Film Review: “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes”

 

  • KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
  • Starring: Owen Teague, Freya Allen
  • Directed by: Wes Ball
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 25 mins
  • 20th Century Studios

 

Originally intended to not be a franchise reboot, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” becomes just that and I’m not so sure it is a good thing. The original rebooted trilogy of films – 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” followed by 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes” – were all critically praised, financially successful and each received Oscar nominations involving visual effects. It all ended with a truly satisfactory ending to Caesar’s journey. However, sometimes well enough can’t be left alone and this is at least partly true for “Kingdom.” While it does have an interesting storyline, it starts off sluggishly and ends with more questions than answers.

 

Set many generations in the future after the events involving Caesar, “Kingdom” introduces us to the new ape protagonist, Noa (Owen Teague, “It”). A member of an ape clan that trains eagles, Noa and his friends live in a time when the ruins of human cities have become overtaken by nature and the wisdom of Caesar’s teachings have been almost forgotten. A brutal attack on his clan by a much stronger rival leaves Noa alone, putting him on a quest to bring his friends back home. Along the way he runs into a friendly Orangutan named Raka (Peter Macon, “The Orville”) who reveals to him the lost knowledge of Caesar. They also pick up a lost female human name Mae (Freya Allan, “The Witcher”) who seems different than other humans that predominately wild and dumb. Eventually, Noa discovers that his clan has been enslaved by Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), a theatrical ape obsessed with gaining technology he believes is stored in an underground bunker.

“Kingdom” is uninteresting in its initial scenes, resulting in the wish that more editing had occurred in post-production. It almost feels like watching a montage from “Avatar.” Originality what? The story only becomes intriguing once the intrepid Noa begins his quest to save his friends. Raka turns out to be a much more captivating character, albeit a short-lived one. What really draws you in is the tension between Noa and Mae whose agenda begs the question if apes and humans can ever coexist in peace.

 

Overall, “Kingdom” is visually stunning as the technology to create its ape characters only gets better with time. While its ending poses the basis for a new storyline, it doesn’t have the same creative or enthusiastic vibe as the first three films.

 

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” receives ★★★ out of five.

 

 

Film Review: “Late Night With the Devil”

 

  • LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL
  • Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon
  • Directed by: Cameron and Colin Cairnes
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • IFC Films

 

I tend to stay away from so-called horror films. I regard them as mundane with over-the-top scare tactics that are silly and scripts that were probably written in crayon. I still believe that last great horror film was “The Blair Witch Project” for its use of psychological terror, but that’s a discussion for another day. However, the newest entry into the genre, “Late Night with the Devil,” elicited my intrigue because it stars one of Kansas City’s own – David Dastmalchian. Inventive. Creative. Genius. Creepy. Terrifying. Those are all adjectives that can apply to this terrific piece of cinema.

 

The great Michael Ironsides lays the groundwork for the story with a voiceover narration that introduces us to late night talk show host, Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian), who has connections to a mysterious place in the California woods called “The Grove” where the rich and powerful meet and hold secret rituals. We learn that from humble beginnings, Jack’s show, “Night Owls”, becomes a strong contender to Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” As the years pass, though, “Night Owls” begins to slide in the ratings. At his lowest point, Jack’s wife, Madeleine (Georginia Haig, “Once Upon a Time”) dies from cancer.

 

After a month-long hiatus, which involved a trip to The Grove, Jack returns to his late-night gig. Desperate to save his show, Jack, in 1977, devises a Halloween show that will feature a teenage girl named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli, “Five Bedrooms”) who is supposedly possessed, and her doctor, June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon, “Saw V”). Jack also brings onboard a questionable psychic and a professional debunker who is skeptic of anything paranormal or supernatural. Things start taking a turn for the worse during the show, but Jack is determined to forge ahead so he can beat Carson.

 

Similar to “The Blair Witch Project,” the premise of “Late Night with the Devil” is that it’s a documentary complete with the “real” footage of the Halloween broadcast of “Night Owls” and other, never-before-seen footage caught by other cameras. Dastmalchian is nothing short of brilliant in the lead as a man so desperate to be number one that he will do anything to achieve it. Jack is not a bad man, but he makes bad choices that Dastmalchian does a superb job in showing how much of a toll it ends up taking on him.

 

The story is like a slow boil and by the time the terror begins you are completely hooked. There are few special effects in the film, which was clearly made on a small budget. What there is could have been toned down a smidge at it does become a little too typical. Nevertheless, “Late Night with the Devil” will leave you on the edge of your seat.

 

Overall, you probably should not watch “Late Night with the Devil” right before you go to bed.

 

“Late Night with the Devil” receives ★★★1/2 out of five.

Film Review: “Unfrosted”

 

  • UNFROSTED
  • Starring: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan
  • Directed by: Jerry Seinfeld
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • Netflix

 

The year 1963 was a pivotal moment in modern American history. The Cold War ran hot with the Soviet Union and the Civil Rights movement was in full gear. It was also time when Kellogg and Post cereal brands were competing with one another not to be the first to land on the moon, but the first cereal company to create a toaster friendly pastry for breakfast. Decades later, enter comedic legend Jerry Seinfeld with his funny take on that race in his feature film directorial debut, “Unfrosted.”

 

Overflowing with so many cameos that it’s impossible to count them all, “Unfrosted” is loosely based on the true story of how the Post brand announced it had a product called “Country Squares” in development and Kellogg’s hurried response to come up with what became known as “Pop-Tarts.” Seinfeld stars as Bob Cabana, a senior ranking member of the Kellogg’s staff and right-hand man of Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan). Their archnemesis from across the parking lot in Battle Creek, Michigan is none other than Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer). Always placing second behind Kellogg’s, Marjorie is depicted as a ruthless corporate boss willing to do anything to get a leg up on the competition, including stealing company secrets.

 

It’s all quite silly of course as every character is portrayed as being clueless to one degree or another. The writing is tongue-in-cheek with plenty of satire to go around. Seinfeld does a marvelous job of corralling a ton of comedic talent and turning it all into cohesive chaos. He plays off Gaffigan and his other main co-star, Melissa McCarthy, who plays a NASA scientist that joins forces with Cabana, with absolute ease. It looks almost effortless as there are plenty of genuine laughs to be had. I would be remiss if I did not mention the absurdity that Hugh Grant brings as a struggling Shakespearean actor who thinks he is God’s gift to the mascot world with his role as Tony the Tiger.

 

“Unfrosted” can be a bit disjointed and a little too campy for its own good, but its laughable absurdity falls into the same level of genius as “The Death of Stalin” and “What We Do in the Shadows.” Come on, a milk man delivery service is likened to a secret, organized crime ring. Seinfeld’s effort is not Shakespeare, nor does it have some hidden agenda. Overall, “Unfrosted” may be simple but it is coated with plenty of sugary sweet laughs.

 

“Unfrosted” receives ★★1/2 out of five.

Film Review: “The Beekeeper”

 

 

 

  • THE BEEKEEPER
  • Starring: Jason Statham, Jeremy Irons
  • Directed by: David Ayer
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
  • Amazon MGM Studios

 

Jason Statham is one of the best action movie stars that has ever been on the silver screen. However, not all his movies are necessarily the greatest of quality. Unlike 2021’s brilliant “Wrath of Man,” Statham’s newest endeavor “The Beekeeper,” which is now available on streaming services, is perhaps one of his worst. Poorly written, acted, and directed, “The Beekeeper” tastes more like vinegar than honey.

 

Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad) is a retired educator who has developed a friendly relationship with her neighbor, Adam Clay (Jason Statham) who happens to be a beekeeper. A phishing scam robs Eloise of all her money. Despondent, she takes her life, but Adam is initially blamed for it by Eloise’s daughter, FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman). Inexplicably, Raver-Lampman plays the scene with same depth of emotion as a stack of firewood.

 

Of course, since he is being played by Statham, Adam is not all that he appears to be. He is instead a trained killing machine known as a beekeeper. Through his contacts, Adam finds out where the call center is that ripped off Eloise, and countless other victims, and burns it to the ground while kicking butt. Meanwhile, Agent Verona drowns herself in alcohol.

 

Like a terminator, Adam begins killing his way to the top of the beehive, which in this case appears to be Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), a former intelligence chief hired long ago by a powerful political figure to protect her family’s company name and keep her son out of trouble. Wallace calls in favors, including former Navy SEALS, to stop Adam, who often manages to pull a Neo by dodging hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

 

The impetus for “The Beekeeper” is timely as increasing numbers of elderly people are taken advantage of by unscrupulous people, leaving them destitute. While Statham is consistent and Irons is okay as the main villain, the film lacks talent, among other things, to make it an entertaining action flick. The action is too choreographed with graphics thrown up on the screen that reminiscent of something you would have seen in a 1970s TV series.

 

Overall, “The Beekeeper” is flat out boring, even though it does toss out a somewhat surprising twist towards the end. It would be more fun to throw oneself on top of a beehive than to watch “The Beekeeper.”

 

“The Beekeeper” receives a half star out of five.

Film Review: “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”

 

  • THE MINISTRY OF UNGENTLEMANLY WARFARE
  • Starring: Henry Cavill, Alan Ritchson
  • Directed by: Guy Ritchie
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 2 hrs
  • Lionsgate

 

Being a historian, I cringe when a film starts off with the words “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events” flashing across the silver screen before the movie starts. Typically, these films generate a misleading presentation of historical events and therefore distort the perception of what the reality of the situation really was. While British director Guy Ritchie’s new World War II action flick “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” begins with one those aforementioned statements, it’s clear from the start that this work of historical fiction does not take itself too seriously. While based on the 2014 book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by British author Damien Lewis, Ritchie focuses on taking us on a genuine thrill ride with a few laughs mixed as a plethora of Nazis are shot to pieces.

 

In late 1941, Great Britain was nearing a breaking point as Nazi Germany was repeatedly bombing its capital of London and its supplies being cut off by Nazi submarines. Desperate to put an end to the blockade, Brigadier General Colin “M” Gubbins (Cary Elwes), with the secret backing Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Rory Kinnear), enlists Major Gus March-Phillips (Henry Cavill) who is played as a bit of troublemaker that has a problem with authority. Gus knows he is the one holding the chips so he can select the members of his small team that is assigned the task of destroying an Italian supply ship at the Spanish island of Fernando Po, which would be a critical blow to Nazi submarines in the Atlantic. However, fearing such a mission might jeopardize Spain’s neutrality, there are those within Churchill’s government and military that are against the mission.

 

With the help of Danish officer Major Anders Lassen (Alan Ritchson, “Jack Reacher”) and others, Gus, who is portrayed as having a good time while killing Nazis, goes on an action-packed adventure that is not as dark as some of Ritchie’s previous films like “Snatch” or “Wrath of Man.” “Ministry” is more like the romp that was the two Sherlock Holmes films. Cavill is a delight to watch as he has a talented supporting cast around him, particularly in the form of Ritchson who plays Lassen as a pure killing machine complete with a bow and arrow.

 

One irony is that the main Nazi antagonist is played by German actor Til Schweiger. His character, Heinrich Luhr takes sadistic pleasure in killing Jews. A far cry from his role as the Nazi killer Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.” His diabolical performance demonstrates his reputation as being arguably the best actor in Germany.

 

Overall, “Ministry,” while far from being historically accurate, does provide some great popcorn entertainment while also shedding some light on a mission that was only declassified after the turn of the century.

 

“The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” receives ★★★ out of five.

Film Review: “Rebel Moon Part Two – The Scargiver”

 

  • REBEL MOON PART TWO:  THE SCARGIVER
  • Starring: Sofia Boutella, Ed Skrein
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins
  • Netflix

 

To be transparent, I have long been fan of director Zack Snyder’s work, especially his director’s cut of “Justice League” which I regard as one of the best comic book movies ever made. However, his 2023 sci-fi effort “Rebel Moon – Part One: A Child of Fire” was an utter failure in almost every possible way. The lone bright spot was the performance of British actor Ed Skrein (“Deadpool,” “Game of Thrones”) as the story’s principal antagonist. Unfortunately, not much has changed with Snyder’s deplorable sequel, “Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver.” Filled with more unnecessary slow-motion shots than a Michael Bay-helmed piece of garbage; predictable in every conceivable way; and a convoluted storyline that needs three seasons on a streaming service to till in the backstory so that we might care about what’s going on.

 

In brief, we find our heroine Kora/Arthelais (Sofia Boutella, “Star Trek Beyond”) and her team of high-powered misfits basking in the relief that they have defeated and killed their archnemesis, Admiral Noble (Skrein). The victory means an assault on the moon Veldt has been prevented, which will allow its simple farming communities to live in peace and happiness. But wait, Admiral Noble is a tough cookie, and he is raised from the dead to resume his pursuit of Kora, who has been falsely blamed as the murderer of the royal family that governs most of space, which is outlandish in and of itself.

 

Admiral Noble, played again with entertaining villainy by Skrein who has made a career out of being a bad guy people like to hate, leads an Imperium fleet to Veldt where the farmers have harvested their grain before being trained for combat in just a few days by former Imperium admiral, Titus (Djimon Hounsou). They are also given a motivational speech that pales in comparison to more notable ones like Mel Gibson in “Braveheart” or Walter Matthau in “The Bad News Bears.” It all leads to a rather silly, over-the-top battle sequence that provides nothing that has not been seen a million times already in a million other movies.

 

Boutella has shined in other roles and has a knack for playing genuine heroine, but her talents are wasted with a script so bad that it reminds me of David Bowie’s song “Rebel, Rebel.” The only difference is that it’s not a face that’s a mess but an entire movie.

 

Overall, whatever you choose to do with your life is your business but please don’t waste a minute of it on this forgettable film.

 

“Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver” receives ★ out of five.

 

Film Review: “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

  • GODZZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE
  • Starring: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry
  • Directed by: Adam Wingard
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 3 hrs 25 mins
  • Warner Bros.

 

This will date me, but when I was in grade school the teachers would sometimes give us a free Friday afternoon by showing us black and white films on a 35 mm projector. And sometimes, those films involved Godzilla, which everyone found mesmerizing even though the special effects were cheesy by today’s standards. My fascination with mega monster movies continues to this day. It was reenergized by the 2014 film “Godzilla,” which contained a terrific cast, good character development, and an entertaining story to go along with its visual effects. Several chapters later we have “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” which is the opposite of what I just wrote. With a few of the main characters returning from 2021’s “Godzilla vs Kong,” this newest incarnation is indicative of multiple series that may start out strong but quickly being to limp along with little to no redemptive value.

 

To be succinct, three years after the events of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Godzilla lives on the Earth’s surface protecting humanity from other, not so nice mega monsters. Conversely, Kong lives in Hollow Earth, which allows for a sort of truce between the two. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) becomes concerned when her adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last known member of the Iwi tribe from Skull Island, begins to have weird dreams and begins drawing three triangles. Meanwhile, the Monarch corporation begins noticing that Godzilla is preparing himself for something that is coming, presumably a big bad mega monster. It all leads to a Temple of Doom type discovery involving a prophecy and an angry, giant orangutan with a glowing crystal thing that controls a mega monster who spews freezing breath.

 

It has reached a point that the Godzilla movies moving forward should just forego having any human characters and just have the mega monsters in them. Kong especially can communicate everything we need and can do it better than the actors and actresses in the film. It would be more entertaining than the complete lack of anything resembling character development or arcs. Stylistically, “The New Empire” is crowd pleasing fun and the battles remind me of the ones I used to watch in black and white long ago. However, it’s not enough to keep this particular film from being almost ridiculous, which is not helped by a main antagonist who is almost laughable compared to Godzilla and Kong.

 

Overall, “Godzilla x Kong” may be good to munch popcorn along to but that’s about it.

 

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” receives out of five.

 

Film Review: “Civil War”

 

  • CIVIL WAR
  • Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura
  • Directed by: Alex Garland
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 49 mins
  • A24

 

In a time when America is more divided politically since before the 20th century, the near dystopian future of “Civil War” seems like an all too scary proposition of a possible reality. However, the film’s brilliance is derived from largely staying away from the weeds of political discourse and instead focuses on the impact the story’s bloody conflict has on the people – specifically the journalists who try to cover it. With brilliant cinematography, “Civil War” captures the horrors of war through a rarely used perspective. A perspective that is shown in a profound way by talented cast headlined by a standout performance by Kirsten Dunst.

 

Like Morpheus from “The Matrix,” who tells us they know little about mankind’s fall, we only get to know scant pieces of information why America has become engulfed by a civil war. What we do know is that the dictator-like, third term President of the United States (Nick Offerman) started America’s downfall with a series of actions, few of which we are privy to, but one does stand out – launching air strikes against American civilians.

 

Legendary war photojournalist Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and her colleague, Joel (Wagner Moura, “The Gray Man”) are determined to drive to D.C. to interview the president, although it’s clear that Lee has become exhausted by covering the worst of humanity. They are warned of the dangers of doing so by Sammy (Kansas City, Missouri native Stephen McKinley Henderson, “Dune: Part One,” “Fences”), a longtime journalist with “The New York Times”. Lee and Joel do not heed his advice, but they end up complicating their journey further by allowing Sammy to join them for a ride to the front lines as well as a young, aspiring photojournalist named Jessie (Springfield, Missouri native Cailee Spaeny, “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” “Priscilla”), who happens to be from Missouri.

 

During their several hundred-mile journey, the quartet encounters several scenes of carnage during which Jessie earns her red badge of carnage, in a manner of speaking. Ultimately, it is through their eyes and lenses that we see America’s second civil war in both haunting black-and-white and bloody color images. It’s a unique perspective and a bold one as writer/director Alex Garland, who also wrote 2014’s brilliant “Ex Machina” and 2002’s “28 Days Later,” stayed away from making political stances that could have enraged one side or the other in society and instead chose to focus on the depravity that humanity is sometimes capable of.

 

Dunst is tremendous as her feelings of exhaustion are tangible just by the thousand mile look in her eyes. Moura is a nice counterpart to her as he demonstrates a solid handle on a wide range of emotions, especially those that are more visceral. And Spaeny shows that she is an up-and-coming star who is going to be gracing the silver screen for a long time to come. Lastly, it should be noted, to tamper the enthusiasm of his fans, that Offerman is barely in the film despite the prominence of his name. He is more heard than seen to put it in simple terms.

 

Overall, “Civil War” is one film not to be missed.

 

“Civil War” receives ★★ out of five.

 

Film Review: “Spaceman”

 

  • SPACEMAN
  • Starring: Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan
  • Directed by: Johan Renck
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins
  • Netflix

 

It has been a long time since his days starring in such notable comedies as “The Waterboy,” “Billy Madison,” and “Happy Gillmore.” However, what has always been the real strength of Adam Sandler’s talents is his ability to do drama. Whether it was in “Punch-Drunk Love” or “Reign Over Me” or “Uncut Gems,” Sandler has demonstrated a terrific ability to delve into all the nooks and crannies of a character without having to be silly. His dramatic brilliance is able to shine once more in the new, slow-paced and somewhat dull sci-fi film “Spaceman.”

 

A mysterious pink cloud, named Chopra, has entered our solar system just beyond Jupiter. Visible in the day and nighttime sky from Earth, a solo space mission has been organized by the Czech government to gather particles from Chopra and return them back to Earth for study. One step ahead of a South Korean ship sent to do the same thing, Czech astronaut Jakub Prochazka (Sandler) is six months into his mission and his sense of loneliness threatens to overwhelm him. What makes matters worse is that his pregnant wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan) has decided to divorce him just as he is on the precipice of the greatest achievement in human space exploration. Concerned that her deep space “Dear John” letter to Jakub will shatter what’s left of his mental stability, flight commander, Commissioner Tuma (Isabella Rossellini) decides to withhold the message in the hopes she can convince Lenka to change her mind.

 

Meanwhile, Jakub struggles to keep his sanity as he gets closer to Chopra without any word from his wife. It is at his most vulnerable that he encounters a spider-like, telepathic alien onboard his ship that he eventually calls Hanus (voiced by Paul Dano, “The Dark Knight”). Intrigued by this lonely human, Hanus begins to poke and prod at Jakub’s memories to figure him out. This ranges from examining the consequences of Jakub’s father being murdered because he had been an informant for the Communist government of Czechoslovakia to why Jakub pushed away Lenka.

 

To say that “Spaceman” is slow would be an understatement and it may serve to drive away some viewers’ interest after just a few minutes into the film. The actual science the film appears a little iffy, especially considering why in the world would such a long mission be attempted with just one astronaut. And unfortunately, the supposed climax of reaching Chopra is more like a whimper than a bang.

 

Another detriment to the film is the monotone voice work by Dano as Hanus. It’s like listening to HAL 9000, but not as sinister. There is a sense of mystery about Hanus that provides a little intrigue because it is seemingly impossible for the creature to have gotten on the spaceship. As for Sandler, he exhibits sheer brilliance as he pulls us into his character’s self-imposed loathing and despair. However, while he does not share a lot of scenes with Mulligan, their shared chemistry is a little flat.

 

Overall, “Spaceman” has some pretty visual effects and a couple of extraordinarily good emotional moments that will pull at the heart strings. Yet, it’s still not enough to make the film more than something average.

 

“Damsel” receives ★1/2  out of five.

Film Review: “Damsel”

 

  • DAMSEL
  • Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Robin Wright
  • Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins
  • Netflix

 

So many fairy tales contain damsels in distress who end up having to be rescued by some handsome prince or noble knight. The new Netflix fantasy tale “Damsel” attempts to put that tradition on its head by having the endangered female lead save herself rather than someone else doing the job. However, the movie falls rather flat with old video game visual effects, almost non-existent character development, and little to no suspense. It is more like the viewer is the one in distress and therefore needs to be rescued.

 

After a brief introduction to allegedly the last dragon in existence, the story travels centuries into the future where we go to a kingdom that is nothing more than a barren, cold wasteland. It is there that Elodie (Millie Bobbie Brown, “Stranger Things”) demonstrates that she is much more rough and tough than your normal princess. While she is not keen on the idea, she goes along with her parents (Ray Winstone and Angela Bassett) plans to marry her off to a faraway prince, which will mean a replenishment of gold in the unnamed kingdom.

 

After a long voyage, Elodie and her family arrive at a lush and prosperous kingdom ruled by the rather callous and forceful Queen Isabelle (Robin Wright) and her husband, who is given almost nothing to say. Elodie gets to meet her future husband, but everything feels awkward and not quite right. The reason for this is that during a weird, “Eyes Wide Shut” type of mountain ceremony, Elodie is tossed into a deep hole as a sacrifice to the dragon (Shohreh Aghdashloo). The reason for this is straight out of a below average Dungeons & Dragons role playing campaign.

 

Brown burst onto the scene with her role as the heroine, Eleven on “Stranger Things” and while she certainly has a bright future in cinema, “Damsel” is a waste of her talents. Her director falters with pacing and he asks Brown to do too much whimpering and screaming after initially presenting as tough and determined. The supporting cast are forgettable, and Wright’s performance is just an amalgamation of every evil queen stereotype from Disney. Worse, the dragon is a bad rip-off of “Lord of the Rings.”

 

Overall, “Damsel” may be one of the most boring films you could see all year. 

 

“Damsel” receives out of five.

Film Review: “Dune: Part Two”

 

  • DUNE: PART TWO
  • Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya
  • Directed by: Denis Villenueve
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 3 hrs 26 mins
  • Legendary Pictures

 

Rare is the film that achieves cinematic perfection. It takes a uniquely superb combination of writing, acting, directing, and cinematography, among other things, to pull it off. Having exceeded all expectations with 2021’s “Dune,” which received 10 Academy Award nominations and won six including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, director Denis Villenueve’s follow-up, “Dune: Part Two” exceeds its much-praised predecessor, a rare feat in the world of cinema.

 

Based upon the 1965 novel by the late American author Frank Herbert (1920-86), for which he was a co-winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel, “Dune: Two” is the second half of the original book, the first installment of what became the “Dune Chronicles.” The story picks up on the desert planet of Arrakis where Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), who had the help of Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), has solidified his rule after wiping out House Atriedes. Or at least that’s what he thinks.

 

The Fremen, the native blue-eyed population of Arrakis, suspect Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) and his Bene Gesserit mother, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) as spies despite the endorsement of Stilgar (Javier Bardem). Paul goes on to endure many trials to prove that he is worthy to fight alongside the Fremen, which earns the respect and love of Chani (Zendaya). Some, like Stilgar, believe Paul is the Chosen One while others are skeptical, like Chani. Meanwhile, Jessica, who is pregnant, must drink the Water of Life, which is poisonous for males and the untrained, to become the Fremen’s new Reverand Mother, or religious leader. After this process, Jessica and her unborn daughter begin to make maneuvers to ensure Paul is indeed accepted as the Chosen One by all Fremen and therefore lead them into an open revolt against the Harkonnen rather than just hit-and-run guerrilla warfare.

 

That is a bare bones description of the script for it can be complicated, but in a fantastic, sophisticated type of way. Intelligent. Brilliant. Imaginative. Those are all words that can be used to describe Villeneuve’s adaptation. Brimming with much more suspense than the first part, “Dune Two” is a Harvard-educated roller coaster which stimulates both the mind and the senses. Chalamet burns up the screen with his ferocity while Zendaya infuses her character with a tangible sense of independence. The other supporting cast members are delightful, especially Austin Butler (“Elvis”) as the Baron’s new favorite nephew. Visually, the film is nothing short of stunning as it blows the doors off anything to have hit the silver screen since the first “Dune.”

 

Overall, “Dune: Part Two” is one of the greatest achievements in film this century and surely there will be plenty of anticipation for “Dune Messiah.”

 

“Dune: Part Two” receives ★★★★ out of five.

 

Film Review #2: “Killers of the Flower Moon”

  • KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON
  • Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone
  • Directed by: Martin Scorsese
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 3 hrs 26 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is one of the most audacious, sprawling epics director Martin Scorsese has ever created. With 10 Oscar nominations under its belt, including Best Picture, Director, and Actress, “Flower Moon” is a film every American should see to get a better understanding of the atrocities that have committed upon Native peoples. (Ideally, Americans would also go out and do research on their own to learn more.) Compelling and revolting at the same time, Scorsese’s work is filled with unforgettable performances, terrific dialogue, and wonderful homages to the Osage people of Oklahoma.

 

The story’s details are mostly common knowledge at this point so, in brief, it is based upon the praised, groundbreaking 2017 historical work “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by American journalist David Grann. The book detailed the multiple murders of Osage people in Osage County, Oklahoma during the 1920s as part of a scheme orchestrated by cattleman William King Hale (Robert De Niro) to gain access to their oil headrights. A key part of this was Hale’s nephew, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio) marrying Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone in a performance for the ages) so that Hale could eventually get access to her family’s wealth, which was done by methodically killing off her relatives one by one. The scheme begins to unravel after an agent (Jesse Plemons) with the Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the F.B.I., arrives in the area to investigate the murders.

 

A common criticism of “Flower Moon” is its length and its supposed slow pacing. Perhaps it’s the age-old beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder thing, but to chop anything out of this story would have been a disservice to the Osage people, with whom Scorsese reportedly worked extensively with to get his film as accurate as possible. It’s impressive that he got in as much detail as he did, although it does, like even the best historical films do, take bits of dramatic license here and there. Now, could it have been told more from an Osage point of view rather than focusing more on Hale and Ernest, probably, but this dark story does a wonderfully nuanced job of delving into the complexities of Ernest and Mollie’s relationship.

 

It may sound ageist, but Scorsese unfortunately adhered more towards loyalty to his usual stable of actors rather than getting his story even more accurate. DiCaprio, who was 46 during production, is not believable as someone who just returned from World War I, especially since the real Ernest was 27 at the time. While Gladstone, who should be a lock to win an Oscar for Best Actress, is similar in age to Mollie, 78-year-old DeNiro was portraying someone who was 45 in 1919. Still, the two veteran actors’ performances are strong enough to overlook this disparity.

 

Overall, while you may have to put it on pause to go to the bathroom at some point, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is too important of a story about a dark chapter in America’s history to be missed or overlooked.

 

“Killers of the Flower Moon” receives four-and-a-half stars out of five.

Film Review #2: “Bob Marley: One Love”

 

  • BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE
  • Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch
  • Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

 

Nearly 42 years after his death, Reggae music pioneer Bob Marley (1945-81) continues to be legend of near-mythical proportions on a global scale. The only child from a brief marriage between a middle-aged, white British plantation overseer and an 18-year-old black Jamaican girl, Marley grew up in poverty and was bullied because of his mixed ethnicity. Despite this, he went on to have a life that Jim Morrison would have quipped was good enough to have a movie based upon it. Unfortunately, while it contains a near-Oscar worthy performance by British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir (“Secret Invasion,” “One Night in Miami”), “Bob Marley: One Love” falls far short of being a triumphant biopic.

 

With the involvement and oversight by members of his family, “One Love” delves into a specific timeframe of Marley’s life from his rise to global fame following an assassination attempt in late 1976 to his triumphant return to Jamaica in 1978 to perform the “One Love Peace Concert”. The film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (“King Richard,” “Monsters and Men”), mistakenly does not provide much detail about Marley’s previous 30 years of life other than some repeated imagery that implies a sense of isolation and abandonment within the famed singer. The decision to fly through his trials and tribulations as a young man significantly weakens the sense of his ultimate triumph.

 

“One Love” tries to prevent the complicated marriage between Rita (played wonderfully by Lashana Lynch, “The Woman King,” “No Time to Die”) and Bob in some meaningful way, yet it too is glossed over with their underlying problems just briefly hinted at. Yes, there is a big scene involving them arguing but its impact is insignificant.

 

The highlights of “One Love” include Ben-Adir’s performance and, of course, its music. The soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission and should serve to continue to perpetuate Marley’s legacy. However, it you want to know the man on a more in-depth and intimate level, I would highly recommend the 2012 documentary, “Marley.” It is a riveting and detailed account of his life and music from his humble beginnings to his musical triumph to his untimely death.

 

On a scale of zero to five, “Bob Marley: One Love” receives ★★

 

 

Film Review – “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”

 

  • AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM
  • Starring: Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson
  • Directed by: James Wan
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

 

After lots of lows and some highs, the DC extended universe of films is ending with its 15th and final installment in the form of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Currently in theaters, “Lost Kingdom” ends the franchise on a solid note with two hours of pure popcorn fun. While Jason Momoa is no Laurence Olivier or Sidney Poitier, he does not pretend to be and instead infuses a genuine enthusiasm into a performance which does not require a lot of range. Bolstered by some enjoyable supporting performances, fun action, and few laughs, “Lost Kingdom” is an improvement over the first “Aquaman”.

 

Voiceover narrations are often so dullish that they impair a film’s progression, which is the case in the beginning with “Lost Kingdom.” Momoa provides a reflection of where his character of Arthur Curry/Aquaman has been over the past few years, and it comes across as stilted. Regardless, we learn that Aquaman has married Mera (Amber Heard) and had a son while at the same time trying to lead a double life as a reluctant king of Atlantis.

 

Concurrently, we see that David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is still hell bent on avenging the death of his father no matter what the cost. Amid his quest, Black Manta, with the assistance of a marine biologist, stumbles across an ancient Atlantean artifact in the form of a black trident. Like something out of a D&D game, the trident possesses Black Manta and its trapped creator, who resembles the King of the Dead from “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” offers Black Manta glorious purpose if he frees him.

Black Manta’s subsequent actions with other forms of ancient technology threaten to destroy the Earth’s environment. To prevent it, a war with the surface world, and save his family, Aquaman must turn to his imprisoned, disgruntled brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson) for help.

 

For someone who has been a fan of at least some of the DC movies, or the Zack Snyder universe, it is a bit sad to see the unfinished storylines come to an end. It is at least going out on a decent note as “Lost Kingdom” provides a fun way to spend just over two hours at the movie theater. There are several laughs to be had throughout its running time with plenty of action, albeit nothing we have not seen before, and decent enough special effects. The thing about “Lost Kingdom” is that it does not take itself too seriously, which would have caused it to be a complete dud if it had.

 

Abdul-Mateen II stands out once again as a man so blinded by rage and revenge that he become something less than human. Wilson is also fantastic with some great comic relief with good timing in support of Momoa. Overall, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is a nice swan song to a franchise that had its fair share of severe ups and downs.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” receives ★★½ stars out of five.

Film Review: “Oppenheimer”

 

  • 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.