I haven’t read a single Star Wars novel since 2016’s Bloodlines (which was genuinely one of the best Star Wars stories, in general, and should be read by all Star Wars fans). It’s not that I don’t have any interest in them, although I did find it a little frustrating that so many of them were being published in the eras of the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy instead of during the era I was more interested in reading about – the Sequel Trilogy. It’s just that I didn’t really have the time to read these books that might get invalidated in a few years by another canon overhaul alongside all the other books I wanted to read. So, many Star Wars books fell by the wayside. But when I heard about Dooku: Jedi Lost, I was immediately interested. I love audio dramas and I have really enjoyed Cavan Scott’s work on various Doctor Who titles, so I was definitely intrigued. Unfortunately, having read the script and listened to the audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost feels more like a lost opportunity than a truly good audio drama. It’s got a good plot but the story doesn’t work well in this medium. (Spoilers follow!)
Star Wars – Dooku: Jedi Lost (by Cavan Scott)
Darth Tyranus. Count of Serenno. Leader of the Separatists. A red saber, unsheathed in the dark. But who was he before he became the right hand of the Sith? As Dooku courts a new apprentice, the hidden truth of the Sith Lord’s past begins to come to light.
Dooku’s life began as one of privilege—born within the stony walls of his family’s estate, orbited by the Funeral Moon where the bones of his ancestors lie interred. But soon, his Jedi abilities are recognized, and he is taken from his home to be trained in the ways of the Force by the legendary Master Yoda.
As he hones his power, Dooku rises through the ranks, befriending fellow Jedi Sifo-Dyas and taking a Padawan of his own, the promising Qui-Gon Jinn—and tries to forget the life that he once led. But he finds himself drawn by a strange fascination with the Jedi Master Lene Kostana, and the mission she undertakes for the Order: finding and studying ancient relics of the Sith, in preparation for the eventual return of the deadliest enemies the Jedi have ever faced.
Caught between the world of the Jedi, the ancient responsibilities of his lost home, and the alluring power of the relics, Dooku struggles to stay in the light—even as the darkness begins to fall.
Birds of Prey is one of those comic properties that know very little about. While I’ve always been more of a DC fan, and Batman has always been my favorite of the DC heroes, I’ve rarely ventured too far outside of his main title. Of course, I’ve seen some of his various animated films and shows, so I’m familiar with characters like Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya, but I’ve never been introduced to Huntress or Black Canary. So, going into this movie I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The DCEU has a historically uneven track record, with only Wonder Woman and Shazam being particularly good and this film is technically a sequel to the atrocious 2016 Suicide Squad film, so there was certainly no guarantee of quality here. Couple that with the slightly-unusual way the film was promoted and it became quite hard to predict just what kind of film Birds of Prey would be. Luckily, the film is an utter delight from start to finish and ranks among the best entries of the DCEU to date. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Cathy Yan
You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a twisted tale told by Harley (Margot Robbie) herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz (Chris Messina), put a target on a young girl named Cass (Ella Jay Basco), the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Renee Montoya’s (Rosie Perez) paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.
You never know what you’re gonna get with an indie/low-budget horror movie. You could get a movie that’s super charming and works really well within the constraints forced upon it (by budget/time/available talent/etc) or you could get something that’s truly appalling and devoid of any entertainment value whatsoever. Or you could get something somewhere in between, where it’s clear that a lot of love went into the creation of the film but some element of its making went catastrophically wrong. That’s the joy of looking into a low-budget horror movie. For every gem (like Rubber), there’s an enjoyable-yet-bad film (like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), and at least three films that are too awful to watch (like Thankskilling, half the Troma catalog, or Birdemic). So, where does Headshots fall in this breakdown? Well, much to my surprise and enjoyment, it falls within the first camp. Headshots is a charming film that makes the most of its constraints and brings an interesting twist to its premise. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Headshots (written and directed by Chris O’Neill)
HEADSHOTS follows a young British actress who goes to LA to be a movie star- only to cross paths with a serial killer in her acting class.
I’m always willing to give a movie with an interesting premise a shot – especially if that film has a solid trailer. This was the case with My Hindu Friend, a film that sounded like I might enjoy it. While I don’t often watch films that fall into a strictly realistic genre, I can enjoy a good one. But the trailer for My Hindu Friend made it look like something more unique than any of the other films that have tackled this kind of subject. And, to be totally fair to the movie, it probably is unique from most other films of its ilk – but I wouldn’t say that’s really a compliment in this case. Let’s be clear – there are moments of brilliance in My Hindu Friend, but it takes the better part of an hour to find any of them and much of the rest of the film just feels like a jumbled mess of scenes, ideas, and characters that never fully coalesces into a coherent story. But, hey, at least those few moments of brilliance are fun to watch.
My Hindu Friend (written by Hector Babenco and Guilherme Moraes Quintella, directed by Hector Babenco)
Diego (Willem Dafoe) is a film director very close to death, surrounded by people who are having trouble dealing with his current tempestuous mood. Chances are he won’t survive, but if he does, that means he needs to relearn how to live.
Oh, Star Wars. Is it the curse of nearly every Star Wars film made after 1983 to be extremely divisive? While I wasn’t one of the people who abhorred The Last Jedi, I also wasn’t one of the people who adored it. There were some solid ideas (that, admittedly, weren’t executed very well) mixed in with some less-than-stellar ideas, and the movie didn’t really do a great job at setting up the final film in the trilogy – which, really, is the entire purpose of a trilogy’s middle film. So, in the wake of all of that, was it ever really possible for The Rise of Skywalker to actually be very good or remotely satisfying? I’d argue it wasn’t, which is exactly the mindset I went into this movie with. Somehow, I was still disappointed, though. In fact, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a deeply frustrating film. In trying to please everybody, it pleases nobody. It tries to cram too much plot, and too much poorly-thought-out fan service into too little a runtime to make something remotely interesting. (Very mild spoilers may follow; you’ve been warned.)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (written by J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio; directed by J.J. Abrams)
Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion of the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come.
All of us saw the trailer for this movie, and I’m pretty sure all of us felt the same wave of confusion and borderline-revulsion. Even if you were familiar with the hit Broadway musical that inspired this film, there was something about how uncanny the CGI looked that bordered on the horrifying instead of the cute. Not exactly the best start, yeah? Going into CATS, most of the audience probably expected a train wreck. I certainly did. That being said, whoever cut together the trailers for the film should not edit trailers for a living as the trailers were an awful representation of the movie. At the end of the day, CATS is neither as consistently weird throughout as you want it to be, nor is it as good as the film seems to think it is. There are plenty of weird moments, too, but once you get used to the CGI, it’s basically exactly the stage musical as you remember it. Is it fun? Yeah, most of the time. Is it worth seeing? Sure, at least once. But your overall enjoyment will depend almost entirely on how much you like the musical. I liked the movie a bit more than I liked the musical (for reasons that will become apparent) – but I also really don’t like the musical. (Very mild spoilers ahead.)
CATS (written by Lee Hall & Tom Hooper, directed by Tom Hooper)
Featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic music and a world-class cast of dancers under the guidance of Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), the film reimagines the musical for a new generation with spectacular production design, state-of-the-art technology, and dance styles ranging from classical ballet to contemporary, hip-hop to jazz, street dance to tap.
A tribe of cats called the Jellicles must decide yearly which one will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and come back to a new Jellicle life.
To say the first Zombieland film was a pretty solid horror-comedy feels like an understatement, but that’s what it was. At the time of its release, it felt groundbreaking as hell. Sure, it wasn’t the first comedic horror film (or even the first comedic zombie film), but it was one of the first films of its ilk to be as scary as it was funny. Audiences hadn’t really seen such a well-executed horror/meta-comedy since the days of the first Scream film and it hit pop culture with a splash before fading into obscurity. A sequel has long been requested, with the writers and director all saying they were working on one but didn’t want to make it until they felt they’d cracked the story. Well, it’s a full ten years after the release of the first film, and I guess they’ve cracked the story as Zombieland: Double Tap releases in theaters today. The two questions on everyone’s mind are: “is it good?” and “how does it compare to the first film?” Unfortunately, the answers to those questions aren’t too positive. (This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but any elements that have been shown in trailers may be discussed.)
Zombieland: Double Tap (written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Dave Callaham; directed by Ruben Fleischer)
A decade after Zombieland became a hit film and a cult classic, the lead cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone) have reunited with director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and the original writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) for Zombieland: Double Tap. In the sequel, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, these four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.
As if enough things haven’t been written about this movie, here comes another one. Ever since the announcement of this movie, I’ve been skeptical. The Joker is a character who has, historically, never had a definitive origin story – nor has he ever needed one. The entire point (and fun) of the character is that he has no origin. Various stories have hinted at one (The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight) but all have shied away from suggesting any of those origins is the definitive one. So, this movie being entirely about how the Joker became the Joker worried me a bit, though that worry was squashed a bit when they made it clear this movie wouldn’t tie into the larger DCEU and would be the cinematic equivalent of one of DC’s Elseworlds stories. With that context, it was a bit easier to get on board with a film like this. Then came all of the controversy surrounding the film – the articles about how it was irresponsible, the security concerns, etc – and the whole thing began to get a little messy. It was difficult to know what the film was actually saying versus what people were accusing the film of saying. The big question, now that opening weekend has come and gone without much incident, is whether Joker is a good movie that gets across all that it is trying to say. The answer? Yes, mostly. (NOTE: This review will contain some light spoilers for the movie, but this is one of those films where you pretty much already know how it ends; it’s not filled with surprises, but the enjoyment comes from the journey it takes you on.)
Joker (written by Scott Silver and Todd Phillips; directed by Todd Phillips)
“Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
Scooby-Doo holds a special place in my heart. I was of the generation that primarily grew up on the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies instead of any long-running show. As such, some of my earliest exposures to the Scooby-Doo universe were films like Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, and Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. With that in mind, the idea of a sequel to Zombie Island – my favorite of the animated Scooby-Doo films of the 1990s and 2000s – was both an appealing one and one that caused some trepidation. Zombie Island was one of the rare Scooby-Doo movies where the monsters turned out to actually be real and some of the more recent Scooby-Doo entries have placed an increased focus on ensuring that people don’t think the monsters are real. On the other hand, the trailer looked kind of fun and it could very easily be a very enjoyable experience to return to this movie I loved as a kid. So, I tried to go into this movie with an open mind; I didn’t expect anything as wonderful as the original Zombie Island, but I was hoping for something that was still enjoyable. In the end, Return to Zombie Island isn’t a very good sequel to Zombie Island but it is a pretty solid Scooby-Doo movie – at least for the first half. (Spoilers ahead!)
Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (written by Jeremy Adams, directed by Cecilia Aranovich & Hamilton Ethan Spaulding)
Join Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and the Mystery Inc. gang as they win a vacation of a lifetime and attempt to put their mystery solving days behind them. As soon as they arrive to the tropical island, Velma, Daphne and Fred can’t help but notice how strangely familiar this island is, to a terrifying trip they once took decades ago. They soon find out paradise comes with a price when they encounter an army of zombies! Hop on board and travel with Scooby-Doo and the gang, as they unearth the mystery of Zombie Island in an original movie adventure!
It is a really tricky beast to adapt. It’s a massive novel that constantly jumps between time periods in such a way that to adapt it exactly as written would prove impossible for any kind of Hollywood film as it would require such an extensive runtime – or such an outrageous amount of cuts to the source material – that it just wouldn’t work. So, on the surface, it might seem like a really good idea to separate the two timelines in the novel into two movies – the first exploring the Losers Club’s childhood battle with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) while the second movie deals with their second battle with him, as adults. The 1990 miniseries mostly took this approach – though certain elements of the adult storyline were mixed with that of the children storyline, the two were mostly kept separate. The 2017 remake of It took it a step farther by presenting audiences with a film that focused entirely on the younger incarnation of these characters. With the wild success of that first movie, its inevitable sequel, It Chapter Two, was left to adapt the adult storyline and wrap the whole story up. Does it accomplish this and is it as good as the first film was? Yes and no. This movie isn’t a great horror film, nor is it a particularly good sequel – but it is a solid and deeply enjoyable movie. (Mild spoilers for It Chapter Two and all other versions of the story follow.)
It Chapter Two (Written by Gary Dauberman, directed by Andy Muschietti)
Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with “IT Chapter Two,” the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time. Twenty-seven years after the Losers Club defeated Pennywise, he has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once more. Now adults, the Losers have long since gone their separate ways. However, kids are disappearing again, so Mike, the only one of the group to remain in their hometown, calls the others home. Damaged by the experiences of their past, they must each conquer their deepest fears to destroy Pennywise once and for all…putting them directly in the path of the clown that has become deadlier than ever.