gotta be one of the most talented people on this planet. Count me as a super fan, because I’m in on whatever he does from this point on.

But it’s not I’m just praising the musical itself here. The movie making on display is top notch. They use the medium for things that you couldn’t do on a stage version. There’s so many examples of unique visual storytelling hacks here. Whether it’s effects added to give the lyrics a visual aids, a beautiful camera shot where the dancing crowd is shown through reflection instead of directly on camera, or a couple dancing on the side of a building to show how the real world fades away when they’re together, I loved each and every decision John M. Chu made here. Plus, the musical numbers were big, bold and beautifully choreographed. I hope he’s not forgotten when award season rolls around.

It can’t be understated how perfectly cast this movie was either. I definitely applaud Warner Bros for casting people who can both sing and act. I know it can be hard for movie musicals with massive budgets to do that. They just wanna cast big names to get butts in the seats. That’s how we end up with someone like Russell Crowe in Les Miserables. *Shutter* But, In the Heights is definitely a different story. Through the nature of the show, each cast member is given a chance to shine and they all absolutely nail it. These people may not have been stars going in, but I can definitely see them becoming stars after. This is especially true with Anthony Ramos. He was great in Hamilton, but this is next level. The charm and heart he brought to Usnavi is perfect. Don’t be surprised if you see him in several huge blockbusters in the next couple years. Likewise, the two lead actresses, Leslie Grace and Melissa Barrera, who were unknown to me going in completely blew me away. They both have beautiful voices, top notch acting skills, and that “it factor” that makes them shine on the big screen. They were terrific. But, honestly, I could go on and on about this cast. They were all so good in their roles. I can’t wait to rewatch this just to spend more time with these characters.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed In the Heights. It feels like the perfect summer movie. It’s big. It’s bold. The cast is perfect. The soundtrack is amazing. The directing is beautifully done. This is my favorite live action musical since La La Land. If you haven’t made your way back to a theater yet, this would be a great one to welcome you back. Like I said, I very much had an experience during my showing.

TL;DR: In the Heights has an important message for the times, while also being a really fun, really well done live action musical.

Score: 9/10 (Amazing)

Review: The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Director: Michael Chaves

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, and Julian Hilliard

Plot: After a possessed man kills his landlord, the Warrens are brought in to prove that he wasn’t in control of his actions.

Review: I’m not gonna lie. I had my reservations about The Conjuring 3. Why? Just look at who directed this one. Not James Wan. The Conjuring has always meant quality. Sure, the spinoffs have largely not been great. But, under Wan’s leadership, The Conjuring 1 and 2 are some of the highest quality horror films to come out over the past decade. I am legitimately freaked out by those movies. With him departing though, I was worried that the central series might take a hit. And I was kinda right. It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but there’s definitely a dip in quality.

On paper, there’s nothing super special about those first two Conjuring movies. They’re kind of your typical, run of the mill haunted house flicks. In fact, some of the most iconic horror films of all-time are spun out of the same fabric these movies are, the Warrens and their “real life” adventures. But, to me, they always had that special edge because of how well constructed they were. Sure. It’s a bunch of jump scares. However, the buildup always had me at the edge of my seat. The payoff always landed exactly where it should. And, perhaps most importantly, it felt like a legit payoff. I never got mad at them for making me jump over stupid shit, because the things I jumped at were actually scary. Making me jump isn’t hard to do. Actually leaving me with an image that’ll haunt me even after my heart rate goes down is impressive. Wan always excelled at that. There are several moments in those first two movies that’ll stick with me forever. This one… not so much. The tension is still there. I was curled up in my seat several times. However, when the “scares” came, I was more often than not rolling my eyes. The timing felt off. The images themselves weren’t super scary. I will have no trouble going to sleep here in a little bit. And, after seeing a Conjuring movie, that’s pretty sad. It’s the difference between the director of The Conjuring and the director of The Curse of La Llorona. They might look like they’re doing the same thing. But one’s a master and the other’s just copying him.

I would definitely still put The Devil Made Me Do It above all of the spinoffs and, honestly, most other big budget horror though, because everything else was solid. Even though it wasn’t as scary, it still felt like a Conjuring movie. It’s still fun to explore creepy new scenarios with the Warrens. They’re an interesting set of characters, who actually bring a lot of heart into this franchise. I think James Wan had a lot of respect for Lorain Warren and that shines throughout the whole franchise. It’s rare to see this well developed of characters in horror. Likewise, Farmiga and Wilson have a lot of chemistry. They feel like the sort of loving couple who’d get into this sort of thing. If I wasn’t completely convinced they were con artists, it’d make me interested in deep diving into the real people. Something tells me they work better as fictional characters though.

I was definitely invested in this storyline too. The idea of someone being possessed by a demon, murdering someone and having to prove their innocence is very cool. I wish they had gone a little deeper into the court battle, because I think that’s a fascinating concept. But, I understand that’s not what type of movie they’re making. It’s a horror flick. They’re going to concentrate on that angle. And, while I usually get bored of possessions in movies, I thought they did a lot of fun, creative things with it here. It was like they were working with voodoo dolls. Without going into spoilers, I also dug that this wasn’t just another case where the Warrens stumbled upon a haunted house. There was an actual villain, which was refreshing. And, like I said before, all of the scenarios feel the same. The setups are spot on. I was on the edge of my seat a lot. You can tell it was the same creative team behind the script. It’s just that the payoff wasn’t there. I put that 100% on the directing, because it’s his job to make those scenarios work. Wan threw the perfect pass and Chaves still dropped the ball.

Overall, I still enjoyed The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. It’s not my favorite in the series. It’s definitely not the scariest. However, I still had a good time. The base of this franchise is still pretty strong. I’d be down for another adventure with the Warrens in a couple of years. Just, maybe with someone with a better eye for horror behind the camera next time.

TL;DR: While definitely not as scary as previous entries, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is still the fun, spooky adventure horror fans look to this franchise for.

Score: 7/10 (Good)