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When "Rogue One" was announced, I was a bit nervous about how this one turned out. First, after last year's "The Force Awakens", I was so thrilled to come back into the world of "Star Wars". But, did they need to excite us again for a standalone movie set in this universe? Second, the movie had a troubled production history. To be fair, it seemed like it was necessary (or not, depending on what you think of it) to bring "Rogue One" to the screen. And the results are stunning. Gareth Edwards, who directed the low-budget "Monsters" and a big-budget "Godzilla", was the right choice to take on a standalone "Star Wars" movie. It turns out that the story is set between the events of "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope". And there are a lot of clues that will remind us of what is to come in Episode IV (The big clues are the best ones). A long time in a galaxy far, far away, we discover some amazing new characters, some great wonders, and a rebellious wit and heart interwoven into the stunning action sequences. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Jyn Erzo, a feisty rebel who, as a child, saw her father (Mads Mikkelsen) being corrupted by the power of the Empire to build a very dangerous and legendary weapon. (I think you what this one is.) Now, in her later years, she becomes part of the Rebel Alliance in order to steal the plans of this planet-destroying weapon. Joining them are Captain Cassian Andor (a superb Diego Luna), a Imperial pilot named Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), a blind kung-fu monk, Chirrut Imwe (the awesome Donnie Yen) and his trusty companion Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and K-2SO (the incomparable Alan Tudyk, in motion-capture form), a Imperial Robot whose memory was erased and was made to serve to the rebels. Of course, she also get help with a message that sent to her mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). And of course, we have to keep a lookout on our baddie, the specialist of the Imperial Weapon who knows no mercy. That one is Orson Krennic (the fantastic Austrailian actor Ben Mendelsohn, bringing some sharp villainy). Now, I can't reveal the rest, but you will see how this rebel force brings the heat as their plans are set in motion. "Rogue One" is crazy fun and sensationally surprising from start to finish. It's visually exhilarating and the action sizzles with enough energy to punch us into hyperspace. And there is quite an strong emotional side to it. Is it a perfect "Star Wars" movie? Not quite. Sometimes the movie does show its stitching and the exposition does get in the way of the development of the characters. But the universe is alive and constantly surprising us every step of the way. As I'm prepared to wait for Episodes VIII and IX and its standalone Han Solo movie, the "Star Wars" series knows that there are more stories to tell. Being the first of their standalone films, this has the opportunity to explore a different side of the rebellion in which we haven't seen anything like it before. But more or less, there are plenty of opportunities to pull some facts from the mythology of "Star Wars" and expand it further. When that happens, I'll be there waiting for it. It definitely sums this wonderful line by Imwe: "I'm one with the Force and the Force is with me."
For the past 15 years, I've always been a devoted follower of J.K. Rowling's phenomenal Harry Potter series. The 7 books and the eight movies based on them have worked its magic on me all the way through. Now, in light of the worst election most of us have experienced, who knew that Rowling had the magic touch to bring me back to the Wizarding World that I knew and remembered. But it wasn't any book, it was a tiny textbook that made the largest leap to the big screen. In "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", the Wizarding World was more colorful and alive as ever. It even helped too, since this is Rowling's first ever screenplay, she knew this world better than anyone ever could. Set in 1926, the movie follows British "magizoologist" Newt Scamander (the amazing Eddie Redmayne, Oscar-Winner for "The Theory of Everything") as he travels to New York. Once he arrives, things get a bit hairy, thanks to a classic switch of suitcases with former war veteran Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler in a sensational performance). When Jacob accidentally opens Newt's suitcase filled with these fantastic beasts, Newt, along with the help of ex-auror of the MACUSA Headquarters (America's version of Ministry of Magic), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston, a spellbinder) and her spicy sister, Queenie (a fetching film debut by Alison Sudol from the band "A Fine Frenzy"), searches for his precious beasts all around New York. But there is terror reigning supreme, as a dark force will cause the war between the Wizarding World and the No-Maj (American term for "Muggle", non-magic folk) world. Not even the leader Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and the auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell, very menacing) of MACUSA or the Barebones, a Second Salemers group led by adoptive mother/conspiracy theorist Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) or her abused son Credence (Ezra Miller in a chilling standout performance) could do anything to contain it. This magical first chapter of a soon-to-be 5-part film series brings back director David Yates (who has directed the last four Harry films) and producer David Heyman (who produced all the films) and production designer Stuart Craig. And yet, like Newt's magical case, the world is more expanded in ways we couldn't even imagine thanks to those three. What's also interesting about this movie is that it is more adult than the previous films. The social and sometimes political themes of fear, isolation, loneliness, abuse and love are presented in a more mature way. While it's playful and enchanting at times, it's also not afraid of showing us the dark side of the Wizarding World. Rowling has delivered a phenomenal first screenplay and her trust in director Yates was a very natural choice. The characters were original, well-developed and perfectly cast, the magical creatures including a thieving Niffler, a vicious Swooping Evil, a striking Thunderbird and a charming Bowtruckle are indeed fantastic, the look of the film is marvelous and the music by James Newton Howard is pitch-perfect. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this movie again, so as a fan, I can look back at some of the details that will lead to the amount of extraordinary details in the Harry Potter books that most people will miss out on. It's a first-class stunner in many ways, a pure-blooded fantasy that dazzles with wonder and charm. So far, the magic is back and it definitely needed me to believe again. This is the beginning of a whole new world that I can't wait to see once more.
Rachel Watson is a down-on-her-luck British woman living in New York who is a bit of a trainwreck. Her husband left her and married his mistress, she drinks and blackouts in despair and she likes to get a look by peeking through other people's life when she rides the train. This is the simple idea of "The Girl on the Train". Now, like millions of readers who have devoured this book, I have read the Paula Hawkins novel in which this film is based on. There have also been a lot of comparisons to "Gone Girl", another book/movie that also dealt with the psychology of women. "Gone Girl" was more superior, because it had such a wickedly humorous bite and it was ferociously masterful. This movie and the book doesn't have any of that. What the movie does have is Emily Blunt, who is giving such a fearless performance as that girl who sees almost everything through that train that she, along with some terrific acting from a splendid cast, beautiful but bleak cinematography and a haunting score courtesy of the great Danny Elfman, makes the movie work a lot more than the book would. (More on that in a moment.) Anyway, after one drunk night, Rachel (Blunt) wakes up to find herself an unreliable witness in a mystery involving a young woman, Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) who went missing in that same night. It turns out that Megan used to babysit the daughter of Rachel's ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux) and his new wife, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Giving the fact that there is some time missing from where she was at, Rachel tries to figure out what happened on that night, while trying to solve this mystery. So far, there's no one to trust. Not even Megan's husband, Scott (Luke Evans) or her therapist (Edgar Ramirez). The more reasonable one is Detective Riley (Allison Janney), who is very suspicious of Rachel. Now, I admired the book, but I couldn't connect to each of the characters, plus the twist at the end was sort of obvious. But here's how director Tate Taylor (of the wonderful "The Help" and the electric James Brown biopic "Get on Up"), screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (of "Secretary" and "Chloe") and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen managed to do: They made the movie even better than the book, which is a rare thing. I got to be involved with the story more because these characters are flawed and we see the danger of what happens when someone starts to snap when some secrets are being spilled out in the most inopportune moment. Plus, you have Emily Blunt in your movie, which makes it work even more, even when you feel like you're being lost in the confused suburban melodrama of it all. And the twist at the end doesn't feel very obvious with a surprising additional character added into the mix. The three women are terrifically played as icy, complex and sometimes troubled women and each of their stories do connect, even if you didn't notice it. Blunt is great, Bennett gives such a stunning, breakout performance and Ferguson is subtly effective. Of the three amazing male leads of the story, the best of the three is Luke Evans, who gives a searing performance as a man who is looking for answers involving his wife and the frustration that comes out of that seems palpable. And I'm always glad to see Allison Janney in a movie and I'm happy to follow her anywhere. I'm also happy to report that if you like the book, you'll like the movie. I found it intriguing, mysterious and sometimes twisted. Even if it didn't reach "Gone Girl" status, that still doesn't make this a good thriller. What makes this movie a good thriller is the fact that everybody has secrets, good and bad. Some bad secrets should be forgotten, not mentioned or revealed. And sometimes, secrets, especially when you see things from the train, can get you into a world of trouble.
Now this is what I'm talking about. "Don't Breathe" is a simple, but very energetic home-invasion horror thriller that has chills and thrills. Plus, no cheap jump scares found here, just pure horror done the good old-fashioned way. And it also provides a few twists that are so shocking, they will leave you speechless. This is Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez's follow-up to the ultra-gory, but stylish and thrilling "Evil Dead" remake. Here, he takes a more relaxed approach with less gore and more storytelling. Set in Detroit, the movie follows Rocky (Jane Levy), a young girl who is trying to get herself and her little sister out of here, along with her boyfriend Money (It Follows' Daniel Zovatto). Rocky's friend is Alex (Dylan Minnette from last year's "Goosebumps"), whose dad works at one of those security companies. Their plan to end all plans, of course, is to rob the house of a blind man who has a huge sum somewhere and they will be on their way. It turns out that this blind man known as "The Blind Man" (Stephen Lang) is a war veteran and is a lot more skilled than they think he is. He knows every corner, frame and room of this house and he is certainly not afraid to strike. But he also has a few things lurking in that house. Now, this is where I stop, because the rest I want you to see for yourself. The way how this movie was designed is through the old-fashioned techniques that most filmmakers haven't used in a while. Alvarez uses tracking shots, sound and a great deal of foreboding to keep us on our toes and to make our hairs stand on end. Credit must given to cinematographer Pedro Luque, production designer Naaman Marshall and three editors for knowing how to pull us in through style, substance and restraint. It also features one of the best scores I've heard since "Gone Girl" and that is the unsettling and eerie score courtesy of Roque Banos, who seem to have taken a few pages from the Reznor/Ross guidebook. I think one of the most memorable characters ever created in my opinion is "The Blind Man". Stephen Lang, who has played villains before, makes this character subtly effective and very terrifying. He doesn't say a lot (nor does he should), but with those piercing eyes, a magnetic presence and the way he walks with no mercy and no fear, Lang carries this challenging task on his shoulders and runs with it. There's no need to question his loyalties, because you can't tell if these characters are good or bad. Jane Levy, who worked with Alvarez on "Evil Dead" and gave such a fearless performance in that film is even more convincing this time. She and Dylan Minnette are great at conveying fears with their eyes and trying not to make any sounds while walking in the dark. I'm certainly not going to forget this movie. I haven't reacted to a film this stunning since David Fincher's "Panic Room". Both films do give a very claustrophobic feel of what's it like to be trapped in a house. But "Don't Breathe" gets the upper hand because someone knows how to take that fear and cranks it up to 11. You never know what you're going to expect and you don't know how it is going to turn out, but it takes a big dive and it's not afraid to go all out. Here's a very subtle response from me: It's bound to leave you breathless.
Back in March, there have been a lot of shock and awe from people that "Batman V Superman" was a bit of a disappointment. I didn't think so, but I was hoping that the DC Extended Universe was starting to get better because we have "Justice League" and "Wonder Woman" coming out next year. But right now, we'll make do with "Suicide Squad". This movie has also been on the negative end for critics, but I found it to be a stylish and thrilling comic adventure with some nice standout performances courtesy of Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis and Joel Kinnaman. Now I'm not gonna reveal some of the secrets of this movie, but I'm willing to give you a heads up. Following the events of "BvS", Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides to come up with an idea to hire the worst of the worst villains in order to take down more evil bad guys. We actually get to meet them. First, there's Deadshot (Will Smith), a contract killer with a heart of gold. El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a man with a dark past and a power to shoot fire out of his hands. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who lives in the sewer of the prison and most definitely look like a crocodile. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), a goofy Australian schemer who uses his boomerangs. And, of course, my favorite, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who has been under the spell of her favorite boy toy, the dangerous Joker (an underused but winning Jared Leto) and is not afraid to vex and irritate people. Along for the ride is soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and his bodyguard Katana (tough Karen Fukuhara) as they try to take down pure evil. I liked the energy, the dark humor, and the vivid colors of this wild and crazy film written and directed by David Ayer (writer of "Training Day", also written and directed "End of Watch" and "Fury"). But sometimes you get kind of confused as to where the story takes us and we don't get to know at least some of the characters including Slipknot (Adam Beach) and the Enchantress a.k.a. Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne). But in its own sloppy, choppy and messy way, I found it terrifically entertaining and funny as hell. Also if you loved or hated "BvS", you'll probably have the same reaction for this movie. Me, I liked it better than "BvS" and I also expect to see more of these DC characters and this extended universe. Plus, there are a lot of good surprises in there.
It's really hard for me to not spoil the surprises of a movie like "Me Before You". For general moviegoers, they'll be expecting another love story about two people who fall in love until one of the characters has a dark secret that could tear them apart. For fans of the book, they will love the fact that it's incredibly faithful to the Jojo Moyes novel (See "The Fault in Our Stars", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and other true-to-the-book movies for details), but they will also get so much more out of it. I recently read the novel last month before the film came out and I found the book affectionate, funny and surprisingly uplifting. I think the key to any book-based movie is to find the right actors to have not only good chemistry, but to make sure that audiences will remember the characters in their hearts. Boy, have they lucked out with two immensely charming actors in this terrific film. "Me Before You" tells the story of Louisa "Lou" Clark (Emilia Clarke), a 26-year-old happy-go-lucky woman who has been trying to find the right job to support her working-class family. That is until she unexpectedly finds one by working as a caregiver to Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). Will was "The Man", that guy who had everything at the palm of his hands until an motorcycle accident left him an quadriplegic. Now he's sarcastic, bitter, moody and thinking of really dark thoughts. How did his heart turn to ice? Anyway, Lou refuses to be put off by a man who lost everything and gave his friends and everybody, as Lou calls it, "the (crappy) treatment". Suddenly, it starts off being an antagonistic relationship to a rather healthy one as Lou, with the help of her sister, Treena (Jenna Coleman), tries to help Will understand that life is definitely worth living for. And, yes, they do start to fall for one another, until Will has that secret that could end it all. I like the movie, but I do have a couple of minor problems: The first one is that the movie is not exactly as deep and sometimes dark as the book was. However, I give it points for letting the book and the movie asks the two questions: "Can you fall in love with a person but disagree on what their opinion of life is?" and "Can that same person change your life, even when it's least expected?" The second one is that first-time feature film director Thea Sharrock moves the film a little too fast without giving us a moment to understand Will's plight and Lou's cheerful earnestness while trying to get to the best parts of the story. But those problems did wash away with the help of Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. Clarke, best known as the Mother of Dragons on "Game of Thrones", should've been a breakout movie star with that last Terminator movie. Here, that title suits Clarke well as the character of the quick-witted but sometimes vulnerable Lou. Claflin, in his first movie outside of "The Hunger Games" series, has the most challenging role, so far. But he is remarkable as the stubborn but sincere Will. Their chemistry together is amazing. The supporting cast is also good too, with Janet McTeer and Charles Dance (also from "Game of Thrones") as Will's parents who are constantly worried about him and his safety, Stephen Peacocke as Will's nurse, Nathan, Matthew Lewis (Hello, Neville Longbottom) as Lou's boyfriend who is completely uncomfortable about Lou's job, Brendan Coyle and Samantha Spiro as Lou's parents and there's also a really funny cameo from the "absolutely fabulous" Joanna Lumley. Credit must be given to Jojo Moyes, who adapted her terrific book to the screen (she also wrote the sequel book "After You") with some witty dialogue, tender emotion and sometimes dealing with real themes, although it's not as deep as the book. "Me Before You" is a simple story, sure. But while it probably won't be in my top 5 of the best love stories ever, I still found it to be in the same old tradition of tearjerkers, the one where you laugh, you cry and you'll come out feeling good. By the way, it's a lot better than "The Choice".
The Portokalos family are that kind of family that joins the Parthenon of best movie families ever. A lot of us who are not Greek and come from different backgrounds can sometimes relate to this family. They are the kind of family that are big, loud, overbearing and sometimes obnoxious, but it's a lovable, wise and real family. That was part of the appeal of the genuinely funny and sincere "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" 14 years ago, which is still the #1 romantic comedy of all time, by the way, and it worked even more this time in the sequel to the surprise box-office hit. Here is a sequel that feels more natural than a simple cash-grab. It's a movie that brings back everybody (and I do mean, everybody) for another big fat Greek wedding, while also dealing with more situations that will surprise and even move your family. It's also the movie where I knew what was going to happen, but I didn't know how it will affect me in the end. In the first movie, we followed Toula, a 30-year-old Greek-American woman who got her life together and fell in love and ultimately married a non-Greek named Ian, which shocks her father, who wanted her to marry a Greek boy and make Greek babies. And, of course, in the end, Toula and Ian has a daughter. Now, in "MBFGW2", which takes place 11 years later, that daughter named Paris (now played by the delightful Elena Kampouris) is now growing up and is sort of fed up with her extended family constantly smothering her everywhere she goes and she really wants to go far away from her family. In the meantime, Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are struggling with their 17-year marriage. Are they missing the spark? Or is Toula busy trying to convince her daughter that she is making the wrong choice? The answer to that is quite an honest one. Since it's called "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", who's getting married? Well, turns out it's Toula's parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan). When they were married 50 years ago, their marriage certificate was not signed. So that means everybody in the family comes back including the always reliable Aunt Voula (the hilarious Andrea Martin), sexy and feisty Nikki (Gia Carides), sincere Athena (Stavroula Logothettis), earnest Angelo (Joey Fatone) and muscle-bound Nick (Louis Mandylor) as they prepare for the biggest, fattest and Greek-est wedding since the first one. The success to these movies is the strong semi-autobiographical writing by Vardalos. Her screenplay to these two movies are filled with hilarious one-lines and visual gags that are sure to be quite memorable with people who've seen it more than once and sharp dialogue that can remind you of what your family used to say. But it's also honest (sometimes to a fault) and authentic. This wonderful ensemble cast is still remarkable and the charming chemistry between Vardalos and Corbett still resonates with me. Director Kirk Jones (taking over from Joel Zwick) who has dealt with an ensemble team before in "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and "Waking Ned Devine" keeps the brisk pace moving forward and makes sure that every single character gets their moments, including the kooky but endearing Mana-Yiayia (Bess Meisler), while filling the screen with enough hilarity and heart that all of us can remember the first time around. Sometimes movie sequels are viewed as "companion pieces". I don't usually use that term a lot, but "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" serves as a satisfying companion piece to the original. For one thing, it's great to see this family again because, for me, it feels like they haven't even left. They are still the same as they were before. They may have changed a little, but they are still who they are. Sometimes, I wished my family was like the Portokalos family. Do you think of the same question?
Forgive me for saying this, but I'm a sucker for love stories. I'm more familiar with the Nicholas Sparks brand because I remember the first time I actually got involved with his stories and that was "A Walk to Remember". It's been 14 years since that wonderful movie and 17 years since his first book-to-film being "Message in a Bottle" and it seems that the Sparks brand is still going and so far, he has written 18 books with one more coming out later this year and 11 of his books has been translated to the screen. The 11th is the more recent one and that is "The Choice". Now, I'll be honest. We know where this stuff is going, we know that it's predictable and we know where the twists are at. Still, "The Choice" is an impressive movie and what made me chose this movie are the two stars that made me smile and care as two characters who have two separate choices to make in their lives. After she made a terrific lead turn in one of my favorite surprises of 2013, "Warm Bodies", the always luminous Teresa Palmer keeps that star shining even brighter as Gabby Holland, a young nurse who moves to North Carolina and is the next-door neighbor of Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker), a veterinarian who is a fun-loving party animal who hangs out with his friends and loves to drive girls crazy. Their friendship immediately starts off on the wrong foot when Gabby's dog gets pregnant and she blames him for letting his dog impregnate her. He asks her out, she rebuffs him. Mainly that's because she has a boyfriend in Dr. Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling), who goes out of town. Also Travis gets blind-sighted by Monica (Alexandra Daddario), the girl his friends call "the boomerang". Anyway, he takes a liking to her, even though she "bothers" him, and then their friendship turns into something more than that. Then, in the tradition of Sparks, a tragedy happens and Travis and Gabby has to make two different choices. For Gabby, which man does she want to wake up with the next morning. For Travis, it's something a little more personal that I can't reveal. Usually, I stick around for the third-act of any Sparks movies to find out what happens next, but the third-act of "The Choice" is very obvious and somewhat dry. Like I said, we know what happens throughout the story, even if the final effect turns out to be something a little different. But what saves the movie and that last act are the magnetic chemistry of Palmer and Walker. Even though they may not match the magic of Noah & Allie, Landon & Jamie, Luke & Sophia, John & Savannah....and so on, Travis & Gabby are appealing, flawed and earnest people. They do argue with one another most of the time, but there is a lot of love there for the rest of the time. These two actors have it, especially Walker (remember him as "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"?), who shows a lot of emotions that shows up right in the final act. The movie also gets some solid support from Maggie Grace as Travis's sister, Stephanie and Tom Wilkinson, still superb as always as Dr. Shep, who is Travis's dad and also a veterinarian. It's also not afraid to show some humor in there too. Whether you think it's intentional or unintentional, well, that's your choice. I like the movie and the actors, so that's my opinion. However, I think that Mr. Sparks should try something a little more original and unpredictable. I know there's a reason why he's called the master of romance because he does appeal to the women as well as the hopeless romantics. He does produces some lavishing productions, though. I'm only hoping for it and I'm just saying.
You know the expression "kids like to be scared nowadays"? Well, let's just say that there was one author who knew how to whip up one...no make that over 100 stories that would scared the living #2 out of kids as well as their parents. That was the "Goosebumps" series written by R.L. Stine. Personally, I have read some of his books as well as growing up with the "Goosebumps" T.V. series back in the 90's. But I never would've thought that they would be interested in turning it into a movie. I was concerned that the filmmakers would pick a story and translated to film, because there are so many "Goosebumps" books. Wisely, with the help of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (of Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" and "Big Eyes"), who wrote the story and Darren Lemke (of "Jack the Giant Slayer" and "Shrek Forever After") who studied the blueprints of Alexander & Karaszewski and turned it into a screenplay, they came up with the clever idea of not having one monster, but over 50 of Stine's monsters (or unless I counted it wrong) in one movie, but with an original story to go with it. That's what made this "Goosebumps" movie for me an exciting experience. The story is one you heard of before, but spun in a witty and fresh way. It follows a teen named Zach Cooper (the incredible Dylan Minnette) who, after the loss of his father, moved from New York to Madison, Delaware with his mom (Amy Ryan, Oscar nominee of "Gone Baby Gone") who is the new principal of his new school. Once he arrives, he becomes friends with next-door neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), but is quickly shooed away by her dad, Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) who warns the young boy to stay away from both of them. One night, things do get a bit bumpy and Zach and his new friend Champ ("Super 8"'s scene-stealer Ryan Lee), who was "born with the gift of fear", to investigate what's going on. Who knew that Mr. Shivers had a secret of his own that made people stay away from him? He happens to be R.L. Stine himself. Anyway, the two friends discovers the manuscripts of "Goosebumps" and Zach unintentionally opens one of them, releasing the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena. Now with some of the monsters, which includes lawn gnomes, ghouls, The Werewolf of Fever Swamp, a giant praying mantis, The Invisible Boy (voiced by Black) and a ventriloquist's dummy---sorry, puppet named Slappy (also voiced with such uproarious zest by Black) who serves as our main antagonist, leaping off the pages of their books, it's up to our four heroes to put them back into the books before Madison will become a real "Horrorland". In the tradition of movies of the 80's and 90's like "The Goonies", "Gremlins", and "Jumanji" (also add "The Spiderwick Chronicles", and "Zathura: A Space Adventure", if you have to), "Goosebumps", directed by Rob Letterman, is a fun family movie that is hilarious, charming and wonderfully thrilling with plenty of good old- fashioned scares that is not too scary, but scary enough for kids ages 9 & up. The adults who know or don't know about "Goosebumps" will also enjoy it and will get to savor in Jack Black's over-the-top funny and warm performance, reminding us with movies like "Shallow Hal", "School of Rock" and the "Kung Fu Panda" movies what an amazing comedic and tender presence he has. The three kids are quite impressive and likable, which is good. And even the superb supporting cast (including the always hilarious Jillian Bell as Zach's boy-crazy Aunt Lorraine, Timothy Simons and Amanda Lund as the two most dim-witted police officers in movie history and an underutilized Ken Marino as the coach who nearly hits on Principal Cooper) doesn't hurt, too. Plus, the screenplay provides some really funny insights (and in-jokes) on the "Goosebumps" stories, Stine making a few off-handed comments about "Steve" King: "I've sold way more books than him, but no one ever talks about that! Ever!" and delivering some solid one-liners, some of them come from the lovable, but wimpy Champ. I hope we get to have some more family films like this. Usually, we don't get a lot of smart live-action family films that aren't rude, sloppy or reaching for masochistic pain. It's a very good thing that "Goosebumps" belongs in that category because we all have to pick up a book one day and get lost in the world of imagination. That's what we all need, that's my philosophy. Plus, it's nice to be scared by something as classic as this. And, as Mr. Stine pointed out, every great story has a beginning, a middle and a twist. This is one of the best family films of 2015.
I'll be very brief about this, because this movie has been on the negative end for some critics. But say what you want about it, because despite its problems, the second film in the DC Extended Universe "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is incredibly entertaining. Sure, it's loud, it's big, it's overlong, over-scored and sometimes overstuffed with characters and plot points, but I didn't care. I was enthralled by the experience of seeing two of our best DC superheroes in a vicious battle beyond anything else. Now, I'm going to try my best not to spoil it, but let me see what I can remember. Set after the destructive event that led to a very controversial choice involving our Man of Steel, everyone is thinking this: Is Superman a threat? Or is he the savior? One thinks of that first question. Ben Affleck is a nice choice to fit into the Batman suit as well as playing the playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne. He's very hell-bent on getting rid of Superman mainly because of that disastrous event that changed everything for him. Superman a.k.a. Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) is very conflicted about his decisions and wonders if he is both. He remains in love with his fellow Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), still a very feisty one, and she sees that he is a good man. And then there's Lex Luthor, played with such madcap zest that will make people love it or hate it by Jesse Eisenberg, who would also love to see Superman fall. And you know how villains are, they always carry a secret that could at least bring one of our heroes down. Another addition to the mix is Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman (A wickedly awesome Gal Gadot from Fast & Furious 4-6), the Amazonian princess who will probably steal Batman's heart and help save the day. The fight between God and Man (Thus the first part of the title, by the way) will arrive soon and it's very intense, but it's also quite an emotional one that will lead to some very unexpected surprises. I had a good time with this movie. Sure it might turn people off, but it's very epic and very stunning throughout. Director Zack Snyder (of "300" and "Man of Steel") and screenwriters Chris Terrio (of the Oscar-Winning "Argo" with Ben Affleck) and David S. Goyer (of the "Blade" trilogy, "Batman Begins" and "Man of Steel") kept me on the edge of my seat with some startling secrets (some will lead to the two-part Justice League movies), terrific characters and heartfelt moments that I am sure that comic-book fans would definitely approve. It still doesn't have much joy and humor than the previous efforts, but I guess it's worth it. Plus, the action is insanely good, so that helps, too. As I mention before, Affleck is terrific to watch as Batman. But is he the best Batman since Christian Bale, Michael Keaton and, to a great extent due to his upcoming Lego adventure, Will Arnett? I will give it some time to think about it. But I still think Cavill is the best Superman since the late Christopher Reeve, Adams is quietly convincing once again as Ms. Lane and Jeremy Irons is fantastic (as usual) as Batman's butler, Alfred. Plus I have to mention some nice supporting work from Holly Hunter as Senator June Finch, Diane Lane as Clark's adoptive mom, Martha, Tao Okamoto as Lex's assistant Mercy Graves and Harry Lennix as Secretary Swanwick, who knows a thing or two. This is a purely exciting film. I hope that the next films of the DC Extended Universe doesn't disappoint, because something tells me that was a warm-up in order to get ready for the "Justice League" films. But I'm pretty sure that when I take a look back at "Man of Steel" and this movie, there are some clues as to why these chain of events happen to set up the story. But at least, I was fully aware of what was going to happen but didn't know how it was happening. The hype is real. We should start believing in it.
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