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Dollface (2019– )
8/10
Funny show
1 December 2019
In Dollface on Hulu, Jules (played by 2 Broke Girls' Kat Dennings) is left by her boyfriend of five years and tries to reconnect with the friends she lost contact with. Not my target demographic, but I liked Dennings and actress Esther Povitsky and was curious about the dream sequence/magical realism segments (the show was never clear about which they were). I had a good time with this and went through the season's ten episodes pretty quickly.

The show's biggest strength is that it is just pretty funny throughout with snappy dialogue. I you liked Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, this is a pretty good thing to fill its absence with.

The main cast of the four friends is pretty good. I especially liked Madison (The Suite Life of Zack & Cody's Brenda Song), the take-hold member of the group, and Povitsky's Izzy, who is basically the actress' supporting character from Crazy-Ex Maya, a stereotypical millennial, but weirder. I'm not complaining as Povitsky is a hoot to watch.

Admittedly, I like this show based more on the laughs than the plot. There are a lot of cliched moments of secrets that result in outlandish cover-ups; I mean a lot. Also, the characters can be real jerks or pretty selfish at points, especially Madison. (When I said she was one of my favorites, I meant in regards to the characters' humorous sides.)

I'm not saying this show is perfect, but it brings on the jokes and that is what I want from a comedy.
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10/10
Really good and criminally underexposed
30 November 2019
This comedy adventure cartoon show is about Donald Duck (voiced by Tony Anselmo) and his colleagues traveling around the world trying to stop the evil Lord Felldrake (Kevin Michael Richardson). This originally first premiered in 2018, but it was only in the Philippines, and later SouthEast Asia, though this was an American production. I've heard good things about this and have been waiting for the chance to see this. It just came out on Disney+ this Nov. (sadly with no publicity) and I really liked this and am surprised this didn't come out sooner. (Maybe Disney didn't want the show to compete with the new Ducktales).

The Legend of the Three Caballeros is a throwback to the style of Disney in the 50s or 60s. If you feel that a lot of today's character design is too simplistic, cheap, or even ugly-looking than you'll be pleased by this. All the characters are animated in the traditional format. Besides that, the show just looks great in general. The whole thing is really colorful. A lot of design work goes into this. The characters jump from one imaginative-looking place to the next. The Caballeros' base of operations is in Quackmore College. While not a large amount of time is spent there, the above shots show that the animators spent a lot of time in planning the makeup of the place.

The show is also smartly written. I have already mentioned how the places that the Caballeros visit are imaginative-looking but also are the situations they're in. Although the characters go on episodic adventures, there is a surprisingly serialized through line for the whole thing.

If you have kids, the first episode runs the risk of them losing interest before the show gets good. I'm afraid that that one relies too much on classic slapstick and spends a lot of time setting up the story.

Good cast of characters in this. The show has the Donald Duck many remember growing up with. Several more recent versions of Donald on TV and games either tone down his negative aspects or in the case of those 40's-esque Mickey Mouse shorts is a little off-center. We get the classic Donald traits: ill-fortuned and ill-tempered with bouts of mischievous self-servedness that never go too far. The other two Caballeros work well. Jose (Eric Bauza) is the nice guy and ladies' man and Panchito (Jane the Virgin's Jaime Camil) is the oblivious kook. They are aided by the Greek Goddess Xandra (Grey Griffin), which is an odd addition in theory given that she is a deity and humanoid who is surrounded by animal people. But the character being the straight man and adventurous goal-driven one jives surprisingly well with the others. The Caballeros' wacky handy man Artie (Dee Bradley Baker) is a fine source for visual humor.

Interestingly, this is the first animated appearance (besides a dialogue-free cameo in the House of Mouse) of Daisy Duck's nieces April, May, and June (Jessica Diciccio) in animation. (They were originally created for the comics in the 50's. I hear they regularly appear in Denmark ones.) They appear instead of Donald's nephews in this. (I'm wondering if Disney didn't give permission to use them because they didn't want them competing with the versions starring in the new Ducktales.)

The villains Felldrake and Baron Von Shelldrake (Seinfeld's and Third Rock from the Sun's Wayne Knight) are fairly amusing villains. (They've got a Shredder/Krang-esque situation going on.) However, the constant bits of Felldrake belittling Shelldrake get old real fast. Not a fan of how they done did Daisy Duck (Tress MacNeille) in this. The way she treats Donald feels unhealthy and toxic.

There are some songs in this. With the exception of the opening theme, which is a kick ass adaptation of the Three Caballeros song, they are surprisingly non-melodic.

Unfortunately from what I hear, this is a one-season-and-done show. This is a truly entertaining cartoon that I hope one day it gets its due.
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Harley Quinn: Til Death Do Us Part (2019)
Season 1, Episode 1
9/10
Off to a great start!
29 November 2019
This episode was pretty darkly funny. Already liking the cast, writing and animation style.
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Knives Out (2019)
10/10
Really entertaining
25 November 2019
Back in the days of black-and-white, mystery films were quite common but as the years went by, they became less and less common with the mystery genre becoming the domain of television. This is a pity, because I like an old-fashioned mystery. Between this movie and Murder on the Orient Express, it's nice to see the genre make a comeback. Director/writer Rian Johnson was definitely trying to evoke an old school mystery film with this homage, and after seeing the trailers, I definitely wanted to see this. I even went to a farther away early access screening because I couldn't wait. I'm pleased to say this definitely met my expectations.

Knives Out is just a really well told movie. For 2 hr., 10 min., this is finely paced and edited. Johnson really knows how to steer the story, especially the beginning and introduction to the facts of the case.

Besides being a mystery, this movie is also a critique of privilege, which I felt Johnson managed to not beat the audience over the head with. The movie also has a good sense of humor.

The suspects consist of the Thrombey family, who from one extent to another all have leeched off of the money and success of patriarch and mystery writer Harlan Thrombey. They are such a delightfully self-entitled but diverse group of larger-than-life dysfunctional people. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get more of them. (Ana de Armas' Marta Cabrera, Harlan's personal nurse, is the actual star of the film.) I especially thought that Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) is given short shrift.

The cast is excellent all the way through, and I just don't have time to mention everyone. The best performance is by Daniel Craig as Southern gentlemen detective Benoit Blanc. He just kills it as the eccentric and well-spoken detective. I also appreciate that Benoit isn't portrayed as a socially awkward, mircaulous wunderkind as is often the case with detectives these days. Benoit is definitely the smartest guy in the room, but solving the case is real work for him. Again, this is Ana's story. The trailers make Benoit look like the lead. Just don't want you to have false expectations. He is one of the biggest players, make no mistakes.

The movie looks great. The Thrombey estate is delightfully grand and old-fashioned looking and is decorated with a wide assortment of mystery-themed or antiquated bric-a-brac. The outfits all look great as well.

There is only one thing about this movie that bothered me. The score tries for a classic mystery feel to it but tries too hard. A couple times it felt like they were just blasting the music in my face.

Overall, this is just a very entertaining movie and definitely something for mystery fans.
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Frozen II (2019)
9/10
Great looking fantasy film
23 November 2019
I enjoyed myself with this one.

First off, this is one of the BEST looking animated movies of all time. It is simply gorgeous looking. The visuals have an excellent use of color and nature. I love that they decided to set this in autumn, which is something you don't often see in animated films. In contrast to the more traditional fairy tale look of the last film, this one is far grander looking. The appearance of the kingdom of Arendelle in this makes the original look so-so.

Frozen II feels so different from any other Disney animated film. There are plenty of those that do fantasy, but this is the first one (except maybe for The Black Cauldron) to go for EPIC fantasy. I really loved the various legitimately challenging magical forces the characters have to deal with.

The story looks into how Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) has her powers and I really liked the setup and the messages they were trying to tell. This is actually one of the more serious Disney animated films. (By their standards. Don't worry there's still plenty for your kids to love.) There are a couple surprisingly dark, dramatic moments. (Again, by Disney standards.)

Based on the trailers, I was afraid that comic relief Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad) wouldn't fit into the change of tone on account of being too light, but the writers adapted the character really well. They have him growing up and being far more philosophical about the world (while still being pure). His musings often steal the show. I actually thought he was funnier in this than the last film.

I did think this movie had some pacing issues. The plot just isn't as tight as the first one. There are moments where the writer didn't know how to best utilize the main characters. I do wish they spent more time interacting with a couple of the film's likable but underused new supporting characters.

Songs are decent but aren't on the same tier as the last film. Half are just okay. The song Into the Unknown tries too hard to be the new Let it Go. Still, I give the songwriters credit for going with a new style not found in previous Disney films. I liked Show Yourself, Lost in the Woods, and All is Found. The last one is a particularly lovely piece.

This isn't quite as good as the original, which knew more what it wanted to be and had a stronger emotional backbone. Still, this has a lot going for it and I think your kids will like it.
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Noelle (2019)
5/10
Weak effort
20 November 2019
Noelle, now out on Disney+, is about the titular character who is Santa Claus' daughter (played by Anna Kendrick). Her brother Nick (Bill Hader), who is to become the new Santa, gets cold feet and goes missing. So, it's up to Noelle to find go out into the world and find him. Disney made this a couple years ago. It was originally going to be a theatrical release but got held back bringing on the rumors that the corporation didn't have much trust in it, and they they were probably right. Noelle is a rather stale effort.

The general story on paper could've worked, but nothing about the script manages to stick the landing. The movie foreshadows how things will turn out pretty early on. Yes, a lot of successful Christmas films can be predictable, but it all depends on how it goes down and nothing of a whole lot of interest happens or is said. This is a fish-out-of-water movie, too, and I usually like those, but that aspect has even less to work with than the Christmas part. Usually good actors Hendricks and Hader aren't able to salvage the lines in this.

I also found the film to be a little mean spirited. You're expecting the people behind Christmas to be optimistic, but the elves and even Noelle's mother end up being pretty petty to her.

To the movie's credit, there are few good jokes here and there. (There's a good bit with a gavel.) I also appreciate that the threat to Christmas' future, Noelle's cousin Gabrielle (Billy Eichner) who wants to digitize and streamline the way the holiday is done, isn't portrayed as a true villain but in a more nuanced way as someone who means well but is misguided.

I also felt the depiction of the South Pole Christmas town to be rather underwhelming. It feels a little mundane for the place where holiday magic happens. The buildings look like they're from a regular tourist town or a Hallmark Christmas movie. The outfits mostly look too much like regular winter clothes. And how much do fake elf ears cost? Because there seemed to be a lot of effort to keep ears hidden.

Your kids may get more from this and be less discerning. The movie does try to provide positive messages and a story of female empowerment. As for adults, understand this isn't downright bad; it just doesn't feel an hour forty well spent. Watching felt like more of a task than a pleasure.
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Klaus (2019)
9/10
Unique work
18 November 2019
Klaus is the new animated film on Netflix, which is about how the legend of Santa Claus started involving a reclusive woodsman and a selfish postman. This is a truly inventive, good-hearted Christmas film.

The film uses old-fashioned animation with digital techniques to bring a 2 1/2D look to it. This looks AMAZING. I don't think I've seen something quite like this. The painted appearance to the backgrounds and characters looks great. The designs of the characters and locales are all distinctive, especially the characters. There is a wide cast here and they are so stylistically designed. The movie takes place around this town where two clans are at war. The townspeople are such a wonderfully diverse group of grotesques. I also loved the look of Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) who is given a large, broad-shouldered figure. The character movement is also really fluid.

The story is equally good. Although the film ultimately goes the way you predict it will, the storytelling in this is so well done that it doesn't much matter. The idea of the story of Santa Claus being told through non-magical reasons and happening through the actions of a postman is definitely something different from most attempts at Santa origin stories. The warring clans part brings a nice dab of dark humor while the sentimental bits are done nicely. All the characters are likable.

I highly recommend you check this out. This is just a really well-done family Christmas movie.
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8/10
Fun for the type of movie it is trying to be
17 November 2019
This is not a perfect movies. It has its flaws. Still, I enjoyed myself. I found this to be a guilty pleasure. I mean, isn't "lightweight" or "guilty pleasure" what one should expect from a Charlie's Angels installment?

Let me get the script's problems out of the way. The story has its muddled plot points. There isn't a lot of regard for real world logic. Plus, there is one strange, dark element that leaves a bit of a metaphorical bitter aftertaste.

On the whole, I had a good time. Admittedly, it was in a brainless way. I felt there was a fair amount of funny lines and generally liked the combination of fight scenes and stylish locales. I also liked the decision that the Townsend Agency has been expanded into this larger multinational operation.

The three leads were good. Kristen Stewart was the MVP as the weird one who you can't predict what she'll say or do next. Naomi Scott also does a great job as the innocent newbie trying to stay afloat in the world of espionage she has found herself in. Ella Balinska is more of the straight woman and doesn't get as much a chance to shine, but she does a decent job when she gets to demonstrate her comedic chops.

What helps the film is that it has a surprisingly strong group of villains, most of them of which are also pretty funny.

As for the film's appearance: The movie has a pretty good selection of nice looking sets and locales. There were a couple ideas during fight scenes I thought were done well. The filming has some issues, particularly in the first half. There are way too many close-up shots. Also, there were a couple of times that the camera tried to balance the background and the foreground, which resulted in this brief but odd feel that's hard to put into words. It's sort of an uncanny valley-esque situation.

Overall, I kind of compare this to the first two films in that it doesn't matter that much what the film is about and just sitting back and enjoy the ride.
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10/10
Really well done
17 November 2019
Ford vs. Ferrari is a retelling of the Ford company's attempts to compete with Ferrari in building racing cars and win the Le Mans race and the designer and driver behind getting the tasks done. This is just a really well put together, well written movie that looks at the passion for something in contrast with the constraints of the business world.

The direction on this is tight. It looks nice and the pacing is pretty smooth for a two-and-a-half hour movie. Director James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line) really knows how to make scenes visually interesting, throwing in little stuff. Though there isn't really that much racing in this, the race at Le Mans really pays off your expectations.

Matt Damon and Christian Bale are the leads in this, the former being the guy who tries to work within the system and the latter being the guy who can't. Matt Damon gives a fine performance, but it's Bale who steals every scene he's in. The famously versatile actor completely sells the character of driver Ken Miles, both brash but charismatic. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get an Oscar nomination. To be honest, the casting even to the smallest characters is pretty darn good. Props should be given to Tracy Letts as tough, intimidating boss Henry Ford II.

The only weak spot I found, and it's more of a knitpick, is that they could've cut down on the scenes of Miles interacting with his family. It's good stuff, but it can be a little repetitive.

Overall, I highly recommend this.
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Midway (2019)
5/10
Kinda weak
10 November 2019
For a movie with a lot of action, I was a little bored.

This is helmed by disaster movie director Roland Emmerich. He is a guy who found his voice in the 90's, and this movie kind of feels like it was made during that decade. The execution is too light for its own good. I don't mean this in a complimentary way. Dialogue is undercooked and at times cliched. I felt like a lot of good actors were wasted here. There is a lot of quick jumping from scene-to-scene. Yes, I know this is one of those war movies that look at many players, but even by the standards of these types of films, the scenes often don't hold weight.

Also, this movie feels kind of odd for today. More recent war movies have tried to look at the more realistic and darker elements of the subject and the human toll and psychology of it all. Not that this movie isn't about human sacrifice, but this tries to be more of a crowdpleaser like the war films of yesteryear. It feels out of place in today's climate.

Of course, I could just be jaded. If you want to see movie honoring those who died for our county, then this might be for you. The movie does a good job of laying out how the battle of Midway went down on both the American and Japanese fronts and evoking the old feel of wide-scale military battle films.

Emmerich maintains his eye for action. The combat scenes are all done well. The computer graphics aren't the best; none of them look realistic enough. In Emmerich's defense, I give him credit for showing a lot of them during full daylight scenes, which is trickier than doing them during night or in grey/blue lighting. Also, props to hair and costumes in this.

Overall, this is a movie that looks good enough but just doesn't stand out.
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Doctor Sleep (2019)
10/10
Really good film
10 November 2019
I found Doctor Sleep, based on the book by Stephen King and the sequel to The Shining, to be really, really good.

This is directed by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) who has proven himself to be one of the great horror auteurs. (He previously adapted Stephen King's Gerald's Game, which was an impressive effort considering that it was mostly a person handcuffed to a bed.) The pacing works really well for a movie running at two-and-a-half hours. The dialogue is some of the best flowing I've seen in a while. The cinematography and general look are also top notch.

Horror fans, be forewarned that there are not that many scares. This time the main foe isn't ghosts, but the True Knot, psychic energy vampires. They're powerful, but they have basic human personalities and certain limitations. But, it's a really good story! You get to learn a lot more about the world of shining (psychic powers). The personal journey of psychic and recovering alcoholic Danny Torrence and his relationship with young shiner Abra (Kyliegh Curran) is interesting. What the True Knot lack in frightening appearances, they make up with being fleshed-out characters who make very dangerous antagonists. Though not the scariest film, this works really well as a dark tale. Also, scene where you see the True Knot in action is one truly scary moment that will stick with you.

The leads, McGregor, Curran, and Rebecca Ferguson as the True Knot's leader Rose the Hat, all do an excellent job.(Yes, I concede the villain names are silly.) However, McGregor's American accent doesn't sound quite natural. Also for flashback purposes and such, Flanagan got some very convincing actors to mimic the ones from the Shining.

Remember when I said the pacing "mostly" works? The one weak point is reliance on nostalgia. The movie tries to be both an adaptation of Doctor Sleep but also stay true to the events specific to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Fans of the book could be disappointed by changes. Several of elements involving the previous movie work. But there are moments where it can't help but give direct "wink, wink" references to the original's scenes and shots. It feels forced and the cinematography feels off with the rest of the film. However, there is only a very small percentage of these elements in the movie. Mostly it is its own thing.

Of the recent Stephen King movies (including the Netflix ones), this is my favorite. In fact, I think it's one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made.
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9/10
Fun blockbuster
2 November 2019
I had a lot of fun with this.

Terminator: Dark Fate is just a very entertaining blockbuster. The action is really good. The locales look nice. There's a nice violence-to-story ratio. Decent dialogue with a string of some very funny lines.

I noticed that a lot of reviews have criticized this movie for having the same basic structure of the original films. I suppose this is true, but I found the movie did a good enough job that it didn't bother me. However, there was one moment of synchronicity with the first film that I could've done without.

I can't go into details but this movie does one thing that some of recent action/adventure films set decades after the original or originals do that is kind of annoying and a bit jaded.

Linda Hamilton makes this film. She is now tough, doesn't give-a-frick old lady and steals whatever scene she is in. Some of the best parts is her interaction with Mackenzie Davis' Grace, who is an augmented soldier from the future. They both have the same goal but different attitudes and their verbal sparring is fun.

The new antagonist the Rev-9 is a combination of the original Terminator and Terminator 2's the T-100. Despite the retreading, he actually feels fresh. He's got a pretty neat ability and his Terminator form may be the creepiest of them. The mannerisms of his human form (Diego Luna who was Ghost Rider on Agents of Shield) may be too similar to Robert Patrick's T-100 for some, but Luna does a great job in the role, switching from emotionless machine to someone charismatic who can blend in.

Definitely liked this better than T3 and Salvation, and I was one of those people who liked the latter. (Haven't seen Genesys, yet.) But, I admit this doesn't quite have the specific James Cameron feel of the first two films. As I said, this is a blockbuster and in terms of just being entertaining and not being innovative it does what I was looking for.
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7/10
Fans may love this, others may find this just okay
28 October 2019
Understand that this review is for the average viewer. If you're a big One Piece fan, my rating may be too low for you. This whole thing is one big fan service. There was a lot of clapping in the theater I was at. The movie squeezes a TON of existing characters from the anime's extensive roster and manages to do so with a reasonable explanation of how they're gathered all in one place. You also get a ton of fighting.

But putting the fan service aside, I can't say this is a perfect movie. The last two One Piece movies, Z and Gold, were really good. (The former's strength is in it's plot and the latter is in showmanship and worldbuilding.) In fact, I think they're some of the best anime films based on TV shows. (A lot of these films feel like uneventful filler.) In regards to story and execution, I don't think this compares to them.

The thing about this movie is that there are so many players in this that it is mostly just showing the characters and action. The plot is thin. Some of the main characters from the show really don't get to do much. It doesn't help that the secondary villain is rather extraneous.

Of course, some may only be interested in the action. The movie is jam-packed with it but there are so many character move sets that you don't get much time to focus on any of it.

On the plus side, the villain, who is basically a mountain of muscle, is a pretty good threat. There's also a visual design that I can't go into detail but looks really, really good. Plot-wise there are a couple strong emotional moments.

If you haven't seen the show before, this isn't the best jumping in point. I think they explain enough so that you understand the general story, but all the character appearances will probably leave you lost.

As a movie in general, I don't think it's bad, just okay. I may see it again some point when I want some light watching. But as mentioned, if you love OP, you'll probably want to see this soon because it doesn't disappoint when showing you stuff you already like.
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Countdown (III) (2019)
6/10
Meh
27 October 2019
Countdown, about a supernatural app that tells you when you die, has it's moments but is ultimately underwhelming.

A lot of the script, especially lead ELizabeth Lail's personal struggles and backstory which takes up half the time, is really predictable and kinda boring. There is a subplot about a doctor (acted unconvincingly by Peter Facinelli; though in defense, he didn't have any good dialogue to work with) that is pretty cringeworthy and is handled in an unnatural manner that serves to force in a plot point. The look of the evil entity in this is also pretty basic.

However, there are several moments where Countdown is being a better movie. The humor in this isn't half bad, especially the reactions of regular bystanders to the leads is pretty fun. Tom Segura as a self-serving tech guy and P.J. Byrne as a nerdy priest both do good job as comic relief. There are a few ideas or scares that weren't half bad.

Unfortunately, the good and bad stuff counter each other resulting in a very so-so film.
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The Lighthouse (I) (2019)
9/10
Excellent looking horror film
27 October 2019
In The Lighthouse, two old-timey lighthouse keepers played by Willem DeFoe and Robert Pattinson are alone on an island and get on each others nerves. Things start getting freaky as sanity starts to wane and what is real or not comes into question. I found this to be rather a fascinating film and the best looking horror movie of the year.

This movie is so visually striking. It is very reminiscent of how old movies were shot. The film is in black and white and the contrast between white and dark really adds to the stark feel of the whole thing. There are a lot of controlled shots that really direct the mood. The camera lingering on a wide shot helps show the bleakness of the island or a specific focus on something out of place or unsettling add to the madness and sense of despair.

The imagery is just fantastic. A lot of the freaky stuff that goes on is quick and to the point in a manner almost like a picture in a book giving The Lighthouse an unreal feel. There are some very unique parts and there is stuff in here you won't soon forget.

The psychological drama and the script are well done, too. There are some really good moments of dialogue and even an odd funny line that'll catch you by surprise. But I admit that the script is not at the same level as the visuals. Some of the many scenes of tension or squabbling between the two main characters could've been cut down a little.

Understand that this is a slow movie. The characters speak in the manner of the times and you have to make sure you're paying attention so you can figure out what they're saying.

Defoe unsurprisingly does a great job, but in my opinion it is Pattinson who makes the film. He can say so much with just a facial expression and he is so good at handling quick changes of tone.

Overall this movie may be too slow a burn for some, but if you're the slightest bit interested, I highly suggest this. This is a movie that will really stick with you.
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8/10
Makes grass scary
23 October 2019
Based on the novella by the father-son team of Stephen King and Hoe HIll, this film continues the King tradition of bringing horror out of common things. In this case, long grass can be pretty freaky. There have been instances where people or children have gotten lost and died of dehydration in corn fields. The same principle applies here. A brother and sister end up lost in a field of tall grass and even before things start getting weird the film does a great job of showing the usual unpleasantness of being stuck out in the heat and the mud.

The freaky stuff equally helps make this film. I don't know if I'd call this the scariest film ever, but it does a good job of being uneasy or uncomfortable. A fair part of this is the scares being subtle but when the nasty stuff happens: it is definitely memorable. There is one thing in particular you won't see coming.

This is one of those horror films that plays a little too fast and loose with the rules of how things work for some viewers tastes.

Director VIncenzo Natali (who directed Splice) has a good eye for visuals here. There are so many shots and computer and set designs that stand out. However, the computer graphics can be a bit obvious at points.

Mostly decent cast, but the standout is Patrick Wilson. I won't go into detail, but he really gets the chance to play more of a character role than he usually gets. I did have issues with Will Buie Jr., the movie's only child actor. The issue isn't that he's a bad actor. He's given dialogue that just sounds too adult. Buie does a such competent job of delivering his lines he doesn't sound like a regular kid either.

Once again, Netflix has produced another good Stephen King adaption. I recommend this.
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Jexi (2019)
8/10
Entertaining enough
23 October 2019
Jexi is about the titular Siri/Alexa-like phone program (voiced by Rose Byrne) with a mind of her own who ends up wreaking havoc with the life of an introverted phone addict played by Adam Devine. I generally liked this.

Jexi makes this film. Her smack talking brings the biggest laughs. I also appreciated that this avoids some of the cliches you usually get with AI-run-amok films. Jexi lets you know what she is from the get-go. There's no slow burn of her pretending to act regularly or slowly gaining sentience. However, her arc does become more predictable in the second half.

They really didn't have to hire a known actor to do this. Plenty of people could've easily spoken in a phone-like voice without vocal change. Still, I do admit that Byrne does a good job. I also liked the usually more over-the-top Devine who does a good job with a more subdued role. (This is especially a relief because I didn't think he did a great job in his last straight man role in Isn't it Romantic.)

Understand that this movie works more on a feel-good level than a laugh-a-minute one. Jexi is in about every other scene. When she isn't there, some people may find some of the scenes, many of them involving Devine's character predictably growing as a person, too leisurely for their taste.

This film is a little lightweight. It's not something you need to see immediately, but it's worth giving a chance sometime.
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9/10
Funny sequel
20 October 2019
Given that this was ten years apart from its predecessor, I feared that this movie would suffer the far-separated comedy sequel curse, but my doubts were quickly shaken.

The sequel remains really funny, including the return of the fun narrative cutaways and the, sometimes creative, use of text for the rules of surviving the zombie apocalypse.

The returning four main characters remain great. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) are a great odd-couple duo with excellent chemistry. Emma Stone as Wichita continues to do a great job as the one who reacts sarcastically. I love new character Madison (Zoey Deutsch). She is a bimbo/airhead type, but she has a specific quirkiness that makes the character distinctive. She always has the most random lines.

The plot itself is a little lightweight; the movie mostly runs on the jokes.

Overall, I had a good time with this and recommend it.
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8/10
Fun little film
12 October 2019
This knows how to have fun. The new animated Addams Family movie delivers what you want from the titular family: spades of dark humor jokes.

The movie successfully delivers when it comes to the four main family members. (Uncle Fester (Nick Kroll) and Granny (Bette Midler) are just okay.) Gomez (Oscar Isaacs) is the congenial family man with a zest for life. Morticia is the over-protective mother whose viewpoint you understand. Though the movie does have the parents be a little more sentimental than some portrayals, I do think it still captured the core of the characters. More effort is put into characterization for Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) than a lot of previous versions. Let's be honest, Wednesday is usually the sibling that pulls focus. Speaking of which, this version is not much different. This Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) gives the Christina Ricci version a run for her money. This is by far the most unnervingly emotionless one, and the animated format is able to do things to increase her creepiness that you couldn't do in animation.

The story, though, is very basic. It is the trope of the "normies" vs. the misunderstood monsters with predictable parent-child rifts. The normal people, especially villainous home renovator Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), are pretty predictable and uninteresting. I've seen Janney do good voice work before but here it feels like she's trying for a vocal quality she is never able to quite capture.

This appears to be a modestly budgeted film so don't expect Pixar, Disney, or Dreamworks-quality animation. I found the character design for a lot of the townsfolk to be disappointing. Though I did eventually get accustomed to it, the decision to make Morticia's face look like a skull wasn't what I felt to be the best option for the character. It felt a little at odds with the original New Yorker cartoon and previous animated versions. I think it's the chin that's the main issue. It was a little too long. I did like the decoration of the Addams Family house.

I do prefer the two 90's live-action versions over this. This one is more of a children's movie, and the original ones being for an older audience were able to go darker and more-over-the-top. This movie also has less of a distinct identity than its predecessors. (Though in fairness, what can you expect with any Addams Family movie without Raoul Julia?) I can't say this is the greatest animated kids film, either. However, it is an enjoyable time waster for the family.
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Joker (2019)
7/10
Really mixed feelings about this
4 October 2019
The Joker is a stand-alone film outside the DC Universe which is an origin story for the Batman villain. I don't think that since The Rocky Horror Picture Show's sequel Shock Treatment that I've had such a conflict over how I feel about a film. I think I equally like and dislike this movie.

First off, I'll confirm most of the good things that everyone's been saying: This has some very interesting looks at wealth inequality, the failings of mental health care, what can cause the result of psychopathic attacks, and the basic human apathy and failure of humankid to take care of itself in general. There are a lot of really top notch lines and scenes in this. The final act is something. It leaves quite the impression.

The whole things looks great. Director Todd Phillips provides such an impressive look and sound to the film. Some great cinematography. Dirty, crowded, crime-laden Gotham looks great. Both score and song selections really guide the mood.

Again I must parrot what everyone's saying: Joaquin Phoenix delivers what could be an Oscar-winning performance as the lead. He is so nuanced and excels at making you feel uncomfortable. Joaquin has such a unique body language in this. This version of the Joker has a condition where he can laugh uncontrollably, and the actor does a great job of making it feel realistic and unpleasant. He also appears to have lost a lot of weight in this. The Joker is traditionally portrayed as a skinny feller but here the movie uses this to make the character feel at times downright primal or sickly, matching his mental state.

However, the movie should not have been two hours long. In order to show the events that create the Joker, Phillips over-compensates and throws way too many plot points at the guy. There are moments that are quite tedious, especially in the middle. There is a also a subplot I was really not found of that reeks of uninspired fan-fiction.

To be honest, this was such a grounded piece by superhero comic standards that it could've been a non-comic book film. Yeah, DC is trying to show that these films can be more prestigious and serious, but by taking out the over-the-top parts of the superhero genre, I feel we may lose what made them special in the first place.

This is the first real comic supervillain movie. (Venom's movie was an anti-hero flick.) But taking the comics into account: his isn't the first attempt to redo a supervillain's origina story. I feat that a lot of these stories frustratingly tend to recycle concepts and this is no exception. These include: 1) Make the villain's story darker than previous incarnations. 2) Have one of their few connections be with a mother and/or romantic interest or fixation (Zazie Beets' character could've been cut out of this completely without changing anything).

Considering that this is about a burgeoning psychopath, you can probably guess, but just to confirm: this is a REALLy dark movie. Violence doesn't happen all the time but when it does: Whoo-boy! Phillips has publicly mentioned that the films of Scorses, such as Taxi Driver and The Comedian, greatly influenced him. So, be forewarned if that's not your thing.

I really had a hard time deciding on the rating for this. On one hand, Phillips, who has directed comedies up till now, surprisingly pulls off quite a confident, intriguing cinematic experience. The movie managed to elicit an emotional response from me that very few films have. However, the issues I mentioned prevented me from loving this or watching a second time. Some of the theater audience at the end clapped, but I personally don't think the movie was strong enough to justify that.
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7/10
Decent, but there was room for improvement
29 September 2019
Based on a true story, Jillian Bell plays Brittany, a woman with insecurities and an unhealthy lifestyle, who is told by a doctor that it would be healthier for her to lose weight. This leads her on a path to discovery and eventual plans to run a marathon. I found this to have a generally good uplifting story, but the specific parts don't all work. The script could'v gone through another revision.

There are moments where the humor and dialogue really snaps and others where they don't work at all and scenes feel drawn out or superfluous. Brittany herself at times can be very sympathetic with real world doubts, but at other times her negative actions are so over-the-top that you can't relate to her.

Speaking of Brittany, Jillian Bell does a great job in the role. Many of us have probably seen her in things over the years, such as 22 Jump Street and Date Night, but she's mostly been a supporting player. It's nice to see her take center stage and show that she can do a bit of drama.

This movie is shot interestingly. It uses bright colors like a comedy but uses handheld camerawork and has sort of a more down-to-Earth feel.

As a feel-good movie, I thinks this works more than it doesn't. Just don't expect perfection.
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Ad Astra (2019)
7/10
A real visual experience, the plot however...
29 September 2019
Ad Astra is basically a little bit of a mesh of Black Hole meets Apocalypse Now as Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who goes into space seeking his long thought dead father played by Tommy Lee Jones who may be linked to a serious of dangerous electrical surges. It's a great looking film that can also be pretty dull at points.

This is one of the most visually impressive films of the year. There is just so much gorgeous scenery and special effects. Includes the best looking realization of the moon's surface I've ever seen. The film does a great job of balancing the whiteness or colors of the spacecraft with the darkness of space. The cinematography is also excellent with just some great camera shots.

The movie does a strong job of world building in this near future world where space travel is easier and travel to the moon is pretty routine. The setting is explained naturally without forced exposition.

This is a very deliberately paced movie that focuses too much on the hero's journey for it's own good. This is isn't too much of an issue for the first half of the film as they throw several interesting things at you. However as Pitt's character travels further away from human civilization, scenes get far more drawn out and just plain boring. I had to step away for a few minutes and didn't miss anything.

It doesn't help the movie any that the main story and the hero's journey are all really basic and predictable when you get down to it.

Though I just said how simple his character's arc was, Pitt does a really good job of selling the guy especially since he has his emotions in check for a good part of the film. Though he's not in this much, Jones also does a hell of a job. (Also, this isn't really relevant to the content of the film, but Donald Pleasance is in this and this is the first time I've seen him without facial hair. I think he's a reverse Trebeck in that I actually thinks he looks better without it despite being accustomed to him with the moustache and sometimes beard for years.)

I think this film is more appealing to those you are interested in intellectual films. If you're into pure entertainment, this may not be your thing.
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Promare (2019)
8/10
Fun, but not outstanding
19 September 2019
Promare takes place in a world where giant robot piloting firefighters go up against the Burnish, a group of people who control flames. The Burnish are also persecuted in this world and soon things become more complicated.

In my opinion, Gurren Lagan and Kill la Kill are two of the best anime of recent years. So when I heard that the studio and main director and studio Studio Trigger were making a movie, I made sure to see this.

This has a very unique look to the scenery. A simplistic lineless cel-shaded look involving neon colors and geometric shapes. The minimalist look can be pretty impressive at times, like a scene of the mountains at sunset. The costumes, giant robots, and actions scenes are all stylishly designed.

However, I did find the quick shots and frame rate to be a bit jarring. The character designs are from the same guy who did Gurren Lagan and I felt a couple of characters' looks felt recycled.

Promare has an over-the-top tone to it and isn't afraid to poke a little fun at itself. Still, the stakes and world building in this are enough that they are able to anchor the movie.

This does suffer from trying to squeeze a little too much into two hours. There are way too many characters. A couple of the firefighters don't really do much. At times, the film feels like it's going too quickly just jamming stuff down your throat. At other times, new plot developments feel like things are being stretched out.

The villains are rather one-dimensional and over-the-top.

The music is pretty good and helps set the mood.

Overall, I didn't like this as much Gurren Lagan and Kill La Kill. This movie just tried to do too much. This may've worked better as a TV show that gave eveything time to breathe. Promare though distinctive in style doesn't tread that much new ground from past anime that feature giant robots or characters with mutant abilities. Surprisingly, this isn't even the first firefighter hero-themed anime. That all said, I still had a good time. This is sugar food, lightweight fun.
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Hustlers (2019)
9/10
Really good
14 September 2019
Hustlers, based on a true story, is about a group of strippers who suffering financially after the crash of 2008 start drugging and stealing from well-off guys. To be honest, I wouldn't have watched this if it wasn't for the fact that there weren't any films out this weekend that I was particularly jazzed about. Still I try to rationalize the cost of my AMC A-List subscription by seeing at least one movie a week. I was really glad I chose this one.

This is an interesting film. It's a morally gray movie that focuses on the ethical murkiness of the situation of women taking advantage of the type of men who take advantage of them. The movie doesn't try to take a particular stand but just wants you to watch in fascination like a good true crime story. This also sort of has a heist-type feel to it. It's also pretty funny at moments.

The film does a good job of making you like the strippers at the outset before their actions become more complex and shadier. All four leads are great. I particularly liked Fresh off the Boat/Crazy Rich Asians' Constance Wu as the lead in a well-balanced performance. Keke Palmer also has great comedic chops in this.

Director Lorene Scafaria (who directed Looking for a Friend for the End of the World, an interesting film) really has a confident hold on this film. This is one of those movies that does an excellent job of leading the viewer. There are just some really strong edits and other ideas. The lighting, the outfits, the musical selections, etc. are all good.

Overall, the Hustlers is very interesting, very enthralling.
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Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (2015 Video Game)
8/10
Fun, but not the best in the series
11 September 2019
This is a generally fun game, but it isn't a standout in the series.

To clarify this is really a M+L game and not a Paper Mario game. The gameplay like in the previous games is a fun combination of RPG battles and button timing. Paper Mario with his own unique abilities is a fun addition. However, I did find several of the special moves and avoidances for boss attacks to be a bit trickier than needed. I'm happy to say they got rid of the long gameplay tutorials from Dream Team.

This game drops the double-screen/sidescrolling stages from the last two games. I'm okay with that as Dream Team, while fun, just couldn't sustain the energy the concept had when it was first introduced in Bowser's Inside Story.

Also instead of the giant fights from the last two games, we get cardboard fights in which the characters fight each with cardboard bots in a tank warfare style situation. It's an interesting idea, but it always feels too drawn out for it's own good. You have to recharge your weapons with a musical rhythm timing game, and it gets tedious real fast.

The overall map isn't as big as some of the other games; a little too much backtracking for it's own good. You just don't get as many sidequests or additional characters, too. I am disappointed there are no real new character or bad guys to fight in this.

The plot is decent but pretty basic. Watching Luigi's antics remain a highlight of the game.

I liked playing the this, but it also reminded me how the previous games were stronger.
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