11.22.63 Series Review - James Franco truly shines in this twisty 8-episode Hulu series. Concept is what if you could go back in time to stop JFK from being assassinated but your time travel device drops you three years early so you have to establish a life in the sixties to pay bills while you plan. Great concept. Well executed adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Grade: A minus
The Devil Next Door Series Review - This Netflix multi-episode documentary recounts the decades of attempting to convict a Seven Hills auto factory retiree as being a former World War II Nazi extermination guard. I grew up with details of this trial in the background of my life. Seeing it recounted so carefully and balanced was a fascinating adult return to a story heavily debated in my childhood home. In addition, interviews with Channel 5 newscaster Ted Henry also reminded me of days gone by. An important and interesting watch. Grade: A
Going in with no expectations, I was surprised with this movie's humor, writing, and action scenes. An incredibly fun performance by Ewan McGregor is barely out-shined by Margot Robbie's beaming eyes, smile and strong comedic timing. My quips are small with the film including a weird casting for Cassandra Cain and that too many scenes are day lit for a movie taking place in Gotham. Those are minor so I am as shocked as you are that I give this film a B plus.
This unnecessary sequel has barely a plot that justifies the 101 minute running time. Almost nothing happens and the boy vying for the lead's attention creates no chemistry and is anchored by some painful dialogue. The movie is well directed with some truly great camera angles and Noah Centineo remains a rising star. Grade? D
When I first saw the trailer, I was excited to buy a ticket and see it in a theater. Much to my surprise, this very high budget, globe-trotting movie was made for streaming on Netflix. With Michael Bay producing and directing, the action scenes are beautifully shot and choreographed but the story is a little challenging to follow. This feel looks and feels shockingly expensive for a streaming service. I have to admit when Michael Bay has an R-rating, it is a guilty pleasure of mine. Grade: B minus.
Will Smith drags Martin Lawrence out of retirement for this unnecessary but pretty fun ride. Looked and felt like a Bad Boys film even though the original Director didn't return. Some truly ridiculous plot twists in the third arc leave a bad taste. Worse ways to spend a snowy winter day. Grade: C plus
A very well done sequel, which is rare. Maintains all the notes from the first film but has more than enough additional that it doesn't feel like a carbon copy. The cast proves yet again why they are household names with perfect performances all around. CGI was fantastic almost 90% of the time with just a little wonky the rest. Grade: B+ (89%)
The final installment recovers valiantly from many of the failures of Episode 8. This is definitely a Star Wars film and a strong attempt to wrap up this epic legacy. Unfortunately, massive shifts in pacing and dull storytelling are distracting. In addition, massive plot holes are generated regularly because of the new expansive Jedi powers created from the previous installment. Grade? A strong B minus.
Patrick Stewart shines and Kristen Stewart tries a little too hard to be likable in this reboot. No emotional connection is established with the main characters but the film spares no expense on stunts, soundtrack and location selection. Some impressive camera work and the few attempts at humor work well. Grade: B minus.
(streaming on Disney +) - Anna Kendrick shines in this adorable story about the legacy of Santa Claus. A worthy addition to your holiday movies. Only blemishes are forgettable supporting cast, some wonky CGI animals in places and pedestrian camera work. Grade: B plus.
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Movie Review - Director/"Actor"/Writer Kevin Smith reassembles an expensive cast to revisit his film universe 13 years after Clerks 2. Now full adults, the jokes remain perfectly infantile and the message about parenthood is not particularly thought provoking. However, I am a sucker for cameos and inside jokes so I loved it. Far, far from a must see, but for the dozen of us nationwide that love these guys, I was entertained. No room in this movie to bring along new viewers though. This is just pure nostalgia nonsense. Grade - a very kind C
Zombieland: Double Tap Movie Review - A solid sequel to the 2009 original. It is nothing short of a Hollywood miracle that this cast was able to reassemble to make this fun (but unnecessary) follow-up. The cast additions are solid including a great turn by Rosario Dawson. The best jokes only land if you are familiar with the first film, so watch (or rewatch) before walking into the theater. Grade: B
Between Two Ferns: The Movie (Netflix) movie review - As a huge fan of the Funny or Die streaming series, I was excited for this movie released directly to Netflix. The writers throw a lot of punchlines at a thin plot with several landing but not quite enough. If you are a fan of the series, check it out. Everyone else can skip. If you do watch, many of the best laughs come from the blooper reel during the credits. Don't miss those. Grade: Solid C.
Ad Astra Movie Review - The film is dependent on two things (1) Brad Pitt's performance as he is the only actor in the vast majority of scenes and (2) The payoff at the end being worth the journey. The film throughout maintains a consistent inching along as Pitt attempts to reach the far ends of space but he is emotionally detached intentionally and his lack of emotional response to challenges make him a difficult protagonist to like. The payoff just isn't there as it is too short and lacks the weight of resolution necessary for the movie's running time. If you watch, don't get too involved in any side characters along the way. About a dozen of them come and go as soon as you might get emotionally attached. Grade: D plus.
Let me start by saying that I love all the ingredients in this recipe. But together at a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, I am wildly frustrated and disappointed. There are a few gems throughout, but not enough happens. The audience is forced to sit through scene after scene that ends up having minimal (if any) impact on the finale. If you like watching Brad Pitt drive a car for 30 or more minutes, this film is for you. For everyone else? Grade: C minus.
I am happy to report that they totally pulled this film off. The first third of the movie is fantastic but then the middle is a little lacking in energy with lots of action for the last third. This skews older than you might guess given the source content as Dora is in high school through much of the film. Still very family friendly but not as pre-school as you might have guessed. Think a PG version of Tomb Raider but with some very strong laughs. Fantastic cast. Grade: B plus.
Marvel enters Phase Four with a fantastic film that continues the tone and themes of the previous Spider-Man chapter. Pacing and acting is strong. CGI is some of Marvel's best yet. Only complaint is even a casual Spider-Man fan knows the plot twist that is coming, which makes the first half a little annoying as we wait for it to arrive. But the film delivers on what is a very difficult villain to bring to screen. Grade - A minus.
Yesterday Movie Review - I was surprised how satisfying this movie was. Great performances from unknown leads and strong production/ camera work by the director. As a tepid Beatles fan, I found the movie to be quite compelling. Unfortunately, the ending was a little too clean for my tastes. Grade - Middle B.
Color me all shades of surprised. Went in with low expectations as anyone rational would do for a reboot and I left pleasantly entertained. While the leads aren't exactly Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, there is enough chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson to keep my attention. Plus, four movies in and this sci-fi universe still has enough in the tank to tell more stories. Grade - a solid B.
Noah Centineo stars in his third romantic comedy created by Netflix but this time he is the lead as opposed to the foil for the female lead as in his past two films. He continues to show that he can hold his own opposite his strongest cast yet. The movie boasts both Laura Marano (Austin & Ally) and Camila Mendes (Riverdale) as the other leads but Mendes is clearly "click bait" as she barely appears in the movie more than what is shown in the trailer. This movie is clearly a vehicle for Centineo opposite a surprisingly talented Marano but the plot remains too obvious with little to enjoy other than the rising star of Centineo. Grade - C
This movie lives and dies on the chemistry between its lead actors - Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. I am a fan of both of them but there is no particular chemistry between the two that suggests this movie should have gotten past the screen test stage. Everyone is just going through the motions with few surprises or chuckles to be had. I did like the opening credits sequence though. That was well done. Grade: C minus.
After several live action missteps, Disney completely nails this film. Lots of credit to director Guy Ritchie for having a clear vision that updates the original without overdoing the CGI. Amazing new song with "Speechless" and the cast was fantastic. I went in skeptical (and I should after the recent track record) so this "A minus" was well earned.
I did not expect this film to be so close to the spirit and ethos of the comics. That alone sent me into true "fanboy" mode which no DCEU movie has done to me yet. So, that is high praise. Also, great pacing and Zachary Levi/ Asher Angel are perfect in the shared lead role. Plus a truly strong villain.On the other hand, some CGI challenges throughout. Also, story arc did not require being over two hours long. Have lots more to say but they would be spoilers so I will keep them to myself. Grade 84% - "B".
Avengers Endgame Movie Review - The Russo Brothers did an amazing job directing this final, culminating film after a historic 22-movie run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The directors pulled off both the impossible and unprecedented. Congrats! The cast do their best. I laughed in the middle and definitely shed some tears near the end . The story was a little obvious but the journey is fantastic. Admittedly, there are (at least) five better MCU films as stand-alones but this provided sufficient closure. Grade - A minus
Unfortunately, I expected better. The movie ends up having two roles. First, it is an origin story about Captain Marvel. As such, it follows the regular Marvel formula and does so satisfactorily but brings little new other than the hero is amnesiac. Second, the movie acts as an unnecessary prequel taking place in the 90's. As such, it answers random questions. Because of the weight of Infinity War and that we know all these characters will survive this film, it has no suspense. The jokes and plot are insufficient to carry the film alone. Plus the Disney de-aging technology used on Samuel Jackson (and others) is just creepy and is 94% successful which has a really weird rendering effect on the actor(s). Had this film come out in a different part of the sequencing of Marvel films, I would have been more kind. Sadly, I need to give it a "C".
A solid film with an outstanding performance by James McAvoy and some really interesting camera angles. Add in a strong score for good measure. Over all - a solid "B".
By now, you probably are aware that two different documentaries regarding the failed 2017 Fyre Festival are available on Netflix and Hulu. I watched them both one day apart. Either one is a fascinating look into the arrogance and gross identity consumerism that afflicts a certain group of young adults. They are not conflicting documentaries, so it is not critical you watch both to get the full story. From pacing to telling a more rounded story of perspectives/victims, the Netflix documentary is far superior. The only advantage that Hulu has is they have the exclusive interview with the fraudster at the center of the whole thing. But that interview is pretty useless and not super informative. Overall - Netflix (Fyre) - Solid B. Hulu (Fyre Fraud) - C+
Lego Movie 2 The Second Part Movie Review - I loved the original and this one tried so very, very hard to recreate the magic. So much was right but it barely missed the mark. Themes and pacing were great. It just wasn't funny or original enough. Too many ideas were already stolen by the Lego Batman movie and the Unikitty cartoons.I give it the highest C+ possible (which is 79% for those of you that are math challenged).
Spider-Man Into the Spider Verse Movie Review - Absolutely amazing AND spectacular! Perfect plot and story. Quick pacing. Great animation. High quality voice acting. I was blown away by the entire film. I can't believe it but I have to give the grade of ... A.
Bumblebee Movie Review - After the milking of the Transformers franchise, I went into this movie with low expectations. Well, I should have went in with much higher! The movie paced great and Bumblebee felt like a real character even though I am usually pretty critical of CGI "actors". Plus Hailee Steinfeld actually acts and emotes far better than her roles so far. She can sing AND she can act. Who knew? My grade - B (Get it? "B" = "bee")