Review: Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile (2022)

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: Michael Green

Starring: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright

Review: Who doesn’t like a good murder mystery? And, for over a hundred years now, it’s impossible to speak of good mysteries without mentioning Agatha Christie and, more specifically, her Hercule Poirot novels. As with most popular classics, they have been adapted time and time again. Most recently, Kenneth Branagh has taken up the role of directing the adaptations, while also playing the role himself. Death on the Nile is his second film in this franchise after 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, which I found quite enjoyable. Like that previous movie, this one is full of big-time actors chewing the scenery, trying to prove their innocence, until Poirot finally figures it out in the end. It’s a formula that’s been used time and time again, but, again, works pretty well here.

First things first, I really enjoy the overall feel of Death on the Nile. It’s just the right level of cheese. It feels like a classic B-movie that you’d accidentally stumble upon at three o’clock in the morning on TMC. But, not one that you’d change because you’d just be drawn in. A lot of that has to do with Branagh’s performance as Poirot. With his gigantic mustache and sometimes barely understandable French accent, he’s almost a cartoon character. But, Branagh makes it work. You believe that this is a real, albeit eccentric, person. And, in this one, you get to know the character on a deeper level, which only makes him work more. It’s not just Poirot that feels over the top and campy in all the right ways though. I love the absolute stretch Christie must’ve had to go through to even make these plots work. Like, how many different scenarios can you possibly think of where not only does someone get away with murder at first, but there are a dozen people (most played by big-name actors) with motives locked into the same locale? It’s ridiculous in all the right ways. Plus, the visual of a bunch of 1930s rich assholes cruising down the Nile River completely at each other’s throats, while stopping occasionally to attempt murder at the pyramids. There’s also no denying that this movie is incredibly sexy. The way Armie Hammer was dancing with his love interests? God damn! I haven’t seen dancing so dirty since Baby got put in the corner. Throw in an overcomplicated twist at the end. And *chef’s kiss* you’ve got yourself a perfectly cornball murder mystery premise.

I do have to admit though. I did not care for this one as much as I did the 2017 original. Why? I haven’t quite nailed that down, but I’ve got a few working theories. First of all, this one felt like it really dragged in the middle, which is something I don’t remember from the previous movie. While he was interviewing the suspects, I just felt bored by the fourth or fifth one. Especially when I feel like they didn’t really have much of a motive. Like, I understand why a detective would still interview them, but did we, the audience, have to see it? There’s one in particular that comes to mind with a revelation that mostly just had me shrugging. But, honestly, at least a handful could’ve easily been cut without us losing much. Second, and kind of related, this cast isn’t nearly as stacked as Orient Express’s was. You go down that cast list and it’s just heavy hitter after heavy hitter. On this one, there are more than a couple of people that I had to look up. One of which was a very pleasant surprise. I’ve never heard of Emma Mackey before, but I thought she was such a threatening presence as the scorned lover, set on torturing the newlyweds. And, I was very impressed with Letitia Wright, who proved that her charisma as Shuri in the MCU isn’t a one-off. But, as for almost everyone else… let’s just say this could’ve benefitted from a few more heavy hitters. Then, lastly, the reason that Death on the Nile 1000% couldn’t help. In 2017, Murder on the Orient Express seemed like a pleasant throwback to movies that we don’t really get anymore. Well, in 2019, we not only got another movie almost exactly like that but one that felt innovative, fresh, and very 21st century. That movie, of course, is Knives Out. Rainn Johnson’s absolute masterclass in murder mysteries made Branagh’s first movie look quaint, which means that the already inferior sequel is going to look even worse upon comparison. That’s the problem with making something that feels old-fashioned on purpose. When something fresh comes along, your product feels dated. It may not seem fair, but it is what it is.

All of that being said, I did still enjoy most of Death on the Nile. It was a fun, cheesy romp that had me entertained through most of the runtime. Plus, I’m always going to be down for a movie with this much style. I hope Branagh keeps making these movies because I’ll keep watching them. Even if they’re middle of the road like this one. Because, like I said at the start, who doesn’t like a good murder mystery?

TL;DR: While still entertaining, Death on the Nile feels like it’s missing a few ingredients that made its predecessor work so well.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)

Review: Moonfall

Moonfall (2022)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen

Starring: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, and Donald Sutherland

Review: Roland Emmerich made headlines earlier this week when he said that he believes Marvel and Star Wars movies are ruining cinema. Well, in my opinion, that’s pretty big talk for the man responsible for inflicting Moonfall onto the world, a movie about the moon being a spaceship. Because even the worst of those movies is at least twice as smart and entertaining as this piece of garbage.

Let’s start off by taking a look at the plot. And, unlike most of my reviews, this is going to go heavy into spoiler territory. I don’t even care to be honest. No one should have to sit through this shit. But, if you do not want spoilers, skip to the next paragraph. I’ll keep it spoiler-free from there. Anywho, Moonfall starts with a fairly simple, yet already absurd premise. The moon has changed orbits and is going to crash into Earth. Already pretty dumb, right? Don’t worry it gets worse, because we then learn that the moon is fake. Not the moon landing. The whole damn moon. Apparently, NASA has known about it since the 1960s and everyone from Neil Armstrong on has just kept it secret. How? Why? No clue. Oh, and there’s this nanobots-looking robot that has been killing astronauts who try to explore the moon’s surface to try to figure out what’s going on. What is that robot doing there? Now here’s where we get really bonkers and really, really spoiler-heavy. Apparently, billions of years ago, there were humans in a far-off galaxy. They were a super-advanced, peaceful society that left all of the decision-making to a benevolent artificial intelligence. Of course, this being science fiction, the artificial intelligence turned evil and started destroying humanity. The remaining humans fled in space stations, looking to create a suitable planet to live on. So, they CREATED OUR GALAXY, started life on Earth, and then had, I guess, another, nicer artificial intelligence (whose design totally rips off Contact btw) watch over the humans from the station, disguised as a moon. The nanobots were the evil robots who have since found the base and are trying to destroy it, with the final act being our heroes getting involved in this billions of years-long war. Yes, that’s literally the plot of a big studio movie showing in theaters. Not on Syfy. In theaters. From Paramount Studios. Are you kidding me? Roland Emmerich must’ve literally heard Obi-Wan’s line of “That’s no moon. That’s a space station.” and was like, “Huh, what if our moon was a space station?” Then, made up all of this bullshit to fill in the gaps. Seriously, this has to be one of THE dumbest movies I’ve ever seen.

But, here’s the worst part: it’s not even fun. If you’re going to be a big dumb, end-of-the-world, science fiction movie, you should at least be fun. Moonfall is boring as hell. There’s no tongue-in-cheek nature to it. No one is winking at the camera. It’s totally serious. This is really disappointing, because Emmerich’s best work, Independence Day, totally knew what kind of movie it was. And that premise is waaaaaaay more believable. But, I get it. Not every movie is supposed to be funny (although most dumb ones are). So, is it compelling in any way? Nope. None of these characters are worth becoming attached to. They have a very tell, don’t show approach to their backstories, often throwing in exposition to try to get us to feel something, anything. However, it doesn’t really work. By the time the final act rolled around, I barely cared who lived and who died. And these are likable, good, charismatic actors, who have stolen hearts with much smaller screentime so it’s gotta be on the writing.

Then, finally, there are the special effects. If you can usually count on one thing from an Emmerich film, it’s good special effects. Well… except for Moonfall apparently. Because these look horrendous. First of all, everything looks cheap. Like, again, Syfy movie or The Asylum cheap. But, perhaps most damningly, I never once believed even for a second that the actors were in the same space as the shit going on around them. We follow characters making their way through the country as the Earth is being destroyed. However, not only does it look like they’re in front of a green screen the entire time, but they also are barely reacting to what’s happening on that green screen. They often will be having a super chill, mostly peaceful conversation while meteors destroy everything around them. Or, they will just start unloading an old folks’ home with minimum urgency as if the problem is days away, while, just outside their window, a tidal wave is knocking over every other building in the city. Was the damage not supposed to be that bad originally? Was it supposed to be a slow buildup when they shot the actors’ scenes? Then, when it came to special effects time, they ramped everything up to eleven even when it made no sense in the context of the scenes? Because that’s exactly how it felt. I’ve never witnessed an apocalyptic movie with stakes that felt so small. Why was nobody panicking?

Honestly, I could go on and on about the stuff I found infuriating about Moonfall. But, the movie doesn’t deserve any more of my time… or yours, to be frank. The danger about me going on and on like this is that someone out there will think this is a “so bad, its good” kind of movie and seek it out. Or that they’ll want to see if I’m over exaggerating. Please don’t. For your own good. I checked it out for very similar reasons and regret it immensely. Like I said before, this isn’t a fun watch. There’s almost nothing redeeming about it, other than maybe the fact that they definitely shot for the moon. Unfortunately, they didn’t land among the stars in this case either.

TL;DR: Moonfall doesn’t even have enough decency to be entertaining while being one of the absolute dumbest movies I’ve ever seen.

Score: 2/10 (Painful)

Review: The Fallout

The Fallout (2022)

Director: Megan Park

Writer: Megan Park

Starring: Jenna Ortega, Maddie Ziegler, Julie Bowen, John Ortiz, Niles Finch, Will Ropp, and Shailene Woodley

Review: The Fallout is a very difficult movie to watch. From one of its first terrifying image of three teenagers hiding in a single bathroom stall from a school shooter to its last heartbreaking moments of human emotion, you spend the whole movie either crying or desperately holding back tears. It’s not a fun viewing experience. You’re not gonna find this on any “most rewatchable” list. But, movies like this are important. Looking into the mirror and seeing what our society is putting children through is vital. And Megan Park does a fantastic job presenting this tragic story to her audience.

The main thing that makes The Fallout work is how honest it feels. Every action that takes place over its runtime feels real and justified. I’ve thankfully never been through an event like this, but I can see how each of these reactions would happen in reality. Of course, there are the kids who take this as a rallying cry to fight for gun control. They’re the brave ones you see on the news, really fighting to make a difference. But, then, not every person is instantly going to be right there beside them. Everyone reacts in different ways. There are going to be the ones who lock themselves away from the world. The ones who spend hours and hours just crying in their room. There will be drug and alcohol abuse, as people try anything to block the pain. And, of course, there will be some who just try to ignore the situation completely. One of my favorite things about The Fallout is that it doesn’t cast judgment on any of their characters. They understand that everyone deals with trauma in their own unique way. And that’s not a bad thing. Though it is deeply unsettling to watch kids so young make questionable decisions, you understand and empathize with them for being put in that situation in the first place. It’s truly a talent.

I will say too, on a semi-unrelated note, that it helps that Megan Park seems to understand teenagers better than most of Hollywood. While their reactions to horrible events seem authentic, so do the little everyday moments we witness here. From the way they talk and text to one of them doing a TikTok dance in the background without anyone even thinking it’s slightly strange, everything feels authentic to what I’ve seen from Gen Z. Now, to be fair, I’m almost thirty, so I may be wrong. However, I have cousins that I talk to pretty regularly and this all seems true to their day-to-day lives. While not nearly as important as the big emotional stuff, little stuff like that helps to sell the overall narrative.

But, as much as I respect the hell out of her writing and directing, I can’t give all the credit of The Fallout’s success to Megan Park, because this cast is fantastic. Every single one of them gets a moment in the spotlight and they all completely crush it. First of all, Jenna Ortega has had quite a month. If you’d shown me her picture on New Years Day, I’d have told you I had no idea who she was. Now, she’s one of my favorite up-and-coming actors. She absolutely was pitch-perfect as our first victim and, then, minor heroine in Scream a few weeks ago, but completely blows that out of the water here. The sincere heartbreak and depression she brings to this role is unreal. I desperately wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything was going to be alright. And, obviously without spoilers, her final moments of this movie include some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with Timothee Chalamet at the end of Call Me By Your Name. It’s a shame this won’t garner her the same kind of attention, because she deserves it. Either way, Ortega is definitely on my radar. I hope she’s a big star someday because she easily has the talent. But, like I said, the entire cast deserves all the recognition they can get here. Even the tiniest roles that really only get a scene or two to truly shine are turned into characters that’ll forever stick with me thanks to their performers. They all broke my heart in just the right ways. I cried a ton. It was a fantastic group effort. And, from now on, whenever I see any of these cast members, I’ll think “oh that’s ___! They were fantastic in The Fallout!”

I don’t really have any major complaints about The Fallout, but, of course, it’s not a review without bringing up at least one thing negative. Here, it’s one arc in particular that I feel doesn’t really have any resolution. She has a bit of a falling out with a character and despite it not feeling conclusive, we never see them again. They’re still talked about fondly, but there’s rekindling of that friendship. I feel like it’s a missed opportunity and feels jarring in the context of the rest of the movie. The runtime isn’t even that long, so a quick five minutes to put some closure there would’ve been very welcome. As it stands, it doesn’t ruin the movie for me, obviously. But, it does feel… I don’t know… off. I’d love to know what other people thought because it’s bugging me. So, reach out if you’ve seen The Fallout I guess!

Overall, I really, really enjoyed The Fallout. I thought it was the most important, jarring movie I’ve seen since Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Like that one, it’s incredibly hard to watch, but super important too. It puts a realistic, human perspective on tragedies we see all too often in this country. Not to put too much of my personal politics into this review, but, if you watch this movie and don’t feel like at least a little bit of change needs to be made, you’re a monster. Like, I don’t know that I can associate with you anymore. Because this is heartbreaking. Something has to be done to prevent stories like this from happening on a seemingly monthly basis. I’m glad people like Megan Park and Jenna Ortega are out here making sure we see the harsh realities of the world we live in.

TL;DR: The Fallout can be incredibly hard to watch, but vital in the way it humanizes all too common tragedies and is filled with fantastic performances by the entire cast.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: The King’s Daughter

The King’s Daughter (2022)

Director: Sean McNamara

Writers: Barry Berman and James Schamus

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, William Hurt, Rachel Griffiths, and Fan Bingbing

Review: Honestly, did this movie ever even have a shot? First of all, in an age of delayed movies, this one takes the cake. Shooting on this ended all the way back in 2014! Do you know how different the world was back in 2014? There were only seven Star Wars movies back then? There have been five since this movie has been finished! So, what was the holdup? Essentially, studios played hot potato with it, passing it back and forth until one of them would eventually have to plop it into theaters and take the loss. But, that’s not the only thing this movie has going against it. You see, the director of this movie has almost forty years of experience in the field. The problem? None of that experience is very noteworthy with most of it being MTV, Nickelodeon, or Disney Channel shows. No shade to any of those, but they don’t really help the resume scream “big blockbuster director.” Then, finally, there’s a personal bias. See? I’m not that big of a fan of Pierce Brosnan. He’s by far my least favorite Bond and I haven’t really forgiven him for what I think is three of the franchise’s shittiest movies. Plus, this is a non-Disney fairy tale movie, which, again, don’t really have the best track record in the last 20 or so years. So, is the movie better than the sum of its parts? Did I enjoy it despite everything it had going against it? No. This movie is bad. And the people who made it should feel bad.

My main complaint with this movie is how incredibly boring it is. Nothing about it is special in the least. First of all, the plot is insanely predictable. Basically, an estranged daughter of King Louis XIV, who has a deep personal connection with the water, is brought into Versailles, where she bonds with her father. Meanwhile, she befriends a mermaid that the king has captured and intends to slay for a chance at immortality. What do you think is going to happen from here? Take a guess. If you’ve ever heard a story before, there’s a 98% chance you nailed the rest of the plot. With very few twists and turns, it plays out exactly as you think it would. Now, that’s not always a problem. Many of the classic Disney movies follow extremely simple plots. But, they also add a ton of charm that makes the characters and world stick with you for decades after your first viewing. Not The King’s Daughter though. These characters are as one-note and bland as you can get. I don’t think I could describe any of them to you except to say “she’s nice” and “they’re not.” Meanwhile, most of the cast, with a slight exception of Kaya Scodelario, seem to be sleepwalking through their entire performances. Heck, the mermaid itself has nothing going for it but some bad CGI. It’s remarkable how dull everything feels here.

I’ll give the movie a little credit though because it does work remarkably well in one sense. It is a hell of an advertisement for visiting Versailles. Having been filmed on location, the backdrops are spectacular. And you can tell the director knew that too since about 50% of the runtime can be summed up as “people in extravagant costumes traverse around the castle in slow motion.” At times, I admit, it was beautiful! However, with the less than stellar things going on inside that set, it had about the same effect perfume ads do. It’s pretty but ultimately hollow. It did cement my plans to eventually go to Paris someday though, because wow. I want to be there.

Overall, I don’t recommend The King’s Daughter. Other than the beautiful backdrop of Versailles, it has very little to offer. The story is predictable. The characters are unmemorable. The acting is flat. And, frankly, it feels a million times longer than the 90-minute runtime would have you believe. Stay home and watch a Disney animated feature instead. Heck, you’d probably be better off watching the live-action remake of that feature instead of watching this. At least you’d get something out of the experience. This is just a total waste of time.

TL;DR: Watching The King’s Daughter is like watching a perfume advertisement. The costumes and backdrop are gorgeous, but the experience is ultimately hollow and unremarkable.

Score: 4/10 (Bad)

Review: Scream

Scream (2022)

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Writers: James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick

Starring: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Dylan Minnette, Mason Godding, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mikey Madison, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Marley Shelton

Review: Full disclosure, as of last weekend, I had only seen one Scream movie. I saw the first one a couple of years ago and, while I really enjoyed it, I didn’t have much interest in tracking down the rest of the franchise. I wish I had. Because, in preparation for this one, I went back and watched the entire series within a week and had quite a fun time. These movies are right up my alley. I love the interconnected nature of each subsequent sequel. The look of Ghostface is so simple, yet brilliant. I like trying to figure out who the killer is and almost always being wrong. But, most of all, I love the commentary on the horror genre that these movies bring. No matter the decade, we can always count on the Scream franchise to cut deep on the current state of the genre. The only one I didn’t care for is Scream 3, which seemed to drop the clever writing and just seemed like your typical bad horror flick. Other than that, the series has been remarkably consistent, which you can’t say about many film sagas (let alone horror ones). So, did the Scream (2022) live up to the rest of the franchise? Absolutely, it did! This movie is easily one of the better in the already stellar series.

As I said before, my enjoyment of a Scream movie comes from the commentary. How well does this movie make fun of itself and movies like it? Well, the good news is that that’s probably this movie’s strongest point. While the first Scream was a commentary on the slasher cliches, the second on sequels, the third trilogy closers (?), and the fourth remakes, this one is based on the concept of the requel. You know, the belated sequel that brings back legacy characters but, more importantly, passes the torch to the new upcoming generation. While many of these young characters are new, they are all playing into archetypes and/or related to characters previously established in the Scream franchise. Think The Force Awakens or Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Oh, and while we’re on the topic of those particular fandoms, this is also a brilliant teardown of toxic fan culture. It comments on how nothing but the original is ever good enough for these fans, so studios have no choice but to just make the same movie over again. As someone who’s (a happier) member of some pretty toxic fandoms, they hit the nail on the head. The final act especially (which I obviously can’t go into due to spoilers) felt very familiar as someone who’s spent a ton of time on the Star Wars subreddits. So, again, the Scream writers seem to have their pulse on pop culture. They know what these studios are doing and are ready to ridicule them while also taking full advantage of the situation. Because, not only is this a parody, it’s also a damn fine good example of that type of sequel.

Speaking of legacy characters, I very much enjoyed all of the new additions to the cast here. Everyone perfectly understood what type of movie they were making and played their parts to perfection. I wish I had time to talk about all of them, but this review is probably too long as it is. Instead, I’ll point out some highlights. Melissa Barrera, who was excellent in In the Heights last summer, absolutely steals the show here. She’s probably the best horror/slasher lead we’ve had in a movie in almost a decade. Without getting into spoilers, I love how sensible she is. She’s one of the only characters in the franchise who not only knows the rules of horror films, but actually follows them. Most of the time, they’re like “Hey this is a bad idea” while actively doing the thing. Not her though and I appreciate that. I also really appreciated her backstory and thought it added a lot of depth and emotion to her character. When we get our next Scream movie (whether it’s next year or a decade from now), I hope they find a way to bring her back. (Fun sidebar: I almost compared her performance and the whole tone of this character to Samara Weaving in Ready or Not, which I just learned is directed by the same guys! So, yeah, if you liked Ready or Not, I think you’ll enjoy this one quite a bit too!) Likewise, I really enjoyed Gooding and Brown as a set of twins who grew up in Woodsboro and are obsessed with the Stab franchise. They were the less obnoxious versions of Jamie Kennedy’s character from the original trilogy and just oozed charisma. Again, without confirming whether that’s possible or not, I’d love to see more of these characters later on down the road. And, since we’ve brought up returning characters, let’s talk about the Scream OG trio of Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. While I do wish we’d seen more of them (Sid in particular), I do respect what this entry did with each of these characters. It wasn’t afraid to take risks that might allienate those fanboys this movie was commenting on. But, personally, I think all of their actions are perfectly in character and make the narative better. Which, again, is hard to go into without dropping spoilers.

Lastly, I gotta praise something that I’ve never praised in any other Scream sequel: the kills. You see? For as great of a series as I think this is, the kills have always been kind of underwhelming. 90% of them are just a quick stab to the gut, chest, or back. In fact, they’re so unscary that I found myself checking the ratings more than a few times. In an R rated franchise, the gore has always seemed rather PG-13 to me. Well, not in this fifth installment! I don’t know if it’s the change in directors, better special effects, or just the changing of the times and what you can get away with, but the murders in this movie actually get kind of gnarley. There are three in particular that I would rank among the best in the franchise. One of those was so brutal that I actually had to look away. I’ve never once had to hide from anything going on in a Scream movie. They’re generally fantastic, but not that scary. It was a nice change of pace to have something geniunely freak me out. (I hope they don’t cover it on the Kill Count until James A. Janisse comes back, because he’s the one that’s pointed out to me how un-innovative the Scream series has been in that regard. I’d love to see his opinions here.)

So, as you can probably tell, I really, really enjoyed Scream (2022). It had everything I love and have come to expect from the franchise. The commentary was top-notch. I laughed just as often as I was freaked out. It was probably the scariest movie in the series thus far. And, I thought all of the cast did a terrific job. I walked out of the theater extremely happy. This has probably moved the franchise into my favorite horror series of all-time. I just can’t think of one that’s been this consistantly good. And, I cannot wait for the next entry! I’m sure they’ll wait another decade or so for the horror landscape to shift once again and that’s more than ok with me. I’ll be first in line whenver they decide it’s worth making. Because I love me some Scream and it’s obviously not out of steam just yet.

TL;DR: In Scream (2022), the franchise proves that it hasn’t lost any of its biting commentary, while also providing its scariest entry to date.

Score: 8/10 (Great)

Review: The 355

The 355 (2022)

Director: Simon Kinberg

Writers: Theresa Rebeck and Simon Kinberg

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Edgar Ramirez, and Sebastian Stan

Review: This might be the saddest kind of movie, to be honest. Because The 355 has so much going for it, but completely fails to live up to any of that potential. From what I’ve read online, this is a project led by Jessica Chastain. She came up with the concept and pitched the idea to Simon Kinberg, while they were making Dark Phoenix together. It’s a shame then that she didn’t decide to bring this up to someone, anyone more qualified to make a good movie out of it. She’s worked with so many talented people. Why did it have to be the guy who directed the worst X-Men movie? (Which is really saying something, by the way!)

Here’s the thing about Simon Kinberg. He’s a producer. Since 2005, he’s produced over 20 movies. Some of them are very, very good. He obviously knows what it takes to make a good movie. However, I don’t think he has the eye to make a good director. Both of his efforts, this and Dark Phoenix, have just been terribly bland. There’s no filter, no interesting camera angles, nothing. It just feels like he’s filming what’s going on in front of him and that’s it. We need a little pizzaz. On top of that, the only way he seems to be able to direct action sequences is to film them with extreme shaky cam, close-ups, and an overabundance of cuts. Honestly, the action scenes in this movie are extremely disorienting and almost gave me motion sickness on more than one occasion. There was one cool moment where a fight scene was only lit by the flashes of gunfire, which was pretty cool but something we’ve seen before. Other than that, I definitely was never super impressed with anything Kinberg threw at us.

But, here’s the thing, the writing did him no favors either. This is about as straightforward of a spy film as spy films get. The plot is that these women from all over the world are teaming up because a terrorist organization is selling a piece of tech that can hack into and shut down all devices hooked to the internet. Meanwhile, their superiors aren’t doing anything because they are corrupt, so they’ve got to go at it on their own. I’m sorry, but this plot is dated as hell, right? Like, we’d expect to see this in a late Brosnan-era Bond film, not something from Craig or whoever follows him. Like, it’s not as innovative or scary as the writers of The 355 seem to think it is. Yes. This technology is scary because we over-rely on tech, but this isn’t the first time a concept like that has been thrown around. And, “this agency is corrupt so I’ve got to do it myself” is the plot of 95% of the spy movies released in the last 20 years. I’m not saying that every spy movie should be completely original. I don’t think that’s possible. But, don’t be bland in your writing or directing! That’s almost impossible to come back from.

I’ve got to give them credit though. The leads tried their hardest to make this bland flick watchable. But, then again, looking at this cast, how could they not? These are top-tier actors who bring their A-game to everything they touch, even when it’s a C-tier movie. Chastain and Kruger are especially highlights, as spies who kick a ton of ass but are also always deeply vulnerable and flawed. In a more fair world, I could see their characters leading a franchise for several movies. Also knocking it out of the park was Cruz, as an agency therapist who just happened to be dragged into this. We’ve seen the kind of quirky, scared citizen dragged into an extreme situation by badasses before, but I’m not sure one has ever had as much heart as Cruz’s character. There is a scene where people she cares deeply about are put into the line of fire and Cruz portrays that heartbreak perfectly. That scene is probably only one of two truly memorable moments in this movie and a big part of that credit goes to her. And, of course, Nyong’o brings class and grace to her hacker role, as always. Honestly, the only weak point of the cast is Bingbing. She comes in later in the movie and kind of kills the chemistry of the group. It felt like throwing another member into the Beatles. A very stiff, unemotional, non-charismatic fifth member. Honestly, I don’t know why this character exists since she just serves to make the movie even that much blander.

But, in all honesty, for the majority of its runtime, I didn’t hate The 355. I don’t know if I would’ve recommended it, but the cast made it at least bearable. And, I truly appreciated how the movie never talked down to you. It was never pandering. Sure. It featured kick-ass women, but they were spies who just happened to be women. They never made a big deal about it. There’s not an Avengers: Endgame “she’s not alone” moment here. That is until the very last moments. After most of the plot has wrapped up, there is this “2 months later” epilogue and it has a completely different tone than the rest of the movie. It’s so on the nose. I don’t know if there was originally a different ending and it had to change because of focus groups or studio interference or something. But, god, I hated this ending. It felt tacked on and unnecessary. Like someone missed the point and needed it spelled out for them. I’m a firm believer that a bad ending can ruin a good movie, so you can only imagine what it does to a barely serviceable one.

Overall, I’d say that The 355 is entirely skippable. It’s far from the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but there’s not much that super stands out here either. I wish Chastain had pitched this to almost anyone else because the concept of these four women teaming up as super-spies sounds super appealing. I understand how this movie got made. I just don’t understand why they gave it the blandest possible treatment. With even just the smallest amount of spice, this could’ve been something special. Oh well. These things happen I guess. I just hope that studios catch on before another awesome concept goes to waste.

TL;DR: Despite a killer cast giving it their all, The 355 is about as uninspired as a spy thriller can get.

Score: 5/10 (Meh.)

Review: Eternals

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloe Zhao

Writers: Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo

Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Laruen Ridloff, Barry Keoughan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie

Plot: The Eternals, a group of celestial beings sent to protect humanity, learn that their mission may not be quite what they thought it was.

Review: Listen, I get it.

Even as a semi-hardcore Marvel guy, my eyes want to glaze over as soon as you start talking about the Eternals. There are many times they’d show up in massive universe wide events, only for me to look them up and immediately get bored or forget everything that I read. It just all seems so pretentious. Power wise, they’re only about a step below being as over powered as the Justice League and, personality wise, they’re about as flavorful as a box of Wheaties. The marketing for this movie didn’t help either. While I respect her work, Chloe Zhao seemed like an oddball pick for Marvel and the cast, while full of big-ish names, didn’t really grab me as must see either. And, then, the trailers made the whole thing look like third rate Shakespeare. We never really got a sense of what this movie was about. It was just billed as the important, deep, new Marvel movie. All of that with a two and a half hour runtime. Honestly, going in, I warned my friends that it might be a tad boring. I was hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Then, the movie opens with some text. Immediately, my mind wanted to check out. If those were the opening lines of a comic book, I’d probably give up and move onto the next. No one could possibly make me care about the Eternals… or so I thought.

Honestly, you have to kind of make a conscious effort to enjoy Eternals. It’s a lot. The plot is relatively dense with exposition, especially for a Marvel movie. They’re throwing almost a dozen new super characters at you, all with semi-ridiculous names. The tone is drastically different than most Marvel movies. I can definitely see how some might now enjoy it. However, after putting in that effort, I found it to be a really solid movie.

Just about everything that I assumed would be a problem for me faded away. The lore actually became very interesting and the characters really started to grow on me. Their pretentiousness really makes sense when you think of the fact that these characters are pretty much gods. They were created to watch over us and have for thousands of years. No wonder they act like they’re above us. Because they totally are. A lot of the joy comes out of watching these godlike figures integrate into every day society. Watch as they learn to enjoy all of the little things humanity has to offer. It’s basically what the first Thor movie was, but on a much larger scale. Imagine all of Asgard falling into New Mexico instead of just the thunder god. That’s pretty much Eternals.

And, while there are moments where you really feel that runtime, Eternals is honestly trying to do a lot. And mostly succeeding. Without spoilers, they’ve got to introduce all 11 or so characters, set up their original mission, have a twist where everything is not quite as it seems, then have inter-group drama over that, and finally have the whole big superhero climax. They could’ve easily split this into two parts ala Dune, because it’s pretty dang close to as dense. Heck, do you know how long it took before the MCU had 11 superheroes in it? At least seven or eight movies. Now they’re introducing 11 at the same time? But, as I’ve said, I think it works. With the exception of one or two, I feel like I knew these characters pretty well by the end of the movie. I knew what they wanted in this world and understood why each of them would make the decisions they did. The greatest strength of the MCU is their character work and I’d say that’s very much on display in Eternals as well.

I feel like I also owe Chloe Zhao an apology. Because she ended up being kind of the perfect choice for this movie. Some of the visuals in this movie are jaw dropping. Eternals is all about scale and Zhao did a terrific job of making this FEEL epic. It feels right up there with Dune and The Lord of the Rings in terms of big, important story telling from the visuals alone. It’s a lot like how they got Kenneth Branagh to direct the first Thor movie because of his Shakespearean roots. However, this time they had enough fate to just let Zhao make her movie and not worry about it being a “Marvel movie.” Because this does feel very much like one of her movies. If you just went through her filmography without knowing this was a franchise flick, it wouldn’t stand out too much. It seems like the next step from Nomadland but with a big budget and science fiction elements. Heck, there were a few times that I even forgot I was watching something from the MCU. I’d just be wrapped up in a movie that felt like an original science fiction flick when they’d mention Thanos and I’d go “Oh yeah. That’s right. He exists in this universe.” In a saga as self-referential as this, it was refreshing for something to just feel original. I’ve never bought into the “all Marvel movies are the same” argument before, but I definitely don’t want to hear it after Eternals.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Eternals. It’s a lot crammed into one movie, but I think it works as long as you give it a fair shot. I’m glad that Marvel is willing to take risks like this and tackle some of their lesser known properties with big budget, different feeling movies. I don’t think this is a bad movie. And, honestly, I don’t even think it’s one of Marvel’s worst. Personally, they haven’t made a movie that I’ve disliked yet. I’m still very much on board wherever the future takes this franchise. And, if that future happens to be Eternals 2, count me in.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

Review: The Addams Family 2

The Addams Family 2 (2021)

Director: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

Writers: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Ben Queen, and Susanna Fogel

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Javon Walton, Wallace Shawn, Wayne Knight, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, and Bill Hader

Plot: When Wednesday starts to doubt whether or not she’s really an Addams, Gomez distracts the family with a cross country road trip.

Review: In a weird, unplanned bit of theming for this weekend’s releases, I feel almost exactly the same about The Addams Family 2 as I did Venom 2. It’s a sequel to a movie I avoided for years, but then finally gave in to have it exceed expectations. Then, I enjoyed the sequel just about as much as the original because it gave me more of the same. The difference here though is that I actually liked The Addams Family 2 a little less than it’s predecessor instead of a little more.

Honestly, I’m pretty in the middle when it comes to this Addams Family franchise. I do not think they’re nearly as good as the previous reboot from my childhood. I wish they were a bit darker in their sense of humor and the animation looks a tad cheap. However, they’re not nearly as bad as they could be either. It still feels very much like The Addams Family, which is more than I can say for other reboots like Peter Rabbit and The Smurfs. If you’re a fan of the original series, there’s at least a decent chance that you’ll enjoy these. They’re not the funniest movies, but they do play mostly to the same drum as previous interpretations. In a couple of years, you’ll be able to reference The Addams Family to kids that grew up on this and overall be talking about the same source material. That’s kind of unusual in today’s market.

But, this one does make a bit of a turn in the third act. There are a few moments in the climax that felt straight out of a different franchise. Like you’d have the characters in Despicable Me in this kind of predicament, not the Addams Family. I understand how they got there, but it’s just a tad too grand and adventurous for our favorite creepy and kooky family to be mixed up in. So, that takes this one down a notch slightly. I don’t think it’s enough to warn fans of the franchise to stay away, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.

Overall, I still felt very much the same about The Addams Family 2 as I did the first. I’m not upset that I watched it, but I don’t think I would again. I wasn’t bored, but I wouldn’t say I had a good time either. It’s just a very ok movie that’s only impressive because it could’ve been so much worse. And, as sad as it sounds, that’s kind of something to celebrate.

Score: 6/10 (Okay)

Review: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

Director: Andy Serkis

Writers: Kelly Marcel and Tom Hardy

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, and Woody Harrelson

Plot: Venom is thrusted in superhero mode once a serial killer gains control of a symbiote of his own.

Review: Let me first say that, if I had it my way, I would not be watching any of Sony’s Spider-Man “spinoffs.” I think they’re cheap knockoffs of the established MCU and are just keeping these characters out of the reach of Marvel, where they can truly shine with the company that knows these characters best. But, I’ve always felt like me not giving in to see these movies was kind of cutting into my credibility a little. After all, how can I be THE Marvel guy… heck, the Spider-Man guy without at least giving these a shot? So, I finally did this week. And the first Venom, honestly, wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece in any way, but it was entertaining and exceeded my low expectations. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is very much in the same boat. It’s not high art, but, man, I can’t help but enjoy it just a little bit.

The main thing you need to know about Venom: Let There Be Carnage is that it is incredibly dumb. Like the 1990s comics it took inspiration from, it’s “extreme” and “edgy” and more than a little silly. Now, honestly, even as a Spider-Man guy, I could never quite get into this era of comic books. It’s just not my thing. The symbiote stuff doesn’t really impress me all that much. However, it’s obvious to me that Tom Hardy and Andy Serkis are massive fans of those original comics. As such, they are completely loyal to the tone of the source material. It’s portrayed with just the right level of playfulness that you know they know it’s ridiculous. But, that’s kind of what makes it great. After all, who doesn’t want to see a homicidal maniac with an alien attached bust his mutant girlfriend out of prison so they can get married while guests are held hostage and forced to watch? It’s all in good fun. And, while incredibly stupid, it’s hard not to crack a smile and laugh along with them.

Meanwhile, we get to see the real heart of the movie, Eddie and Venom’s relationship, really blossom. Andy Serkis has said that he considers this movie a love story between the two and I 100% get where he’s coming from. While, obviously, there’s no real romance, this is a few simple edits away from being your typical romantic comedy. The two bicker, break up, find out who they really are as individuals, and then learn they are better together than they ever would be apart. It’s a very interesting direction to take the story that I feel mostly pays off. Though, seeing Venom in his “strong, independent symbiote who don’t need no man” phase will never not be jarring.

So, overall, I enjoyed Venom: Let There Be Carnage about as much as I did the first Venom. It’s a very mixed bag. I like that this one took more risks than the first, even if not all of them paid off. It’s incredibly dumb, but, then again, so are the comics its based on. Plus, it’s good to see just a batshit bonkers superhero movie that’s so far off the rails from what we normally get. We haven’t gotten something this unpolished and gloriously dumb from Marvel since the pre-MCU days of Ghost Rider and X-Men Origins Wolverine. In fact, I believe that, if this had come out during that era, it’d be heralded as a classic. Unfortunately, the world has moved on a bit. And, while definitely fun, it’s hard to say that this movie is actually good.

But, man, that post credits scene had me hyped for this franchise’s future!

Score: 6.5/10 (Okay)

Review: Respect

Respect (2021)

Director: Liesl Tommy

Writers: Tracey Scott Wilson and Callie Khouri

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige

Plot: A retelling of the life of iconic soul singer Aretha Franklin.

Review: You know? I like Aretha Franklin as much as the next person. She’s one of the most talented individuals to ever walk the planet. And I respect (pun not intended) the struggles she went through in life. However, I’m not sure there’s quite enough here for her to be given her own movie. Respect (the movie) feels very forced. It doesn’t feel like anyone’s passion project. Like someone was sitting around and thought “Yeah. Aretha Franklin should probably have a movie” but didn’t put a lot of effort into it beyond that.

Honestly, Aretha Franklin did not live a boring life. If someone just sat you down and told you this story, you’d probably be fascinated. There’s a lot of intrigue including several abusers, her finding her voice, finally standing up for herself, the joy of gaining a following, the pain and suffering that comes with that following, alcoholism, depression, etc., etc. It’s not a dull adventure. The problem is that seemingly EVERY rock star goes through the same tribulations. We’ve seen it all before. Maybe not Ms. Franklin’s version, sure, but her story sadly isn’t that far removed from everyone else’s. You could go through the entire list of inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I’m sure they could all give you similar stories. So, unfortunately, a good life story isn’t going to cut it in the music biopic game now. The field is just too crowded. You’ve got to do something new and interesting with the direction and/or the storytelling. That’s why I enjoyed Rocketman so much. It felt like a work of art first and a biopic second. The musical angle, the cinematography, the acting. It felt unique. Meanwhile, in it’s straightforward approach, I was very underwhelmed by Bohemian Rhapsody. It just felt like a quick adaptation of Queen’s Wikipedia page. Well, I’m saddened to say that Respect has even less flair than Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s about as vanilla, directing wise, as they come. Other than some great performances by the cast, you could easily convince me that this is a Lifetime original. It was very straightforward and very “been there, done that”.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call Respect a bad movie though. Even with being mostly unimpressed by it, I was rarely bored. Jennifer Hudson’s performance is very good, especially when she gets the chance to replicate Franklin’s iconic songs. Of course, the soundtrack is top notch. And a lot of the supporting cast was terrific too. Forrest Whitaker, especially, was great, playing out Aretha’s complicated relationship with her father. As I said too, the story itself isn’t boring either. It’s a decent enough tale that’ll keep you interested. It’s just when you compare it to every other rocker’s story that you start zoning out a bit. It also leaned a little heavy on the religion in the final act for my taste, but that’s just a personal preference thing. It pretty much boils down to if this is your first music biopic, I think you’ll like it a lot. If you’ve seen a ton like I have, this may feel more than a little cliché. Not bad. Just a little bland.

TL;DR: Respect is a tad bit vanilla and therefore has a hard time standing out in the sea of music biopics.

Score: 6/10 (Ok)