Kevin Pantoja's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
½

The best installment of the series thanks to some absolutely mind blowing action scenes, good acting, and an incredible style.

Unbreakable
Unbreakable(2000)

Not the classic I've heard some people call it. However, it's still a good movie led by great performances and complex characters.

Get Smart
Get Smart(2008)

One of the most fun movies in my collection. It has the comedy and action that you want from this kind of movie and the plot is strong enough to make it great.

Alice in Wonderland

Strengths: Tim Burton is always one to make sure his odd worlds come to life in pretty spectacular ways. He made sure this movie was a visual marvel. It absolutely feels like exactly the movie he would make. Most of the cast looks to be having a good time and giving strong performances. Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen) has a blast and possibly steals the show. She's over the top in the right kind of way. Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter) is fine, while Anne Hathaway (White Queen) does a good job. Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar) is the best of a solid cast of voice actors.

Weaknesses: I don't believe Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh) was quite ready to lead a movie like this. Her performance leaves a lot to be desired. It's not flat out bad but it doesn't feel big enough for the character. They also went way heavy handed on trying to point out how much of an oddity she was in her world. I get that's important but don't beat us over the head with it. I also feel that while Burton did well to create dazzling visuals, it almost is too much. It's as if he tried too hard to make those special and it took away from the script and the characters. Most of them move in and out without ever giving us a real reason to care about them. That all made for a plot that never clicked as well as the original and even that was one that I never found to be anything special.

Overall: Tim Burton made a movie that looked good, but was hollow inside.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron and Lily Collins give great performances, doing enough to lift a movie with a muddled narrative

Equalizer 2
Equalizer 2(2018)

Strengths: A lot of what worked the first time around for The Equalizer is back. The action continues to be well shot, set up in an interesting manner, and completely violent. It may be a bit much for some, but I think it works in this movie. You come to see violence and you get that. Denzel Washington (Robert McCall) is once again solid as our protagonist. It's not one of his better performances, but he does as much as he can with the character. It's enough to make him way more interesting and watchable than he is on paper. I feel like Ashton Sanders (Miles Whittaker), Pedro Pascal (Dave York), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), and Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer) all also brought their acting chops.

Weaknesses: I liked how focused the first film was. McCall had vengeance on his mind and that drove him. Here, they were too ambitious and threw in way too many subplots. Everything involving the Miles character is kind of a waste. I liked the actor but his side story felt disjointed. We already knew that McCall was a good person other than being a killer. Him helping someone like Miles didn't add anything, especially since it was so separate from the rest of the story. Characters kind of move in and out and there are so many that you ultimately don't care about many. When it gets to the big action scene near the end, it's all so hollow that none of it felt like it mattered. I didn't care enough about the people or the stakes, so it was as if none of it even happened.

Overall: If you love Denzel and violence, you'll probably enjoy most of this. The script has too many problems because it tries to do too much. That makes it a wildly average movie.

Legally Blonde
½

Strengths: While in school for Creative Writing for Entertainment, we were given several books on screenwriting. One of them included this movie on their list of recommended screenplays. I can see why. It doesn't do anything groundbreaking, but it is consistent and does a lot right. It gives us a protagonist who is likable and given a strong arc from start to finish. There are a handful of fun gags sprinkled in that keeps the pacing pretty tight. The subplots are mostly enjoyable and don't overstay their welcome. Reese Witherspoon (Elle Woods) is delightful as the lead. She's way charming in the role. She never loses the thing that made her a fun sorority girl, but still comes across as smart and tough while also being funny. I liked Matthew Davis (Warner Huntington III) as her slimy ex. Selma Blair (Vivian Kensington) is really good as her frenemy. Her admiration for Elle grows naturally and she's never played to be an idiot, catching on to Warner's personality quickly. Victor Garber (Professor Callahan) does a good job of being likable until he turns at the end and that never feels out of place.

Weaknesses: I just couldn't buy into the romance of this film. As charming as Witherspoon is in almost every scene, the stuff with Luke Wilson (Emmett Richmond) never really clicks. They lack chemistry and it makes their scenes drag. When you find out they're together in the end, you don't buy it. There are a handful of clich√ (C)s throughout this movie that feel unoriginal. I also wasn't a fan of so many coincidences and contrivances. For example, the first case Elle works on just so happens to be involving the perfect client to relate to her. It's a little far-fetched.

Overall: While it doesn't wow with originality, most of the cast is wonderful. They help carry this along with a very solid script and feel good plot, making this a very enjoyable watch.

The Last Summer
½

Strengths: This cast is actually filled with a lot of talented young actors. KJ Apa (Griffin) and Maia Mitchell (Phoebe) both do very well as the main romantic storyline. They have chemistry together and their scenes feel natural. Both actors get to show off mixed emotions about a variety of things throughout the movie. I think Sosie Bacon (Audrey) does a good job playing a different kind of character than we're used to from her, while Halston Sage (Erin) and Tyler Posey (Ricky) both show some charisma.

Weaknesses: They sell this movie as being about a group of friends. You would never guess that from watching it. Most of the characters never meet or connect at all. It makes it so the movie feels completely disjointed. It comes across more like a series of short stories rather than one cohesive film. There are some serious pacing issues here. The movie felt long when I paused it, only to find out that there was another hour and ten minutes left. I again had the problem when I thought I was up to the final 15 minutes, only to find there was another 38 minutes remaining. It feels closer to three hours than less than two. The writing is another big issue. There are so many questionable character decisions and even that is outweighed by a barrage of bad dialogue.

Overall: The cast tries hard. That's about all I can say here. They are totally let down by bad writing, horrid pacing, and a disjointed plot.

That Awkward Moment

Strengths: The thing that stood out to me about this movie was the strong cast. Zac Efron (Jason), Michael B. Jordan (Mikey) and Miles Teller (Daniel) made for three likable leads who shared great chemistry. You could buy them as lifelong friends and that's important for the arcs they go through. The love interests were also mostly good. Imogen Poots (Ellie Andrews) feels like a complete character and gives a good performance, while Mackenzie Davis (Chelsea) is arguably a scene stealer. There are plenty of funny moments sprinkled in throughout that have made my laugh on multiple viewings.

Weaknesses: This is your typical, cliched romantic comedy. Each relationship kind of plays off the tropes we've come to expect. The couple who meets (Jason & Ellie) but have issues because of lies, the couple where keeping a secret (Chelsea & Daniel) drives a wedge between them, and the couple where one is hung up on the other even when they shouldn't be (Mikey and Vera, played by Jessica Lucas). It makes it so the dramatic stuff misses the mark. You know what's going to happen. Some of the dialogue is pretty forced. The big speech by Jason at the end is way cheesy and hard to buy into, even if Efron tries his best.

Overall: The writhing is filled with stereotypes and tropes that make this forgettable. Thankfully, the cast and laughs do enough to lift this up to be something I enjoyed.

Harsh Times
Harsh Times(2006)

Strengths: Christian Bale (Jim Davis) is great here. That's something that can be said for pretty much every movie. Davis is a flawed character and Bale plays him as such. He also had a natural chemistry with Freddy Rodriguez (Mike Alonzo). Even when they make bad decisions, it's still mostly fun to see them together. Terry Crews (Darrell), JK Simmons (Agent Richards), and Eva Longoria (Slyvia) all give solid supporting performances in smaller roles. There's an intensity and sense of realism in the majority of these scenes. You get the sense that something dramatic and bad will happen in almost every single situation they're put into.

Weaknesses: What an absolutely bleak movie. Other than a few fun character interactions, there's just nonstop drab in this movie. I get that's what they were going for, but it just makes for a dull film. As flawed as Davis is, it never feels like he learns his lesson. He has a small moment near the end, but it doesn't feel like a satisfying conclusion. Neither o the two main characters come across as likable, so there's nobody to root for. David Ayer continues to be one of the most inconsistent writers/directors in Hollywood. This is one of his lesser efforts without much style in the direction and a script riddled with issues. The dialogue is clunky and most of the character decisions are just stupid.

Overall: Christian Bale does all he can, and the rest of the cast is fine, but it lacks any kind of direction or reason to be engaged.

Polar
Polar(2019)

Strengths: I really liked the stylish look of this movie. Visually, it reminded me a lot of John Wick and Atomic Blonde, which are both action movies that look really cool. It helps that a lot of the action is also well shot and they hold nothing back in terms of violence and gore. It can be a bit much at times, but at others it is the right amount to make this feel authentic. I also liked the way each character is introduced and the comic book style panels that come up. The acting is another positive. Mads Mikkelsen (Duncan Vizla) is great as the hardened and aging protagonist. Vanessa Hudgens (Camille) gets a handful of scenes to shine in. She does a good job showcasing the pain her character has been through and the twist involving her in the end is an interesting one. I also liked Katheryn Winnick (Vivian) in her supporting role.

Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters introduced early and it can be a bit much. There's a group of killers who ultimately go on the hunt for Duncan and each are introduced individually, even though they don't matter that way. They should've done it as a group. The group is visually cool but very thin. One character is literally just there to have sex with the target as a distraction and the team carries out plans in the dumbest possible way. It makes them unthreatening. Matt Lucas (Mr. Blut) is horribly miscast as the villain. He doesn't look intimidating and plays almost every line by going way over the top. When a movie looks this cool, you want it to be fun. This one wasn't. Instead, it is almost non-stop drab. We are shown the torture of the main character over four days in graphic detail and it gets hard to watch. The script is kind of a mess with flat, cliched characters and strange moments in the plot.

Overall: There's a fun movie somewhere in here. It's just covered up by too many drab moments, really poor antagonists, and some terrible writing.

The Equalizer

Strengths: The combination of Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington (Robert McCall) is one that always works. They bring out the best in each other. While this isn't one of Denzel's greatest acting jobs, he does way more with the role than you'd expect. The movie does a good job of showcasing how nice of a guy McCall is, which makes his violent outbursts way more interesting. The action scenes are well handled. I loved the way McCall would see things in slow motion before acting them out. They hold nothing back in terms of violence, making sure each scene looks as brutal as it needs to be. And thanks to the tension built up by Fuqua, even the times where the violence happens off screen has a lasting impact. Chloe Grace-Moretz (Alina) does a good job in a supporting role. The screen time she shares with Washington is natural and entertaining. Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer) and Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer) are also strong in small supporting roles.

Weaknesses: Pacing is a big issue in this one. There's really no need for the movie to surpass the two hour mark. The story doesn't call for it, meaning they get there by extending scenes for longer than they need to be. By the time we get to the big climax, it's difficult to find yourself still engaged in everything. As enjoyable as Washington is as the lead, his antagonists don't click. Martin Csokas (Teddy Rensen/Nicolai Itchenko) and Vladimir Kulich (Vladimir Pushkin) are both fine in the roles, but the characters don't have much to them. They can feel like threats at points and nothing more. One dimensional characters don't make for compelling villains.

Overall: Denzel is great and does enough to make this an enjoyable film. It just drags on for too long and has some other issues that keep it from being among Denzel's best.

Avengers: Endgame

Strengths: What an experience. This movie 100% rewards people who have astutely paid attention to the previous 20+ films by calling back to things over and over. It's incredibly rewarding. When Infinity War ended, most people felt they knew how this would turn out. And yet, about 20 minutes into Endgame, Thanos is decapitated to the surprise of everyone. That's insane. This movie mostly gets to the place we thought, but does it in unexpected and glorious ways. As usual, the performances are top notch. Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) is fantastic in his final time in the role. The moment where he completes the snap and utters, "I am Iron Man" was amazing. Chris Evans (Steve Rogers) is fantastic and gets a lot more to work with after being a side player in Infinity War. The moment where he wields Mjolnir had me literally shaking. It was incredible. Then, when the previously snapped heroes return and Cap utters "Avengers, assemble," I was in tears. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton) gets great moments to shine, Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff) gives one of her best performances to date, Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) is a blast, Karen Gillan (Nebula) is a show stealer, and Josh Brolin (Thanos) continues to shine in the role. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) getting to show off his comedic chops was again brilliant. Him being fat was a completely surprise and a highlight of the movie. I also want to praise Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) for nailing Professor Hulk. It's not just Banner looking like Hulk. There's a sense of confidence that was previously absent. I thought Brie Larson (Carol Danvers) was used perfectly. She comes across as a major threat and is a big part of the final fight, but she doesn't even come close to overshadowing the original Avengers team. The deaths were done so well and the reunions were absolutely perfect. I loved the callbacks during the time travel scenes and all the characters who returned. The pacing was strong, as you get an hour of setup with great characters moments, an hour of time travel action, and then an hour of a massive battle. There's probably even more I could praise.

Weaknesses: If I had one gripe with this movie, it was that they play very loose with the time travel rules. It set up some plot holes but they don't have a huge impact on the story. It's nitpicking to be honest.

Overall: The greatest ending piece to a franchise ever. Sure, it's not officially the end, but it wraps up 22 movies of build. They paid homage to the past films, gave us emotional moments, made us cheer and cry, and did it all in a well-paced three hours. I loved this movie.

Aquaman
Aquaman(2018)
½

Strengths: When people first heard about an Aquaman movie, it sounded laughable. However, one stroke of genius from DC was casting Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman). Not only did he bring in a bunch of fans, but he's highly charismatic in the lead role. He brings a coolness to a character most people found lame. I found Amber Heard (Mera) to be better than she usually is and thought the likes of Nicole Kidman (Atlanna) and Patrick Wilson (Orm Marius) were serviceable. I appreciated the work done for one of the villains. Played by Yahya Abdul-Mareen II (David Kane), he gets an origin story that makes you understand his motivations. It actually kind of paints Arthur in a negative light, making him someone we can empathize with. Visually, this is breathtaking. They use a ton of CGI, but most of it looks great. They do a wonderful job making this vast underwater world come to life. It's easily the best looking DCEU movie so far. There are some great set pieces here and they utilize a lot more than the underwater world. The stuff in the desert and the fight against Black Manta are all great looking. The plot is a simple one and I mean that in a good way. This didn't need to be overly complicated and it goes straight to the point.

Weaknesses: Two actors stood out in a negative way. Willem Dafoe (Nuldis Vulko) is usually good, but really felt out of place here for some reason. Plus, he looked laughable throughout. Also, the younger actors who played Arthur were pretty bad. It's harsh to say that about kids, but the line delivery really hurts several scenes. The movie also made some really weird music choices. Songs kick in at random times that don't fit the scene at all. The biggest issue is the runtime. As fun as this movie is, there's no need for it to be two and a half hours. Drop it down to just under two hours and you've got something much tighter.

Overall: While there are clear issues with pacing and length, Aquaman is a really fun superhero movie. It has stunning visuals, a charismatic lead, and is flat out good, sometimes cheesy, fun.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope
½

Strengths: The sheer spectacle of this is enough to make it a recommend. This movie was groundbreaking and did so much for the genre. It worked so well for a lot of reasons. On one hand, the movie caters to almost everyone. There are characters who resonate with everyone. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) isn't wowing anyone with his acting, but he does well enough. He plays the plucky good guy well enough that it lines up perfectly next to Harrison Ford (Han Solo). He debuts the iconic badass cool guy character. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) is solid and Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) shines as the mentor. It may be the best performance of the movie. The script doesn't try to be too much. It's a simple story of good vs. evil and that's when Star Wars usually works best. There are clearly defined roles and everyone plays their part well. Darth Vader is introduced as such a serious threat of an antagonist. His presence looms over the film in the best possible way. Obviously, John Williams delivers a fantastic score as he always does for this franchise. This movie benefits from some very good special effects. Some of the stuff looks better than movies I've seen in recent years. There is some great stuff in terms of cinematography, set design, makeup, and costume design, among others.

Weaknesses: As noted, while the performances are adequate, most of the cast isn't doing great work. George Lucas had great ideas here, but he's not an acclaimed director. You can tell he wasn't getting the best out of his actors. The Blu-Ray set that I watched this from is an updated one. That means it has instances where Lucas made changes and most are terrible. There's a scene where a really cheap looking Jabba the Hutt talks to Han and it's so bad, you're taken out of the movie.

Overall: A legendary movie that started a billion dollar franchise. It tells a simple story in the coolest of ways and introduces some iconic characters. A must-watch.

Time Lapse
Time Lapse(2015)
½

Strengths: Time travel movies can be tricky, but I like the way this one handled it. The characters never actually travel and instead base their lives on what the camera that takes pictures of their future show them. They still influence it, so they're active characters and I appreciated that. The concept behind this is really cool, as it takes ideas we're used to seeing but puts a twist on them. Danielle Panabaker (Callie) steals the show in this, with George Finn (Jasper) doing really solid work. They're fleshed out characters who provide a lot of drama. The film used some intriguing storytelling techniques. For example, we see a passage of time through the 24 hours into the future photos. It showcases a lot of little character details and establishes the new normal for these characters in an economic way. There are some really great twists in the final act. At one point, we don't get to see a key moment, but it is done to add to the suspense and bigger surprises come shortly after. I liked the way this utilized its budget. The violent moments that would probably cost the most to shoot are shot in a way that makes them look convincing without showing too much.

Weaknesses: As much as I liked the twist at the end, there was a bit that didn't make much sense. Without spoiling things, the plan of the character who did the twist doesn't make sense with the rules of how the story was laid out. Matt O'Leary (Finn) dragged things down with a performance far below his two main co-stars. I also wasn't big on Jason Spisak's (Ivan) work. The characters made some really stupid decisions at various points, making it difficult to root for them.

Overall: A little indie sci-fi film that delivers a really strong take on the concept of time travel and the consequences that come with it. There's good acting, writing, and storytelling techniques that make this highly entertaining.

Green Book
Green Book(2018)
½

Strengths: One thing seems to carry this film above all else. The acting. Mahershala Ali (Don Shirley) and Viggo Mortensen (Frank Vallelonga) are both phenomenal. Their chemistry shines in each scene. There are times where they're just talking and you're captivated or caught smiling because of how well it all works. You like both guys. Their differences are very fun. Don is the one who is well read and has manners, yet he's looked down upon because of his race and Frank is kind of in the opposite boat. I also enjoyed Linda Cardellini (Dolores Vallelonga) in her smaller supporting role. The writing is very well done, as the characters are given strong moments to let their personalities shine and the dialogue is natural and sharp. There's a lot of charm to almost everything that happens.

Weaknesses: There are some pacing issues here. Some scenes feel like they go on a bit long and others seem like they aren't needed. This could've been cut down to about 110 minutes and probably been tighter. I'm not big on Peter Farrelly as a director. None of his work has ever impressed me and I don't think he did anything to stand out in this one. It's shot in such a generic fashion that it's kind of just there.

Overall: Should this have won Best Picture? No. Is it still a good movie? Absolutely. The writing is solid and I think the acting is fantastic, making for an enjoyable time.

Someone Great

Strengths: As always, one of the things that drives a romantic comedy is the relationship between the leads. Gina Rodriguez (Jenny Young) and Lakeith Stanfield (Nate Davis) have excellent chemistry. Though their story is mostly told through flashbacks, you appreciate their relationship. We get to see moments that feel very real and relatable. Though this is technically a romantic comedy, it's more about Jenny's relationship with her friends and how they grow. Brittany Snow (Blair Helms) and DeWanda Wise (Erin Kennedy) are both strong in their roles. It helps that they're given real arcs and aren't just comedic relief supporting characters. Blair grows into being comfortable with taking things in stride, while Erin allows love into her life. These are three-dimensional characters who matter. I loved the way the opening montage was done. We see how this relationship developed through social media and texts. It's creative, fresh, and a great way to tell a story in an economical way. The soundtrack also deserves praise. There's a lot of great music in this, from several different eras. It is used to hit on our nostalgia, but also to showcase what these characters mean to each other. There are a lot of funny moments in this thanks to some really witty banter.

Weaknesses: I wish there was a bit more of a definitive end to Jenny's story. She's a good character throughout, but her journey kind of ends in weak fashion. It feels like she doesn't fully come to terms with the breakup. Her friends get full arcs but hers kind of dies out. I think she could've used one final conversation with Nate to hammer home the ending. There are a few points where it feels like the characters are trying too hard to be edgy and it feels unauthentic.

Overall: One of the better movies I've seen from 2019 so far. There are a few issues with the story, but the dialogue, charm, creativity and talented cast are more than enough to make this a really fun movie.

The Fault In Our Stars

Strengths: When I first heard about this movie, I wrote it off as something that would be overly corny. Instead, it was sincerely played and tugged at my heartstrings. Part of the reason it works so well is the chemistry between the two leads. Shailene Woodley (Hazel Lancaster) has been great in everything I've seen her in and this might be her best work. That's saying something. Ansel Elgort (Augustus Walker) is so good beside her. You believe every scene they're in and it's a romance you can buy into. When it's the central part of the movie, you have to nail it and they do. Laura Dern (Frannie Lancaster) gives one hell of a supporting performance as the mother of a kid with cancer going through the grief that comes with that. I also dug the small work from Willem Dafoe (Peter Van Houten) as the bitter, crude author the characters were disappointed to meet. Though I haven't read the book, it seems like it was adapted well for screen. The script flows well, care is given to the character moments, and the dialogue feels natural. Of course, the film is built on the emotion and this one really makes you feel. You expect one character to die and it goes in a different direction that brings even more tears. The soundtrack is also very strong.

Weaknesses: It can get a bit too cheesy at points. I know to expect that from teen romances but it does get so corny at points that you're taken a bit out of it. There's a major issue with the pacing in the final act. Things just seem to drag on for much longer that it should. I didn't need that second scene with Dafoe's character and the reason for it is pretty lame. There were better ways to get to that final point.

Overall: While it is a bit too long, there's a ton to like about this. The performances are great, the music is fitting and catchy, the script is tight, and the story gets you emotionally invested.

Walk the Line

Strengths: This movie was up for a lot of awards and it's clear why. Reese Witherspoon (June Carter) steals the show and gives the best film performance of her career. She nails every single scene she's in. It's definitely the best part of the movie. Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash) more than holds his own, also giving a great performance. You can tell he studied enough of Cash, yet managed to put his own spin on it. Their relationship is the driving force behind the movie and their courtship is handled well. Their chemistry is great. Ginnifer Goodwin (Vivian Cash) is also very strong in a supporting role. The music in this is very good. Doing your own singing when you're playing such iconic people is a daunting task but they pull it off well. I also appreciated how much emotion this entire story elicits.

Weaknesses: While I enjoyed the courtship of Johnny and June, their actual relationship didn't work for me. It came across as Johnny being terrible for her and her not really wanting any part of it. There was a similar dynamic in A Star is Born, but it worked way better there. Here, when Johnny keeps asking her to marry him, I just kept wanting her to say no. It's also a paint-by-numbers biopic where nothing really happens to make it special. The two plus hour runtime is a bit rough to get through at points.

Overall: The relationship that drives the movie has severe issues and it hurts the plot. But Witherspoon and Phoenix are so great in the roles that it crosses over into recommended territory.

Zero Dark Thirty
½

Strengths: I think Katheryn Bigelow was a fantastic choice to helm this movie. She has experience with the genre and does a great job capturing the character moments throughout. Jessica Chastain (Maya) is outstanding as the lead. She nails all the bits of emotion this character goes through. Sadness, desperation, obsession, and grit. We get the sense of she is both vulnerable and tough. All the character stuff really delivers and makes for a gripping tale. The movie is beautifully shot, with some stellar cinematography. The final act is well crafted. The use of the technology and the tactical things they try make it come across in a really cool way. I appreciated how the movie didn't try to be overly patriotic. It could've gone that route but avoided it and didn't always paint America in the best of lights. Supporting performances from Kyle Chandler (Joseph Bradley), Jason Clarke (Dan), Joel Edgerton (Patrick) and Edgar Ramirez (Larry) were all strong.

Weaknesses: This is a long movie. You feel a lot of the 157 minute runtime. There are pacing issues in this. While I enjoyed the character moments, it does drag. That makes it so the well shot final sequence doesn't work as well. It made it less interesting and by the time it happened, I just wanted it to hurry up. That's not the way you should feel about the climax. As usual with a lot of stories based on real events, it was missing that sense of drama and urgency. You know the outcome and only certain movies are able to keep things nail-biting when that's the case. This one didn't do that.

Overall: There's a lot to like about this movie. It's technically very well done and there is some great acting. It just drags at points and is missing some of the drama I wanted.

Why Him?
Why Him?(2016)
½

Strengths: In other hands, this movie probably wouldn't hit. But, it works because of the interplay between the two leads. Bryan Cranston (Ned Fleming) and James Franco (Laird Mayhew) make for one of the more entertaining oddball pairings in this kind of movie. Their interactions are filled with funny and awkward moments, but there's also heart to it all. I also liked Zoey Deutch (Stephanie Fleming), who continues to be delightful in everything she's done, and Megan Mullally (Barb Fleming). The holiday setting adds to the heartwarming moments of it all and make for an enjoyable film.

Weaknesses: This is not something new. The father vs. daughter's boyfriend trope has been done to death in film, especially for comedic purposes. If you've seen a few of those, this doesn't really offer much new. You know where the plot is going to go and you can almost exactly tell how it will get there. Some of the jokes really do miss the mark and they often aim for the lowest common denominator. Those jokes fail, showing the movie should've focused on the relationships more than the cheap laughs. I usually enjoy Keegan-Michael Key (Gustav) but here it felt like the character was written poorly. They tried too hard to give us someone who was way out there and weird and since it didn't work, the laughs lacked.

Overall: Don't come in looking for something special. The writing is pretty poor and unoriginal, but the cast is strong enough to lift it up into "pretty good" territory.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
½

Strengths: I've noted how these movies keep getting better and this one continued that trend by delivering even more on what works. The set pieces are once again ridiculous. Knowing that Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) does his own stunts adds a level of danger while you're watching it. Whether he's scaling a rope hanging from a helicopter or legitimately flying that same helicopter, he's great and it's tense. Bringing back Sean Harris (Solomon Lane) was brilliant. It really makes this feel like a sequel to the last one and he is a great villain. His voice is menacing and he's smart enough to be a true threat. Adding Henry Cavill (August Walker) was also genius. He brought an imposing physical rival. Combine him with Lane and you've got a formidable antagonist team. The work done by the IMF team is again fun and their interplay continues to be a highlight of the series. I loved Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust) almost as much in this one as the previous installment. There are some thrilling moments and great twists peppered in throughout this, as well as some fights that will leave you breathless. Also, love needs to be shown to the score. They make the best use of the iconic Mission Impossible theme during one particular scene.

Weaknesses: Though I liked Cavill's performance and the idea behind his character, there were issues. He gets some awful lines of dialogue and the movie kind of spoiled his villainous side through the trailer. That took a lot away from the moment. I do feel this is a bit too long and it drags at a few points.

Overall: The best installment of the franchise. Huge action, good acting, a solid score, and edge of your seat thrills.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Strengths: Like a lot of sequels, the things that worked the first time around were back. The animation style is once again great and it isn't jarring when the film switches from that to the live action stuff. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writers, are two guys who absolutely get the witty stuff that this movie does so well. The voice acting of Chris Pratt (Emmet Brickowski/Rex Dangervest) is one again top notch, as is the work of Elizabeth Banks (Lucy), Will Arnett (Batman), Charlie Day (Benny) and basically everyone involved. I got a kick out of Jason Momoa (Aquaman) playing his popular DC character. I think the story works well. It does a good job making sure that the main characters grow and the use of the rivalry between siblings was a cool route to take.

Weaknesses: Something about this movie just feels off at points. Like, it technically does everything similar to the original, but lacks what made that one special. It's missing some of the funny and charming factors from the first film. While I appreciated the idea of the real world scenes, there are probably too many late and it bogs down the overall story we came to see. Was not a fan of Tiffany Haddish (Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi) in this. The voice work felt over the top and kind of like her character in a lot of other stuff I've seen her in, rather than something unique to the role.

Overall: Though it misses the mark in terms of being as special as the original, there's still enough to make this a recommendable movie. It's a good time.

Tangled
Tangled(2010)

Strengths: Another animated movie I put off for too long. This one nails almost everything it sets out to do. It does a great job reimagining a classic tale and giving us just enough of a new spin on it. The protagonist is much more than a damsel in distress and comes to her own aid on several occasions. I appreciated how the antagonist is given true motivation. She's not just bad because she's an evil queen or something like that. Mandy Moore (Rapunzel) and Zachary Levi (Flynn Rider) do great voice work to lead this thing. The animation is gorgeous, giving us some of the great visuals we've come to expect from a Disney animated movie. The script is mostly tight and the main characters are given real, fleshed out arcs. I enjoyed the side characters a lot. This movie manages to have two prominent animals who don't speak, yet are both welcome additions to the story in their own unique ways.

Weaknesses: One thing that makes a lot of Disney fairy tales click is the music. They often feature memorable songs that we remember for years. This movie had a few musical numbers, but I don't remember any of them and I just watched this a few days ago. There are also a few writing issues despite the script being mostly strong. For example, Rapunzel comes to realize the truth about who she really is in the most contrived and convenient way.

Overall: While not an all-time great Disney movie, there's a ton to like about Tangled. It has well rounded characters, a touching story, great visuals, and is just a blast to watch.

Heathers
Heathers(1988)

Strengths: I love the way this movie subverts the expectations of a high school flick, especially back in 1989. It has plenty of the fun aspects of your everyday teen romcom, but goes a much darker route. It plays way darker than expected and I appreciated that. It shines a light on touchy subjects for the time like bullying, suicide, and depression. Winona Ryder (Veronica Sawyer) gives one of her best performances and Christian Slater (Jason Dean) is over the top in a good way. He's captivating in how wild he is. The screenplay is strong, doing a lot to make sure these serious subjects get a dash of humor. Meanwhile, Lehman's style as director does a good job capturing the 80s and keeping things moving along smoothly. It manages to be just as relevant 30 years after it premiered.

Weaknesses: More than a few moments come across as way cheesy. It's like the filmmakers were trying too hard. The scene where Jason pulls out the gun in the beginning and the way the bomb gets used late both feel a bit much. I know that's part of the charm of the movie, but scenes like that didn't click for me. That final act isn't great and feels a bit disconnected.

Overall: A classic 80s movie. It is dark and cleverly written, while focusing on topics that are still relevant today.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Strengths: Take everything that has worked in this franchise and apply it here. Except it's at its best. The set pieces are wild. The movie literally starts with our hero hanging off a plane as it takes off. Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) is again strong here. He's perfected the character. It helps that the team we get to see is a familiar one and their banter is great. Jeremy Renner (William Brandt) and Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell) are both great, but Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn) is the scene stealer. There's a moment late where his life is in danger and he absolutely nails the scene in a way I didn't know he was capable of. I liked the addition of Alec Baldwin (Alan Hunley), while Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust) was fantastic. She may have been the best female the series has ever seen. While Sean Harris (Solomon Lane) didn't bring physicality to his role as the villain, he was scary in a calm way. It's almost impossible to have a bad time watching this. It's flat out fun.

Weaknesses: The plot to this one wasn't anything special. It lacked some of the usual deep twists and turns people are used to from the series. I also felt this was possibly a little too long. Cut it down to just around two hours and it would've felt tighter. As fun as the movie is, it doesn't really do anything new for the series.

Overall: Another really fun installment in this franchise. It takes what works and doubles down, giving viewers a breathtaking action film.

Guava Island
Guava Island(2019)

Strengths: Everything Donald Glover (Deni Maroon) touches turns to gold. He's on some kind of roll. He's great in this, playing a likable lead who makes every scene fun. The musical bits could come across as cheesy, but he makes them work. I liked his chemistry with Rihanna (Kofi Novia) and their dance scene together is one of the sweetest things you'll see in a movie this year. Letitia Wright (Yara Love) and Nonso Anozie (Red Cargo) are both solid little cast members, even if they don't have a ton to do. The music in all Childish Gambino, so it all works there. I really like the message sent in it. It works as a fable filled with symbolism and metaphors. Hiro Murai is a great director choice for that. The moment at the actual festival was a gut punch and the way it ultimately pays off in the final scene is brilliant. Even though our hero doesn't have things go the way he wanted, his message is clear and makes the island a better place in the end.

Weaknesses: At just 55 minutes, you're left wanting more. It means there's not a lot of time for the likes of Wright or Anozie. Even Rihanna feels way underutilized. Even if you just add 10-15 minutes to this, it would've done a lot to flesh out some characters. My other gripe came from "This is America." While I love the song, it's the first musical number played here and it feels out of place. The choreography and the way it is done is nice, but it just doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the movie.

Overall: Short, sweet, and a lot of fun. Glover is great and his creative genius continues to shine. There's great music, good acting, and a touching message making for a very enjoyable way to spend an hour.

Kin
Kin(2018)

Strengths: It doesn't matter what I see her in, Zoe Kravtiz (Milly) is great. She's easily the best part about this movie. It's not a character given a lot of depth, but she brings a ton to it. With someone else in the role, I think it would've been way forgettable. I thought young Myles Truitt (Elijah Solinski) did a strong job as the lead. He carried a lot of this despite his age. There's some great cinematography going on here. The film is shot in impressive fashion and looks really good. Of course, the late cameo by Michael B. Jordan (Cleaner) was a welcome surprise. He's awesome in everything.

Weaknesses: The script is kind of a mess. There is way too much going on to make this work. It's as if the filmmakers had a bunch of ideas and instead of weeding them out, forced them all into this. It makes for a sloppy movie. A lot of this plot just serves no purpose. Things happen early on in the movie that get no resolution and plot threads teeter off with no real explanation. Good actors like James Franco (Taylor Balik), Dennis Quaid (Hal Solinski), and Carrie Coon (Morgan Hunter) are all kind of wasted, while Jack Reynor (Jimmy Solinski) misses the mark as one of the main characters.

Overall: There's some solid acting and a cool concept in this movie. There also happens to be way too much going on and none of it means anything. It makes watching this kind of pointless. A big disappointment.

Unicorn Store
½

Strengths: Brie Larson (Kit) is the lead actress in this and she directs. I think she's handles both roles very well. Her performance as Kit is great. She maintains a likeable innocence while also showing all the negative sides of the character. We see that she's flawed and she remains just good enough that we stay on her side. Kit is well written. She's layered and the story manages to show that she keeps her innocence, while also growing up and maturing. That can be tough to pull off. Joan Cusack (Gladys) and Bradley Whitford (Gene) are fun as Kit's parents, while Mamoudou Athie (Virgil) may have stolen the show as her friend/love interest. It was also cool to see Martha MacIsaac (Sabrina) in something again. I think Larson did very well to inject this film with a lot of color and pizazz that you would expect from a story about this kind of protagonist.

Weaknesses: While I don't think Samuel L. Jackson (The Salesman) was bad, I feel he never really did anything memorable. He was a zany character who should have provided us with at least a great moment or two. Instead, he's wildly forgettable and that's a shame. The movie is way weird and I can see turning many people away. There are moments where the tone isn't consistent and at times, it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be.

Overall: For a directorial debut, Brie Larson does a damn good job and she's also a strong lead actress here. She gets help from a game supporting cast and strong writing that makes this a good film.

The Perfect Date
½

Strengths: If you don't take this movie too seriously, there are things to enjoy. Noah Centineo (Brooks Rattigan) is a charming lead for a teen romantic comedy and he shares solid chemistry with Laura Marano (Celia Liberman). They are fine choices to lead this thing. There are some funny bits and a handful of cuts moments like you'd want in this kind of movie. I enjoyed Camila Mendes (Shelby Pace), even if her role is way smaller than expected, and Odiseas Georgiadis (Murph) is a scene stealer as the best friend of the lead. The pacing is pretty solid, as the movie never feels long.

Weaknesses: A lot of this is just straight up weird. Not in the way you'd expect, either. It feels like stuff is slightly off in multiple ways. There's a scene with Brooks and a random older woman who tries to teach him a lesson but it misses the mark. He and his father have a storyline that really doesn't go anywhere or mean anything. It's just there to fill time. As noted, there wasn't enough Camila Mendes throughout this. The writing is pretty rough, as this follows all the tropes you can find in your typical romcom. There's not a single thing about this to make it stand out the way other, more successful, Netflix romcoms have.

Overall: I don't feel like I wasted time watching it, but it doesn't feel like something I'll watch again. A mediocre, run of the mill romantic comedy.

Table 19
Table 19(2017)
½

Strengths: In a film like this, the cast has to be strong. I feel like most of them do very well. Anna Kendrick (Eloise McGarry) is very likable with the right hint of vulnerable. She hits all the beats the role calls for and the character grows over the course of the film. June Squibb (Jo Flanagan) is enjoyable as the elderly nanny and Tony Revolori (Renzo Eckberg) is a lot of fun as the momma's boy teenager. There is some solid wit written into this film and I think the bonding scenes by the core group are all enjoyable.

Weaknesses: I really like Craig Robinson (Jerry Kepp) but he's not clicking in this movie. Neither does Lisa Kudroc (Bina Kepp) as his wife. They can be funny and endearing in other roles, but they lacked any kind of chemistry as a couple. I know they had problems, so the relationship isn't great, but you never get the sense that they even ever liked each other at any point. I would've liked more of a connection between the characters. It only ever felt like Eloise and Jo make a true connection and everyone else is kind of just there. For a comedy, it's really not funny. I don't recall laughing other than at one or two points.

Overall: It's a decently entertaining film thanks to a solid setup and some good cast members. Poor execution on some of the characters and a lack of funny bits hold it back.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Strengths: The third installment really stepped things up in quality for the series. This one continued that trend. Again, Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) delivers. He's so comfortable in this role that it's crazy. I loved the additions of Jeremy Renner (William Brandt) and Paula Patton (Jane Carter). Renner was especially great and given some good material to work with. He played a different role than I'm used to and he did so well with it. The scene where he explains his major issue to the team was top notch. There's some great interplay among the main cast members. I liked how there was no romantic subplot. It failed big time in part two and three established a marriage. Going against that would've felt weird here. The action was the best this series has ever seen, which is saying something. You can't help but be blown away watching Ethan scale the world's tallest building. Knowing that this was all practical and that the actor really climbed it adds a whole lot. I found the technology used throughout to be way cool. It's inventive and I appreciate that.

Weaknesses: At just over two hours, there are a few moments where the pacing is off. We come here for the big action, which is great, but it gets bogged down by some long talking scenes. It's as if some of them last too long. I missed Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell) and feel he would've made the whole team work even better. The biggest issue this movie suffers from is the antagonist. Michael Nyqvist (Kurt Hendricks/Cobalt) is a fine actor but the character is super generic. It's just another run of the mill villain and a huge letdown following what Phillip Seymour Hoffman did last time.

Overall: Not without its flaws, Ghost Protocol is in the running for the best installment of this series. There's a lot to like, with some breathtaking action and more than a few good character moments. Great big budget popcorn movie.

2 Guns
2 Guns(2013)

Strengths: It almost doesn't matter what the story of this was, because people were going to watch it for two reasons. Denzel Washington (Robert Trench/Bobby Beans) and Mark Wahlberg (Michael Stigman). A good buddy cop film needs to have two talented leads with strong chemistry. That's exactly what this was. Wahlberg and Washington played well off each other, making the most of what the script gave them. I also liked Paula Patton (Deb Rees) in this. She's great alongside Washington and her character isn't just some love interest. She's fleshed out and flawed and her story finishes in a way that makes sense. The action scenes are solid and there's a fair of amount of comedy throughout. Not on the level of the Rush Hour series or buddy action films like that, but enough to keep you smiling.

Weaknesses: The movie follows plenty of tropes we've come to expect from this genre. It doesn't really ever do anything that special or overly interesting to make it stand out. The plot can get a bit convoluted in the early stages. You're left wondering who is double crossing who and who to trust. Not in a good way, either. All these different entities are involved and you have to really suspend your belief to make it all work. There's also just not enough tension packed into this to make me truly care and I don't believe the director handled everything that well.

Overall: A good action comedy featuring two charming leads with great chemistry. It just lacks tension and some of the laughs it needs to excel at either side of the genre.

Vice
Vice(2018)
½

Strengths: Christian Bale (Dick Cheney) gives one of the best performances of his career in this one. That's saying something because he's had a stellar career. He nails all the little ticks and mannerisms of Cheney in each scene. The acting across the board is strong. Amy Adams (Lynne Vincent Cheney) might be at her best alongside Bale in her career (American Hustle, The Fighter) and that was the case again here. Sam Rockwell (George W. Bush) is a show stealer in a limited role as the former President. Steve Carell (Donald Rumsfeld) is also great. Obviously, the makeup effects in this are fantastic. There's a reason that department was Oscar nominated. The film is mostly well written, with interesting scenes and sharp dialogue among the characters. It gives a very interesting look in how one man rose through the ranks of the political world and how much influence Cheney had on a lot of things.

Weaknesses: Adam McKay often beats us over the head with the message of the movie. There are times when he tries too hard to showcase something, as if he doesn't trust his audience's ability to understand it all. Often, there are parts of the story that feel kind of dull. That causes some pacing issues and the two hour runtime ends up feeling closer to 2.5 hours.

Overall: I can see this being polarizing. While I'm not as invested in the political agenda, I found this to be an entertaining film that deserves a ton of praise for the work of its actors.

Mission: Impossible III

Strengths: One thing this series has lacked so far is a compelling villain. That wasn't the case here. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Owen Davian) is phenomenal. He's a guy who isn't physically intimidating, yet commands the screen and feels threatening because he's so confident in everything he does. It's a wonderful performance that makes an averagely written character into something much more. As I said in the last installment, Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) has figured out the character. It's even more of a case here. It's the best he's been and the most comfortable he's seemed in the role. Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell) was fun again, but what really helped was adding likable characters to the team who served a purpose. Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Declan Gormley), Maggie Q (Zhen Lei), and Simon Pegg (Benju Dunn) embody that. Laurence Fishburne (Theodore Brassel) was another strong addition to the cast. I thought this plot was mostly laid out well and featured some great twists. At one point, I thought they telegraphed a twist too obviously, only to have it turn into a red herring, which I appreciated. As always, the action scenes were well done.

Weaknesses: It's nowhere near the level of part two, but this is another one with a thin female lead. Michelle Monaghan (Julia Meade) isn't bad in the role, but the character is nothing. She's simply just a love interest and damsel in distress. Though she gets one decent moment near the end, she's ultimately just motivation for Ethan. The final scene that wraps things up feels kind of out of place and it's a bit jarring.

Overall: J.J. Abrams came in and helped save this franchise. This was a big turning point thanks to a chilling performance by Hoffman, fun side characters, great action, and some really interesting plot twists.

Mission: Impossible 2

Strengths: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) has great hair in this movie. No, seriously, he does. Anyway, he's once again fun in the role. You can tell he's having the time of life getting to do some of the wild stunts that Ethan must go through. John Woo is a solid action director, so he understands how to make those scenes work. They're mostly shot well and come across looking really impressive. When Ethan is in an action scene, it's good dumb fun. I also liked how they brought back Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell) because he's a lot of fun.

Weaknesses: Pretty much everything else is rough. Thandie Newton (Nyah Nordoff-Hall) is brought in as the main love interest. She's not terrible in it, but the character is awful. She jumps into bed with Ethan almost instantly and he's risking his life for her within minutes. That relationship is bad and doesn't feel earned at all, so I can't buy into any of his motivations. The plot is very bland and uninteresting. There's bad dialogue everywhere you turn. The main villain, played by Dougray Scott (Sean Ambrose) is also uninteresting.

Overall: The action scenes work well enough and keep this from being dreadful. The rest of it is one giant mess. The worst installment of the franchise.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Strengths: Like its predecessor, this movie boasts some fantastic visuals. The animation style is beautiful and remains that way consistently. Whether it‚(TM)s a big action scene or just a shot of the landscape, it all looks great. The story is quite good. It doesn‚(TM)t do anything overly surprising, but it hits all the right beats. There is a lot of emotion here between Hiccup‚(TM)s reunion with his mother to the death of his father. It goes further than expected in that aspect. Baruchel (Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III) continues to do a good job in the role. He has a unique voice that actually fits perfectly for the character. The rest of the returning voice cast does very well, but the highlights of the new additions were Cate Blanchett (Valka) and Kit Harrington (Eret). I loved the big battle scene where the good guys ultimately lose. It‚(TM)s the high point of the movie and features some really cool moments. It makes the villain come across as a true threat.

Weaknesses: Some of the comedy misses the mark. Kristen Wiig (Ruffnut) and TJ Miller (Tuffnut) are both funny actors, but the stuff involving their characters never hit. They aren‚(TM)t big characters, but they‚(TM)re meant to be funny and it doesn‚(TM)t work. As noted, the big battle is the highlight so the third act that comes after it feels lackluster. It needed to be bigger to follow what we had just witnessed.

Overall: This would be a truly special animated film with a better final 15 minutes. It still does more than enough to be great and is about on par with the first installment.

D2: The Mighty Ducks

Strengths: Think about what worked in the first film and apply it here. The people who made this understood what appealed to everyone. The hockey scenes are fun and comical. Each character is given at least one weird trait to help them stand out, even if they arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t developed or fleshed out. The soundtrack stands out in this one, with two notable Queen songs playing at memorable moments. The stakes are higher and thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a legitimate feeling villain here, which helps add to everything. Just a blast of a movie from start to finish that I thoroughly enjoy whenever I watch it.

Weaknesses: The kids in this one are somehow more immature than when they were younger. They bicker and whine that they arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t the Ducks anymore. It feels petulant and annoying, making it hard to root for some of them. None of the acting is anything to write home about, but Kathryn Erbe (Michelle McKay) is truly awful. I know you canÔŅ 1/2(TM)t get too worked up about that in a family movie like this but itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s distractingly bad.

Overall: It gets a much higher score than youÔŅ 1/2(TM)d think simply because this movie is so much fun. I love it.

If Beale Street Could Talk
½

Strengths: Barry Jenkins seems to be a director who can get the best out of his actors. His films have called for big time emotion and powerful performances. Again, this delivers on both fronts. Regina King (Sharon Rivers) isn‚(TM)t the lead but I‚(TM)ll mention her first because she‚(TM)s the best thing in the movie. I might not have picked her for Best Supporting Actress but she definitely deserved that nomination. KiKi Layne (Clementine Rivers) and Stephen James (Alonzo Hunt) both do a great job as the two main characters and their chemistry helps to carry this movie to some truly special moments. I also liked the smaller work from the likes of Pablo Pascal (Pietro Alvarez), Brian Tyree Henry (Daniel Carty), and Emily Rios (Victoria Rogers). On the subject of emotional scenes, that are two or three that truly stand out. The highlight was probably the scene where the two families discuss the upcoming baby. It‚(TM)s emotional and tense. The cinematography is wonderful. There are moments that feel dreamlike and almost magical.

Weaknesses: Honestly, this movie has several scenes that kind of just feel boring to me. Despite all the emotion and great acting, I wasn‚(TM)t entirely sucked into the story the way I wanted to. I‚(TM)m not sure how to fix it, but it needed something to make it more captivating. It‚(TM)s just one major gripe I had with the movie, but it‚(TM)s enough to keep it from being truly great.

Overall: There‚(TM)s so much to like about this movie. It does almost everything right. Except it has plenty of scenes that feel kind of dull.

The Frozen Ground

Strengths: I liked the way the plot throughout this movie unfolded. There wasn‚(TM)t any mystery to it, since we knew the killer from the start. However, you‚(TM)re left on the edge of your seat trying to find out if this guy would get away with it all. He came close several times. Nicolas Cage (Jack Halcombe) has become something of a joke but every once in a while, he reminds you that he is an Academy Award winning actor. He does some of his best work in this movie. The true scene stealer is Vanessa Hudgens (Cindy Paulson). She portrays the broken prostitute very well. It‚(TM)s an emotional performance where she has to be very vulnerable. She‚(TM)s a frustrating character, which is what she should be because she‚(TM)s been through so much. John Cusack (Robert Hansen) is also solid as the sadistic killer/rapist.

Weaknesses: Though the performances are strong, the characters are quite thin. There‚(TM)s nothing unique about them and they never get much time to develop. They are also full of clich√ (C)s. In fact, the plot is riddled with those. While the movie is based on a true story, they could have done a few things that weren‚(TM)t typical in the genre. I‚(TM)ve never seen a Scott Walker movie before, but he didn‚(TM)t seem too great as a director. There‚(TM)s nothing about any of this that feels special or unique.

Overall: A mostly generic thriller that gets lifted up by some really good acting from the three leads. A handful of tense moments also helps.

Charlie Bartlett

Strengths: The setup for this is similar to the one for the Netflix series Sex Education and it works in both cases. The student who gives therapy sessions to his fellow troubled classmates is a good one that makes for some interesting scenarios. This is helped by the cast. Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett) gives one of his better performances, Kat Dennings (Susan Gardner) is solid, and I got a kick out of seeing many of the cast members from Degrassi: The Next Generation. However, the highlight is Robert Downey Jr. (Nathan Gardner). ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a great subdued performance from him. A nice addition to his comeback catalogue of indies before getting the Iron Man role. The script allows for plenty of fun moments, comedic stuff, and character growth from start to finish. It does some interesting things with the topic of prescription drugs and their effects on youth.

Weaknesses: Despite that, some of the effects of Ritalin are way overdone. I understand what that does for people, but some of the characters take a single dose and act way over the top. It goes too far in trying to paint it in a certain light. This also had a highly disappointing soundtrack. Indie teen comedies usually deliver in that vein. There are only one or two songs that work. I wasnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t big on the performance of Hope Davis (Marilyn Bartlett). Lastly, I wouldÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve liked to see CharlieÔŅ 1/2(TM)s eventual interaction with his father. It is a major plot point that only gets a moment in the end.

Overall: With a solid script and some great performances from Yelchin and Downey, this movie ultimately succeeds. A fun teen comedy with some heart.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Strengths: Flat out, there‚(TM)s just something really cool about seeing the two X-Men timelines merge. It‚(TM)s great to see Jams McAvoy and Patrick Stewart (Charles Xavier) play the same character at different points of their lives. It hammers home the similarities and differences in their performances. Ditto for Michael Fassbender and Sir Ian McKellen (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto). Time travel plots can be tricky, but this movie handles it well. They never get too confusing with explaining it all and the movie never slows down because of it. It is extremely well paced. The action scenes throughout are exciting and I want to show love to the effects team. Pretty much everything comes across looking very good. Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine) gives one of his best performances in the series, while Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique) and Peter Dinklage (Bolivar Trask) do well. Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver) steals the show in his small role. He‚(TM)s clearly having a ton of fun in the role and the character is used to a much better effect than in the MCU. This is one of the stronger superhero movies around and probably the third best in this franchise behind Logan and First Class.

Weaknesses: The movie does get messy in the end. There‚(TM)s a plot point that it ends on involving Wolverine in the 1970s that honestly makes no sense. It leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth when it‚(TM)s all said and done. Considering the scope of the source material, some of this does feel rushed. It could‚(TM)ve honestly covered about two films.

Overall: This movie expertly balances its two timelines by giving more focus to the more important one. It‚(TM)s a simple formula that works to make this a standout superhero movie.

War for the Planet of the Apes
½

Strengths: As always, when you talk about this series, it has to begin with the performance of Andy Serkis (Caesar). He continues to be absolutely captivating in the role. The best thing this trilogy did was completely ensure that Caesar was a layered character with many human emotions. The combination of a strongly written and developed character and a great performance from the actor makes for something special. I think Woody Harrelson (The Colonel) is also a great addition. He‚(TM)s a villain who you detest and he steals the show in his screen time. There‚(TM)s one scene where he and Serkis don‚(TM)t say a single word during a faceoff and it‚(TM)s masterful. Some of the best stuff I‚(TM)ve ever seen from either guy. I liked the bond between Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Nova (Amiah Miller). It was sweet and helped give us someone to cheer for on both sides of the feud. The special effects are once again stellar and the actual war scenes we get near the end are very well done.

Weaknesses: Notice how I said ‚war scenes near the end.‚? This movie is pretty falsely advertised. The title, poster, and trailers are sold it as a big war between apes and humans to cap the trilogy. Instead, it‚(TM)s the apes caught in between a war among human factions. Due to that, there‚(TM)s not nearly the amount of action you want in a film like this. It suffers from pacing issues because of that, with plenty of slow moments as they build and build. Unfortunately, the climax it gets to feels kind of flat for what they set up.

Overall: If this was more of a war, it would‚(TM)ve come across better. I enjoyed the story and didn‚(TM)t hate the slow build, but it doesn‚(TM)t feel like the satisfying stuff we needed at this point in the series.

Gravity
Gravity(2013)

Strengths: There arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t too many directors out there better than Alfonso Cuaron. He absolutely excels here in terms of crafting tense moments. There were times in this movie where I was seriously terrified at what was happening to our protagonist. She was thrown into harrowing situations and when you really think about what she goes through, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s frightening. Cuaron makes sure it comes across like that on screen. It helps that this is visually stunning. Everything we see looks breathtaking and so vast. Some of the camera shots are incredible. Seriously, this was absolutely the right choice to win Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards. For something like this to work, the acting has to also be on point. Sandra Bullock (Dr. Ryan Stone) is outstanding. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s some of the best work of her career, right up there with The Blind Side. George Clooney (Lt. Matt Kowalski) is also fantastic and they play well off each other. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s some natural chemistry that makes some of their more generic conversations all the more entertaining. I lastly want to credit the score. It really helps set the tone for the movie, yet is never overdone and doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t overshadow things.

Weaknesses: I wasnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t too big on the scene where Stone hallucinates and sees Kowalski. It feels kind of cheap and cheesy. I get that she needs her moment where sheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s at her lowest, but I think there were better ways to get there. For her to just see him and instantly have the answer on how to get back to Earth feels kind of lame. Though I donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t know much about traveling and surviving in space, there are more than a few moments in this that feel far-fetched.

Overall: With fantastic work from the two lead actors and the director, it is almost impossible for this not to be great. It has a few issues, but this was worth all the hype it got when it originally came out.

The Shallows
The Shallows(2016)

Strengths: When a movie is mainly focused on one actor and their struggle to survive, that actor needs to bring it. Blake Lively (Nancy Adams) gives the best performance of her career. She carries this movie by herself and is more engaging that IÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve ever seen her before. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s special. She took notes from her husband, Ryan Reynolds, from his work in Buried. The movie does a good job with the tension. You feel for Nancy in every single scene. Watching her desperate attempts to survive and the close calls to her escape are all well done. The effects on the shark are mostly good. The way she wins out against the shark in the end was very creative and came off looking very well. At under 90 minutes, the movie is brisk and an easy watch that will keep you glued to the screen.

Weaknesses: Some of the writing for this is quite weak. There are several moments where Nancy says things to herself that are clearly just there as exposition. A person all alone on a rock might start talking to themselves, so that idea is fine, but the execution feels way forced. The movie goes a bit overboard with the shark. It is ruthless and wrecks the four or five people it goes after. It feels over the top.

Overall: Led by a great performance by Blake Lively, this movie works better than I expected. The suspense and effects are also strong. An unexpectedly great film.

Pacific Rim Uprising

Strengths: Charlie Hunnam set a high bar in the first movie, but I think John Boyega (Jake Pentecost) does a good job filling his shoes as the lead. He brings a mix of confidence and sympathy to the role. I also thought Scott Eastwood (Nathan Lambert) and Cailee Spaeny (Amara Namani) both do well as new additions. Charlie Day (Dr. Newton Geiszler) is again fun in the role. The big fight scenes are a lot of fun. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a point where there are three battles against Kaijus going on at once and it all comes off very well. The same goes for the final fight and how they eventually win. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s all really well done and creative. I appreciated how this script allowed for growth for many of the main characters. The three main characters get arcs, even if some are small. The twist on who the villain behind it all ends up being is pretty cool.

Weaknesses: This lacked the originality and creative direction that Guillermo del Toro brought to the first. While some effects looked good, there are more than a few occasions where the robots looked weird and the CGI had some clear issues. From a story standpoint, IÔŅ 1/2(TM)d say it felt like the main conflict got rushed into. I like that it started quickly, but it almost came too easily to set everything up conveniently. Also, there was probably too much time spent with the humans. If these scenes were better used for character development, it wouldÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve worked but some of them are just boring.

Overall: It doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t hold a candle to the original. That being said, I still found it to be a good movie with plenty of fun moments throughout.

Shooter
Shooter(2007)

Strengths: It can be difficult to build a compelling action movie around a sniper, since most of what they do involves sitting around without moving. Antoine Fuqua manages to make the action scenes in this work well. TheyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re shot in an interesting manner and keep you engaged. For example, the final shooting scene isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t overly long and features some really cool kills. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s the kind of stuff I came to this movie to see. Mark Wahlberg (Bob Lee Swagger) does a solid job as the lead. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s typical Wahlberg and thatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s okay. I also liked the smaller performances from Michael Pena (Nick Memphis) and Danny Glover (Isaac Johnson). The ending had a nice twist that was the one part of the plot I didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t see coming.

Weaknesses: The plot is nothing special. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s your generic conspiracy film and you can see a lot of the story beats coming from a mile away. Originality is not this movieÔŅ 1/2(TM)s strong suit. There are also several plot holes and youÔŅ 1/2(TM)ll find yourself struggling to believe a lot of what happens. I usually like Kata Mara (Sarah Fenn) and while she isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t bad here, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s hard to appreciate her scenes because her forced accent is awful. I think the biggest issue with this movie is that it takes itself too seriously. It tries to be more than it really is. Had it been positioned as more of a dumb, fun action flick, I think it wouldÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve worked better.

Overall: If youÔŅ 1/2(TM)re here for an impressive script and plot, youÔŅ 1/2(TM)re in the wrong place. However, this has solid enough acting and some strong action to make it a recommend.

X-Men: First Class
½

Strengths: Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan are big shoes to fill in this franchise. Luckily, James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X) and Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto) are both more than up to the task. They manage to do one of the most difficult things possible. They give performances that show off just enough of their predecessors, while also injecting their own take on it. What made this truly work was their chemistry. Each scene they share ranks among the best in the film. The supporting cast I littered with strong work from the likes of Zoe Kravitz (Angel Salvadore), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy), and Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert). Kevin Bacon (Sebastian Shaw) gives one of the more underrated villain performances in a superhero movie. His character has a generic plan, but he brings enough charisma to make the role work. Jennifer Lawrence (Raven Darkholme/Mystique) is better here than in any other X-Men movie. The movie does well to utilize the powers of each character, especially during the climactic battle. I really dug the way the relationships were played throughout. There are some complex feelings going around when it comes to Raven and each of them makes sense. You get the right amount of humor and heart told throughout the story.

Weaknesses: I didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t care much for the performance of January Jones (Emma Frost). SheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s kind of just there and stands out when most others are doing so well. A lot of the characters get cool powers, but no kind of development. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s easy to forget who was in the movie by the end of it other than the main cast members. Azazel (Jason Flemyng), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), and Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) are among those who are forgettable. Cut some of those characters down and things would be tighter.

Overall: The best X-Men movie that I can recall (other than Logan). It works as a fantastic prequel thanks to the chemistry among the main cast members. I could watch McAvoy and Fassbender interact for hours.

How to Train Your Dragon

Strengths: ThereÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s a lot to like here. First off, the animation is dazzling. ItÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s among the best IÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)ve seen from a DreamWorks film. From the character design to the action sequences, it all looks great. Speaking of those action sequences, theyÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)re very well done. TheyÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)re exciting and keep you on the edge of your seat. Toothless doesnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t speak, yet is a sympathetic character. You feel for him in every scene. The voice cast is strong. Jay Baruchel (Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III) has the perfect voice for what the character is supposed to be. America Ferrera (Astrid Hofferson), Gerard Butler (Stoick the Vast), Craig Ferguson (Gobber the Belch), Jonah Hill (Snotflout Jorgenson) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fishlegs Ingerman) all do a very good job. I also appreciated the creativity used to design the dragons. They crafted many different styles and they all feel unique. It adds a lot to the visuals. I felt the script allowed for the protagonist and a few other characters to grow.

Weaknesses: I wasnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t too interested in the movieÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s main romance. It felt shoehorned in and honestly wasnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t needed. It never felt earned either, as they basically didnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t talk at all until the one key scene on the dragon. The story isnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t all that original and follows a fair amount of clichÔŅ 1/2 1/2 (C)s. The third act isnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t as engaging as I wanted.

Overall: One of the best movies of a loaded 2010 thanks to fantastic animation, solid characters, and a touching story. A standout animated film.

Rough Night
Rough Night(2017)

Strengths: This movie understands what it is. It doesn‚(TM)t try to be anything more than a fun, sometimes raunchy, story about a group of girlfriends. It succeeds in that vein. I think the cast is a highly enjoyable. Scarlett Johansson (Jessica Thayer) brings the comedic chops she established during her many SNL hosting gigs, while SNL star Kate McKinnon (Pippa) kind of steals the show as the weird foreign girl of the team. Zoe Kravitz (Blair) and Ilana Glazer (Frankie) are both very good, while Jillian Bell (Alice) is fine. The random side characters are all played by funny people like Ty Burrell (Pietro), Bo Burhman (Tobey) and Eric Andre (Jake), to name a few. I like how Jessica and Alice get strong arcs, while even Frankie and Blair grow by the end of the movie. It‚(TM)s a lot for a movie like this to juggle. There are plenty of fun gags throughout that make the movie move along nicely and something is there to always keep you smiling.

Weaknesses: The raunchy girl comedy isn‚(TM)t a new concept and it has been executed better in the past. There are moments where the movie goes a bit overboard and it‚(TM)s clear that they‚(TM)re trying too hard to go that extra mile. I wasn‚(TM)t much of a fan of Demi Moore (Lea) in her role. The character could‚(TM)ve worked better if someone funnier played her. Things get a bit too hard to believe by the final act, including a moment where someone who has never fired a gun hits someone in the leg with a shot while handcuffed.

Overall: It‚(TM)s not some groundbreaking comedy, but it is one that plays to its strengths. The cast is very talented and do more than enough to elevate this into an enjoyable film.

Triple Frontier
½

Strengths: The whole idea behind this movie was a good one. I‚(TM)m always down for a heist movie and this one executes the set pieces of it well. The big helicopter scene, chase through the jungle, and actual heist in the house are all scenes that are well done and full of tension. The cast is stellar. Ben Affleck (Tom Davis) does some of his best work, Oscar Isaac (Santiago Garcia) is great, and Charlie Hunnam (William Miller) might be the show stealer. Pedro Pascal (Francisco Morales) and Garrett Hedlund (Ben Miller) are also solid. They all make dialogue that isn‚(TM)t good work and they do their best with the dull characters they‚(TM)re given.

Weaknesses: It‚(TM)s hard to take a movie seriously about special operatives who are really bad at it. These guys should be the best of the best. They get through the heist itself well, until they get a bit greedy. I like the idea that greed costs them, but literally every other part of their plan goes incredibly poorly. You‚(TM)re left wondering how these guys ever got anything done. They make plenty of dumb decisions that are hard to get behind. The movie goes from fun heist flick to nonstop barrage of unfortunate events. And in the end, the characters give their money to the family of the one guy who cost them everything. It doesn‚(TM)t make much sense.

Overall: The first true disappointment of 2019. With a talented director and top notch cast, this could‚(TM)ve been phenomenal. Instead, it falls apart after the heist and stumbles to the finish line.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Strengths: The concept behind the movie is a solid one. Zombie stories can be a ton of fun and setting it in this kind of world isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t something we see often. One thing IÔŅ 1/2(TM)d say this benefitted from was the makeup effects. The zombies looked way better than expected. Gruesome, a bit scary, and way off-putting. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s enough to creep you out but not enough that it become too scary, which is exactly where this movie seemed to want to be. Another good thing about this was Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet). SheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s been great in everything IÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve seen her in. This was no different, as she was easily the highlight. I also liked the smaller performances from Lena Headey (Lady Catherine de Bourgh) and Matt Smith (Parson Collins).

Weaknesses: Despite the cool idea and effects, this movie lacked something to keep me engaged. The action scenes are fine, but theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re few and far between. Too much time is taken up by boring side plots that are wildly uninteresting. It causes major issues with the pacing and makes the film a drag. I could barely get through it at points. I also wasnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t a fan of the performance from Sam Riley (Fitzwilliam Darcy). HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a major character and just couldnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t hold my interest in any scene.

Overall: Some cool ideas dragged down by poor execution. There were series pacing issues that held this back.

Final Destination

Strengths: The premise is a cool one. It feels mostly original and sets you up for a film filled with suspense. Here, the deaths are mostly well done. They get gory and more gruesome as the series goes on, but they‚(TM)re mostly realistic and look good here. One character gets beheaded and it looks way better than it has any right to in 2000. Devon Sawa (Alex Browning) gives a surprisingly strong performance as the lead, while Ali Larter (Clear Rivers) and Sean William Scott (Billy Hitchock) are both fine. The movie also works as a good time capsule for the era it was released in. Lastly, I appreciated that the movie mostly didn‚(TM)t try to do too much. It‚(TM)s just a fun, guilty pleasure.

Weaknesses: Some of the scenes are way over dramatic and come off as cheesy. The big climax where Alex saves Clear will make your eyes roll with how lame it is. Not only does it come across as lame, but it feels unsatisfying and not the way you want things to end. Other than the cast I mentioned, everyone else is doing a pretty bad job. Seriously, there‚(TM)s poor line delivery and bad acting galore.

Overall: As I said, this is a guilty pleasure. It‚(TM)s not going to wow you with acting or writing. It is cheap fun thanks to a really cool concept and mostly strong execution.

Creep
Creep(2015)
½

Strengths: Found footage movies are no longer the most original concept, but I think this movie does a good job giving us something different. The idea of answering an ad and filming that person makes for an interesting dynamic. Mark Duplass (Josef) gives a great performance. HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s completely unhinged and unsettling in almost every scene. Even when thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a lull in whatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s going on, youÔŅ 1/2(TM)re hooked because you know heÔŅ 1/2(TM)s scheming. As soon as the film moves out of JosefÔŅ 1/2(TM)s cabin, it gets more terrifying and comes to a harrowing conclusion. Patrick Brice (Aaron) pulls a strong double duty effort as both actor and director. The movie is breezy at just 77 minutes and it keeps you glued with a ton of tension in almost every single scene.

Weaknesses: Despite being short, there is a fair amount of talking and some of it feels like it isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t needed. IÔŅ 1/2(TM)d also say that if youÔŅ 1/2(TM)re coming in for straight horror, youÔŅ 1/2(TM)ll be disappointed. There arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t many scenes that are straight up scary and the one or two that are can be kind of cheesy. The ending is super telegraphed and foreshadowed instantly. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s okay to se tit up, but donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t make it so obvious.

Overall: ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s such a short movie that even if you donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t enjoy it, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a relatively easy watch. I really appreciated how unsettling the movie si and how DuplassÔŅ 1/2(TM) performance hooked me.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Strengths: This movie does a lot right but one thing stands out above them all. It is creative. As the characters travel through the internet, we get to see plenty of really cool ways that it is represented. When they try to get information and the guy at the ‚search bar‚? auto fills in the rest of their questions, we get it because we‚(TM)ve all been there. That‚(TM)s just one small example of a ton of little moments that stood out. They also went all out with the Disney license, including references to Star Wars, Marvel, all the Disney princesses and almost anything else under their umbrella. The voice cast returns from the original and are all really good. John C. Reilly (Ralph) and Sarah Silverman (Vanellope) shine, but the real highlight is Gal Gadot (Shank). The movie looks great and tells a heartfelt story. Both Vanellope and Ralph grow into better characters by the end and it‚(TM)s appreciated how Vanellope is allowed to not be so reliant on Ralph. She gets to do her own thing that she wants with no other worries.

Weaknesses: I wasn‚(TM)t big on the movie‚(TM)s final act. I understand the idea of Ralph being the cause of a huge virus since he is supposed to ‚break the internet.‚? The idea is fine but the execution is weird. Visually, it is off-putting and was too weird. I wasn‚(TM)t into the climax because I was too focused on the stuff that didn‚(TM)t work. It was also a shame to see a lack of stuff for talented voice actors like Jack McBrayer (Felix) and Jane Lynch (Calhoun).

Overall: A step below the original, but still a great movie. It has plenty of fun, creative moments and makes good use of its premise.

The Predator
The Predator(2018)
½

Strengths: I really like Shane Black as a director. He understands how to get good performances out of his actors and crafts inventive action scenes. He does that a few times here. Jacob Tremblay (Rory McKenna) continues to be one of the better young actors in Hollywood, Sterling K. Brown (Will Traeger) is his usual great self, Boyd Holbrook (Quinn McKenna) is better than expected, and Olivia Munn (Dr. Casey Bracket) is believable in her role. I also liked Yvonne Strahovski (Emily McKenna) in her smaller role. The action scenes are mostly fun and never take themselves too seriously. There are a handful of cool moments because of the thing that Black is talented at.

Weaknesses: Talk about forgettable. Nothing about this movie sticks with you because it is all kind of hollow. The writing never gives us a real reason to care about any of it, so everything falls flat. The characters are kind of one note. ThatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s especially true among the supporting ones, so it wastes solid actors like Alfie Allen (Lynch), Keegan-Michael Key (Coyle), and Thomas Jane (Baxley). The third act is incredibly weak and makes it so the film ends with a whimper rather than a bang. The CGI effects are pretty bad for something in 2018 with a near $100 million budget. It makes the Predators look so lame that you canÔŅ 1/2(TM)t take them seriously, which is a shame because they should be the coolest part of the movie.

Overall: Solid direction and a strong cast make this a passable movie. The writing, flat characters, and poor CGI really drag this one down. One of the bigger disappointments of 2018.

Captain Marvel

Strengths: There has been a lot of talk about Brie Larson (Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel) leading her own superhero film. I‚(TM)d say she does a great job here. She does lack some of the charisma that some other MCU stars have, but she carries the role with confidence and a snarky attitude that makes her come across as tough. The supporting characters are where this movie truly shines. Ben Mendelsohn (Talos) steals the show among the actors. Without giving too much away, he embodies every single aspect of the character he needs to at various times of the film. Goose the cat is the other show stealer. Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) is likable and has an easy chemistry with Larson. The special effects on de-aging him and Clark Gregg (Phil Coulson) look the best they ever have. It came across as natural. I also loved both Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau) and Akira Akbar (Monica Rambeau). Lynch is especially fantastic and has one of the best scenes when she gives her big speech. The visuals are outstanding, especially towards the end. The movie is kind of the opposite of older MCU solo debuts. It picked up late with one of the better final two-thirds in the series. The 90s theme throughout the film is mostly well done, from the music to the references. Of course, the post-credits scenes are both fantastic.

Weaknesses: While I did like Danvers, she suffers from a similar problem that T‚(TM)Challa had in Black Panther. The supporting characters outshined her very often. The 90s stuff also got a bit overdone at points. Jude Law (Yon-Rogg) is lackluster here, giving nothing special to his role. The character was also kind of a drag and is featured in some of the film‚(TM)s weaker moments. Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser) was brought back for no reason. The character is lame and does nothing of note in this movie. The first third of the movie is forgettable and filled with far too much obvious exposition.

Overall: There are clear flaws in the movie, but the good heavily outweighs the bad. Larson is strong, while the supporting cast of characters is among the best we‚(TM)ve seen in the MCU to this point. Great visuals and a fun final two-thirds makes for one hell of a ride that will leave you satisfied

The Mighty Ducks

Strengths: This is the definition of a feel good story. The idea of a ragtag group coming together to find success in sports is tried and true. The kids are mostly likable, our protagonist learns a lesson, and the script gives them plenty of time to have fun along the way. Emilio Estevez (Gordon Bombay) does well as the coach, while Joshua Jackson (Charlie Conway), Shaun Weiss (Greg Goldberg), and Elden Henson (Fulton Reed) get the highlights among kid actors. There are funny moments throughout that still make me laugh over two decades later. Timeless comedy can be hard to pull off. There‚(TM)s a lot of heart to the story and it‚(TM)s easy to become emotionally invested in it all.

Weaknesses: It‚(TM)s not anything original. The movie hits the expected beats of almost any other underdog sports story. The romantic storyline between Estevez and Heidi King (Casey Conway) doesn‚(TM)t work for me. It drags the movie down at points and really doesn‚(TM)t need to be there. Gordon as a father figure for Charlie is enough, the romance with the mom is too much. Also, most of the unimportant members of the team feel more like stereotypes than actual people.

Overall: How can you not love this movie? It‚(TM)s everything you want in a family sports film from this era. There‚(TM)s a reason this is a cult classic.

Frozen
Frozen(2013)
½

Strengths: As you should expect from a 2013 Disney animated film, this looks gorgeous. The colors, the animation style, and all the characters look really well done. Kristen Bell (Anna) is phenomenal as the lead. There‚(TM)s something endearing and sympathetic about the way she sounds. Bell is also a much better singer than I expected. I enjoyed her songs more than the ones by Idina Menzel (Elsa). Josh Gad (Olaf) is fun as the lovable goof of a snowman and Jonathan Groll (Kristoff) is enjoyable. Anna is made to feel like a strong character and she‚(TM)s quite active. While there is a romantic subplot, I‚(TM)m glad the movie instead focuses on the relationship between the sisters. The ‚true love saves‚? trope gets a bit turned on its head in a good way. Anna looks for Kristoff to do it, but sacrifices herself for her sister and it‚(TM)s a very good idea. You get the sense these women are a bit more advanced than your traditional Disney princess.

Weaknesses: For a movie that made a truckload of money partially because of its music, that department lacks for me. I found all the songs pretty forgettable and none of them stood out. They aren‚(TM)t bad, but they‚(TM)re kind of just there. Other than the twist on the true love thing, the plot is way predictable. You can see what‚(TM)s coming beforehand because it‚(TM)s not original. In fact, the character of Hans (Santino Fontana) could have been completely cut out. You can tell he‚(TM)s shady and you see his double cross coming a mile away.

Overall: I avoided seeing this movie until now because the hype was a bit much and the songs were annoying. It turns out that it is very good, but lacks the originality and that something special to make it great.

Into The Forest

Strengths: Ellen Page (Nell) and Evan Rachel Wood (Eva) handle the acting as the two lead characters. Both do very well. TheyÔŅ 1/2 1/2 1/2(TM)re given a lot of dramatic stuff to work with. From a rape scene to the death of their father to having to live alone in the tough times the movie shows to the birth of a child. They nail almost every bit of it. Callum Keith Renne (Robert) was also strong in a small role as the father of the girls. I thought Patricia Rozema had a great vision for the movie. She handled many of the shots with care and set up a great atmosphere.

Weaknesses: The script does this movie no favors. It ultimately doesnÔŅ 1/2 1/2 1/2(TM)t seem to know what it wants to be. After the father dies, it becomes a story about arguing sisters. They give that up when NellÔŅ 1/2 1/2 1/2(TM)s boyfriend shows up to whisk her away. She gives up on that and returns home where things are suddenly okay with her sister. Then, Eva gets raped and becomes pregnant, deciding to keep the baby and turning the tide again, only to then suggest they kill themselves in a fire. The characters are unlikable, inconsistent, and make zero sense. Though it only runs a little over an hour and a half, it feels closer to 2.5 hours.

Overall: The actors and director do their best. However, the story just completely fails them. The movie has no real flow or reason for anything. It tries to be a bunch of different things and misses the mark on all of them.

The Favourite

Strengths: It has been talked about by anyone who has seen this movie, but the performances are top notch. I loved every scene where Emma Stone (Abigail Masham) and Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill) were pitted against each other. They nailed each one of them. I think what made the characters work for me is that none are truly the hero. Abigail is more sympathetic at first, but is conniving and willing to do whatever to get where she wants to be. Sarah is ruthless and yet you feel for her at times. ItÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s a complex script with fleshed out characters that keep you on your toes. Olivia Colman (Queen Anne) is also great. I wouldnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t have gone with her for Best Actress, but thatÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s more because she feels less like a lead and not because I think her actual work in the film lacks anything. Again, the screenplay provides us with a complex character. Speaking of the script, it is filled with sharp dialogue and witty lines throughout. There is a lot of fun to be had here. The movie also exceeds in terms of production. The set designs, costumes, cinematography, and score are all things that work to complement the overall experience of this movie.

Weaknesses: ThereÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s a lot of intention for comedy, yet I didnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t find myself laughing much. Other than one scene involving Stone, I actually donÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t think I laughed at all. Maybe itÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)s just me, but IÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)ve never really been interested in period pieces like this. I just find it difficult to fully engage with this world.

Overall: I loved a lot about this movie. The acting, production design, script, and characters were all strong. It just wasnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t nearly as fun as I was hoping for considering what I had heard about it.

Trolls
Trolls(2016)

Strengths: This had pretty much all the elements you want from a family friendly kids movie. The animation style is wonderful. The world the trolls live in is vibrant and colorful. There‚(TM)s great design there. Most of the voice cast delivers. Anna Kendrick (Princess Poppy) brings her optimistic charm to the lead role, Justin Timberlake (Branch) is better at the paranoid role than expected, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (King Gristle Jr.) is fun, and Zooey Deschanel (Bridget) is delightful. There‚(TM)s also good supporting stuff from Gwen Stefani (DJ Suki), Christine Baranski (Chef), and James Corden (Biggie). There‚(TM)s heart to the story and it allows the two lead characters to grow throughout the runtime. They both learn a pivotal lesson along the way. It‚(TM)s also lighthearted, which is sometimes nice to see in a film.

Weaknesses: For a movie based around music, none of the songs stick out. Going with covers means kids will instantly recognize the music and I understand that. However, none of the covers are memorable. As soon as the movie ended, I basically forgot what songs were even played. That‚(TM)s not a good sign when it‚(TM)s such a key part of the film. That‚(TM)s kind of the issue with the whole movie. It doesn‚(TM)t do anything to stand out from all the other kids‚(TM) movies out there. In that sense, it‚(TM)s kind of bland.

Overall: A fun way to spend an hour and a half. It‚(TM)s lighthearted and colorful, so the whole family can enjoy. It just doesn‚(TM)t do anything special or memorable.

Justice League
½

Strengths: It‚(TM)s no secret that the DC movie universe has struggled. The one thing that they‚(TM)ve gotten incredibly right was casting Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman). She was the best part of Batman v. Superman, great in her solo film, and was the highlight here. I also liked Jason Momoa (Arthur Curry/Aquaman). He brought a charisma to the character that I never expected and was another highlight. Ezra Miller (Barry Allen/The Flash) also had some delightful scenes. Another thing I like about DC films is their fight scenes. They often feel realistic and hard hitting. This movie had some of that. At two hours, it‚(TM)s shorter than a lot of superhero movies and it actually does fly by surprisingly quickly.

Weaknesses: I still can‚(TM)t get behind Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman) in this role, while the CGI used on Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman) was so distracting, I couldn‚(TM)t take any of his scenes seriously. A lot of the CGI in this movie just looked bad, to be honest. The villain and his army are a terrible CGI fest. Ciaran Hinds (Steppenwolf) tries, but the character has nothing to him. He‚(TM)s unbelievably generic and you never feel like he‚(TM)s a true threat. I also thought the underwater scenes looked bad. It looks much better in the Aquaman trailers. The plot is disjointed. It seems like they tried way too many things and none of them stick. It‚(TM)s hard to compare this to the MCU, but one reason their team up movies work is because of the chemistry among the cast. This group doesn‚(TM)t really have that. Ray Fisher (Victor Stone/Cyborg) is another actor who tries, but is given next to nothing to work with.

Overall: I enjoyed some of the performances and characters, as well as a hint of the action. The story just completely lets everyone down and it isn‚(TM)t helped by bad special effects and a poor villain.

12 Years a Slave

Strengths: It‚(TM)s clear why this won Best Picture, even if it wasn‚(TM)t my pick for that year. It tells a captivating story where our hero is unjustly put into a horrible situation and has to endure some truly terrible things. The first scene where he is beaten shortly after getting kidnapped is brutal. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup) is outstanding in the lead role. He‚(TM)s powerful, emotional, and we can rally behind him in the toughest of times. Lupita Nyong‚(TM)o (Patsey) gives one of the best supporting performances I can recall. She‚(TM)s incredible. The scene where Solomon has to whip her is barbaric, heartbreaking, and hard to watch in the best possible way. Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps) and Benedict Cumberbatch (William Ford) are both great in completely different ways, while Brad Pitt (Samuel Bass) does a lot in a small role. The cast is really something special. Steve McQueen is excellent as the director, capturing every emotion that was needed to make this story work. The screenplay allows for plenty of room for big moments to breath and for key scenes to develop without much dialogue. I lastly want to commend the design of everything. As noted, this film captures exactly what it needs to. From the costumes to the sets to the tone, it all works.

Weaknesses: There are several times where the movie feels like its dragging its feet. There was definitely at least a few things that could be cut. Just around two hours would have probably been ideal. However, I do think an extra scene or so was needed to really establish the relationship between Solomon and his family. It would‚(TM)ve really added to the drama.

High Flying Bird

Strengths: Steven Soderbergh has been really hit or miss for me throughout his career. This is one of his more solid films. Like with Unsane, I appreciated the way he utilized the iPhone camera. Filming an entire movie in that format makes for a very interesting looking 90 minutes. It‚(TM)s unique and feels up close and personal. He also gets good work from his actors. Andre Holland (Ray Burke) is very good, Zazie Beetz (Sam) is once again great, and I liked what we got from Melvin Gregg (Erick Scott). There are points where the movie includes snippets from real NBA players (Donovan Mitchell, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Reggie Jackson), which helped give this an authentic feel. This is a smart movie with a compelling story and intelligent characters. The scene at the charity event was a highlight and it was simple enough to just be players talking trash to each other.

Weaknesses: Considering how much I liked of the players talking smack, I wanted more basketball. I understand that wasn‚(TM)t the main point of the movie, but I‚(TM)d like a bit more of the sport the movie is focused on. Some actors feel underutilized. Zachary Quinto (David Starr) gets almost nothing to do. As much as I liked seeing the real NBA players, the way it was done feels out of place. Like it‚(TM)s not from the same movie. I‚(TM)d father they have framed it as if these guys were talking about the lockout on a sports show, rather than to the camera. Speaking of the camera, as much as I think the iPhone look is cool, I don‚(TM)t think it adds to the movie here. It did for Unsane, but not here. The story here is solid but is laid out in a way that can be a bit tough to follow or pay attention to.

Overall: An intriguing sports movie that is light on the sports. The acting and script are mostly strong, but it needed another jolt or two of excitement to make it stand out.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
½

Strengths: This is like, the epitome of 1980s comedy. Steve Martin (Neal Page) is at his very best as our protagonist. He goes through a great change throughout this feel and becomes someone fans can really root for and like. Though John Candy (Del Griffith) is meant to be the funnyman, and he does well in that role, Martin gets some of the best lines and moments of the whole movie. He‚(TM)s hilarious. There‚(TM)s a good story of growth throughout, with a touching ending showing how the relationship between the two characters has worked despite everything they go through. And yes, the movie throws a lot at them. There are all sorts of wacky incidents on every form of transportation they use.

Weaknesses: While most of the film is fun, it does kind of peak in their first night together. They never quite reach that level of funny again. Comedies are at their best to me when the best joke comes late or at least in the middle. The antics can get a bit repetitive. There‚(TM)s only so much that can happen in the same vein that would be funny. By the time their car blows up on the side of the road, you‚(TM)re not even really laughing anymore and just waiting for the finish to come.

Overall: A great buddy movie with some solid performances and a lot of heart. The gags get too repetitive to be a true classic, but it‚(TM)s still a good time.

Life After Beth

Strengths: For this movie to succeed, the lead needs to deliver. Aubrey Plaza (Beth Siocum) does just that. She completely commits to the wild premise. Each time we see her on screen, she gets a little more zombie like and she nails all the little mannerisms without ever going overboard. It‚(TM)s a delicate act to pull off. In their smaller roles, Anna Kendrick (Erica Wexler) and Molly Shannon (Geenie Siocum) are very good, while Matthew Gray Gubler (Kyle Orfman) steals the show as the protagonist‚(TM)s brother. The protagonist is given a solid arc to grow over the course of the film. I liked the little quirks given to the zombies, like how they enjoy being in attics and how they aren‚(TM)t aware of what they are. I also appreciated how the zombie outbreak became bigger and bigger as the movie progressed without having to show it a ton. The effects on the zombies came off very well despite this movie not having a big budget. They looked convincing.

Weaknesses: Dane DeHaan (Zach Orfman) just doesn‚(TM)t work as the leading man. The character is relatively fine but his performance is unconvincing. He hasn‚(TM)t impressed me outside of Chronicle. John C. Reilly (Maury Siocum) is also someone who usually does well in supporting roles. He just doesn‚(TM)t work for me here and the character is incredibly unlikable. He even gets a nice little moment in the end that feels unearned because there‚(TM)s no reason to like him. Also, despite being about an hour and a half, the movie feels stretched out with several scenes feeling like they were padded out.

Overall: Thanks to the great work from Aubrey Plaza and a solid premise, this movie mostly works. It‚(TM)s enjoyable even with the flaws it has.

Thor
Thor(2011)

I didn't expect Thor to play out the way it did. When you hear a movie about gods, you think something epic will play out. Instead, it was a more subdued approach. The "fish out of water" storyline played out well. It's always good to give a character like Thor, one with immense power, something to weaken him. That made for a fun story. The scene stealer was Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Not only is his performance killer, but the Loki character makes for a great villain. He does heinous things and yet, viewers can sympathize with him. He remains the most compelling villain in the MCU and it all started here. Though the real world aspect made for some good moments, it made the film pack less of an action punch than I hoped for.

Thor: The Dark World
½

Thor: The Dark World had a tough task ahead of it. The only other MCU film to have sequels up to this point was Iron-Man and the second film in that franchise was arguably the worst in the MCU. The things that worked in this movie were the same that worked in the original. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth showed their dynamite chemistry, while people like Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba gave strong, smaller performances. I appreciated the use of Jane (Natalie Portman) this time around, though her love story with Thor remains the weakest in the MCU. Kat Dennings was there for comic relief and nothing more. The biggest disappointment was Christopher Eccleston as Malekith. Neither the actor, nor the character did anything to make me care about them on screen. He was ultimately forgettable and a weak point. The highlight was easily the Thor/Loki scenes. Loki's redemption arc was done very well, as was the twist near the end. A good movie overall, but the story had weak points and the villain didn't do it for me.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)

After the success of the first film, this one was disappointing. Cheadle is a tremendous upgrade from Howard and the addition of Jonansson helped things. Rourke is criminally underutilized here after his resurrection in the Wrestler and the plot just isn't that great. The only scenes that stand out are the ones involving Downey.

Fighting with My Family
½

Strengths: Florence Pugh (Saraya ‚Paige‚? Bevis) does a great job as the lead. She gets a fair amount of the little things right to make her feel like the Paige all wrestling fans know. While she‚(TM)s good, the show stealer is certainly Vince Vaughn (Hutch Morgan), who gives one of the best performances of his career. He comes across very well as the tough coach who believes in Paige but is tough on her. I also liked Nick Frost (Patrick Bevis) and Lena Headey (Julia Bevis). The story is built around the relationship between Paige and her brother, played by Jack Lowden (Zak Bevis). It allows the movie to have a meaningful relationship at its heart without going the cheap romantic route. It‚(TM)s a funny film, but one filled with emotion and heart. They do well with inspiration and showing the growth of a character. You can‚(TM)t help but cheer when you see Paige succeed at what she wanted in life. Even her brother gets a happy ending despite not making it to the WWE. I appreciated the fact that the story isn‚(TM)t 100% accurate. This isn‚(TM)t a documentary and what was changed serves the purpose of a movie to tell a better and more linear story. Thea Trinidad (AJ Lee) was another scene stealer in a smaller role.

Weaknesses: I 100% understand why the cameos from Dwayne Johnson (Himself) were in the movie. He helps to sell it and is a charismatic presence. His scenes are fun. However, they‚(TM)re also kind of distracting. When he‚(TM)s around, he feels like the most important thing around and it takes away from everyone else. There are plenty of clich√ (C)s pulled from similar sports films. Near the end of the movie, there‚(TM)s a speech given by Paige that is way too heavy handed. It just comes across as forced and too over the top to hit.

Overall: Much better than I expected. Even with the clich√ (C)s, there‚(TM)s enough heart, laughs, and strong performances to make this a recommend movie.

Ex Machina
Ex Machina(2015)
½

Strengths: This movie does a ton with a little. It‚(TM)s a sci-fi film that doesn‚(TM)t overly rely on effects. The effects that we do get are done very well. Alicia Vikander (Ava) is stellar as the main AI. She nails all the little mannerisms and manages to deliver an emotional performance from a character who isn‚(TM)t entirely human. It‚(TM)s a difficult to thing to pull off and she deserves all the praise. I also liked the work of Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb Smith) and Oscar Isaac (Nathan Bateman). The story tackles some intriguing concepts and is really though provoking. Alex Garland builds tension so well. He does it through things as basic as conversations and most of them are interesting. The script is great, providing viewers with all sorts of plot twists. There third act is just filled with unexpected moments. And it‚(TM)s not just done for the sake of it. They all make sense and only add to the story. Characters feel smarter with each and it keeps you guessing. The ending is a masterpiece that feels incredibly earned after everything you‚(TM)ve seen.

Weaknesses: There are a few points where you feel that there may be a bit too many conversations between Caleb and Nathan. I appreciated what they did, building the relationship and making you uneasy about Nathan. However, it happens a lot when you‚(TM)d be more interested in seeing more of Ava and that part of the story.

Overall: One of the best sci-fi movies of the past decade or so. It features great performances, brilliant visuals, and thought provoking themes.

Pain & Gain
Pain & Gain(2013)
½

Strengths: Is there anything Dwayne Johnson (Paul Doyle) can‚(TM)t do? He is the bright spot in this film as an alcohol and drug obsessed religious gym rat. Nearly every scene he‚(TM)s in is funny. Ed Harris (Ed Du Bois, III) was a nice addition late in the film. The 90s setting gave us a cool backdrop and allowed for a fun soundtrack and score to play throughout.

Weaknesses: Anthony Mackie (Adrian Doorbal) is a good actor who I like in most things. He felt way out of place in this and didn‚(TM)t click with the rest of the cast. Mark Wahlberg (Daniel Lugo) does a lot of good, but then drops something like this on you and you remember his flaws. Their performances aren‚(TM)t good and the characters lack. A lot of this is just classic Michael Bay. It‚(TM)s loud, filled with gratuitous shots of women for no real reason at times (some do help set the tone), and pretty hollow in terms of plot.

Overall: Not even the charisma of Johnson could save this lackluster Michael Bay project.

Spring Breakers

Strengths: James Franco (Alien) absolutely steals the show in this movie. He is completely absurd in every single scene. There are moments here that if you read it on paper, you‚(TM)d think it was dumb. Though it still is weird on screen, Franco throws himself into the role. He‚(TM)s so off the wall, it makes the stupid stuff in this movie incredibly entertaining. The piano scene is one of my favorite things ever. Franco singing Britney Spears over a montage of committing crimes is outstanding. I think the main actresses do pretty well. Selena Gomez (Faith) is gone early but delivers in her scenes. Ashley Benson (Brit) and Vanessa Hudgens (Candy) both seem to be having fun with the role. The film is shot in a way that fits the craziness of spring break and the soundtrack is totally fitting. Also, I love Jeff Jarrett playing a youth pastor.

Weaknesses: Though I praised most of the girls for what they did, I don‚(TM)t think the characters worked well. They went a bit far on a lot of things without really earning those character moments. I also found them too over the top in terms of being raunchy. It really felt like they were trying way too hard. Rachel Korine (Cotty), wife of the director, doesn‚(TM)t bring anything to the role. She‚(TM)s kind of just there. The plot is pretty flat. Characters don‚(TM)t really grow and there‚(TM)s no real reason to care about what happens.

Overall: Definitely a flawed film. There are enough fun elements to make it watchable and then Franco takes it over the top to turn it into a highly addicting and entertaining ride.

Now You See Me 2

Strengths: The main thing that worked about the first installment was simply how fun it was. The sequel continues most of that trend. The theatrics and magic both come across quite well. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a scene where rain is made to stop in mid-air and it looks fantastic. The effects make it work, while the actors all seem to handle their characters with great flair. Jesse Eisenberg (J. Daniel Atlas), Woody Harrelson (Merritt McKinney), and Dave Franco (Jack Wilder) all have great chemistry together. Lizzy Caplan (Lula May) is a strong addition. She does well with a character who doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t have as much to her as I wanted. Daniel Radcliffe (Walter Mabry) made for a better foil than I expected. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s not the kind of role IÔŅ 1/2(TM)m used to seeing him in. The heist scene involving the card flipping is absolutely the highlight. It nails everything that is right about these movies. The magic, cool effects, and chemistry between characters all shine there.

Weaknesses: My biggest gripe with the first movie was the twist at the end involving Mark Ruffalo (Dylan Rhodes Shrike). He does fine in his role but the character feels like an anchor around the neck of the rest of the story. The same goes for Morgan Freeman (Thaddeus Bradley) and it pains me to say this because theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re both great actors. I just donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really see the need for their characters. Cut them out and even the idea of the ÔŅ 1/2Eye.ÔŅ 1/2¬? You can refocus the script and make it tighter by honing in on what works.

Overall: If you enjoyed the first movie, this sequel should fall right in line. It has almost identical strengths and weaknesses. A good time, but not much more.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Strengths: A few years back, we reached a point where Matthew McConaughey (Mickey Haller) was on a roll. This may have been the start of that as he gives one of the best performances of his career. He is emotional, gripping, and someone we can get behind. Ryan Phillippe (Louis Ross Roulet) is also very good as the sick guy behind the main plot. He‚(TM)s just the right blend of arrogant and deranged. He just knows he‚(TM)s going to get away with it and feels like he‚(TM)s bulletproof. The script is tight. It never strays too far or tries too hard with twists and turns. Instead, it gives us a well constructed plot that is engaging and keeps you on the edge of your seat. You genuinely have no idea how Haller will get out of his situation. You want him to win the case, but don‚(TM)t want Roulet to get off, giving you mixed emotions throughout. The courtroom stuff was all interesting and never took too long. Sometimes that can be overdone in movies like this. In limited roles, Marisa Tomei (Margaret McPherson), William H. Macy (Frank Levin), and Michael Pena (Jesus Martinez) all deliver.

Weaknesses: A lot of the more technical stuff in this movie kind of lacks. The score is forgettable at points and odd in others. There‚(TM)s a weird choice to sprinkle in some strange rap songs throughout. It fit the tone early on but never felt right afterwards. The cinematography never really does anything special either. John Leguizamo (Val Valenzuela) and Bryan Cranston (Detective Lankford) both feel underutilized.

Overall: There‚(TM)s a lot to like about this movie. It has a compelling story and enough stuff going on to keep you glued. Throw in some strong acting and this is an easy winner. It just doesn‚(TM)t do quite enough to stand out as some kind of classic.

Blindspotting
½

Strengths: Daveed Diggs (Collin Hoskins) deserves all the praise possible for his work in this film. He gives a powerful performance in the lead role and also delivers as one of the writers of this film. The character is kind of the perfect protagonist. He‚(TM)s given a lot of room to grow, is always likable, and gets plenty of scenes to show off his acting chops. I‚(TM)m also really glad he got to play the role he wrote. The big moment where he confronts the police officer who committed the shooting while freestyle rapping is the kind of thing that would be goofy in someone else‚(TM)s hands. Since Diggs wrote and acted it, he understood how to deliver it and it‚(TM)s one of the best scenes I‚(TM)ve seen in years. Co-writer Rafael Casal (Mike) plays the other main character. He plays the role well and is so great alongside the Collin character. It‚(TM)s someone that again, could come off poorly in the wrong hands but Casal nails it. Janina Gavankar (Val) is also good, while Ethan Embry (Officer Molina) is great. The confrontation with Collin also allows him to do a ton without saying anything. The movie manages to juggle a lot. It has scenes that are incredibly tense and filled with suspense. There are a handful of laughs. It also works as a social commentary on the terrifying world we live in today. The soundtrack and cinematography are both spot on. I also loved the script. Not a single piece of dialogue feels awkward or forced. It‚(TM)s all natural and serves a purpose.

Weaknesses: A few of the comedic attempts don‚(TM)t really hit the mark. I would‚(TM)ve liked it if some other characters had a bit more to do. Lastly, and this is the biggest issue, is that things come together a bit too conveniently. For example, Collin just happens to be working at the house of the exact cop he saw shoot someone. It sets up an incredible scene, but felt a little far-fetched.

Overall: A phenomenal film. It mixes so many things so well, led by powerful performances and a gripping story that comes at the right time in our society.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Strengths: The 2009 Star Trek reboot was fantastic. The follow up was nearly as good because it made sure that the things that worked were done again. The interplay among the cast is once again brilliant. Chris Pine (James T. Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) are even better than the last time. Each scene they share is great and the big moment where they put a twist on the Wrath of Khan is excellent. The supporting players are all delightful in their own way. Zoe Saldana (Nyota Uhura), Karl Urban (Leonard McCoy), Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov), and Simon Pegg (Montgomery Scott) are the standouts. Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan) is the standout. He‚(TM)s a captivating villain who feels like a true threat in a way that you don‚(TM)t often get in these movies. I loved every scene involving him. The spectacle of this movie is top notch. There are vibrant visuals that are breathtaking. It‚(TM)s especially true in the opening sequence. The action is honestly pretty nonstop and always exciting.

Weaknesses: The script could be tighter. There are some plot holes and things get muddled throughout the course of the movie. I wasn‚(TM)t big on the ending. I understand not going with the exact Wrath of Khan sacrifice and switching it around was cool. But it kind of just gets retconned immediately after and that lessens the impact. It‚(TM)s a major issue that really holds this back from being on the level of its predecessor.

Overall: Even with an ending I didn‚(TM)t love, there‚(TM)s a ton to like about this installment. It‚(TM)s a ton of fun, featuring great acting, and some excellent action throughout. That makes this a blast of a sci-fi movie.

Close
Close(2019)

Strengths: When you have a premise like this, you need to deliver on the tense moments and the action. Close succeeds in both departments. There are plenty of scenes that show cool ways in which our protagonist survives. She gets to showcase her skillset against tough antagonists and it is all well done. The cinematography was better than expected, making for quite the visual appeal. I also appreciated the score, as it hits the right notes for tense stuff. Noomi Rapace (Sam Carlson) was very strong as the lead. She‚(TM)s usually a safe bet for some quality acting. Indira Varma (Rima Hassine) is also solid. The slow burn style the movie takes works well for it.

Weaknesses: The script isn‚(TM)t anything super original. You can kind of tell where the story is going as it unfolds. Some of the twists are very obvious and that takes away from the impact. Sophie Nelisse (Zoe Tanner) isn‚(TM)t bad in her role, but she plays a character who is ultimately unlikable. She does grow throughout the film, yet it‚(TM)s never into someone I like or enjoy. While I liked the slow build, I think it needed to set up a bigger finish. The ending is kind of flat for everything they built to.

Overall: It lacks originality and a punch of a finish, but Close has enough action and good acting to make it a recommended watch.

White Boy Rick
½

Strengths: The acting in this movie is what carries it to its successes. Matthew McConaughey (Richard Wershe) is great as a desperate, yet hustler father. Watching him bond with son despite losing him is entertaining, but even more is how he attempts to get his daughter back into his life. I‚(TM)ve never seen Richie Merritt (Richard Wershe Jr.) before, but he does a very good as the lead. Supporting performances from Brian Tyree Henry (Mel ‚Roach‚? Jackson), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Alex Snyder) and Bel Powley (Dawn Wershe) are all enjoyable. The final few minutes are pretty heartbreaking when you understand what happens to Rick in real life.

Weaknesses: This is less than two hours, but it feels closer to three. I‚(TM)m okay with a slow pace. However, a lot of what happens unfolds too slowly and it hurts things. There are moments where I found myself disinterested and just waiting for it all to end. It felt like it was attempting to build to something big and yet we never got there. The movie kind of never gets going the way you‚(TM)d hope. This was the first movie I‚(TM)ve seen directed by Yann Demange and I came away unimpressed. He didn‚(TM)t seem to capture 1980s Detroit properly. For example, we should be able to grasp why Rick would enter this dangerous lifestyle, especially after seeing what happened to his sister. There‚(TM)s only one scene that really seems fun. The atmosphere felt way off.

Overall: A decent movie that I don‚(TM)t regret watching, but not one I‚(TM)d go out of my way to see again. Solid acting and a fine setup. Just not the best execution.

The Next Three Days
½

Strengths: The premise behind this movie is one that sets up a lot of suspense and tense moments. And honestly, we do get a handful of those. That‚(TM)s when the movie is at its best. Watching the characters attempt to get out of their terrible situation and race against the clock is fun. Russell Crowe (John Brennan) and Elizabeth Banks (Lara Brennan) both give strong performances that showcase their desperation and vulnerability. A lot of the actors with smaller roles, like Liam Neeson (Damon Pennington) and Daniel Stern (Meyer Fisk) also do well.

Weaknesses: This is a bloated film. It has no business being over two hours. That forces them to pad the runtime out with a lot of dull moments. Olivia Wilde (Nicole) is fine in her role, but there‚(TM)s not really a need for her character. She‚(TM)s just there and takes up a fair amount of time. That‚(TM)s the case with a lot of scenes in this movie, as they just don‚(TM)t feel like they have a purpose. It makes for a muddled script which does no favors to the film. Ultimately, there‚(TM)s not enough of the tense stuff and too much of the boring stuff.

Overall: This wastes some good acting and an intriguing setup. There‚(TM)s a really good 90 or so minute movie in there. It just gets bogged down by tacking on another 40 minutes of nothing.

Summer '03
Summer '03(2018)

Strengths: This movie does a terrific job in capturing the teen coming of age story. It‚(TM)s not new territory, but it is the execution that helps this stand out. The inappropriate and rude grandmother sets everything in motion and it all works. Joey King (Jamie) gives the best performance of her young career. She is taken on a journey that tests her friendships and romances, while also putting up with her impossible family. She makes some terrible teenage decisions, yet she‚(TM)s never unlikable. The bond she has with her cousin is strong. She has solid chemistry with Logan Medina (Dylan) and you believe their relationship. Paul Scheer (Ned) and Andrea Savage (Shira) were both fun in their roles as the parents. The movie also does a good job showcasing the time period. It feels like 2003, from the technology to the soundtrack to the outfits.

Weaknesses: For being a teen comedy, this movie lacks some laughs. I can‚(TM)t recall a standout line, scene or moment that made me even chuckle. There are some moments that are a bit too awkward to really click the way it needed to. I understand that awkwardness is a part of this time in your life, but sometimes it doesn‚(TM)t make for good entertainment. The third act does get a bit messy as the movie probably tries too much to give us a fun conclusion.

Overall: This was a surprisingly fun piece of 2018. It‚(TM)s a solid coming of age story featuring good performances and giving us something of a unique take.

Widows
Widows(2018)
½

Strengths: As someone who appreciates a well made heist film, I like what this one did. It was interesting to see people do the heist who aren‚(TM)t experts and do it all while being scared. The cast is wonderful. Viola Davis (Veronica Rawlings) is her usual powerful self. Michelle Rodriguez (Linda Perelli) got to play against type and for once, not be the badass. She handled it well. Elizabeth Debicki (Alice Gunner) was great, Cynthia Erivo (Belle) was strong, while Brian Tyree Henry (Jamal Manning) and Daniel Kaluuya (Jatemme Manning) continued their respective hot streaks. Though they have smaller roles, the likes of Liam Neeson (Harry Rawlings), Jacki Weaver (Agnieszka), and Jon Bernthal (Florek Gunner) were all dynamite. There are a lot of tense moments throughout and the buildup to everything is set up very well. I think this movie also benefits from a strong script and a plot twist that hits you pretty hard. It changes the tone of the story and adds sympathy to the protagonist.

Weaknesses: The heist itself is kind of disappointing. They‚(TM)re in and out of the place in surprisingly quick fashion and only one thing goes wrong. When it does, they basically get away with no consequences. Even when one character is brought to the hospital for a gunshot wound, there are no questions asked. The same goes for how the women use their money, as it feels like people would ask where they got it from. I didn‚(TM)t care much for the acting of Colin Farrell (Jack Mulligan) and each time Lukas Haas (David) was on screen, I was bored to tears. He served one small purpose for the plot and was otherwise useless. Also, it‚(TM)s not a major issue, but the camerawork was strange at times and some of the directorial choices were odd.

Overall: Like the year‚(TM)s earlier heist movie, ‚Den of Thieves,‚? this had a lot going for it but suffered from a handful of problems that held it back from being truly great. Check it out for the cool twist and great acting.

Like Father
Like Father(2018)

Strengths: First time director Lauren Miller Rogen does a good job in her first film. She gets strong performances out of her cast and tells a solid little story with the greatest of ease. She makes sure we get a good sense of the beautiful scenery on the cruise where most of the film takes place. Kelsey Grammer (Harry Hamilton) isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t someone IÔŅ 1/2(TM)m a big fan of. I was never into Fraiser or Cheers, but I enjoyed him in this. We can see his pain throughout the film, but also get a feel for how much he cares for his daughter. Kristen Bell (Rachel Hamilton) gives some of the best work of her career. She shares so many dramatic scenes with her dad that she nails. The crying she does at the waterfall and her flying off the handle when she thinks her dad is after her money are the two standouts. The supporting cast, led by Seth Rogen (Jeff) , did a nice job of adding comic relief to a story that is ultimately highly emotional. The musical number near the end is a nice heartwarming moment and I appreciated how Rachel nearly goes back to her workaholic ways by the conclusion. It almost makes you feel like she failed in learning anything, only to switch it up at the very end.

Weaknesses: The plot is certainly not anything new. From the arc of a workaholic learning to focus more on their personal life and less on their job to the relationship between a father and daughter being repaired, this movie doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really tread any new ground. For the most part, you know whatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s coming. A lot of the characters are kind of stereotypical. It just so happens that our two main characters get sat at a table with three couples who are elderly, gay, and black, and all king of just fit generic roles.

Overall: 2018 had a lot of good, but just not quite great movies. This was a good movie led by strong acting. Worth checking out, though not something you need to own or see more than once.

12 Strong
12 Strong(2018)

Strengths: The cast of this movie is filled with very good actors giving good performances. Chris Hemsworth (Captain Mitch Nelson), Michael Pena (Sam Diller), Michael Shannon (Hal Spencer), Rob Riggle (Lt. Colonel Bowers) and pretty much everyone else does so well. I could watch them go back and forth with each other. Those are the best scenes as we see them bonding and it allows them to showcase their chemistry. They‚(TM)re all good enough together that they‚(TM)re able to carry most of the film.

Weaknesses: For all the good work the cast does, mostly everything else fails them. The script calls for some of the most generic war drama and action anywhere. This just feels like a cheap copy of nearly every other movie in the genre. This was the debut for the director and while it‚(TM)s nice to someone new there, this movie could‚(TM)ve benefitted from someone with experience in action and war drama. The lack of that combined with no depth to the story makes for a movie that is happening with nothing of note going on.

Overall: This movie ultimately wastes a strong case with a huge lack of story and action.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Strengths: The concept of this film and the real experiment it is based on is fascinating. You can‚(TM)t help but get sucked in watching these characters either fold under the pressure or let the power go to their head. There are some great performances here. Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp) gets a lot of shine early of as the main prisoner given focus. Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell) also shines in this position. It‚(TM)s so intriguing because you feel like they‚(TM)re kind of pathetic for cracking without a ton fo bad happening to them, yet also feel sympathy because they aren‚(TM)t real prisoners and shouldn‚(TM)t be subjected to this. Billy Crudup (Dr. Phillip Zimbardo), Nelsan Ellis (Jesse Fletcher), Gaius Charles (Paul Vogel), Miles Heizer (Marshall Lovett) and Logan Miller (Jerry Sherman) are all good in their roles. Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer) is probably the standout as the awful guard taking things too far. The atmosphere set throughout is dark and uneasy. There are many scenes that are uncomfortable to watch in the best possible way.

Weaknesses: Olivia Thirlby (Dr. Christina Maslach) is one of the best things about the movie. She‚(TM)s in the weakness section because the movie needed to use her more. Even if she wasn‚(TM)t there for the real events, you can alter things for a movie retelling so it‚(TM)s not a straight documentary. Having her around more would‚(TM)ve made for more intriguing moments between her and Zimbardo. It‚(TM)s hard to put my finger on what it is exactly, but this movie was missing something. It executes a ton very well and doesn‚(TM)t do a lot poorly, but it also doesn‚(TM)t fully click for some reason as something truly special.

Overall: Everything is well done in this movie, from the acting to the atmosphere. It‚(TM)s one of the better films of 2015, but it was missing an ‚it‚? factor to put it in contention for the best.

Nocturnal Animals

Strengths: This is the first film IÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve ever seen directed by Tom Ford and I dug it. His style is notable and thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s just something about this movie that feels special. His script is also very strong, managing to intertwine two stories with ease. While the plot of the novel is the more interesting one, you never feel robbed when it cuts back to the real world. Amy Adams (Susan Morrow) does a very good job as the lead. SheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s stricken with plenty of emotions throughout. Jake Gyllenhaal (Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield) actually feels like more of the protagonist. HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s wonderful in this. HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s given a lot to work with and nails it. From fear to grief to rage. Aaron-Taylor Johnson (Ray Marcus) is excellent as the villain and Michael Shannon (Bobby Andes) played a great detective. Throw in solid supporting work from Isla Fisher (Laura Hastings) and Armie Hammer (Hulton Morrow) and youÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve got great acting to go along with stylish direction and a strong script.

Weaknesses: I would say that a big issue with this film is the ending. Throughout the entire movie, weÔŅ 1/2(TM)re given hints that Susan sees a lot of her old relationship and life in the story. However, by the time the credits roll, we never get much to confirm it. I donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t need it spelled out for me, but it was way too vague here and made it so everything didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t tie together. I was left feeling unsatisfied. As good as Adams was in the role, the character ultimately doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really do anything.

Overall: An interesting movie that looks great and is filled with top notch acting. It needed a stronger ending and more for the protagonist to do, though.

Halloween
Halloween(2018)

Strengths: There has been a lot of bad with the Halloween franchise since the 1978 original. To make another good one, it made sense to go back to the roots. This movie captures a lot of what made that one work. The atmosphere is exactly what it needs to be. Dark, creepy, and helped by an updated take on John CarpenterÔŅ 1/2(TM)s iconic score. I really liked the camerawork at points. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a single shot sequence that was some of the best work in the history of the franchise. The kills are brutal, especially one during the aforementioned sequence. It was cool getting Nick Castle (Michael Myers) to reprise the role he made iconic in 1978. Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode) gives what might be the best performance in the history of the character. Yes, even ahead of part one. Judy Greer (Karen Nelson) is solid, while Andi Matichak (Allyson Nelson) feels like she could be a breakout star.

Weaknesses: Haluk Bilginer (Dr. Ranbir Saratin) plays a character that is not only irritating, but ultimately pointless. He is intrigued by MyersÔŅ 1/2(TM) mindset, which is fine. But when he murders a cop and dons the mask himself, it beyond jumps the shark. While I enjoyed the kills we got, I do feel the film needed more. It felt like they were trying to ensure they captured the atmosphere and forgot to deliver on some of the kills, which is a major aspect of slasher films. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s one kill that looks awesome, but happens off screen. I also wanted a bit more creativity with them. While I donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t love most of the sequels, ignoring the continuity often is jarring. Also, the post-credits stuff kind of takes away from the ending and is implausible

Overall: Halloween captures the spirit of what people love about this genre. There are plenty of issues that keep it from being great, but it is a welcome return to form for the series.

Bumblebee
Bumblebee(2018)

Strengths: Dropping Michael Bay as the director meant this Transformers installment could focus more on the story and heart than the big action stuff. I think that worked for it. Putting the attention on the relationship between a human and the robot allowed it to be more grounded. It was much easier to care about this than a whole bunch of heroes against villains. Hailee Steinfeld (Charlie Watson) is delightful as the lead. She continues to shine in everything she does. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a likability that she brings to the role. John Cena (Jack Burns) is better as a villain than youÔŅ 1/2(TM)d expect and his character gets a solid arc. The movie benefits from the 80s setting. Not only is it something that is currently ÔŅ 1/2inÔŅ 1/2? right now, but itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s perfect for Transformers since thatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s when the series was hot. The movie also had a great soundtrack that perfectly fir the era. Last up, I wanted to praise some of the visuals. This has a lesser budget than the other five films, yet still looks good. That is especially true for the awesome opening on Cybertron, which gave many fans just what they always wanted in a Transformers movie.

Weaknesses: Far too often, things in this film were way too convenient. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a scene where Charlie literally stumbles upon kids jumping off a cliff for fun just so we can get a moment where she struggles with her issues of doing that kind of jump after her dadÔŅ 1/2(TM)s death. ThatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s just one example. Pamela Adlon (Sally Watson) isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t bad in her role, but the character is awful. She goes from one extreme to the next for no real reason. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a serious lack of consistency. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Guillermo ÔŅ 1/2MemoÔŅ 1/2? Gutierrez) serves no real purpose other than a cheap side romantic storyline. While I donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t take this franchise too seriously, it does hurt that this messes up some of the timeline.

Overall: Though the script fails times and some of the characters are rough, this is just a flat out good time. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s heart, fun action, and strong acting that make it a movie I really enjoyed.

Fahrenheit 451
½

Strengths: The source material this is pulled from is one of the more intriguing things I remember, so I was excited to see it play out on screen. The cast was the other aspect that stuck out to me. Michael B. Jordan (Guy Montag) is pretty much on fire in the world of acting right now, while Michael Shannon (John Beatty) is always a safe bet for a great performance. Throw in Sofia Boutella (Clarisse McClellan) giving another solid effort and you‚(TM)ve got some good work. Along with the acting, many of the effects are well done and the action is pretty solid.

Weaknesses: This is supposed to be a sci-fi movie but it feels more like cheap action. It was as if HBO felt people wouldn‚(TM)t get into it without all the action stuff and the rest of the movie suffered from it. And yet, despite throwing in a lot of action, the movie felt boring. It seemed like not a lot happened. Not enough was given to these characters to allow them to fully develop and not enough was done to fully expand on the society. In a movie like this, world building is important and that wasn‚(TM)t given much care here.

Overall: Most of the actors give a strong effort but most of the other aspects of the movie let them down. It‚(TM)s both boring and flat, with no depth to a lot of the stuff that needed it.

Skyscraper
Skyscraper(2018)
½

Strengths: This is another case of Dwayne Johnson (Will Sawyer) taking on the kind of movie that seemingly nobody wants to be a part of, and making it somewhat work. It‚(TM)s a wacky action movie where absurd things happen. That‚(TM)s pretty much Johnson‚(TM)s wheelhouse. He and Neve Campbell (Sarah Sawyer) play well off each other, while Roland Moller (Kores Botha) is a serviceable villain. The special effects are quite good and make very strong use of the film‚(TM)s $125 million budget. This is exactly the type of movie that would have fit right in during the 90s.

Weaknesses: It‚(TM)s a dumb action flick. That means that while there‚(TM)s stuff that works, it lacks a lot. There‚(TM)s not much in terms of plot, dialogue, or character development. Everyone feels like a clich√ (C), from our hero to the villain to the wife and children. We‚(TM)re never given much of a reason to care about anything that anyone does. And while I appreciate some of what a big dumb action movie brings to the table, it often reaches a point where things are way too far fetched. There‚(TM)s a scene where Neve Campbell walks across a plank, way high in the sky, with her son on her back. She falls, but catches the plank to survive and pulls herself and her son back on with ease. All while Johnson‚(TM)s character holds a bridge with his bare hands. Yea, it‚(TM)s too much.

Overall: If you turn your brain off, this can be a fun movie. Johnson is unbelievably charismatic and has chemistry with everyone. But when you start thinking about what happens, it‚(TM)s too ridiculous.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
½

Strengths: What the first installment did right was mostly continued this time around. Seth Rogen (Mac Radner) is always good in a role like this because it‚(TM)s what he excels at. The goofy stoner. Rose Byrne (Kelly Radner) is funnier than you‚(TM)d expect in these films, Zac Efron (Teddy Sanders) does well with a surprisingly strong character arc, and Chloe Grace Moretz (Shelby) fits right in this raunchy world. There are plenty of laughs in this and they keep the gross out moments that make movies like this work. Ike Barinholtz (Jimmy Blevins) is over the top in the best possible way. His clown joke is funny each time.

Weaknesses: Some of the cast doesn‚(TM)t live up to the laughs of the first movie. While Dave Franco (Pete Regazolli), Chirstopher Mintz-Plasse (Scoonie) and Hannibal Buress (Officer Watkins) return, they‚(TM)re barely used. Kiersey Clemons (Beth) and Beanie Feldstein (Nora) take over as the main side characters and just don‚(TM)t really bring much to the table. Selena Gomez is wasted. There‚(TM)s no reason for her to be in this, as she only has two scenes and neither matter. While it was appreciated that the jokes were similar and though I wanted more from past actors, the film follows too many of the same beats from the first installment.

Overall: Somehow, this isn‚(TM)t enough like the original in certain ways and too much like it in others. It‚(TM)s nothing special, but it‚(TM)s the kind of movie that will come on cable and you‚(TM)ll leave it on for a few laughs.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Strengths: It‚(TM)s rare that a trilogy gets to have the same director for every installment. This benefitted from that because Wes Ball understood the story, cast, and characters. He knew how to get the most from them. Dylan O‚(TM)Brien (Thomas) continues to be a solid lead. The actions sequences are major once again and they pretty much all work. For example, the opening scene is a rescue mission on a train that feels right out of a Fast and the Furious film. Giancarlo Esposito (Jorge), Rosa Salazar (Brenda), and Walton Goggins (Lawrence) are all great in their small roles. There‚(TM)s a strong sense of finality and tension built up throughout this. It‚(TM)s fitting of a final chapter. Ultimately, it‚(TM)s a fun ride where the pace almost never slows down, ensuring you‚(TM)re in for a ride.

Weaknesses: The script is kind of a mess. There‚(TM)s nothing special about it and lot of what is written feels cheesy, bland, or tropey. While the movie is long (too long, in fact) no time is given to explain certain things. The mazes from the first film are still something of a mystery, Patricia Clarkson‚(TM)s (Ava Paige) character was built up for two movies and does nothing of note here, and Lawrence is never detailed, so we get no real reason for his looks or explanation about who he is. Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is a character who is never likable. She doesn‚(TM)t toe the line, instead being someone you don‚(TM)t care about when she dies.

Overall: If you enjoyed the first two, the finale should quench your thirst. It‚(TM)s an enjoyable popcorn movie, but lacks the substance it needed as the final installment to truly wrap things up in a satisfying way.

Leave No Trace

Strengths: With the second most reviews ever for a movie at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this had to have done something right. Debra Granik perfectly captures the mood in this one. She was behind Winter‚(TM)s Bone, which had a similar vibe and it‚(TM)s clearly her strong suit. She nails all the little things to make this feel authentic. From every small character moment to how the camera is placed in key moments. They paid attention to detail and it pays off throughout the film. Ben Foster (Will) is fantastic as the lead. It feels like a role tailor made for him if you pay attention to his career. He handles the slightly unhinged, paranoid, yet loving father role with great care. The breakout star is Thomasin McKenzie (Tom). She‚(TM)s barely 18, yet she more than matches Foster‚(TM)s great work. It‚(TM)s the best performance by a young actor in 2018 along with Elsie Fisher. We watch her grow up and go through a lot before figuring out her place. When she has to say goodbye in the end, it‚(TM)s heartbreaking but somehow also heartwarming.

Weaknesses: This is not the kind of movie for everyone. It is slow paced and there‚(TM)s not a lot in terms of excitement. That can be unappealing for many. There‚(TM)s also a few moments where it feels the filmmakers got a little too cute, adding lingering shots on nature for a bit too long. It‚(TM)s nitpicky, but it does bother a little.

Overall: One of the best films of 2018. It treats its audience with respect, tells an emotional story dealing with serious issues, and features incredible acting from the two leads. An overlooked gem.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Strengths: There‚(TM)s a reason Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury) has been sweeping all the awards for Best Lead Actor. He gives an incredible performance. Mercury is a hard person to nail down because he‚(TM)s so iconic and known for a lot of his mannerisms and such. Malek nails them all without ever going overboard. It‚(TM)s scary how good he is in this. The rest of the band also benefitted from pitch perfect casting. Gwllym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), and Joe Mazzello (John Deacon) are all phenomenal. Lucy Boynton (Mary Austin) isn‚(TM)t someone I‚(TM)ve seen often, but she‚(TM)s great here. The movie moves along briskly, allowing us to see the meat of Mercury‚(TM)s time with Queen rather than spending too much time on some other, less important story beats. I appreciated the way some facts were altered to make for a better, tighter movie. A lot of this film feels like a giant concert and those scenes are well done. It feels like a real show, with the actors doing great and the camera work being top notch.

Weaknesses: Though I appreciated how some less important stuff was left out, the movie does move too quickly. They‚(TM)re maybe 25 minutes in and Freddie has already joined the band, met the girl, changed his name, and gotten signed. I thought the lip synching was seriously off and distracting at points. I understand that Malek couldn‚(TM)t belt out Queen songs like Mercury, but there were times when the synching was so off that you could tell it wasn‚(TM)t him and that took away from the moment. It hits many familiar biopic beats, only intercutting them with performances.

Overall: A very enjoyable film, but one that feels more like a rock concert than an actual movie. Still, it‚(TM)s a lot of fun and the acting, particularly from Malek, is outstanding and does more than enough to make this a great time.

S.W.A.T.
S.W.A.T.(2003)
½

Strengths: It‚(TM)s hard to watch this movie and not have a good time. It‚(TM)s just a fun action movie and sometimes, that‚(TM)s all you‚(TM)re looking for. Samuel L. Jackson (Daniel ‚Hondo‚? Harrelson) and Michelle Rodriguez (Christina Sanchez) shine playing the kind of characters they‚(TM)re known for. It was perfect casting. Meanwhile, Colin Farrell (James Street) and LL Cool J (Deacon Kay) were solid enough. There‚(TM)s plenty of action to sink your teeth into. Whether it be training moments as the team gets ready or the big stuff involving the prisoner transport, it‚(TM)s all enjoyable. There‚(TM)s a tense opening scene that is really good, as well as plenty of setup that makes us care about these characters. For the most part, I found the soundtrack to be very good.

Weaknesses: This is a cheesy movie without much in the way of story. It follows a simple plot line, hits the expected story beats, and plays out just about the way you‚(TM)d think. Jeremy Renner (Brian Gamble) is usually great, but felt like he was trying too hard in this. His expressions and such just don‚(TM)t work. He‚(TM)s cheesy. Speaking of cheese, the dialogue in this movie was full of it. So many lines that feel awkward or make you cringe.

Overall: What makes this movie work is that it fully understands what it is. It‚(TM)s a fun but cheesy action flick. If you go in just looking to have a good time, this should work.

The Space Between Us

Strengths: Britt Robertson (Tulsa) keeps getting cast in these romantic films and it works. She has solid chemistry with pretty much anyone she works with. She and Asa Butterfield (Gardner Elliot) share that chemistry and make for a decently cute couple. Carla Gugino (Kendra Wyndham) is also solid. The premise is a strong one. Telling the story of a person born in Mars is interesting on its own, and then putting them on Earth could make for some incredible moments. It‚(TM)s a nice idea.

Weaknesses: Execution completely lacks in this movie. If you‚(TM)re going to make a cheesy romantic film, that‚(TM)s fine. But when you add a sci-fi element, you should do some homework. Nearly every piece of science in this movie feels poorly researched and unrealistic. From the space travel to the ease with which Gardner escapes a NASA facility. The romantic stuff is also super clich√ (C) and never makes you interested. I was bored for a vast majority of what happened in this movie. Gary Oldman (Nathaniel Shepherd) seems to be phoning it in and gives one of his worst performances ever. You‚(TM)ll wonder how this is the same guy who was in Darkest Hour. It‚(TM)s hard to get past the bad writing and cheesiness of it all.

Overall: The two lead teens try hard but can‚(TM)t overcome the many flaws of this movie. Poor writing, bad pacing, cheesiness everywhere, and just being boring doom it all.

Beautiful Boy

Strengths: This movie packs one hell of an emotional punch. Seeing these characters deal with what‚(TM)s happening is heartbreaking. It is especially true when we see the lead character relapse after such a successful sober run. Timothee Chalamet (Nicholas Sheff) gives a remarkable performance as the drug addicted teen. He was kind of robbed of an Oscar nomination. It‚(TM)s one of those performances that you completely buy into. He becomes this character in a way that‚(TM)s almost scary. Steve Carrell (David Sheff) is just as great. He delivers the goods in terms of drama and emotion. You‚(TM)ll nearly be in tears watching him struggle with everything. Maura Tierney (Karen Barbour) and Amy Ryan (Vicki Sheff) are both strong in their smaller roles. Most of the writing works, as everyone gets realistic dialogue and most of the plot flows through two acts. The flashback aspect worked in some cases, like showing an emotional David searching for his son in his car, before immediately cutting to him in the car with Nicholas when he was younger.

Weaknesses: For every moment where the flashbacks worked, there were two or three where it didn‚(TM)t. I‚(TM)m usually a fan of non-linear storytelling. However, there were too many times that it happened and wasn‚(TM)t clear. We‚(TM)d jump around so often that it was hard to tell what was current and what was a flashback. There needed to be something clearer to make the eras noticeable. That confusion hurt the pacing. Also, the movie could‚(TM)ve cut some stuff and given us a proper ending, rather than one that just told us what happens in words flashing across the screen.

Overall: Despite some serious issues with the way the story is told, there‚(TM)s more than enough emotion to make this good. The incredible work from Carrell and Chalamet bump it up into great territory.

Mission: Impossible

Strengths: This movie seems to fully understand what it needs to be. It‚(TM)s kind of a goofy action flick and it makes sure most of the action works. The effects are strong for the era, even if they don‚(TM)t hold up two decades later. Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt) is mostly solid as the lead, but I‚(TM)d say Jon Voight (Jim Phelps) kind of steals the show. I also got a kick out of Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell) and his character. Brian De Palma also makes sure there are plenty of moments that keep you engaged as a viewer. He wants us to get wrapped up in the mystery and it‚(TM)s easy enough to do that.

Weaknesses: The script is kind of a mess. You can tell they had big plans for the mystery and all the plot twists, but it came across as very convoluted. They seemed to try way too much and things get lost in the shuffle. It can be difficult to follow. A fair amount of the actors didn‚(TM)t work for me. Emmanuelle Beart (Claire Phelps), Vanessa Redgrave (Max), and Henry Czerny (Eugene Kittridge) were all kind of just there. The biggest issue was probably the pacing. The movie never manages to keep up the momentum. It seems like we go from one strong scene to a dull one. It drags things down way more than you‚(TM)d hope.

Overall: The first Mission: Impossible is a solid film. It‚(TM)s a good time and I don‚(TM)t regret watching it, but I don‚(TM)t think I can see myself watching it again.

Io
Io(2019)

Strengths: There‚(TM)s a solid concept behind this movie. It‚(TM)s not super original, but I like the story of two people finding each other in an apocalyptic setting and trying to get somewhere together. It has worked in other films and could work here with a unique twist. The performances from both Margaret Qualley (Sam Walden) and Anthony Mackie (Micah) are mostly strong.

Weaknesses: The trailer made this feel like it would be a story about survival and getting to freedom. Instead, we got a boring saga between two people who don‚(TM)t ever really click. After their first conversation, things are just dull. The characters sit around and have conversations that don‚(TM)t go anywhere. It‚(TM)s just painfully boring to watch unfold. Nothing of interest even happens until you‚(TM)re about two-thirds of the way through the film. When you finally get there, the story then rapidly progresses at an unnatural rate. It doesn‚(TM)t make any sense.

Overall: Massive disappointment and my expectations weren‚(TM)t even that high. This was two actors awkwardly looking at each other while saying boring things in a tedious movie.

Unsane
Unsane(2018)
½

Strengths: To be honest, I have not been a fan of Claire Foy (Sawyer Valentini). However, she easily gives the best performance of her career in this movie. She comes across as realistically crazy early on, before becoming sympathetic for the final two acts. I‚(TM)m also not usually big on Steven Soderbergh, but this was some of his best work. The way the film was shot, entirely on an iPhone, was actually brilliant. In some cases, it could come across as some kind of stunt. Instead, this felt like it served a purpose. It made the movie feel realistic and like we were right there with Sawyer. We felt trapped in the institution with her. The movie does a great job playing with your expectations, making you wonder if Sawyer was truly insane or not. Jay Pharoah (Nate Hoffman) was likable and the twist involving who he really was came across very well. I liked Juno Temple (Violet) in her small role. Also, I got a kick out of the random Matt Damon (Detective Ferguson) cameo. He‚(TM)s become a master at that.

Weaknesses: While Sawyer is ultimately a good protagonist, she is unlikable at points. I know it works for her growth, but I found several points where I couldn‚(TM)t feel sympathy or relate to her. She kept making dumb decisions and digging herself into a worse hole. Joshua Leonard (David Strine/George Shaw) was fine as the stalker, but the character felt inconsistent. I understand he wasn‚(TM)t mentally stable. However, he just goes from one style of crazy to another. He‚(TM)s loving one second, singing the next, and murderous the next. That was what they were going for, but it just didn‚(TM)t work for me.

Overall: While there are some character inconsistencies and small issues that hold it back, Unsane is a very good psychological thriller. The strong acting and great directing helped make this work better than I expected.

The Legend of Tarzan

Strengths: She has done some great movies, but Margot Robbie (Jane Clayton) has a tendency to be the highlight of a lackluster movie (see: Suicide Squad; Terminal). That‚(TM)s the case here. While it‚(TM)s not one of her better performances, she‚(TM)s still the highlight. There‚(TM)s a fierceness she brings to Jane that is needed since those old ‚looks like Tarzan, fights like Jane‚? jokes were around. I also think Christoph Waltz (Leon Rom) was a good villain. He should just play only bad guys from now on. I appreciated how they went with a slightly new take on the Tarzan story, and the movie benefitted from some cool visual effects. It‚(TM)s a good looking movie.

Weaknesses: As much as I like Alexander Skarsgard (Tarzan/John Clayton III), I just didn‚(TM)t think he fit this role. He felt out of place throughout and never felt like the Tarzan I was hoping for. Samuel L. Jackson (George Washington Williams) is just being his usual self and not in a way that works. And while the visuals are nice, the action leaves a lot to be desired. There‚(TM)s a fight between Tarzan and an ape that should be exciting and it just isn‚(TM)t. That‚(TM)s the biggest issue with this movie. It‚(TM)s just not very entertaining. This should have just been a fun movie about a man swinging in the jungle and it takes itself way too seriously. That‚(TM)s not a take I feel works here. The first act drags badly and it never really picks up, leading to a boring movie.

Overall: The visuals and the solid work by Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz save this. However, both have done way better in other stuff and the movie is just too boring to ever be any fun.

Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade(2018)
½

Strengths: The thing that drew me to this movie from the start was the director. As a huge fan of Bo Burnham‚(TM)s comedy, getting to see something he wrote and directed was intriguing. He hit it out of the park. He wrote a wonderful script that somehow manages to expertly capture what I can only assume life is like for a teenager in this day and age. As director, he does so well to utilize the aspects of this era without going overboard. Little things like watching the protagonist through the lens of a vlog or seeing her take several attempts to get a selfie just right were captured. Bo also got a dynamite performance from Elsie Fisher (Kayla Day). She‚(TM)s only 15 but is captivating and real as the lead. You could totally believe this was a documentary or something because of how realistic this portrayal is. Despite her age, she has to carry a vast majority of this film on her own and she does it fantastically. The movie tackles plenty of tough subjects, including body shaming, social anxiety, peer pressure, and sexual harassment. It does it with finesse and again, never goes overboard. The conversation between Kayla and her father just before the ending is touching and simple. Josh Hamilton (Mark Day) does so well showing how much he cares for his daughter. Jake Ryan (Gabe) doesn‚(TM)t get a ton of screen time, but when he‚(TM)s on, we can appreciate what he does and he has an easy chemistry with Fisher. The film is also paced incredibly well. Each scene feels like it means something and never overstays its welcome.

Weaknesses: There‚(TM)s a good chance this movie won‚(TM)t age well. While I understand it fits in perfectly for this time period, it could be too focused on that to work when watched in ten or so years. There are plenty of awkward scenes and cringe moments that won‚(TM)t work for all audiences. Think a show like The Office. That kind of humor or entertainment has a limited scope.

Overall: Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher make for a powerful combination. They both excel in what they did here, bringing something special to one of the best coming of age movies I‚(TM)ve ever seen.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Strengths: A sequel is usually a safe bet for a franchise to bump up the action and big budget stuff. ThatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s true here. There arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t many moments of slow down. The characters figure out whatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s happening in their supposed safe zone quickly and escape by the end of the first act. The quick moving story ensures the pacing in this is strong. Dylan OÔŅ 1/2(TM)Brien (Thomas) is again solid as the lead, but feels like he has much less to work with. I appreciated the additions of Rosa Salazar (Brenda), Giancarlo Esposito (Jorge), Aiden Gillen (Janson), and Nathalie Emmanuel (Harriet). Salazar actually gets a lot to do, has some of the most exciting moments of the film, and shows better chemistry with OÔŅ 1/2(TM)Brien than anyone else in the film. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s quite the twist near the end of the movie that I think works well and sets us up for something major in the final installment.

Weaknesses: There were several things missing that worked in the first movie. I loved the mystery there and there really wasnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t much of that this time around. Everything is kind of given to you up front or is resolved quickly. A lot of characters are also given much less to work with. Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) plays an unlikable character and she lacks the chemistry she needs with OÔŅ 1/2(TM)Brien. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt) does nothing in this movie and even interesting people like Emmanuel, only appear for a short while. The story is muddled and the scrip is weak. It commits a major sin that comes with the middle movie in a trilogy. It just feels like it is there to set things up going forward, rather than delivering as a standalone film.

Overall: While it lacks a lot of what made the first one so good, this is still a relatively fun installment. The new additions are mostly strong, but it comes at the expense of other characters.

BlacKkKlansman
½

Strengths: Obviously, this film has a powerful message behind it. There‚(TM)s no shying away from what it means and that‚(TM)s okay. Spike Lee takes a very strong screenplay and makes it better by giving it his unique touch. It manages to be both relevant to its time period and poignant to today‚(TM)s climate. John David Washington (Ron Stallworth) does one of the best jobs of his career as the lead in this movie. From the way he talks to the way he carries himself, it‚(TM)s interesting to watch him walk the line between the two worlds. Speaking of that, I really liked how Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas) was used. With her political outlook, it really puts Ron in an interesting situation considering how he was in both camps. Adam Driver (Phillip Zimmerman) may give his greatest performance ever, which is saying something. He should win a few awards for this. Topher Grace (David Duke) was another highlight. He‚(TM)s hilarious as the KKK leader, yet still manages to come across as a legitimate bad guy. It‚(TM)s not an easy act to pull off but he does it well. A special shoutout should be given to Alec Baldwin (Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard) for the opening scene. It‚(TM)s funny, yet also makes you angry, and keeping in his flubs as he tries to film it makes you uneasy in a good way. The final major scene of the movie, where we see Ron, Phillip, David, and all these main characters at a KKK meeting, being intercut with the bomb possibly going off at Patrice‚(TM)s house was incredible. From the way it gets shot to the music to the tension built, it‚(TM)s masterful. The same goes for the impressive, inspiring speech given early in the movie.

Weaknesses: There are plenty of moments where Spike Lee‚(TM)s intention feels way too heavy handed and preachy. You understand where he‚(TM)s going, but less is certainly more sometimes. I got the idea behind the KKK induction being intercut with the speech leading to the ‚black power‚? chant, but it felt way too long and again, a little too preachy.

Overall: One of the best films of 2018. This serious subject is turned into a dark comedy in the best way possible. Led by a strong script, important message, and fantastic acting, it overcomes the few small problems it has.

Mom and Dad
Mom and Dad(2018)
½

Strengths: This movie has such a cool premise. Seeing things unfold, with the parents going nuts and coming to pick up their kids from school early, only to try to kill them, is really interesting. I appreciated how this also wasn‚(TM)t something directed at everyone. Parents would pass by children who aren‚(TM)t their own and treat them normally, only out to murder their offspring. Nicolas Cage (Brent Ryan) was perfectly cast here. He‚(TM)s known for his wildly over the top acting and that‚(TM)s exactly what was needed here. Cage makes something as simple as destroying a pool table into a spectacle. In some movies, it‚(TM)s out of place, but not here. Selma Blair (Kendall Ryan) is also good in this, and honestly gets more to work with. Anne Winters (Carly Ryan) is solid as well. I dug how there was never a real explanation for what was happening. This movie isn‚(TM)t about that and sticks to what works. Honestly, the comedy portions worked better than the horror.

Weaknesses: Ultimately, I wish this movie went even further than it did. Despite being over the top at points, it mostly played it safe other than a wild scene in a hospital. On that note, I also think they could‚(TM)ve made it more violent. Instead of showing the things that happened, they alluded to it. In a lot of cases, that works wonders for a movie but this is one that would have benefitted from it. also felt like the rules weren‚(TM)t always followed. Unless I missed it, Kendall and Brent never hear/see the thing that causes parents to go crazy, yet it happens to them.

Overall: An absolute blast of a movie. It‚(TM)s wacky and features some of the best Nicolas Cage you can find. Had they gone all in on this, it could‚(TM)ve been special.

Tully
Tully(2018)
½

Strengths: It‚(TM)s Charlize Theron (Marlo Moreau). She‚(TM)s pretty fantastic in everything she does. That seems to be especially true when she physically transforms for a role (Mad Max, Monster, etc.), which was again true here. The screenwriter/director combo of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman rank among the best in Hollywood. They understand what works for the other one and it results in a good movie. The film does an excellent job or portraying what parenthood is like in real life. That can be hard to capture as other movies don‚(TM)t do it justice and either under or oversell it. It also does well with the awkward comedy, going far enough to make it weird but never too far that you want to look away. Mackenzie Davis (Tully) isn‚(TM)t someone I‚(TM)ve seen much of, but this performance was enough to make me a fan. She steals the show in nearly every single scene. Mark Duplass (Craig) wasn‚(TM)t given a ton to work with, yet was still as delightful as ever. The twist at the end is unexpected and really makes this a darker movie than you‚(TM)d expect. It‚(TM)s a good thing.

Weaknesses: For as good as the twist is, there are several things that were left unanswered. I don‚(TM)t mind leaving things to the imagination, but there was stuff that needed to be discussed. For example, there‚(TM)s a scene where Marlo lets Tully have sex with Drew (Ron Livingston) and with the twist, that doesn‚(TM)t make sense and should‚(TM)ve been at least touched upon. For a comedy, there aren‚(TM)t many funny moments and this feels more like a drama. That isn‚(TM)t exactly the strong suit of this writer/director combo, making this their weakest collaboration.

Overall: While I‚(TM)ve seen these guys put together better movies, Tully still works. Theron and Davis combine for some must see acting and there‚(TM)s a fun, expected route the story goes to keep you engaged throughout.

Win It All
Win It All(2017)
½

Strengths: Jake Johnson (Eddie Garrett) is pretty fun in everything he does. Even when I watch a movie I don‚(TM)t particularly like involving him, he still manages to shine. That was the case here. He played a charming lead and had some solid chemistry with Aislinn Derbez (Eva). The portions of the movie that involve the gambling are the best part and I appreciated the little popups telling us how far into debt Eddie had fallen.

Weaknesses: Ultimately, not a lot happens in this movie. For a story about a guy with a gambling problem, he barely does any of that. There‚(TM)s a lot of attention paid to how he handles life with his girlfriend and not gambling, which isn‚(TM)t as interesting. There‚(TM)s no real growth for the character either. He gambles again in the end and wants to go too far, but is stopped by a heart attack. He doesn‚(TM)t seem to learn anything. Throw in how many other things aren‚(TM)t answered (the contents of the bag, the stolen phone, etc.) and it just feels like there was no point to watching this. The character work isn‚(TM)t good enough to carry the rest of the movie, which is flat out boring.

Overall: I keep watching Joe Swanberg movies and keep being disappointed. He always gets good casts together and the improv intrigues me. However, his films are boring and this ir gith up that alley.

Bad Times at the El Royale

Strengths: For the most part, the concept behind this movie isn‚(TM)t super original, but the execution is. Drew Goddard does a phenomenal job handling this entire movie. The screenplay, also written by him, is solid and sets up plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested. His style makes for a great looking movie and the little quirks like the title cards are cool. The acting lifts things up across the board. Jeff Bridges (Donald O‚(TM)Kelly) is better than I‚(TM)ve seen him in a while, Dakota Johnson (Emily Summerspring) gives easily the best performance of her career, Jon Hamm (Dwight Broadbeck/Seymour Sullivan) is his usual great self, and Cynthia Erivo (Darlene Sweet) surprised me in the first film I‚(TM)ve seen her in. However, the show stealer is Chris Hemsworth (Billy Lee). He doesn‚(TM)t show up until late in the movie, but is easily the best part. He portrays a charismatic cult leader and not only is he captivating in the role, as soon as he arrives, the ante of the entire movie is upped. I really appreciate how the movie manages to keep a lot as a secret until the very end. You want to find out just how everything will end and you‚(TM)re on the edge of your seat until then.

Weaknesses: There‚(TM)s a major flaw in the movie as soon as you see the runtime. Two and a half hours isn‚(TM)t too bad for a lot of movies, but it was for this one. There are several scenes that feel like they‚(TM)re just there to pad things out. It was ambitious to a fault at times. The flashbacks and telling the story in a split format was also weird. For example, there‚(TM)s a scene where someone gets shot behind a mirror. It cuts to other characters leading up to that moment and it just becomes obvious what‚(TM)s going to happen. The ending ultimately also leaves something to be desired.

Overall: Drew Goddard handles this movie with care and has a clear vision for what he wants to do. With great acting, a stylish look, and some killer twists and turns, this is a truly fun movie. Cut it back to about two hours and it could be an all-time great.

The Maze Runner

Strengths: What stands out about this film is the premise and the mystery surrounding where these characters are trapped. The film does a great job unveiling small pieces at a time of the mystery, while keeping you invested. The pacing was so strong. It starts with something interesting and never lingers on anything slow for too long. Even when scenes near that length, theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re the ones filled with key dialogue and things like that. The acting is stronger than youÔŅ 1/2(TM)d usually get in a YA adaptation. Dylan OÔŅ 1/2(TM)Brien (Thomas) is a strong lead, Kaya Scodelario (Teresa) was good despite not getting a ton of screen time, and I thought Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt) was a standout. The visual effects on the Grievers and the maze itself are well done, ensuring the sci-fi portion of the movie comes off right.

Weaknesses: A few characters come across as clichÔŅ 1/2 (C)s and not like real people. Will Poulter (Gally) does his best, but the character is too over the top with his beliefs. It comes across as eye roll inducing more than anything. Also, he never feels like much of a threat and is bested rather easily. Though itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s understandable that this is meant to be a trilogy, I didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t get the sense that there was enough resolution this go around. It didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t feel too earned when they got out in the end, as the fight through the maze was less impressive than expected.

Overall: Not without its flaws, The Maze Runner was still much better than I expected. The action and mystery throughout is more than enough to keep you engaged and have you realizing that you just watched something dark, yet fun.

Silver Linings Playbook
½

Strengths: On the surface, this shouldn‚(TM)t work. It‚(TM)s a movie about mental illness, football, and a dance competition. And yet, David O. Russell delicately balances it all for what might be the best work of his career. His screenplay is also one of my all-time favorites. Most characters get a lot of time to develop, there‚(TM)s a fair amount of comedy, moments to root for, and realistic dialogue. These are well rounded people with real quirks and flaws. The cast is unbelievably good. Bradley Cooper (Pat Solitano Jr.) is at his very best. Each time something happens we feel like he‚(TM)s on the brink of another emotional episode and Cooper does that so well. Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany Maxwell) gives the best performance of her career, which is saying something. She clicks with everyone on screen and portrays the damages character with finesse. The chemistry between the leads is insane, showing why they end up cast together in future movies. Robert De Niro (Pat Solitano Sr.) and Jacki Weaver (Dolores Solitano) are both great, while it was fantastic to see Chris Tucker (Danny McDaniels) once again. He was in true comedic relief form as each scene he was involved in was funny. The film handles a lot with respect and makes it all work.

Weaknesses: There are a few moments that feel a bit unrealistic and too far fetched to really work as well as it should. For example, it‚(TM)s hard to buy that they‚(TM)d get the required score needed in the dance competition because even the low bar set for them was a lot given how they performed. There‚(TM)s also a point or two where the pacing could be better.

Overall: One of the best films of 2012. With spectacular acting, a heartwarming story, a strong script, and great direction, this movie is always enjoyable.

The First Purge

Strengths: One thing holds up with each installment of The Purge. The concept is fantastic. There are just so many ways this series can go. Taking it back to the first ever experiment was a nice idea and some of what they did worked. Keeping it contained to an island, especially one featuring lower class citizens, made sense. As usual, the violence works and the filmmakers don‚(TM)t really hold back in terms of showing it all. From an action standpoint, a lot of this works. Mo McRae (7 & 7) and Lauren Velez (Luisa) give solid supporting performances.

Weaknesses: None of the acting is anything to write home about. Y‚(TM)lan Noel (Dmitri), Lex Scott Davis (Nya), and Jolvan Wade (Isaiah) are all kind of just there. While I don‚(TM)t think Marisa Tomei (Dr. May Updale) was bad, she was distracting. She‚(TM)s far too big a star to cast in this. It takes you out of the environment and that‚(TM)s not a good thing. The script does everyone no favors, forcing dialogue and not providing characters with enough development. They all just feel like cardboard cutouts. Lastly, the film seems to try way too hard to send a social message. Using poor minorities as the victims is fine, but the movie never does enough to make it work the way it needs to and it feels hollow.

Overall: The idea behind the movie is another hit for the series, but the execution lacks more than ever. Flat characters, bad writing, and lackluster action all over.

Lucy
Lucy(2014)
½

Strengths: Scarlett Johansson (Lucy Miller) is often a very strong part of any movie she works in. That was the case here, as she plays the title character with a charm and sense of intrigue. She nails the little ticks you might expect from someone going through these changes and losing more of her empathic capabilities. Many of the visuals are great. The effects team made phenomenal use of the $40 million budget. Everything looked cool. The actions sequences were also mostly well done. Morgan Freeman (Samuel Norman) and Analeigh Tipton (Caroline) gave solid performances.

Weaknesses: The biggest thing holding this movie back is logic, which is an important piece. It completely ignores science for the sake of having certain bits of action or effects. Pacing was another major issue. The film has some dull points getting to the ending and once we‚(TM)re in that third act, things kind of fall off a cliff. The plot is nonsensical at times. For all the cool effects and great work from Johansson, the script completely fails them. It takes predictable plot turns, despite the holes in logic. The ending was also quite dumb, as apparently all the knowledge needed in life is stored onto the most basic looking USB device ever.

Overall: If you love Scarlett Johansson, you‚(TM)ll enjoy this. I found it entertaining thanks to her work and the visual effects. But, there are some serious problems with the story, holding it back in a big way.

Life
Life(2017)
½

Strengths: This movie oozes potential. The cast is strong, with Jake Gyllenhaal (Dr. David Jordan), Ryan Reynolds (Rory Adams), and Rebecca Ferguson (Dr. Miranda North) are all very capable actors and they do well in this film. The concept behind it, with life being found on Mars and these people being completely unprepared to handle it, while trapped, makes for tense entertainment. The special effects are mostly good. It‚(TM)s needed in a movie in space and this film mostly got it right.

Weaknesses: While the acting is solid, the characters aren‚(TM)t very interesting. Miranda and David get the most screen time and don‚(TM)t hold my attention. Rory is better but is gone by the end of the first act or so. A lot of what Calvin (the alien lifeform) does feels repetitive. The movie goes to the well too often and it‚(TM)s all too similar. Those are two major issues. Lastly, I didn‚(TM)t care for the ending. While the twist on David‚(TM)s ship making it back to Earth was fine, how he casually lands by fisherman and what they decide to do was weird. Even stranger was the song choice for the credits following such a somber ending.

Overall: I wanted to like this a lot more. There are good ideas and good acting. The story and characters lack, the ending leaves a lot to be desired, and the movie is mostly just boring.

Bird Box
Bird Box(2018)
½

Strengths: The concept of this movie is a fantastic one. A woman having to protect kids and travel while not being able to see is harrowing. It made for some very tense scenes. One of the main reasons this film works where it does is Sandra Bullock (Malorie Hayes). She absolutely throws herself into the role. You can tell she took the role seriously and gives one hell of a performance. It‚(TM)s good enough to carry this film. One other actor delivers, and that‚(TM)s John Malkovich (Douglas). He gets to play the one character other than the lead who is likable. It‚(TM)s because he tells it like it is and calls out all the other dumb characters out.

Weaknesses: The film is mostly told with a split narrative. We cut back to how the apocalyptic event got started, which is fine. However, the film stays with all these random characters and none of them are likable or have a point. Machine Gun Kelly (Felix) and Rosa Salazar (Lucy) are just there to flirt, hook up, and then they literally disappear with no further explanation. Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is supposed to be important to the story, but she just gets yelled at by everyone got being stupid. Tom (Trevante Rhodes) is kind of just there. And knowing that they aren‚(TM)t around for the meat of the story, we have no reason to care about them. Then, logic kind of gets thrown out late. She travels the rapids with the kids, who shouldn‚(TM)t be able to survive. They‚(TM)re blindfolded and don‚(TM)t know how to swim. Also, the final act lacks the emotional punch it needed because the characters get to safety with relative ease.

Overall: This movie isn‚(TM)t great and it isn‚(TM)t flat out bad. It has major flaws in terms of logic and having characters you don‚(TM)t care about. However, most of the tense moments work and Bullock is great.

Bronson
Bronson(2009)

Strengths: It‚(TM)s all about Tom Hardy (Michael Gordon Peterson/Charles Bronson). He is phenomenal in this movie, giving arguably the best performance of his career. Every single time he appears on screen, which is basically the entire movie, it‚(TM)s gripping. You never know what he‚(TM)ll do next and he plays the unhinged role so well. He looks exceptionally crazy in the final two or three scenes. Choosing to lay the film out the way it is was smart. Our protagonist tells the story, either in an interview like setup or as if he‚(TM)s part of a vaudevillian theater. It‚(TM)s wacky and fits his chaotic persona.

Weaknesses: Other than Tom Hardy, none of the actors are even remotely memorable. Nobody does anything of interest other than our lead. While Hardy is fantastic and the style the story is told in works, the film doesn‚(TM)t say a whole lot. All we really learn is that Bronson is a troubled man who became even more troubled after his years of solitary confinement. A lot of things seem to go uncovered. For example, his wife and child are never mentioned again after he first goes to prison. Even if they stopped communicating with him, that should at least be mentioned. It makes their inclusion feels pointless.

Overall: A typical movie watcher may not dig this. It‚(TM)s told in such a weird style that it‚(TM)s not for everyone. That‚(TM)s one of the best aspects about it and Tom Hardy is outstanding. But, there‚(TM)s not a whole lot to this beyond him.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Strengths: Led by Denis Vilenueve, the first Sicario was great. This one returned some of what made that one click. Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro Gillick) and Josh Brolin (Matt Graver) are both back and both are very good. They understand their characters. Del Toro is especially great. Isabela Moner (Isabel Reyes) is also very good, especially considering her age. There‚(TM)s an intensity to many of the scenes and having a child involved added to the stakes. I thought the cinematography was a positive element. It added a lot to the dark tone of the film and made it feel enough like the original. The violence throughout was also used well. It never felt like it was there for shock value, instead being efficient and effective.

Weaknesses: Ultimately, it never felt like there was a real reason for this sequel. It‚(TM)s kind of just there for the sake of it. Like, this story didn‚(TM)t need to be told. The bigger issue is the pacing. For a two hour movie, it felt closer to three as there were many scenes that seemed placed in odd points. It made things drag from time to time. Even so, the biggest issue might be how the final act falls flat. Something bigger needed to go down in the end and it just never seemed to get there.

Overall: I thought this was a good watch for the most part. It is tense and features solid acting. It just suffers from pacing issues and a lackluster final act.

The Nice Guys
½

Strengths: Shane Black is one of HollywoodÔŅ 1/2(TM)s most underrated directors. His movies usually handle the action scenes with grace and manage to be pretty witty. This might be his best work. Every action scene in this is very well done. We get a true sense of whatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s happening, yet thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s still humor attached to it all. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s also not just action for the sake of it, instead being done in a way that moves the story along. Russell Crowe (Jackson Healy) is very good as the tough, hardened enforcer who becomes a better person at the end. However, Ryan Gosling (Holland March) steals the show. HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s absolutely hilarious in this, while also showing how much he cares for his daughter. Speaking of her, Angourie Rice (Holly March) is fantastic. SheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a highlight who plays well off both leads. The 70s setting adds a lot, giving this a funky vibe to help it stand out from the crowded field of buddy action comedies. The script gives us great plot twists, funny situations, and sharp dialogue.

Weaknesses: Some actors feel underutilized. Matt Bomer (John Boy) doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t get to do a whole lot as the quiet assassin and he ultimately looks so ridiculous, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s hard to take him serious. I also didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really see the point of Kim Basinger (Judith Kuttner). SheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a recognizable face but didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t do anything in this movie. Margaret Quailey (Ameila Kuttner) is fine from a performance standpoint, but her character is ultimately unlikable.

Overall: A top 3 favorite movie of 2016 for me (behind Captain America: Civil War and La La Land). It has everything you could want, from great action to hilarious comedy to emotional moments. A strong script, great acting, and a high quality director brought it all together.

Attack the Block

Strengths: Talk about a movie that blends things well. There are plenty of great moments that mix horror, sci-fi, comedy, drama, and even surprising social commentary. It‚(TM)s hard to balance all that, but this film does it well. John Boyega (Moses) does very well as the lead and it‚(TM)s cool to see him in his pre-Star Wars days. I also really liked Jodie Whittaker (Samantha Adams) and her mixed relationship with the gang. Her presence helps Moses grow over the course of the film. Franz Drameh (Dennis) was another shining spot. The movie plays well off clich√ (C)s and never takes itself too seriously. Despite not having a big budget, the movie manages to pull off some solid looking alien creatures. They get a lot of screen time, but the filmmakers found creative ways to design and showcase them.

Weaknesses: Nick Frost (Ron) was one probably the biggest name attached to this movie at the time. However, he doesn‚(TM)t get to do much and when he‚(TM)s on screen, he doesn‚(TM)t leave an impression at all. It feels like a waste. It‚(TM)s tough to say this but I found a lot of scenes that were hard to understand. These characters have thick accents, which is expected, and they speak so fast, it became difficult to follow at some points.

Overall: All sci-fi fans should check this out. It has a future Star Wars actor and the 13th Doctor. Beyond that, this is a fresh movie that balances a lot of cool things and makes most of them work.

Crazy Rich Asians
½

Strengths: There was a lot of buzz about this movie and I can understand why. There‚(TM)s a lot to like. Constance Wu (Rachel Chu) is really fun as the lead, while Henry Golding (Nicholas Young) probably steals the show alongside her. Ditto for Michelle Yeoh (Eleanor Sung-Young). I felt that the chemistry between the romantic leads was very strong. It is something important for a romantic comedy to succeed and it works so well in this one. The script allows for comedic situations and snappy, witty dialogue. There are plenty of funny matches, yet they balance it out with a lot of emotion. You feel for these characters, connect with them, and root for them. For the most part, they were real, layered characters playing off the expected clich√ (C)s. Visually, there‚(TM)s also a ton to like. The scenery, outfits, and everything is just beautiful.

Weaknesses: Awkwafina (Goh Peik Lin) was a scene stealer in Ocean‚(TM)s 8. Here, she felt like she was trying too hard. There are points where she‚(TM)s really funny, but most of the time, it‚(TM)s as if she went over the top. She came across like the Asian mother trying to be hip from The Hot Chick. Ken Jeong (Goh Wye Mun) played her father and gave one of his lesser performances. The movie hits many predictable beats. It‚(TM)s often the stuff you‚(TM)d expect from every other romantic comedy out there.

Overall: One of the more fun movies of the year. The cast and characters are likable, everything is vibrant, and the leads have electric chemistry. There are elements that hold it back from being a great rom-com, though.

Sleeping with Other People

Strengths: This movie is led by two of the best comedic actors around. Alison Brie (Elaine Dalton) and Jason Sudekis (Jake) both give some of the best performances of their careers. Brie really hits it out of the park as a girl who is likable, but clearly has problems. In fact, the movie is ripe with those. Flawed, fleshed out characters we can relate to and like. Even Amanda Peet‚(TM)s (Paula) character is someone you can root for and she‚(TM)s actively in the way of the romantic leads getting together. Speaking of her, the supporting cast is great. Natasha Lyonne (Kara), Adam Scott (Matthew Sobvechik), Jason Mantzoukas (Xander), and Andrea Savage (Naomi) are all delightful. The dialogue between everyone is sharp. These feel like real conversations and most of them are funny. It also manages to avoid the pitfalls of the clich√ (C)s we‚(TM)re used to in the genre and tells a modern tale that gets almost everything right.

Weaknesses: There are a handful of moments where you can tell that the movie is trying too hard to be edgy or raunchy. I also found one key scene to be weird. The two leads take Molly and go to a kid‚(TM)s party. It‚(TM)s not bad, but I feel like something wackier needed to happen there. That needed to be played for more laughs.

Overall: A great romantic comedy. The combination of a great cast, strong dialogue, relatable characters, and genuinely funny moments makes it an underrated gem.

Legend
Legend(2015)

Strengths: Tom Hardy (Ronald and Reginald Kray) is fantastic. The guy stole the show in movies like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, but this is some of his best work. He plays both Kray brothers in excellent fashion. They‚(TM)re twin brothers, yet feel and look completely different. That‚(TM)s a testament to how great Hardy was in the roles. It takes a lot to carry two leads, but he nailed it. The fight scenes throughout are well crafted and feel as violent as they need to in this kind of gangster movie.

Weaknesses: The supporting cast just doesn‚(TM)t hold up to Tom Hardy‚(TM)s great work. Emily Browning (Frances Shea) feels miscast as the love interest. She looks out of place, her performance lacks, and she doesn‚(TM)t have chemistry with Hardy. Christopher Eccleston (Leonard Reed), David Thewlis (Leslie Payne), Paul Bettany (Charlie Richardson) and Taron Egerton (Edward Smith) are all kind of just there. They don‚(TM)t do anything of interest or leaving a lasting impression. Often, the movie actually ends up being kind of boring.

Overall: Tom Hardy gives a performance to remember and it‚(TM)s enough to carry this to be enjoyable. It just needed more interesting beats to make it great.

CAM
CAM(2018)

Strengths: This is a movie that doesn‚(TM)t shy away from what it is. Focusing on a porn driven webcam girl meant the film needed to be raw and showcase what that life is like. Things are uncut and graphic, but never go too far into the explicit territory. Madeline Brewer (Alice Ackerman/Lola) gives a very strong performance as the lead. She showcases the character‚(TM)s vulnerabilities and terror at what ultimately happens. It might be the best lead performance I‚(TM)ve seen in a horror movie this year. She‚(TM)s that good. The film is suspenseful and makes you truly wonder what is going on. There were moments where I was left looking at the screen in awe of what was happening. It‚(TM)s a well-crafted film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Weaknesses: The film leaves things a bit too open ended. It feels like we never get a true answer for what was happening. For example, there‚(TM)s a scene where the replica is camming from her home with a picture of her brother. No explanation was officially given and that lacked. Leaving us with a better understanding would have been beneficial. It also felt like some actors, mainly Jessica Parker Kennedy (Katie) and Devin Druid (Jordan Ackerman) were underutilized.

Overall: A surprisingly great movie. I wasn‚(TM)t expecting something that worked so well. It‚(TM)s smart, stylish, suspenseful, and led by top notch work from Brewer.

Free Fire
Free Fire(2017)

Strengths: Most of the actors in this movie are doing a great job and seem to be having a lot of fun. Brie Larson (Justine) plays the person who is probably the most pivotal character of the story and does so well. Armie Hammer (Ord) is the highlight of it all, with Sharlto Copley (Vernon) and Cillian Murphy (Chris) also being strong parts of it all. I appreciated the way this movie showcased a giant gunfight in such a unique way. The actual action pieces of the shootout were well done, but it was the way they brought comedy into it all that made this film work. Since it‚(TM)s ultimately one long drawn out shootout, it feels much more realistic than you‚(TM)re used to in movies. Each wound takes it toll on the characters, they spend a lot of time hiding, and not many people survive. The snappy dialogue works and the 70s setting is a cool choice.

Weaknesses: Being one long gun fight means that it can be difficult to pull out the dramatic beats you ultimately want. For example, there‚(TM)s a point where snipers are brought into play and there‚(TM)s a mystery over who they‚(TM)re working for, but the payoff isn‚(TM)t all that interesting. Also, since it isn‚(TM)t wall to wall action, there are a few times where the movie feels like it drags. It‚(TM)s just people sitting around doing uninteresting things. Most of the characters don‚(TM)t get fleshed out or made into real people, with some feeling like clich√ (C)s.

Overall: A24 is one of my favorite film studios. This isn‚(TM)t one of their best movies, but it‚(TM)s another unique one. Though it lacks in depth and some highly interesting moments, it remains a fun film.

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)
½

Strengths: The mind of Guillermo Del Toro is a wild place. He‚(TM)s known for being a creative guy and this is some of his best stuff. It‚(TM)s not so far out there that most people can‚(TM)t relate, but is just the right amount of creative. Visually, this is stunning. The robots look cool, but it‚(TM)s the monsters who steal the show. They all look really cool. It‚(TM)s also positive that they share so many characteristics, yet each manage to look unique. Charlie Hunnam (Raleigh Becket) plays a very fun lead, with Idris Elba (Marshal Stacker Pentecost) and Rinko Kikuchi (Mako Mon) doing a strong job. Charlie Day (Dr. Newt Geiszler) and Ron Perlman (Hannibal Chau) are probably the show stealers among the humans. They‚(TM)re so much fun and their scenes together advance the plot while remaining lighthearted. There‚(TM)s a lot of action and big fight scenes that do exactly what we hope from a movie like this. It ultimately balances the sci-fi, the action, and some laughs quite well.

Weaknesses: The plot isn‚(TM)t anything that will blow you away. The film follows some basic story points and the script hits us with some lackluster dialogue. We get things explained to us in a way that doesn‚(TM)t feel too natural.

Overall: An absolute blast of a movie. The script holds it back from being some kind of all-time classic, but it remains one of the most enjoyable movies I can recall. I loved it.

First Man
First Man(2018)
½

Strengths: Damien Chazzelle is quickly becoming one of the fastest rising directors in Hollywood. Following the success of Whiplash and La La Land, he delivers a third great performance here. Not only does he do a strong job with the character building moments, but he completely nails the tension and drama of the space travel. When something goes wrong on a mission, we feel and hear every single thing that causes trouble. The actual steps onto the moon are well crafted and we get a true feel for how vast the moon is. Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong) gives another strong performance, working well with Chazzelle once again. Actors like Claire Foy (Janet Armstrong), Kyle Chandler (Deke Slayton), and Corey Stoll (Buzz Aldrin) also did very well.

Weaknesses: While the character work and atmosphere are top notch, the movie somehow doesn‚(TM)t connect as much as I wanted. I found myself disinterested at several points and ultimately waiting for it to end, rather than being taken along on the journey. It‚(TM)s hard to pinpoint what caused it, but this had all the elements of a classic, yet never made me feel like I was watching one.

Overall: Thanks to s great acting and top notch directing, First Man is certainly worth checking out. There just also happens to be something hollow about it keeping it from being one of the best of the year.

A Simple Favor
½

Strengths: Anna Kendrick (Stephanie Smothers) continues to be a delight in everything she works in. She has become a solid choice to lead almost any comedy. I also appreciated the small role by Linda Cardellini (Diana Hyland), who proved she can nearly steal the show in just one scene. The first half or so of this movie is quite engaging. We‚(TM)re introduced to the characters and the mystery, which is one that grabs you. You want to know just what the hell is going on, almost similar to the successful Gone Girl, but on a smaller and less serious scale.

Weaknesses: Blake Lively (Emily Nelson) has gotten praise for her work here but I just don‚(TM)t see it. It often felt like she was trying too hard to be strange. It could partially be how the role was written, but I just never bought into her character. In fact, when she ultimately returns to the story a little over halfway through, the movie takes a nosedive. That should rev things up, but instead, the story goes off the rails. They try throwing way too much at the wall to give us twists and turns, yet it feels hollow and none of it really ever lands. It‚(TM)s like it becomes a completely different movie that fails to capitalize on a mostly strong start.

Overall: With a likable cast members and a great premise, I had high hopes for this. Instead, it gets bogged down by trying way too hard in certain aspects and the twists just never have a true impact.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Strengths: I‚(TM)m someone who doesn‚(TM)t always find a movie hilarious the first time around. I get more and more jokes as I watch it over time. With this movie, I was in stitches so much the first time, that I watched it again an hour later. It‚(TM)s been ten years and I still find it hilarious. There are just so many funny scenes. The entire cast provides us with plenty of laughs. Jason Segel (Peter Bretter) manages to be charming, sympathetic and funny. Mila Kunis (Rachel Jansen) is tough, likable, and probably made me laugh more in this than any of her other films combined. Kristen Bell (Sarah Marshall) is outstanding and Russell Brand (Aldous Snow) has never been better. Throw in great small performances from Paul Rudd (Chuck/Kunu), Bill Hader (Brian Bretter), Jonah Hill (Matthew Van Der Wyk), Kristen Wiig (Prana), Jack McBayer (Darald Braden), Maria Thayer (Wyoma Braden), and many others and you‚(TM)ve got non-stop laughs. The script is very strong. While it‚(TM)s obvious comedic, it still does a lot in terms of providing a strong character arc and natural, witty dialogue. The songs written for the movie are also great. All four or five are catchy and fit the characters singing them.

Weaknesses: I can‚(TM)t find many, if any. The beats it hits are pretty familiar and it can, at times, feel like any other romantic comedy. Those moments are quickly wiped away by something special, but they are there.

Overall: A vastly underrated comedy. It‚(TM)s laugh out loud funny and features some of the best work of a very talented cast. I‚(TM)ve seen it over ten times and it never gets less enjoyable.

Incredibles 2

Strengths: The key elements that worked in 2004 were clear again in this long-awaited sequel. Pixar never misses when it comes to the visual side of things, giving us another gorgeous animated movie. The voice cast was strong as always, from returning stars like Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) to Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigrl) to Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr) to the new additions like Bob Odenkirk (Winston Deavor), Sophia Bush (Karen/Voyd) and Jonathan Banks (Rick Dicker). The action scenes were mostly well crafted. Even the smaller ones get attention to detail. For example, Voyd fights Violet in a short sequence, but its one that uses their powers creatively. The story remains one filled with character growth all around. I dig how the protagonist this go around is mainly Eliastigirl. It gives it a different feel from the original. The idea behind the Screenslaver villain is a good one and at cerain points, it felt like the heroes were in real trouble.

Weaknesses: Though the idea of the villain is strong, the execution lacks. The reveal that of who was behind it all came from a mile away. Catherine Keener (Evelyn Deavor) does her best with the character, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s just not one that feels all that interesting. If your main antagonist is going to be built around a plot twist, itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s important not to make it an obvious one. I felt like Dash (Huckleberry Milner) was underutilized. There was almost no use of his powers, which is a shame because everyone else in the movie got time to shine.

Overall: A great, worthy sequel to an all-time great first film. It falls a notch below that one mainly thanks to a lesser villain, but this is still one hell of a fun ride.

Kong: Skull Island
½

Strengths: Visually, this movie works on many levels. Kong looks tremendous, like the Godzilla movie set in the same universe. Even more than Kong, the other creatures on Skull Island look great. They‚(TM)re creative and come to life in a fantastic way. I like how the movie wasn‚(TM)t all about Kong. Giving us other deadly creatures allowed him to play more of a hero, which is a great way to introduce him. The cast was also a highlight with some very talented actors. Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), John C. Reilly (Hank Marlow), John Goodman (Bill Randa), and pretty much everyone else was pretty enjoyable. I also want to commend the runtime. After just under two hours, the movie is very tidy.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly, one of the more disappointing aspects of this movie was Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard). His character was clich√ (C) and he didn‚(TM)t seem to be putting in one of his better efforts. As good as Kong and everything looked, it did feel like there was an overabundance of CGI. A vast majority of the movie is done that way and it makes it feel kind of fake. It takes you out of the story at points.

Overall: While there‚(TM)s a bit too much CGI, the movie does look impressive. Most of the cast and action scenes are strong, while the pacing and runtime make it much more enjoyable than the bloated mess that was the 2005 version.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Strengths: This is a movie that had so much to juggle and a lot riding on its shoulders to get right. They nailed every little detail. First of all, the voice cast is stellar. Shameik Moore (Miles Morales) completely nails everything that is needed of this lead. Jake Johnson (Peter B. Parker) is hilarious as a disheveled version of the famous hero. It can be difficult to get comedic stuff across through voice only, but Johnson feels like he was born for it. I loved this take on the character. Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman) is great, while Liev Schreiber (Wilson Fisk/Kingpin) and Katheryn Hahn (Olivia Octavius/Doctor Octopus) made for good villains. There‚(TM)s also good efforts from Brian Tyree Henry (Jefferson Davis) and Kimiko Glenn (Peni Parker). However, the show stealers had to be John Mulaney (Peter Porker/Spider-Ham) and Nicholas Cage (Peter Parker/Spider-Man Noir). Both are funny, with the latter killing it in each line. The delivery is expert from Cage. I‚(TM)m a sucker for unique animation styles and this movie is gorgeous. It feels just like a comic book and is the kind of thing you need to see on the big screen or in as high quality as possible. The script is sharp, with each character getting enough time to shine and feel fully developed. The dialogue feels fresh, funny, and never forced. I love the overall plot and how the focus is on Miles growing into the role of a superhero while also dealing with his family issues. Throw in a TON of nods to the comics, games, TV shows, and movies of Spider-Man‚(TM)s past, and you‚(TM)ve got a true winner.

Weaknesses: Honestly, I can‚(TM)t really think of any. This movie has it all.

Overall: We‚(TM)ve had so many Spider-Man movies in history and somehow, the ninth to feature the character feels the freshest. The filmmakers got every little thing right. From the animation to the voice acting to the story to the history to the post-credits scene. Outstanding.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

Strengths: As someone who typically enjoys Guy Ritchie‚(TM)s style, I dug the way this movie was shot and how it was handled. You can tell it‚(TM)s a film by him from the very beginning. He was a good choice. Charlie Hunnam (Arthur) mostly does a strong job as the lead, while Jude Law (Vortigern) seems to be having a blast as the villain. The latter is probably the highlight of this film. Aiden Gillen (Goosefat Bill Wilson), Djimon Hounsou (Sir Bedivere), and Eric Bana (Uther) also give solid performances. I though the action scenes were well crafted. They do a good job mixing the more practical fighting moments with the mythical and magical elements. The famous scene where he pulls the sword from the stone was strong and I appreciated the way the main plot was mostly grounded and relatable.

Weaknesses: While Hunnam gives a good performance, there are points where he feels like he‚(TM)s still putting too much Jax Teller into himself. It‚(TM)s understandable after playing a character for so long, but it can be distracting. Some of the visuals don‚(TM)t look as great as you‚(TM)d want from a big budget movie in 2018. The story gets muddled at times and it never felt like they went far enough into the more magical elements of the story. Though they attempted to do their own take on the classic tale, they may have removed too much of it to truly hit the mark they needed.

Overall: It‚(TM)s not a great movie, but it‚(TM)s one that does enough to be good. Strong acting and action sequences make it enjoyable, even if the plot misses here or there.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Strengths: For a long time, Kate McKinnon (Morgan Freeman) has been a standout on Saturday Night Live. Here, she got the chance to shine in a big role and continued to be delightful. She‚(TM)s funny in most of her scenes, bringing a wackiness to a character who needed it. Mila Kunis (Audrey Stockton) is her usual solid self. She‚(TM)s not hilarious, but her comedic timing remains strong. Sam Heughan (Sebastian Henshaw) gave us a charming guy character to root for. Some of the action scenes were better than I expected from a movie like this.

Weaknesses: The biggest glaring issue this movie suffers from is that it doesn‚(TM)t seem to know what it wants to be. It never fully commits to the funny or the action, teetering on both. It goes too far in each genre to be both, but holds back so it can‚(TM)t fully be either. It‚(TM)s odd. Justin Theroux (Drew Thayer) is bland and I have no idea what was up with Ivanna Sakhno (Nadejda). The character felt all over the place and I was more confused at her than ever interested. As much as I enjoyed McKinnon, there were points where it felt like she may put herself too much into the character. It felt like just another one of her SNL acts instead of a real person in this world.

Overall: The main performances are mostly funny and charming. However, it‚(TM)s not enough to overcome an uneven plot and a movie that doesn‚(TM)t seem to understand what tone it should have.

You Were Never Really Here

Strengths: When I first heard about this movie, it was due to the high praise for the work of Joaquin Phoenix (Joe). That was all warranted. He‚(TM)s fantastic as the lead. He manages to carry himself with such a menacing presence that even though the character isn‚(TM)t in incredible shape, he still feels imposing. While he is incredible, the true star of this movie is director Lynne Ramsay. She captured the perfect atmosphere for this movie. Nearly every shot of Joe makes you feel like something violent could break out at any moment. The tension is palpable in a way that not many filmmakers can properly capture. I also love the way she tells and shows a lot without showing much of anything. Nearly every violent scene is shot in a way where we just get a peek of the action or see the aftermath. It makes it so we fully grasp what‚(TM)s happening even if we don‚(TM)t see it. It‚(TM)s brilliant work.

Weaknesses: It‚(TM)s a hard film to follow. The director leaves a lot to the viewer‚(TM)s imagination and our questions are never really answered. It can be jarring. There‚(TM)s a scene where Joe has to get rid of a dead body and it‚(TM)s highly emotional and well shot, but I also found it quite boring. That scene and the final one or two really seemed to drag, which was a shame in a movie that doesn‚(TM)t really waste much time.

Overall: While the movie can be tough to get through for some, it‚(TM)s quite captivating. Lynne Ramsay does some incredible work in telling a story without much dialogue, while Joaquin Phoenix gives a powerhouse performance.

The Incredibles
½

Strengths: This movie is a case of Pixar doing what they do best. They crafted a story around something interesting and nailed all the little things to make it special and unique. I appreciated how this is a kids movie but with adult themes. The whole reason the superheroes must go into hiding began because someone didn‚(TM)t want to be saved from his attempted suicide. That‚(TM)s dark. I think it worked very well. Brad Bird did a wonderful job with the set pieces, giving this more action than most live action superhero movies. The writing is sharp and the characters are all well developed, even if a little stereotypical at points. Most of the voice cast is good. Craig T. Nelson (Bon Parr/Mr. Incredible), Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best/Frozone), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), and Jason Lee (Buddy Pine/Syndrome) stand out. We get a good villain and a well put together score. The animation also ranks right near the top in terms of the high quality work Pixar has done.

Weaknesses: There are a few small things that bug me. When Violet helps her family escape from being Syndrome‚(TM)s captives, it feels way too easy and unearned. It should have meant more. There are moments, here or there, where a bit more time and care could‚(TM)ve been given. I also wish the second battle would have been against something different than just a better version of the robot Mr. Incredible beat alone earlier in the film.

Overall: One of the better animated films ever made. It has heart, is funny, features likable characters, and is imaginative. There‚(TM)s not much more you can ask for.

Friday
Friday(1995)

Strengths: The script does this movie a lot of favors. The dialogue comes across as natural and realistic, while the characters are surprisingly well developed. Ice Cube (Craig Jones) is a solid lead and plays a character who grows over the course of the film. He‚(TM)s always found success as the straight man in movies like this. It helps that the funny man, Chris Tucker (Smokey) is at his best. There‚(TM)s a reason the role is so memorable. He‚(TM)s fantastic. The smaller performances by the likes of Tiny Lister Jr. (Deebo), John Witherspoon (Willie Jones), Nia Long (Debbie Parker), Anthony Johnson (Ezel), and Bernie Mac (Pastor Clever) were all hilarious. This movie is just straight up funny, even more than two decades later. The fight scene at the end is way stronger than you‚(TM)d expect from a comedy.

Weaknesses: It does feel like the kind of movie that won‚(TM)t work for everyone. The comedy is centered around being someone who understands the situations that come with living in a hood like that. While the underlying story is one that is relatable, the plot points around it may not click for general audiences.

Overall: A really funny classic cult comedy. There‚(TM)s a nice little lesson in there, some surprisingly solid action moments, and plenty of quotable moments.

Keeping Up With The Joneses

Strengths: What first brought me to this movie was the cast. Zach Galifianakis (Jeff Gaffney) and Isla Fisher (Karen Gaffney) were both their usual funny selves, while Jon Hamm (Tim Jones) and Gal Gadot (Natalie Jones) were very fun. Everyone played well off each other and seemed to be having a blast in these roles. The premise was also a solid one, setting up for some very interesting moments.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, many of those potential moments donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t work. Instead of trying something new, the film is littered with clichÔŅ 1/2 (C) situations and scenes that felt all too familiar. Also, for being an action comedy, neither of those aspects were overwhelming. The action scenes were okay at best, while there was barely anything that made me laugh. Patton Oswalt (Scorpion) was right at the top of the unfunny parts of this film.

Overall: Busy today, so itÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a quick review. The cast and setup are strong, but the script completely lets everyone down.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Strengths: This is basically just what I wanted from this installment. The first movie did well to set everything us and make us connect with Caesar (Andy Serkis). This one expanded on it without giving us a full on war yet. The suspense is well handled by Matt Reeves throughout. There are plenty of scenes where things have potential to escalate and the atmosphere is tremendous. Serkis is once again fantastic. We feel even more for Caesar this go around as he now has a family and gets turned on by a friend. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s heart breaking. The movie builds and build to some special moments that are worth it at the end. Judy Greer (Cornelia) was also one of the stronger acted apes. Jason Clarke (Malcolm) and Keri Russell (Ellie) both gave very good performances as the compassionate and understanding humans. The world feels realistic and I love the various takes on fatherhood, similar to the first one.

Weaknesses: Gary Oldman (Dreyfus) felt super underutilized. HeÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a great actor who couldÔŅ 1/2(TM)ve been a strong addition to this franchise. Especially when we got shots of the characterÔŅ 1/2(TM)s kids being gone. But he doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really do anything. Kirk Acevedo (Carver) was also way too generic. He played the typical jerk who ruins everything by being a dick and it never clicked. It felt like he was trying too hard.

Overall: An improvement on the first film. They take what made that work and expand on it, while giving us a lot of suspense, plot twists, and emotions.

Uncle Drew
Uncle Drew(2018)

Strengths: The basketball scenes in this movie are pretty cool. The players get to bust out some impressive looking moves and the games, other than the championship, don‚(TM)t follow the traditional formula you‚(TM)ve come to expect. Kyrie Irving (Uncle Drew) is better than I thought he‚(TM)d be, while Reggie Miller (Wilbur ‚Lights‚? Wallace) and Shaquille O‚(TM)Neal (Big Fella) are both funny. The main characters grow from the start of the film until the end, showing solid evolution.

Weaknesses: The script is very predictable. It hits a lot of beats that are all too familiar with the genre. You can basically call out what is going to happen next with relative ease. Most of the physical gags miss the mark and a lot of the actors just aren‚(TM)t funny. Tiffany Haddish (Jess) makes you cringe way more than she makes you laugh, while Nick Kroll (Mookie Bass) only has one or two moments that work.

Overall: A goofy basketball movie that is okay at best. I don‚(TM)t feel like I wasted my time on it, but I can‚(TM)t ever see myself watching it again. A few laughs but a formulaic script and some unfunny characters hurt.

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)
½

Strengths: With a Zack Snyder directed film, you can kind of expect strong visuals. ThatÔŅ 1/2(TM)s where this movie works. It looks beautiful and the action scenes are very well choreographed. Though they donÔŅ 1/2(TM)t have a ton to work with, Jamie Chung (Amber) and Jena Malone (Rocket) stand out as probably the best performances. The soundtrack also happens to be fantastic and is easily the most addictive and memorable thing about this movie.

Weaknesses: The story is an absolute mess. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s no reason to root for any of the characters other than Babydoll (Emily Browning) and even sheÔŅ 1/2(TM)s not that likable. So the idea is that people get so distracted by BabydollÔŅ 1/2(TM)s super erotic dances that theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re susceptible to getting duped? Then, the imaginary action scenes come and those arenÔŅ 1/2(TM)t as interesting because we know theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re fake so itsÔŅ 1/2(TM) hard to get invested. Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) is kind of the main character but thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s no reason to cheer for her, Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) is kind of just there, and Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) is over the top. There are all sorts of pacing issues, as this movie just drags on.

Overall: Full of potential, good music, and pretty visuals, Sucker Punch falls flat due to dense characters and a bad script.

Venom
Venom(2018)

Strengths: The trailer for this movie was a huge success for one major reason. The final shot of Venom. That‚(TM)s because it looked fantastic and honestly, most of this movie follows suit. The main character is done with tremendous special effects work, making for one of the more visually stunning superhero characters in film history. Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock/Venom) is pretty fun as the lead, even if he is completely weird. The action scenes are mostly well executed and with the film clocking in under two hours, it never feels long. Once it gets going, it moves along nicely due to some solid pacing. For a PG-13 take, they managed to still deliver some violent scenes. Who can‚(TM)t enjoy Venom just biting the heads off bad guys?

Weaknesses: The plot is super uneven. Venom goes from wanting to take over the world to deciding to stick around and save it simply because he likes Eddie. It‚(TM)s hollow and doesn‚(TM)t have a strong enough motivation behind it. We never feel that the Eddie/Venom bond has become that strong, making that chance of pace come from out of nowhere. More time could‚(TM)ve been spent establishing it. The acting by most of the cast is pretty lackluster. Michelle Williams (Anne Weying) lacks chemistry with Hardy, Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake/Riot) is over the top, and Jenny Slate (Dora Skirth) is not believable. The script doesn‚(TM)t do any favors because the dialogue is cheesy and never feels real.

Overall: I‚(TM)m no fool. While I enjoyed this movie, it has plenty of flaws. I know it‚(TM)s not great. However, sometimes I just want to have some campy, wacky fun. Since this movie isn‚(TM)t too long, it manages to enjoyable throughout.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
½

Strengths: Any talk about this franchise must begin with the performance of Andy Serkis (Caesar). There‚(TM)s a reason he‚(TM)s always the first choice for any character based on CGI. He is fantastic, nailing each mannerism and expression of the story‚(TM)s main ape. You feel for him and understand his uprising, yet also fear him. That‚(TM)s all thanks to Serkis‚(TM) acting. The story works as a great origin tale. A lot of time is given to Caesar‚(TM)s beginnings, making for a complex protagonist. What he leads the apes to do is wrong, yet we can understand why he goes there. I really dig the way the movie gave us a way to see things from the perspective of the apes. It leaves the viewer unsure of where their loyalties should lie. The visuals are strong and James Franco (William Rodman) gives a solid performance, though it is kind of forgettable.

Weaknesses: Though it‚(TM)s understandably the first leg of a series, it does feel underwhelming. The movie ends right around the time things truly picked up. Some of the acting outside of the main two characters leaves a lot to be desired. Freida Pinto (Caroline Aranha) isn‚(TM)t very believable, Brian Cox (John Landon) is cheesy, and Tom Felton (Dodge Landon) is kind of just playing a lesser version of Draco Malfoy. There wasn‚(TM)t a lot in the way of excitement.

Overall: I‚(TM)d say this got off to the right start. The writing allows for the story to build and Serkis is phenomenal. It just lacked some action and a stronger ending.

Deadpool
Deadpool(2016)

Strengths: Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/Deadpool) was dying to get this movie made for a long time. It‚(TM)s clear why from just a few scenes. He totally gets who this character is supposed to be. The tone of the movie is perfect. Similar to Scott Pligrim vs. The World, this is a film that manages to capture the comic it is based on to perfection. Reynolds is fantastic as the lead, nailing every hilarious moment. The supporting cast around him is mostly strong, too. Morena Baccarin (Vanessa) is a solid love interest, TJ Miller (Weasel) is good comedy, Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead) is fun, and Stefan Kapicic (Colossus) provides fantastic voiceover work. The action scenes are mostly exciting and the gore is just at the right level. It‚(TM)s enough for you to get how this is an R rated film, but it never goes too far that it overshadows everything else that is going on.

Weaknesses: I feel that there are two things that aren‚(TM)t great in this movie. Ed Skrein (Francis Freeman/Ajax) doesn‚(TM)t do much for me as the villain. He‚(TM)s kind of just there. The performance and the character. The same goes for Gina Carano (Angel Dust). They‚(TM)re the antagonists and it just never feels like they‚(TM)re a real threat. The other thing I didn‚(TM)t love was the narrative choice. Going from the present to flashbacks for Deadpool‚(TM)s origin wasn‚(TM)t a bad move, but it was jarring at times. We want to see more of wise cracking Deadpool, but have to see his stuff get interrupted for these flashbacks.

Overall: A massive success. Ryan Reynolds takes a character with plenty of unique qualities and brings him to life in a big way. We could‚(TM)ve been talking about an all time great superhero film with a more streamlined origin and better villains. Still, this one is a blast to watch.

Next Gen
Next Gen(2018)
½

Strengths: As always with animated movies in this day and age, this is visually pretty. The animation effects work to make a movie that looks just as good as any of the ones from the major budget production companies. The voice cast is filled with talented actors who all do well. John Krasinski (7723) is delightful as the star robot, Jason Sudekis (Justin Pin/Ares) makes for a stronger villain than youÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)d expect, David Cross (Dr. Tanner Rice) is basically himself in the role, and Michael Pena (Momo) is a blast as the energetic dog friend of the main characters. For the first third or so of the movie, the plot it intriguing.

Weaknesses: The biggest problem with this movie is the protagonist. Mai Su (Charlyne Yi) is completely unlikable. I understand that the character needs to grow into a better person, as seen in a movie this one is similar to, Big Hero 6. But in that movie, the main character goes a bit off the handle in one particular and emotional scene. Here, Mai is just destroying things and making 7723 attack pretty much everyone for the fun of it. Troubled or not, it reached a point where I couldnÔŅ 1/2 1/2(TM)t root for her. Having the story go to the next level in terms of world domination and extinction of the human race was too much. It took a somewhat grounded story and went a route that made it not connect.

Overall: There was a load of potential here, yet this missed the mark. The voice acting and visuals are strong, but the plot and protagonist fall short in a huge way.

Keanu
Keanu(2016)
½

Strengths: Honestly, the main reason most people probably wanted to see this was because folks loves kittens and the one in this movie is cute. It also helped that the cat wasn‚(TM)t overused in the movie. That could‚(TM)ve made it feel like it was more about the cat than anything else. The comedic efforts of Keegan-Michael Kay (Clarence), Jordan Peele (Rell), Tiffany Haddish (Trina ‚Hi-C‚? Parker), and Method Man (Cheddar) were enough to make this a fun ride, as was the cameo from Luis Guzman (Bacon Diaz).

Weaknesses: For each actor who did well, there were one who missed the mark. Will Forte (Hulka) was awful. Each scene he was in wasn‚(TM)t funny and as usual with him, it feels like he‚(TM)s trying way too hard to be funny. Nia Long (Hannah) felt useless and the Anna Faris (Herself) cameo failed. Many of the scenes that were meant to be awkwardly funny just came across as unfunny and hard to watch.

Overall: Keanu is a cute little movie about a cute little kitten. It wasn‚(TM)t meant to be anything more, so it works in that vein. There are just too many moments that didn‚(TM)t make me laugh for me to fully enjoy it.

Searching
Searching(2018)
½

Strengths: The premise of this film is honestly nothing special. It‚(TM)s a simple setup, but what works is the execution. Telling the story through computer screens, smartphones, and the current crop of technology was a genius way of handling this. It makes for a unique way to watch a movie that is perfect for this era. The platforms are used in clever ways and we never feel like we miss any of the story. John Cho (David Kim) gives what might be the best performance of his career, while Debra Messing (Rosemary Vice) is strong. The story has an incredible amount of twists and turns. It‚(TM)s kind of hard to surprise us these days, but there were at least two or three moments that genuinely shocked me.

Weaknesses: While the plot twists were very interesting, they did come across as unrealistic. In fact, a lot of what happened throughout the film forces you to question the believability of it all. While it‚(TM)s the only flaw I can think of right now, it‚(TM)s a major one that takes away a fair amount from the film.

Overall: One of the best films of 2018. It‚(TM)s a top notch thriller with plenty of twists to keep you fully engaged and a unique way of telling a story in the modern age.

10 Cloverfield Lane
½

Strengths: As a standalone thriller, I feel this works very well. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle) plays a strong lead. She‚(TM)s fierce and easy to root for. John Goodman (Howard Stambler) steals the show as the man running the bunker. He is believable in parts, untrustworthy in others, downright strange at times, and sadistic at least once. It‚(TM)s a terrifying performance. Keeping things mostly grounded in the bunker makes for a claustrophobic feel and it adds to the tenseness of the thriller. Seeing Michelle do whatever she can to escape is an interesting sequence of events, as is the confrontation with Howard. The same goes for the scene where the woman runs to the bunker door with her face disfigured. The meat of the story works because it is a captive thriller with strong characters.

Weaknesses: The main issue with the movie is the Cloverfield tie-in. It comes across as forced and doesn‚(TM)t flow with the rest of the movie. The escape from the bunker is very intriguing and interesting, but once she gets out, the alien scenes just feel way out of place. They aren‚(TM)t bad, just unfitting. What could have been a great film gets bogged down by throwing in the weird ending to make an extra few bucks.

Overall: As a thriller, this is a very good movie. As part of the Cloverfield universe, it misses the mark. Putting them together feels tacked on and ultimately hurts the movie.

The Jungle Book
½

Strengths: Visually, this movie is simply breathtaking. Jon Favreau learned from his first big budget films and made this one work. He used every special effect he could to ensure this looked great. The story hits the same beats as the original for the most part, but does so in a more mature and modern way. I must credit Neel Sethl (Mowgli). His performance is very strong, especially when you consider what he was up against. He had to lead a major film while only interacting with CGI characters around him. That‚(TM)s a tough ask but the kid nails it. He showed a wide range of emotion and delivered his lines well. The voice cast is very strong with Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Sir Ben Kingsley (Bagheera), Bill Murray (Baloo), and Giancarlo Esposito (Akela) doing the strongest work.

Weaknesses: As noted, this was a more mature version of the story. That worked in some places but made others awkward. King Louis (Christopher Walken) came across strangely for one. For another, the music in the movie lacked. There‚(TM)s not a lot but the songs from the original are fun and memorable. In this one, they lose everything that makes them enjoyable and are easily forgettable. I wish we got more from Kaa (Scarlett Johansson). The character is a key part of the original story and a decent piece of the animated film, yet it relegated to a single scene here. It‚(TM)s extra disappointing considering the good voice work by Johansson.

Overall: it misses some of what made the animated film so beloved, yet this remake still has a lot going for it. Spectacular visuals and strong acting make it more than worth your time.

Creed II
Creed II(2018)
½

Strengths: The first Creed was special and what worked there was a success again. Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Creed) may have been even better this time around. Not only does his chemistry remain strong with the rest of the cast, but he deals with a lot more this go around. He suffers true defeat and does a masterful job showcasing how hard it is to rise again. Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa) gives another good performance, as does Tessa Thompson (Bianca Taylor). I also liked how Phylicia Rashad (Mary Anne Creed) got more to work with this go around. The father/son theme works very well and is told in three different ways. Adonis still has problems with his connection to his father and his legacy, Rocky must learn to communicate with his son, and the villains are given some great stuff to work with. Florian Munteanu (Viktor Drago) doesn‚(TM)t have to do a lot in terms of dramatic acting. He does fine with the little scenes that matter, but he‚(TM)s there to be an imposing force and he nails it. He looks like a monster. However, like any good antagonist, he‚(TM)s the hero of his own story. He‚(TM)s fighting to reclaim his family‚(TM)s glory and possibly win back the affection of his mother, who left the family when his father lost to Rocky 30 years earlier. It makes his tale a bittersweet one. Dolph Lundgren (Ivan Drago) was also good here. The relationship between Adonis and Bianca was given a lot of care. It felt realistic, you want to root for them, and Bianca still feels like her own key character rather than a simple love interest. The training montages are great, the music works well, and the story is inspirational. Again, the fight scenes are very well crafted. You feel like you‚(TM)re in there with Creed. Each shot Drago hit had me squirming in my seat in the theater. Also, shoutout to the cameos by Milo Ventimiglia (Robert Balboa) and Brigitte Nielsen (Ludmila Drago).

Weaknesses: It was kind of expected considering the Rocky IV callbacks, but it does feel too predictable. When the initial Drago/Creed fight happens, you can almost tell where it‚(TM)s going. It ultimately hits a few too many familiar beats from the series.

Overall: A tremendous follow up to a great first installment. Jordan continues his streak of fantastic performances. The rest of the cast delivers, the soundtrack is powerful, and the fight scenes are perfectly done.

Creed
Creed(2015)
½

Strengths: Talk about perfect casting. Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Creed) absolutely shines in this movie. It‚(TM)s a tall task to carry a Rocky film, but he does it expertly. While his work in Fruitvale Station put eyes on him, this was the star making turn he needed. Each scene with either Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa) or Tessa Thompson (Bianca) is masterful. He connects so well with both. Stallone helps by putting on his best performance in decades. The mentor role suits him. You can feel that he‚(TM)s a man who has been through a ton. Thompson is also great and her character is more than a simple love interest, having dreams of her own. Ryan Coogler may have done his best work ever as a director in this. He ensured that the boxing matches were incredible. There are plenty of tight shots during the action, making the viewer feel like they‚(TM)re part of the fight rather than a spectator in the crowd. It allows us to not only feel the emotion of what‚(TM)s going on, but it makes each hit feel harder and mean more. The music is great, there are enough training montages to play homage to the series and not go overdone, and it has the motivating, uplifting feel it needs. They even nailed the little moments to make the characters fully click in their environment.

Weaknesses: There aren‚(TM)t many. I had some issues with parts of the plot being very predictable. After so many Rocky movies, you kind of know what to expect. Some of the dialogue is flat out cheesy and hard to take serious.

Overall: The best installment of the Rocky series since the original. Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler continue to make an incredible team. Stallone is at his very best, the rest of the cast delivers, and the boxing scenes are electric. A phenomenal film.

Joy
Joy(2015)

Strengths: The combination of David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence (Joy Mangano), and Bradley Cooper (Neil Walker) is usually a recipe for success. The two films they‚(TM)ve collaborated on in the past all worked. Again, it mostly connected. Lawrence performs at her best with Russell and she‚(TM)s the highlight here. She takes the lead role and runs with it, earning the hell out of that Best Actress nomination. She steals every scene she‚(TM)s in. Edgar Ramirez (Tony Miranne) is strong, as are Robert De Niro (Rudy Mangano) and Dascha Polanco (Jackie). The film delivers on the inspiring front, delivering more than a few moments where you‚(TM)ll be motivated to get up and do something like Joy. I also found the relationship between Joy and her grandmother, a very good Diane Ladd (Mimi) to be well handled. When she eventually passes away, it‚(TM)s a sad moment.

Weaknesses: While all the acting is solid, I do feel that Cooper was underutilized. Like Lawrence, he excels with Russell but he wasn‚(TM)t given a lot to do here. He only had three or four scenes that meant anything and didn‚(TM)t get a chance to shine. As the movie goes on, it loses steam. I don‚(TM)t know if it was diminishing returns on Joy‚(TM)s struggles or what, but something doesn‚(TM)t fully click and I ended up losing interest late. I was more interested in when it would end than how we would get there.

Overall: The narrative ultimately isn‚(TM)t great, but the performances by a strong cast more than make up for it. They turn this into a good movie.

After Sex
After Sex(2007)

Strengths: Of the eight couples weÔŅ 1/2(TM)re given a look into, three are interesting. The highlight was the couple played by Mila Kunis (Nikki) and Zoe Saldana (Kat). Not only are they the big names in the movie, but their scenes are strong. It explores Kat being a lesbian and coming to terms with how to explain it to her parents. Nikki isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t one, just experimenting in college, but is understanding of it all. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a good dynamic. Speaking of talk on sexuality, Noel Fisher (Jay) and Tanc Sade (Freddy) nailed it in another strong scene about exploring JayÔŅ 1/2(TM)s feelings towards men. Timm Sharp (Neil) and James DeBello (Bob) also did well in another story. Due to being a series of shorts, the movie is paced well and is an easy watch. Dave Franco (Sam) is fun in a comedic effort in another story.

Weaknesses: None of the other five couples really interested me. There was potential with some talented actors. Emmanuelle Chriqui (Jordy) and Keir OÔŅ 1/2(TM)Donnell (David) were wasted. There was potential for them as exes who keeping hooking up while in new relationships. Instead, they just bicker and come across as unlikable to the point where you wonder why youÔŅ 1/2(TM)re watching this. Though I praised Franco for being funny, the situation he was in wasnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t. It was clichÔŅ 1/2 (C) and the other actors in the scene didnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t make me laugh at all. Most of the stories tried too hard to be something unique, but ended up being unoriginal.

Overall: In a film where there are eight separate short stories, to be good, it needs to have most of those stories work. Since only two or three do so here, the movie struggles overall.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation
½

Strengths: Some of the things that worked the first two times around succeeded this go around. The voice cast is mostly strong and they get their characters. Adam Sandler (Dracula) is funnier here than any of his recent live action movies, while Selena Gomez (Mavis), Andy Samberg (Johnny Loughran), Steve Buscemi (Wayne), and David Spade (Griffin) are all fun. The animation is pretty, as always.

Weaknesses: I found the first two movies charming and pretty funny. Almost none of the jokes in this one land. I let out a handful of light chuckles and that was it. That made this a drag to watch as a comedy that isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t funny is tough to get through. The tone feels off from the first two. Moving things to a new location changes thing and it doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t work. The same goes for adding an antagonist like the Van Helsing family. Kathryn Hahn (Ericka Van Helsing) is fine from a voice standpoint, but just isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t very interesting.

Overall: It lacks a lot of what makes the first two films works, giving us one of the worst third installments I can recall.

A Star Is Born

Strengths: For a first time director, Bradley Cooper does a great job with this. He shoots it in a way that feels realistic and there‚(TM)s a sense of the drunkenness of his character in the way he shot. That felt intentional. Cooper (Jackson Maine) is fantastic from an acting standpoint. He completely nails every mannerism that comes with the role. You truly feel like he‚(TM)s a drunken mess, yet in each scene regarding the relationship feels earnest. Even when drunk, it‚(TM)s clear he‚(TM)s in love. Lady Gaga (Ally Maine) should also be in Best Actress Oscar conversation this year. It ranks among the best work she‚(TM)s done from a music standpoint and is easily her best acting. There aren‚(TM)t many performances more raw in recent memory. Sam Elliott (Bobby Maine) should be a Best Supporting Actor favorite for his portrayal of Jackson‚(TM)s brother. The scene where he finds out that Jackson idolized him is touching and he doesn‚(TM)t say a word. The music is tremendous, with the film having the best original songs since The Greatest Showman.

Weaknesses: There‚(TM)s only one real issue that I had with this movie, but it‚(TM)s a big enough one to keep it from being the best of the year. There‚(TM)s simply not enough conflict. Films are built on conflict and having tense scenes featuring that is crucial. While it is engaging to watch Ally‚(TM)s rise to stardom, she almost never faces a struggle. She goes on stage and kills it instantly. Every problem she could face, whether it be a sleazy manager or something involving her husband, gets wrapped up quickly. The couple has just one fight and one major problem throughout. I needed more.

Overall: With a little more conflict, this could‚(TM)ve been a truly special film. The music, acting, and direction are all expertly done. It will go down as one of the best films of 2018.

Thoroughbreds
½

Strengths: There are a lot of concepts throughout this movie that I dig. I love how one girl is highly emotional and it drives all her decisions, while the other is emotionless. It makes for a great contrasting dynamic. Olivia Cooke (Amanda) is strong as the latter, saying a lot without emoting. However, Anya Taylor-Joy (Lily) is phenomenal. She gives one of the best performances I‚(TM)ve seen all year. It‚(TM)s one of the more underrated performances I can recall. What makes these characters work is that they feel real and exist in shades of gray. Their entire plan is to murder Lily‚(TM)s stepfather, Mark (Paul Sparks). In a movie where he‚(TM)s abusive, this would make them heroes. However, Mark is just kind of a dick. He‚(TM)s not likable, but he doesn‚(TM)t really do anything to deserve death. That makes our two main characters not people we morally root for. Their relationship is the heart of the story. While they seem polar opposites, they end up as kind of kind of two sides of a coin. The emotional one is the one to ultimately commit the murder, while the emotionless one sacrifices herself and takes the fall for her friend. It‚(TM)s fascinating. Anton Yelchin (Tim) is also a blast. The movie benefits from the steady hand of first time director Cory Finley. He leaves a lot that isn‚(TM)t specifically answered and trusts his audience to not be idiots. He also wrote the screenplay, which is very strong. Erik Friedlander is the unsung hero of thing. He puts together a suspenseful score that mixes some heavy beats in suspenseful ways. It adds so much to the feel of the film.

Weaknesses: I didn‚(TM)t love the way the story was split into four chapters. It wasn‚(TM)t needed and I don‚(TM)t think it was perfectly split to where each chapter felt unique. For a dark comedy, it‚(TM)s not as funny as you would hope. I‚(TM)m not asking for laugh out loud moments, but a few more laughs would‚(TM)ve served this well.

Overall: Outstanding. The acting is exceptional, the direction and writing are sharp, the characters are well thought out, and the music is incredible. We‚(TM)re given a lot to think about by the time the credits roll. Has vaulted into the #2 for my best movies of 2018 list..

The LEGO Movie

Strengths: Animated movies usually look great in this day and age. Still, this is one of the better looking ones. The way the worlds of Lego are crafted for film purposes works very well. Each place we visit feels unique and makes for fun viewing. The voice cast is top notch. Chris Pratt (Emmet Brickowski) is perfect as the everyman lead. Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius) is ideal as the wise old man, and you can‚(TM)t help but get a kick out of the back and forth of Channing Tatum (Superman), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern). Charlie Day (Benny) is perfect as the spastic 80s spaceman, Elizabeth Banks (Wyldstyle) is solid, Alison Brie (Princess Unikitty) is very fitting of her role, and Liam Neeson (Good Cop/Bad Cop) is fantastic. The show stealer was Will Arnett (Batman). It‚(TM)s understandable why he got his own movie. They delivered on a unique story that allows for plenty of character moments. Emmett and Wyldstyle are fully fleshed out characters you can get behind. The underlying story of this being about the struggle between a boy and his father over Legos and how they view the world was well crafted. It never got heavy handed, yet meant a lot. The adult and kids jokes are well balanced, making for a fun movie that anyone can enjoy.

Weaknesses: There were a few points where the story felt kind of generic. It was the stuff you see in most animated films these days. While I appreciate the amount of cameos we get, it does come across as a bit too much at times. As if they‚(TM)re just throwing characters and playsets in for the sake of merchandising. I understand the logic behind it, but it doesn‚(TM)t add to the movie. Lastly, I wasn‚(TM)t too fond of one voice performance. Will Ferrell (Lord Business) felt like he was doing a lot of his Zoolander character and didn‚(TM)t find enough or something original for this role.

Overall: One of the most fun movies in recent memory. With crisp animation, terrific voice acting, and a strong story, this movie stands out among the crowded field of great animated movies in the past few years.

In Time
In Time(2011)
½

Strengths: The concept behind this film is a really cool one. That‚(TM)s basically the go to positive that people find in this movie. Part of making the concept work were some of the ideas used in the film. Gambling with time, using it to access higher end locations, and the use o the minutemen characters were all examples of this. Justin Timberlake (Will Salas) is solid as the lead, while Matt Bomer (Henry Hamilton) gives a strong supporting performance in his limited role.

Weaknesses: Olivia Wilde (Rachel Salas) felt incredibly wasted. Her conversation with Timberlake early in the movie was a nice little scene. Other than that, we only see her running as her time is running out. Watching her die just before reaching her son, who could save her, was sad. However, the impact was lessened because we didn‚(TM)t get enough time with her. Amanda Seyfried (Sylvia Weis) still just doesn‚(TM)t cut it as a leading lady for me. Her and Timberlake didn‚(TM)t have much chemistry and she was never compelling. Cillian Murphy (Raymond Leon) was disappointing. The movie made the mistake of trying to go too big. It should‚(TM)ve focused on just the minutemen and timekeepers. Making it a grand scale thing where the entire system is the target felt like it was reaching.

Overall: I‚(TM)d file this under wasted potential. The idea behind the film is so good and Timberlake is a fine lead, but this never sniffs the level it could‚(TM)ve reached.

Two Lovers and a Bear
½

Strengths: For being a film without a large budget, it looks really pretty. The snowy banks and frozen tundra all come across great. You feel like you‚(TM)re there, everything is well shot, and the harrows of the blistering cold is almost enough to be felt. Tatiana Maslany (Lucy) gives a powerful performance and has some solid chemistry with Dane DeHaan (Roman). The voice work of Gordon Pinsent (Bear) is very good. He simply sounds like someone who can give sage advice. The idea behind why Lucy‚(TM)s character sees a stalker who isn‚(TM)t really there gives us an unexpected twist that adds to the film.

Weaknesses: A good chunk of the writing in this movie feels inconsistent. The tone doesn‚(TM)t match up. It feels like a serious story between two lovers in a tough situation, but then has this talking polar bear who is apparently a God. It just doesn‚(TM)t come across like things that belong in the same movie. The characters can also be unlikable early on. Lucy is overly needy and seems way too dependent on her relationship. Even after he‚(TM)s terrible to her, she spends all her money coming to visit him for 20 minutes of sex. It‚(TM)s not good and not someone worth relating to.

Overall: Thanks to great acting and some surprisingly strong visuals, this is an enjoyable movie. It just doesn‚(TM)t seem to know what it wants to be.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
½

Strengths: Visually, this is another stunner in the Harry Potter universe. Everything looks magnificent and they totally immerse you in the world. Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander) remains charming as the lead and Jude Law (Albus Dumbledore) does enough to capture the spirit of the character while adding his own unique spin on it. The show stealer is certainly Zoe Kravitz (Leta Lestrange). She‚(TM)s easily the most interesting character in the entire movie and her performance is also right at the top. Whenever she‚(TM)s on screen, the movie is at its best. Johnny Depp (Gellert Grindewald) brings a charisma to the antagonist role that was needed.

Weaknesses: I hate to say it because JK Rowling wrote this, but the writing is terrible. There are so many opportunities for big character moments that all get passed over. Nobody but Kravitz gets a lot to work with. Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski) was a delight in the first movie, but is nothing more than comedic relief here. Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) was a cool character the first time around, but is incredibly unlikable here. Her change to join the evil side should be a major point, but her motivations are mostly swept under the rug and rushed. Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone) is reduced to just asking one question over and over, while the Nagini (Claudia Kim) character does nothing but give fans a reason to point and say, ‚Hey, it‚(TM)s Voldemort‚(TM)s snake!‚? Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein) also barely gets anything to do. There aren‚(TM)t enough of the fantastic beasts or the crimes that the title promises. Don‚(TM)t even get me started on the plot holes that the film‚(TM)s major twist in the end bring about.

Overall: Talk about disappointing. The charm from the original is completely gone. Pretty much every single character feels wasted, there are several plot holes, and they don‚(TM)t deliver on the promise of what we want from this kind of movie.

Outlaw King
Outlaw King(2018)
½

Strengths: He‚(TM)s a good actor, but I‚(TM)ve always felt that outside of his strong work as James Kirk, Chris Pine (Robert the Bruce) has yet to have a standout performance. That changes here. He played the lead and delivered arguably the best work of his career. David Mackenzie gives some of the emotional scenes the right amount of heart, like when Robert watches one of his brothers get killed. I was pleased to see that this was violent. A movie in this kind of setting has to be gritty and gruesome at times. There are several scenes that are just flat out brutal and it‚(TM)s a good thing. This movie needs to go down this way. It feels realistic. Billy Howie (Prince Edward) plays a detestable antagonist. You want to see him get destroyed, similar to a Joffrey or Ramsey from Game of Thrones. There‚(TM)s an outstanding battle sequence in the third act. It‚(TM)s some of the best stuff I‚(TM)ve ever seen from Netflix.

Weaknesses: A major issue with most movies I don‚(TM)t love is the pacing. Outlaw King suffers from similar problems. It feels longer than the two hour runtime at points and that‚(TM)s because some scenes feel out of place at certain times. It was as if they had 100 minutes of good stuff and felt the need to fluff the story to reach the two hour mark. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (James Douglas) was so forgetful in his role that I don‚(TM)t even remember him being part of the movie.

Overall: It feels like the historic epic it sets out to be. There‚(TM)s strong acting, great cinematography, and a violent nature that fits the bill. It does go too long, but this is still one hell of a ride.

Into the Woods

Strengths: The concept behind this movie is a pretty cool one. A story that brings together a bunch of fairy tales is interesting. The sets look great, the characters fit the bill, and the costumes/makeup all work. It feels like a big fairy tale. Some of the performances are quite good. Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) is endearing, James Corden (The Baker) is surprisingly delightful, Emily Blunt (The Baker‚(TM)s Wife) is fun, and Chris Pine (The Prince) does well.

Weaknesses: The major problem with this movie is the length. It is about two hours but feels closer to four. There‚(TM)s a point where it feels like the movie is ending, yet continues to drag on for another 40 or so minutes. The music was disappointing. I wanted some memorable, catchy tunes and none of them were. With so many stories intertwined, not many were given enough time to breathe. The Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) plot felt useless. It was weird to do Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and the Beanstalk, yet not really show the Giant. Johnny Depp (Big Bad Wolf) is in this movie for no reason. He gets one song, takes over as the grandmother, and is taken out with most of the latter two moments happening off screen. I don‚(TM)t get it. Even the great Meryl Streep (The Witch) is disappointing.

Overall: This felt like a missed opportunity. There was potential for something cool, yet it got bogged down. The music wasn‚(TM)t very good, there are pointless plotlines, and it goes on for way too long.

Infinitely Polar Bear
½

Strengths: This movie has some tricky subject matter to work with. The portrayal of someone with mental illness can be hard to pull off as you want to pay respect to those people while having remain realistic. This movie feels like it does it right. Mark Ruffalo (Cam Stuart) is great in the role. He never takes it too far and remains charming and likable throughout. You root for him and feel a serious sadness when his illness gets in the way of his happiness. Both children in the movie, Imogene Wolodarsky (Amelia Stuart) and Ashley Aufderheide (Faith Stuart) are also very good. They have bratty moments but it‚(TM)s usually understandable. Watching them deal with their dad‚(TM)s issues is heartbreaking. Zoe Saldana (Maggie Stuart) is the standout performer, though. She gives so much in a raw effort. She‚(TM)s brutally honest, shows a ton of love for her husband, and you can feel her struggle between wanting to be with her children and wanting to go to school to give them a better life. The script is strong and Maya Forbes does a commendable job as director.

Weaknesses: Though the movie is barely 90 minutes, it feels like it drags at points. There are definitely some pacing problems. The only character who really feels like they grow is Cam. The rest stay pretty stagnant throughout. It comes across as if we‚(TM)re just watching the day to day life here without much growth for anyone but our main character. That makes some of this fall flat.

Overall: Thanks to a string of excellent performances, a realistic take on mental illness, and a solid script, this movie is worth checking out.

Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs(2018)
½

Strengths: It reminds me of Fantastic Mr. Fox in the best possible way. The animation style is unique and allows the movie to stand out. There are quirks throughout that make this special. Many of the scenes are handled with creative care. The voice cast is stellar. Bryan Cranston (Chief) is outstanding. He‚(TM)s kind of the lead, playing the dog who changes the most over the course of the film. There‚(TM)s a lot of emotion to his story and the way he bonds with Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin). Edward Norton (Rex) is fun, Bill Murray (Boss) is his usual great self, and Jeff Goldblum (Duke) is a blast with his constant ‚rumors.‚? That‚(TM)s not even including the smaller voice roles by Frances McDormand (Interpreter Nelson), Scarlett Johansson (Nutmeg), Courtney B. Vance (Narrator), and more. There are heartwarming moments sprinkled in throughout, and an adventure that really tugs at your emotions. The script gives us big moments, strong characters, and natural dialogue. I also thought it was cool how some characters don‚(TM)t speak in English and we don‚(TM)t get to understand them because the dogs don‚(TM)t understand them. It puts us right in their shoes. There are plenty of laughs and a surprisingly large amount of plot twists that add up to one hell of a ride.

Weaknesses: This movie doesn‚(TM)t fully work as a kid‚(TM)s film. It‚(TM)s kind of marketed towards them, but there are some violent moments that are a bit much for children. Some of the characters feel a bit underused. Nutmeg is one who could‚(TM)ve done more and had a more established relationship with Chief. It was just kind of glossed over, so it didn‚(TM)t fully click. Most of the soundtrack seems to miss the mark.

Overall: The criticisms I found were mostly nitpicks. This movie is incredible. It‚(TM)s creative, fun, witty, and heartwarming. It only ranks behind Avengers: Infinity War for the best of the year.

Arthur Christmas
½

Strengths: There‚(TM)s just something about a Christmas movie that needs to have some heart behind it to work. Arthur Christmas delivers in that sense. There‚(TM)s a surprising amount of heart in this film that works because the characters are likable and the theme is touching. I like how creative the filmmakers were with everything revolving the holiday. The way the gifts were delivered felt like something out of a spy movie and the idea that Santa is a title passed rather than one specific person throughout history is a cool one. James McAvoy (Arthur Claus) lends his voice to the lead role with the perfect amount of enthusiasm. Hugh Laurie (Steven Claus) and Bill Nighy (Grandsanta) are both also great. The animation is great, especially when you consider this was Aardman Animation‚(TM)s first computer animated film.

Weaknesses: Other than the little things about the holiday, there‚(TM)s not a lot that this does to separate it from the rest of the Christmas movies out there. It hits some beats that feel all too familiar. There‚(TM)s also a lack of laughs in this. I didn‚(TM)t find myself even slightly chuckling more than one or two times. It could‚(TM)ve used a bit more in that department.

Overall: A strong Christmas movie that has a lot of heart and a good message behind it. It could‚(TM)ve used a few more laughs and something else to make it stick out. Either way, it‚(TM)s a really good way to get in the holiday spirit.

Moana
Moana(2016)

Strengths: Disney just knows what theyÔŅ 1/2(TM)re doing. They get the animated stuff right most of the time. This was one of their best efforts in the past few years. As always, the visuals are magnificent. The ocean, islands, and every scene of nature looks incredible and we spend enough time with them to appreciate it all. The movie does well to showcase all the tribal stuff and pay respect to it. None of it is treated as a joke. Moana has a strong plot for an adventure movie. There are all sorts of twists and turns to keep you engaged, as well as a handful of moments to make you feel like the heroes might not win out in the end. Pretty much everyone in the voice cast delivers. AuliÔŅ 1/2(TM)i Cravalho (Moana) was outstanding, especially considering her young age. Dwayne Johnson (Maui) manages to bring his charm to the character, while Rachel House (Tala) and Nicole Scherzinger (Sina) were strong. I liked the little rooster character as a nice source of comedy, too. Lastly, the songs in the movie are mostly good, catchy, and they build character.

Weaknesses: ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s some pacing issues. While I liked the way the story escalates and has plenty of antagonists sprinkled in, it still has a problem where it feels long. I paused the movie twice, feeling like I was deep into it, and was surprised to still find 40+ minutes left. ThereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s also not much to set Moana apart from the tons of other young female protagonists in these kinds of movies. You could plug in almost any of them and the movie doesnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t really change.

Overall: Far from perfect, but still great. Moana ranks among the better animated films of the past five years thanks to a great voice cast, stellar visuals, and a wild adventure that everyone can enjoy.

The Ides of March

Strengths: For a political drama to work, it has to be tense, filled with complex characters, and well directed. This movie had all those things working for it. The tense moments were well handled throughout by director George Clooney. Clooney (Mike Morris) doubles with his solid acting, but the story isn‚(TM)t about him. It‚(TM)s about the more complex characters. Ryan Gosling (Stephen Meyers) has a career filled with strong performances and this ranks near the top. He‚(TM)s our hero, yet he never comes across as fully a good guy and ends the movie by basically blackmailing someone who is worse than him. There are a lot of shades of grey that work. Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Stearns) is fantastic, giving the best work of her career, while veteran actors Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara), Marisa Tomei (Ida Horowicz), and Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy) are all very good. There‚(TM)s a gritty sense of realism with everything that happens and I appreciated the way this ends on something of a cliffhanger.

Weaknesses: While Clooney handled certain scenes well, he doesn‚(TM)t excel as the director. It‚(TM)s shot in a mostly bland style. Along with some of the shots, I felt the score, sets, and some of the little things like those aspects could‚(TM)ve been improved. I would‚(TM)ve liked another scene or two for Tomei. She played well off Gosling, yet only got used for a few scenes. The movie can get a bit boring if politics aren‚(TM)t your thing.

Overall: A very strong political drama led by great acting, intriguing plot twists, and some truly tense moments.

Hotel Artemis
½

Strengths: Though this is a film that takes place in the future, I enjoyed the dark tone throughout. The setting needs to be that way to give off the gritty feel the movie needs. The cast is what stands out the most, though. Sterling K. Brown (Waikiki/Sherman), Dave Bautista (Everest), Jodie Foster (Jean Thomas), Zachary Quinto (Crosby Franklin), and Charlie Day (Acapulco) are all fun in their roles. Jeff Goldblum (Orian Franklin/Niagara/The Wolf King) arguably steals the show in a limited appearance. He‚(TM)s fantastic in everything, isn‚(TM)t he? Most of the characters are given enough to work with so they end up being more developed than you might expect. There‚(TM)s also just the right amount of humor thrown in so the movie doesn‚(TM)t get too drab but also never feels too light.

Weaknesses: AS much as I enjoy Jenny Slate (Morgan), her character comes across as kind of pointless. She‚(TM)s just there to give us backstory on Jean Thomas. It feels like a wast. I also didn‚(TM)t like Sofia Boutella (Nnice) in this. The performance was decent at best and she lacked chemistry with her love interest, Waikiki. It was a storyline that didn‚(TM)t seem necessary. There‚(TM)s also probably a few too many things going on. As great as the cast is, if you cut out a few characters, trim some fat, or even add a bit of time to the length, you‚(TM)ll come away with a much stronger movie.

Overall: The script leaves a fair amount to be desired. That being said, the cast is fantastic and makes up for a lot of the other shortcomings. It ultimately becomes a very fun and contained action movie.

La La Land
La La Land(2016)
½

Strengths: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are the best names in songwriting and composing for a reason. A musical simply has to have great music. It sounds simple, but can‚(TM)t be overlooked. The songs written for this are almost all great. They advance the story logically, are catchy, and masterfully executed. The pairing of Ryan Gosling (Sebastian Wilder) and Emma Stone (Mia Dolan) once again delivered. Their chemistry is unmatched in Hollywood right now. Each scene together is well acted and both sing way better than you‚(TM)d probably expect. Damien Chazelle wrote this movie years before it came out because studios wanted to change his vision. Waiting was the best route to go, because this got made in his vision and was gorgeous. The backdrops and landscapes looked incredible. Chazelle made sure to provide us with a ton of beautiful shots to showcase this. The script is wonderful and provides us with fully fleshed out characters who grow over the course of the film. I really like how the movie avoids the clich√ (C)d ending and gives us something different. The characters don‚(TM)t have to end up together for the story to work and this proves that. The movie also nails all the little moments throughout that make it special.

Weaknesses: This could‚(TM)ve used another song or two. Think about The Greatest Showman. It is packed with fantastic musical numbers and I think this could‚(TM)ve benefitted from at least one more. There are a few pacing issues, causing the film to feel like it drags a bit at certain points.

Overall: A gorgeous movie driven by top notch direction, tremendous acting, likable characters, and catch tunes. This should‚(TM)ve won Best Picture.

Life of the Party

Strengths: Melissa McCarthy (Deanna Miles) does the Melissa McCarthy thing in this movie. If you like her, you‚(TM)ll most likely enjoy this movie. She‚(TM)s fine in it. The supporting cast is strong, with Molly Gordon (Maddie Miles), Gillian Jacobs (Helen), Maya Rudolph (Christine Davenport), and Debby Ryan (Jennifer) all doing well. They offer a handful of decent comedic moments throughout this.

Weaknesses: Other than Deanna and Christine, most of the characters aren‚(TM)t given much to work with. Helen was one of the more interesting people in the movie, but she doesn‚(TM)t do a whole lot and her character doesn‚(TM)t really grow. Many of the jokes fall flat regardless of character. As noted, McCarthy is doing her thing and if you don‚(TM)t like that, this will not work for you. Hell, even if you do enjoy it, it‚(TM)s tiring at this point. The movie is ripe with clich√ (C)s and doesn‚(TM)t do anything to make it stand out from tons of other similar films.

Overall: It‚(TM)s Melissa McCarthy doing what she‚(TM)s known for, just not as well as she can. A forgettable movie, but one that isn‚(TM)t a total waste of time.

Hot Summer Nights
½

Strengths: One thing this film certainly has going for it is a strong cast. Timothee Chalamet (Daniel Middleton) continues to show why he‚(TM)s one of the best young actors in the world. Maika Monroe (McKayla Strawberry) gives one of her better performances and I was impressed by Alex Roe (Hunter Strawberry), who I hadn‚(TM)t seen before. The characters are likable and relatable, while the chemistry between Chalamet and Monroe is strong enough to lead the important romantic plot. Everything is helped by a strong soundtrack that is very fitting of the era. Since the film takes place in 1991, having music that works in that time is key. There‚(TM)s a good sense of that old fashioned ‚coming of age‚? story and it‚(TM)s mostly done well.

Weaknesses: The plot and premise are nothing new. It makes it so a lot of the movie is ripe with clich√ (C)s. While the performances are very good, the characters can feel kind of flat and underdeveloped. I also wasn‚(TM)t too big on the ending. It felt like it didn‚(TM)t resolve enough and left me unsatisfied. That‚(TM)s not what I want from the ending of a flick.

Overall: Not without his flaws, Hot Summer Nights manages to be a very enjoyable coming of age film led by some great performances, a cool atmosphere, and a top notch soundtrack.

Adrift
Adrift(2018)

Strengths: Anyone who watches this movie will see one thing stand out above all others. Shailene Woodley (Tami Oldhman) is spectacular. She continues to deliver in everything she works in, with this ranking at the top of her body of work. Woodley is fantastic at portraying the many emotions needed throughout this film. There‚(TM)s desperation, determination, love, sadness, joy, and a slew of others. I can‚(TM)t rave enough about it. Sam Clafin (Richard Sharp) is solid and has strong chemistry with Woodley, making their scenes very emotional. The cinematography was quite good. The scenes of what caused the destruction came across as harrowing and a good job is done of showing the vast open water. It really hammers home how alone these people are.

Weaknesses: The idea behind the movie is kind of a tired one. We‚(TM)ve seen these stories of survival before and are mostly predictable. That was the case here. I wasn‚(TM)t a fan of them pulling the rug out from under viewers. For those unaware, Richard dies at sea and most of the scenes of the couple together are hallucinated. I understood why it was done and it was well executed, but it still felt cheap. I also didn‚(TM)t really get behind the storytelling style of cutting back and forth between past and present. It messed with the pacing. I feel it would‚(TM)ve worked better if it started with the wreckage, then went back to build us up to the moment. The cuts were frequent and jarring.

Overall: Adrift is a good, but flawed film. It has a few too many clich√ (C)s and a strange narrative decision. However, Woodley is gripping and more than enough of a reason to give this a shot.

Heist
Heist(2015)

Strengths: For the most part, the acting in this movie is strong. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Luke Vaughn), Robert De Niro (Francis Silva), and Dave Bautista (Jason Cox) are all very strong throughout. Even the smaller work from Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Marconi) is good. I like how the movie isnÔŅ 1/2(TM)t tour traditional bank robbery flick. Moving the action to the bus they attempt to flee on allows for unexpected twists, tense moments, and sets up a pretty great plat twist down at the very end. Ultimately, they do a very good job keeping the story and drama contained in the confines of the bus.

Weaknesses: ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s hard to buy into the character choices Krizia Bajos (Gina Carano). This is an officer who helps these criminals out of trust for Vaughn. That would work if it was earned. Instead, it happens in her first scene and is based totally just off a look she gets from him. ItÔŅ 1/2(TM)s not a small assist, either. She risks her career and lives to do this. It makes no sense. While the movie has several nice twists, most of the plot is straightforward from this kind of contained story and for every cool twist, thereÔŅ 1/2(TM)s a very predictable moment. Kate Bosworth (Sydney Silva) gets high billing, but is barely in the film and underutilized.

Overall: This quick review wraps up with me simply saying that this is a solid movie. It clearly has many issues, but has enough twists and good performances to be enjoyable.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

Strengths: It sounds simple enough, but this movie excels because it‚(TM)s funny. A comedy that is flat out funny is sometimes all you need. That‚(TM)s not to say the story doesn‚(TM)t work. The two main characters go on quite the journey and grow over the course of the film. John Cho (Harold Lee) and Kal Penn (Kumar Patel) are both strong as the leads. The characters both become better, stronger people by the end of this adventure and their friendship is more solidified. As noted though, the comedy is just great. There are so many hilarious bits and it‚(TM)s the kind of movie where you‚(TM)ll notice small hilarities on each subsequent watch. Neil Patrick Harris (Himself) is the most memorable side role, but there‚(TM)s also great moments from Anthony Anderson (Burger Shack Employee), Jamie Kennedy (Creepy Guy), and Ryan Reynolds (OR nurse). Christopher Meloni (Randy/Freakshow) is unrecognizable in a hilarious cameo that is among the more memorable in the movie.

Weaknesses: There are several things that happen which go a bit far for laughs and they miss. The hang gliding scene, riding the cheetah, and breaking out of prison are all a bit over the top. Parts of those jokes work, but others miss the mark. The same goes for a few of the more gross jokes.

Overall: A hilarious movie with some surprising heart to it. It‚(TM)s wacky, over the top, and one of those films where you‚(TM)ll always have a good time watching it.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)
½

Strengths: The original is an all-time classic, so you must be careful when remaking it. One thing that made that version work so well was the practical effects. This movie, despite being made only a few years ago, uses zero CGI and the practical effects look incredible. It‚(TM)s some of the best stuff I‚(TM)ve ever seen. The movie manages to be the right blend of terrifying and gruesome. There are scenes where we see a face get cut with a glass, a tongue get cut in half, a knee get horribly sliced by a machete, and an arm get ripped off. Each looks masterful. Fede Alvarez is becoming one of the modern horror masters. Jane Levy (Mia Allen) is fantastic as the lead, while Jessica Lucas (Olivia) and Shiloh Fernandez (David Allen) both more than hold up their end of the bargain. The movie manages to pay homage to the original, but be enough of a new, unique take that it feels different and special. It‚(TM)s violent in a way that most movies couldn‚(TM)t even fathom.

Weaknesses: I do think that some of the comedy elements from the original should‚(TM)ve stuck around. Early on, having a bit of fun in the tone would‚(TM)ve smoothed things out. I also believe most characters were either unlikable or did consistently stupid things. Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) keeps doing idiotic things, so it‚(TM)s hard to root for him.

Overall: Consider me one of the few people who think this is better than the original. The cast is mostly strong, the gore is done right, and the horror elements are very strong without relying on jump scares.

All the Money in the World

Strengths: The main reason this movie was in the news was because of the Kevin Spacey stuff. He was replaced by Christopher Plummer (J. Paul Getty) and it was seamless. There‚(TM)s never a moment where it feels out of place. And it‚(TM)s mostly because Plummer gives an astounding performance. It was one of the best in a 2017 full of them. Michelle Williams (Gail Harris) also does a great job as the grieving mother. There‚(TM)s a scene where she breaks down outside of a museum and it‚(TM)s heartbreaking. Ridley Scott does a great job crafting drama out of a true story. The scenes where John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is tortured by his kidnappers are hard to watch, while the scene where they get him back proves to be one filled with tension.

Weaknesses: Considering the work by Plummer and Williams, it feels like Mark Wahlberg (Fletcher Chace) is kind of a disappointment. It‚(TM)s not a bad performance, but it‚(TM)s one that feels like it could‚(TM)ve been anyone in Hollywood and not made much of a difference (other than in the box office total). The character is also not that interesting. The movie also feels quite long. You can feel every single one of the 133 minutes, with the scripts being a bit too heavy. You could shave 10-15 minutes off and it would be much tighter. There‚(TM)s certainly a pacing problem.

Overall: Not a contender for the best movie of a loaded year, but it‚(TM)s still good. The performances are more than enough to make it worth checking out, even with some pacing problems.

Sorry to Bother You

Strengths: It's almost impossible to listen to the protagonist's "white voice" without laughing. David Cross does a fantastic job with that. Lakeith Stanfield (Cassius Green) has been really good in everything I've seen him in, so I was happy he got a starring role this time around. He delivered in spades, carrying this movie with comedic timing and charisma. The same goes for Tessa Thompson (Detroit) and the rest of the white voice cast (Patton Oswalt and Lily James). Armie Hammer (Steve Lift) just might be the show stealer in his limited appearance as the pretty insane leader of the corrupt corporation. The premise is original and features some solid dialogue. The makeup and effects teams did way better than you'd expect for certain scenes considering their low budget. The film also works as a surprisingly strong commentary on the current world we live in.

Weaknesses: Things get a bit too weird in the third act. I appreciated the ambition of the director, but it gets too strange in a way that is off putting. It takes what is a relatively intimate, small stakes story, and pushes it way further onto a grander scale that feels odd. While I enjoyed Tessa Thompson's performance, I found the Detroit character to be unlikable. There's no reason to root or care for her, and she does odd things for the sake of being that kind of character, rather than because it makes sense.

Overall: Boots Riley does great work with both his direction and his script. The acting, including the voice performances, is great across the board. Though the third act falls apart a bit, there's enough originality and creativity to make this work.

Hidden Figures
½

Strengths: It's called Oscar bait for a reason. The performances from the three leads are what drives the movie. Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Goble Johnson) is the strongest of the three and mostly feels like the protagonist. Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughn) is strong and Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson) is the surprise standout. The supporting cast is mostly very good, with Kevin Costner (Al Harrison) the best among them. The script allows for several powerful scenes and monologues that really showcase what these women went through and how strong they were. It's uplifting, empowering, and hits all the beats it needs to so we get the desired feeling when it ends.

Weaknesses: I understand how smart these women were, but I think the film goes a bit far in making the men in the movie seem dumb. Jim Parsons' (Paul Stafford) character is a head engineer, but is made to look like a total idiot. The same goes for the IBM guys. There were ways to ensure that the main women looked smart without having everyone else seem incompetent. Several beats were overused. The moments where the women experience racism are crucial, but it gets done so much that it feels redundant. I also felt that Mahershala Ali (Jim Johnson) was underutilized, while Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell) wasn't very good.

Overall: There's a lot to like about this emotional journey. It just could've been handled much better to make for a better film experience.

The Breakfast Club
½

Strengths: Nearly everything about this movie works. The cast all give great performances and click with each other to deliver strong scenes. Judd Nelson (John Bender) is mostly good, though he's a bit over the top. Anthony Michael Hall (Brian Johnson) might be the standout, while Emilio Estevez (Andy Clark), Molly Ringwald (Claire Standish), and Ally Sheedy (Allison Reynolds) all deliver. There are plenty of great scenes. The scene where they all sit around and reveal major things about their lives is outstanding. Each character delivers some kind of truth and all are handled with care. It's emotion that works. Hall is amazing here, discussing bringing a gun to school and how hurt he was at the idea that nobody would act like his friend after this day. Following it with the famous dance scene was perfect, as these characters had now gone through something that bonded them. The script allows for these characters to tell stories that help them grow by the end, while the dialogue all feels natural. Lastly, the film's soundtrack is legendary. Not only are the songs great, but they're fitting of the tone and era.

Weaknesses: It's clear that many of these characters are incredibly stereotypical. I would've liked if some people played against type. A female jock or nerd. Something like that. It's a small issue, though. The real problem is the relationships. While Claire and John feel like they have a bond throughout the movie, the Andy/Allison stuff feels so forced. They only share one real scene with any kind of bond. If that wasn't enough, when they do get together, it only comes after Allison changes her appearance. She shouldn't have needed to do that, as her being weird and different is what worked for her.

Overall: One of the greatest teen movies of all time. With a great cast, insightful script, killer soundtrack, and lots of emotion, it hits nearly every beat it needs to.

Disobedience
Disobedience(2018)
½

Strengths: Though I haven't seen it, Sebastian Lelio's last movie won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Here, it's clear that he's a force to be reckoned with. His first English film is powerful and the director handles some very sensitive subjects with grace. There are some pretty graphic sex scenes in this, et it never comes across like it's being done to get anyone's rocks off. It's passionate and fitting of two characters who not only have feelings for each other, but a strong urge to let loose. Rachel Weisz (Ronit Krushka) is the lead and gives a strong performance, but the real scene stealer is Rachel McAdams (Esti Kuperman). There's a raw vulnerability that she brings to the role, ranking it among the best performances of her career. There's a lot of tension in many of the scenes due to the way the community around them feels about Ronit's lifestyle choices. Hearing her call out these people when given the chance makes for compelling viewing.

Weaknesses: There are several points of this movie where it feels long. Had a few scenes either been cut out or at least cut short, the pacing would work a lot better. While the director handled the key emotional stuff well, most of the movie looks very bland. I understand that can work for the way they wanted the community to look, but it also just seems like there wasn't much thought put into the visuals.

Overall: Disobedience is a thought-provoking film that is well acted and directed. The main thing holding it back is the pacing. Each scene feels like it lasts a bit too long, causing a view to possibly doze off here or there.

The Purge: Election Year

Strengths: As always, the concept behind this franchise allows for a lot of cool ideas to come to fruition. There are almost unlimited avenues you can take it. Going the political route was unique and very timely. I really liked how they took time to look at the way this night affects things on a political scale. The poor are dying with ease because they can't protect themselves. I also appreciated the connection to the prior films, even if they were small. Frank Grillo (Leo Barnes) is once again solid as a tough guy in this world, while Elizabeth Mitchell (Charlene Roan) does well as the candidate looking to end the Purge. James DeMonaco might have done his best job from a director's standpoint in this one. I want more looks at how chaotic this night is and we get plenty of looks. The vandalized Lincoln Memorial, the random guillotine, and the car with victims strapped to it were all good visuals.

Weaknesses: Again, the Purge continues to be a great idea that kind of disappoints. It just feels like there should always be more, even when they manage to expand on the universe. I'm not a big fan of the way they've gone away from the horror/thriller genre. This is a terrifying situation, but the movies have gone into the action genre. If they can showcase more of the world like they have, but do so in a frightening way, it would be ideal. Some bits feel like they don't get as much shine as they should. For example, tourists coming to Purge feels like something cool, but is mostly glossed over other than one scene.

Overall: It's another good installment in the Purge franchise, yet another one that doesn't live up to its potential.

50/50
50/50(2011)
½

Strengths: Handling the reins of a comedy movie that has to do with tough subject matter like cancer is a difficult balancing act. Jonathan Levine does a great job with that as the director. The movie is consistently funny, yet never gets to a point where the serious moments miss the mark. Each important moment feels big. The music led scene before and during the big surgery is exceptional and showcases the good soundtrack choices made for this movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Adam Lerner) is tremendous in this. It's one of the best performances of his career, which is saying something. The scene where he's in the car and has his breakdown is incredible. Seth Rogen (Kyle Hirons) is playing the kind of guy he always plays. It's not special, but he gets it right. His chemistry with Levitt was key. Speaking of chemistry, each scene involving Anna Kendrick (Katherine McKay) is delightful, partially because she and Levitt had it in spades. Anjelica Houston (Diane Lerner) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Rachael) both also did well in their roles. The screenplay is another huge positive. Most characters are given some depth, the dialogue is sharp, and there's a lot of heart to everything done.

Weaknesses: While I thought his performance ultimately fine, Seth Rogen's character is the one that doesn't fully work. He's overly vulgar to the point where it feels a bit out of place. He's one note and it's not a note that is always funny.

Overall: An incredible movie. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and this is one of his two or three best movies in my opinion. The cast is stellar, the script works completely, and the balance between comedy and drama is perfect.

Hacksaw Ridge
½

Strengths: I chose to watch this movie because it was nominated for Best Picture a few years back. I see why. The story is Oscar bait, telling a courageous true story. Mel Gibson nailed his work as a director here. He handles the first half of the film solidly, giving us plenty of strong character moments. It's the second half where he truly shines, though. The war sequences are brutal and tense. Body parts fly around, there are abrupt deaths, and you feel like you're right there watching the action in person. It makes sense that this was also nominated for editing and sound mixing. The experience on the battlefield is something truly special. Andrew Garfield (Desmond Doss) gives one of the best performances of his career, other than the bad accent. The rest of the cast like Hugo Weaving (Tom Doss), Sam Worthington (Jack Glover), and the surprisingly strong Vince Vaughn (Sgt. Howell) all bring their best.

Weaknesses: The movie feels long. You completely feel every single minute because some parts do drag in the early stages. Teresa Palmer (Dorothy Schutte) is the one actor who doesn't feel like they're doing a great job. She's not flat out bad, but she lacks something. Her chemistry with Andrew Garfield is almost non-existent, so the love story plot never really works.

Overall: This blew me away and was way better than I expected. Other than some pacing issues and the love story, everything works. We have strong characters, a good script, great direction, and the feel like we're truly watching the brutal nature of war.

Hell or High Water

Strengths: The relationship between the brothers is the thing that this film excels the most. Chris Pine (Toby Howard) gives what is arguably the best performance of his career. He's likable and plays well off his brother. Ben Foster (Tanner Howard) is almost unrecognizable as his ex-con brother. He might be the show stealer, playing an unhinged man who is hell bent on helping his brother, even if it means sacrificing himself. Jeff Bridges (Marcus Hamilton) is his usual great self. There's a sense that he's kind of a jerk, but there's heart behind what he does. The bank robbery scenes are well done without going over the top. The tense scenes, like Toby getting stopped at a roadblock or his conversation with Marcus at the end of the film are both brilliantly handled. There's not a lot of effects used, but when we do get them, it looks great. There's a specific gunshot that looks phenomenal late in the movie. The direction is top notch and the script allows for some deep moments among the characters.

Weaknesses: The plot is ultimately very simple and straightforward. It's not a flat out bad thing, but it shines a light on the fact that this movie could mean more if things were laid out a bit differently. Along with that, some of the characters are kind of stereotypical and not fully fleshed out. We have the father trying to do right by his kids, the raging ex-con, etc. Another issue is some of the pacing. Points of the movie seem to drag.

Overall: Once you get past some pacing problems and some of the simple stuff, you find yourself watching a well-acted, engaging film with some great emotional beats.

Slice
Slice(2018)
½

Strengths: The cast of this movie is one of the more interesting I've ever seen. Chance The Rapper (Dax Lycander) is clearly having a blast in his first feature film role. He has some awkward moments, but is mostly enjoyable. Zazie Beetz (Astrid) is the real star, though. Like she does in every single film or television appearance she's made so far in her career, she steals the show. She's quickly becoming of the finer new actors around. Chris Parnell (Mayor Tracy) and Paul Scheer (Jack) also give fun performances. The tongue-in-cheek style makes this a fun ride of a horror comedy. They blend the sense of humor with some surprisingly notable social commentary. Throw in a cool soundtrack and there are a fair amount of things that work.

Weaknesses: Ultimately, this feels like wasted potential. Despite a cool concept and strong cast, the film never truly feels like it comes together. Scenes feel like they happen for the sake of happening, rather than following a consistent narrative. Things just happen. Characters shift in and out at random. Despite being so short, there's a sense that time is just being filled with characters not doing much of note. Astrid and Dax are the most important characters, yet neither feels like a true protagonist. There's not a ton of growth for either and neither truly drives the plot forward. It's kind of a mess. The budget probably wasn't large on this and it's clear by the poor makeup and effects. Dax turning into a werewolf looks cheesy and not in the way that the tone of the movie was probably shooting for.

Overall: Somewhere in this script, there's a great movie. With a wonderful cast and great concept behind it all, there's a lot to like. The writing and pacing of the movie force it to be something that is nowhere near as enjoyable as it should be.

John Wick: Chapter 2

Strengths: Everything that made the first John Wick film work is back in the sequel. Keanu Reeves (John Wick) gives the cool, quiet performance that was great in the original. Ian McShane (Winston) is again cool. I liked the additions of Common (Cassian) and Ruby Rose (Ares). The latter plays a mute and manages to say a lot without speaking. The action scenes are stellar and come at you constantly. There's next to no slow down throughout this movie. It's action from start to finish. The visuals are stylish and there's just something about the world this takes place in that is cool. The soundtrack adds to it all.

Weaknesses: Some of the dialogue can feel awkward. Even the conversations involving the mute are relatively bland or feature forced moments. It makes some of the movie feel like it drags on at points. The other major issue comes from the villain. Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D'Antonio) is largely forgettable and never feels like a true threat. I know he was kind of just the guy pulling strings, but he still doesn't make for an intriguing character.

Overall: It's not without flaws, but John Wick: Chapter 2 manages to build upon what worked in the first film. It's cool, fun, and features a ton of action.

Jigsaw
Jigsaw(2017)

Strengths: When you go into a Saw movie, you kind of know what to expect. Gore, inventive traps, and at least a few plot twists to leave you guessing. We did get some inventive traps in this one and more than a few gory moments that are fitting of the franchise. The special effects used during those scenes are very well done, making the most of the film's budget. There also happens to be a solid pace to this. They get right into the meat of the story and don't really waste much time, allowing things to move along smoothly. Tobin Bell (John Kramer) continues to excel in his role.

Weaknesses: It's hard to root for any of the characters when they make such terrible decisions. It happened in Saw II, but at least there were a few level-headed people in that one. This group of characters just continually makes dumb decision after dumb decision. Matt Pasamore (Logan Nelson) isn't a great choice for the lead, as his performance isn't very convincing. Characters like Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), and Anna (Laura Vandervoot) are in the traps and all make bad moves you can't relate to. The same goes for Carly (Brittany Allen), who honestly deserved to die for her stupidity. The twist at the end feels like you can see it coming from far away. Hannah Emily Anderson (Eleanor Bonneville) is an interesting character, yet she's just a red herring who randomly disappears in the third act.

Overall: If you're here for the cool traps and gore, Jigsaw mostly delivers. It's just hard to get past the awful characters. They make it so you can't appreciate much beyond the visuals.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Strengths: The Harry Potter series was filled with visually stunning moments, yet this movie probably has the best looking effects of any of them. It's that gorgeous. All the creatures look unique and breathtaking, while the spells cast lead to some excellent looking scenes. Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander) was a great choice for the lead. He plays the role with the wonder you want from a guy like Newt, while showcasing charm and likability. Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski) is the best I've ever seen him in this movie, while Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein) does great work, especially for this being her first feature film. Supporting cast members like Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone), Colin Farrell (Percival Graves), and Ron Perlman (Gnarlack) were all fun. David Yates has directed the last five entries into this universe and understands it so well. He was the perfect choice to handle this. The twist surrounding Percival at the end remains a cool one and a truly, "Holy shit" moment for fans.

Weaknesses: Maybe it's just me, but I can't get into Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein). I feel like she lacks chemistry with Redmayne and was the least interesting of the four main characters. I also found much of the plot to be pretty straightforward without being much in the way of complex. There's a fair amount of exposition and moving the setting to New York didn't work as well as I hoped. I think keeping it in the UK would've been better.

Overall: Though the plot and supporting characters are mostly thin, there's enough charm in our lead to carry things. The visuals are breathtaking and the movie is a fun adventure that makes for a strong first entry into a larger series.

The Good Dinosaur

Strengths: It's Pixar. There are certain things they always get right, even if it's not one of their best efforts. The animation style of this movie is as great as you've come to expect from this studio. The voice cast doesn't feature a bunch of major names, yet they still deliver strong performances. Raymond Ochoa (Arlo) is great as the lead, while Sam Elliott (Butch), Anna Paquin (Ramsey), and he great Frances McDormand (Momma Ida) stand out. The emotional scenes throughout are mostly solid and there's a good message. Arlo grows as a character from start to finish and it rightfully feels like he earns his place by the end of the film. There's also an undeniable sense of charm throughout.

Weaknesses: It's Pixar. They've created lofty expectations. The Good Dinosaur is a good movie, but one that never even comes close to the level Pixar is known for. The story is tame and doesn't allow for much in the way of complexity. It's too straightforward. This seems like the kind of movie you'd find from a studio without the imagination that Pixar is known for. A lot more could've been done with the world building efforts. In a world where dinosaurs were never extinct, we should've gotten more on how they survived all this time. All we get is a scene or two of them farming.

Overall: The Good Dinosaur does enough to succeed as a solid movie, but not enough to become a great one. It's ultimately forgettable, yet still a perfectly fine way to spend an hour and a half.

The Hurricane Heist

Strengths: This movie reminded me of a wacky action flick from the 90s. It had big set pieces and some truly goofy moments, but in an endearing way. I thought the effects mostly worked and looked rather good. You get a lot of action and some tense moments throughout. It's enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. Maggie Grace (Casey Corbyn) is solid as the lead, while Ralph Ineson (Connor Perkins) plays the bad guy in a pretty fun manner.

Weaknesses: The acting is rather rough in this one. Toby Kebbell (Will Rutledge) and Ryan Kwanten (Breeze Rutledge) gave some poor performances with even worse accents. They stand out the most, but everyone other than Grace and Ineson are flat out bad. There's a hacker couple played by Ed Birch (Frears) and Melissa Bolona (Sasha Van Dietrich) who are truly horrendous. Even the actors who do well get stuck with horrible dialogue. There are moments that will make you cringe in the worst possible way. The plot is straightforward and simple, while the script makes it so the characters are paper thin and get almost no development.

Overall: If you turn your brain off, you may have some fun with this. The action scenes are fun. Everything else is quire bad.

Godzilla
Godzilla(2014)
½

Strengths: It can be difficult to make sure a monster movie looks good and not cheesy. Thankfully, Gareth Edwards and company mostly nailed it here. The monsters look good and Godzilla looks especially great. He looks ferocious and they do a strong job teasing his appearances throughout. We get just enough of the monster without under or overdoing it. Though he wasn't in many scenes, Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody) was fantastic. He felt like the heart and soul of the movie. In fact, the human element was mostly solid. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody) and Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody) provided some good acting and did well in their roles. They made the most of their time on screen.

Weaknesses: While most of the human stuff was fine, the movie lacked a fair amount when Cranston left. He felt like the best part of the movie and losing him less than halfway through made it so the rest of the movie was missing something. Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa) gives one of his lesser performances. Lastly, there seemed to be more than a few scenes that were kind of plodding. This felt longer than it was.

Overall: Not a classic by any means, but a very good monster movie. The effects were great and the human stuff mostly worked.

The Usual Suspects
½

Strengths: You can't discuss this movie without talking about the big twist ending. If you haven't seen it yet, I'd give a spoiler alert but the movie is over two decades old. Get on it. There's a reason it's one of the best in cinema history. Kevin Spacey (Roger "Verbal" Kint) gives one of the best performances of his career. You get shocked when the revelation comes at the end, but also are able to look back and see that it makes sense. The mystery around the film is well executed. You can tell that Verbal's story sounds fishy, so you're left wondering what the truth really is. Most of the other cast members also bring their best. Stephen Baldwin (Michael McManus), Gabriel Byrne (Dean Keaton), and Kevin Pollack (Todd Hockner) all do well. Benicio Del Toro (Fred Fenster) was a delightful addition. The way he talked throughout the film makes him memorable. The script is great and this might be the best work of Bryan Singer's career.

Weaknesses: The criminals are mostly great characters. The cops aren't. They come across as very one note and generic, while getting next to nothing in terms of development. I know they aren't the most important piece of the film, but giving them something to work with would've helped things. The pacing of the movie could use some tightening.

Overall: An absolute classic. It's filled with great, interesting characters and a wild tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat. The twists and turns throughout and especially at the end are the stuff of legend. Phenomenal.

Green Zone
Green Zone(2010)

Strengths: I liked the direction by Paul Greengrass. He's usually strong and he nailed many of the war scenes. Matt Damon (Roy Miller) is solid as the lead, though I didn't care much for his chemistry with the rest of the cast. I found the intrigue of what was going down to be well setup. It was fun to try and figure out what exactly was happening.

Weaknesses: Though the mystery was solid, the script was ripe with clichťs. It was as if the screenwriters saw several war dramas and political thrillers and decided to just shoehorn them all in. None of the cast seem to bring their best, as even Damon, who was solid, has been much better in almost everything else. It didn't help that they were given generic characters to work with. None have any real growth or much behind what's on the surface.

Overall: Another quick review, but this one is of a movie that seemed to go on forever. The action and mystery are fine. The script, cast, and characters offer little to nothing.

Barry
Barry(2016)
½

Strengths: It says something about this movie that I totally forgot it was about Barack Obama before I saw it and it never forced me to remember it. They didn't beat you over the head with tons of clues or nods towards one day being the President. Devon Terrell (Barack "Barry" Obama) does a great job as the lead. He has the charisma that you'd expect from Obama, while also managing to infuse his performance with the uncertainty of how he feels in this world. Anya Taylor-Joy (Charlotte Baughman) continues to do well in everything I see her in. The character was likable and her chemistry with Terrell was strong. Focusing on a single year allows this to work as a character study rather than something on a bigger scale. It keeps the story tidy and gives Barry a fantastic arc. The fact that he ends the film finally answering the question that plagued him throughout the story (Where are you from?) shows how much he grew. He's ready to move on and take steps towards doing something great with his life.

Weaknesses: While I appreciated how this was kept within a certain scope, it does feel lacking. A movie about Barack Obama could be massive, so I'm sure we'll get a bigger one at some point in the future. The film does beat the same drum a bit too often. Obviously, Barry's struggles with racism would be a major part, but they harp on it in nearly every scene and it becomes a big redundant.

Overall: Choosing the smaller scale for this was both a positive and a negative. This movie has enough strength in the performances to keep it on the good side and provides an interesting looking at a young Barack Obama.

The Giver
The Giver(2014)
½

Strengths: The book this is based on is a classic and I think this does a good job with the visuals. The black and white style works well for the society and the way colors are gradually brought in is really cool. Brenton Thwaites (Jonas) does well as the lead, while Jeff Bridges (The Giver) is solid.

Weaknesses: On its own, this probably works better as a movie. Knowing that there's source material means you almost have to compare. The book covers a lot of ground that the film misses. It should've gone much deeper, but it didn't. Meryl Streep (The Chief Elder) is usually great, but kind of does a lot of nothing here. Katie Holmes (Jonas' Mother) is really bad, Cameron Monaghan (Asher) is underused, as is Alexander Skarsbarg (Jonas' Father).

Overall: I didn't write as much as I wanted to, but I'm pressed for time. Ultimately, this movie should work better but they don't dig deep enough into the book and the cast underwhelms.

I Love You, Man
½

Strengths: This is one of the funniest movies to come out in an era that was filled with strong comedies. The cast has incredible chemistry. Paul Rudd (Peter Klaven) and Jason Segel (Sydney Fife) work so well together. They just play off one another and everything feels natural. However, the supporting cast is just as great. Rsahida Jones (Zooey Rice) is charming and likable, while Jamie Pressly (Denise McLean) and Jon Favreau (Barry McLean) are hilarious as a dysfunctional couple. Even those given minor roles like Andy Samberg (Robbie Klaven), JK Simmons (Oswald Klaven), and Lou Ferrigno (Himself) were all very strong. It's insanely quotable and features some side-splitting scenes. The little things like the "slapping the bass" lines or the gag about dogs looking people all work. The script is great. Not only is it witty, but each character is given a lot to work with and the main few all grow over the course of the film. It balances the raunchy with the heartwarming in a difficult way that most movies fail at.

Weaknesses: One character who didn't work at all was played by Rob Huebel (Tevin Downey). I get that he's supposed to be a douche, but he's way too over the top. Nothing he says is funny. You can't even straight up dislike him because he doesn't even feel like a real person. There was a bit too much predictability in some of the plot points.

Overall: An all-time great comedy with mostly likable characters, hilarious moments, and a heartfelt story.

The Fate of the Furious

Strengths: It's as if each passing installment in this franchise must have higher stakes and bigger action/stunts than the last. This one had some scenes that were masterful looking. One that stands out sees the characters involved in a wild chase across a blanket of snow and ice. It's not too over the top and looks beautiful. There weren't a ton of additions to the cast this time around, but the existing group continued to work well together. Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto), Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz), Chris Bridges (Tej Parker), and Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce) still get their characters and it works. Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey) being back was a welcome sight. Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw) played well off one another, making their upcoming spinoff movie seem like it'll be fun.

Weaknesses: The few new additions to the cast didn't work that much for me. Scott Eastwood (Eric Reisner) felt like he wasn't needed for anything more than a bit of comic relief. Charlize Theron (Cipher) was the bigger disappointment, though. She's usually great, but seemed content to just show as little emotion as possible. I get that it was part of the role, but it felt like she could've done so much more. The whole blackmail story also wasn't great. Bringing back Dom's ex just to reveal he has a kid with her felt like it was purely there as a plot point to give this some higher stakes. Also, having the stakes reach the level of preventing World War 3 felt a bit too over the top.

Overall: It works as a good addition to the series, it's just missing things to make it one of the best installments.

Tag
Tag(2018)

Strengths: This is one of those movies with a unique cast of different personalities. They're each allowed to shine throughout. The highlights were Hannibal Buress (Kevin Sable), Jeremy Renner (Jerry Pierce), Jon Hamm (Bob Callahan), and Jake Johnson (Randy Cilliano). Even if some were clichťs, they all looked to be having a blast in their roles. Most were given their own side storylines that never felt out of place. Particularly the one pitting Hamm and Johnson at odds over their old flame, played by Rashida Jones (Cheryl Deakins). It's a cool little side plot. The concept behind the movie is a fun one. The scenes where the characters play tag are delightful. Creativity is used to make them interesting and fun, with just the right amount of over the top absurdity without going too far. Trying to invade Jerry's home to tag him and the scene where Jerry has duplicates and Ozzy Osbourne playing in the woods are two standout moments. There are some true laugh out loud moments in this and it's mostly just from the banter among the core group of characters.

Weaknesses: I don't believe Ed Helms (Hogan Malloy) was the best choice to be the lead. He and his character were the least interesting parts of the story. Isla Fisher (Anna Malloy) is normally good, but felt like she was trying way too hard to play someone so wild. It came across as unfunny. Leslie Bibb (Susan Rollins) also felt like she was trying too hard and missing the mark, while Annabelle Wallis (Rebecca Crosby) kind of does a whole lot of nothing. There were a few unresolved storylines that kind of just go away. Lastly, there's a major revelation about Hogan's character at the end of the film that just comes from out of left field. I get wanting to surprise audiences, but it felt unearned.

Overall: About half of the movie's strong cast delivers the goods, while the other ones mostly fail. The tag scenes are well done but there's not enough substance to make it a great movie. However, it's a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

The Little Prince
½

Strengths: What initially made this seem like an animated film to seek out was the voice cast. They all delivered. Paul Rudd (Mr. Prince), Mackenzie Foy (Little Girl), Jeff Bridges (Aviator), James Franco (Fox), Benicio del Toro (Snake), Marion Cottiliard (Rose), Rachel McAdams (Mother), and many others are all great here. The film works as a strong adaptation of the source material, staying true and still doing enough to be unique. It's a touching story that has plenty of emotion packed into it. What truly makes this stand out is the animation. There are several different types used throughout and all are beautifully done. It's truly stunning.

Weaknesses: The second half or so of the movie feels kind of disjointed. The plotlines are separated from the real world and that of the story being told, but it still could've been meshed together better. The parallels of the Little Girl's projected all work/no play life and the world the Little Prince grows up in make sense, but are super on the nose and that makes it feel a bit cheesy. Some characters come off as clichť and unlikable (Mother) or kind of creepy (Aviator) even if that wasn't the intention.

Overall: Thanks to the combination of a heartfelt theme, a wonderful voice cast, and fantastic animation, the Little Prince overcomes some issues to provide you with a highly enjoyable viewing.

Geostorm
Geostorm(2017)
½

Strengths: The political thriller side of this movie actually works quite well. Trying to figure out what's going on behind everything and who is causing it all makes for some solid compelling drama. Though she didn't have a major role, Zazie Beetz (Dana) was a scene stealer.

Weaknesses: Oh, boy. Even the worst disaster movies usually look great (think 2012) but this one is visually lacking. Almost none of the $120 million budget seemed to go to good use in terms of visuals. The cast has potential but most of them feel like they phone it in. Gerard Butler (Jake Lawson) does little to nothing as the lead, Jim Sturgess (Max Lawson) is terrible and lacks all kinds of chemistry with his love interest Abbie Cornish (Sarah Wilson), who is also kind of just there. Ed Harris (Leonard Dekkom) and Andy Garcia (Andrew Palma) both act as if they're just there for a check. The plot is thin, the science feels way off, and it's riddled with clichťs.

Overall: More disaster than disaster movie. Geostorm totally misses the mark. It has bad acting, poor visuals, lazy writing, and almost everything fails.

Furious 7
Furious 7(2015)

Strengths: When you're this deep into a franchise, you must keep raising the stakes. Furious 7 does just that, taking everything and basically putting it on steroids. There are some truly mind blowing scenes in this one. The usual cast continue to be good, having mastered these characters over time, so I won't spend too much time on them. The people who should get the shine are the new additions. Jason Statham (Deckard Shaw) was a brilliant casting. He has the badass credibility to match up with the likes of Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto) and Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs). He also made for the most threatening and best villain in the series yet. Each time he was on screen, you felt like the heroes were in trouble. Nathalie Emmanuel (Ramsey) was also a great addition. She fit right in with the team and never felt like a strange add on. She got to take part in some major scenes. I also liked the small Ronda Rousey (Kara) role. She didn't do much in terms of action, but got to have the big fight with Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz) that we all wanted. There's more in terms of drama and strong character moments that help this edition stand out. The touching Paul Walker (Bryan O'Connor) montage was a tad cheesy, but a fitting tribute for the actor.

Weaknesses: As great as Johnson is, especially when playing alongside this cast, he's super underutilized in this one. He gets taken out early and returns near the end, but he's been so great in the past two installments that I wanted more this go around. Djimon Hounsou (Mose Jakande) was a lackluster villain, especially alongside Statham. Kurt Russell (Mr. Nobody) was fine, but also felt underused, as did Tony Jaa (Kiet). I guess that'll happen with such a big cast. As I noted, the stunts get bigger this go around, but sometimes, they reach a level that becomes unrealistic. It takes you out of the film when some of this happens.

Overall: It's right up there with Fast Five in terms of being the best installments in the series. Some stunts go overboard and a few cast members are underutilized, but the action is wild, there's a great villain, and it's the insane thrill ride the franchise does best.

Gifted
Gifted(2017)
½

Strengths: This is a touching film that is well handled. Every single important topic is discussed in a good way. For example, there's a moment where faith in God and knowledge in science gets a short discussion and is handled well. The same goes for the movie's core concept. You understand why the uncle wants his niece to live a normal life and why the grandmother doesn't want her talents wasted. Chris Evans (Frank Adler) gives one of his better grounded performances, while McKenna Grace (Mary Adler) shows why she's one of the more sought after child actors around. Jenny Slate (Bonnie Stevenson) surprised with a strong effort here. Not that I expected her to be bad, but I'm used to her in comedic roles, where she shines. She came off as endearing and caring, while her chemistry with Evans was strong. Marc Webb showed he could handle touching subjects and get the most out of his actors with his work in (500) Days of Summer, and he gets the same here.

Weaknesses: The biggest thing holding this movie back is some logic gaps. For example, the idea that nobody came to find out what was up with this girl after her mother passed away was crazy. You'd think social services or someone would bother to check in. Also, the court stuff just never worked. Frank is brought a deal by his lawyer that is horrible, yet he takes it. If your goal is to not have this girl raised by her grandmother and attending a gifted school, then why would you agree to have her go to the school and live with a foster family? It's meant to be a heartbreaking scene, and it is, but it's hard to feel for Frank because you can't see the reason behind his choice.

Overall: With great acting, a heartfelt premise, and characters you can mostly root for, Gifted excels. It keeps you engaged, tugs at your heart, and is authentic. More care needed to be given to where the story takes its most dramatic moments for it to have fully clicked.

Wild
Wild(2014)
½

Strengths: Two things stand out above everything else in this film. First, there's the performance of Reese Witherspoon (Cheryl Strayed). I fully understand that she's an Oscar winner and yet I'll still rank this as her best individual performance. She completely becomes the character, nailing the emotion of her mother's death, the sadness of the drug addled scenes, her fear on the hike, and everything in between. Director Jean-Marc Vallee also does a great job capturing the tone while also stopping to give us the gorgeous visuals that come with nature. He and the screenwriter do such a strong job of taking us on this journey. It feels like the viewer is right beside Cheryl and struggling with her. Laura Dern (Bobbi Grey) is another highlight as Cheryl's mother. It's some of her best work ever.

Weaknesses: With a film like this, you will run into some issues of pacing. The movie does a good job trying to work through these issues, but it still manages to slow up a bit too often. Not every scene of Cheryl by herself is going to be captivating. Also, a handful of the characters Cheryl meets along the way are largely forgettable. I think it needed to give us a bit more of the backstory other than bits. If the journey and flashbacks were balanced out a bit better (I understand the hike should be the majority of the film), I think the pace would be stronger.

Overall: Led by strong work from the director and the powerful performance of Witherspoon and Dern, Wild mostly works. It's a Oscar bait movie that delivers in that aspect. It could've used stronger pacing to really make it stand out, though.

Dude
Dude(2018)

Strengths: It's usually best to have the best stuff in a movie happen in the back half. This movie does just that. It struggles early on, but if you stick around through that, you'll find some stronger stuff later on. Lucy Hale (Lily) gives a solid performance as the lead, playing the most grounded character in the entire film. She comes across as realistic and rather grounded. Lily gets an arc that shows growth from start to finish, which is critical in a film. We need to be taken on a journey and this movie succeeds there. Kathryn Prescott (Chloe Daniels) is right next to Hale in terms of strong performances.

Weaknesses: As mentioned, the first portion of the movie struggles. They try way too hard to establish these girls as overly raunchy. Nearly every line in the first half hour or so is just these girls saying sexual things or talking about drugs. It doesn't feel natural the way it did when, like, Bridesmaids, had their characters be dirty. This feels super forced and none of the jokes land. It just makes you cringe and feel awkward. Alexandra Shipp (Amelia) seems uncomfortable when delivering her lines and has none of the charisma she showed in other movies. The same goes for Awkwafina (Rebecca). They're both wasted in a big way and let down by poor writing. Also, some comedic situations went nowhere. There's a scene where a dog eats weed brownies and it just ends. Nothing comes of it, so it doesn't even get to be funny.

Overall: It's tough to get through this movie. The first 45 or so minutes are just a barrage of bad jokes, awkward lines, and nothing funny. If you get to it, the back half saves this a bit and packs the emotional punch it needed to for Lily's character.

Fast & Furious 6

Strengths: Bringing in Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs) was the kick in the ass this series needed. Having him work together with the heroes of the story was great this time around. He continues to have chemistry with Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto) as their scenes always delivered. Paul Walker (Bryan O'Connor) did well with his lesser role this time around, making the most of his scenes. I loved that Michelle Rodriguez (Letty Ortiz) was brought back into the fold. Her scenes with Diesel were probably the best in the movie. Watching her struggle with her strange situation was great. Gal Gadot (Gisele Yashar) was her delightful self and gave us a strong sacrifice scene. As usual with the series, the action was top notch and some of the set pieces were insane. The scale of the movies get crazier each time and it's allowing for something special. The post-credits appearance of Jason Statham was a nice capper and way to hype the next film.

Weaknesses: This very much felt like an installment that was just there to build up the next one. This was all about getting Letty back to do something interesting in the seventh part. That made for a lackluster overall story. Along with that, the villain, played by Luke Evans (Owen Shaw) felt like a disappointment after a strong antagonist in the fifth part. Paul Walker (Bryan O'Connor) and Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto) both feel way underutilized. Some of the stuff done by Gina Carano's (Riley Hicks) character is dumb. She's a double agent, but puts herself in harm's way that doesn't make sense at several points. Lastly, I felt that the sacrifice of Gisele could've meant more. It was a big moment and the scene mostly worked, but it felt like it wasn't given enough attention.

Overall: Fast Five turned things around, but Fast & Furious 6 was a step back. Not in a major way. Just one that was clearly because this felt more like a movie done to set up the next part. Like, everything could've been accomplished in a short film or something.

Fantastic Four

Strengths: The cast of this movie is mostly strong. When this was announced, I was intrigued by the leading names. Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm/Human Torch), Kate Mara (Sue Storm/Invisible Woman), and Miles Teller (Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic) are all great. They aren't at their best here, but they do give a decent effort.

Weaknesses: Literally everything else. The screenplay is abysmal, giving almost no depth to any of these characters and being so dreary it was nothing like the fun source material. The special effects are almost as bad. Everything looks cheesy and fake. Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom) was way over the top with his acting and "menacing" stuff. He tried too hard. Like the 2005 Fantastic Four movie, this took way too long to get going. It's nearly an hour before they're even in the alternate world, meaning there's little time for action. And that would be okay if the stuff before they got their powers was even remotely interesting. Instead, it's just dull. It's as if the people behind this had never paid attention to anything Fantastic Four related, because this was missing everything that made that work.

Overall: I thought there was no way this would be worse than the first two Fantastic Four films. The cast was too good for that. Yet, they managed to do it. The production issues are evident as this movie is a total mess. A giant waste of potential.

Fast Five
Fast Five(2011)

Strengths: I always considered this franchise to be fun, mindless action. That all changed with this installment. They took the fun aspects and cranked it up by making it a heist movie. And a well executed heist film can be special. The usual cast all still work well together, from Vin Diesel (Dominic Toretto) to Paul Walker (Brian O'Conner) to Jordana Brewster (Mia Toretto). They have strong chemistry with each other and with the rest of the cast brought back from previous films like Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (Tej Parker) and Tyrese Gibson (Roman Pearce). Gal Gadot (Gisele Yashar) was a delight as always. The best part of the film was the addition of Dwayne Johnson (Luke Hobbs). His pursuit of the crew added extra tension to a solid story and put it over the top. The much hyped fight between Johnson and Diesel lived up to what I wanted and their scenes together were highlights. Justin Lin understands what makes these films work, so he handled all the driving scenes with expertise, while also making sure the heist stuff clicked. The movie leans in to how absurd the premise is, which works.

Weaknesses: Sometimes, the B story in a movie doesn't work. It's usually a love story and that was the case here. It was nearly impossible to care about the romance between Diesel's character and Elsa Pataky (Elena Neves). They didn't have much chemistry and fans weren't buying into it consider they still cared about Dom with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). It was even more useless when we find that Letty is still alive in the post-credits scene. Cut out that romance and you'll save some of the runtime (it is a bit long) and the film will be tighter. With a cast of characters so big, not everyone is given a chance to shine, leaving some to just come across as hollow.

Overall: The movie that turned the franchise around. It went from fun series with a hardcore fan base to one that appealed to a larger audience. The combination of awesome driving scenes, a great heist, wild action, and the addition of Johnson made this arguably the best entry.

Bright
Bright(2017)
½

Strengths: When it was announced that Netflix produced their most expensive film ever, you figured it would feature great special effects. For the most part, this movie delivers on that note. A lot of the effects look great, which is needed in a movie featuring all sorts of mythical creatures. The premise behind it all is actually quite good and interesting. Joel Edgerton (Nick Jakoby) has the film's one strong performance.

Weaknesses: People have whined about this getting bad reviews, calling it entertaining. It tries to be, but there are just so many flaws, it's nearly impossible to overlook. The world building they attempt is lazy and doesn't hold any weight. There were a ton of logic gaps. For example, Will Smith's (Daryl Ward) character and his wife are somehow poor, yet one is a cop and the other is a doctor/nurse. It's a small thing, but it matters. The writing is flat out bad, with scenes happening for no real reason. The entire setup is to protect this wand from falling into the wrong hands, yet they explicitly say that anyone who touches it who isn't a "Bright" dies. So why do all these non-Brights want it? It makes no sense and kills the entire premise. The acting is also bad. There's a scene where Ward shoots the officers he worked with in the past and he does so with no emotion on his face. Not even the grimace from the kickback of a gun. It's just a lot of nonsense happening for nearly two hours and people seem to like that it's pretty. But it's hollow.

Overall: A terrible movie and a giant waste of money for Netflix. There was a lot of potential with the idea of a world featuring elves, orcs, and such. Instead, they wasted it thanks to bad writing, acting, and a total lack of logic.

Terminal
Terminal(2018)
½

Strengths: She broke out in The Wolf of Wall Street and displayed her acting chops in I, Tonya. Margot Robbie (Annie) does exactly what she did in Suicide Squad. She is the best part of a bad movie. She holds this together as best she can, with a captivating performance of a mysterious woman. The other thing this movie has going for it are the strong visuals. It's shot in a way that looks good and the lighting makes for a cool setting.

Weaknesses: The script is kind of pointless. It's not very coherent and leads us to several scenes of character talking and not doing much else. It's fine when Robbie gets to do it, but the other actors seem to just be going through the motions. Simon Pegg (Bill) has none of the charisma he's known for, Dexter Fietcher (Vince) is kind of just there, and Mike Myers (Clinton) is trying way too hard. The scenes unfold at such a slow, dull pace and you just find yourself uninterested. Then, after 80 or so minutes that feel closer to two hours, they throw in a twist regarding Myers' character only to throw in another twist about Robbie's character. If you remember The Prestige, that movie features one of the best twists ever because looking back, they dropped hints and it made sense. This twist felt forced, didn't work, and made no sense.

Overall: A massive waste of Margot Robbie's strong effort. She does her best to carry this, but is weighed down by poor performances, a bad script, terrible pacing, and a dumb twist.

Flight
Flight(2012)
½

Strengths: Sometimes, an actor is so good that he can take a bad movie and make it work. While this isn't a bad movie by any stretch, it's the performance of Denzel Washington (William "Whip" Whitaker) that makes this movie click way better than it would otherwise. He's completely captivating in every scene. It reminds me of his work in Fences, where he was such a troubled character that you couldn't root or relate to him much, yet he still dominated the screen with his charisma. It's some of the best work of his career, which is saying something. Robert Zemeckis is also doing a strong job as the director. The scene where the plane crashes is incredibly tense and well done. The shot of the plane, completely upside down, flying over a motel is breathtaking. The supporting cast is very solid, featuring the likes of Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), John Goodman (Harling Mays), and Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson). The screenplay provides us with some strong material for drama.

Weaknesses: My biggest issue with this movie is the side plot involving Kelly Reilly (Nicole Maggen). She's a fine character, but most of her scenes just feel boring. They tend to drag on and don't feel like they add much to the story. It's a case of adding story for the sake of stretching out a movie, rather than one that builds upon it. I groaned each time she came on screen because it seemed like a waste.

Overall: Denzel is masterful in one of his better roles in recent memory. The script, direction, acting, and effects are strong, as is the character arc Whip goes through. Things just get bogged down by a wasteful B story that holds the film back..

The Marine 5: Battleground

Strengths: When you aren't a big budget film, you need to make the most out of a little. This movie does well with that. They keep a vast majority of the story contained within the confines of a parking garage. That allows them to put their money elsewhere. For example, the effects are strong. Being a WWE Studios picture, I wasn't expect it to be so gory. When Murphy (Trinity Fatu/Naomi) gets stabbed, you can tell effort was put into making it look good. The same goes for when Zoe Williams (Anna Van Hooft) is shot and when Ana (Maryse Ouellet Mizanin) died. Jake Carter (Mike Mizanin/The Miz) is a decent enough lead character and Mike brings a lot of charisma to the role. He makes it work more than it should.

Weaknesses: Sometimes, it's cool to see wrestlers in movies. Other times, it becomes too much. I think WWE went too far with including their talent in this. Joseph Hennig/Curtis Axel (Deacon), Taylor Rotunda/Bo Dallas (Alonzo), and Heath Miller/Heath Slater (Cash) are all kind of just there. They're more distracting than anything and it takes you out of the movie. You feel like you're watching the wrestlers and not the characters. For being an ex-marine, Carter is a character who doesn't seem very good at shooting. He has Stromtrooper accuracy at times, which makes no sense. There's not much to the plot or premise and none of the characters jump out in ways that will grab or interest you.

Overall: The movie makes the most of its budget, features a charismatic lead, and solid effects. There's not much else to it, though. Illogical and boring characters, mixed in with mediocre action makes for a decent at best movie.

White Fang (Croc-Blanc)

Strengths: In my opinion, one of the best things any movie can excel at is wordless storytelling. A film like this had to rely on that aspect because the protagonist, White Fang, isn't a character who speaks. He is like any other animal and not treated as one we can magically understand. Yet, without uttering a single word, we feel connected to this character. When he goes through something tragic, we're on the verge of tears and when he triumphs, we feel pride. There is almost a non-stop barrage of tremendous non-verbal storytelling that makes this film special. The only character who speak are the humans and the main two or three are voiced by a strong cast. Nick Offerman (Marshal Weeden Scott) and Rashida Jones (Maggie Scott) are excellent as always, while Paul Giamatti (Beauty Smith) does very well as the villain. The story goes through various stages and while each is different, they all are emotionally gripping and come together nicely in the end. The animation is fittingly beautiful, rivaling that of the bigger budget companies producing these kinds of films.

Weaknesses: Due to there being so many different points of White Fang's life, it often feels like a random series of events and not one traditional arc. It makes it difficult to fully see the character growth you look for in a movie. I can also see how the non-verbal stuff can come across as boring for some viewers.

Overall: A great showcase of how to do proper wordless storytelling. White Fang is a beautiful film that tells a dramatic story and will have you emotionally invested.

Flatliners
Flatliners(2017)

Strengths: There were two things that made me interested in this movie. One was the premise. People stopping their own hearts to unlock parts of their brain that weren't working at full speed before is very cool. The other was the cast. Ellen Page (Courtney Holmes) is almost always good in everything she does, Nina Dobrev (Marlo) is typically great, and Diego Luna (Ray) has been strong in all the roles I know him from. Those three were pretty solid.

Weaknesses: Other than the cast members mentioned, nobody is any good. James Norton (Jamie) has little to no heart in his work here, while Kiersey Clemons (Sophia Manning) disappoints. Even Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Barry Wolfson) feels like he's just cashing in a check as he reprises his role from the original film. The biggest problem with the movie is that, despite a good setup, it's flat out boring. You'll find yourself wondering how something that's supposed to be scary can be so dull. It just drags on and on. The horror elements feel forced and never hit the mark. The sci-fi stuff worked better than the horror elements and the sci-fi stuff wasn't good either. Though some cast members give fine performances, there's a severe lack of chemistry among most of them. The romances don't click and you're just left wondering why any of these people even hang out.

Overall: There are a handful of talented cast members and a cool setup, yet the movie fails in almost every category. The acting is mediocre, the script is bad, the effects suck, and it's straight up boring. You'll think you've flatlined watching it.

Nerdland
Nerdland(2016)

Strengths: It's hard to not appreciate the voice cast in this movie. Paul Rudd (John) is the lead and somehow manages to be as charming as we always expect, even in animated form. Patton Oswalt (Elliot) does well as his friend, while Katie Micucci (Sally) and Riki Lindhome (Linda) are strong as the girls they like. The real scene stealer is Hannibal Buress (Nerd King). Not only is his character funny, but his delivery is always on point. The art throughout this movie is strange. I mean that in somewhat of a good way. It's not aesthetically pleasing, but it's unique.

Weaknesses: As noted, the art in this animated film is rough looking. The characters just look strange and the surrounding settings just look lazy. I know that was the idea behind it all, but it still looks rough. For a comedy, most of the characters aren't very funny. They come across as obnoxious and unlikable. You can't really root for them because there's just no reason to. The situations they're put on don't add a lot in terms of comedy either. It's just a seemingly endless barrage of immature jokes that don't land. Though it runs for less than an hour and a half, it feels closer to two hours because it drags at several points.

Overall: Talented people like Rudd and Buress shouldn't be subjected to scripts like this. I appreciated the unique art style and the work done by the cast, but the movie is simply not funny.

What We Do In The Shadows

Strengths: Anyone who has seen and enjoyed Taika Waititi's (Viago) work will love this. He co-directs, co-writes, and co-stars and is great in all three roles. Seriously, he's just an all-around hilarious dude. The premise of the film is truly cool. Vampires are a seriously overdone concept by this point, so finding a way to make it unique is commendable. Going the comedic mockumentary route was an unexpected stroke of genius. It led to plenty of laughs. I appreciated how different each character was. They varied in age, from 8,000 years old to fresh newborn vampire and all had some quirks that made them special. I loved how they bonded with the human, Stu (Stu Rutherford). Jermaine Clement (Vladislav), Jonathan Brugh (Deacon), Ben Fransham (Petyr), and everyone else involved are all funny. They also do well to throw nods to other vampire films, from the stuff like Blade and Lost Boys down to Twilight. It's clear the filmmakers had a blast playing with the vampire stereotypes.

Weaknesses: Though it only runs for 85 minutes, there are a handful of moments that seemed to drag. The plot is nothing special and is mostly forgettable. It's as if the focus was on the jokes, which did make for a funny film, just not one that does much more to stand out. As great as most of the characters are, there are a few who don't do a whole lot and seem to kind of just be there.

Overall: Takia does it again. There's something about his brand of comedy that just works for me. This movie is filled with laughs and nods to vampire history and it does so in a natural way. The cast is hilarious and the mockumentary style gives us something unique at a time when that's hard to come by.

The Expendables

Strengths: The entire appeal of this movie was a combination of the cast and their history of action movies. Most of the cast are used quite well. Sylvester Stallone (Barney Ross), Jason Statham (Lee Christmas), and Eric Roberts (James Munroe) seem to get most of the key scenes. Roberts is fun as the villain, while Stallone and Statham play well off each other. I dug the fight scene between Jet Li (Yin Yang) and Dolph Lundgren (Gunner Jensen). It was creative and played so well off the tall vs. short dynamic. Most of the action is solid. I got a kick out of the scene where Statham beats up a bunch of dudes at a basketball court for hitting the woman he loves, played by Charisma Carpenter (Lacy). The scene with Bruce Willis (Mr. Church) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger (Trench Mauser) cameo was also fun.

Weaknesses: I wanted one of the wildest action movies in history. While most of it was good, it never packed the punch I wanted it to. If you're being hyped and advertised as having all these massive action stars, do that. They failed to deliver something memorable. None of the characters really felt cool and that was mostly because they were trying too hard to be cool. Look at the tattoos, the motorcycles, the outfits, etc. It's as if they saw things from their past that were cool and forced them onto everyone. Some characters felt like clichťs, especially Yang. Terry Crews (Hale Caesar) and Steve Austin (Dan Paine) felt underused. Meanwhile, Giselle Itie (Sandra) gets too much screen time and isn't interesting enough to deserve it.

Overall: For being billed as a major action flick, there's no reason this should be as boring as it is. With stronger action, better sue of certain characters, and less attempts to try to be cool, it could've worked.

End of Watch
End of Watch(2012)

Strengths: If you're going to do a movie that completely focuses on the relationship between two friends, you must make sure they're casted right. Jake Gyllenhaal (Brian Taylor) and Michael Pena (Miguel Zavala) were great together. They were fun in almost every scene and you genuinely felt like they were best friends. Their chemistry was the star of the film. Anna Kendrick (Janet Taylor) was great as always, while Natalie Martinez (Gabby Zavala) was a strong supporting character. Director David Ayer gets how to do cop movies and this is some of his best work. Opting to have some of the scenes shot from Go Pro style cameras being used by the officers made for a unique experience. The film is ripe with tense and emotional moments all throughout. It's one of the more memorable police dramas I can ever recall. The closing scene is unforgettable and blew me away, taking turns I never expected or saw coming.

Weaknesses: As cool as I felt the handheld camera stuff worked in some cases, it felt overused. There were times we saw it when it wasn't really needed. Though the movie doesn't even reach two hours, a handful of scenes feel like they're just there to fill time. As great as the closing action scene is, the way the movie cuts back for the very final scene feels odd. It just shows a moment of friendship between Brian and Miguel. It's nice, but it doesn't add much to the characters or their relationship and seems like a lesser note to finish it on.

Overall: The movie ends on a weird note and has some moments that don't quite click. That still doesn't keep it from being a great film. The two leads worked extremely well together and there were so many emotional moments that you can't help but be captivated.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
½

Strengths: One of the most crucial things for a romantic comedy to nail is to have a strong cast. Luckily, this one features a charming cast from top to bottom. Lana Condor (Lara Jean) is likable and relatable as the lead. Her chemistry with Noah Centineo (Peter) is a highlight of the movie. It's stronger than what Centineo had in one of his other Netflix movies with that lead. Anna Cathcart (Kitty) is fun as the little sister, while John Corbett (Dr. Covey) nails the cool, yet sincere and caring father role. His scene with his daughter in the restaurant where he hung out with her mom is a great one. It manages to pay homage to some of the great teen rom-coms of the past. I appreciated that the movie didn't attempt to shoehorn in all five boys who got letters. It would've crowded the film. Instead, it focused on two, with a third playing a friend role. Though the writer didn't do much in terms of originality, she injected the characters with enough charm and relatability to overcome it all.

Weaknesses: With a teen romantic comedy, we've kind of seen it all. It's nearly impossible to come up with something super original in this genre. This movie can't help but fall into the clichť pitfalls of the genre. You've got the expected character types and the beats all feel very familiar. There are many conversations between the characters that truly feel like they're just there to fill time. Not much in terms of big time character building and some of it feels generic.

Overall: It struggles to shake off the clichťs of its genre, but the movie makes up for it with the cast and characters. It's a fun movie, with a heartwarming story that does just enough to make it stand out in the crowded field.

Rampage
Rampage(2018)
½

Video games are great fun. Movies are incredibly entertaining. However, they don't often translate well to one another. Video games based on films usually struggle for a litany of reasons. The same goes when the shoe is on the other foot. Look back at Super Mario Bros., Prince of Persia: Sands of Times, Need for Speed, Silent Hill, Max Payne, or Doom. These were all huge video games, but the film versions didn't capture what made the games special, and ultimately failed in their new medium. In 2018, Rampage was the latest game to take the dive into a film attempt. Did it succeed where others failed?

Rampage was never a game you'd expect to see in theaters. The highly popular arcade game isn't story driven, like you'd want in a movie, and it isn't even character driven. The premise is just the player controlling these giant monsters as they destroy buildings. Not ideal for a 90-minute story. The adaptation, directed by Brad Peyton, kept that general idea, but layered in some story to give it heart. Dwayne Johnson plays Davis Okoye, a primatologist who is great friends with a rare albino gorilla named George. As a result of a rogue experiment, George is mutated into a giant raging monster, along with a wolf and an alligator. Without giving too much away, Johnson's character teams up with a genetic engineer (Naomie Harris) who had previously been unjustly fired from the company (Energyne) who performed the experiments that caused these mutations. They work together to try to find a cure for George, while also figuring out a way to stop the other monsters, yet are thwarted by the military, government, and Energyne, who all have their own motivations.

When you sit down to watch this movie, you aren't going in expecting Oscar bait. And that's okay. Not every film needs to be Academy Award worthy. Sometimes, you just want a highly entertaining popcorn flick. For a video game that isn't heavy in the storyline department but is in terms of action, you want to see that in the movie. Brad Peyton was the right director to put at the helm of this movie. Not only does he have a past with his lead actor, Johnson (they worked together on San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), but he's handled films where destruction is all over the place. The scenes where the monsters are destroying Chicago are all packed with action and look great. This is the kind of thing that could look really cheesy if it isn't handled properly. The massive wolf literally flies at one point and in the hands of a director not skilled in this area, that would've been laughable. Instead, you'll find yourself just enjoying the sheer wackiness of it all.

Though the game isn't focused on characters or story, the film does a good job giving this one a heart because of Okoye and George. Early on, their playful yet loving relationship is established and is done so in a way that you can't help but smile at. George likes to play practical jokes and you can clearly see how close he is with George. It makes the later scenes where George is in peril all the more emotional for the viewer. There's a connection there you'll never expect and that adds a lot to the overall enjoyment of the film. However, Rampage struggles with the supporting characters.

This is also something that some games have had issues with. The protagonist and antagonist shine, yet some of the supporting characters leave a lot to be desired. That was the case here. Malin Akerman played Claire Wyden, the CEO of Energyne. Her performance leaves a lot to be desired and the character is just a generic campy villain. There's no emotion behind anything she does and it feels like they just threw all the basic ideas for an antagonist at her. You don't like or dislike her, you kind of just nothing her. Jake Lacey is her brother, Harvey Russell, who also feels like another stereotypical character as the dim-witted guy. His motivations also change at the drop of a dime. In one scene, he literally says he doesn't care about the money and just wants to avoid jail time, only to turn and talk about the profit they can make from a sale no less than two minutes later. Another problem arises from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays a government agent named Harvey Russell. It literally feels like you're watching Negan from The Walking Dead. It's as if Morgan plays that role so much, he's adopted it into his personality. It was distracting.

Rampage mostly succeeds as a movie based off a video game. It changes enough about the game to craft a compelling story, yet it does a good amount to remain faithful to the source material. The supporting characters and the lackluster performances by talented actors bring things down and make it tough to get through certain parts of the film. They nailed the relationship between George and Okoye, as well as all the big action pieces involving these monsters. That makes for a movie that is far from perfect, but still enough fun to make you look past it for an hour and a half or so. And it's success as a video game film? Rotten Tomatoes recently officially listed Rampage as the top rated movie based off a video game in history, with a 53% rating on the Tomatometer.

Sierra Burgess Is a Loser
½

Strengths: Shannon Purser (Sierra Burgess) gained something of a cult following after her strong work in the first season of Stranger Things. She got her chance to shine in a lead role here and mostly did well. She gives a strong, grounded performance, despite playing a character who isn't very likable. Her scenes with Kristine Froseth (Veronica) were quite good. Though this is a romantic comedy, the friendship stuff between Veronica and Sierra were the best part. The phone calls among love interests were cute, though they couldn't be too memorable considering it was just talking and nothing more. Noah Centineo (Jamey) was also strong, but the scene stealer was RJ Cyler (Dan). He was hilarious in each scene he was in. Loretta Devine (Mrs. Thomson) was another fun character. There were a handful of funny moments that legitimately left me in stiches.

Weaknesses: For the funny moments, you're left with many more scenes where you feel nothing. It feels like there a bit too much fluff and not enough funny. The premise is nothing new or original and things come across as clichť. There are also all sorts of stereotype characters around. From the "loser" protagonist to the gay best friend to the sassy black teacher to the popular girl with problems at home. The biggest problem with the film is the fact that nothing that happens seems to matter. At one point, Sierra does something awful to Veronica out of sheer jealousy. While it's a terrible thing to do, Sierra feels justified in doing it at first. Though she gets told off for it, she defends her action when her friend questions her about it. Then, she goes home and throws herself a pity party, rather than learn from it. In the end, everything is forgiven in the name of love and it's like none of the actions of the characters mean anything, simply because they like each other. It's not good.

Overall: This falls in the middle of what Netflix typically offers. Sometimes they hit great and sometimes they miss by a mile. This one was a solid single in baseball terms. It's not a bad way to spend an hour and a half, but there are too many problems to make it anything more.

The Hitman's Bodyguard
½

Strengths: The selling point of this movie was the star pairing of Ryan Reynolds (Michael Bryce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Darius Kincaid/Evans). They succeeded in delivering the strongest aspect of the movie. The two talented actors played very well off one another. It led to plenty of comedic scenes and witty banter between them. Both men get a relatively strong arc that gets completed by the end of the film, especially Reynolds. Salma Hayek (Sonia Kincaid) is also a blast in her role, despite being a bit of a stereotype. The action scenes are way over the top and I mean that in a good way. It's meant to a wacky summer blockbuster action flick and it works in that sense.

Weaknesses: Though Reynolds' character is given a good arc, it feels like not enough is done in the early goings to make us care. It's understandable that our protagonist is meant to grow as a person. However, we have no reason to care about or to even slightly like Michael. Sure, Darius is a killer, but he has a charisma, charm, and some good in him. Michael is just a dick. When he grows, we still don't really give a damn. Also, Gary Oldman (Vladislav Dukhovich) is unbelievably underutilized. He's one of the finest actors around and he just doesn't do anything in this film. Outside of a scene where he murders a man's family, he's just sitting around. It's a shame. He's the kind of guy who could play well off Jackson and Reynolds if given the chance. The script also falls victim to one too many buddy action movie clichťs.

Overall: Don't go into this expecting Oscar worthy material. This is meant to be a fun popcorn action flick. It mostly works there and because of the chemistry between the leads. On the flipside, it struggles with fleshing out the lead and grossly underusing the villain.

Straight Outta Compton

Strengths: Even if you aren't a fan of rap music, there's no denying that this is a straight up cool movie. It does well to capture what made N.W.A. stand out in the first place. Though these are stories that have been told before, there's a sense of wonder to everything that happens. Seeing how the turmoil within the group started early makes for compelling and tense scenes. The acting is on point. O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube) plays his father and nails it. I'm sure it helps to have that much of a personal connection to who you're playing and Jackson makes the most of it. He essentially is Ice Cube. Jason Mitchell (Easy E) is another highlight. Though his character does some questionable things early, you can relate to him. The scene where he finds out he has AIDS is heartbreaking and expertly acted. Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Paul Giamatti (Jerry Heller) both do well. I also got a kick out of how some of the other characters are played by people who look, act, and sound like their real life counterparts. Keith Stanfield (Snoop Dogg) is the best of that bunch, but R. Marcus Taylor (Suge Knight) is great, too. Obviously, the soundtrack is stellar and fitting of the movie.

Weaknesses: At times, it can feel excessively long. With a runtime hovering around two and a half hours, it probably could've done with some trimming. As good as the soundtrack was, it never felt like there was quite enough music in the movie. It feels off for a film about music stars. I also wasn't 100% behind the way things were depicted. The way this story goes, only Suge Knight comes across as the bad guy and for the most part, you can sympathize with everyone else. That seems like a bit of a stretch.

Overall: The one glaring issue with this movie is the length. If you shave off some of the first act, it would tighten things up, especially with the other two acts moving along nicely. The acting and direction are both great, making for a very strong retelling of a true story.

Adventureland
½

Strengths: Jesse Eisenberg (James Brennan) and Kristen Stewart (Emily Lewin) have played a couple on screen multiple times. Their chemistry is clear and it has never been better than it was in this movie. They play well off one another and feel like a real couple. You want to root for them. There's a charm to them and to the movie as a whole. It's not a premise that sets up for a lot of excitement, but the supporting cast is filled with talented people who make everything work. Bill Hader (Bobby), Kristen Wiig (Paulette), Ryan Reynolds (Mike Connell), and Martin Starr (Joel) were all great without stealing too much of the spotlight. The script allows for a lot of sharp dialogue and some strong character moments. Stewart is especially given a lot to work with when it comes to her home life. The soundtrack is also tremendous fun, filled with feel good 80s jams.

Weaknesses: There's almost nothing in the way of surprises from this movie. A lot of the beats hit and plot points are all things you've come to expect in similar romantic comedies. From Emily's side affair with Mike to the way James reacts to finding out. And while the cast is very good, they can't escape some of the clichťs that comes with their characters. Reynolds, Starr, and Eisenberg all feel like they're playing people we've seen before. Also, plenty of comedy misses the mark throughout. For a comedy, I only found myself laughing a few times.

Overall: It's not as funny or original as I would've liked. That being said, Adventureland still provides us with some sharp dialogue, a solid romance, and an entertaining plot that is helped by the strong performances of the cast.

Fargo
Fargo(1996)
½

Strengths: They're held in high regard, but the Coen Brothers have always been kind of hit or miss for me. This one was a hit, as their brand of humor worked wonderfully with the wild situations these characters got put through. William H. Macy (Jerry Lundegaard) and Steve Buscemi (Carl Showalter) were both hilarious in their roles. It's some of the funniest work I've seen from either of them. Frances McDormand (Marge Gunderson) was her usual fantastic self. The script is witty and filled with sharp dialogue, while there are plenty of moments that manage to surprise you. There are several violent scenes that are done with the right cadence, making sure they fit in with the humorous tone of the film. They also do a strong job making things interesting and keeping them moving, despite happening in what is traditionally a handful of bland places.

Weaknesses: Though it's enjoyable, it does still have some of the issues I've found with other Coen Brothers flicks. The characters are meant to be bumbling idiots, and it's funny, but it also hurts a handful of scenes as they become so ridiculous, they're hard to believe. Some scenes feel kind of useless and hard to get interested in, like the one involving Marge and Mike. There wasn't a ton in the ways of arcs or characters learning much, and by the end, I didn't get a true sense of accomplishment or closure.

Overall: I wouldn't consider it one of the best films ever or even of the 90s, but it's still damn good. It blends violence with suspense and dark comedy in a way that few other films can properly boast. It's a fun movie and sometimes, that's all you're looking for.

When We First Met

Strengths: Two names in the cast stood out to me when I first read about this movie. Adam DeVine (Noah Ashby) and Shelley Hennig (Carrie Grey). Both have been good in most of what I've seen them in and they were the highlights here. Though Noah isn't an entirely likable character, there's a charm that DeVine brings to the role. Hennig looks like she's having fun and plays well off DeVine, giving them strong chemistry. Alexandra Daddario (Avery Martin) and Robbie Amell (Ethan) were both fine in their roles. I appreciated the twist on the typical romantic comedy layout near the end of this one.

Weaknesses: Despite there being a small change in the plot format late, most of this film follows all too familiar stuff. The Groundhog Day format has kind of become a staple. Click is an example of the format and parts of this felt too much like that, considering our protagonist wakes up years after his decision to see the consequences. Most were meant for comedic moments, yet only provided a handful of laughs and nothing more. While the Hennig/DeVine chemistry is strong, there's not really enough of them on screen together to pick up the film. Instead, we spend a bit too much time with DeVine and Daddario, who don't click nearly as well.

Overall: You won't feel like you've wasted your time, as this is harmless fun. However, it doesn't do quite enough to distinguish itself in the crowded field of romantic comedies. There's not enough between the two characters who work best together and it keeps this from being memorable.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
½

If there's one thing director Taika Waititi's known for, it's making something strange work. He most famously took Thor, a huge character in the massively successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, and completely reworked him from the ground up. Waititi made him funnier and added his signature quirk to that franchise, breathing new life into it. That style is as prevalent as ever in Waititi's adventure comedy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which he both wrote and direct. Sam Neil plays a bushman from New Zealand, who pairs up with Julian Dennison, portraying the juvenile delinquent orphan brought into his life, to form the kind of oddball, reluctant buddy combinations that work so well in these types of movies.

Though the previous paragraph states, "these types of movies," there aren't many like this one. The buddy act is familiar, but everything else about the premise and setup feel unique. Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a hip-hop loving orphan who has been bounced around from foster home to foster home. To avoid juvenile detention, he joins Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Neil), who live on a farm near the New Zealand bush. Bella is welcoming and endearing, though Hector is a bit distant. The strange new family ends up working out for everyone, until a tragic event puts Ricky on course to get sent back into child protective services. It sends him and Hector on a journey to avoid capture through the bush, thus forming the titular "wilderpeople."

The past work of writer/director Taika Waititi was brought up earlier and for good reason. If you've seen and enjoyed his work in the past, you'll almost undoubtedly have a good time here. The quirky style of humor that made Thor: Ragnarok such a blast is evident here. Weird is funny and weird is Taika's calling card. The films blends so many things together to make for a unique experience. There's Ricky jamming to imaginary music while Hector watches in confusion. You have Bella killing a boar in front of Ricky in a gory, yet funny scene. There's also Ricky naming his dog after his favorite rapper/best friend, Tupac.

As noted, something about weirdness works excellently in Taika's favor. It's not just the case with the script, but with things like the music choices and the shots we get of the bush. For example, there's a blend of tracks included in the movie that fit the likes of the characters, as well as tone set from start to finish. Waititi did a strong job of using overhead shots panning across the bush to showcase just how immense it was. It really helped solidify the gravity of the situation for Ricky and Hector. The fact that it's a seriously frightening world for our heroes, yet it's brilliantly offset by the script and tone that Waititi puts together, is exactly why this film stands out.

There's also an interesting look on the class these characters come from. Neither are rich or well off, but they're still very different people. Ricky mostly embodies the kind of kid you'd expect from his generation and upbringing. He enjoys his music and the "gangster" life, while knowing nothing of the wilderness. When he gets told by Hector to use a leaf as toilet paper, it's a small exchange, yet one that captures why these two polar opposites work so well together. Their differences are the perfect ones to capture in the environment the film takes places in.

Ultimately, this is a movie that takes you on an enjoyable journey and is recommended, especially if you're looking for a laugh. There's a strong blend of action, suspense, surprising emotional beats, and great comedy. Waititi takes a somewhat simple premise and injects his brand of weird humor into it, turning it into something special. One watch of this film next to Thor: Ragnarok or Waititi's What We Do In The Shadows, and you can clearly see it all fits together. A Waititi film feels like a Waititi film from start to finish. That's a good thing.

Enchanted
Enchanted(2007)

Strengths: The film is aptly titled, because Amy Adams (Giselle) is enchanting as the lead. Her performance is very strong and the character is great. She learns a lot throughout the film. The plot allows her to go from hopelessly optimistic cartoonish girl into someone who still romanticizes those things, but does so in a way that is more realistic. Her growth is the true star of the movie. James Marsden (Prince Edward) gives one of his funniest performances ever. He completely jumps into the absurdity of his character and makes it work in a way it otherwise wouldn't have. The movie does a good job playing off the tropes we've come to expect in fairytales. Doing that is perfect when your entire plot is based around taking the overly fairytale things out of the protagonist. As usual, Disney did well with things like music and costumes.

Weaknesses: Though I appreciated that Giselle doesn't end up with the prince, I didn't enjoy the relationship she ends up in. First, if they really wanted to twist the fairytale stuff, she could've finished things alone. If they had to go the route they did, it would've helped to have someone with charisma in the role. Patrick Dempsey (Robert Phillip) have a performance that was as bland as his character's name. The dialogue throughout the film was mostly lackluster outside of Giselle. Almost every scene involving the squirrel featured mediocre animation and wasn't as funny or cute as the creators seemed to intend.

Overall: I heard a ton of great things about this movie. While I can see the appeal, it has too many issues to be great. The things that click do so very well, but when the film misses, it does so by a lot.

The Edge of Seventeen
½

Strengths: I'm admittedly a huge fan of teen comedies and honestly, this is one of the best ones ever made. Hailee Steinfeld (Nadine Franklin) broke out as a kid in True Grit, but this was far and away the best performance she's ever given. Not being an ugly girl, some may think it would be difficult for her to pull off the awkwardness of being an outcast. However, she perfectly nails it like only a handful of others ever have. Not only is it a realistic portrayal of the character, but she manages to expertly balance coming across as kind of a brat and being justified in how she reacts. Woody Harrelson (Mr. Bruner) is known for his great acting, especially in recent years, but he's again fantastic here. His banter with Steinfeld is always witty and great. While he can be a dick, he's also earnest in how he helps her. The reveal of him having a family was cool. Blake Jenner (Darian Franklin) and Haley Lu Richardson (Krista) both do well, while Kyra Sedgwick (Mona Franklin) is another standout. Kelly Fremon Craig was a solid director, but she completely shined as the writer. This screenplay is incredible, with great dialogue and well-written, fleshed out characters.

Weaknesses: A few times, it feels like they're trying too hard to make Nadine into the typical witty teenager we've come to know in movies. It's should be known as the "Juno Effect." Not every awkward teen in a movie has to be quirky and like strange things.

Overall: I hold high quality teen comedies to a high standard, so when I say this one is already a classic, I mean it. The performances are excellent, the script is magnificent, and it's the kind of movie that already feels memorable. Steinfeld feels like a star with this breakout work.

Buried
Buried(2010)

Strengths: This film works because of two people. Rodrigo Cortes and Ryan Reynolds (Paul Conroy). Let's start with Cortes. He directs a movie that entirely takes place in the confines of a casket. That's tough in itself, but he also manages to do it in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat and engages the hell out of the viewer. He nails the claustrophobic tone. There are times where you may have to get up and walk away because you'll feel trapped just watching Paul struggle. Speaking of Paul, Reynolds gives one of the strongest performances of his career. It's emotionally gripping and you feel for everything that he's going through. The phone calls he makes are frustrating for him, as people aren't taking his situation seriously, and it makes for compelling entertainment. There's also a lot to be said about his scenes where he isn't talking. He tells a story without having to speak. Seeing his resourcefulness is interesting and makes you root for him extra hard.

Weaknesses: As engaging as they manage to make the film, it has one major flaw. It's repetitive. Paul just makes phone call after phone call. I understand the idea of him getting increasingly frustrated with each, but it ends up feeling like more of the same with each call. There's also an issue of the way the film looks. I love the claustrophobic feel and darkness is fine, but there were moments where you couldn't tell what was happening. Using the glow stick more would've allowed for a more visible sight and given it a unique look.

Overall: It's quite the accomplishment to take the small setting of a casket and use one actor on screen for an hour and a half and make it work. Cortes and Reynolds combined to deliver a great, tense thriller that perfectly makes you feel the claustrophobia at the center of the film.

Draft Day
Draft Day(2014)
½

Strengths: It's pretty clear by now that Kevin Costner (Sonny Weaver Jr.) is the king of sports movies. Though this wasn't on the level of some of his best work in the field, it was a lot of fun. Maybe it's because I really like the managerial side of sports, but the office stuff was a blast. It was great to see Costner struggle with the wheeling and dealing that comes with getting the top pick. His constant bickering with Dennis Leary (Vince Penn), the coach who disagreed with the moves he was making, was a highlight. It felt like the kind of real tension you'll see in this situation. The people portraying the players, like Chadwick Boseman (Vontae Mack) and Tom Welling (Brian Drew), did very well with their limited roles. I appreciated the drama that goes down once the draft begins. You legitimately don't know what's going to happen with the top pick and when it goes down, you're genuinely taken aback. What follows, as Weaver makes moves throughout the night, is enthralling.

Weaknesses: There was one major, glaring issue with the movie. I understand that a film usually needs a B plot and that it typically involves some kind of love story. That was the case here, as the entire point of Jennifer Garner's (Ali Parker) character was to be the love interest. The fact that she was pregnant and Sonny was about to have his first child felt like an unnecessary weight pulling down the rest of the movie. Each time they forced these characters together to talk, it never clicked and did nothing but hold everything back.

Overall: I'm a sucker for a strong sports movie. As someone who likes playing the role of a general manager in video games, I'm all for this side of it all. This movie reminded me of Moneyball, though the romantic side stopped it from being in the same league of greatness.

The House
The House(2017)
½

Strengths: There were two reasons I was interested in this movie. One was for the talented cast and the other was because I figured the premise could lead to some comical moments. The latter worked somewhat. There were a few scenes that delivered in terms of funny situations. That was especially true early on, with some banter involving a few characters. Jeremy Renner (Tommy Papouli) has a funny surprise role near the end of the film.

Weaknesses: Other than Renner and a funny moment or two, this movie misses by a mile. Amy Poehler (Kate Johansen) is wasted, Will Ferrell (Scott Johansen) gives one of his "phone it in" performances, and Jason Mantzoukas (Frank Theodorakis) isn't even funny. There's a running math related joke involving Ferrell's character and it's funny once, but gets run into the ground quickly. None of the characters really have an arc, either. Nobody grows or learns anything, making the entire plot seemingly pointless. Nick Kroll (Bob Schaeffer) is another usually funny person who just isn't in this one. Most characters feel like they're just generic clichťs. This could've at least been saved with a funny film. Unfortunately, the laughs barely exist. Things happen that just don't make you laugh and characters move in and out of the story for no real reason. It's a mess.

Overall: A giant waste of talented actors, a promising premise, and of my time. There was potential here, but nothing ever works the way it should. An unfunny film filled to the brim with funny people, making it a huge disappointment.

Catch Me If You Can
½

Strengths: You may not have to love every movie he makes, but there's no denying that Steven Spielberg knows how to make a damn movie. The shots are great, he knows how to get the most out of each scene, and the actors perform strongly for him. Leonardo DiCaprio (Frank Abagnale Jr.) is incredible. He became a household name in the late 90s, but it wasn't until his 2002 combo of this and Gangs of New York that he burst out as a great actor. He balances the cocky charisma of the character with the struggles of a kid who just wants his family back together. Tom Hanks (Carl Hanratty) is also top notch. You get the sense that his a no nonsense guy who is easy to root for. Christopher Walken (Frank Abagnale Sr.) delivers in a big way and each scene opposite DiCaprio is a wonder. The smaller roles still get great performances from the likes of Amy Adams (Brenda Strong) and Jennifer Garner (Call Girl). Though it's a true story, it gets the drama right. Too often these films miss that mark. Here, you truly get sucked into the scenes, even if you know what's going to happen. Also, it gets overlooked, but I really liked the cinematography of this film. It's nothing mind blowing, but it feels very fitting of the tone of the movie. Though it runs over two hours, it mostly flies by and is an easy watch.

Weaknesses: While it is an easy movie to sit through, it could've been much easier if a few scenes were cut. There are a handful that feel more like padding than something pivotal to the tale. It isn't a big gripe, but it's one that is big enough to keep this from a perfect score.

Overall: Steven Spielberg delivers one of his best films ever. DiCaprio is ridiculously good in this, with Hanks, Walken, and more providing strong work alongside him. A fantastic cat and mouse chase movie with charismatic characters. Instant classic.

Goon: Last of the Enforcers
½

Strengths: The first Goon was a surprisingly fun movie. Sean William Scott (Doug Glatt) was great in it and he remains charismatic and likable this time around. He gets this character and is great in the role. The same goes for Liev Schreiber (Ross Rhea), returning for some fun moments. Like the original, the hockey scenes are done quite well, especially considering Jay Baruchel was a first time director in this one. I also found the relationship between Wyatt Russell (Anders Cain) and Callum Keith Rennie (Hyrum Cain) is an interesting one for most of the film, though it's the kind of relationship that we've seen in films often.

Weaknesses: It suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Though the plot is different, it hits too many story beats that remind me of the first part. Too many jokes also fall flat. For example, TJ Miller (Chad Bailey), who is normally funny, is reduced to being a guy who makes lame jokes as a sportscaster. They're never funny and way too over the top to work. Speaking of underutilized, Allison Pill (Eva Glatt) does next to nothing interesting. She goes from a flawed, layered character that works in the original, to a generic pregnant wife. Marc-Andre Grondon (Xavier LaFlamme) also feels underused, even though getting the captainship near the end is cool moment. Jay Baruchel (Patrick Hoolihan) and Elisha Cuthbert (Mary), both miss the mark in their roles. Neither does anything of note, while their jokes almost never hit.

Overall: Though Sean William Scott is ones again strong as the lead, there are too many familiar plot points and unfunny jokes. This was a sequel that never really needed to be made.

The Descendants

Strengths: I watched Shailene Woodley (Alexandra King) on Secret Life of the American Teenager, which was a show that featured a ton of bad acting. It was this movie that changed the game for her. Her performance is the best of the entire film and turned her into a valuable, wanted actress in Hollywood. The scene where she cries underwater after finding out her mother is dying is incredible. George Clooney (Matthew King) is nearly as good, reminding everyone why he's a good actor. Amara Miller (Scottie King) also does well, especially for her age. Everything involving the family drama worked so well. It's a dramatic situation, making for some impressive moments. The script is tremendous, filled with strong dialogue and a firm understanding of how to build the story to its peak and deliver some excellent stuff for the actors to work with.

Weaknesses: With this being such a story driven film, the visuals aren't anything spectacular. There are some solid shots, including some of the Hawaiian setting, but it feels like it could've been shot by almost anyone. Also, it's kind of slow moving. That means that anyone coming in for something other than drama and intense conversations are going to be disappointed.

Overall: One of the best movies of 2011. Woodley and Clooney delivered tremendous performances to lead a dramatic film that nails all the tense moments. It's thoughtful, heartbreaking, and emotionally packed.

Countdown
Countdown(2016)

Strengths: Sometimes, movies become cult hits because they're so ridiculous that it becomes enjoyable. Part of this movie was nearing that level. The scene where Dolph Ziggler (Ray Thompson) makes an exchange with the villain at a WWE event is hilariously wild. He literally gets shoulder blocked by Rusev, who holds a gun on him. That's not Rusev acting as someone else. He's playing his WWE self and points a gun at a cop, only to get superkicked. It's so absurd that it works and is the highlight of the movie. Had the entire movie taken place at the WWE show, with Dolph trying to find the kid, while wrestlers are around, it would've worked better.

Weaknesses: This is a generic action flick. The plot is bland and nothing new, the writing is mediocre at best, and the dialogue is cheesy in a bad way. Ziggler isn't a strong actor, Kane (Lieutenant Frank Cronin) isn't much better, and even the non-WWE actor, Katharine Isabelle (Lieutenant Julia Baker) doesn't do much to stand out. She's as wildly average as everyone else. I think the film needed to not take itself so seriously. If they went a less grounded route and kept it entertaining, it would've worked better. Instead, they played it safe and just did something generic. Also, Josh Blacker (Detective Al Kendricks) is so over the top as an ass that you can't buy anything he's doing. Nobody acts like that.

Darkest Hour
Darkest Hour(2017)

Strengths: Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill) won basically every award for his performance in this movie. It makes sense. It wasn't my favorite performance of the year, but it's pretty great. He captivates each time he's on the screen and he carries this thing on his back. Joe Wright is able to get the best of him and some of the other cast members. Lily James (Elizabeth Layton) was her usual great self and gave my favorite supporting performance. In a film like this, the scenes need to be tense and these mostly hit that mark.

Weaknesses: This is the definition of a movie that is considered great for the performance of its lead actor. I've seen a few like this. The movie isn't bad and though the scenes are tense, there's not a ton of suspense. Again, it's a problem I've come to see with some true stories. It's the same with this. A lot of the scenes just come across as boring and don't connect in the way that you'd hope. It's especially disappointing when you consider Oldman's work. It comes across as a waste.

Overall: It's not a bad movie, it's just a flawed one. I didn't write a ton because it boils down to to things. The greatness of Gary Oldman, and the dullness of the rest of the script. While it's good, it's not a movie I'd watch again.

Obvious Child
½

Strengths: Making a film about abortion can be a tricky thing to pull off. It's a touchy subject that most of the world is fairly divided on. Thankfully, the movie does well with the topic. They treat it with respect, weighting both the pros and cons, while managing to still be witty. Jenny Slate (Donna Stern) is the lead and gives the best performance of her career. She hasn't gotten to lead a lot of stuff, but she nailed this. You feel for her in this. Donna goes through a lot and you're taken on a journey with her. You feel bad for her when she gets dumped, but also get embarrassed for her when she spills her guts on stage, and you understand the conflict she has over what to do with her life now that she's in this predicament. Her chemistry with Jake Lacy (Max) was strong, though the scenes with her parents, played by Richard Kind (Jacob Stern) and Polly Draper (Nancy Stern) were the real highlights. It's just touching conversations that further the narrative and they work.

Weaknesses: Some of the comedy given to Slate's character feels like forced gross out stuff. She talks about sex and farts a lot and it feels like an attempt to make her relatable or to endear her to the audience. Instead, it just feels forced and like the writes were trying too hard. Speaking of the jokes, for a romantic comedy, this just isn't very funny. It's much more of a drama than anything. While I said the abortion topic was mostly well handled, I do wish they had her go back and forth more on doing it. I understand the idea that she knew getting the abortion was the best route for her, but I think it would've helped get her sympathy if she wrestled with the decision more.

Overall: A romantic comedy that isn't very funny. However, it hits most of the dramatic beats it needs to and is led by a very strong performance from Jenny Slate. The script is strong outside of some missed jokes and it has a short run time, making it an easy watch.

Murder On The Orient Express
½

Strengths: The first thing that stood out when you see this movie is the cast. There are a lot of talented folks here and most of them do well. Daisy Ridley (Mary Debenham), Willem Dafoe (Gerhard Hardman), Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard), and Josh Gad (Hector MacQueen) were the standouts from that talented list. However, Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot) does the tough job of acting, directing, and producting. He mostly nails them. Watching the mystery unfold and gathering the clues makes for an interesting movie. Having never seen the previous incarnations of the tale, I had no idea who would be the culprit in the end and that made it fun. There's some good attention to detail throughout, making sure that everything counts. Since a murder isn't always cut and dry, the movie does well to ensure that unraveling everything behind it is just as muddled. In a good way.

Weaknesses: As much as I usually like Johnny Depp (Edward Ratchett), I couldn't really get into his work here. Granted, his role was smaller than most, but I still didn't get behind it. For example, his conversation with Branagh's character is a pivotal part and yet it never captivates the way you'd want it to. It lacks something and if there was ever a point in the movie for him to deliver, that was it. While Branagh got a lot of the details as director right, he made some odd decisions. There are several shots throughout that are baffling. It's especially true for the overhead shots we get at multiple points. The train looks like poor CGI from the outside. Even if it wasn't, it just looked so cheap. It looked like a knockoff Polar Express.

Overall: This is clearly a light hearted mystery film and it works in that vein. There are some fun performances and a good plot to uncover. However, some of the performances lacked and the direction was questionable at times. It all added up to a middling film.

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)
½

Strengths: Denis Villeneuve is 4 for 4 in terms of directing great films. This was another as he nailed everything this movie needed. The tense moments, the emotional beats, and getting the most out of his actors. Hugh Jackman (Keller Dover) gives one of his more underrated performances ever. We know him as Wolverine, but here, he played the part of a desperate man at the end of his line so well. It shouldn't be overlooked. Jake Gyllenhaal (Detective Loki) was also great, as was Viola Davis (Nancy Birch). She didn't get a lot of screen time, but she made the most of it. Her plea to Paul Dano's (Alex Jones) character is one of the best scenes. Dano is great, as is the short run by Melissa Leo (Holly Jones), who is nearly unrecognizable. Again, it comes back to Villeneuve. He sets the perfect dark tone and the mood of the film is perfect. It takes you on a psychological whirlwind as the mystery unfolds and it's quite the journey.

Weaknesses: There aren't many. As usual, I couldn't really get into Terrence Howard's (Franklin Birch) performance. Something about him in a lot of movies leaves something to be desired and I felt the same way here. The twist involving Leo's character isn't that hard to predict, taking ab it away from the moment itself. Also, the movie is very long and probably could use some trimming of the fat. Cut down to two hours, it would have probably flowed better.

Overall: A gritty mystery film that is masterfully handled. Led by a great director and stunning performances from its leads, especially Jackman and Gyllenhaal, it ranks among the best films of the past five years.

Office Christmas Party

Strengths: This movie is loaded with talented comedic actors. TJ Miller (Clay Vanstone), Jason Bateman (Josh Parker), Olivia Munn (Tracey Hughes), and Jennifer Aniston (Carol Vanstone) all do well as the four main characters. However, it's the supporting cast who really bring this home. Kate McKinnon (Mary Winetoss) steals the show as the Human Resources lady. Her jokes almost always land and she plays a bigger role in the end than you'd expect. Jillian Bell (Trina) is funny as a pimp, Courtney B. Vance (Walter Davis) has a blast playing something fun, and Rob Corddry (Jeremy) was his usual enjoyable self. There were several big stunts that work surprisingly well in a film like this. Things get wrapped up in a relatively nice bow, making for some good, yet vulgar at times, holiday fun.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, it's not a very memorable movie. The world of Christmas movies is crowded, so you must stick out. Even average ones tend to have something memorable. Nothing about this movie makes it stand out and you probably won't remember much of what happens a day or two after you watch it. Bateman's character feels like the only one to grow and have something resembling a true arc. Things go a bit too far over the top for every joke to hit and some of the minor characters play out like clichťs who don't really click.

Overall: An enjoyable holiday flick. There are plenty of laughs and fun characters. It just doesn't do enough to distinguish itself in a crowded genre and comes across as kind of forgettable.

Faults
Faults(2015)
½

Strengths: It's kind of hard to put this into one specific genre and I think that works for it. It has dramatic moments, there are parts I'd consider psychological horror, and there's a mystery involved. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Claire) and Leland Orser (Ansel Roth) both give strong lead performances. Orser played a man who was broken and unsure of seemingly everything, even the stuff he was good at. Winstead made you uncertain about everything happening and was the key mystery in the story. Jon Gries (Terry) is hilarious in a small role, while Lance Reddick (Mick) was his usual brooding, intimidating self. The writing is mostly sharp and the story takes some turns you wouldn't expect, keeping you on your toes.

Weaknesses: Though the film isn't very long, it certainly takes its time getting going. The first act seems to drag on as they set everything up. By the time Winstead's character gets introduced, it feels like you've been watching for far too long. The final act takes this on a whole different ride. I get that it works in terms of giving you a psychological thrill and twist, but it still comes across as weird and doesn't totally work. The twist does, but the way 10-15 minutes before the final five or so play out is the strange stuff. Though a lot of the plot is interesting, it doesn't feel like the kind of movie I'd be interested in watching again.

Overall: With strong acting, an interesting premise, and a twist ending that ranks among the most interesting I'd seen in a while, there's stuff to like. However, the movie takes too long to get going and has far too many bizarre moments to fully click.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
½

Strengths: For two-thirds of this movie, you get treated to an entertaining movie with plenty of fun moments. Steve Carrell (Dodge Peterson) plays the kind of character he's made a career on. He's something of a loser in his 40s and it's a role he plays well. Keira Knightley (Penelope Lockhart) is also fun in her role and surprisingly plays off Carrell better than expected. It was her showing off comedic chops we're not used to from her. The supporting cast doesn't get a ton to work with, but are all rather enjoyable. People like Amy Schumer (Lacey), TJ Miller (Darcy), Gillian Jacobs (Katie), Jim O'Heir (Sherriff), Adam Brody (Owen), Derek Luke (Alan Speck), and Patton Oswalt (Roache) are just some of the people who bless the screen for fun but short appearances. I also enjoyed Connie Britton (Diane) and Rob Corddry (Warren) as Dodge's couple friends. There are sweet moments and a cool concept that works for a vast majority of the film.

Weaknesses: It's only when the movie reaches its final act that things begin to fall apart. While Knightley and Carrell do the comedy well and play good friends, there's almost no romantic chemistry between them. So, when the story veers off into them being soulmates, it feels wrong. They never click that way. Not only that, but their love story gets rushed. When Dodge tells Penny that she's the "love of his life," it's laughable. You can't buy into anything that happens between these characters in the final 25 or so minutes. It hurts the hell out of the story.

Overall: Despite a final act that loses the viewer, this is a fun movie. There is a strong blend of comedy, heartfelt stuff, and dark moments. If it ended on a higher note, this would be one of the more underrated movies of the past few years.

X-Men: Apocalypse

Strengths: One of the things that has made this prequel series so successful is the work of its cast. Michael Fassbender (Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto) and James McAvoy (Charles Xavier/Professor X) have both given strong performances worthy of the great Sir Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. That continued this go around. Specially for Fassbender when he was given a lot to work with. Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique) is given a lot to work with, struggling with being looked at as a hero to the mutant at Charles' school. Like in Days of Future Past, Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver) was a blast. This series nailed how to make this character work, in a way that the MCU couldn't. He was another highlight. The new additions to the cast mostly worked, with Sophie Turner (Jean Grey), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops), and Kodi Smit-McPhee (Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler) standing out. As usual, the visual effects are great and the thrown in bits of humor are good. The chemistry and dialogue among the characters make for some of the stronger moments. You also must love the Hugh Jackman (Logan/Wolverine) appearance and his character's brief interaction with Jean Grey knowing their futures.

Weaknesses: The glaring issue with this film is the villain. Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse) does a whole lot of nothing. The performance is nothing special and the character should feel like this major deal, yet he doesn't. He recruits his "horsemen" and then kind of just does nothing. Sure, some stuff gets destroyed but it never felt like he was a true threat. That's a problem for this all powerful first ever mutant. Olivia Munn (Psylocke) and Alexandra Shipp (Ororo Munroe/Storm) feel kind of wasted. Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert) felt like she was brought back for no real reason. While she plays well off McAvoy, her character could be removed without changing the plot and nothing changes. She's pointless. As great as Fassbender is as Magneto, the character feels way too inconsistent in this series. I understand that he's battling the good/evil stuff, but if there was anything that should've permanently sent him over, it would be the death of his family. He should've helped stop Apocalypse, but for his own reasons and not to join up with the good guys. The plot feels bloated and everything the mediocre villain tries to do is a clichť or overdone in this kind of film.

Overall: There's no real way to get around it. This is easily the worst part of this X-Men trilogy. However, it's not a bad movie. The work of most of the cast is great and the new additions were mostly welcome. The action and effects are also strong. There's just a bit too much going on and it suffers from a massively disappointing villain.

Playing It Cool

Strengths: There are several talented actors in this cast. Chris Evans (Me) is more than charismatic enough to carry this load as the lead. Aubrey Plaza (Mallory), Anthony Mackie (Bryan), Topher Grace (Scott), Martin Starr (Lyle), and Luke Wilson (Samson) all deliver fun performances. I got a kick out of the cameos by Ashley Tisdale and Matthew Morrison, playing wild versions of themselves. There are several good moments of dialogue, especially when the main group of friends is talking. Not only is it witty, but most of their conversation feels natural. There are a handful of funny scenes, especially when Me has his dreams and inputs himself into them. I also found the idea to name the characters "me" and "her" to be an interesting one.

Weaknesses: Michelle Monaghan (Her) was probably the biggest issue with the movie. She's not flat out bad, but she lacked chemistry with Evans. Their romance never felt believable or like one you'd want to root for. It would've made more sense for the lead to end up with Mallory. Their stuff felt more natural and could've been fleshed out more. The film is also ripe with clichťs. It's interesting, because it disses romantic comedies for falling into those traps, yet it ends up committing those same problems. And not in a cute way where it pokes fun at itself. Other than a handful of dialogue bits and a few dream scenes, it doesn't bring many laughs for a comedy.

Overall: Most of the cast, especially Evans and Plaza, do solid work. The story just hits too many overly familiar beats and has the major problem of trying to sell a romance between two people who don't have chemistry.

Daddy's Home 2

Strengths: One of the things that made the first Daddy's Home work was the chemistry between the cast. That mostly holds form this time around. Will Ferrell (Brad Whitaker) and Mark Wahlberg (Dusty Mayron) still play well off each other. Linda Cardeillini (Sara Whitaker) is as delightful as ever, while the added role for John Cena (Roger) produced more than a few laughs. John Lithgow (Don Whitaker) was a welcome addition to the cast. The film also does well with the Christmas theme without overdoing it. It's no Christmas classic, but it has some merits.

Weaknesses: Mel Gibson (Kurt Mayron) seemed to be one of the film's selling points, yet he didn't add much. A lot of what he did lacked for laughs. He and Lithgow both played characters who felt more like clichťs than real people. In fact, clichťs are all over this movie. It's as if they saw Christmas family films and tried to mimic them without doing anything funny or original. The singing scene near the end feels way over the top and it doesn't work. Instead of feeling heartwarming, it comes across as cheesy in an unfunny way. It's almost painful.

Overall: There are more than a few laughs to help this be completely terrible. It's filled with familiar tropes, cringeworthy moments, and the talented cast suffers from a lazy script.

The Post
The Post(2018)
½

Strengths: Any movie that has these two actors as their leads is going to be strong in that department. Meryl Streep (Katharine Graham) and Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee) are two of the best to ever act on camera. Both were great and it came as no surprise. Not only did they play well off each other, but they delivered in every scene. Streep was particularly fantastic at showcasing the struggle Graham has to go through being a woman in a man's world who is viewed as undeserving. The scene where she makes the decision to publish is one you expect with this being a true story, but it's still powerful and a genuine fist pump moment. Steven Spielberg was his usual strong self behind the camera. For as good as he is with the big budget stuff, he can still nail works like this. It wasn't just the mega stars who were strong, either. Bob Odenkick (Ben Bagdikian), Sarah Paulson (Antoinette Bradlee), Alison Brie (Lally Graham), and David Cross (Howard Simons) were all very good.

Weaknesses: I've said it before about true stories ad it rings true here. It's difficult to fully elicit the drama and suspense in many scenes because we know the outcome. For example, while they go back and forth on whether or not to publish, we know they will, so it hurts some of that intrigue. There's also the issue of the movie playing out slowly. I know it's not a showy action flick, but parts of it still seem rather boring at many points.

Overall: 2017 was loaded with great movies, so one has to be special to stand out. While this one had great acting and directing, it lacked some of the drama and intrigue you want and felt a little dul.

Election
Election(1999)

Strengths: I heard many great things about this movie. It was praised highly by most viewers, so I entered with high expectations. Reese Witherspoon (Tracy Flick) gives one of her finest early performances in this, living up to the hype. She's a fair amount of fun as a character you border on enjoying and disliking. Chris Klein (Paul Metzler) was also strong as the charismatic but kind of dumb guy she goes against. I liked the direction Alexander Payne took with this, as the election announcement was well set up and the film juggles several plotlines rather well.

Weaknesses: For being a highly touted comedy, I don't remember laughing even once. There's just not much that is funny. From the dialogue to the situations, it's just not very fun. Matthew Broderick (Jim McAllister) is only okay as the lead. Jessica Campbell (Tammy Metzler) plays a character who has an interesting setup, but not much delivery on it. The biggest issue, other than the lack of comedy, might be the fact that most of the characters show no real growth. Tracy doesn't seem to learn much from what happens and is still the same person at the end of the film. The same could be said for Jim. Even Paul goes on to just party all summer following an election race that should've seen him grow some.

Overall: There are a few fine acting performances and strong work by the director. However, it doesn't come close to making up for the lack of laughs and character growth. With no real comedy and no character arcs, there's not much to like.

Cinderella
Cinderella(2015)

Strengths: Cinderella is one of the easist stories to tell. It's tried and true. We know it works, so of course, it makes for an interesting tale this time around. Lily James (Ella) was a great choice for the lead. She's been one of the more underreated actresses in Hollywood for some time and it was great to see her get this opporutnity. Cate Blanchett (Lady Tremaine) gave one of the stronger stepmother performances of any Cinderella tale, while Richard Madden (Kit) made for a strong Prince. As usual with Disney stuff, the scenery, set pieces, score, and costume designs were all top notch. It all fit perfectly into what to expect from Cinderella.

Weaknesses: This being a tried and true story is both a blessing and a curse. Sure, it works, but we've seen it a ton. Each take on the story should do just enough to make it different while still respecting the source material. I don't think that the changes in this were enough to stand out. They either didn't fit right (like Ella meeting Kit before everything) or didn't feel like a big enough alteration (what was changed during the fairy godmother appearance). While some of the cast were good actors, they didn't really deliver. Helena Bonham Carter (Fairy Godmother) was forgettable and Stellan Skarsgard (Grand Duke) was kind of just there. The stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) were both lackluster with characters that usually work for comic relief.

Overall: It's hard to mess up Cinderella. This take stays mostly true to the original, which combined with some dull supporting performances, keeps it from being great. However, the main cast is very good and it has the charm that makes a Disney Cinderella film work.

The Little Hours

Strengths: When I first read about this movie, the cast is what jumped out to me. I was right to feel that way, because almost every actor in this gives a fun performance. Alison Brie (Sister Alessandra) played very well off her real life husband, Dave Franco (Massetto). Their comedic timing together is delightful. Brie also does well to showcase a woman who wants more from life, yet it stuck in a tough position. Nick Offerman (Lord Bruno) was great in his small role, while John C. Reilly (Father Tommasso), Molly Shannon (Mother Marea), Fred Armisen (Bishop Bartolomeo), and Jemima Kirke (Marta) were all good.

Weaknesses: For being a comedy, the movie just isn't that funny. The characters were put in humorous situations, yet I almost never found myself laughing. That's a damn shame considering the talent involved. It reminded me of the awful Your Highness due to the setting, strong cast, and overall disappointment. Speaking of the cast, two people could've been great but missed the mark. Aubrey Plaza (Sister Fernanda) is usually a home run. Here, she felt like she was just playing a shitty version of April Ludgate (her Parks & Rec character) dressed as a nun. Kate Micucci (Sister Ginerva) also seemed to be too over the top to be funny.

Overall: The premise never sounded that interesting, though the cast was splendid enough to give me hope. Most of the actors do well, but for a comedy, this just wasn't very funny.

About Alex
About Alex(2014)
½

Strengths: The ensemble cast is what really makes this film work. It's such a talented group and there are several standouts. Aubrey Plaza (Sarah) is possibly the best of the bunch. Not only was her performance strong and her chemistry with almost every other actor crucial, but her character gets an arc that works. She grows and goes through a fair amount interacting with old friends. Jane Levy (Kate) was also great, playing the one person who wasn't friends with everyone before, and though she's younger than everyone else, she experiences some hardships while there. Jason Ritter (Alex), Maggie Grace (Siri) and Max Greenfield (Josh) all give some of the best work of their respective careers. The movie is well written and features a good amount of intertwining stories for most of the characters. It's reliant on dialogue and acting, both of which are delivered in spades.

Weaknesses: The idea of a group of friends who became estranged and come back together for an event is a clichťd one. Even a look at the poster tells you that the idea behind the movie is kind of generic. This does have a tougher subject behind the premise, yet it kind of gets wasted. It feels like more attention should be paid to how these people deal with the attempted suicide. Instead, they mostly focus on the past friendships and romances, so the suicide is somewhat glossed over. Many of the characters fit the clichťs you've come to expect in movies like this (arrogant tool, struggling writer, couple with issues over a baby, etc.).

Overall: In a movie like this, acting and dialogue are so crucial. Thankfully, this movie nails those aspects and it makes for a better film. The performances are mostly strong, allowing this to overcome some of the clichť flaws it has.

A Quiet Place
½

Strengths: Wearing multiple hats during production of a film can be tricky. John Krasinki (Lee Abbott) does well with all of them, from acting to directing. While he delivers a solid performance, it's the directing that stands out. Far too often, modern horror movies rely on cheap jump scares. Krasinski excels here at creating a frightening atmosphere and sets a mood that helps this stand out in ways that other horror movies can't. Almost every scene is ripe with tension. Any time it seems like something might make a sound, you find yourself nervous for the characters. Despite the movie not having a huge budget, the creatures look impressive. I assumed we'd barely get looks at them. They were shown often and they looked fantastic. Emily Blunt (Evelyn Abbott) gives the best performance of anyone, while Millicent Simmonds (Regan Abbott) was also strong. It's difficult to have great performances without much dialogue, but these actors did a lot with their expressions and body language.

Weaknesses: For everything that worked in terms of performances and atmosphere, there was one massively glaring issue with this movie. The characters were flat out stupid. It's hard to root for them to survive this situation because they just make dumb decision after dumb decision. You've got this couple having a baby in the worst possible world for that, the angry daughter who gets her little brother killed and goes off on her own like a moron, and the son who runs into the noisy cornfield when trying to escape the creatures. There's also the strange idea that the world's population could be wiped out by creatures who couldn't see (and apparently couldn't smell). It's strange and there are inconsistencies with how the creatures act. If they can't see, how can they do things like climb down the stairs with ease?

Overall: Honestly, there might not have been a movie with more promise in 2018 than this one. Things were set up well, the acting is strong, and they created a fantastic atmosphere for a horror film. There are too many inconsistencies and stupid character decisions that hold it back from being great.

Sicario
Sicario(2015)

Strengths: Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors in all of Hollywood. Movies like this are why. He does a fantastic job with tense scenes and this film is filled with those. From the scene in traffic to the invasion of the underground tunnel, this is one of the more intense action flicks in recent memory. The cinematography is fantastic. Benicio Del Toro (Alejandro Gillick) is outstanding. He doesn't have a ton of lines, but he commands the screen each time you see him. There's a chilling aspect to almost everything he does. Emily Blunt (Kate Mercer) is also great as the lead. She sells the combination of being terrified and still being tough, which is not easy to balance. Josh Brolin (Matt Garver) and Daniel Kaluuya (Reggie Wayne) were both also strong in their roles. There are some clever twists throughout that keep you on the edge of your seat.

Weaknesses: The plot is a straightforward one that doesn't stand out as something special. It's simple and to the point. Some moments paint Blunt's character as being more incompetent than she should be considering her position within the FBI. As good as her performance was, it never felt like she had much of an arc. She doesn't grow throughout, even with everything that happens to her. The ending leaves a bit to be desired.

Overall: There's nothing special about the story or the plot, but Denis Villeneuve did his some of his best work to turn it into a tense action thriller. The performances are mostly great, adding to what makes this movie work.

Violet & Daisy
½

Strengths: Sometimes, the offbeat nature of a film is what makes it work and that's the case here. The script is wonderfully originally and has a lot of charm to boot. Part of that comes from the tremendous performances of the leads. Saorise Ronan (Daisy) slightly outshines Alexis Bledel (Violet), but both are superb. They play off each other very well. We get a strong sense of their friendship, yet are both given enough time apart to fully flesh them out as individuals. The actresses handle both situations strongly. James Gandolfini (The Guy) is also a standout. He's a man at the end of his line. You feel for him and how he relates to the girls. Danny Trejo (Russ) is fun a small role. The movie offsets its brand of humor with some cool action scenes and way more gore and violence than you'd expect.

Weaknesses: Some of the talking scenes can come across as kind of boring for those coming in expecting something with more action or excitement. The filmmakers said they were inspired by Pulp Fiction and it seems a bit too on the nose at points. The dialogue and style feel more like a knockoff Tarantino flick than something paying homage to one. I would've appreciated more of Tatiana Maslany (April) as the Guy's daughter. She's far too talented to be relegated to one scene. Even a small flashback with her father would've done a lot to add to their characters. I also found the addition of Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Number 1) to be odd. The idea of her character was cool, but seeing her, especially in the way we did, was disappointing and ultimately felt pointless.

Overall: Violet and Daisy is a fun blend of quirky and violent. At times, it feels far too much like it's trying to be a Tarantino movie, and there are two characters who missed the mark for different reasons. Still, the performances of the leads and style the movie adopts is enough to help it stand out as something worth seeing.

The Commuter
The Commuter(2018)
½

Strengths: It's a Liam Neeson (Michael MacCauley) action flick. You come in knowing what will work. The tense action scenes come off great. It's especially true for the handful of fight scenes and when Michael is trying to survive on the outside or under the train. The mystery of who the passenger Michael's looking for is a fun one. You're given small hints throughout that make you feel one way and the final reveal of who he's looking for is a great, unexpected one. I wish we got more of Jonathan Banks (Walt) since he's always great. Even with a limited role, he was strong. I also really enjoyed the way the opening scene was handled. We got to see how Michael's life was kind of mundane, but also the pitfalls and struggles he went through. It was done with intercutting shots from different timeframes and came off very well.

Weaknesses: Other than the mystery of who Michael was looking for, most of the film is way predictable. The twist near the end was clear a mile away and you just knew what was going to happen. Patrick Wilson (Det. Lt. Alex Murphy) was kind of just there in his role. I already noted how Banks felt underutilized, as did Vera Farmiga (Joanna). She played the stranger who set Michael on his course for the movie and could've been played by anyone. She's a fine actress who felt wasted. The script feels kind of lazy and the film is ripe with clichťs. It's a bunch of stuff we've seen before.

Overall: This is the usual Liam Neeson action fare. He does it well, but by this point, it all feels way too familiar. The same thing happened to the Taken franchise and when he has similar movies in a slightly different form, it's not enough of a change to stand out.

Dredd
Dredd(2012)

Strengths: Honestly, I'm not big on the original Judge Dredd film, so I wasn't too excited coming into this. Thankfully, you don't need to know about the previous film to enjoy this one. Pete Travis does a masterful job crafting a film that looks great and is filled with action. There's a crazy string of almost non-stop action throughout the movie. Karl Ubran (Dredd) is great as the lead. Like the story, there's no fluff to what he did. It's to the point and pulls no punches. The real star is Olivia Thirlby (Cassandra Anderson) as a physic judge in training. She manages to portray the character as confident, yet just frightened enough of what's to come. Again, the strength of the movie is how they chose to tackle it headfirst. There was no nonsense and it was just balls to the wall action and violence. Just the way a movie like this should be.

Weaknesses: The plot isn't anything great. It's rather basic and straight forward. That works in its favor for the most part, but also holds it back at others. Lena Headey (Madeline "Ma-Ma" Madrigal) was kind of generic as the villain. It was as if almost anyone could have fit in that role. Speaking of forgettable villains, Wood Harris (Kay) played a henchman of Ma-Ma's and also felt a bit too clichť to stand out.

Overall: An action packed thrill ride that was deserving of a sequel ro at least something to continue the story. It's bloody fun and that's sometimes all you want from an action flick. It needed stronger villains to be a truly stellar movie, though.

Hesher
Hesher(2011)

Strengths: I've made it clear that Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Hesher) is my favorite actor. Again, he delivers a performance that steals the show. Though he's the title character, he's not the protagonist, but you can't look away from him when he's on screen. He works very well with the role despite not having a great look. The acting all-around is typically what works about this movie. Natalie Portman (Nicole) is endearing, Rainn Wilson (Paul Forney) makes you feel for him, and Devin Brochu (TJ Forney) is also strong and given the most to work with. The soundtrack is also quite fitting.

Weaknesses: Outside of the acting, not a lot works. Hesher's look is terrible. The hair, scrawny body, and tattoos are looked off. Not in the "strange squatter" way, but in the cheap makeup kind of way. The story doesn't grab you in any intriguing way. The idea that this odd person can help the lives of this family dealing with the loss of the mother is a good one, but most of what happens it flat out uninteresting. When you gaze at the film with the idea that Hesher might be a figment of TJ's imagination, it gets more appealing, but that doesn't line up with much of what happens throughout.

Overall: I wanted to like this more. Considering the strong performances of the cast and the concept behind it all, it should've delivered better. Instead, the plot unfolds in a manner that might put you to sleep.

Brave
Brave(2012)

Strengths: It's Pixar. Their animation style is always stunning and Brave was no different. Every character, setting, and scene just looks beautiful. Another Pixar staple is strong voice work. Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Emma Thompson (Queen Elinor) and Bill Connolly (King Fergus) were all very good as the main cast. I appreciated how the film put the typical Disney princess idea on its head. Merida makes for a strong role model for the young girls this movie is garnered towards. There's a lot of comedy mixed in throughout the movie and most of it works. Merida's little brothers are always quite funny, as are the scenes with her and her cursed mother trying to fend for themselves. From what I could gather, the action scenes were quite exciting. It'll get overlooked, but the score was another highlight.

Weaknesses: I've come to have high expectations for Pixar movies. That means that Brave, a good film, felt like it fell short. Something about it never seemed as creative, cool, or dynamic as the movies where Pixar excels. To me, this felt like a more prototypical Disney film than something Pixar got their hands on. Though the princess is tough, we've still got typical old Disney things like a forest, curse, witch, etc. Also, while I noted how the action scenes were tense and worked well, they were hard to enjoy at times. It was the one issue I had with the way the film looked. The fighting at night was difficult to see and it made it hard to tell what was happening.

Overall: While it lacks the imagination or creativity of Pixar's best work, Brave still delivers the goods of a strong fairy tale. The animation is brilliant and Merida is a strong protagonist for little girls everywhere.

Tau
Tau(2017)

Strengths: What ultimately holds this movie together is the performances of its two main characters. Following a strong performance in It Follows, Maika Monroe (Julia/Subject 3) delivers solid work again. She's charismatic, mysterious, and just sympathetic enough that you can get behind her. Gary Oldman (Tau) voices the titular Ai system and does good work there. The friendship he and Julia builds is endearing in a strange way. The first act of the film is easily the strongest portion. We're sent on a tense ride that leaves us wondering about the protagonist and what's happening to her. It's interesting and tense.

Weaknesses: As the movie progresses, it loses steam. The middle portions are kind of dull, feeling redundant and monotonous. It's just very jarring to go from a tense opening to a big time lull in the middle that doesn't pick up until the final five or so minutes. Ed Skrein (Alex) was a bit too overboard in his performance. He seemed to be a bit too much into putting on angry faces and it came across as cheap. The biggest issues were the plot holes and some character decisions. Things happen that just seemed to be there to fill some of the runtime and didn't affect the overall plot. As for the character choices, just an example would be one of the subjects trying to escape with Julia early on. Needing a handprint scanner to leave, he somehow thinks he should put his hand there. Obviously, it backfires and he's killed. How can we be expected to root for people so dumb?

Overall: There are some endearing performances here that help this movie avoid being among the worst of the year. Still, it has far too many plot holes and dumb moments to save it. If this was a 30 minute episode of a TV show, it would've worked better, as after the initial first act, it slows considerably.

WALL-E
WALL-E(2008)
½

Strengths: It is hard to craft a story ripe with heart, romance, action, and one that manages to have a clear message without much dialogue. WALL-E excels there. For most of the first half of the movie, there's barely any talking. And yet, WALL-E's love for EVE is evident from the start and you feel for everything that happens. I was more invested in their relationship than ones in most other films that get hours and lots of dialogue to showcase their chemistry. It's a testament to the story told and the work the filmmakers did that this romance works so well. The fact that this flawed protagonist goes to great lengths for his love takes him on a magnificent adventure. The bigger story about the human race having spent 700 years in space and having to get back down to Earth was well done. It tied in to WALL-E's story with ease and allowed his act to have a greater meaning. There's also a fair bit of humor included in this cute tale. As always, Pixar's animation style is among the best in the world.

Weaknesses: The lack of dialogue can make this a tough watch for some. I've heard plenty of people who couldn't get into the movie because of this. It can come across as boring if you aren't willing to put the time in for the story to reward you.

Overall: A beautifully crafted story told in a way that really makes you feel. The animation is top notch, the characters are easy to invest in, it's sweet, and tells a brilliant love story. The genius of it all is honestly underrated. A classic.

Finding Dory
Finding Dory(2016)

Strengths: Basically, if something worked in Finding Nemo, they went back to the well here and nailed it again. As usual with Pixar, the animation is stunning. Getting something underwater to look great can be a challenge, but every single frame of Finding Nemo is splendid. Another staple of Pixar flicks is the incredible emotion they bring out of viewers. Right from the start, we see a baby Dory and how she struggles with her problem and you're instantly hooked. You feel sad for her and how she's lived life up until meeting Marlin. The movie takes us through emotional peaks and valleys with the best of them. The voice cast is again tremendous. Ellen DeGeneres (Dory) shows that she can carry the character for more than just comic relief, adding a sadness behind it all and making us feel for her character. Albert Brooks (Marlin) is strong again, while Hayden Rolence (Nemo) takes over as Nemo and does well. Ed O'Neill (Hank) is awesome as the cranky octopus who builds a friendship with Dory, while Kaitlin Olson (Destiny) and Ty Burrell (Bailey) shine in their parts.

Weaknesses: While I noted how things from the first movie worked, there is a negative to that. It can feel like a retread of Finding Nemo. The narrative is similar and it hits some familiar beats. A few scenes feel a bit over the top, even in an animated film for children.

Overall: It's a little too much like its predecessor, but Finding Dory manages to balance the humor with the emotion in a great way. It allows for a fun, beautiful looking experience that never feels like it goes on for too long.

The Big Lebowski
½

Strengths: This is a film that has gone on to achieve cult classic status and one watch shows you why. The Coen Brothers littered this tale with memorable characters, quotes, and moments. Jeff Bridges (Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski) is a great actor and this might be the most notable role in his career. He IS the Dude. John Goodman (Walter Sobchak) is hilarious as a crazy Vietnam veteran and John Turturro (Jesus Quintana) nearly steals the show in a small role. The uncaring and laid back demeanor of the Dude makes this one of the more relatable films ever, as we've all had moments where we just didn't care, even when something potentially important happened. The script is fantastic, filled with witty dialogue and several twists and turns to keep you engaged until the very end.

Weaknesses: Visually, this is nothing to write home about. There aren't any shots that would wow you and it's straightforward. The Coen Brothers aren't my favorite filmmakers, so some of their tropes don't click with me. Though Steve Buscemi (Theodore "Donny" Kerabatsos) and Julianne Moore (Maude Lebowski) are both usually great, I didn't care much for either performance here. Buscemi felt like he was kind of just there and Moore has been much better in almost everything else. Lastly, in movies, you usually want your characters to somewhat grow. I understand that part of the charm is how little the characters care, but none of them really grow or learn anything.

Overall: I understand the appeal of this film and can see why many people love it. I thought it was funny and witty, with some strong performances, just nowhere near a classic or anything special.

Big
Big(1988)
½

Strengths: Sometimes, a movie comes along and it gets labeled as timeless. Big fits that description. It's a classic story and holds up well after two decades. Tom Hanks (Josh Baskin) plays the lead role with such energy and enthusiasm that you can't help but smile. He's gone on to be more of a serious actor, but this is still some of his finest work. There are memorable moments sprinkled throughout, like the infamous piano scene in FAO Schwarz. There's a lot of heart throughout and it's mostly a sweet story. The script is clever and Penny Marshall does a great job behind the camera.

Weaknesses: The relationship between Josh and Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins) can come across as a bit weird. It's hard to invest in that love story when you know Josh is a 13-year old. It becomes kind of icky, especially when he loses his virginity to her. Several points throughout the film, especially early, are kind of corny.

Overall: I'm pressed for time, so this isn't one of my more detailed reviews. Even with the flaws it has, Big manages to be mostly sweet and earnest. It's led by Hanks giving a delightful performance as a teen trapped in an adult's body.

The Florida Project

Strengths: The acting in the movie is the saving grace. Brooklyn Prince (Moonee) has a tough task as the lead and despite being so young, she nails it. Bria Vinaite (Hailey) has apparently never acted before this, but you'd never know it by watching it. She's electric and portrays Hailey expertly.

Weaknesses: Flat out, this movie is annoying. It's the story of Moonee being a shitty child with shitty friends getting into mischief. That would be somewhat okay if it ever led anywhere or if the characters grew. Instead, it's just them doing annoying things over and over, as if the movie was on a loop of awful. Willem Dafoe (Bobby Hicks) sleepwalks through his performance and there's not much of an explanation for anything. He goes above and beyond for Hailey and we never get a sniff of why. She doesn't deserve it. Characters in film are supposed to go on a journey, but not a single person grows in this. The only one who kind of changes is Ashley (Mela Murder), Hailey's friend. She sees what's going on with Hailey and stays away from her and all she gets for growing is an ass kicking. Hailey has no remorse and still doesn't show any when her daughter is taken from her. She learns nothing and nothing fazes her. So why are we watching this? There are scenes that go nowhere, it's too long, and things felt pointless.

Overall: I don't think I've ever disagreed so vehemently with positive praise a film is getting. As a documentary on terrible people, this might work. As a movie, it's a stinker. Nobody goes through any changes, nobody learns anything, and it's just a sloop of stuff that'll annoy you to death.

Batman Forever
½

Strengths: Val Kilmer (Bruce Wayne/Batman) replaced Michael Keaton in the lead role in this third installment. While he's not as good as Keaton, he's at least a solid Batman. There's also the positives of the charisma of Jim Carrey (Edward Nygma/The Riddler) and Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Dent/Two-Face). Their scenes together can be quite over the top, but they're at least campy in a fun way. It's a certain charm that you come to appreciate because of their efforts. They also fit the new, more cartoony tone this series takes. The filmmakers did a strong job making sure Gotham looked very cool and the soundtrack is one of the better ones in any superhero film.

Weaknesses: Though I noted how Kilmer was fine as Batman, he made for a poor Bruce Wayne. You just never got the playboy feel from him, instead seeming awkward. For being a superhero movie with colorful characters, it can get surprisingly dull at points. Far too many scenes just drag. Nothing involving Chris O'Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin) is interesting and his performance lacks in a big way. Nygma's origin story feels rushed, as he descends into darkness after just one scene. Nicole Kidman (Dr. Chase Meridian) is laughably bad. There's next to no emotion in anything she does and she has zero chemistry with Kilmer. Add in that she's just not believable as a genius and it feels like she was poorly miscast.

Overall: Something about the ridiculous campiness of this movie keeps it from being flat out bad. Carrey and Jones are wild and fun as the villains, while Kilmer is okay. Kidman and O'Donnell are rough, while Schumacher's vision is too cheesy to fully work. There's just not enough substance to go with the style.

Goon
Goon(2012)

Strengths: I've written in the past about my love for sports movies. This one ranks near the top and it surprised the hell out of me. Sean William Scott (Doug Glatt) is surprisingly charming as the sweet, but kind of dumb protagonist. It's endearing to see him get something good in his life going, while having to deal with some of the negative response he gets from his parents. His chemistry with Alison Pill (Eva) was cute. It says something that you can root for them to be together, even though Eva admits she's not a good girlfriend and is in a relationship. When Doug takes a beating from her boyfriend because he knows he deserves it, you root for that. The sports scenes are great and you'll be especially pulled in when Doug attempts to save a much-needed game for his team. Liev Schreiber (Ross Rhea) doesn't get a lot of screen time, but he's great when he's there. His highly built up fight with Doug lives up to expectations. In fact, most of the fighting in the movie is great. Kim Coates (Coach Ronnie Hortense) and Marc-Andre Grondin (Xavier Laflamme) were both strong in their roles.

Weaknesses: Typically, I enjoy Jay Baruchel (Pat). Not here. His character was over the top with his cursing and gross gestures/remarks. I don't have a problem with a character like that, but this felt like they tried way too hard. I also would've liked some sort of closure with Doug and his parents. We see them object to his career as a hockey player in a pivotal scene at dinner. However, we don't get a moment where they come to terms with it or reconcile with their son. It feels like it was unfortunately left open.

Overall: As I said, I was pleasantly surprised with this. It quickly became one of my favorite hockey movies ever. Sean William Scott and most of the cast are great, while the hockey and fighting scenes are done very well.

Love, Simon
Love, Simon(2018)

Strengths: When done right, the coming of age teen film can be excellent. Love, Simon hits on all the right notes in that aspect. Focusing on a gay romance made this a bold, groundbreaking idea. Nick Robinson (Simon Spier) is great in the lead role. He's charming, charismatic, and has chemistry with the rest of the cast. You feel for every moment of the film he's involved in. Katheryn Langford (Leah Burke) continues her hot streak after 13 Reasons Why. She's another highlight. Josh Duhamel (Jack Spier) and Jennifer Garner (Emily Spier) don't get a ton of screen time as Simon's parents, but they're both given great scenes with Robinson. Watching Jack angrily react to his son coming out was tough, but it gets even more emotional when you find out it was because he was frustrated with himself for not seeing it sooner. I enjoyed the blackmail aspect of the film, as it made our hero do things that weren't right. He pitted his friends against each other to keep his secret, which was selfish. A layered character that doesn't always do good is important. The side storyline involving Alexandra Shipp (Abby Suso) and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Nick Eisner) was a good one that tied back into the main story. There are plenty of heartwarming, emotional moments, while also managing to have several funny scenes. The reveal of who Blue is was a cool little twist and the moment they get on the Ferris wheel together is truly a great, uplifting scene. Throw in a wonderful soundtrack and this movies has so much going for it.

Weaknesses: Tony Hale (Mr. Worth) can be quite funny and usually delivers in small roles. He did well as the Vice Principal in this, but the character was way too over the top. It could've been funny had they dialed it back just a bit. Also, even though the film was original in targeting a gay storyline, it does hit some all too familiar beats from other teen romantic comedies.

Overall: Despite some expected tropes at times, this movie is fantastic. There's a ton of heart and you can't help but feel good after watching it. You'll laugh, cry, and pump your fist in triumph. Nearly everything about Love, Simon is great.

Josie
Josie(2018)
½

Strengths: She's great in Game of Thrones, and Sophie Turner (Josie) is strong as the titular character here. She pulls off the southern accent rather well and plays up the mystique of her character without going overboard. Dylan McDermott (Hank) was also good. The chemistry between the two was evident, yet also managed to be the right amount of creepy for the roles. The big reveal surrounding Josie late in the film comes off very well. While it's not the most surprising twist, the scene where it goes down is interesting due to the character work done earlier in the film.

Weaknesses: Straight up, this is a boring movie. The twist doesn't come until the end, which is usually the best time for it, but that means that things don't get very interesting until the end. We sit through 75 or so minutes of mediocre dialogue and scenes where a lot of nothing seems to happen. You also can't really get invested in the relationship between Josie and Hank, because it's so wrong given their ages. I didn't feel for him when he heard Josie hooking up with a guy her age, because that's what she's supposed to do.

Overall: With the strong acting of Turner and McDermott, you'd expect this to be a better film. However, the main plotline is uncomfortable and not in the way that make a movie interesting. The final few minutes are great, but everything before that is kind of a drag.

Batman Returns
½

Strengths: As with the first Batman flick, Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne/Batman) is a strong lead. He's one of the best to portray the caped crusader, doing well as both the hero and the man behind it. Danny DeVito (Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin) was a bit of perfect casting. He not only looked the part, but was equal parts menacing and gross. I'm not holding back when I said it was perfect. Christopher Walken (Max Shreck) was also a highlight, snice he's great in basically everything. Max comes across as the true villain, since Baman, Penguin, and Catwoman/Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) are all in the position they're in because of Max or people like him. It's something I enjoyed throughout. The dark tone fits Batman and the specific villains chosen this time around. That's kind of Tim Burton's bread and butter, so he was a good choice to remain at the helm of the sequel. Keaton and Pfeiffer have strong chemistry, especially when just playing Wayne and Kyle.

Weaknesses: Effort was put into the origin stories of Penguin and Catwoman, but neither really shined through. Penguin's was better, but Kyle's stuff lacked. She was pathetic and survived attempted murder. All of a sudden, she puts on a suit and knows how to fight, be stealthy, etc. There's not a big, layered plot. It's basically just a plot to frame Batman and not much else. Though it's kind of expected in a superhero flick from the late 80s/early 90s, a lot of the acting is cheesy. Pfeiffer especially gets some corny lines.

Overall: While no performance quite matches up to Jack Nicholson's in the original, the work of Keaton, DeVito, Pfeiffer, and Walken make for a strong cast. The dark tone works and the action scenes are solid. They took risks with the sequel and most paid off.

Monsters
Monsters(2010)

Strengths: I love the idea of extra terrestrials being in some sort of infected zone on Earth. Having people trek through that wasteland is a great concept. For being a low budget film, this had some good looking special effects. Nailing creatures like this without much money can be problematic, but they did a strong job with it.

Weaknesses: There are a lot. Despite a cool premise and one that should lead to excitement, the movie is a total drag. It barely lasts an hour and a half, but feels longer than three. Instead of putting the focus on the interesting things that can happen on this kind of journey, it goes on the two leads. That might be okay if they were interesting. However, Scoot McNairy (Andrew Kaulder) and Whitney Able (Samantha Wynden) lacked any sort of chemistry and their scenes together were truly boring. Their lack of chemistry is amazing considering they're apparently married in real life. The characters are unlikable and you never feel a need to root for them.

Overall: A dreadful film. Most of what happens is either illogical or flat out dull. It feels way longer than it is because it's just so boring. It's almost remarkable how poorly this was handled.

Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6(2014)

Strengths: We keep running into animated films with plenty of heart and Big Hero 6 really tugs at your emotions. The relationship between Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) and his brother Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney) is established early and plays a pivotal role in everything that unfolds. Of course, the relationship between Hiro and Tadashi's robot, Baymax (Scott Adist) is even more important. Without it, Hiro may not get past what happens to his brother. Baymax is such an endearing character. Everything from the voice work to his actions to his design is charming. You can't help but love him. The rest of the voice cast is great. It includes strong work from TJ Miller (Fred), Jamie Chung (Go Go), Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), and Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon). The animation is top notch and the sound track is great. The twist when it comes to the antagonist is well done and really adds to the emotional impact of everything that happens. The action scenes were also much stronger than expected in a film like this.

Weaknesses: It can take a little long to get into the meat of the story, as it's about half an hour or so before Hiro and Baymax begin to team up.

Overall: I ended up liking this way more than I expected. It's a wonderful, charming movie that does almost everything right. There's a lesson to be learned, a character arc for our protagonist, lots of action, a cool twist, fun characters, and more. I want to go out and buy this immediately. Incredible.

Safety Not Guaranteed
½

Strengths: What caught my eye about this film at first was the strong cast. I've liked these people in most of what I've seen them in and this was no different. Aubrey Plaza (Darius Britt) was the star. She was nominated for several independent awards for it and you can see why. Her performance is great and real, but so is the character. The main thing that the script nails is how well Darius is developed and her arc. She goes from a directionless girl to finding something to believe in and it's in the strangest of places. Plaza's perfect deadpan ability makes her ideal for this role. Mark Duplass (Kenneth Calloway) continues to shine in everything I've seen him in. He's endearing in how much he believes in what he's doing. Kristen Bell (Belinda) had a nice small role that she did well with. For being a low-budget flick, the effects were done well, especially in the final scene.

Weaknesses: Despite both actors giving strong performances, the chemistry between Plaza and Duplass just isn't there. There's also quite a big issue with Jake Johnson (Jeff Schwensen) and his character's role. I think it would've worked better if he begrudgingly took on a mentor role for his interns. Instead, he meets up with an ex named Liz (Jenica Bergere) and just hangs out with her. When things go south, not much changes other than an attempt to get Arnau (Karan Soni) laid. He doesn't have an arc and every scene with Liz feels like a waste of time that drags things down.

Overall: This movie has a cool premise and is helped along by a charming script. The performances of most of the cast, specifically Plaza, are great. However, it gets bogged down by a pointless B plot.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Strengths: The follow up to the solid Man of Steel continues some of what worked. Henry Cavill (Clark Kent/Superman) is again strong as the lead. He's probably my favorite Superman so far. Amy Adams (Lois Lane) is also one of the highlights, but the real show stealer is Gal Gadot (Diana Prince/Wonder Woman). She's not in a ton of scenes, but each one is usually one of the better moments of the film. Her arrival in the big fight as Wonder Woman is great. The big fight between Batman and Superman is satisfying. It's a big CGI war, but one that is fitting of the film's billing. I also found Ben Affleck (Bruce Wayne/Batman) to be better in the role than expected. He played the grizzled, older version of Bruce well.

Weaknesses: There's not much in the way of a plot. It's straightforward and doesn't challenge or intrigue a viewer. The film relies more on the big budget special effects than a solid script to get things from point A to point B. It's something that the MCU films don't typically do. There's not enough to make you care about any of these characters. Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), who is usually good, goes over the top with a cheesy performance as Lex. The movie tried cramming way too many ideas together. It manages to be the rare combination of feeling rushed and also dragging to feel longer than the two and a half hour runtime. The pacing is that bad. I'm pretty sure I saw Batman kill a few people, which goes against the character completely. There was also the forced Justice League member cameos. Flash uses his powers in front of a camera, Aquaman stares at one before attacking, and Cyborg just looked terrible.

Overall: If there was ever a bloated film, this is it. Zack Snyder continues to struggle with pacing in his movies and they all kind of look the same. There are a few strong points, but this is mostly a muddled mess that tried to do too much.

Set It Up
Set It Up(2018)

Strengths: It feels like romantic comedies can either be truly awful or a fair amount of fun, without much room in between. Thankfully, this was the latter. Zoey Deutch (Harper Moore) plays a very charming lead role, as the overworked assistant of a ruthless female sports writer. Glen Powell (Charlie Young) is fine in his role, but works in terms of having solid chemistry with Deutch. It's endearing that the movie doesn't beat you over the head with how Charlie and Harper should be together. In fact, I would've been fine if it just went a different route and had them end up as friends. It feels natural when things get romantic between them. The script is solid, allowing for some witty moments and funny scenes. A show stealer was Titus Burgess (Creepy Tom), though I really wish we got more of him.

Weaknesses: One issue with the romantic comedy is that is far from new territory. This film featured several tropes we're used to from this kind of movie, hitting plenty of familiar beats. There's nothing groundbreaking about it. Lucy Liu (Kirsten Stevens) and Taye Diggs (Richard Otis) are kind of just there as the demanding bosses. I've seen much better from both. There are a few moments where it seems like the filmmakers were trying too hard. Some of the sexual related jokes miss the mark, while the elevator scene was meant to be hilarious, but felt a bit too over the top.

Overall: Is this movie cheesy and somewhat formulaic? Certainly. But, it's also sweet, features two leads with good chemistry, and endearing. You're not going in for an Oscar nominated movie. Go in for some charming fun and you'll enjoy it a lot.

Back to the Future Part II
½

Strengths: What worked in the first film mostly worked this time around. Putting characters in a time where they aren't comfortable makes for interesting television. Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) and Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) were great again. They play well off each other and have fun with the roles. It was cool to see how they handled the idea of what futuristic technology would be like in 2015. Things like the Hoverboard, flying cars, the Jaws 19 effect, and the way food is made are all part of the charm that makes this movie so cool. They also did a great job building on the idea from the first film that something being changed in the past could impact things. Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) going back to correctly bet on sporting events has a massive effect on everything and that plays out strongly.

Weaknesses: The way the first film ended, you'd assume this one would be entirely in the future. While I liked how they put a twist on things and the way the course of events can be altered, it does feel like two separate movies with the future and past stuff. It's a bit jarring how quickly things change. The way things involving George, Marty's dad, are handled is weird. I know there were some behind the scenes issues that led to a lawsuit, but it's definitely weird to see the route they went. Also, going back to 1955, the same day as the first movie, makes it feel like something of a retread at times.

Overall: It's not quite as good as the original, but there's still a bunch of fun to be had. The stakes feel higher, the futuristic stuff is way cool, and the charm of the first movie remains intact.

Spy
Spy(2015)
½

Strengths: The combination of Melissa McCarthy (Susan Cooper) and director Paul Feig once again proves to be one that works. They bring out the best in each other and play to their strengths. As funny as McCarthy is, she's far from the star in that sense. Rose Byrne (Rayna Boyanov) was a hoot and every single scene Jason Statham (Rick Ford) was a part of was great. He delivered all his lines with such an over the top absurdness, it was so charming. The action scenes mostly worked, even if they were a bit over the top at times.

Weaknesses: A lot of time was given to Susan's friend Nancy (Miranda Hart) and she just wasn't very funny. It made me question why so much time was spent on her. Most of those jokes just fell flat. There was also a strange need to curse a lot. I'm perfectly fine hearing cursing (I love Superbad and Wolf of Wall Street), but the vast amount of F-bombs dropped in this movie felt out of place. It was like they were just trying to see how often they could shoehorn it into script pages. It all felt forced. The movie also goes too long, as it didn't need to be two hours long.

Overall: There was potential in the concept. The cast is mostly strong and there are plenty of laughs, especially from Statham. It's just that the movie is overly long, awkwardly written at points, and focuses too much on an unfunny character.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Strengths: The original Ant-Man film was a lighthearted entry into the MCU and one that was better than it had any right to be. Ant-Man partially stole the show during the big fight scene in Captain America: Civil War. Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) returns here and was top notch once again. He seems like he was born to play Lang. His ability to bring his unique brand of charm to the role is what makes him so great. While he's once again a star, Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp) is even better. She really delivers in the biggest movie role of her career. It's not just the two stars who standout, either. Michael Pena (Luis) again shines as Lang's fast talking buddy, while Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie) nearly steals every scene she's in. That's just the tip of the iceberg, as Hannah John-Kamen (Ava Starr/Ghost) makes a tremendous impact as an antagonist, but one who you can completely sympathize with. Yes, she's making life hard for the heroes, but you understand where she's coming from because of what happened in her life. There's also the always delightful Walton Goggins (Sonny Burch), who looks like he's having the time of his life in the role. Peyton Reed does even better work as the direction this time around. Everything looks marvelous and he does a great job with things like the shots of Ant-Man at 60+ feet. The filmmakers continue to find cool ways to make sure Ant-Man's powers come to life in the best possible way. The script also happens to be loaded with fun, quirky moments.

Weaknesses: As great as Lilly was as the Wasp, she does seem to not get as much to do as you'd expect. There's a lot going on and with everyone, include TI (Dave) and David Dastmalchian (Kurt), getting a moment to shine, something had to be sacrificed. It's not egregious, but I wanted her to do more. Speaking of a lot going on, since so much happened, characters like Ghost weren't allowed to flesh out as much as they could have. Her story was heartbreaking and deserved a bit more screen time. Lastly, they do go a bit overboard in throwing out the scientific terms. And having Lang make sarcastic references to how he understands this jargon isn't enough to make up for it.

Overall: Isn't it wild to think that this was the worst MCU film in 2018? They just set such a high bar with Black Panther and Infinity War. Ant-Man and the Wasp works as a great successor to the first film. There are so many standout performances and the blend of comedy, action, and special effects make this one hell of a fun summer blockbuster. Throw in the very intriguing tie-in to Infinity War and it's a recipe for success.

Split
Split(2017)
½

Strengths: To pull off a concept like this, one thing must be great above all. The actor handling all the personalities needs to be fantastic. James McAvoy (Kevin Wendell Crumb) kills the role. He shifts from one personality to the next with natural ease. It reminded me a bit of Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, because you could tell which personality he was playing at times just by looking at him. His mannerisms and everything were on point. McAvoy as the childish Hedwig or as the "Beast" were probably his best performances. Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey Cooke) was the other highlight. She portrayed a girl with a troubled past who also handled the harrowing situation she was in better than anyone else. M. Night Shyamalan held back some of what has made him a laughing stock in recent years. There was no absurd twist or anything to make you roll your eyes.

Weaknesses: Some of the storytelling techniques were a bit odd. Having it go back and forth between Casey's current situation and her past was off-putting at times. It felt like it was taking us completely out of the action and like it was possibly a whole other movie. It felt shoehorned in. Speaking of shoehorn, we can go back to the Unbreakable tie-in. I like the idea of this all being a shared universe, but the ending felt like a cheap way to make it come together. It came across like a last minute idea Shyamalan had.

Overall: There are issues with storytelling and some of the tie-in stuff. However, Shyamalan keeps things mostly simple and things are carried by James McAvoy giving an all-time great perofmrance.

Kodachrome
Kodachrome(2018)
½

Strengths: You don't often think about Jason Sudekis (Matt Ryder) for dramatic roles. However, he's great in this one. He does well as a man possibly at the end of his line and dealing with the rough childhood due to his mother's passing and his absentee father. His scenes with Ed Harris (Benjamin Asher Ryder) are tremendous and the ones towards the end of the film are especially touching. Elizabeth Olsen (Zooey Kern) was very good as the nurse who cares for Benjamin, but also finds a connection with Matt. Harris was the show stealer, though. He delivered big time in every scene. The story hits on the emotional stuff almost every opportunity it gets. They also manage to do a good job balancing the drama with the comedy.

Weaknesses: Some of the attention to detail lacks. There's talk about characters at a certain age and it doesn't always line up. It feels like a bit of lazy writing. There's a slow pace to the movie that's not for everyone. Most of the comedy also comes from dialogue and not physical stuff, which isn't that appealing to everyone. Parts of it are very predictable and follow some of the beats you'd expect in a movie like this.

Overall: While parts of it are very familiar, there's enough drama, heart, and charm spread across the three leads to carry Kodachrome into "very good" territory. Harris, Sudekis, and Olsen are all great.

Back to the Future

Strengths: Another movie that's a classic for a reason. Time travel isn't an original idea, but this was an inventive take on it. It works for all age groups, from people who just want to have a good time, to hardcore sci-fi fans. Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly) plays a fantastic, iconic character with unbridled joy. He's having the time of his life and it's all over his face. His chemistry with Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) was electric. Their scenes together were always great fun. Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines) and Crispin Glover (George McFly) were both a lot of fun, as was Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen). The time travel aspects were handled with enough care that they felt complex, yet simple. It's a tough balancing act. Keeping the main plot to being about something related to family allowed the movie to be something that everyone could enjoy.

Weaknesses: I wasn't big on Lorraine's character. She was so obsessed with Marty and it was overboard. It was like they wanted to get the point across so badly that they beat us over the head with the idea. I know the film was made in 1985, but the special effects were still rough for that era. They don't hold up at all.

Overall: A clever time travel movie that remains a blast even three decades later. It's the pinnacle of Lloyd and Fox's careers. There are many greats from this era, yet Back to the Future remains near the top of the list.

Atomic Blonde

Strengths: I've heard plenty of praise for the acting of Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton) and it was all deserved. She gives one of the best performances of her career, which is saying something. She embodies the badass that Lorraine is, while dominating every scene she's in. Her chemistry with James McAvoy (David Percival) and Sofia Boutella (Delphine Lasalle) was fantastic. It helped that both of those actors were also stellar in this film. A good spy movie should keep us guessing and this film did. While we got Lorraine mostly from the start, everything Percival does is engaging and leaves you wondering what his true intentions are. The film is well written, certainly, but where it stands out is the directing, cinematography, and action scenes. There's a wonderfully unique tone and look to almost every scene. The action is breathtaking, with Lorraine coming off as sort of a female John Wick. That's high praise. Music plays a big part, too. The soundtrack is fantastic. It manages to be a highlight in a year that saw great soundtracks like Baby Driver and The Greatest Showman. It really adds to the cool atmosphere of it all.

Weaknesses: The plot and premise isn't among the more original ones you'll find out there. The narrative was a bit of an issue, as the story was told in a back and forth, nonlinear fashion. I think going that route kind of hurt the momentum of things at times. When things seemed to pick up, we'd be thrown back into more of a dull scene as Lorraine explains the story. As noted, there was some acting to praise, but something about the work done by John Goodman (Emmett Kurzfeld) was off. It wasn't believable at all.

Overall: I've often mentioned how great 2017 was for movies. This is another reason why. Where it lacks originality in concept, it more than makes up for it with the tone, action, soundtrack, and characters. One of the cooler movies you'll ever see.

Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow(2018)

Strengths: Jennifer Lawrence (Dominika Egorova) has a reputation as one of the best actresses in Hollywood. Though she's made some strange film choices in recent years (I'm looking at you, Passengers), her performances remain strong. She's great in this movie, giving a powerful performance that is the best in the entire movie. Joel Edgerton Nate Nash) was also good as the CIA operative, while Jeremy Irons (Vladimir Korchnoi) was another standout. There are a fair amount of tense scenes, with the violence level throughout the film being up to the par you'd want from something like this.

Weaknesses: There are a fair amount of issues with this movie. There's somewhat of a plot twist that comes late in the film. Somehow, we don't get many hints at it, yet it also manages to be too predictable to really hit. The film also feels out of place. It takes place in current times, but seems like it belongs at some point during the Cold War. There are inconsistencies with Lawrence's character, where she shifts from one thing to another for no real reason. A lot of the editing is sloppy, with most of the directorial decisions missing the mark. There's also a strong case to be made for the movie being cut down. Two and a half hours was way too long for the story they tried telling here.

Overall: Jennifer Lawrence tries her best, but picked a movie that was filled with holes. It goes too long, is poorly edited, and there are several plot issues. The acting is strong enough to make this worth a look, just don't do it more than once.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
½

Strengths: A trademark of Jurassic Park/World films has been their special effects. Again, that's a major strong point this time around. Every single shot of a dinosaur or an explosion looks incredible. Bad effects can be distracting and this had none of that. Chris Pratt (Owen Grady) is again mostly charming as the lead man of this franchise. Justice Smith (Franklin Webb) is a delightful injection of lighthearted comedy, while Daniella Pineda (Zia Rodriguez) is strong in her relatively limited role. The first half of the movie feels like an action=packed blockbuster hit. It's clear that Bayona comes from a bit of a horror background with some of the choices he makes for shots. He manages to hide something like a dinosaur just enough to make it somewhat terrifying, while still giving us the proper visuals when needed. Isabella Sermon (Maisie Lockwood) is another standout despite her age.

Weaknesses: Bryce Dallas Howard (Claire Dearing) was strong in the first film, but something felt off here. She seems to lack a true arc and is kind of just there, even though she's a lead. Her chemistry with Pratt wasn't on the level of the first film. Their eventual kiss this time around feels far from earned and comes across as forced. Rafe Spall (Eli Mills) plays a generic, money hungry villain. His performance is nothing special and it seems like he watched a few mustache twirling bad guys and mimicked it. The biggest issue the movie suffers from is the second half. It completely shifts gears as we go from harrowing stuff on an island, to putting the dinosaurs in a relatively enclosed mansion. It's a bold idea, but one that makes it feel like we're watching two separate movies, rather than one cohesive one. While I won't spoil the ending, a decision is made that opens the door for something intriguing going forward. However, the final few shots were meant to be poignant and just come across as a mix between confusing and just trying for shock value.

Overall: I give the filmmakers credit for taking a risk with such a huge franchise. However, things come across as disjointed and because of that, Fallen Kingdom misses the high marks that its predecessor set up.

Jurassic Park

Strengths: It's Steven Spielberg at his finest. A big blockbuster movie that hits all the right notes. From a special effects standpoint, it's incredible. The film came out over two decades ago and looks better than most of what is produced in 2018. It looks that impressive. Spielberg's direction in this one is legendary. He's clearly having a blast with the wonder of having dinosaurs roam free. It's evident by some of his shots. Keeping with the more technical aspects of the film, John Williams provides one of the most memorable scores in cinema history. Sam Neil (Dr. Alan Grant) is a strong lead and the character being paired up with the kids was a smart move. He talks about not wanting kids throughout the film, but takes on a father figure role when things get tough, causing his growth. Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm) is another standout from an acting perspective. Every scene is filled with something that matters, from character building to gorgeous shots to tense, pulse-pounding moments. It's a groundbreaking movie that is an absolute classic.

Weaknesses: Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattier) is relatively fine in her role, but she doesn't bring much to the table. It feels like she's kind of just there. That's just nitpicking at this point, though.

Overall: I honestly forgot how great this was until I watched it again. There's a reason it's considered a classic. It has good writing and acting, but what makes it so incredible is everything else. The cinematography, the effects, and the terrific blend of horror, sci-fi, action, suspense, and even comedy.

The Adjustment Bureau

Strengths: The concept behind this movie is flat out great. The idea that our world is mostly controlled by a secret group of people is one of the more interesting routes a film can take. Matt Damon (David Norris) does a good job as the lead, and his chemistry with Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas) was one of the best parts of the whole movie. Their scenes together, even when not tied into the sci-fi aspect of everything, were a joy to watch. Anthony Mackie (Harry Mitchell) was also strong as a man torn between what is right and what his job entails. I appreciated how the film was kind of perfectly broken up into three acts with the time shits throughout. The story is thought-provoking, and even has a clear message laid out in the end. A film like this also benefitted from an ending that made sense. Too often I see sci-fi flicks wrap things up in nonsensical ways. That wasn't the case here.

Weaknesses: They could've pushed the envelope further. Playing things as mostly a love story made for good character stuff, but kept the grand scheme of things limited from a sci-fi perspective. It's kind of a shame, because there were a lot of routes you could've gone with this. They played it safe. John Slattery (Richardson) is usually very good, but didn't do much in this one. His character is more of a plot device than anything and it shows in his performance. There's just not anything there. There's also Terrence Stamp (Thompson), who is kind of just there to look menacing and have the same face he has in most movies.

Overall: This is a good movie that had potential to be great. It just didn't take enough risks. Choosing to focus on a love story allowed for Damon and Blunt to work well together, but hurt other aspects of the movie.

Black Mass
Black Mass(2015)

Strengths: When on, Johnny Depp (James "Whitey" Bulger) can be one of the most dynamic actors on the planet. While this isn't among the best performances he's ever given, it is a strong, chilling portrayal of a real life crime boss. The tone set throughout this film really fits, as you get a gritty feel for almost everything that happens. The cinematography is a highlight. In a smaller role than expected, Jesse Plemons (Kevin Weeks) does very well.

Weaknesses: Joel Edgerton (John Connolly) is usually very good in nearly every role he takes on. Unfortunately, this is a rare miss. He's very forgettable, just like the character he's playing. Benedict Cumberbatch (William Bulger) tries and does okay, but his Boston accent is pretty rough. The script doesn't feel like it knows what to do with the characters involved or how to tell the story properly. It's as if the writers saw snippets of what made similar crime movies work and they didn't pay enough attention on how to structure it. It's also hard to fully set up proper character arcs when telling a true story, but here, nobody really grows or learns anything. Even the eventual hero in the story, Carey Stoll's Fred Wyshak, doesn't show up until late enough to feel like a hero.

Overall: Considering the performance of Johnny Depp and the premise behind the movie, I'd have to consider this a big disappointment. The script fails them, as do the performances of some of the supporting cast.

Aloha
Aloha(2015)
½

Strengths: There honestly aren't many. The setting in Hawaii is beautiful and director Cameron Crowe does quite well selecting locations that look great on film. It also features one of the stronger casts you'll find anywhere, from Bradley Cooper (Brian Gilcrest) to Emma Stone (Allison Ng) to Rachel McAdams (Tracy Woodside). The highlight was probably John Krasinski (John Woodside), who said a lot in a role where he barely spoke.

Weaknesses: Despite having a great cast, this fails. Most of the actors give some of their worst performances ever, while the writing mostly fails them. Even the great Bill Murray (Carson Welch) doesn't bring his usual charm. The script is bland and doesn't have enough moments of interest or character development. As good as Stone and Cooper usually are, they lacked the chemistry together to carry this film. It feels like it goes for over two hours, because so many moments are just boring. The final scene, involving Cooper and a character he finds out is his daughter from his past, doesn't feel earned. The girl has her world changed when she realizes, and runs to him with a hug, but their relationship was barely established for that to feel earned.

Overall: What a waste of a talented cast. To be fair, they didn't bring their best efforts to this, but the writing and directing didn't help at all. It's a dull, drab of a movie that is a massive disappointment.

Bull Durham
Bull Durham(1988)

Strengths: Kevin Costner (Crash Davis) is the king of baseball movies. From "Field of Dreams" to "For the Love of The Game" and especially here, he's fantastic. As Crash, he's charismatic and captivating. You feel for the guy who has always been really good, but not quite good enough to make it to the big leagues. He has great on-screen chemistry with both Tim Robbins (Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh) and Susan Sarandon (Annie Savoy) really drive the film. It's interesting to see both Annie and Crash help Nuke in their own, very different ways, all while falling for each other. It also manages to work well for non-baseball fans, while also respecting the sport enough to not dumb things down. It's a hard balancing act that they nail. Speaking of balance, there's also a great blend of comedy, drama, and romance, with none being over or under done. It has a little bit of everything.

Weaknesses: As great as Sarandon does in her role, the character doesn't work that well. She's obsessed with baseball and tries to find the next player to sleep with and mentor. It's a strange motive and one that never really seems to get a true meaning. Why must those things go hand in hand? Her character's voiceovers don't add anything to the film either. There's also a sense of unrealistic moments, as Nuke gets called up to the Majors despite clearly not being ready to do so.

Overall: Sports movies are a guilty pleasure of mine, as I love most of them. This is one of the best ones ever. It's filled with classic lines, funny moments, drama, and hints of romance, while also providing something for the sports fans.

The Accountant

Strengths: I've never been much of a Ben Affleck (Christian Wolff) fan, but he's been very good since he began directing films. Here, he got to play someone emotionless and it worked. Yet, despite not showing a ton of emotion, he still managed to have good chemistry in his scenes with Anna Kendrick (Dana Cummings). Jon Bernthal (Braxton) was also strong on his side of things. JK Simmons (Raymond King) was tremendous and his role is mired in mystery for most of the film. You think he's going one way and we find out he's doing everything for a different reason and it provides us with the best acted moment of the entire film. There are plenty of intense moments and some wild action sequences that I wasn't expecting.

Weaknesses: The big twist near the end of the film is kind of easy to see coming. It takes away some of the impact of watching the moment unfold. While the action scenes are exhilarating, they do come off as a bit unrealistic. We understand that he's had training in this sort of thing, but some scenes take it a bit too far. As noted, Affleck and Kendrick were strong together, so it was disappointing to see Kendrick bow out of the movie so soon. The reasons worked for the story, but without her, the movie lacked a bit.

Overall: This was quite the unexpected thrill ride. Affleck gives a strong performance, followed up by Kendrick, Simmons, and Bernthal. It's an intense movie that keeps you interested and captivated for most of its run time.

Fences
Fences(2016)

Strengths: Come on. You know this starts and ends with the acting of the two leads. Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) is as powerful as ever, playing a very flawed man who is doing his best but is so messed up, he's ruining everything around him. Viola Davis (Rose Lee Maxson) is the star of this thing, though. She steals the show and absolutely earns the Academy Award she took home for the role. The scene where she gets the bad news from her husband is pretty incredible. Jovan Adepo (Cory Maxson) does well to stand up alongside these stars who play his parents. His scenes with Denzel are particularly strong and some of the more intense of the entire film. August Wilson's adapted screenplay is a very good one. It remains dialogue heavy, as you would expect from a play, but mostly works well. What really helps it click is Denzel's directing. He uses a lot of camera turns and quick cuts that helps it feel like it's moving along quicker than it is.

Weaknesses: As usual, a film that is dialogue heavy can be a bit dull at points. A lot of it feels unnecessary. Film is a visual medium and there's not enough of a balance. With Troy doing so many negative things throughout, it's hard to root for him. That can make it tough to relate to the story. He doesn't get much of an arc. He does asshole things and doesn't change or pay for it. In fact, nobody really gets an arc, as the characters mostly stay who they were at the beginning of the story. Cory's the only one who goes from scared of his dad to standing up to him.

Overall: With lesser actors, this would be a forgettable film. The story doesn't lend itself to film that well, without many arcs and too much dialogue. However, the acting of Denzel and Viola is so great that it makes this the kind of movie you must see. Throw in Denzel's strong work behind the camera and you've got a film that is better than it probably should be.

Fracture
Fracture(2007)

Strengths: Though this came before we all considered Ryan Gosling (William Beachum) to be a great actor, I'd say this was the first time he shined this brightly. Sure, he was good in the Notebook, but here, he went toe to toe with a great and performed very well. Anthony Hopkins (Theodore Crawford) is the star. He is tremendous and each time he's on screen, you feel like you can't look away. The interplay between his character and Gosling's is what drives the movie and what makes it so you must keep watching. The stuff in the courtroom is strong, but it's watching how the characters deal with these situations that stands out. It takes some twists and turns you don't expect, with the twist ending coming right when you think things can't go well for our hero at all. The writing and dialogue are top notch, as well.

Weaknesses: The B plot of William's romance with Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike) was distracting. Both actors were fine separately, but together, they lacked chemistry. The relationship also didn't make much sense, as Nikki was portrayed to be this strong female in a high position. Why would she get herself into the position of dating someone working under her? It seemed out of character. It's a side plot that weighs things down, holding this back from being a stellar film.

Overall: As noted, there's something holding this back from being stellar. That doesn't mean it's not great. Gosling and Hopkins are powerful together, giving us enthralling scenes together from the moment their character meet. It's an engaging thriller and one of the more underrated films in recent memory.

Blockers
Blockers(2018)

Strengths: As great as John Cena (Mitchell) is as a wrestler, it's almost like he was born for comedic roles. Like The Rock before him, he's finding a niche in funny roles. After stealing the show in things like Trainwreck and Sisters, he got a big role here and was the most hilarious part of the movie. Every line delivered and every action he did was funny. Leslie Mann (Lisa Decker) was great throughout. Her chemistry with Cena was a highlight, as was the relationship with her daughter Julie (Kathryn Newton). The scene where she's stuck in the hotel room with her daughter and her boyfriend (Graham Phillips) is a treat. Some of the random smaller roles and cameos were hilarious. From Hannibal Buress (Frank) as a stepdad to Gary Cole (Ron) and Gina Gershon (Cathy) as a sex crazed couple. The film is just raunchy enough to live up to the premise without going overboard and still managing to be a bit heartwarming.

Weaknesses: Ike Barinholtz (Hunter) is too over the top. He doesn't quite click with Mann and Cena, with his antics and performance just going overboard. It felt like he was trying too hard where the others were natural. I've also heard a lot of praise for Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla). She's good in the role, but the character is inconsistent. She goes from barely wanting to be part of the pact to being more invested into doing wild stuff than anyone else. It felt like a stretch. As funny as the movie is, it doesn't break any new ground and follows beats you've come to expect from this specific genre of comedy.

Overall: Kay Cannon does a great job helming this comedy. It's flat out funny, with John Cena and Leslie Mann being great. There are a few inconsistencies and tropes to get past, but it's overall just a fun way to spend an hour and a half or so.

Think Like a Man Too
½

Strengths: One of the things that made the first installment work way better than I ever expected was the chemistry among the cast. That remains a strong aspect this go around. Everyone mostly plays well off each other, leading to some scenes that work better than expected. The scenes at the strip club and in jail are two of the highlights, as well as the antics that Cedric Ward (Kevin Hart) get into throughout the evening. I must commend the addition of Wendi McLendon-Covey (Tish) as she was quite funny in her time on screen. The mid-film "Poison" music video was also a treat.

Weaknesses: As well as the cast worked together, a lot of the writing fails them. Each couple is given a subplot to work with, but most fall flat. Dominic (Michael Ealy) and Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) probably have the most interesting, but even that isn't great. Candace (Regina Hall) and Michael (Terrence J) have a plot that hits familiar beats from part one, while everything with Loreta (Jenifer Lewis) is a drag. Kirsten (Gabrielle Union) and Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) have a plot about trying for a kid that is unoriginal, while Zeke (Romany Malco) and Mya (Meagan Good) are a far cry from the scene stealers they were in the original. The subplots all feel very lazy.

Overall: As funny as Kevin Hart is, there was too much of him in this. I get that he's the biggest name, but too much focus there made the rest of the film an afterthought. That wasn't helped by lazy writing and all too familiar tropes. Still, there are enough laughs and chemistry between the talented cast to make it worth checking out.

Someone Marry Barry
½

Strengths: The cast is pretty filled with some folks who well versed in the world of comedy. Tyler Labine (Barry Burke) is the titular character and was seemingly born to play this kind of role. He feels totally natural in even the most over the top scenes. Damon Wayans Jr. (Desmond) is a highlight and probably the funniest actor of the bunch. Hayes MacArthur (Rafe) and Thomas Middletitch (Kurt) both do well with characters that are given arcs where they grow as people. The cast have great chemistry together and it really is what makes the movie work the most.

Weaknesses: Lucy Punch (Melanie Miller) plays the girl that Barry eventually falls for. She's a bit too similar to Barry. It was like having two of the same character on screen and that isn't ideal. It became too much of the same thing, over and over. They crammed a lot of crude humor into this. Crude humor is fine in doses, but when it's the entire movie, it suffers and you get diminishing returns. While the supporting cast get arcs, they don't feel like they're intertwined that well into the main plot, so they aren't given much attention and they suffer because of it.

Overall: If you like inappropriate comedy, this is probably something you'll enjoy. I found it to be amusing and I don't regret watching it. However, it is nowhere near the best movies of its kind. The cast worked well together, but there are too many familiar tropes relied on throughout.[** 1/2]

Beauty and the Beast

Strengths: A remake is a tough game. A remake is even tougher when it's of a timeless classic like the original Beauty and the Beast. This does quite well with that tall task. Emma Watson (Belle) is tremendous as the lead. It's the best non-Hermione work of her career. She's perfect. Dan Stevens (Beast) has strong chemistry with her and also delivers a strong performance. The supporting roles are all well cast, like Luke Evans (Gaston), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), Ian McKellen (Cogsworth), and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts). A special shoutout to Josh Gad (LeFou), who was hilarious as Gaston's right hand man. He's funny in every scene. The movie does a good job respecting the original film, while making sure it feels just fresh enough.

Weaknesses: It's almost impossible to avoid comparing this to the original. While it's very good, the original is an incredible film that this doesn't come close to matching. Despite being made by Disney in 2017, the visuals aren't as great as you'd expect. The Beast looks kind of distracting at times because he doesn't look realistic. I feel like the film also tried too hard to make Gaston evil. The character was mainly just a cocky douche, but he's over the top in this one.

Overall: Though it doesn't match the levels of the original, this film does work as a very good remake. The casting is spot on, the music is catchy, and it pays enough respect to the original without feeling like a copy.

Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider(2018)

Strengths: Film based off video games can really misfire. This one actually feels very true to the more recent remake of the Tomb Raider games. Alicia Vikander (Lara Croft) does a far better job as the lead than Angelina Jolie. She doesn't phone it in and portrays Lara as fierce, yet vulnerable. It's great work. She played well off her co-stars, namely Dominic West (Lord Richard Croft), Walton Goggins (Mathias Vogel), and Daniel Wu (Lu Ren). Goggins is especially fantastic as the antagonist. He's a fully developed character with motivations that you can understand. West is also strong as the father figure genius who went mad. Ren is fine in his role, too. The action scenes are exciting and visually strong, with tension and suspense building towards nice conclusions. They did well to make the scenes of Lara trying to survive on her own into something interesting. The Hunger Games film failed at that for Katniss, but it really worked this time.

Weaknesses: They tried hard with the story, but it didn't fully click. The plot never felt interesting enough to carry a two hour film. In fact, the first half hour or so of the film feels slow. It takes a while to get going and the first bit of action doesn't come until Lara is on the boat with Lu and they reach their destination. That comes kind of late into the film for that. There are also several plot holes that stick out when you pay attention to the film.

Overall: This is a good update for the Tomb Raider franchise, besting both Angelina Jolie movies with ease. It's not anything great, but it's an enjoyable watch with some strong performances.

I'm Gonna Git You Sucka

Strengths: Ah, back when the Wayans family was delivering good comedy in bunches. This movie is straight up funny. Not only does it nail the spoof aspects of the genre, but it gets all the little comedic moments right. From Jack Spade (Keenen Ivory Wayans) hilariously pulling out a splinter during a gun fight to Hammer (Isaac Hayes) loading up on the guns only to fall and have them go off and kill him, to Slammer (Jim Brown) and his massive bunion. So many great moments. Damon Wayans (Leonard) and Kadeem Hardison (Willie) are a blast as the lame criminals throughout the film. They're a running joke that mostly lands. And don't even get me started on Kung Fu Jones (Steve James) fighting the cops or Flyfuy (Antonio Fargas) at the Pimp of the Year Awards and with his elevator aquarium shoes.

Weaknesses: The women in the movie just don't really have many scenes that work. Ja'net Dubois (Belle Brown-Spade) is basically a badass mom who always overprotects her son and never lets him be a man, but most of her scene failed to be funny. Dawnn Lewis (Cheryl Spade) also didn't really get to do anything comedic and I couldn't get into almost any of her scenes. Even some of the jokes that work are kind of dated and won't really work for all audiences.

Overall: If you get the subject matter, this works in the same vein as the other good Wayans spoofs, like the original Scary Movie. The cast is mostly funny and there are gags galore that make it somewhat memorable.

Waiting
Waiting(2005)

Strengths: This has one of the more talented casts you'll find in any comedy. Ryan Reynolds (Monty Cook), Justin Long (Dean Saunders), Anna Faris (Serena Vowels), David Koechner (Dan Borchart), Luis Guzman (Raddimus Lopez), John Francis Daley (Mitch Haim), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Tyla), and Vanessa Lengies (Natasha Willett) are all great. They mostly deliver the goods in this one. There are several funny moments throughout, as well as some character growth for Dean and Monty. A lot of the dialogue is rather witty and the chemistry between cast members works.

Weaknesses: For a gross out comedy movie, it's much more gross than it is funny. There are multiple moments that make you turn away out of sheer grossness. Though some characters get arcs and grow, most are unlikable. Monty and Serena aren't enjoyable, while Tyla is underutilized and Mitch barely talks. Dane Cook (Floyd Biggs) overacts like crazy. It feels like he's trying too hard to be funny.

Overall: Thanks to a good cast who play well off each other, this movie manages to be watchable. It had some funny moments, but misses the mark on a few others to really stand out.

American Heist

Strengths: The concept behind the movie is strong. Having a bond between brothers as the heart of a story is almost always a good idea, especially when it's as complicated as this. Jordana Brewster (Emily) was solid. That's about all I can say positive about this.

Weaknesses: Hayden Christensen (James Kelly) gives one of his usual performances completely devoid of emotion. It's so bad. However, Adrien Brody (Frankie Kelly) is even worse. He goes way over the top with his acting to the point where it's unintentionally comical. It's a shame because he's usually very good. While Brewster was good in the movie, she had no chemistry with Christensen. The first half of the film feels like a big waste of time and the ending come across like nothing is really accomplished.

Overall: It's a short review because the movie is so bad. This is one of the worst movies I've seen in the past few years. Complete trash. Bad writing, no real plot, and terrible acting almost across the board.

Ocean's 8
Ocean's 8(2018)
½

Strengths: What made the Ocean's trilogy work was a great blend of a clever heist, chemistry between the cast, witty moments, and zany characters. That was mostly kept intact for Ocean's 8. Sandra Bullock (Debbie Ocean) is a good stand-in for George Clooney's Danny. Anne Hathaway (Daphne Kluger) probably steals the show as a stuck-up actress, delivering in every scene and nailing the over the top characteristics of the role. Rihanna (Nine Ball) is great, with Awkwafina (Constance) and Helena Bonham Carter (Rose Well) following up as other standouts. James Corden (John Frazier) is pretty funny in his appearance late in the film. The heist itself proves to be highly entertaining, with the twists and turns you want from an Ocean's film. I also got a great kick out of the return of Yen (Shaobo Qin), an unexpected guest from the trilogy.

Weaknesses: While the twists of the heist were fun, it never really felt like their plan was in jeopardy. We need that sense of possible failure for the outcome to mean a lot. Mindy Kaling (Amita) and Cate Blanchett (Lou) weren't bad, but ultimately disappointing in their roles. There was a sense of smugness about some of the characters, which made them kind of unlikable. They also mentioned Danny's death over and over, to the point where you expected a surprise appearance, yet it never happened. There were also a few moments that didn't make sense, like having some of the ladies walk through the Gala in nice dresses. For example, Amita was working in the kitchen, so why did she have to have a scene like that? It's not a big thing, but it was just a little off.

Overall: It's hard to live up to the Ocean's trilogy, but this movie mostly succeeds. Bullock is a strong lead and gets helped by most of her cast mates. There are witty moments, a relatively fun heist, and enough chemistry among the cast to make this a winner.

Wedding Crashers

Strengths: Often, the most important thing about a comedy is to be funny. Wedding Crashers succeeds there, with several moments that are either flat out hilarious or subtlety classic lines. Owen Wilson (John Beckwith) is the lead and probably gives the best performance of his career. His banter with Vince Vaughn (Jeremy Grey) has never been better and he handles the growth of the character very well. His chemistry with Rachel McAdams (Claire Cleary) is fantastic. This is also one of my favorite McAdams performances, as she looks like shs'e just having a blast. Isla Fisher (Gloria Cleary) broke out with this film thanks to how hilariously she played the crazed girl. It led to a handful of funny scenes with Vaughn. The smaller characters all delivered the goods as well. Bradley Cooper (Sack Lodge) worked well as the violent douche, Christopher Walken (William Cleary) was his usual great self, Jane Seymour (Katheleen Cleary) played the cougar to perfection, and Keir O'Donnell (Todd Cleary) had some great moments as the hyper-sensitive gay son of the family. All this without mentioning the over the top grandma (Ellen Albertini Dow) or the hilarious cameo by Will Ferrell (Chazz Reinhold). The script is solid, the characters grow over time and it features some very funny moments.

Weaknesses: Near the end, the movie can feel like it drags on a bit. While the introduction of Chaz is funny, it adds an extra few minutes to the movie that feel somewhat unnecessary. The way that John notices his big revelation at the funeral comes across as phony and kind of forced. If you've seen movies involving Wilson and Vaughn before, then a lot of things will feel all too familiar. Several beats seem redone and a lot of the jokes are nothing new.

Overall: I'd say this is one of my favorite romantic comedies of the 2000s. Lots of funny moments, good chemistry between the romantic leads, a hilarious cameo, and it helped launch the careers of people like Cooper and Fisher.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

Strengths: There's a reason this film is considered a classic. Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle) gives a performance that isn't just among his best ever, but among the best in cinema history. It's that good. Travis is a portrait of the ugliest side of humanity and the acting is hauntingly great. Watching the character's evolution throughout the film is an experience that has rarely been matched. Though the movie doesn't have some big budget, it is shot in a way that makes the most of everything. It's gritty, just like the New York setting. Though Jodie Foster (Iris) isn't in the movie for long, she makes a lasting impression as the young prostitute. There are so many standout scenes. From the tense moments of wondering if Travis will go through with the shooting of the candidate to the bloodbath battle in the final minutes, it's intense and it all works. I appreciated how it told a story about PTSD without beating viewers over the head with it.

Weaknesses: I do think that the film is put over the top by De Niro's performance. Without it, the story would lend itself to being a very good movie, but not a great one. There are several scenes that feel long and somewhat unneeded. There are a handful of moments that seem a bit over the top. I also didn't really care for Cybill Shepherd (Betsy) and her performance.

Overall: It is a classic and it is a must see film because Robert De Niro gives an all-time great performance. Check it out purely to see some incredible acting, but the script is great and it's one of Scorsese's best.

War on Everyone

Strengths: It's typically a good thing when a film is carried by two charismatic actors. That's just what War On Everyone has gone for it in Alexander Skarsgard (Terry Monroe) and Michael Pena (Bob Bolano). They're relatively funny together and play off one another quite well. Tessa Thompson (Jackie Hollis) also does her best with a character that doesn't get enough. She's a standout, though. It's over the top in a way that works for what the premise is. You get to see the detectives do outlandish things, travel to ridiculous places, and get into a mess of trouble. The final fight scene is pretty fun and has some cool moments. Lastly, Malcolm Barrett (Reggie) is a comical secondary character who is good in his scenes.

Weaknesses: There's not much of a coherent story in this. It comes across like more of a collection of scenes and people just doing wild things for the hell of it. After the detectives invade the home of a suspect and his girlfriend, they steal the television. For some reason, the next time we see the girlfriend, she's randomly practicing as a majorette. Then, for no real reason, she strikes up a relationship with Monroe. It feels random, without reason, and pointless. They end up building a strange little family together, yet we're never given any real motivation behind any of it. Our leads, while funny, come across as pretty terrible people, so it's hard to really root for them.

Overall: Considering the talented leads and work by some of the supporting cast, this should be better. There are just too many things that seem to happen for no reason. An uneven plot keeps this from being something I'd recommend.

Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2(2018)

Strengths: The first Deadpool worked so well because it totally captured the spirit of the character. The second one continues that. Ryan Raynolds (Wade Wilson/Deadpool) shines again as the foul-mouthed mercenary. It's clear he was dying to bring the right Deadpool to the big screen, as he is perfect for the role again. His banter with his co-stars is great and some of the jokes thrown out, like calling Cable (Josh Brolin) "Thanos," are excellent. The supporting cast is just as good, with Terry Crews (Bedlam), Bill Skarsbard (Zeitgeist), and Rob Delany (Peter) being fantastic in small roles. The real show stealer was Zazie Beetz (Domino). She's a star on Atlanta, but hopefully this got way more eyes on her. She was often the best part of the movie and her sibling like chemistry with Reynolds was top notch. Those two, along with Brolin, shined. The action was great, the soundtrack worked, and we also got an awesome surprise cameo, as well as a fun appearance from the Juggernaut.

Weaknesses: Some of the more emotional aspects of the movie didn't click. Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) has something very emotional happen to her early on. However, when the film goes back to her for certain things later on, it kind of misses the mark and drags the film down. With so many new people involved, a few of the original cast members were shoved aside. Along with Baccarin, TJ Miller (Weasel), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead) and Stefan Kapicic (Colossus) all felt rather underutilized.

Overall: A great sequel that is probably better than the original. Domino is a scene stealer and if they do a third installment, she needs to be a huge factor. The jokes mostly hit, the story was solid, and they made great use of most of the characters involved. A winner.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman(2017)

Strengths: The DC film Universe has struggled on the big screen since it debuted, but Wonder Woman was easily their best effort. Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman/Diana Prince) is charismatic and stellar as the lead. She balances the tough with the sympathetic incredibly well. There's also a wild charm to every scene where we see Diana's fascination with a world she knows nothing about. Patty Jenkins was a quality choice for director. Her work came across as confident despite having such a big budget blockbuster to helm for the first time. The action scenes came across well and the side characters were balanced enough to each be well rounded. Chris Pine (Steve Trevor) was a good secondary lead, while Robin Wright (Antiope) was great in her short screen time. Going with an origin story in the past for Wonder Woman worked, because it provided the character with plenty of opportunities to showcase her vulnerability. She's unsure of the world around her, the full extent of her power, and her exact origin. Heroes need that to be fully developed.

Weaknesses: While the idea of an origin story set in the past was a strong one, I wasn't big on how they went that route. Having Diana get a photo, then remember the movie, then put the photo away at the end felt kind of cheap. Also, though Pine is fine in the film, his chemistry with Gadot never worked for me in a romantic sense. Their scenes together when it wasn't related to romance were top notch. I do wish that the villains were more developed. Danny Huston (General Erich Ludendorff) was kind of just there throughout the movie. While Daniel Thewlis (Sir Patrick Morgan/Ares) was better, he didn't get enough screen time, especially as the villain, for it to fully work as well as it could have.

Overall: It's not without its issues, but Wonder Woman continued the trend of winners for superhero movies in 2017. It marked the first great DC Universe film and turned Gal Gadot into a major star. Her performance and the work by director Patty Jenkins helped make this a rousing success.

Your Sister's Sister

Strengths: It feels like all movies involving Mark Duplass (Jack) are filled with quality dialogue. That was the case here again, as the entire movie has sharp conversation that switches from witty and comical, to deep and emotional at the drop of a hat. That's made even more impressive when you consider that most of the dialogue was improvised. Emily Blunt (Iris) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Hannah) were both great as the females in the film. They both shared strong chemistry with Duplass that shined throughout. The big scene where everything comes out, from Jack and Hannah sleeping together to Hannah poking holes in the condom to Iris' feelings towards Jack, is fantastic.

Weaknesses: Usually, these indie films are rife with charm, but there's not a lot to this one. Though it's considered a romantic comedy, there's not a lot of romance in it. Other than a few conversations, the Iris/Jack love story isn't fully developed. We just get the sense that they are simply friends until Iris flat out admits it to her sister. I wasn't a big fan of the ending. It wraps things up a bit too nicely considering everything that happened. Plus, the cliffhanger vibe didn't quite work for me.

Overall: A good movie with some strong dialogue and acting from the three leads. It can be a bit dull at points and the ending leaves something to be desired, but it's an easy watch that you probably won't regret.

Sydney White
Sydney White(2007)

Strengths: Most reviews of this film mention how witty and charming Amanda Bynes (Sydney White) is. They're correct as she's the star of the show. She has a charisma about her that steals the show in every scene. Her chemistry with Matt Long (Tyler Prince) is also solid. The group of seven dorks is a mixed big, with some of that leading to funny bits of charming stories. The best thing about the movie is probably the clever ways in which they take aspects from Snow White and use it in the modern world. For example, just before an important debate, Sydney gets her laptop wiped (poisoned apple) and when she has to pull an all-nighter, it is a kiss from Tyler (last name Prince, yea) that awakens her. There's also how each dork plays off a dwarf, like Doc, Sleepy, Dopey, and Bashful.

Weaknesses: Sara Paxton (Rachel Witchburn) plays the "evil witch" and does so with an over top performance. She tries too hard to get the evil over and it fails, coming off as cheesy for most of the movie. There are way better "bad girls" in teen flicks out there. A lot of what happens are clichť, as are some of the characters. There is potential for something kind of special, but the movie misses those opportunities. Like, I originally saw it when it first came out and almost completely forgot it even existed, because it's so unmemorable.

Overall: It doesn't stand out and features a few too many clichťs to be anything great. However, Amanda Bynes gives a strong performance to help things out. The movie is cute, charming, and overall enjoyable.

Ibiza
Ibiza(2018)
½

Strengths: Gillian Jacobs (Harper) has been on a bit of a roll with her movie choices. Almost everything I see her in is solid and she's usually one of the reasons why. She's strong as the lead here, playing a woman who is kind of at a crossroads. Her chemistry with Richard Madden (Leo) is endearing and probably the best thing about the movie. Vanessa Bayer (Nikki) is funny throughout, even though her character is a bit over the top. In fact, there are several scenes that are humorous, making this mostly work as a comedy.

Weaknesses: There seems to be a missing aspect of conflict in this movie. The only thing at stake is Harper's job, but that doesn't feel like a big deal since we get the sense that she'd be happier without it. The movie is pretty unrealistic, too, with people going extreme lengths in such a short time. The plot hits predictable beats and the scenes where they take drugs is tiresome. We've seen plenty of characters act out on drugs and if you aren't bringing something new to the table with it, it's moot. There's Michaela Watkins (Sarah), who I enjoy on Hulu's Casual, but plays a way over the top boss in this. It was too ridiculous to be even remotely amusing.

Overall: It's not a bad movie, just one that feels all too familiar. Gillian Jacobs and Richard Madden work well together, while Vanessa Bayer is comical. Too many other things are either too far-fetched or too clichť to really work.

Mystery, Alaska
½

Strengths: There's just something about sports movies that work for me. Watching a band of teammates come together for the big game is just cool. Here, the cast of misfits are hockey players who reside in the tiny town of Mystery, Alaska. Russell Crowe (John Biebe) plays the team's leader, a veteran of the town's weekly game. He seems like the perfect actor for the grizzled role, especially when you watch his scenes as the sheriff. Burt Reynolds (Walter Burns) has a commanding presence and is a highlight in almost every scene he's involved him. Hank Azaria (Charles Danner) also does well in his role. The action on the ice is great and well shot. The big game against the Rangers is dramatic without falling victim to some of the overused tropes in sports movies. It does have one of the better inspirational mid-game speeches, though. Multiple characters get moments that come into play during the big final game, like Tree (Kevin Durand) toughening up or Birdie (Scott Grimes) needing to be more of a team player. There's also a great sense of comedy sprinkled in throughout the film.

Weaknesses: While the hockey scenes are fantastic, they're few and far between. I understand having to build character in the non-sports scenes, but there were far too few. It led to a few boring lulls in the movie. Several characters have plotlines that kind of don't do much. For example, Mayor Scott R. Pitcher (Colm Melany) finds out that his wife Mary Jane (Lolita Davidovich) is sleeping with the team's notorious playboy, Skank (Ron Eldard) and though it gets resolved, you could've chucked it and missed nothing. Too much of things like that bog this down. Mike Myers (Donnie Shulzhoffer) gets a cameo that's supposed to be funny, but isn't at all.

Overall: It's a personal favorite sports movie of mine, but it's not without flaws. I like a good chunk of the characters, the sports scenes are fantastic, and the setting is great. With more of the stuff that worked replacing the parts that didn't, the movie would rank higher.

Mr. Roosevelt

Strengths: If you've seen Master of None, then you know how good Noel Wells (Emily Martin) is. Here, she wears three hats, as a writer, director, and lead actress. And yes, she wears them all well. As a director, it's a promising start for her career in that role. The acting is just as on point as it was in Master of None. The writing is sharp, witty, and never tries too hard. It's insightful without going over the top. Britt Lower (Celeste) is fantastic as Emily's ex's new girlfriend. She plays the character well, knowing to toe the line between someone with a big heart and someone who can come across as absurd. She's part of what makes the writing work so well. It's interesting to see something that a lot of people take for granted, the death of a pet, and turn it into a life changing experience.

Weaknesses: As strong as the two female leads are, the male is kind of just there. Nick Thune (Eric Kline) doesn't do anything to stick out from the rest of the pack. For a comedy, this isn't one of the funniest films around. There are very few moments that make you laugh. While the script is good, it does feel like it tries too hard on some of the jokes. I understand a lead being a flawed character, but Emily comes across as totally unlikable at several points throughout the film, making it hard to root for her.

Overall: While I don't think it should be at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this is a good movie. It certainly has its flaws, but it still manages to have enough wit and charm to make it an enjoyable watch.

Army of Darkness

Strengths: After Evil Dead 2 ventured into some comedic territory, Sam Raimi and company went full in on it for Army of Darkness. It worked like a charm. This movie is ridiculous in the best possible way. Bruce Campbell (Ash) is fantastic. His wit and charisma is what carried over so well into the excellent Ash vs. Evil Dead series. There are just so many laugh out loud moments. Nearly every minute of the runtime is packed with laughs. It's incredibly quotable as Ash just delivers one liner after one liner. The special effects are pretty bad, but there's a charm to them that makes them cool now. Actually, there is one standout special effect that really works. When "Bad" Ash is being born, the scene where you see his eye coming out of Ash's shoulder looks perfectly grotesque. At just 81 minutes, it's a very easy watch.

Weaknesses: Other than Bruce Campbell, none of the cast standout. Even Embeth Davidtz (Sheila) doesn't do much.

Overall: One of my favorite movies of all time. It's downright hilarious and features Bruce Campbell at his best. What's not to love?

John Wick
John Wick(2014)

Strengths: At first, I was skeptical of this movie as I've not always seen Keanu Reeves (John Wick) as someone who is great for action movies, despite The Matrix. Luckily, Keanu was fantastic here. There was a silent, but deadly cool vibe about him. The film itself follows a very simple and straightforward plotline, which is beneficial for it. There's no fluff or bullshit. Badass dude gets wronged and goes out for vengeance. It's one of those things that works because of how simple it is. Despite the basic setup, nothing in the movie ever feels clichťd or redundant. The action scenes are slick and full of excitement, while the New York City setting gives the film a stylish feel. Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins) is someone I don't usually like, but she's fun as a secondary foe of sorts in this. Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov) also does a great job as a smarmy villain. Using an adorable dog as the catalyst for Wick's revenge was a good idea, as it is easy to care for and rally behind. You want to see him get vengeance for his pet. The scenes establishing their relationship helped build character for John.

Weaknesses: I kind of wish Ms. Perkins was taken out in a different manner. I get that it helped solidify the Continental's rules, but I would've liked her as a mini-boss of sorts for Wick. They could've had a cool fight. The final fight between Wick and Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) is kind of underwhelming. Considering a lot of the action that came before it, I was left wanting more. Some of the good actors involved, like John Leguizamo (Aurelio) and Willem Dafoe (Marcus) felt underutilized. I think things would've been better served if they, especially the latter, had more to do.

Overall: Keanu Reeves is the best he's been since the original Matrix, in a fresh feeling and stylish action flick. The action scenes deliver, Reeves' performance is great, and there's something wonderful about a simple story being told very well.

iBoy
iBoy(2017)

Strengths: I'll admit, the thing that drove me towards this film was Maisie Williams (Lucy Walker). She's great on Game of Thrones, so I wanted to see her in another setting. Thankfully, she was the best part of this movie. Her character suffers through a more harrowing experience than the protagonist, and it's written all over her in every scene she's in. She feels like the star of the film. The concept behind the movie is silly, yet rather interesting. There are a handful of entertaining scenes sprinkled in, making this watchable. Bill Milner (Tom Harvey/iBoy) is a decent lead.

Weaknesses: While the concept is intriguing, they completely miss the mark on what could make it work. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't take itself too seriously and play into the silliness of it all. Instead, iBoy plays thing straight and it causes many scenes to fall flat. Most of the characters don't really get developed and come across as clichťd. The antagonist, Ellman (Rory Kinear) shows up near the end and feels kind of thrown in. He shows up too late for me to really care. iBoy makes a lot of weird decisions throughout, the way he gains his powers is never really explained so it lacks credibility, and a lot of what he does just never makes you interested or invested in him.

Overall: There was a decent idea behind this, but the execution was mostly poor. Outside of Maisie Williams, a lot of the acting is subpar, yet it's the writing that really lets things down. Almost nothing is as fully developed as it could be and that causes a majority of the movie to miss the mark.

Wind River
Wind River(2017)

Strengths: This is a great, engaging mystery. As soon as the body is found, you're left wanting to know more about what happened. It's very well-written, too. There are so many scenes that just work. Watching Jeremy Renner (Cory Lambert) and Elizabeth Olsen (Jane Banner) discuss the death of Cory's daughter was heartbreaking and probably the best scene of the film. The chemistry between the actors works, just like their great small scenes in Age of Ultron and Civil War. I also appreciated how they didn't go the romantic route with them. It would've been an unnecessary addition. When we get to see exactly what happened to the deceased girl, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille) and Matt Rayburn (Jon Bernthal), it's chilling and hard to watch. The standoff between the police and the drilling workers is another thrilling highlight, as is Cory's arrival to make the save. The way the rapist is dealt with is also very satisfying and perfectly fitting with Cory's character. Also, having the film take place mostly in snow gave it a really cool look and feel. For a near two hour film, it flies by.

Weaknesses: Some of the characters, especially law enforcement, and including Olsen's character, do dumb things. For example, the FBI agent literally stands in harm's way like an idiot to set up the big confrontation near the end. It just felt off. In fact, Olsen's character is kind of weak despite being a federal agent. I can see how some viewers will be put off by the graphic rape scene. It's mentioned multiple times early on and the implication could've been enough during the flashback. Lastly, some of the stuff feels predictable and not as big a mystery as one would hope.

Overall: Another great film in a loaded 2017. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen were great together, nailing each scene they got to work on. The mystery unravels quite nicely, though is a bit predictable. Regardless, it's a well-acted, well-directed, well-written movie that will keep you engaged for its entire runtime and give you a mostly satisfying conclusion.

Baby Driver
Baby Driver(2017)

Strengths: I cannot stress enough how many things in this movie work. It starts with Edgar Wright, who clearly had every little detail about this film planned to perfection. Each camera shot means something and every song that plays is significant. Baby Driver is masterfully edited. The fact that each gunshot or action moment is choreographed to match the music playing is unbelievable. Giving the protagonist a condition like tinnitus made it so having so much music in the movie makes sense. In fact, the music becomes something of its own character. It's that important. Speaking of characters, they're all great, well written, fleshed out, and well acted. Ansel Elgort (Baby) is spectacular as the lead. He's a quiet force, delivering a ton with a few words and facial expressions in ways that few actors can. Lily James (Debora) was a great love interest. The dialogue when they do speak is very good and the chemistry between she and Ansel was electric. For most of the movie, Jamie Foxx (Bats) plays the main antagonist. He plays the crazy man to the brink without going overboard. Just as his character might start getting tired, he's gone. Jon Hamm (Buddy) takes over as the villain in the end and is incredible. His best performance since Don Draper. He's hell bent on revenge after what happens to Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and it shows. The final scenes involving him, Baby, and Debora are thrilling and keep you on the edge of your seat. That's all without mentioning the stellar job from Kevin Spacey (Doc), Jon Bernthal (Griff), and Gonzalez herself. There are countless great scenes, from the opening heist to the Mike Myers mask joke and heist to the culmination of it all in an exhilarating final act. I've written a fair amount here and have still barely scratched the surface of everything great about this movie.

Weaknesses: It's hard to find one. If I had to pick, I'd say Baby and Debora fall in love a bit quickly. They only hang out a few times, but quickly talk about love and go to extreme lengths for one another. It can happen, it just seems a bit far-fetched. Still, that's a minor gripe.

Overall: It's not just the best film of 2017, it's the best movie I've seen in years. An incredible soundtrack, fantastic direction, strong acting, thrilling heists, and heart pounding action. Not to mention, it's one of the coolest movies ever made. I love everything about Baby Driver.

Logan Lucky
Logan Lucky(2017)

Strengths: Though I'm admittedly not a huge Soderbergh fan, the man gets how to make a compelling heist film. He did with the Ocean's trilogy and again with Logan Lucky. The cast is up to the task and are all fantastic. Channing Tatum (Jimmy Logan) gives one of the best performances of his career, while Adam Driver (Clyde Logan) is right up there with him. Their chemistry together is top notch, with Driver stealing the show. Daniel Craig (Joe Bang) looks to be having the time of his life as the safe-cracking expert convict. Even the people with lesser roles, like Katie Holmes (Bobbie Jo Chapman), Sebastian Stan (Dayton White), and Seth MacFarlane (Max), were all a whole lot of fun. Having the heist go down during a NASCAR race was not only unique and creative, but incredibly fitting of who this band of characters was. The humor was very well done, especially the Game of Thrones joke. The ending was intriguing, as it left you wondering just what Jimmy did with all the money. Did he really go through it all just to give it away? It makes for a very interesting final few minutes.

Weaknesses: Some of the talented actors felt like they weren't given enough to work with, including the ones who performed well. As much as I enjoyed the closing minutes of the film, casting Hilary Swank as FBI Agent Sarah Grayson was a strange choice. She's a good actress, but for a role that is ultimately that small, it's distracting. Also, everything her character does gets completely tacked on in the final ten or so minutes. It would've worked better if we saw a bit of her earlier in the film to get more of a feel for why she was so invested in this. It just feels off to have her thrown in near the end.

Overall: Despite some problems with Hilary Swank's character, this film works very well. The cast all deliver the goods and it's one of the more fun heist movies you'll ever see. The characters are great and unique, while the heist itself is a riot. A great film that would nearly crack my top ten of 2017.

The Monster
The Monster(2016)
½

Strengths: The Kathy character is one that needed a great performance to carry this film. Zoe Kazan absolutely delivered that. She gives such a powerful, layered performance that is the best I've ever seen from her. You hate her one moment and feel sympathy in another. The relationship between her and her daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine) is the heart of the film and it's captivating. Ballentine also gives a very strong performance, especially near the end of the movie. Kathy is given a tremendous redemption arc to make up for her past transgressions. Bryan Bertino does a great job as a director. He manages to really nail setting up the tension. It builds and builds. Since you know the title, you're just waiting and expecting the monster to appear, and the movie plays into that perfectly. For an independent film with a budget under $3 million, the monster looks surprisingly realistic. Bertino chose the right ways to capture the monster in every single scene.

Weaknesses: A fair amount of the film comes across as predictable. When Roy (Scott Speedman), the tow truck guy, shows up, you can be certain of what will happen to him. Also, the early portions of the movie feel like they move too slowly. It's good at building tension, but the payoff takes a bit too long to really come. It feels longer than an hour and a half film.

Overall: Thanks to an outstanding performance from Zoe Kazan and top notch suspense building from the director, The Monster stands out above other creature movies. It's a well made film with a bitter ending that is memorable. Check it out.

Friday Night Lights

Strengths: Like the show that came after it, the film is shot beautifully. Peter Berg just gets how to handle football on a screen. Every game is shot to perfection. It focuses on what it needs to and does so with the breakneck pace and sharp cuts that come with the game of football. The story manages to be inspiring and uplifting, but also heartbreaking at times. It does a pretty good job balancing the large cast of characters and makes you feel for each of them. Nearly every character gets some kind of arc and grows from beginning to end. If we're looking for standout performances, they come from Billy Bob Thornton (Coach Gary Gaines), Garrett Hedlund (Don Billingsley), and Derek Luke (Boobie Miles). Thornton gets to give one of the best sports speeches in film history, while Hedlund has a tough, layered character, and Luke carries an emotional story for a character who goes from unlikable to sympathetic. The final game is fantastically set up, with many ups and downs that tug at your emotions.

Weaknesses: The movie is ripe with clichťs. It's as if the filmmakers wanted to take every trope you see in a sports story and cram it into this. From the injured top star causing the resilient backup to take his place to the arrogant star to the player having an abusive father to the championship game involving a major comeback. It also felt like some people were underutilized. For example, Connie Britton (Sharon Gaines) plays the coach's wife and barely gets screen time. As we saw on the FNL show, she's a fantastic actress who could've been a key part of some big scenes if properly used.

Overall: There are a few things that prevent it from being among the very elite in sports movies, but it's damn close. Friday Night Lights is a masterfully shot film that portrays the relationship between a coach and his team very well. There's a lot of emotional punches throughout, making it the kind of roller coaster you want to experience in your sports movie.

Avengers: Infinity War
½

Strengths: Though a superhero film, this is Thanos' (Josh Brolin) movie and it's great that way. Brolin gives one of the best performances of his career. The film does a great job making Thanos a fully developed character. He's a "mad titan" sure, but you can kind of see where he's coming from. His scenes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were a highlight, especially the pivotal one involving the Soul Stone. That tear he shed was the kind of thing that helps him stand out from other MCU villains. Phase Three has been killing it in that department (Vulture, Hela, Ego). As for our heroes, the best thing this movie did was put together some interesting combinations. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) continues to be great alongside Spider-Man (Tom Holland), but watching him with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was great. The same goes for the team on Titan, which was those three, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). The real stars of this were Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper). It's such a wildly ridiculous combination that you can't help but love it. They were so good together. This really felt like a big movie for Thor. He shined in a way that he hadn't before. Between this and Ragnarok, he's on a roll. I also loved the arrival scene of Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). I'm glad the film acknowledged but quickly glossed over the dumb Widow/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) romance. The closing fight scene is a strong one and Thor's arrival was a genuine awesome moment. The closing scene is nuts. I won't spoiler it, but the entire theater was eerily silent as the credits rolled. The scene with Peter and Tony near the end might be the saddest moment in MCU history. Lastly, I popped for the appearance of the Red Skull, even if Hugo Weaving didn't return for the role.

Weaknesses: With such a large cast, some people were going to feel underutilized. In particular, I was disappointed in the lack of Captain America, Black Widow and Winter Soldier. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) was grossly underused. It felt like he was barely relevant. As for the Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) romance, I've never been able to get into it. It's better than the forced Hulk/Widow one from Age of Ultron, but not by much.

Overall: This was more ambitious than all the prior superhero movies. For the most part, this was very well done. They paired people together in great fashion, the action was great, and there plenty of memorable moments. Everything involving Thanos was nearly perfect. He felt like a massive threat at every turn, while also getting enough development to feel like a real character. This is an epic that is one of the best comic book movies ever. It's the best "part one" I've ever seen with one of the most heart-wrenching endings ever.

Burnt
Burnt(2015)
½

Strengths: The parts of this movie that worked were led by Bradley Cooper (Adam Jones), who gives one of his strongest performances ever. He shows off the acting chops and portrays a layered lead. The character should be totally unlikable, but Cooper finds a way to get some sympathy and likability out of him. He does have a solid character arc, as he grows over the course of the film. Daniel Bruhl (Tony Balerdi) also gives one of the better performances of the film. Emma Thompson (Dr. Rosshide) was a standout, despite not getting a lot of screen time. It's a great looking movie, with lovely settings and some well captured shots of food that'll leave you hungry.

Weaknesses: The writing isn't that great. Adam is mostly written well, as it Tony, but the rest of the characters are kind of just there. I couldn't get myself interested in the relationship between Adam and Helene (Sienna Miller). It came across as forced and the chemistry between Cooper and Miller was just never there. It was a big part of the movie and it didn't click at all, holding the film back. The pace is a struggle and it feels like it lasts a lot longer than the actual runtime. There's a bit too much focus on Adam's background, which hurts the overall redemption arc.

Overall: Bradley Cooper shines here, but there's not a lot outside of that. The writing is somewhat of a mess and the chemistry within the love story really lacked. A few strong performances are fine to take in if you're a fan of the actors.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)
½

Strengths: There's a lot to like about this movie. Visually, it's breathtaking. Every single scene looks great, from smaller ones to the big, action pieces being done very well. That was expected, though, so what really made the film work was the character development and the cast. Chris Pine (James T. Kirk) isn't someone I enjoy much outside of this franchise, but he's very good here. Zachary Quinto (Spock) steals the show. He absolutely becomes Spock, nailing all the gestures of Leonard Nimoy (who also gets an awesome cameo), while doing enough to make it his own. Quinto does great exploring Spock's duality of being half human, half Vulcan. Watching the relationship between Kirk and Spock grow is the best thing about the movie. Zoe Saldana (Uhura) continues to be the ultimate geek girl, doing very well in another sci-fi movie. Even the people with smaller roles like Karl Urban (Leonard McCoy), John Cho (Hikaru Sulu), Simon Pegg (Montgomery Scott), and Anton Yelchin (Pavel Chekov) are all good. Going back to Nimoy's cameo, I also got a kick out of seeing Chris Hemsworth and Jennifer Morrison in the opening scene. A favorite scene of mine was the big fight scene on the drill involving Kirk and Sulu. JJ Abrams was the right man to helm this reboot, just like he was for Star Wars Episode VII.

Weaknesses: With so much focus on developing the main characters who would stick around for the franchise, the villain got pushed aside a bit. Eric Bana (Nero) was mostly fine in the role, but unspectacular. Nero was a solid choice, though he felt more like a plot device than an actual character. He had none of the flair that Benedict Cumberbatch brought as the sequel's villain. He also goes down surprisingly easily near the end. For me, the relationship between Spock and Uhura felt a bit rushed here. It was the one aspect of character development among the heroes that didn't get fleshed out enough.

Overall: Growing up, I was always a Star Wars kid and mostly avoided Star Trek, even though my dad loved it. This reboot made me a Star Trek fan thanks to the great characters/cast and a well paced story with some great emotional moments. It's one of the best reboots I've ever seen.

Annihilation
Annihilation(2018)

Strengths: Visually, Annihilation works on many levels. The "Shimmer" that they enter looks cool on its own, but then the creatures and things they encounter while in there all look great. The film unravels nicely and drops enough hints along the way that you get more and more intrigued by what's happening. Natalie Portman (Lena) does very well as the lead, giving us someone to root for despite not showing a ton of emotion. Tessa Thompson (Josie Radek) is good in a small role, while Jennifer Jason Leigh (Dr. Ventress) might be the scene stealer as the vulnerable but tough woman of the crew. Alex Garland does very well with setting up the atmosphere once they enter the "Shimmer." The scenes in there feel way more tense. For example, when they're trapped in the room with the "bear," it's hard not to feel nervous for the characters. Lastly, I was a big fan of the work Oscar Isaac (Kane) put in, especially during the handheld camera scene. He sells the moment as truly frightening and it's one of the best moments of the film.

Weaknesses: As smart as the film attempts to be, there are some plot holes. I understand they wanted to leave the movie on a bit of a cliffhanger, but the stuff surrounding whether or not it was the real Kane at the end felt off. If it wasn't, it seems odd that he would heal after what Lena does to the lighthouse. If it was the real Kane, then other parts of the movie don't make sense. The scenes in the lighthouse involving Lena and her doppelganger felt odd. They were shot well, but confusing and not in the good way. Also, a few too many of the characters felt clichť. Gina Rodriguez (Anya Thorensen) did well in her role, but the character felt like she was just there to fill a role that was expected in a group. The same goes for Josie and Cass (Tuva Novotny)

Overall: There's a lot to like about this film. It starts out as a gripping tale with some great special effects and some solid acting. The ending leaves something to be desired and there are multiple plot holes that stood out to me. Still, it's worth checking out, especially if you like sci-fi.

Take Me
Take Me(2017)

Strengths: This is such an intriguing concept. First of all, the idea of a simulated kidnapping business to help people get over some of their addictions is really clever. Then, there's the idea that someone could want you to take it a step further, only to find out that person doesn't actually want that and you may have the wrong target. Taylor Schilling (Anna St. Blair) is very good. She shines in her role and basically steals the show, becoming the best part of the movie. The movie also does a great job of keeping you guessing as it progresses, wondering which person is telling the truth and where the story is going.

Weaknesses: The biggest gripe I had with this film, and what held it back from truly being good, was the lead. As good as Taylor Schilling was, Pat Healy (Ray Moody), was just not very good. He did relatively fine as the director, but his acting chops just didn't do much for me. With a better lead, Schilling could've been even better and the film as a whole would've worked more. The character of Ray didn't feel very fleshed out to me. We get somewhat of a backstory for him, but it kind of seems like it was rushd over. He needed more.

Overall: There was a lot of potential in this film, as it had the benefit of a really cool concept and strong acting by Schilling. Unfortunately, the lead lets her down and some of the depth remained unexplored, leading to a hollow lead character.

Amateur Night
½

Strengths: Jason Biggs (Guy Carter) seems to have made a career out of playing the awkward guy who gets stuck in some pretty gross situations. It was basically everything he did in the American Pie series. Here, he made a few similar scenes work, like cleaning a bag of used sex toys and getting a "face full" of one of the hooker's signature acts. Ashley Tisdale (Fallon) has a small role, but is one of the highlights. She doesn't get a lot to work with, but really seems like she's having fun.

Weaknesses: Janet Montgomery (Nikki) was the leader of the girls that Guy drove around and the one he bonded with the most. However, I don't really think the actress worked that well for the role. Her chemistry with Biggs never clicked and she seemed to try too hard to get the "tough" girl thing working. She basically only wore a scowl the entire movie. Some of the raunchy scenes missed the mark in terms of comedic purposes and how dirty they were. We've seen a lot of raunchy things in movies over the years, so you've got to bring something to make us feel really grossed out. A lot of what happens is a bit too far-fetched to truly be believable, while the ending seemed a bit too coincidental. Nikki just happens to be in need of an architect?

Overall: While Ashley Tisdale does fine and Jason Biggs is okay, there's too much of this movie that doesn't work. A few jokes hit, though a vast majority are misses. It's an easy pass unless you're a big fan of Tisdale/Biggs.

The Bling Ring
½

Strengths: This was one of the more intriguing true stories adaptations in recent memory. Sofia Coppola did a great job making sure it looked great, as the film is beautifully shot. The acting is solid across the board, with the show stealer easily being Emma Watson (Nicki Moore). The role is such a departure from the kind of girl we were used to seeing her play, but she nails it. It's a tough act to pull off convincingly, so kudos to her. Taissa Farmiga (Chloe Tainer) is also solid, as was Leslie Mann (Laurie Moore) and Katie Chang (Rebecca Ahn). Another highlight of the movie was the soundtrack. It featured some great tracks that absolutely make you feel like you're right back in the era where this movie took place.

Weaknesses: There's not much of a story to get behind in this one. None of the characters really seem to grow or learn anything over the course of the film. Most of the movie revolves around Marc Hall (Israel Broussard), who just doesn't come across as an interesting character. Broussard's acting leaves something to be desired as well. A bit too much time was spent on showing real footage of some of the celebrities, which could've been used on further developing and establishing these characters. Parts of the film are also too repetitive. We see them break in, then talk about breaking in, then worry about getting caught. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Overall: It looks fantastic, but is very hollow on the inside. There's simply not enough of a compelling story to make this a movie you need to seek out. However, Emma Watson does shine and if you're a fan of hers, you'll be delighted.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage
½

Strengths: It's the kind of movie that perfectly works for those who are already fans of the series. The action scenes are what people come for and they mostly come off well. Sure, a few things are very far-fetched, but that's kind of what works for XXX. As always, Nina Dobrev (Becky Clearidge) was great. She played the socially awkward role very well. Ruby Rose (Adele Wolff) was also one of the highlights, while I liked seeing Tony Jaa (Talon) and Samuel L. Jackson (Agent Gibbons).

Weaknesses: Goodness, the dialogue in this movie was horrendous. There were so many bad jokes or downright cheesy lines that I cringed on multiple occasions. The only thing worse than the dialogue was some of the delivery, especially from Vin Diesel (Xander Cage). He was clearly phoning it in and seemed like he was just out to get a paycheck. Deepika Padukone (Serena Unger) was supposed to be some kind of breakout star, but she didn't really do anything to make me interested in her performance. The script is rough, the acting is bad, and some of the special effects were downright cheap looking.

Overall: There aren't many movies from 2017 that were worse than this. A few of the actors were relatively charming and did their best to get past some of the bad writing. Poor effects, dialogue, and characters mixed with a muddle plot make this a movie you don't want to see.

Two Night Stand

Strengths: The key to this movie is the chemistry between the leads. Miles Teller (Alec) is great, as usual, while Analeigh Tipton (Megan) delivers in a rare major role for her. The entire movie is about them and they carry it well. There's plenty of electricity in their scenes and you pull for them after just a few minutes together. It's commendable how they managed to get some fun moments out of a film where two people are simply trapped together. Part of the reason it works is because the dialogue is strong. Seeing their past unravel through conversation was certainly one of the best aspects of the film. I also got a kick out of seeing Scott Mescudi (Cedric) in a supporting role.

Weaknesses: The plot hits some very familiar beats throughout. As the film progresses, you get the sense you can tell where things are headed, even if some of it feels far-fetched. As cute as the conversation between the leads can be, some veer into an unrealistic territory. They jump to make decisions that feel forced and everything is rushed. I understand wanting to keep it to the two night timeframe, but there are some leaps in logic. Also, some of the stuff they do while locked up just isn't that funny or interesting. The toilet gag didn't work at all for me.

Overall: Two Night Stand is a mildly amusing romantic comedy that doesn't live up to its potential. Tipton and Teller have dynamite chemistry and they're a saving grace that makes this a good movie. Without them, this would be a forgettable rom com.

There Will Be Blood
½

Strengths: Any conversation about this film must start with Daniel Day-Lewis. He plays the lead, Daniel Plainview, and gives one of the best performances of his entire career. When you think about how storied his time as an actor has been, you understand what that kind of praise means. He completely becomes Plainview to the point where you almost forget he's acting. He totally lacks empathy and or any kind of likable qualities, yet the performance is so good, he works as a protagonist. Paul Thomas Anderson does a wonderful job showcasing capitalism in this era and crafting an intense feature film. The cinematography is top notch. There's also some strong performances outside of DDL that people may overlook. Paul Dano (Paul and Eli Sunday) pulls double duty and handles both roles with care, while Kevin J. O'Connor (Henry) is strong as Plainview's supposed half-brother.

Weaknesses: One thing that usually makes a film work is a character arc. We want to go on a journey with our character where they grow from start to finish. Plainview gets more wealthy and greedy as time goes on, but doesn't ever seem to learn anything. He drives everyone away, including his son. The film ends on a weird note. Daniel murders Eli in his bowling alley, clearly a wealthy man now, and that's it. It doesn't feel like a complete film, despite running at a very long 158 minutes.

Overall: It's widely considered to be some sort of masterpiece, but I just didn't see that. It's very good. It just seems to lack the kind of character development that classics should have. Plainview seems to have one motivation and that's it. The ending is also weak. However, it's a must-see movie purely for Daniel Day-Lewis. He is scary good in this role and it needs to be experienced.

The Shape of Water
½

Strengths: Guillermo del Toro has become a master of the weird and this is right up that alley. There's no reason why this film should work, but it does. Sally Hawkins (Elisa) gives a powerful performance. She'd have won Best Actress most years, but she went against an insanely good Frances McDormand in 2017. She says nothing, but you completely feel for her character and understand the connection she has to the Amphibious Man (Doug Jones). In particular, the scene where she signs those feelings to her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) was one of the best of the year. Michael Shannon (Richard) was a fantastic antagonist. His performance was chilling and the scene where he intimidates Zelda (Octavia Spencer) was gruesome and another highlight. The cinematography, score, and production were all top notch. Everything in this film just looks, sounds, and feels great.

Weaknesses: It's a weird movie. There's no way around it. Sometimes, that works in a film's favor, but there were parts of this where I couldn't help but chuckle at some of the absurdity. The singing scene felt like it took forever to me, and I was rolling my eyes at it. While all the acting is strong, most of the characters feel kind of flat. Other than Elisa and Giles, they don't really say or do much of note. Del Toro seems to want to get several points across in the narrative and they come across as muddled at times. As hard as he tries for this to be something original, it feels all too familiar at several points.

Overall: The Shape of Water is a very good movie that had potential to be great. The concept is interesting, the cinematography and screenplay are great, but it feels like it tries to be too many things. Parts are a bit boring and some of the characters don't live up to the performances. It's worth checking out, but I wouldn't have even put it in Best Picture contention.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
½

Strengths: Tobey Maguire was okay and Andrew Garfield was an improvement, but Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man to date. He nails the boyish charm, while also being the right amount of witty and vulnerable. It helps that he has a great antagonist. Phase Three has featured some strong villains, like Hela and Ego, but Michael Keton (Adrian Toomes/Vulture) might be the best. The performance is great and the character is complex, as you can kind of see where he's coming from. That's typically the mark of a great villain. I appreciated how this movie avoided the typical, overdone origin story of Spider-Man and dropped us right in the action. Adding things like a best friend in Ned (Jacob Batalon), Happy (Jon Favreau) and Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.) was a stroke of genius. Peter's dynamic with all three was very strong. There's also the fantastic twist of Vulture being the father of Peter's love interest, Liz (Laura Harrier), which I didn't see coming at all. You also can't help but smile at the appearances of Aaron Davis (Donald Glover) and Mac Gargan (Michael Mando), as well as the great work by Marisa Tomei (Aunt May.)

Weaknesses: Some of the moments in the movie feel a bit forced. Spider-Man's suit having an "instant kill" mode didn't work for me. I get that it was a small joke, but logically, why would Tony Stark install that? There was also the glaring mistake of the timeline at the start of the film. As good as Stark was a pseudo father figure for Peter, his attitude felt like a weird change after the events of the prior MCU flicks. He kind of reverts back to his cocky, playboy role from early Iron Man stuff. I didn't love the fight scenes in this film, as they didn't live up to some of what we've seen from previous MCU stuff.

Overall: It has a lot of competition, but I think this is the best Spider-Man movie ever. And I say that understanding how great Spider-Man 2 is. With a very strong villain and great performances from the lead and supporting cast, this really works. The movie does a good job of building future installments and fitting into the MCU.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
½

Strengths: A lot of what worked in the first film worked again here. The movie is a blast, with brilliant visuals and many comedic moments throughout. It's simply a fun two and a half hours. Often, CGI can look cheap, but Guardians 2 is among the best looking MCU films. Kurt Russell (Ego) debuts as Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father, who happens to be a god and the antagonist. He's one of the better MCU villains. Russell is great because he's charismatic and charming enough that we believe Peter falls for his tricks. The reveal of him being a villain is expected, but done very well. When I first watched the movie, I felt Drax (Dave Bautista) was underused. He mostly just made jokes and was the main source of comedy. Looking back, since I suspect he'll be more of a focal point against Thanos, it was fine to put him in the role he had here because he was awesome at it. Bautista's comedic timing is tremendous. I appreciated how they didn't overuse Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). It would've been easy to do so because he's the big marketing chip. While Gamora (Zoe Saldana) feels kind of underutilized, Nebula (Karen Gillan) gets some great material in her arc. Yondu (Michael Rooker) is the standout and he delivers one of my favorite lines ever, "I'M MARY POPPINS, Y'ALL!" Stan Lee had arguably his best cameo, as well.

Weaknesses: The original is nearly flawless, but this sequel has speed bumps. As noted, Gamora doesn't get a lot of shine. There's big running gag that just completely falls flat. Taserface (Chris Sullivan) has people laugh at his name every time he says it, but I never did. It's just not a funny name and the laughter feels forced. Though the final fight is cool and looks great, it's kind of lame. It all coming down to blowing up the brain at the core was rather cheesy and not in the cute Guardians way. Lastly, and this is probably my biggest gripe, the theme of family seems very forced. From Gamora/Nebula to Peter/Yondu to Peter/Ego, the idea of it as a theme works, but the film beats you over the head with it.

Overall: It's ultimately a delightful film and a strong entry into the MCU. It's a little too cute and rides the coattails of the original's success. The theme hits too hard and some of the laughs completely miss, but the cast is still a ton of fun and adding Kurt Russell was great. Like a lot of sequels, it's a fine successor, but nowhere near the first.

Captain America: Civil War

Strengths: I praised the original Avengers for the delicate balancing act it did with all its parts. This movie might have don't that ever better. With so many pieces, this basically plays as an Avengers movie. All the usual players give their typically strong performances. Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) continues to have great chemistry with Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier) and Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow). The person who may give the best performance of all is Robert Downy Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man). He's been so good in every movie he's appeared in, but he's at his best here. The arrogant pieces of him start to fade as the weight of Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Age of Ultron all crush him. It all comes to a head in the final fight against Cap and Bucky, which is among the best in MCU history. Speaking of great fights, the airport battle between Team Stark and Team Cap is the single best thing the MCU has ever done. It's so perfectly laid out, with each hero getting several chances to shine. The direction, character moments, and action of that scene are perfect. Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man) is the MVP of the fight, even though that's really his only scene. The movie gets the humor right, never going too far in with it, but remaining funny at the right points. I especially enjoyed Bucky's relationship with Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie). There was also the tall task of introducing two major new characters, which not even Avengers had to do. Tom Holland (Peter Parker/Spider-Man) and Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa/Black Panther) are both spectacularly cast. Even better, they're introduced so well. Gone are the generic origin stories. Parker and Stark develop their relationship quickly and it sets up HomeComing, while T'Challa plays mysterious early on. In fact, T'Challa gets one of the better arcs, going from someone basing his actions off rage, to allowing Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) to live. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) much more here than in Ultron. Lastly, I have to praise how the film never leans you towards picking a side between Iron Man and Captain America. You can see how both sides are right and how both sides are wrong.

Weaknesses: There were only a few small things in this film that bugged me. One was how Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) came back after his retirement in Ultron. It led to some cool scenes, and I love having him around, but it cheapened Ultron a bit. The other was Vision (Paul Bettany). I just still don't like his character, even if he was dumbed down a bit here (he was basically a god in Ultron). It didn't help that he walked around dressed like a dad during the movie.

Overall: I often go back and forth on what my favorite MCU film is. It's either The Avengers or this. That's how good Civil War is. It manages to juggle a lot at once and never feel forced. To introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man, have great scenes of Cap against Iron Man, feature brilliant fight scenes, and set up future films is genius. It's a brilliantly paced movie that is among the best ever.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
½

Strengths: Like its predecessor, this film works because of the chemistry of the cast, the insane action scenes, and the direction of Joss Whedon. He continued to just fully get the characters in ways that not many others have. The cast are all just as great as usual, from Robert Downy Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man) to Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) to Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and everyone in between, there's not a bad performance out there. The two standouts were rather surprising. James Spader (Ultron) does fantastic voiceover work. He nails Ultron's blend of menacing and quirky in a way that was perfectly Spader. Then, there's Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye), who is typically a forgotten Avenger. He's kind of the heart of the film and is great in every scene. Originally, I wasn't a fan of his secret family and moving the film to a farm for a bit, but on a second watch, it made sense. The team needed that after failing to stop Ultron. Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) is also a better addition than I originally gave her credit for. It may not seem like it when you first watch, but this film is vital to the future of the MCU, setting a lot of things in motion. As noted, the action is big time and the stakes are high, but it's well blended with the usual witty dialogue and banter Whedon is known for.

Weaknesses: I couldn't find a flaw in the first Avengers, but that's not the case here. There are a few glaring problems. First, there's Quicksilver. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is mostly fine in the role, but it was hard to take him seriously when X-Men had a better incarnation of the character in a film released a year earlier. Also, his death didn't have the emotional impact that it needed. We had just met him and he was only a good guy for a short time, so there wasn't enough time to get attached. Considering the Hawkeye storyline that was laid out, him dying would've worked so much better. We're attached to him, we learned about his family, and the loss would've hurt. I also think the romance bogged this down. Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) don't have much chemistry. She works much better in a romantic sense alongside Evans. It felt very out place and forced, so all their scenes didn't click. Also, this is more of a personal gripe, but I just don't like or care for Vision (Paul Bettany).

Overall: With the success of the first Avengers, this felt like Whedon and company tried to reach a bit too far to follow it up. The romantic stuff felt way too forced, while bringing in Quicksilver and Vision didn't click the way it probably should have. Still, this is a major part of the MCU and delivers a mostly satisfying film.

Guardians of the Galaxy
½

Strengths: It's easy to see why this is an MCU favorite for many people. It's simply fun. Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord) was a perfect casting choice to lead this. He had the right amount of comedic chops to lead this, without going overboard into that territory. The rest of the cast is also stellar. Zoe Saldana (Gamora) is better here than in Avatar or Star Trek, while Dave Bautista (Drax) was made into a star by this role. He's one of the show stealers. The voice work of Bradley Cooper (Rocket) was also great. The characters are also mostly well-rounded, with each having a sympathetic tale that brings them together even though they are so different. They're a charismatic bunch that made this film stand out. Watching them come together is a treat, especially when you consider how other origin films lack fun in the early stages. Visually, it's mostly great. It's vibrant, colorful, and a lot of the effects look nice. The soundtrack is also incredible, with tons of songs from the past that fit right into the tone of the movie. All this praise and that's without me going into detail about the work done by Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Vin Diesel (Groot), and Benicio Del Toro (The Collector).

Weaknesses: Like a lot of Marvel films, Guardians of the Galaxy lacks a truly compelling villain. Lee Pace does a commendable job as Ronan, but the character doesn't feel like anything special. There was a lot of potential for his motives and time could've been spent on him. Instead, he feels like he's just there to get in the way of our heroes and not do much else. As good as the film looks at times, there are other moments where it looks kind of cheesy.

Overall: This movie shouldn't have worked. It featured an obscure group of Marvel characters, is set in outer space, and is kind of off the wall. Yet, it managed to be both a critical and financial success. That's mostly due to the chemistry of the fantastic cast, the fun story, the strong visuals, and the catchy soundtrack. You might not find a more enjoyable MCU flick.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
½

Strengths: While the first Captain America marked a step up for the MCU, the second took things to a whole new level. At the time it came out, it was easily the best MCU film not named The Avengers. Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) is again great in his role, but he's overshadowed by two show stealers. Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) is given some awesome material to work with and she knocks it out the park. Natasha is a fully developed, well-rounded character in this movie in a way she never was before. Meanwhile, Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier) is great despite not getting many lines. There's a presence about him every time he's on screen. The action scenes are shot fantastically. The fights look realistic and are awesome, from the elevator beat down to Cap vs. Winter Soldier. The conflict that Cap feels fighting against his best friend gives added tension to their scenes together. The conspiracy story added a lot of depth to this, making it more than just a film where you want to see good guy against bad guy. It also does a lot for the rest of the MCU. It's hard to really nail a spy film within a superhero flick. Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) is also a great villain.

Weaknesses: It was cool to have Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) play a major role, but his death fake out was cheesy. It seemed kind of obvious that he wasn't going to die and felt like a retread of what they did with Commissioner Gordon in The Dark Knight. I can see how some of the plot is confusing for some, even coming across as muddled at times.

Overall: Among the best MCU films ever and one of the few that was that great without a massive hero team up. It goes from superhero movie to political thriller in the smoothest of ways. There are great performances, impressive action sequences, an underrated score, and some tense drama packed into one tremendous film.

Marvel's The Avengers

Strengths: It was always a crazy ambitious plan, but Marvel made the Avengers work in ways nobody could've imagined. Joss Whedon was the perfect person to write and direct this, as he seemed to fully understand what needed to be done. The movie juggles so many vital characters and none ever feel like an afterthought. Robert Downy Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) are as great as they always are. Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk) steps in and provides an upgrade over Edward Norton. Speaking of the Hulk, this was the first movie to truly feel like it understood what the Hulk is supposed to be. He gets to absolutely wreck stuff. Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow) is honestly kind of a show stealer, while every scene she shares with Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye) is great. It's the kind of thing that was only put into the MCU during this film, yet worked very well. Tom Hiddleston (Loki) is also a great villain choice, as he and the character have the charisma to line up next to his co-stars. The story has just the right amount of dramatic peaks and valleys. The conflict is not only against Loki and his army, but among the Avengers themselves. Two of the best scenes involve the members arguing on the ship, as well as fighting in the woods. As noted, each character is given ample opportunity to strut their stuff, but the film also makes sure to give the fans what they want. Battles between Cap/Iron Man, Thor/Hulk, Thor's hammer and Cap's shield, etc. were all given attention. The writing is sharp, the dialogue is witty, and there are several laugh out loud moments, making it one of the funniest Marvel films ever. Of course, there's also the action, which is tremendous. There are several huge action sequences that are all perfect for this kind of movie. The final battle against the aliens in New York is grand, breathtaking, and features incredible team ups.

Weaknesses: I'm sure it sounds weird to say, but I couldn't find any. This is the epitome of what the big blockbuster superhero movie should be.

Overall: An incredible achievement. They handled so many moving parts with grace and the end result was the greatest superhero movie in history. The action, writing, performances, and way they respected the source material and characters were all done perfectly.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Strengths: I never would've expected it looking back at Not Another Teen Movie and the Fantastic Four films, but Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) is made for this role. He plays every version of Rogers to perfection. His chemistry with cast mates Sebastian Stan (Bucky) and Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) is great and all their scenes together work very well. The origin story of Rogers is one of the stronger ones in the entire MCU. You can totally relate to his tale, his friendship with Bucky, and his reasoning for taking the plunge into becoming Cap. It's also cool to see a Marvel film set in such a different time period. It gives the film a kind of appeal that the other ones lack. Hugo Weaving (Johann Schmidt/Red Skull) does a very good job as the villain. MCU films tend to lack in that department, but Red Skull was easily the best of the first phase not named Loki. He's portrayed well and is among the more well-rounded MCU antagonists.

Weaknesses: It's kind of jarring to see Chris Evans' head on the CGI skinny body. However they did it, it was a commendable effort, but one that didn't come off too well. It kind of takes you out of the movie. The same goes for Bucky's "death" scene. It's supposed to be a poignant moment, but looks so bad you can't help but laugh. While the first two-thirds or so tell a compelling story, it does move kind of slowly. Then, once the action starts, as good as it is, it doesn't quite live up to the high level of some other Marvel movies.

Overall: Iron Man was great, while Hulk and Thor were good, and Iron Man 2 underwhelmed. It was here that the MCU felt like it really got its footing. Other than a solid at best second Thor entry, this set off a string of good to great films for the franchise. It's one of the best origin stories in the MCU, featuring solid acting across the board and a well told story. It's slow at points and has some terrible CGI, but it's a great entry and introduction for Cap.

Coin Heist
Coin Heist(2017)
½

Strengths: I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love a good heist film. In some ways, this one reminded me of The Perfect Score, mostly due to the cast being high school students. I liked the twist on the usual heist film, in that this wasn't specially robbing a bank. These kids came up with a well thought out plan to break into the US Mint and didn't do it for selfish reasons. Jason (Alex Saxon) has a solid story arc, considering his father was the headmaster who embezzled, so it worked as a redemption of sorts. The scenes at the Mint were very well done. From the initial recon scene being tense to the actual break-in being filed with obstacles, they worked.

Weaknesses: The movie gets too tied up in teen romance. Jason and Brainiac Alexis (Alexis G. Zail) had one, while popular Dakota (Sasha Pieterse) hooks up with blue collar Benny (Jay Walker). I understand the need for romantic side plots, but they become too big a piece of the overall puzzle and it ultimately bogs everything down. I found it weird that the bad guy, President of the Board Mr. Smerconish (Mark Blum), doesn't really get his comeuppance. He set up the headmaster to get in trouble and in the end, ends up with a nice chunk of change. You've also got to question some of the realism in this. These four high schoolers invade this government building with next to no security, getting past them with the greatest of ease.

Overall: Like The Perfect Score, this high school heist film has some charming moments. It lacks some basic logic points and has a few too many romantic moments shoved in at strange times, but still features enough to make it worth checking out at least once.

Ocean's Eleven

Strengths: Of course, the positives start with the extraordinary cast. You'd be hard pressed to find a better two men to lead something like this than George Clooney (Danny) and Brad Pitt (Rusty). They're both so charismatic and play off each other tremendously. Matt Damon (Linus) is great and possibly steals the show in this one. There's also top notch work from folks like Don Cheadle (Basher), Bernic Mac (Frank) and Andy Garcia (Terry). Typically, in a good heist film, the actual robbery is the best part. While it's good here, the highlight is seeing everything get set up and watching the pieces fall into place. The characters interact so well that I could've watched an entire film of just them putting the heist together. The film is well written, with sharp, witty dialogue. I've gone on record to state that I'm not a fan of Soderbergh flicks, but this series is the exception. It's well directed and he just gets what to do with characters.

Weaknesses: Parts of the movie seem to drag and it ultimately ends up feeling like it lasts longer than two hours. I also couldn't get into the Tess (Julia Roberts) character. I completely understood her point in the film and she's a big driving force behind Danny's plan. I just never felt any real connection or chemistry with her and Clooney. Also, while it makes sense for her to leave Terry after hearing what he said, she goes back to Danny, which feels out of character. It doesn't seem like Danny does enough to be deserving of that kind of redemption from his jilted ex.

Overall: This is just such a cool movie. Almost all the characters are enjoyable in some form, they're stylish and witty, making for a good time. The heist itself is cool and the setup for it is great. Throw in some great acting, writing, and directing and you've got a winner.

The Belko Experiment

Strengths: This movie jumped out to be me because of the premise. Seeing how everyday people deal with the situation at hand is gripping and remained that was for most of what I sat through. There was a good amount of action and the right amount of gore without going overboard with it. There are some talented people on the cast list like John C. McGinley (Wendell), Melonie Diaz (Dany), Tony Goldwyn (Barry), who all do very well. Michael Rooker (Bud) is great in a small role.

Weaknesses: The protagonist is the biggest problem here. John Gallagher Jr. (Mike) is bland, but inoffensive in the role. The issue is the character. He's whiny, stubborn to a fault, unlikable, and doesn't grow at all throughout the movie. He's nowhere near as well rounded as your main character should be. When he wins at the end, you groan instead of cheer. There are problems with other characters, too. We focus a lot on Dany, who is honestly a highlight of the film. Then, after everything she goes through, she dies with no resolution to her story. It just gets cut short. Adria Arjona (Leandra) also gets a character that is unlikable and she's one of the good guys. In fact, most of the good guys just go around making stupid decisions. Their idea to hang a banner off the building was one of the dumbest things I've ever seen and completely felt like a waste of time.

Overall: Such a great idea. Such poor execution. There were some fine moments and the action was mostly well done. The characters were just completely dense. I had no reason to cheer for any good guy and they all just keep making decisions that baffled me. This idea was done way better in Mayhem, another 2017 film.

Molly's Game
Molly's Game(2018)

Strengths: When I first heard that Aaron Sorkin, one of my favorite screenwriters, was going to direct his first film, I was instantly pulled in. This completely felt like a Sorkin production in the best possible way. Jessica Chastain (Molly) gives one of the strongest performances of her career and completely dominates each scene she's involved in, which is a vast majority of the film. Idris Elba (Charlie) plays her lawyer and their scenes together are great. The dynamic between them was stellar. His monologue towards the end was possibly the best acted moment in a movie filled with them. Kevin Costner (Larry) is Molly's father and also gets some great scenes with her. The skiing stuff was excellently shot. It looked better than stuff you'd find in a movie with a much higher budget. The nonlinear storytelling technique was done very well, while the pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Weaknesses: As much as I like Sorkin, his characters and such can feel kind of repetitive. Molly feels almost interchangeable with some of the other strong women in his other works. There are several parts of the movie where the explanation of the game doesn't come off clearly. It's hard for someone who doesn't know about poker to fully grasp what is going on. They explain things in such a quick manner that it feels glossed over. The other gripe I had with the movie was that it feels long. I understand why the scene with her father at the skating rink was needed, it feels like it lasts forever when you're so close to the finish line.

Overall: Though it's long, this movie keeps you engaged for the most part, from start to finish. Chastain and Elba give stellar performances and are electric on screen, while the story is very intriguing. Sorkin creates a hit in his debut as a director.

Premium Rush
Premium Rush(2012)
½

Strengths: It's Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Wilee). The guy is great in everything and this was no different. He was the right blend of charismatic, cool, and desperate. It made you feel for his situation, while also rooting for him. As great as he is, Michael Shannon (Robert) might be even better. He plays the crooked cop so well. There's something unsettling about him and his character is given enough of a story that he's not one note. Davie Koepp does a fantastic job making the seemingly uninteresting world of a bike messenger into an exhilarating movie. Showing how Wilee can tell each possible outcome of his move was a nifty little trick. There were lots of thrilling moments and each chase scene was masterfully done. Watching Wilee mess with the cop who keeps going after him was all kinds of hilarious. I also found Jamie Chung (Nima) to do very well with the relatively small role she's given. Having New York City as a backdrop was a beautiful addition to the overall feel of the film.

Weaknesses: Though the bike messenger stuff is a great twist on it, a lot of the chase scenes and crooked cop stuff aren't really anything new. Manny (Wole Parks) was barely a character and much more of a stereotype antagonist of sorts. All he cared about was racing Wilee and there was nothing more to him. Dania Ramiez (Vanessa) portrays the love interest. She's decent in the role, but doesn't bring much to the table. Almost anyone could've played her and not much would be better or worse. The way Robert gets dealt with is interesting, but the execution, pun intended, felt strange.

Overall: Does it follow some familiar tropes? Certainly. But, the performances of the two main characters, the direction of David Koepp, and the tense action scenes were enough to put this way over the top and make it a surprise hit.

In a World...

Strengths: Lake Bell (Carol) is absolutely the star of this film. She killed it as the writer, director, and lead. She's crazy likable in the role and nails every scene she's involved in. I think the premise of the movie is delightfully unique. I honestly can't remember a movie that surrounded the idea of someone and trailer voiceover work. It's great. Fred Melamed (Sam) was great as her father. He's a narcissistic man with many flaws. Nick Offerman (Heners) didn't get much to work with, but was his usual great self. Though it wasn't a main part of the plot, I enjoyed the side story involving Dani (Michaela) and her husband, Moe (Rob Corddry). It was a realistic take on a struggling relationship. The culmination of the story was well done, and the characters were well rounded.

Weaknesses: Some of what I liked also played a part in what I didn't. While I enjoyed the Heners character, he just didn't get enough screen time. I wasn't bit on the performances of Ken Marino (Gustav) and Demetri Martin (Louis). They were both kind of just there. The same goes for Alexandra Holden (Jamie). The biggest issue might be that, for a kind of romantic comedy, it just wasn't very funny. I enjoyed the characters and the story, it just didn't' make me laugh.

Overall: This is basically what I expect out of independent films. It worked on the small budget behind strong acting and a compelling, but unique tale. This was very well written, with three-dimensional characters who grew in various ways over the course of the film.

Juno
Juno(2007)
½

Strengths: There's a reason Diablo Cody won an Oscar for writing this screenplay. It's fantastic. It's brilliantly written, with sharp dialogue and fully fleshed out characters. The film manages to tackle subjects that tend to be controversial, like teen pregnancy and abortion, with grace. It never gets too preachy or negative on either side. The acting is spot on, led by Ellen Page (Juno MacGuff) in what is easily her best role ever. Michael Cera (Paulie Bleeker) is perfectly cast for a character seemingly built for him. JK Simmons (Mac) and Allison Janney (Bren) were terrifice as Juno's parents, with each having a different but touching relationship with Juno. Jason Bateman (Mark) and Jennifer Garner (Vanessa) perfectly played off how polar opposites their characters were and both have touching scenes. You feel for Vanessa is almost every scene she has. Olivia Thirlby (Leah) is a hilarious scene-stealer as well. There's also cool little cameos from Rainn Wilson (Rollo) and Candice Accola (Amanda). This is one of those films that expertly blends the touching with the funny, and does so to a great soundtrack, which too many people overlook.

Weaknesses: There aren't many. I will say that some of the scenes between Bateman and Page are awkward and uncomfortable, though that was what they were going for. However, it's just not something I want to watch. The biggest concern is how they tried a bit too hard for make Juno sarcastic and smug. Sitting on a makeshift living room with a pipe in her mouth? Who are you? Some of her jokes missed the mark and felt too forced.

Overall: One of the best films of 2007 and one of the best teen comedies of the decade. There's superb acting, the director is good, the writing is in top form, the soundtrack works, and pretty much everything about this clicks in ways that most movies could only dream about. A must-see that is in the top 50 of the 2000s.

6 Balloons
6 Balloons(2018)

Strengths: Dave Franco (Seth) has been on some kind of roll lately. His work in the Disaster Artist was his best, but his performance as a heroin addict in this movie was a close second. He plays the part very well. Abbi Jacobsen (Katie) is the lead and is fantastic. Her performance is layered and very realistic. Their relationship is everything about this movie. The dialogue between them is strong. The scene at the pharmacy is a good chunk of the movie and is easily the best part.

Weaknesses: Though the acting is spot on, the film is pretty boring. For just going 74 minutes, it feels like it drags and it's quite easy to stop paying attention and lose focus. None of the other cast members really bring anything to the table. The premise behind this isn't very original, as someone going through a drug problem being enabled by someone they love isn't new.

Overall: This is all about the performances. If it wasn't for the acting by Franco and Jacobsen, this would be a movie you can completely skip on. Even so, it's far too boring to be something I'd recommend.

The Final Girls

Strengths: Nina Dobrev (Vicki). Simply her. She's great in everything and looks damn good doing it. She was the standout as the prototypical "mean girl" of the story. Onto bigger details, the world of horror parody is nothing new, but this film does a fine job tackling that. They poke fun at the cheesy side of those movies with some grace. Doing so by taking us into the world of an actual slasher film was a nice twist on it. Though I made it a point to praise Nina Dobrev, she was far from alone. Taissa Farmiga (Max) and Malin Akerman (Nancy/Amanda) were both good and has a strong mother/daughter bond. Adam DeVine (Kurt) was hilarious and got all the best comical lines. The soundtrack was also a highlight.

Weaknesses: As noted, horror parodies are nothing new. That means this wasn't the most original of films. The way it was set up made the finish feel very predictable. It was pretty obvious how this was going to end and who was going to survive. I didn't care much for Alexander Ludwig (Chris) in this one. He wasn't bad, but he didn't add much. His chemistry with Taissa lacked where it needed to be great. At times, it seemed to be all over the place in terms of tone and shifted far too often and far too frequently.

Overall: You can find better horror parodies all over the film world. However, the doesn't mean this is lacking charm. It features a good cast who bring some good laughs. There are some fun moments throughout that keep you engaged, but will probably be forgotten rather quickly.

The Martian
The Martian(2015)

Strengths: When you find out there's a movie about a man stranded on Mars, you assume he'll be the focal point and there won't be a need for many other talented actors. And yes, Matt Damon (Mark) is great as the lead and has to carry a massive chunk of the film on his own, which he does spectacularly. But, there are so many good actors here. Jessica Chastain (Melissa), Jeff Daniels (Theodore), Sean Bean (Mitch), Kristen Wiig (Annie), Kate Mara (Beth), Sebastian Stan (Chris), and Donald Glover (Rich), just to name a select few. Yes, this is one of the best casts I can recall seeing in any movie. Ridley Scott was a fantastic choice for a director. He just seems to get these space films, doesn't he? The script is intelligent and does a tremendous job balancing the serious notes with a surprising amount of comedy. This is way funnier than you'd expect. The special effects are very well done and make good use of the film's budget. Obviously, the emotional connection to Mark is a key to the movie, but it's just so interesting to watch him do whatever he can to make life on another planet work. That is enough to keep you enthralled until the closing credits. The big scene where Mark reunites with his crew in an effort to try and return to Earth is thrilling and filed with tense beats.

Weaknesses: It's understandable why this is nearly two and a half hours, but it's one of those movies that feels like it. You certainly feel that things are going long at points. It's probably a weird thing to nitpick, but the sound was off in this. I found myself struggling to hear several characters in various scenes, despite the volume being fine in other parts. Also, for some of Mark's scientific exploits to work, believability needs to be stretched. Some things just so happen to be in places that benefit him and it feels like somewhat of a stretch.

Overall: Despite a few minor flaws, this movie ultimately works in many ways. Matt Damon is a terrific lead in a very demanding role. The rest of the cast delivers in their smaller roles in spades. It does a good job balancing the meat of the story on Mars with the intrigue of how this gets handled down on Earth. A great film.

Amateur
Amateur(2018)
½

Strengths: A good sports drama will always get me and this was no different. What helps this stand out is how it dives into the world of the awful NCAA. Josh Charles (Coach Gaines) has a great scene where he partially calls out the NCAA in front of Nia (Sharon Leal). Speaking of Charles, he's very good as the coach in this. The character is a good guy, but one who has succumbed to the shady tactics you almost must do in this world. Michael Rainey Jr. (Terron) is a good choice for the lead. Though he's young, he brings a vulnerability to a character that is otherwise perceived as confident. Brian J. White (Vince) was also very good as Terron's father, struggling with the effects that a football career had on his brain. It's heartbreaking to watch him go through basic tasks, but you also feel torn when he gets into the pivotal argument with Coach Gaines. The film wraps up quite nicely and does a good job of showing the effects that social media can have on a player. It's also great to see how Terron handles his learning disability on and off the course.

Weaknesses: While I love a good sports drama, they do often follow a familiar narrative. You know there will be an underdog, some challenges on and off the court, and a goal on the court. What this film was missing was that "all is lost" moment for the hero. Sure, he has the moment where he loses his eligibility, but that was kind of out of his hands. So, when he triumphs, it doesn't feel like it means as much. We needed that moment that makes us leap up and cheer. Also, though he got a bit of haze from his older teammates, I thought more could've been done with that. There also could've been more basketball scenes.

Overall: There's heart to this movie and some very good performances. You root for the characters you're supposed to and are mostly intrigued by the others. It just needed a few more obstacles for the lead to truly make this click and be a potential classic. It's certainly worth checking out.

Boogie Nights

Strengths: Paul Thomas Anderson mostly did a masterful job directing this film. He captures the right things to make these characters work in their settings. He also got the best out of his actors, because some talented people give some of their top performances ever. Mark Wahlberg (Eddie/Dirk) is strong, while Burt Reynolds (Jack Horner) and Julianne Moore (Maggie/Amber) seem to steal the show. John C. Reilly (Reed) is really funny, while Heather Graham (Brandy/Rollergirl) is possibly at her best. The soundtrack is extremely fitting. I also must commend all the behind the scenes people, as the sets and costumes are easily some of the best things about this movie. Don Cheadle (Buck) was also quite good, as were Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Scotty J.) and William H. Macy (Bill). Lastly, it's quite interesting to see the toll the porn industry takes on the lives of the people involved.

Weaknesses: It's egregiously long. There's no need for this movie to go for two and a half hours. You really feel it as it nears the third act. While the story is good, I don't think it ever quite touches great territory. There are several side plots that feel like they're a bit extra. I understand what the Bill storyline was meant to showcase, but it wasn't needed. Even Buck, who was a fun character, felt off to the side a bit. As good as Anderson was as the director, a few of his shot choices were odd. There were moments when the camera lingered on seemingly unimportant things. Also, while all the characters were fully developed, I didn't feel a need to root for many of them in most situations.

Overall: People hold this movie in very high esteem. It's good, but I wouldn't consider it a classic or anything like that. The running time is a real problem, damaging the overall enjoyment of this film. If it was closer to two hours, it would've worked better.

The First Time

Strengths: In a film like this, everything hinges on the performances of the leads. Britt Robertson (Aubrey) gives one of the best performances of her career, while Dylan O'Brien (Dave) is great alongside her. The chemistry between the two feels so natural and real, which could be explained by their real life connection as the two have been in a relationship ever since meeting while filming this movie. Every scene together is just electric and must watch. You want them to end up together and root for it all. The dialogue is sweet and honest, making sure each character feels realistic. The supporting cast do a fine job as well, specifically Victoria Justice (Jane). However, it all really boils down to the scenes between the leads. The soundtrack is also a highlight.

Weaknesses: This is, in no way, an original concept. There are countless movies discussing teen love and what sex can ultimately do to that relationship. There is some talent in the film that feels a bit underutilized, like Christine Taylor (Mrs. Miller) and LaMarcus Tinker (Big Corporation). It also felt like Aubrey's boyfriend Ronny (James Frechville) was too much of a stereotype. The story might've been more compelling if he wasn't so easy to root against and was more layered/less clichť. Lastly, there's also a lack of believability in how quickly everything seems to happen in this movie.

Overall: I know there are people who find wall to wall dialogue and facial features to be boring, but it all works here. There are so many scenes of just Aubrey and Dave talking, yet their chemistry and performances are so real, you buy into it all. This is a sweet, engaging tale led by strong acting. I'm a sucker for a good love story.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Strengths: It's always crucial in this kind of movie, so the chemistry between the leads has to be good. Thankfully, Michael Cera (Nick) and Kat Dennings (Norah) have it. They work well together. Cera is basically the perfect casting for Nick, as it's the exact kind of character Cera has made a career playing. Most of the supporting cast is strong. Aaron Yoo (Thom) is really funny as Nick's gay friend. There were also some funny cameos from guys like Andy Samberg and John Cho. You can't help but laugh at those guys. For a film about two people who find a connection through their common taste in music, a quality soundtrack is a must and this movie has that. It's good music, but it works very well because it fits the characters and the situations.

Weaknesses: Ari Graynor (Caroline) is typically solid in her roles, but this feels very one note. She's annoying and doesn't do anything but play the drunk girl. It's funny early on. Then, it just gets tired quickly and there are diminishing returns with each of her scenes. Some of the humor is pretty juvenile and those are the weakest comedic moments of the entire film. There's a lack of believability as well, since these high school teens are freely able to drink and go clubbing in New York. The tacked on storyline of Norah having never had an orgasm before felt like a strange one. It came from out of nowhere and led to a seemingly forced scene where Nick gives her one. It's kind of a leap for her character to allow Nick to get that far in their first night together.

Overall: There's a fair amount to like about this movie. It's quirky, tells a fine love story, and has some funny moments. The leads have good chemistry, which helps things along. There are some bits that miss the mark and a few logic leaps. Still, this is a cute little way to spend an hour and a half.

Happy Anniversary

Strengths: When you're a low-budget independent film, you know you aren't going to get the luxury of things like special effects and such. That means your movie must be led by strong performances, a great script, and some creative ideas. Happy Anniversary hits all those notes, with two leads who deliver enchanting performances and have great chemistry. The writing is very good and the story gets told in a different fashion than most similar titles, which helps it stand out. There's a ton of charm to basically every scene and you'll find yourself rooting for the couple to just be happy, whether together or apart.

Weaknesses: The story gets told in a pretty creative manner, but there are a few things that take a predictable route. The characters, though likeable and delightful, are somewhat clichť. When Mollie goes off on a tangent about her concern for her ticking biological clock, you kind of groan because it's a "been there, done that" scenario. There are also tons of movies around where the issue is that they're too long, but this one is simply too short. At just 78 minutes, not everything is given enough time to develop, and that is especially true for the supporting characters.

Overall: If you're a fan of this kind of movie and the actors involved, you'll certainly find good reason to enjoy this. There's quality writing and acting, as well as some clever storytelling methods. With more time, it would've allowed for other things to develop in ways that they didn't in just 78 minutes.

Up in the Air
½

Strengths: George Clooney (Ryan Bingham) is one of the finer actors in Hollywood and this could possibly be the best performance of his storied career. He's the right blend of suave and sympathetic, which is not easy to do. His on-screen chemistry with both Vera Farmiga (Alex Goran) and Anna Kendrick (Natalie Keener) was spectacular. The stuff with he and Kendrick was the highlight of the film. It was here that Kendrick truly announced herself to the world as a seriously good actress. The writing is masterful, with a script that delivers the right twists and sets up some great moments of conflict. They lay things out very well and every scene feels like it matters. The party the three leads attend is one of the better scenes and a nice change of pace from everything else going on. The film does a great job playing into the debate of whether it's better to have messy love or a successful career in your life. The director, Jason Reitman, does a great job in making a film with no special effects look great.

Weaknesses: Parts of this movie move at a relatively slow pace. If you're here for fast stuff filled with some action, this isn't the film for you. Some of the lesser roles were portrayed by people who kind of stick out like sore thumbs. Zach Galifianakis (Steve), JK Simmons (Bob), and Danny McBride (Jim) are the kind of people who feel more like the actors than the characters they play. The one actor who didn't really click for me in this one was Jason Bateman (Craig Gregory).

Overall: A tremendous movie led by some charming performances from Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga. The direction is top notch, the script is fantastic, and almost everything about this film comes together in the best possible way.

Ready Player One
½

Strengths: This movie is flat out cool. There are so many nods to pop culture from the past thirty years that you'll need to watch it more than once just to try and spot them all. The visuals are stunning and Steven Spielberg once again shows why he has a penchant for making dazzling blockbusters. Most of the voice work is strong, highlighted by Olivia Cooke (Samantha/Art3mis) and Lena Waithe (Helen/Aech). In fact, they're probably the best parts of the non-CGI scenes, too. The story is simple, but effective. The villain is unlikable and you want to root for the good guys. They're relatable in how they want to escape the harshness of the real world, yet are strong enough to fight to change it. As stated though, the true strengths are the visuals and the references. The Shining scene is great and there were plenty of twists thrown into the story to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Weaknesses: Tye Sheridan (Wade/Parzival) is fine as the lead, but doesn't command the screen as much as he should. While his avatar is cool, he does nothing to make you remember him after you finish watching. The romance part of the movie lacks something and feels kind of rushed. The characters get a lot of screen time together, but everything seems to move too quickly. The same goes for the relationship between the creator of OASIS and the girl he had feelings for. I think the challenges that were laid out to win the fortune seemed to be a bit too simple. The riddles were fine, but the actual work it took to complete them lacked. Several characters don't get really fleshed out or developed enough.

Overall: Ready Player One is a lot of fun. That goes double for video game players who know their pop culture. You'll enjoy the hell out of it just for each reference you see pop up. The romantic stuff and character development are lacking, while the lead actor isn't great. That being said, there's enough enjoyment and action to make this film a success.

Mean Girls
Mean Girls(2004)

Strengths: This is one of the funniest, most well-written films I've ever seen. There is just so much to like about it. The cast are basically all perfect in their roles, from Lindsay Lohan (Cady) to Rachel McAdams (Regina) to Lizzy Caplan (Janie) and everyone in between. Daniel Franzese (Damian) basically steals the show in almost every scene. There's also the brilliant casting of Amy Poehler (June) as Regina's pushover, wannabe cool mother. That's just discussing the cast, too. The writing is top notch. The dialogue is witty and natural, while the main characters are all well-rounded and fully developed. There are so many memorable and creative scenes, like Regina getting hit by a bus or the teens in the mall acting like animals. It also benefits from being one of the most quotable movies in history. It's basically the epitome of what a great high school movie should be. There's a reason it still holds up nearly fifteen years later.

Weaknesses: It's hard to find a fault with this movie. Everything just works, even the smaller moments. If I had to pick something, it would be that the main premise isn't that original.

Overall: An all-time comedy classic. It's the rare movie that has heart, brings a ton of laughs, is relatable, and filled to the brim with memorable quotes and moments. Brilliantly written, well acted, and full of talented folks.

The Discovery
½

Strengths: Mostly known for his comedic chops, it's interesting to see Jason Segel (Will) in a dramatic role. He does great here and is one of the highlights of the film. You can clearly see how this character is dealing with the resentment he feels towards his father for what happened to his mother, as well as understand why he's reluctant about the discovery. His chemistry with the very talented Rooney Mara (Isla) is another strong point of the movie. The concept and execution of the film is very original and feels like a breath of fresh air in a very crowded sci-fi field. It manages to be relatable and pack an emotional punch, which is missing from a lot of movies like this that tend to feel hollow.

Weaknesses: As much as I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so of this movie, the ending left a lot to be desired. It was interesting to see things get revealed in the fashion that they do, but it came across like they were trying to add a lot and it felt tacked on. It's almost as if the final ten minutes don't belong with the rest of the movie. I felt like things were resolved and they just threw another wrench into things that didn't seem to belong.

Overall: It's an intelligent, ambitious sci-fi movie that does a great job of grabbing and holing your attention. It's beautifully shot and well acted, but it suffers from a bad ending that holds it back from being a truly great film. It's a shame because everything up to that point was among the best things I've seen in a Netflix movie.

Band Of Robbers
½

Strengths: I'm kind of a sucker for modern takes on classics. While I never loved Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I do enjoy heists and comedies. Due to that, I found the premise of this movie to be pretty cool. Casting Hannibal Burress (Ben) is always a good idea and he stole every scene he was in. I also quite enjoyed Melissa Benoist (Becky). The initial heist and how poorly it goes leads to some really funny moments.

Weaknesses: Despite a cool premise, this film misses out on a lot of potential laughs. As much as I love Burress, he gets criminally underutilized in this. I didn't care much for the performances of the two leads, Kyle Gallner (Huck Finn) and Adam Nee (Tom Sawyer), and nobody else stood out either. The final twenty minutes of the movie takes an average film up to that point, and drags it down. It all feels tacked on and rushed. The script is uneven, the story takes some leaps in logic, and it's just not as funny as you'd want from a comedy like this.

Overall: Band of Robbers takes a cool idea and misses the mark in terms of execution. I wanted to like this a lot more. It just never clicked with me and ultimately felt like a waste of time.

The Incredible Hulk
½

Strengths: It's interesting to go back and watch this knowing what became of the Hulk in the MCU. Edward Norton (Bruce Banner) is mostly good as the lead and gives a solid performance. The action scenes are also solid, with the Hulk/Abomination battle easily being the highlight. It does a good job paying homage to the source material and you can't help but enjoy the Lou Ferrigno cameo, as well as the use of the original Hulk show ending theme. Tim Roth (Emil Blonsky) played a very good villain. The character was a bit more layered than your typical MCU villain, which was appreciated.

Weaknesses: It doesn't matter what movie it is, I just can't get into anything Liv Tyler (Betty Ross) does. She was the weakest part of any film I can recall seeing her in, including this one. She lacked any sort of chemistry with Norton and all their scenes felt hollow or forced. While I commended the action scenes, I can't do the same for the CGI effects. They didn't look very good, especially for 2008. Ty Burrell (Leonard) feels very underutilized and is kind of just there. The film also just simply doesn't feel like it's part of the MCU. It comes across as a distant cousin and not even the Tony Stark cameo in the credits could fix that.

Overall: In the end, this is a solid movie that is easily an improvement over the 2003 Hulk. However, lackluster CGI and a truly poor love story hold this back. It's not until the final fight scene that the movie really seems to pick up, as before that, there's only one scene that is memorable.

Old School
Old School(2003)

Strengths: Will Ferrell (Frank) has been around forever, but it was this movie that made me a big fan. He's absolutely hilarious as "Frank the Tank" and steals nearly every scene he's in. Vince Vaughn (Bernard) and Luke Wilson (Mitch) both give some of the funniest performances of their careers, as well. It's fun to go back and watch this and see so many actors who have gone on to bigger roles. Elisha Cuthbert (Darcie, 24), Terry O'Quinn (Goldberg, Lost), Ellen Pompeo (Nicole, Grey's Anatomy), Simon Helberg (Jerry, The Big Bang Theory), and that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's one of those films that doesn't need some incredibly compelling storyline. It's just flat out hilarious and holds up fifteen years later. It's chock full of memorable scenes, from Frank streaking to the KY wrestling match to the blowjob class. All funny.

Weaknesses: As noted, the story is still kind of weak. Jeremy Piven (Dean Pritchard) seems miscast in his role. He's an over the top actor, who should've played an over the top villain. There was probably more they could've done with his character. The athletics scene near the end sees one of those moments that could be funny, but just comes across as trying too hard. Some of the characters also didn't feel very fleshed out.

Overall: This is one of those movies where you need to go in understanding what to expect. It's not going to be some Oscar worthy flick. If you want to have a blast for an hour and a half, this is the movie for you.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)

Strengths: The MCU began here and it started with a bang. First off, Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark) is absolutely perfect in the role. He seems born to play Iron Man, able to mix the brash moments with the more emotional real stuff of a man who is quite alone. His chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper) is one of the better parts of the movie and a key reason why she's so welcome in most MCU flicks. Jon Favreau did very well in the director's chair. Jeff Bridges (Obadiah) is great with what he's given, though it's not a ton. The action scenes are well done, the music choices were incredibly fitting, and the dialogue was snappy. It comes across as the kind of movie that could appeal to everyone, even non-comic fans.

Weaknesses: Terrence Howard (James Rhodes) is pretty awful in almost every scene. He lacks any sort of chemistry with his fellow actors and lacks anything even remotely close to emotion. You can see why the role was recast. As good as Bridges was, it was clear that the villain was underdeveloped. I get that it could be hard to do in an origin story, but he definitely needed more. The third act of the film is also kind of lackluster. The first two are great, but the final fight is kind of generic and leaves a lot to be desired.

Overall: The MCU got off to a great start. Iron Man delivers as a cool superhero movie with some standout performances. With a better third act and a more developed villain, it would've been a classic. Still, it remains one of the stronger entries in the MCU, if only for Downey's incredible performance.

Ingrid Goes West

Strengths: We all knew Aubrey Plaza (Ingrid) had the comedy chops, but since Parks and Recreation finished, she's shown more range. This was the best performance I've ever seen from her. She plays up the instability of this woman to perfection and was one of the best casting choices of the entire year. The other cast members are strong as well, with Elizabeth Olsen (Taylor) and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Dan) being the standouts besides Plaza. The film does a good job at being insightful towards the world of social media that we all currently live in. It's interesting to see how the addiction to social media clashes with the mental illness to form a destructive combination. You really get sucked in watching the events unfolding and debating whether to shut your eyes or look closer. I also thought the end of the movie worked very well.

Weaknesses: Taylor's brother, Nicky (Billy Magnussen), is basically Ingrid's nemesis and he is played way over the top. He feels like a total caricature and was hard to take seriously. I understand that Ingrid was a deeply flawed person, but it becomes hard to root for her at points. As interesting as it is to watch her, something tiny could have been done to make her more likable. Only Dan comes across as someone you may actually like.

Overall: A surprise standout in a great 2017. Plaza delivers one of the most underrated performances of the year, while Olsen and Jackson both bring the goods in a movie that takes a deep look at both mental health and social media addiction.

The Vault
The Vault(2017)

Strengths: I'll mention it almost every single time I review one, but I love a good heist film. I also love when you can take something I like and find a way to put a twist on it, which is what this movie does. You take a heist story and add the horror element. This film excels in using suspense to build tension in the early stages, then does a great job with the horror style stuff towards the end. The entities haunting the vault are truly creepy looking. As far as performances go, Francesa Eastwood (Leah) steals the show. She's very good and feels like the most important character of the film.

Weaknesses: Looking at the cast list, you see names like James Franco (Ed), Taryn Manning (Vee) and Clifton Collins Jr. (Detective Iger). However, things don't really go the way you'd want with it. Franco feels like he's just there so the film can have a big star attached. He just sits there and doesn't really do anything. Manning's character is too much of a stereotype who brings nothing new to the table, while Collins is super underutilized. But, my biggest gripe with the movie was that there didn't seem to be much of a motive behind the ghosts. Something happened in the past and they just happen to be there. That needed to be fleshed out much more.

Overall: It's one of the best concepts you'll find anywhere, it just doesn't get executed as well as it could have. Actors like Franco don't seem to be used very well and the script needed a bit more ironing out. That being said, the horror elements are very well done and you get kind of pulled into what's going on and how it will all end. An enjoyable experience that could've been better.

The Perfect Score
½

Strengths: Maybe it's just because of my age, but I almost can't help but find enjoyment in movies from this era. It just takes me back. There's also good fun in seeing some of this cast before they got big. Specifically, it's great to watch Chris Evans (Kyle) and Scarlett Johansson (Francesca) share the screen before their time as Captain America and Black Widow. They both were fine in their roles, as was Erika Christensen (Annie). The movie has a pretty good premise and I liked the soundtrack, which is more important to a movie than most would probably think.

Weaknesses: Other than the three most famous actors, the performances in this movie are rough. Former NBA player Darius Miles (Desmond) has poor delivery in everything he does. Bryan Greenberg (Matty) also struggles in most scenes. The romances in the movie don't quite click and feel forced, while the movie doesn't have many funny moments. The characters don't feel fleshed out either, instead going with basic tropes. The brilliant student, the athlete, the stoner, etc. Having the group stoner provide the narration was an odd choice, as his voice was kind of annoying.

Overall: I'd consider this a guilty pleasure film. I know it's not very good, but I can't help but have a good time watching it. It's riddled with clichťs and isn't nearly as good as the premise sets up. However, you'll probably get a kick out of it.

Thumper
Thumper(2017)

Strengths: Here's a film that breathes on the performances of the cast. Eliza Taylor (Kat), of The 100 fame, is stellar in the lead role. She's vulnerable, tough, and sympathetic. You want to root for her in every scene, even with her flaws. Pablo Schreiber (Wyatt) is a strong antagonist, playing something similar to his show stealing work in Den of Thieves. There's an intensity behind what he does without going over the top. It's a tough balancing act. The pacing of the film is great and the cinematography is something that will probably go overlooked. The film is the right amount of dark and gritty, while managing to look good. The supporting cast of Lena Headey (Ellen), Daniel Webber (Beaver) and Grant Harvey (Troy) all did fine work.

Weaknesses: The plot and premise aren't very original. The indie film take on the drug world is tried and true, leading to this movie following a few tropes. The concept plays out like a more serious take on 21 Jump Street. I took some issue with the ending. I'm okay with something open-ended or unhappy, but this felt empty. Kat gives up her undercover cop life, mostly to be with her son. Our final scenes with her show the kid being a brat and running away from her the first chance he gets. That's fine, to show that this won't be easy, but there's not even a hint that what she did was the right move. Furthermore, there's not really any closure for some of the other characters.

Overall: Not the most original of films, but one that gets by on high quality acting. The cast all do some of their best work and carry this thing. There's some good work by the director as well. The ending leaves a lot to be desired, though.

The Lego Batman Movie
½

Strengths: As a Lego movie, you expect fun little Lego style moments. This movie delivers those. The animation is true to the style and very good. You can't help but laugh at some of the bits thrown into this. They did a fantastic job at nodding towards Batman's history, from the Adam West days to the Christian Bale era. This also benefits from some high quality voice work. Will Arnett (Batman) does the best work of his career in this role. Michael Cera is an absolutely perfect Robin, while folks like Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn) and Ralph Fiennes (Alfred) do splendid work. Also, Doug Benson (Bane) was fantastic in his few lines. I dug the twist in seeing villains from other works of media sprinkled in. we've all seen the usual Batman bad guys in his movies, so bringing in Voldemort, Sauron, and characters like that was a great little kick. This is also one funny movie, making me laugh out loud at several moments. The relationship between Joker and Batman was great fun, while the character arc Batman goes through is a strong one.

Weaknesses: The Joker is an iconic character with some great voice actors. Zach Galifianakis is not one of those. It wasn't outwardly bad, it just didn't feel like the Joker. While I got a kick out of the references to the history of Batman, it's something that won't work for all viewers. If you're unfamiliar with the franchise, these jokes may not hit for you. My biggest gripe with the film was the ending. Joker's plan actually went well in destroying Gotham, but it gets patched together so quickly and wrapped up so neatly that it feels unearned. I get that animated movies are to end on happy notes, but this didn't work for me.

Overall: It's Lego and it's Batman. What's not to love? This is a truly funny film with some great nods to the history of the subject matter. It told an interesting story that was fitting of the Batman/Bruce Wayne character. It's great for Batman fans and kids alike.

Small Soldiers

Strengths: It's such a wacky premise that it works. This succeeded as both a movie for kids and one with some cool action scenes. For being a movie from 1998, the special effects are quite good, with only a handful of scenes looking out of place. Praise must also be heaped on the voice cast. The toys had great work behind them. Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard) stands out as the leader of the Commando Elites, while Frank Langella (Archer) is a good choice to lead the Gorgonites. They did a good job in providing some comic relief with some of the toy characters and the film is rather funny overall. As for the regular cast, it's fun to see Kirsten Dunst (Christy) before she became a bigger star and Gregory Smith (Alan) does fine. The highlight is the small role by Dennis Leary (Gil), who is a joy to watch.

Weaknesses: The voice cast is great, but the regular cast doesn't do much. Outside of the two I mentioned, most of them are kind of just there. Phil Hartman (Phil) feels like he's playing something too similar to his Jingle All The Way character and people like Kevin Dunn (Stuart) and David Cross (Irwin) are kind of just there. The script features several far-fetched moments that are worthy of eye rolls when you get older. It also gets rather repetitive with the toys going through the same things over and over.

Overall: I'd call this a guilty pleasure of mine. I know it's way out there and kind of dumb, but it's fun. There are plenty of better kid's movies around. I just happen to think this one is wacky enough to enjoy.

Little Big League
½

A solid little sports comedy with some heart. Not very memorable, though, and it struggles to stand out from the classics.

My Baby's Daddy
½

Though there are a few funny points, but it's mostly full of bad jokes and bad acting.

Hulk
Hulk(2003)
½

I appreciate trying to get a deep story here, but all we want is for the Hulk to smash. There's nowhere near enough of that in this drag of a film.

Burn After Reading

Strengths: The most appealing thing about this film is watching some of the most talented actors around as some very zany characters. Brad Pitt (Chad) looked like he was having a blast and made me laugh several times. George Clooney (Harry) and Frances McDormand (Linda) were both game for their comedic roles. It's a strange movie that doesn't shy away from that fact and embraces it. I mean, there's literally a scene involving a dildo chair. There were also some fun plot twists and surprising, with the most shocking moment coming between Clooney and Pitt in a memorable scene. There's also a pretty funny way for Linda's storyline to wrap up that I got a kick out of.

Weaknesses: As good as the three actors mentioned above were, some of the others left me feeling disappointed. I didn't much for the scenes involving John Malkovich (Osbourne), unless it was with Pitt. The same goes for Tilda Swinton (Katie). The first act of the film is too slow paced to fully work. It's necessary to establish all the characters, but by the time they all come together to interact, it feels like you've been watching the movie for a long time. It also doesn't feel like many characters grow or learn anything. I know they made a joke about it at the end, but that doesn't change the fact that it hurts the characters.

Overall: There's a fair amount to like about this movie. It's witty and features great actors in outlandish roles. That alone is enough to make it worth a watch. The first half can be rough, but if you make it through that, the second half is rewarding enough to make this work.

Life Partners

Strengths: Usually, a "coming of age" film comes for characters much earlier in life. However, this film does a good job looking at a situation that is all too familiar for people. Sasha (Leighton Meester) is nearing 30 and doesn't really have a clue what to do with her life. It's a relatable tale and Meester does well in the role. The real highlight of the film is Gillian Jacobs (Paige). She's the more likable one. Her and Meester have great chemistry, which she also shares with Adam Brody (Tim). The supporting cast is filled with people who are funny and give a great effort in their roles. Abby Elliot (Vanessa), Greer Grammer (Mia), and Beth Dover (Jenn) stood out. I also appreciated the way it handled Sasha being a lesbian. It was part of the story, but it didn't beat you over the head with it or try to make some preachy tale of it. Lastly, both main characters felt like they grew over the course of the film and had true arcs.

Weaknesses: Though Sasha goes through a fair amount in the film, she comes across as unlikable at times. Or maybe not totally unlikable, but not exactly as someone I want to root for. Some of the timeline in the film feels odd. Since they don't directly tell us how much time has passed, seeing Tim propose to Paige feels like it was kind of rushed. Speaking of them, I wish a bit more time was spent to show the good in their relationship. While the focal point was Sasha and Paige, most of what we see between Paige and Tim is them kind of annoying each other. Lastly, though this is billed as a romantic comedy, there aren't many laughs.

Overall: It's a sweet film overall. There's some heart to it and it tackles friendship over your typical romance, which is different and I liked that. The two lead actresses bring the goods, with Jacobs impressing again in an indie flick. Recommendation to watch.

Cake
Cake(2015)
½

Strengths: Known mostly for picking some bad comedy films, it was interesting to see how Jennifer Aniston (Claire) would handle herself in a dramatic role. She more than delivered. Her pain is clear throughout and she gives everything she has to the role. I appreciate the way the film tackles some of its subject matter. It never veers into preachy territory and treats everything like it matters. There's a sense of authenticity to it all. She does a lot of growing over the course of the movie. Since it doesn't get rushed and she experiences setbacks, the moment where takes the relatively big step and sits upright in the car, it feels earned. I also want to shout out her co-star, Adriana Barraza (Silvana). She was good and had a hilarious rant, completely in Spanish, towards the end.

Weaknesses: Aniston and Barraza deliver, but the rest of the cast either feels disappointed or underutilized. The usually terrific Anna Kendrick (Nina) plays the woman who committed suicide. She visits Aniston, either as a ghost or through hallucination, and doesn't really do anything to stand out. Sam Worthington (Roy) is kind of just there, while William H. Macy (Leonard) was basically cast to do one scene. It was distracting to have someone like him in the role. The movie feels long and has several scenes that come across as boring. The script is also lacking in areas that could make this film stick as something completely memorable.

Overall: With stronger writing and better pacing, this could've been a sleeper hit. Jennifer Aniston certainly does her best to get the most out of this role and the film. It just misses too many marks. If you like Aniston, it's definitely worth checking out.

The Internship

Strengths: The reason Owen Wilson (Nick) and Vince Vaughn (Billy) work together so often is because they play well off each other. That was the case here. Their scenes together were the highlights and they did what they could to overcome the other shortcomings of the movie. Tiya Sircar (Neha) was fine in her role, while Josh Gad (Headphones) had himself a fun little role. There were a few scenes that stood out as good work for those involved. The one at the strip club and what comes next were strong team building moments. I also liked the Quidditch game.

Weaknesses: This is a very formulaic flick. It's paint-by-numbers and follows what you've come to expect from fish out of water and underdog stories. Though there are some laughs from things like the Quidditch game, but not enough to overcome the clichťs. There's a severe misuse of some of the more talented people in the cast. Rose Byrne (Diana) has shown comedic chops before, but is mostly on the sidelines here. Also, why cast the hilarious Eric Andre (Sid) if you're going to have him do next to nothing? And what was up with Max Minghella (Graham) and his awful accent? I know it was supposed to be a fake one, but it was just so bad. Lastly, at just about two hours, the movie drags a bit. There's just no need for it to be that long.

Overall: Nowhere near the level of the best Wilson and Vaughn have to offer (Wedding Crashers). They still utilize that chemistry they're so well known for, but the script is too formulaic to make this anything special.

Battle of the Sexes

Strengths: Emma Stone (Billie Jean King) is known for many great performance throughout her career. This is one of her finest. She perfectly portrayed a blend of a confident woman and one who is unsure of how to deal with her feelings towards another woman. Meanwhile, Steve Carrell (Bobby Riggs) was basically the perfect choice to play his role. He IS Riggs. Riggs' story away from the tennis court was very interesting and the strongest non-sports part of the movie. The film also does a very good of setting the scene in the 70s. It feels authentic.

Weaknesses: I noted how well Riggs' story is, which is hammered home by how weak Billie's is. She spends so much time with her hairdresser/lover Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), yet almost none of it is really that interesting. That's a shame, because King's stuff should've been the best. That's especially true when you consider how well Stone did with what she was given. It's also interesting that this came out in the same year as the superior I, Tonya. Both told true stories surrounding sports with a female lead. Not only was the Tonya Harding story told in better fashion, but the ice skating scenes were done very well. Here, the tennis scenes looked bad. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. Whoever handled that part of the film came up way short.

Overall: Thanks to the performances of Stone and Carrell, this is a movie worth watching. They give their all and deliver must-see efforts. The issue is that parts of the story really drag and the sports scenes come across as cheaply put together.

This Means War

Strengths: The thing that originally drew me to this film is the same aspect that turned out to be the highlight. The main cast is comprised of three fine actors. Reese Witherspoon (Lauren) was her charming self, while Tom Hardy (Tuck) and Chris Pine (Franklin) brought charisma to their roles. The scenes involving Hardy were usually the best of the bunch. Chelsea Handler (Trish) is a fine source of comedy in her small role.

Weaknesses: There are plenty of inconsistencies throughout. Lauren seems unsure of herself early, then seems overly confident in the next. It's also not good for this kind of film for the two male leads to have more chemistry together than they do with the object of their affection. Also, too many scenes make no sense. How can these CIA agents just use up tons of resources to spy on each other? Why would other agents go along with this? When she eventually finds out, why is Lauren not more furious? She was mad about the bet, but not that these guys were CIA agents who seemingly knew everything about her. Also, the movie portrays Tuck as the good guy, yet Lauren chooses Franklin. If that was how it would be, they should've made Franklin more likable and done more to establish Tuck's relationship with his ex.

Overall: With leads like this, you'd want and expect more. Despite the talent and charm of the trio, this is flat out illogical. It doesn't help that the love stories mostly suffer due to a lack of chemistry.

The Matrix Reloaded
½

Nowhere near as cool or interesting as the original. Some cool effects and scenes, but a major disappointment.

The DUFF
The DUFF(2015)

An enjoyable throwback to the high school films of the 90s, The Duff is great for fans of the genre, like myself. The updated take on it is fun. Though the tale isn't completely original, Mae Whitman helps overcome that with a quality performance. Witty and full of charm, it's the best teen comedy since Easy A.

Accepted
Accepted(2006)
½

At times, it can be inconsistent, but the characters are likable enough to get you through that. Plus, the premise is pretty cool.

Body of Lies
Body of Lies(2008)
½

It's a very good movie that is ultimately easy to forget. Still, it also features some awesome performances from two of the best actors out there.

Rush Hour 2
Rush Hour 2(2001)
½

It's funner than the first, but lacks some of what that one special. Still, it's somem of the most fun you'll have with an action flick. Chan and Tucker are great together.

Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in The Hood
½

Back when the Wayans still produced relatively funny stuff. A solid parody flick.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

A delightful comedy with some heart. Emma Roberts is great, as usual. Galifianakis and Davis also bring the goods.

Oz the Great and Powerful

The visuals and effects are brilliant, while the cast is solid and have strong chemistry between them. The prequel sets things up nicely for the Wizard of Oz, with just enough nods to it. Typical Disney entertainment.

Thor: Ragnarok
½

With the Jane (Portman) and Darcy (Dennings) characters now hone, it allowed this film to feel more focused. There was no love story thrown in the middle, at least not a heavy handed one. New director Taika Waititi brought a whole new level of comedy to this one. It's possibly the funniest MCU movie so far. I do feel the jokes can be a bit much at times where the story might want to be serious, but it doesn't do a ton to deter the story. The addition of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) was great, as it gave us somewhat of an equal for Thor, while bringing in Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) made for a fantastic few scenes. Not only were the scenes funny, but it explained a lot of Hulk stuff and gave us the Hulk/Thor fight people have wanted for years. I also must commend Hela (Cate Blanchett) as the villain choice. She was a formidable foe with a commanding screen presence. Loki didn't get to do as much this time around, but remained a great addition. I give credit to the various side characters. Though they were mostly comical, they all made my movie-going experience better. It's a vibrant film with a lighthearted tone, despite the huge ramifications if the heroes fail. It was similar to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 in that sense. It could be the new setup for MCU films.

Dunston Checks In

There are far more interesting kid/animal films out there.

Barb Wire
Barb Wire(1996)

For a movie like this, you've got to approach it as the over the top wildness it can be. Pamela Anderson and company don't run into this and try to play it as way too serious.

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate
½

Very uneven film. Bad writing, poor performances, and a movie that just never comes together.

Wanted
Wanted(2008)
½

Pretty good popcorn film. The action and effects are stylish, but the plot just isn't that strong.

Evolution
Evolution(2001)
½

The cast is mostly good, yet so much of this movie falls flat. Totally forgettable.

Joe Dirt
Joe Dirt(2001)
½

Pressly was fine, but that's about it. Most of these jokes are corny and the plot is bland.

James and the Giant Peach
½

It's surprisingly short, but still does a lot with that time. Really cool visuals and a storyline that works for kids and adults.

The Parent Trap
½

A classic kid's film with lots of charm. This modern take on the original does enough to stand out and Lohan was good in taking on the big part.

My Best Friend's Girl
½

It's Dane Cook and Kate Hudson. That's not a good recipe. Filled with vulgar jokes that are just not funny at all.

Sherlock Holmes

Downey makes for a good Sherlock, while Law is commendable as Watson. Guy Ritchie was a good choice for a director. Solid film.

Snatch
Snatch(2001)

A tremendous blend of comedy and action. THe characters are fleshed out well, the dialogue is witty, and Brad Pitt steals the show as a fast-talking gypsy.

The Bone Collector
½

You'd expect something more from Denzel and Angelina. Instead, they're wasted on a movie that lacks suspense and drama.

American Pie Presents: Band Camp
½

The American Pie series begins their struggle phase.

Bedazzled
Bedazzled(2000)

A cool little premise with some comical moments. Frasier and Hurley play off each other well.

Hall Pass
Hall Pass(2011)

The Farrelly brothers are hit or miss. This one misses.

30 Minutes or Less

Considering the mostly great cast, this was disappointing. Too many jokes miss the mark and the plot is rather uneven.

Jumanji
Jumanji(1995)

People love it, but I actually liked the sequel more. Robin Williams is fantastic and it's fun.

Bend It Like Beckham

It's not bad, just wildly average.

Bad Santa
Bad Santa(2003)
½

It's a Christmas flick, but a raunchy one. If you're not easily offended, it's definitely worth checking out.

Honey
Honey(2003)

Jessica Alba is hot. That's basically the premise of this movie. If you like dancing, you'll probably love it, but there's not much else to it.

Piranha 3-D
Piranha 3-D(2010)

Goofy fun, doesn't take itself seriously, and wildy absurd

Just Married
Just Married(2003)
½

The chemistry between the leads is fine. It's just not happening in a movie that is in any way original.