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.
At San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, Disney/Marvel announced the slate of titles making up Phase Four of the MCU. Among the titles announced are five films – Black Widow, Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Thor: Love and Thunder – and five Disney+ shows – Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, Loki, What If?, and Hawkeye. Some of these movies/shows seem interesting, others I don’t know enough about yet; but, overall, I found it rather hard to get excited for any of them as it all just sort of feels like an endless onslaught of similar-looking and feeling blockbusters that slowly erode any innovation within the artform. I wasn’t the only person with a take like this and, as you’d expect, there were some MCU-fans pretty unhappy with those who were less-than-enthusiastic about the news. One such fan replied to a pretty popular (progressive) YouTuber’s tweet, suggesting that the mixed reaction was partially in response to the Phase Four lineup consisting of films that focused on women/people of color/LGBTQ+ characters more than previous MCU films have. This accusation leveled at this particular YouTuber was a bit ludicrous as this YouTuber has long championed diversity in films, but it did lead to a conversation about how viewing Disney films has turned into a bit of a moral stance, often pushed by Disney’s own PR team. The idea goes that by watching one of Disney’s films featuring progressive ideas (such as having a diverse cast), you’re taking a moral stance in support of an issue rather than just giving your money to a corporation that doesn’t really care about these issues you care about. It’s an interesting conversation, and a kind of funny one, especially in light of Disney’s long history of immorality. (A quick note – I am not trying to insult or criticize anyone who is excited about any of Disney’s upcoming films, nor am I trying to insult or criticize anyone who really enjoys these movies. What I am trying to criticize is Disney’s framing of the viewing of their films as a moral statement while they do very immoral things as a company.)
In news that will surprise exactly nobody: I didn’t like this remake of The Lion King. I historically haven’t liked any of the recent Disney “live-action” remakes, but I dislike this one for reasons that are different to why I didn’t like the others. But first, it’s important to note that I was never on the hype train for the original version of The Lion King. Sure, it’s a wonderfully enjoyable movie with a killer soundtrack, but it wasn’t notably better than any of the other films from that era of the Disney Rennaissance. It had all the usual problems found in those movies: odd pacing, a saggy middle, and supporting characters and villains that ended up far more interesting than the main character. But it was still very well done, featured some stellar animation, and was full of heart. All of what made the original Lion King a classic is gone in this photo-realistic CGI remake (I refuse to call it a live-action remake because none of this movie was filmed live; it was all done in a computer so it’s every bit as animated as the original version was, just with a different form of animation). Instead, we’re left with some pretty impressive looking CGI animals that are devoid of any life or heart and a movie that hews so closely to the original that it begs the question: why bother making this at all?
The Lion King (written by Jeff Nathanson, directed by Jon Favreau)
From Disney Live Action, director Jon Favreau’s all-new “The Lion King” journeys to the African savanna where a future king is born. Simba (JD McCrary as a child; Donald Glover as an adult) idolizes his father, King Mufasa (James Earl Jones), and takes to heart his own royal destiny. But not everyone in the kingdom celebrates the new cub’s arrival. Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Mufasa’s brother-and former heir to the throne-has plans of his own. The battle for Pride Rock is ravaged with betrayal, tragedy and drama, ultimately resulting in Simba’s exile. With help from a curious pair of newfound friends (Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner), Simba will have to figure out how to grow up and take back what is rightfully his.
Novelizations of movies can really be a hit or miss affair. The best ones take the events that happen within a film and expand upon them in ways only a novel can do – bringing readers into the thoughts of the characters within a film and showing those same events from a different angle or with extra bits that the film might not have had time to show. Unfortunately, most film novelizations don’t do that – they to just be fairly strict prose conversions of the script. So, it’s with that mindset that I approached this “novelization” of Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth – I hesitate to call this book a novelization because Pan’s Labyrinth came out thirteen years ago and most novelizations come out around the same time as the film they’re novelizing. With that context, it might be best to consider this book a retelling of the story featuring in the film – a screen-to-page adaptation, if you will, by a talented author – Cornelia Funke. As is always the case with any adaptation, does the story still work when transferred to this new medium? In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, the answer is yes and no.
“Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke
Oscar winning writer-director Guillermo del Toro and New York Times bestselling author Cornelia Funke have come together to transform del Toro’s hit movie Pan’s Labyrinth into an epic and dark fantasy novel for readers of all ages, complete with haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that flesh out the folklore of this fascinating world.
This spellbinding tale takes readers to a sinister, magical, and war-torn world filled with richly drawn characters like trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family.
A brilliant collaboration between masterful storytellers that’s not to be missed.
The Chucky/Child’s Play franchise is a really interesting one. It started off with a pretty standard horror film about a creepy doll before it devolved into a series of sequels that grew more and more comedic, eventually coming back around to more serious horror once again with the latest few sequels. But with so many sequels, the continuity of the series has become a bit difficult to follow. So, perhaps it was about time for a reboot to happen. Could new life be breathed into this old franchise by some new creatives? Or would it just end up being another in a long list of subpar remakes of classic horror films? With this new Child’s Play, it’s a bit of both. (Mild spoilers follow!)
Child’s Play (written by Tyler Burton Smith, directed by Lars Klevberg) A contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic, Child’s Play follows Karen (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill), unaware of its more sinister nature.