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Dark Phoenix (2019)
4/10
Not sure 'X-Men' can rise from these ashes
30 November 2019
In the storied franchise that is the X-Men series, there have been highs and lows. Lately, there have been more lows, with 2019's 'Dark Phoenix' marking a new one (and, perhaps, a point of no return).

Simon Kinberg jumps off the peak he stood on following the widely acclaimed 'Logan' to helm this tractor trailer-sized scrapheap, which tells the story of how Jean Grey's Phoenix came to be during the 1990s. Yes, we're reunited with familiar faces from the 'First Class,' 'Days of Future Past' and 'Apocalypse' entries, whether it's James McAvoy's Professor Charles Xavier or Jennifer Lawrence's Raven, along with newbies like Jessica Chastain's imposter Vuk. But of course, the main attraction is Sophie Turner, who reprises her role as the titular character coming off a strong finish as Sansa Stark in 'Game of Thrones.'

But unfortunately for Turner, the script and screenplay here is too much of a dumpster fire to overcome. Her acting isn't great, but we've seen her do much better, so this should not fall on her. Everything about 'Phoenix' is a crumpled up ball of old newspapers. From the even more bloated cast than usual to the wooden acting and the lack of charisma between any of those onscreen. Even the special effects feel like they're a notch or two below what we're used to.

Hopefully this is not the last we've seen of this franchise, but it's hard to see how the X-Men can rise from the ashes after this one.
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The Invitation (I) (2015)
8/10
A four-course masterpiece thriller
30 November 2019
When you think of dinner parties, they hardly sound like uninviting settings (well, unless you attend one thrown by Walder Frey, but that's another ballgame). In Karyn Kusama's 'The Invitation,' we get to be a fly on the wall in what can only be described as a gathering that is probably not on anyone's "can't miss" list.

The film is really carried on the shoulders of Logan Marshall-Green, whose Will attends a dinner alongside his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Oh, did I mention the dinner takes place in his old house and is hosted by his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new Hollywood mogul husband (Michiel Huisman)? Awk. But that's just the beginning...

As the film progresses, we're drawn into a trance. We notice a number of things that can't be right, or are unsettling to say the least. But is everyone else crazy, or are we the ones who misunderstand? Slowly but surely, pieces begin to fall into place, but there's always an iota of doubt that still hangs in the air. Among the more effective aspects of 'The Invitation' are the use of the camera, which lingers to create a sense of suspense, to heavy dialogue that paints the picture of the strength of the group's friendship, with the exception of those who are new to their circle.

This film poses some thoughtful questions: at what point does being polite end up costing you? How do you discern between friendly suggestion and forceful coercion? And how do you simply put past tragedy behind you and pretend all is okay?

'The Invitation' is an overlooked example of how suspense can be done smartly - with precise screenwriting, deliberate dialogue and subtle twists and turns.
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Fractured (I) (2019)
3/10
Plot more overdone than Thanksgiving dinner
30 November 2019
Netflix original films are like any other films - there are some diamonds in the rough, but the vast majority are mediocre at best. In the case of 'Fractured,' it fares worse than many others that have come before it.

The Sam Worthington-starring thriller has a stale plot that we've seen many times before - whether it was Jodie Foster in 'Flightplan,' Julianne Moore in 'The Forgotten' or Angelina Jolie in 'Changeling.' The "child goes missing and the parent is crazy" storyline can sometimes be compelling, but we've seen all this before, with better acting. Sure, it's interesting to see what happens when this scenario takes place in a hospital setting. But that does little to make 'Fractured' watchable.

Regardless of the twist (which can be seen coming from a mile down the country road), there are no real redeeming qualities for this film.
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Arctic (2018)
7/10
Dangerously beautiful
26 November 2019
Survivalist cinema is usually a genre that either strikes like lightning or struggles to find an audience, depending on many different factors ranging from how bankable the lead actor is to what elements we are immersed into. In 2018's 'Arctic,' director Joe Penna takes us to one of the most desolate, unforgiving places on earth in what is a race against the clock for survival.

While not a household name, Mads Mikkelsen is perfectly cast as a man whose single-engine plane crashes in the arctic tundra without a firm rescue mission. What ensues is 98-minute excursion complete with life-or-death decisions that Mikkelsen's character must make as he struggles with the dilemma of whether to shelter in place or seek out help.

Aside from the wonder of the scenic setting, which is beautiful and dangerous all in the same, perhaps the best part of 'Arctic' is seeing how Mikkselsen's character risks his own life to attempt to save the life of a young woman who also is stranded (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), assuming a burden that theoretically could jeopardize his own chances.

Yes, it's light on dialogue and heavy on empty spaces, but 'Arctic' is captivating nonetheless.
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6/10
Far from a masterpiece but packs a punch
26 November 2019
In the post-'Endgame' Marvel era, it's easy to view everything through a different lens. Is there really anything beyond the events of the biggest film of 2019? In 'Spider-man: Far From Home,' we get a glimpse into what we're going to be seeing in future MCU efforts.

'Home' dusts itself off from the events of the last 'Avengers' go-round fairly easily as it doesn't so much focus on the past as it does look to the future. We're once again taken on a wild ride through the adolescent battleground that is high school, as Peter Parker/Spider-man (reprised once again by Tom Holland) joins his misfit peers on a European class trip. What could possibly go wrong?

While 'Home' does a solid job of injecting lightheartedness into what could otherwise be a pretty dark outing, it's not all fun and games. Holland's Parker deals with his one-sided relationship with MJ (again played by Zendaya) while trying to uphold his "must defend humanity" mandate in the wake of a mysterious new superpower named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film is entertaining at face value but sort of stumbles and fails to make an impact as a "must see" entry in Marvel's library. Even with an extended final sequence, the increased action doesn't do much to help the film's cause.

'Spider-man: Far From Home' is far from a masterpiece, but it helps kick things off with a bang in this new chapter.
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The Iron Lady (2011)
7/10
Streep brings 'The Iron Lady' out of her armor
30 August 2019
Hollywood has a real affinity for all things that are British, including the royal family. And while Margaret Thatcher was not a member of the House of Windsor, she commanded the respect and admiration of many of her constituents during her time as prime minister. In 'The Iron Lady,' we see Meryl Streep take on one of the roles of her career, which earned her an Academy Award.

'Lady' takes an interesting approach in telling the story of a daughter of a middle class grocer who would go on to play a central role in geopolitical events. Instead of following a chronological order, we see Thatcher struggle to come to terms with old age in the recent aftermath of the death of her husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). While we get to see glimpses of Thatcher during her glory days, there's a sense of sadness in seeing a once strong leader in such a state of decline. That said, Streep delivers a performance that few could, toggling between moments where Thatcher remained steadfast in her beliefs in the face of criticism and unrest, and others that required human connection.

The secret to 'Lady' is really Streep and the subject matter. There's not much else beneath the ironclad surface of the film, as everything revolves around Maggie T. And this isn't problematic, either, because there's so much material to work with for a biopic. It's just a shame there couldn't be more packed into here - perhaps a Netflix series could cover that ground?
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The Meg (2018)
2/10
When you're actually rooting for the shark...
24 August 2019
How do you make a shark movie that makes all other shark movies seem like they're taking place in a kiddie pool? Well, by resurrecting a 2.5 million-year extinct species and trying to kill it, of course. Enter 'The Meg,' a flashy, splashy summer blockbuster that follows the story of a retired deep diver (Jason Statham) who is called on for a final rescue mission only to find something much more sinister lurking in the depths.

So yeah, 'The Meg' is every ridiculous renegade creature movie you've ever seen and rolled your eyes at. There's really not much to say here - the plot is predictable with a capital "P," the connection between Statham and Bingbing Li, who is the lead researcher's daughter, is paper-thin and the typical comic relief-cast is just embarrassing. Of course, nothing is expected to be accurate or somehow connected to reality in 'The Meg,' but it doesn't need to be as horrible as it is. And forget the giant shark...the only bright spot is Rainn Wilson, who takes a departure from his past roles as a billionaire playboy who is of course fixated on his funds above all else.

'The Meg' is a prehistoric disaster that never should have been unearthed.
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First Man (2018)
6/10
Armstrong biopic prioritizes conflict over outer space
24 August 2019
The renewed interest in the final frontier in film has resulted in some really good (and pretty bad) projects. Damien Chazelle's critically acclaimed box office bust 'First Man' falls somewhere in the middle of the pack, as some had a much different vision of what this film would be about.

At its core, 'First Man' is the story of the conflict experienced by the most famous man to ever visit space. Ryan Gosling stands in as Neil Armstrong alongside Claire Foy as his wife, Janet. The two are very good actors in their own right, but they do not have the necessary spark or chemistry to make the strained relationship feel authentic. That said, this is very much an actor's movie, and neither one should be disappointed with their performances. The supporting cast is alright - nothing spectacular, but they do the job. The special effects are not the main attraction here, that's for sure. Yes, part of the film takes place in space (and more specifically, on the moon), but these scenes feel like they are inserted just because they need to be based on the story.

The one aspect that really stands out in 'First Man' is the soundtrack. Just Hurwitz ('La La Land,' 'Whiplash') really goes all in and delivers a memorable story through sound. It earned a Golden Globe, and easily could have ended up with an Oscar, too.

Despite its poor commercial success, 'First Man' did not deserve all the negative attention it received. It's not an amazing film by any stretch, but it's an important story of one of the most beloved American heroes.
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The Ritual (I) (2017)
4/10
Real potential but falls apart in the third act
24 August 2019
Four 40-something friends go hiking in the woods in northern Sweden. Nothing can go wrong with that, right? The Netflix original 'The Ritual' follows the story of this crew as they hike in honor of their fallen buddy as a final remembrance of sorts, and predictably, things don't go quite according to plan.

'Ritual' is pretty heavy, as the relationship between the four friends is tested in many ways. There's plenty of psychological spooks littered throughout the film, most of which are pretty well executed. This doesn't make up for the many scenes that feel like they're direct rip-offs of the much superior 'The Blair Witch Project,' though. Still, the stress and strain on these friends feels real; important because at the end of the day, it's the four actors (Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton) on whose shoulders everything rests.

Where 'The Ritual' really goes downhill, though, is the third act. Cheesy, generic and not very scary, the finale really destroys any excitement that was built up previously in the film. Too bad, as there was some real potential here.
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4/10
So many meters down, down, down
19 August 2019
It seems we get a new shark-related movie every summer. Whether it was 2016's 'The Shallows' or last year's 'The Meg,' there's plenty of chum to go around for everyone. Two summers ago brought us the Mexico-set '47 Meters Down.' A low-budget underwater thriller, '47' was a hit with audiences, but not with critics.

The plot here is as thin as the bars of the shark cage apparently are. Two sisters (Claire Holt and Mandy Moore) are on vacation and are talked into taking a dip in open water to swim with the great whites - nothing could possibly go wrong here (and nothing would possibly be predictable). While a low-budget film can survive a cardboard plot as long as other elements make up for it, there's not a whole lot going in '47's favor.

From an acting standpoint, it's hard to do an admirable job and get credit for it when 90% of the film takes place underwater. On one hand, Moore and Holt deserve some recognition for needing to be in the water for extended periods of time during the filming on '47,' but on the other, they didn't really need to do a ton. And the real stars of the show - the CGI 20+-ft great whites - do not get nearly enough of a spotlight. There are a few scenes that are good for seat jumpers, but the majority of the film lacks what is needed to truly serve up a frightfest.

'47 Meters Down' is not even close to being in the same ocean as 'Jaws,' and while it has its moments, it's going to run out of air at some point in the future.
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7/10
A darker turn into the wizarding world
20 July 2019
J.K. Rowling's wizarding world continues long after the sun set on the 'Harry Potter' franchise. In 2018's 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,' things take a darker turn as the film's namesake gathers power and followers in the name of achieving dominance over the muggle world.

There are plenty of things to like about 'Grindelwald.' For one, we get to see new areas and characters from the wizarding world, many of which tie to things we are already aware of (Nagini, Hogwarts, Nicolas Flamel, for example). It's also important to see the backstory for why events unfold the way they do - Dumbledore's history with Grindelwald, the true identify and importance of Credence (Ezra Miller) and many other things. One of the issues 'Grindelwald' has is the complicated nature of the story. A lot is crammed into the film, but it can sometimes be difficult to follow.

Still, there are plenty of things to appreciate about the film. For one, there's a good balance of action, humor, seriousness and attachment to the characters. It has the feel of a Potter film, more so than the original in the series, but still feels different enough so that it's not a "seen it before" situation. The cast is also very strong. Johnny Depp delivers the kind of performance he's been known for, and newcomers to the series Zoe Kravitz and Jude Law do not disappoint.

It's clear we're nowhere near done with the 'Fantastic Beasts' franchise, and that's probably a good thing. But hopefully the best is yet to come.
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6/10
Not dial-up, but not fiber optic, either
20 July 2019
Six years after first gracing the big screen, Wreck-it Ralph returns for a big adventure on the worldwide web for 'Ralph Breaks the Internet.' While it's another sequel and cash grab for the mouse house, it's able to stand on its own.

We get to see the same cast of videogame greats from the original, whether it's Fix-it Felix (Jack McBrayer), Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) or Ralph himself (John C. Reilly), as well as a number of newbs from the net like Taraji P. Henson's Yesss, Alan Tudyk's KnowsMore and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot's badass racer Shank. As you can imagine, the majority of the film takes place within the network fibers of the internet, which is a big, huge expanse of anything you could ever expect a movie about the internet could be (with cameos from nearly every big online brand imaginable).

As for the story, it's average at best. For an animated film, it makes sense to be simple and formulaic, given the target audience, but the important thing is that there are plenty of easter eggs and references to things that are geared toward adults, as well. Perhaps the highlight of 'Ralph' is the Disney princess scene, which brought together all of the original voice talents to make the scene come alive - this has nostalgia written all over it. But where 'Ralph' falters a bit is how it really tries to fit too much into its runtime. Sure, this is to be expected given all that's going on online, but it's a shame things couldn't have been more confined.

It's not a classic, but 'Ralph Breaks the Internet' is still a fun, wild ride that's worth taking for anyone who spends too much of their time online (which is probably most of us).
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4/10
Bloated, uninspiring monsterfest
20 July 2019
We've seen this movie before, more or less. But that doesn't stop Michael Dougherty and his crew from continuing the MonsterVerse with 2019's 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters.' After the series launched with 2014's 'Godzilla,' we experienced 'Kong: Skull Island' in 2017 and are going to have more chances to see our favorite big bad monster buddies. But by that point, will we still be wanting more?

'Monsters' really tries hard. It's not any film that can bring together the likes of Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, so props are deserved for this, along with the generally well down CGI. But nearly everything else about this film is subpar to downright bad. The acting is embarrassing, considering the caliber of the cast assembled here (including Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Charles Dance, etc.). Farmgia is probably the biggest letdown, as we know she especially can do so much better.

The plot is a complete mess, and the zig-zagging all over the globe is enough to make our collective heads spin out of control. Sure, it's cool from a setting standpoint, but it's just way too much for one movie. And while it's nice to see Boston used as a backdrop for one of the most important scenes in 'Monsters,' poor Fenway Park deserves much better. There's also a number of "WTF?" moments - too many to count - that are even too much for this kind of sci-fi monsterfest.

Despite lackluster box office performance of 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters,' we'll continue to see new entries in the MonsterVerse universe. Here's to hoping they are not as lazy and bloated as this one.
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8/10
Cooper's 'Star' burns bright
20 July 2019
No film released in the past year has had the cultural impact that Bradley Cooper's remake of 'A Star is Born' has. The gritty musical love story has brought home plenty of hardware and accolades since its release, and was a hit with audiences, largely due to the chemistry between the two leads - Cooper and Lady Gaga.

'Star' does a lot of things right, from focusing almost exclusively on the bond between Cooper's washed up rocker Jack and Gaga's insta-success Ally. By not losing sight on the passion, tension and everything in between on the emotional spectrum in the music power couple's relationship, we avoid unnecessary distractions that often find their way into these kinds of films. Sure, there are odd scenes like the one at Noodles' house (Dave Chappelle in the most un-Dave Chappelle role) and Cooper's gravelly voice gets grating, but things by and large feel "real." The role music plays in 'Star' is a key one, and it really can be considered a third lead in the cast. Nothing feels forced or overdramatized - another win considering the subject matter presents a stage that could be littered with these moments.

Some believe 'Star' is primarily a vehicle for the soundtrack. While this may be true, the film could still stand on its own without the music. The acting performances, pacing and cinematography (despite shaky-cam syndrome) are all really strong, and Cooper deserves all the credit he gets for this product. Gaga especially delivers the performance of her career, and proves she is a serious actress instead of being an example of stunt casting.

'A Star is Born' will long be regarded as a top quality entry in this genre, and gives hope that musical dramas will continue to evolve and find audiences.
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5/10
Could be better, could be much worse
9 June 2019
What happens when we round up a bunch of recognizable actors of varying degrees of success and notoriety and drop them into the South American jungle to do a stealth heist job? Well, you get Netflix's 'Triple Frontier,' for one.

The main draw in 'Frontier' is not the story, or the intriguing setting; it's the main cast. From Ben Affleck to Oscar Isaac, Charlie Hunnam to Garrett Hedlund and Pedro Pascal, there's a lot of testosterone going around here. As you'd expect of any film that brings together retired special forces ops, there's also a ton of action, guns and bloodshed. If that's what you're looking for, this is probably a movie for you.

But 'Frontier' also explores themes such as the human psyche, brotherhood and doing whatever it takes when one is pushed to the limit. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a prolific social commentary or anything, but it also isn't a film that would find itself in the same category as 'Rambo' or anything. Sure, it's clunky, poorly paced and pretty generic. The acting doesn't rise to the level of these actors' resumes (Isaac is probably the standout), but for a Netflix film, it's not bad.

Don't expect to be blown away, but 'Triple Frontier' is semi-entertaining all things considered.
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Halloween (I) (2018)
6/10
This is what a 40-year axe to grind looks like
9 June 2019
Forty years after the events that forever changed the history of Haddonfield, IL, we get to experience a fitting finale to the story of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. Pretending that nothing in the dozen or so follow-on films actually happened after all (and probably for the best," 2018's 'Halloween' is really different because it feels raw.

The psychological impact the events of the original had on Jamie Lee Curtis's Strode is so apparent in this film that it's hard not to feel a certain attachment to her. But of course, for those who did not live through that horrible halloween back in 1978, it's hard for them to understand the weight and the pain. Curtis does a masterful job in bringing the vengeful, damaged Strode to life - now as a mother and grandmother - in a way that positions her, not Myers, as the star of the show.

Overall, 'Halloween' is an ode to good ol' fashioned self-defense, in addition to the importance of protecting family above all. The body count in this film is high, and much more gruesome than previous entries in this franchise, but it's not as gratuitous as many other films in this genre. While there's plenty of knives, blood and gore, 'Halloween' at its heart is a psychological thriller that explores how human confront pure evil.

It's not a classic, but 'Halloween' is a well-done social commentary that should stand high above other similar films.
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Aladdin (I) (2019)
7/10
Not even a horrible Jafar casting can bring down 'Aladdin'
27 May 2019
Another year, another live action remake of a Disney classic. In fact, 2019 sees another three entries in the catalogue, from 'Dumbo' to 'The Lion King' and of course, 'Aladdin.' In Guy Ritchie's take on the 1992 animated classic, we get to see how the timeless story holds up after 27 years. And, not surprisingly, it holds up pretty well

While there was much to be skeptical about based on this take on 'Aladdin,' it actually delivers in a number of ways. For one, there are very few departures from the original. A lot of the action unfolds the way it's expected to, and there are nearly all of the familiar faces that you'd expect to see. The soundtrack is perhaps the highlight of the entire film, with most of the same showstoppers ("Friend Like Me," "Prince Ali," "A Whole New World") and a few new numbers thrown in, as well.

But it's Will Smith's Genie who really steals the show. No, he can't hold a candle to Robin Williams' portrayal, but he clearly exceeds expectations and injects enough quick wit and wisecracks into the script. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott give great performances, and Nasim Pedrad shows she can make it on the big screen just as well as she can on the SNL stage. The one weak link, however, comes in Marwan Kenzari's Jafar. Talk about a horrible miscasting - Jafar is supposed to be a snappy, devious, crafty villain...perhaps Disney's greatest of all time. The declawing of Jafar is a travesty that never should have happened.

But be this as it may, it's still worth taking a magic carpet ride to see 'Aladdin.'
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Venom (2018)
7/10
Dark and semi-twisted offering from MCU
27 May 2019
The Marvel Comic Universe has gotten to be as big as Thanos's fingers, and we've seen much more action than anyone ever expected. This includes entries like 'Venom,' which is something that likely would not have been greenlit years ago.

'Venom' stands out from its more family-friendly cousins for obvious reasons. For one, the film's star is not all that good. Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock is a conflicted but good-hearted investigative journalist, but his alter-ego has a mind (and appetite) of its own. Its darkness is an interesting departure from the usual lighter fare, but it's sort of refreshing in a way. The story is nothing special - there's the usual hero arc, duality of good(ish) vs. evil, etc. - but it's not as paper-thin as it could have been.

And while this really is the Tom Hardy show, supporting performances from Michelle Williams and Jenny Slate in particular are noteworthy, although Riz Ahmed's Jeff Bezos-esque C-suite supervillain is not all that threatening.

Regardless, 'Venom' is a good experiment in the expansion of the Marvel world and demonstrates there's life beyond 'The Avengers.'
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4/10
Extremely lackluster, shockingly dull and tired
5 May 2019
Since the introduction of cameras in the courtroom, only a handful of trials have managed to captivate society's attention to the point where those on trial became - in a sense - celebrities, if they weren't already at that status. The trial of Ted Bundy in 1979 Florida marked the beginning of this trend, as director Joe Berlinger brought to life in 'Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.'

But the film itself more or less feeds into the infatuation that many had with Bundy - a monster who is correctly characterized by this film's title. Zac Efron goes for the gold in his portrayal of the serial rapist and killer, and there's no denying that he has come a long way as an actor since he came onto the scene. But the likability factor given to Bundy here is not drowned out by the unspeakable things he did to 30+ women. Even if this is more or less a reflection of what the public saw in the 1970s and 80s, it's really unfortunate.

The fact is, 'Vile' mostly focuses on the relationship between Bundy and his longtime girlfriend, Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), and how she cannot remove him from her life even long after his true identity is revealed. It's more of a psychological thriller than anything else - how a man so charming on the outside can be so evil on the inside, and the influence he has over people, whether it's Kendall or his eventual wife, Carole Anne Boone (Kaya Scodelario). In terms of other acting performances, Collins really is not convincing in her role. Yes, she's good at playing innocent, bruised characters, but it comes off pretty forced here.

One good aspect of 'Vile' is it pays tribute to all of the known women who were Bundy's victims. Everything else about the film is extremely lackluster, shockingly dull and tired.
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8/10
The thank-you note Marvel fans deserve
28 April 2019
It seems like just yesterday that Tony Stark built his suit in the desert caves of Afghanistan - an experience that set into motion an incredible chain reaction that forever changed superhero cinematic history. 11 years and 21 movies later, fans finally got the finale they deserved in 'Avengers: Endgame.'

The Russo brothers already proved their abilities to craft masterpieces that balanced character development with humor and the sleek action sequences that are expected in the Marvel Comic Universe, most recently delivering the critically acclaimed 'Avengers: Infinity War.' In 'Endgame,' they again exceed expectations, as the film is filled with more easter eggs than most kids' Easter baskets - clear signs of appreciation for the fans. Sure, the film carries an ultra-long runtime (at 181 minutes), but this length is needed in order to tie up the multiple storylines, given the number of superheroes who must squeeze in some screen time in this extravaganza. To this point, it's rewarding to see so many avengers who haven't traditionally been given the spotlight in previous films the chance to shine. And some give unexpectedly memorable performances (here's looking at you, Wanda).

As a whole, 'Endgame' is not quite on the level of 'Infinity War.' Despite the third act being the most satisfying, emotionally-charged segment in the entire franchise, the overall product doesn't quite have the same lustre as its predecessor. It's the 'Return of the Jedi' to 'Infinity War's 'Empire Strikes Back.' Still, there is nothing really worth criticizing about 'Endgame,' aside from a few plot holes and the fact that its existence means many people's childhoods/young adulthoods are coming to an end.

Throughout the laughs, the gasps, the tears, the smiles, 'Avengers Endgame' proves to be the thank-you note that fans didn't even realize they'd be getting. Stan Lee would certainly be proud.
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6/10
Unoriginal and silly - but essential to the MCU
28 April 2019
One of the final entries of the Marvel Comic Universe's third phase, 'Ant-Man and the Wasp,' is a necessary film when viewed in the Marvel continuum. It doesn't pack a sting like 'Captain America: Civil War,' which is where things left off for Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and the crew. It's not flashy like 'Guardians of the Galaxy, nor does it have the flare of 'Thor.' But that's not the role of 'Ant-Man,' so it should be considered its own kind of superhero movie.

Peyton Reed returns to direct the bite-sized good guy and his partner in crime, the Wasp (reprised by Evangeline Lilly), as they try to save the Van Dyne matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) along with Dr. Pym himself (Michael Douglas). The cast is once again the best aspect of 'Ant-Man,' as enjoyable performances from the likes of Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne and of course, T.I., make for a fun ride. That said, it's hard to say this film is not a rehash of the previous one. Despite some interesting plot twists and the inclusion of another baddie (Hannah John-Kamen's Ava/Ghost), things more or less feel stale.

There are some cool, creative scenes thrown in here and there (particularly a car chase in the streets of San Francisco), so it's not a complete disappointment. The humor is not totally off-brand, either. Sure, it feels a lot sillier than most Marvel properties, but it's true to Paul Rudd's image, and much of the film rides on his ability to pull off his role.

So is 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' a future classic? Absolutely not. But it's essential viewing for any Marvel fan.
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Free Solo (2018)
8/10
Documentaries have never been cooler
28 April 2019
Conventional wisdom is that documentaries are hot right now. So when you combine the format with a true underdog story that stares death in the face, there's a good chance the film will be a hit with critics and general audiences alike.

Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi struck gold in 2018 in bringing the story of Alex Honnold to the big screen in partnership with National Geographic. But 'Free Solo' is not your typical "man meets nature" kind of documentary - it's a fast-paced, visual heart attack in which everyone is collectively holding onto the edges of their seats as Honnold stares death in the face as he attempts to climb El Capitan. Aside from the obvious thrills, the major focus on Honnold's relationship with his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, sets 'Solo' apart from others in the genre. Despite many awkward moments between the two (eating with a spatula? really?), this element helps humanize what is otherwise a robotic, mostly unlikable climbing machine.

It's important to not forget the important starring roll El Capitan has in 'Solo.' The cinematography and filming techniques used to capture the natural wonder are impressive, which makes watching the film on a big screen a must.

Thanks to the box office and critical success of 'Free Solo,' we can expect to see more of these high-quality docus in the coming years.
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Guava Island (2019)
3/10
A sloppy, 56-minute music video
14 April 2019
Donald Glover and Rihanna are both incredibly talented individuals. Whether in the studio, on stage or in front of the camera, these two young music legends usually receive critical acclaim when it's deserved. In 'Guava Island,' however, the two team up but the end result is underwhelming at best.

To be fair, at 56 minutes, 'Guava' is never billed as a full-length feature film in the vein that other recent music-themed movies were (like 'A Star is Born' or 'Bohemian Rhapsody'). Still, the disjointed story, awkward camerawork and throwaway music numbers kinda say all there is to say about the effort (although the "This is America" bit is pretty cool). And Rihanna's talents are basically wasted.

Many will sing the praises of 'Guava Island' just because who's involved. But it's really more like a smushed guava fruit that's been sitting out in the island sunshine for a bit too long.
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A Quiet Place (2018)
7/10
Krasinski proves he's got a lot to offer behind the camera, too
14 April 2019
The post-apocalyptic horror/thriller genre has been on a roll lately, and John Krasinski's 'A Quiet Place' is a monster example of the success that can be achieved with a small budget. The spring 2018 release proved that a semi-gimmick (majority of the film lacking spoken dialogue) can grab attention, but when a film resonates with an audience, it really resonates.

'Quiet' is able to make a lot of noise in the absence of chit-chat. There's no denying the eeriness that results from the environment that has been established thanks to alien invaders with ultra-sensitive hearing. In fact, the role that sound editing plays in the film is breathtaking. It should have won the Academy Award for this. And think of the cast - think of how challenging it is to act when you pretty much need to be silent the whole time.

Aside from the whole no/low volume thing, 'Quiet' is different, but it's not that different. Low budgets usually mean we're stuck more or less in one area, so there's not a whole lot of exploration to be found. There are also moments where it feels like you're watching a high-end version of 'The Walking Dead,' or even 'Bird Box.' And then there's the "bathtub scene"...yeah, no.

Despite its flaws, 'A Quiet Place' deserves a lot of recognition for its ingenuity and for being a hit with audiences.
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The Nun (2018)
6/10
Not in the same league as 'Conjuring'
13 April 2019
As the universe of Ed and Lorraine Warren continues to expand, fans are taken to the forests of Romania for additional backstory on familiar characters - this time it's that creepy ghostly demonic nun.

It's mid-20th century, and Father Burke (Demian Bichir) travels with a pre-vows nun candidate named Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate an apparent suicide by another nun. Of course, we soon find out there's a lot more going on within the abbey. But aside from a few frightening moments, 'The Nun' is a lot more bark than it is bite.

There isn't really a whole lot of original content in 'The Nun,' instead director Corin Hardy and writer James Wan rely on old, tired scares rather than trying to recapture the magic of the original 'Conjuring.' Farmiga does well, no doubt, but Bichir comes off as very forced. Meanwhile, country boy "Frenchie" (Jonas Bioquet) is intended as comic relief, but he ends up sticking out like a sore thumb among the darkness surrounding him and his comrades. And while you really can't tell it's her, Bonnie Aarons does a respectable job as the title character - she is truly terrifying.

After a somewhat boring but mildly scary first two-thirds, the final act really devolves into chaos, but not in a good way. And despite a pretty clever twist in the final minute, 'The Nun' ends up feeling like a film that was created out of necessity rather than because it should be made.

But of course, a sequel has already been announced. Hopefully the follow up to 'The Nun' isn't just more of the same.
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