Film Review: “Oppenheimer”


  • Starring: Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 3 hrs
  • Universal Pictures


The Academy Awards ceremony is several months away, but a serious contender is already in theaters now – Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” Based upon the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 biography “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” by American novelist Kai Bird and the late historian Martin J. Sherwin, “Oppenheimer” is an important work of cinema about a figure most Americans don’t know. Led by a fantastic performance by Cillian Murphy (“Inception”), seamless direction by Nolan, and a three-hour story that doesn’t waste a second of our time, “Oppenheimer” is a diligent drama that also manages to generate some suspense.


The story takes us back to 1929 when Oppenheimer was just a young, anxiety-riddled physics student. After earning his physics doctorate in Germany, he returns to the U.S. to teach quantum physics, initially in California. It is during those pre-war years that Oppenheimer develops ties to the Communist Party via an on-and-off relationship with a female party member and later his future wife, Katherine (Emily Blunt) an ex-Communist herself. Despite these associations, which were dangerous to have in America at the time, Oppenheimer is recruited by U.S. Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to lead the Manhattan Project, a top-secret initiative to build an atom bomb before the Nazis.



Once he sees the destruction wrought by the dropping two atom bombs on Imperial Japan, Oppenheimer becomes a vehement opponent of a nuclear arms race. His past interactions with the Communist Party, and his personal dalliances make good cannon fodder for slighted U.S. Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey, Jr.) to go after when he seeks out to ruin the “father of the atomic bomb.”


Nolan, who adapted the novel into screenplay form, does not waste a moment of our time with a fairly accurate story that is always moving forward. The pacing never wavers, and Nolan keeps it basic without a lot of special effects. Even though we know how the experiment is going to turn out, it is still terrifying, for example, when Oppenheimer and his crew realize there is a slim chance that their bomb may spark cataclysmic destruction on a global scale.


Murphy delivers a complex performance of a man who raised to the pinnacle of fame only to see himself crashing to earth. Blunt as his alcoholic wife shares some good moments with him with Downey, Jr. arguably delivering the best performance of his career.


Overall, “Oppenheimer” is a satisfying movie that is educational, enlightening, and entertaining.


“Oppenheimer” receives four stars out of five.

Film Review: “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” (Review #2)



  • Starring: Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell
  • Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 43 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

Unlike other tired movie franchises that never seem to end, think “Transformers” and “Fast and Furious,” the “Mission Impossible” series, which began way back in 1996, has bucked the trend and has continued to not only stay fresh with each passing installment, but it has managed to find a way to get better. “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One,” the seventh installment involving secret agent Ethan Hunt, more than lives up to the hype with lots of great action, tremendous stunts, suspense, and a solid storyline that provides a cautionary tale about the dangers artificial intelligence could hypothetically pose to humanity.


The seemingly ageless Tom Cruise, in the wake of the wildly successful “Top Gun: Maverick,” is in top form as IMF secret agent Ethan Hunt, who is tasked with a new mission if he chooses to accept it. This time, he is asked to retrieve half of a key from his ally, sometimes romantic interest, and former British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). He soon learns that both halves of the key are desired by every nation on Earth as it could possibly lead to controlling an artificial intelligence called Entity, which has gone rogue much to the detriment of every network on the planet.


Ethan believes Entity is uncontrollable and vows to destroy it. To do this, he assembles his team including Ilsa, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). A highly skilled pickpocket and thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) stumbles upon Ethan and gets pulled into their high stakes’ gambit. Ethan’s principal opponent, besides the George Orwell-type A.I., is an old nemesis of his named Gabriel (Esai Morales, “La Bamba”) who once played a pivotal role in Ethan becoming an IMF agent and is now aligned with Entity.


Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (“Mission Impossible: Fallout,” “Jack Reacher,” “The Way of the Gun”), who’s no stranger to Cruise, has crafted a wild roller coaster ride that is absolutely perfect for summertime entertainment. McQuarrie’s craftmanship leaves us wanting more, which is a good thing since “Dead Reckoning” is split into two parts with the second half to be released next year.


Cruise once again shows that he is arguably the last true movie star. The kind of star that harkens back to a bygone era when one name across the top of the movie poster could ensure its success. His skills as an actor have never been better as he seems to elevate the rest of the cast that surrounds him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film’s brilliant story taps into the fears of what an A.I., that doesn’t value human life, could be capable of.


Overall, “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” is one of the two best movies of the summer season (the other being “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3”).


“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” receives four stars out of five.


Kansas City Theater Review: “Legally Blonde: the Musical”

Finding a silver lining can sometimes be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. In the case of touring Broadway musical “Legally Blonde,” currently playing at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, the vein of silver comes in the form of actress Carrie St. Louis who plays the lead, Elle Woods. A tremendous onstage talent with a powerful vocal range, St. Louis was joy to watch on opening night (July 7th). However, everything else about the production was plagued by flubs with dialogue, occasionally disjointed choreography, and an overall storyline that frequently broke away from its original core anthem of female empowerment.


Loosely based upon the 2001 novel of the same name by American author Amanda Brown, “Legally Blonde” was adapted for the silver screen that same year starring Reese Witherspoon, who reprised the role in 2003’s “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde.” It was later adapted again in 2007 as a Broadway musical and received seven Tony nominations, although it did not win any.


Elle Woods (St. Louis) is a 4.0 GPA student at UCLA and a member of the Delta Nu sorority. She is giddy at the prospect of being proposed to by her longtime boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Luke Hamilton). To her great disappointment, Warner dumps her and announces he is heading to Harvard Law School. Determined in an obsessed, borderline restraining order type of way, Elle follows Warner by managing to get into Harvard Law as well. From there, Elle must traverse the challenges of being a fish-out-of-water and overcoming the stigma of being a stereotypical California blonde.


The whole purpose of “Legally Blonde” was to promote a sense of empowerment. To show that women can do anything they set their mind too and shatter any glass ceilings in their way. The musical, though, often diverges from this inspirational legacy crafted by Brown. One such example, punctuated by a song called “Snap and Bend” does the opposite by presenting women as sexual objects who should use their sexuality to get what they want rather than their brains. Overall, the theme of female empowerment, which is so powerful in the film version, is derailed in the musical production by so many distractions that it becomes lost in the forest.


“Legally Blonde” will run through July 13 at Starlight Theatre in Kansas City.  For ticket information, click HERE

Film Review: “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” (Review #2)


  • Starring: Harrison Ford and Mads Mikkelsen
  • Directed by: James Mangold
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 34 mins
  • Walt Disney Studios


Sometimes things should be just left alone. Like a hornets nest or steaming pile of dog poop. This is also applicable to the entire “Indiana Jones” franchise after “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made its mark. Sure, 1989’s “Last Crusade” was fun with the late Sean Connery as Indy’s father, but the rest of the films have been forgettable to say the least. They are akin to staring at the sun because in an instant you realize it was a mistake to look. I wish I could say “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” was some superb sendoff to Harrison Ford’s iconic character. Unfortunately, it contains retread villains, a lackluster storyline, and a bow at the end that is too neatly tied.


With special effects to make Harrison Ford look young again, “Dial of Destiny” takes us back to 1944 during the Allied liberation of Europe. One more time Indiana has been captured by Nazis who are desperate to get away with their loot before the Allies take it from them. One Nazi officer has a fascination with the holy Lance of Longinus artifact, which he believes Hitler will use to turn the war around. Jones, aided by Oxford archeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones, “Captain America: The First Avenger”), is also in pursuit of it. However, the real prize as it turns out is half of Archimedes Dial, a mechanical, astronomical calculator designed to find fissures in time. Something that is highly prized by Nazi astrophysicist Dr. Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen).


Fast forward to 1969 New York City where we find a much older and depressed Indiana getting ready to retire from his professorship. His marriage to Marion is in tatters and no mention of his son, Mutt is made initially. Enter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag”), the daughter of his late friend Basil who pulls a reluctant Indiana into a race to complete the Archimedes Dial before Dr. Voller, who helped the United States develop its space program, can find it, and rewrite the history of World War II.


That’s all you will get of out yours truly. What I can say is that while it’s fun to watch Ford don the Indiana fedora again, the story is about as tired as his character. The initial 30 minutes or so is fun-filled popcorn entertainment, but it becomes boring. Unlike finding the Holy Grail, the so called “Dial of Destiny” is less exciting than finding what the prize is in a box of Crackerjacks. There are multiple characters from Indiana’s past who make what are glorified cameos, but these do little to improve the story. Mikkelsen, who has a unique skill to bounce between good and bad guys, is perhaps the lone bright spot with a truly villainous performance. Other than that, the remaining performances are either lackluster or annoying.


Overall, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” should have destined for the straight-to-dvd bin at your local convenience store.


“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” receives two-and-a-half stars out of five.


Film Review: “The Flash” (Review #2)


  • Starring: Ezra Miller and Sasha Calle
  • Directed by: Andy Muschietti
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 24 mins
  • Warner Bros.


I find it tragic that the DC Extended Universe is coming to a halt thanks to James Gunn’s takeover and future reboot. In comparison to Marvel Studios, the DCEU’s releases have admittedly been uneven – who can forget “Wonder Woman” but who wants to remember “Birds of Prey”? Yet, the DCEU brand was often darker than the Marvel slate, which gave its own uniqueness. While “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is set for launch in December, it will have a hard time not being anti-climatic after following the absolute thrill ride that is “The Flash.” Overflowing with surprises (this review will be spoiler free), “The Flash” is one of the best DCEU movies ever made with a terrific, dual performance by Ezra Miller and great supporting performances by Sasha Calle as Supergirl and Michael Keaton as Batman.


After helping Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stop a robbery in Gotham City, Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller) revisits his childhood home where his beloved mother was murdered. Still grieving her loss and dealing with anger of his father being wrongly imprisoned, Barry accidentally travels back in time using the speed force. He tells Bruce who warns him of the dangers of messing with the past. Of course, Barry ignores it.


While attempting to fix his family’s tragedy, Barry is attacked by an unknown assailant and is knocked back to the year 2013 where he encounters an alternate version of himself. When General Zod (Michael Shannon) arrives, the two Barrys try to assemble the Justice League, but it proves futile with one exception. It is at Wayne Manor they find a much older, disheveled Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton).


Our Barry and Bruce learn the Russians are holding who Barry thinks is Superman but turns out to be his cousin, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl (Sasha Calle, TV’s “The Young and the Restless”). Their plan is to free her and find a way to stop General Zod, but time and fate have certain rules as our Barry learns.


Directed by Andy Muschietti (2017’s “It”), “The Flash” is a thrilling experience full of surprises from start to finish. Some of the special effects may not look so special to some, but that’s more a matter of personal taste to a degree. The storyline has a good deal of emotional depth when it comes to Barry’s history and complexities, which are fleshed out with skill by Miller. It is rare for someone to pull off a good performance at playing a double of themselves and Miller succeeds with flying colors. The most enjoyable aspect, and the one that received the most vocal response from the audience yours truly saw it with, is the appearance of Keaton who has a substantial role in the story. It is a joy to say the least to see him on the silver screen once more as the caped crusader.


Is there such a thing as superhero fatigue? Perhaps. I have believed since the original “Blade” that comic movies would become the new Western, a once overly prolific genre. What it boils down to is the writing and an ability to maintain a high creative level that will keep the movie-going public’s interest. “The Flash” may be a victim of that fatigue, which would be disappointing as it is a truly fun summer flick in every sense.


“The Flash” receives three-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review: “Operation Fortune”


  • Starring: Jason Statham, Aubrey Plaza
  • Directed by Guy Ritchie
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 54 mins
  • Lionsgate
Before his military action drama “The Covenant” hit theaters recently, British director Guy Ritchie (“Wrath of Man,” “The Gentlemen”) released “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre,” an entertaining action flick starring his often-used leading man Jason Statham, arguably the best action movie star around. “Operation Fortune” is a fun work of popcorn cinema by Ritchie who maintains a fast pace throughout. Much like director John Ford used to do with John Wayne films, Ritchie often reuses former cast members, and this ensemble does not disappoint with recognizable faces.
When a Ukrainian gang steals a mysterious device called “The Handle” from a secret facility, the British government takes action to retrieve it before it is sold to the highest bidder. A contractor named Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) puts together a professional team to do the job. In steps calm and cool spy Orson Fortune (Statham) with a small team including American computer hacker Sarah Fidel (Aubrey Plaza, “Parks and Recreation”) and British sniper, J.J. Davies (Bugzy Malone, “The Gentlemen”).
While competing against a rival team whose employer is unknown, Orson and his group must get close to the charming, yet dangerous billionaire arms dealer Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, “The Gentlemen”) so they can intercept the sale. To increase their chances, they blackmail American movie star Danny Francesco (Josh Hartnett, “Wrath of Man”) to help them as Simmonds is a big fan of his. What transpires afterwards is a globe-trotting, action-packed adventure sprinkled with some good laughs and suspense.
Filled with unique, interesting characters, one of the many trademarks of Ritchie films, “Operation Fortune” has an “Ocean’s Eleven” vibe but takes it up a notch on the violence side. A couple of highlights include Grant’s enjoyable performance as a star-struck, yet ruthless gangster and Hartnett is delightful as a nervous movie star who wants to study Greg for his next part. The many action sequences are entertaining even if they are a little too choreographed and the high-tech gadgetry is reminiscent of what is displayed in the “Mission Impossible” series.
Overall, “Operation Fortune” does not disappoint and is definitely worth a couple hours of your time.
“Operation Fortune” receives three stars out of five.

Film Review: “Champioms”


  • Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson
  • Directed by Bobby Farrelly
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 4 mins
  • Focus Features
It is a tale as old as time – a coach, of varying past success, falls on hard times but finds redemption by helping a group of misfits overcome great odds to become a team that achieves some form of glory. “The Way Back.” “Hoosiers.” “The Bad News Bears.” “The Mighty Ducks.” Those are but a few examples of this tired cinematic theme. In his first solo directorial effort, filmmaker Bobby Farrelly, who has co-helmed such titles as “Shallow Hal” and “Me, Myself & Irene,” takes his own shot as the sports genre with “Champions.” Starring Woody Harrelson, “Champions” takes us on a cute journey as a disgraced basketball coach is forced to work with a group of young people with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, the story fails to pull the heartstrings, nor does it inspire one to jump up and down for joy.
Marcus Marakovich (Harrelson) has a history of success with his impeccable basketball knowledge. However, it’s been his inability to get to know his players that has been his downfall on several occasions. Of course, his hot temper hasn’t helped much either. One night, while serving as an assistant coach for a minor league basketball team in Iowa, he gets into an argument with the team’s head coach (Ernie Hudson) and shoves him to the court floor, which becomes the subject of national news. He then gets drunk and crashes into a police car. An unsympathetic judge sentences Marcus to 90 days of community service by coaching a team consisting of young people with learning disabilities called Friends.
Marcus is not at all enthusiastic about his current plight, but he tries to make the best of it while also trying to convince someone in the NBA to give him a shot as an assistant. As one might expect, the kids start to grow on him and he even starts a relationship Alex (Kaitlin Olson, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), the older protective sister of one of his players. The dilemma that Marcus ultimately faces is whether to stay in Iowa or go off to fulfill his lifelong dream.
The supporting cast, who represent the players on the Friends team, are a delight to watch as the enthusiasm and joy they bring to the silver screen are palpable. Harrelson and Olson are pleasant together onscreen while the former delivers an okay performance. “Champions” is a nice attempt by Farrelly to do something different, but the story lacks emotional depth and is simply too formulaic for its own good. It’s just a slight variation to what’s been done a thousand times before.
Overall, “Champions” is a soft layup rather than a slam dunk.
“Champions” receives two stars out of five.

Film Review: ‘Hypnotic”


  • Starring: Ben Affleck, Alice Braga
  • Directed by Robert Rodriguez
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • Ketchup Entertainment
Mix in one part “Inception,” one part “Dr. Strange,” and two parts “Firestarter” and you will have director Robert Rodriguez’s “Hypnotic.” Headlined by Ben Affleck, who sadly doesn’t play the caped crusader, “Hypnotic” is supposed to be an action thriller with a bit of mystery. However, the first half of it feels like a small budget B-movie with a cast who are only in it to earn a paycheck or have joined the ranks of Nicolas Cage and play in movies no one sees in theaters. There is a cool twist in the story but it’s almost impossible to maintain interest by the time it arrives.
Having suffered the recent loss of his daughter in a brazen, daylight kidnapping, and the subsequent end of his marriage, Austin police detective Danny Rourke (Affleck) is undergoing therapy so he can return to active duty. After he is cleared, his partner Nicks (JD Pardo, “Mayans M.C.”) informs him of a tip about an upcoming bank robbery. During their surveillance, Rourke notices a man later to be known as Dellrayne (William Fichtner) and pursues him as chaos erupts all around them.
A confrontation between the reveals to Rourke that Dellrayne has some sort of hypnotic ability to make people to do whatever he wants and to bend reality itself. Convinced that Dellrayne is behind his daughter’s disappearance, Rourke enlists the aid of psychic medium Diana Cruz (Alice Braga, “I Am Legend”) who drops nuggets of info to Rourke about hypnotic abilities and the danger of Dellrayne who is allegedly the most powerful one of them all. Somehow, Rourke’s daughter is tied into it all but there are a lot of puzzle pieces Rourke must put together first.
Thankfully, “Hypnotic” is only 93 minutes long. The first half lacks intrigue, suspense or much in the way of entertainment value. It does contain cliches, stiff dialogue delivery, and uninteresting characters. Rodriguez waits way too long to introduce his twist, which is unfortunate because the film might have been much better if he had devoted more time to the story’s real secrets.
Affleck is serviceable in his role but gives off the appearance of someone just going through the motions. Worse still, he lacks any chemistry with Braga. Fichtner is okay as the villain although his character is poorly developed.
Overall, “Hypnotic” may hypnotize you into going to sleep.
“Hypnotic” receives one-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review: “Plane”

  • Starring: Gerard Butler, Mike Colter
  • Directed by Jean-Francois Richet
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 47 mins
  • Lionsgate
Action films are often a dime a dozen. They are often predictable with an abundance of character cliches involving both good and bad guys. Guns have unlimited ammunition. The bad guys are generally worse at hitting their targets than stormtroopers from “Star Wars.” You get the gist. With one of the more unimaginative titles in recent memory, “Plane” doesn’t disappoint as it checks off all the boxes for the type of film just described.
Starring Gerard Butler as Capt. Brodie Torrance, a former Royal Air Force member who became a commercial airline pilot, “Plane” takes us to Singapore where a Trailblazer Airlines flight is leaving with a scant number of passengers. We get plenty of ominous signs that trouble is on its way – there is a terrible storm they will have to fly over; a menacing looking passenger is in handcuffs on his way to stand trial for murder in Canada; etc. To add a pinch of sympathy to Capt. Torrance, we discover he is a recent widow, and he is desperate to see his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.
Shockingly, lightning hits the plane but Capt. Torrance miraculously lands the plane on a small road on a small jungle island. Without a way to contact the outside world while be stranded in a lawless place that is run by armed thugs, Capt. Torrance enlists the help of Louise Gaspare (Mike Colter, “Luke Cage”), a former member of the French Foreign Legion and who is the one facing a murder charge, to find a way to save the helpless passengers before they fall victim to a ruthless local warlord.
If you have seen Butler in any other action movie, then you know what you will get with his role in “Plane.” The one wrinkle is that he not the story’s alpha male. That belongs to Colter’s shady character, who turns out to be able to run faster than a jet airliner as it’s speeding down a dirt road. The supporting cast members offer nothing fresh or exciting as they are too a dime a dozen in a script that is about as imaginative as a root canal. The action itself is stereotypical and makes me pine for the silliness of an “A-Team” episode from the 1980s.
Overall, “Plane” is one ride you should jump out of before it ever leaves the ground.
“Plane” receives one star out of five.

Film Review: “Knock at the Cabin”


  • Starring: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff
  • Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
  • Universal Pictures
“The Sixth Sense.” “The Village.” “Glass.” These are but a few of the great suspense films that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has crafted over the years. Of course, there have been some flops too like “The Happening.” Still, Shyamalan has consistently been one of the most creative and thought-provoking filmmakers of the 21st century. His most recent endeavor, “Knock at the Cabin” is an intriguing piece of work that ranks near the to tier of titles in his body of work.
Based upon the 2018 novel “The Cabin at the End of the World” by American author Paul G. Tremblay, “Knock at the Cabin” takes us to a small, remote cabin where a little girl named Wen (Kristen Cui in her motion picture debut) is collecting grasshoppers. Out of nowhere she is approached by Leonard (Dave Bautista, “The Guardians of the Galaxy”), a giant of a man who has a gentle disposition about him. As he tries to make friends with the skeptical Wen, three other strangers – Redmond (Rupert Grint, “Harry Potter” movies), Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird, “The Outfit”), and Adriane (Abby Quinn, “Landline”) –carrying bizarre weapons draw closer.
Scared, Wen races back to the cabin to find her dads – Eric (Jonathan Groff, “The Matrix Resurrections”) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge, “Pennyworth”) – and warn them about the scary people approaching their house. Eric and Andrew’s efforts to keep the quartet out of the cabin are in vain as they soon find themselves tied up.
What transpires from that point is nothing short of bizarre as Leonard calmly describes how all four of them have been receiving visions about the end of the world. The only way to stop the impending biblical apocalypse is for one of them to willingly sacrifice a member of their family. Otherwise, Eric, Andrew and Wen will be doomed to be the only people left alive on the planet. Andrew is convinced it’s all a scam, but a concussed Eric is not so sure. This leads to a grippingly suspenseful series of events that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
For starters, Shyamalan shows once again that he is among the best filmmakers around. His style continues to be fresh, imaginative, and entertaining. He also knows not to let his stories get too long in the tooth. Other highlights include an almost shocking performance by Grint as man filled with malice and hate; a wonderful breakout role by Cui; and a dominant performance by Bautista. The latter continues to be a genuine treat to watch on the silver screen in every part he plays. His range as an actor keeps growing and he is the true star of this film.
Overall, “Knock at the Cabin” is terrific entertainment and should be on your short list of things to watch.
“Knock at the Cabin” receives three-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review: “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”

  • Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton
  • Directed by Rian Johnson
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 19 mins
  • Netflix
The recipient of an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” was a critical success while commercially that’s left up in the air since Netflix only gave it a limited, brief theatrical release before streaming it exclusively. For yours truly, “Glass Onion” did not deserve the Oscar nomination like its predecessor did. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s effort is predictable and uninspired. While Daniel Craig is again glorious in his role and the star-studded cast is entertaining, particularly with Edward Norton and Dave Bautista, the story itself lacks the sense of mystery the original had. Many critics often cited all the movie’s star cameos as positive points as to why you should see the film, but even a cameo by the ghost of William Shakespeare doesn’t necessarily mean any given film is good. The overuse of cameos is just lazy filmmaking.
In brief, for those who have perhaps yet to see it, “Glass Onion” takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic on an island retreat off the coast of Greece. Billionaire Alpha technology owner and narcissist Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites five friends – Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), fashion designer and model Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), internet influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and Alpha co-founder Andi Brand (Janelle Monae) – to enjoy a murder mystery weekend on his island. The great, famous detective Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) also joins them even though Miles did not send him an invitation but assumes one of his friends did it as a joke.
Unsurprisingly, Benoit solves Miles’s “mystery” within in a matter of moments. However, Benoit warns Miles that his life is in danger as it is revealed that each person there has a motive to kill him. When one of the guests keels over dead then the real mystery only deepens, unless you the viewer have already figured out who the real evildoer is, and it doesn’t take a world-renowned detective to do so.
I will leave the synopsis at that as I do not want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet. Of course, for those who haven’t I would recommend that you don’t and instead watch the far superior original again, or perhaps for the first time. Yes, Craig is charming, and his character is easily on par with such entertaining detectives as Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. He certainly doesn’t disappoint. It also never ceases to impress me just how good an actor Bautista, who made a name for himself in professional wrestling entertainment, has become. He is a joy to watch. The rest of the cast deliver well enough performances, but they are not memorable. Yes, “Glass Onion” received an Oscar nod, but that doesn’t mean it deserved it, at least in this critic’s humble opinion. Like “Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” it was thoroughly overrated film.
Overall, “Glass Onion” is a one-layer onion that will make you cry over how paper thin it is.
“Glass Onion” receives two stars out of five.



Film Review: “Renfield”


  • Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Nicolas Cage
  • Directed by Chris McKay
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • Universal Pictures
Currently in theaters and available on streaming is the Nicolas Cage foray into comedy horror titled “Renfield.” While Cage is an absolute delight as Dracula, “Renfield,” which is told from the viewpoint of Dracula’s human assistant, does not quite live up to the standard set by the 2014 classic “What We Do in the Shadows.” It does have moments of genuine levity, but it also falls flat in others and a performance by Awkwafina in a supporting role is nothing short of annoying.
“Renfield” opens with some creative, black-and-white recreations of scenes from 1931’s “Dracula” with Cage supplanting Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and Nicholas Hoult supplanting Dwight Frye as Renfield. It is a wonderful way by director Chris McKay (“The Tomorrow War,” “The Lego Batman Movie”) to present a quick backstory before the story moves closer to present day. An attack on Dracula by vampire hunters, and his subsequent assistance from Renfield, who gains some of his master’s powers by eating insects, reveals just how much the Count needs his servant as well as how manipulative he is of him.
Finding refuge in an abandoned building in New Orleans, Renfield seeks out new blood for his master as he recovers from the last attempt to destroy him. Wanting to avoid killing innocent people, Renfield attends a group counseling session for people who are being controlled by others. He then seeks out these “bad” people and delivers them to Dracula for food. However, Dracula grows tired of this and wants a busload of cheerleaders instead.
Tired of being under Dracula’s thumb, Renfield begins to branch out on his own and even attempts to court a New Orleans traffic cop (Awkwafina). Amid all this, they become embroiled in a fight to bring down a notorious and ruthless gang in the city, which turns the story into a complete mess as it runs off the rails. “Renfield” goes from being creatively funny to nothing less than dull and uninspired.
Cage’s performance is the strongest suit for this film. It’s campy at times but always entertaining. Hoult is a good counterpart to Cage yet he and McKay fail to delve much into the insanity that would seep into the mind of anyone who had been harvesting victims for a vampire for decades. Hoult and Awkwafina have zero chemistry, and the latter fails to bring any comic relief to the table. In fact, it’s painful to watch.
Overall, “Renfield” has some good moments and it’s great to see Cage in a major motion picture again, but it’s only worth your time if you have nothing else to do.
“Renfield” receives two stars out of five.

Film Review: “A Man Called Otto”


  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño
  • Directed by Marc Forster
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 2 hrs 6 mins
  • Sony Pictures
There are only a small handful of thespians who could read the proverbial phonebook and somehow make it entertaining. This is applicable to Tom Hanks whose body of work speaks for itself. His newest work, “A Man Called Otto” may not be among the best films he has ever done, but it is an emotional drama with characters that feel like real people whom virtually anyone can identify with.
A remake of a 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which in turn was based upon a 2012 novel of the same name by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, “A Man Called Otto” begins in the winter of 2018-19 and is set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) is the embodiment of what a curmudgeon is – he’s quick to call people idiots, he’s rude to everyone, and he prefers to be alone. Otto is also fastidious about rules and regulations, and he sees the world in black and white.
Otto’s behavior is rooted in part by the fact that his beloved wife has recently passed away and the company he worked his whole life for has forced him into retirement. Feeling that he has no purpose in life anymore, Otto decides it is time to take his own life.
Prior to attempting to hang himself, Otto becomes sidetracked when he sees his new neighbors, Marisol (Mariana Treviño, 2018’s “Overboard”) and Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, 2016’s “The Magnificent Seven”) trying to parallel park with a trailer. It infuriates him so badly that he marches out and parks their vehicle himself before marching back inside his home to resume his suicide attempt, which fails.
Otto, who always lived with an enlarged heart, isn’t done with trying to kill himself, but he gradually becomes more involved and hence attached to Marisol and her family as well as some of his neighbors. It ultimately leads to some genuine, heart-warming, and tear-jerking poignant moments in the film.
Hanks, who took on a slightly gaunt appearance for the role, is as brilliant as ever with the portrayal of a man in psychological despair. I still regard him as his generation’s Jimmy Stewart. He has an everyman quality about him that makes it easy for people to identify with his characters. His primary counterpart in the film is Garcia-Rulfo who delivers a strong supporting performance as a woman’s whose generosity and kindness compels her to develop a relationship with Otto despite his gruffness. Garcia-Rulfo’s emotional range is superb, and she shares great chemistry with Hanks.
Director Marc Forster (“Christopher Robin,” “World War Z”) maintains a nice, even pace throughout the film’s running time as he infuses the story with a sense of realism. He times out well a series of flashbacks to Otto’s younger days when he and his wife, Sonya (Rachel Keller, “Legion”) first meet, date, get married, and experience joys and tragedies. The younger version of Otto is played by Hanks’s son, Truman whose only other big screen role was a small part in 2020’s “News of the World,” which also starred his father. Keller delivers a sweet performance, but Truman comes across as a little wooden on the silver screen.
Overall, “A Man Called Otto,” available on streaming services, is a wonderful little drama, but just make sure you have a tissue box handy.
“A Man Called Otto” receives three-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review: “Avatar: The Way pf Water”


  • Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana
  • Directed by James Cameron
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running time: 3 hrs 12 mins
  • 20th Century Studios
When the director James Cameron’s “Avatar” was released in 2009 yours truly opinioned that while it was a visually stunning, epic popcorn movie, it was in essence a spin on 1990’s “Dances with Wolves,” albeit one on steroids. Under its gloss it spoke to anti-imperialist themes and the conquering of native peoples all in the name of greed. The recipient of four Oscar nominations and one win for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which will be available June 7 on streaming.
The original was set in the year 2154 when all of Earth’s natural resources had been depleted. The Resources Development Administration (RDA) showed up on the moon of Pandora to mine a valuable mineral needed for humanity’s continued sustainability. Sixteen years after he helped repel the RDA’s invasion, Jake Sully/Na’vi (Sam Worthington) is now chief of the Omatikaya clan along with having a family with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).
Their peaceful lives come to an end as the RDA arrives with a new invasion and plans to colonize, this time headed by the ruthless General Frances Ardmore (Eddie Falco). To enhance their chances to defeat Na’vi’s clan, the RDA employs recombinants implanted with the memories of deceased human soldiers including those of the tree hating Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). After a human boy is captured by Colonel Quaritch that proves to be his long-lost son, Na’vi and his family are forced to flee to Pandora’s eastern seaboard to ensure his clan’s safety.
Upon their arrival, Na’vi’s family seek refuge with the Metkayina clan, who reluctantly accept them in. Their haven is only temporary as Colonel Quaritch, with the help of his son, begins learning how to adapt to his surroundings, which leads to a relentless campaign to find Na’vi and destroy him.
That is a brief, cliff note version of the story without giving much away because the full story takes so long to get through that people have celebrated a couple of birthdays while watching the film. Visually it’s just as stunning if not even more so than the original. The story, which could be called “Dances with Wolves 2,” is entertaining although pacing is sluggish at times and requires caffeine and sugar to get through. The bringing back of Colonel Quaritch is okay as Lang plays a superb villain, but it demonstrates a sense of laziness with inability to create alternatively diabolical evildoer. Of course, if what seems like a 52-hour movie isn’t enough entertainment then no fear, there are three more sequels to be released beginning in 2024.
Overall, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a terrific popcorn flick, that is if you have an entire weekend free to watch it.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” receives three stars out of five.

Film Review: “The Pope’s Exorcist”

  • Starring: Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto
  • Directed by Julius Avery
  • Rating: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 13 mins
  • Lionsgate
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, the 1973 supernatural horror film “The Exorcist,” starring Max von Sydow and Ellen Burstyn, is regarded by many as a true, cinematic classic. The newest entry in the demon possession genre, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is not so much. It is loosely based on two books – 1990’s “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and 1992’s “An Exorcist: More Stories” by Italian priest, Father Gabriele Amorth (1925-2016) who claimed to have performed tens of thousands of exorcisms during his career. Filled with cliches and horror scenes too reliant on over-the-top special effects rather than true psychological terror, “The Pope’s Exorcist” should probably be exorcised from theaters for everyone’s well-being.
Set in 1987, “The Pope’s Exorcist” takes us to a small Italian village where Father Gabriel (Russell Crowe), the Pope’s personal exorcist, drives a demon out of a man and into a pig, which is subsequently shot dead. The incident gets Father Gabriel, a practical man with a sense of humor, in trouble with a Catholic Church tribunal who questions him for acting without permission. There is a sense that there are forces within the Church working against Father Gabriel, but this aspect of the story is inexplicably dropped and not further developed.
Meanwhile, a recently widowed mother (Alex Essoe, “Doctor Sleep”) and her two children – a traumatized son, Henry (Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) and an angst-ridden, rebellious, moody teenage daughter (isn’t that how all teenage girls are portrayed in horror films?), Amy (Laurel Marsden) – have traveled to Spain to move into a spooky old castle that’s undergoing renovations. Shockingly enough (insert sarcasm), strange things start happening and Father Gabriel, under direct orders by the Pope (Franco Nero, “John Wick: Chapter 2,” “Django Unchained”), comes to the rescue aboard his motor scooter.
Assisted by a local priest, Father Esquibel (Daniel Zovatto, TV series “Station Eleven,” “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels”), Father Gabriel encounters a demon possessed Henry as the two priests must overcome their own sins to defeat evil.
Directed Julius Avery, who brought us the forgettable 2018 film “Overlord” about a bunch of American soldiers fighting Nazi zombies in World War II, “The Pope’s Exorcist” is a rather silly film that lacks thrills, chills, or even mild goosebumps. Fear is replaced by a few laughs and sheer boredom. Crowe is entertaining in the role and seems to be having a good time with it. There is also somehow one good, albeit brief scene, when Crowe’s character first encounters the possessed boy. The remaining time is just unimaginative schlock.
Overall, say a prayer to give you the strength to not watch this film.
“The Pope’s Exorcist” receives one star out of five.