Panic Fest Film Review: “Boy Kills World”

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Famke Jannsen and Jessica Rothe
Directed by:
Rated: R
Running Time: 111 minutes
Roadside Attraction/Lionsgate

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

It’s very hard to pull off an action comedy that’s been punched up with different genres like sci-fi and horror. It’s definitely possible, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost basically pulled it off three times. But there are other films that pull it off by going balls to wall with bone crunching kung-fu fighting, deranged, yet hilarious violence, and creating a world of Looney Toons absurdism. Those are films like “Boy Kills World.”

Boy (Bill Skarsgard) is being trained by a mystery hobo ninja in the woods surrounding a post-Apocalyptic “Hunger Games” matriarchy-run city. Boy, when he’s fully realized his potential and goal as the ultimate weapon, is to beat the Van Der Koy family (Famke Janssen, Michelle Dockery, Brett Gelman and Sharlto Copley) to death with his crackling fists. He thirsts for Van Der Koy blood because his family was murdered at their hands, including his best friend, his little sister, who still talks to him, and dog him like little sisters do, as a guiding spirit. Oh, and because Boy is deaf and mute, and doesn’t remember his voice, his inner voice is H. Jon Benjamin.

While starting a little slow, like a warm-up jog, the film goes full slugfest, shootout bonkers when Boy realizes it’s time to fulfill his goal. While it could be visually taxing to wrap yourself around the the sweat, blood-covered Skarsgard dispensing bad guys with horrific weapons like a cheese grater, with Bob Belcher’s voice, the movie cleverly uses them separately and together throughout the film to let the action remain thrilling and the comedy to remain uproarious. As a viewer, we do end up admiring Boy because his emotional layers are peeled back through Skarsgard’s commanding eyes and his spirit ghost sister that pops up at inopportune times.

As for the action scenes, the majority hit the sweet spot between brutal believability and video game logic where you can kill people with a singular upper cut or have to spend 10 minutes bludgeoning your opponent to death. The film creates several traditional and bizarre set pieces for the Boy to play in, such as a weapons manufacturing warehouse and a candy winter wonderland of death populated by murderous sugary cereal mascots. While never worrying about how goofy the premise is, the film is serious about it’s fighting and choreography. In fact, the final fight scene is mapped out so well and pulled off with such high stakes fun, it’s worthy of “John Wick.”

The film does have some pacing issues here and there, and the plot sometimes gets in the way of the action. That wouldn’t be a problem if the plot was a little bit more straightforward because the twists and turns it makes don’t feel as satisfying. However, if you’re uncertain about what kind of film “Boy Kills World” might be, it’s important to note that Sam Raimi produced it. So even if “Boy Kills World” isn’t on par with a crazy action comedy orgy like “Kung Fu Hustle,” it is the kind of film you could fall in love with and watch over and over again.

Panic Fest Film Review: “Sting”

Starring: Ryan Corr, Alyla Browne and Penelope Mitchell
Directed by: Kiah Roche-Turner
Rated: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
Well Go USA Entertainment

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Very few times can I describe a film with these words: heart-warming, funny and skin crawling. “Sting” is the story of a peculiar preteen girl, Charlotte (Alyla Browne) who makes friends with a spider, at least what we think is a spider. You see, on a snowy, icy night in New York City, a tiny meteorite smashes through a window at an apartment complex. The rock cracks open, revealing the dime sized spider that quickly makes friends with Charlotte. Since we know up front that it’s from space, we know that this isn’t an ordinary spider, but of course no one else knows this. Charlotte doesn’t even seem to mind too much that the spider doubles in size in hours, and suddenly requires more than just apartment lurking bugs to devour.

I’d say the majority of “Sting” hinges on the likability of Charlotte as a character and Browne’s acting abilities. It’s a difficult character to tackle because Charlotte is dealing with the loss of her father and isn’t as emotionally connected as she once was with her mom. It doesn’t help that her stepdad is a little bit aloof when it comes to Charlotte, talking to her but not actually listening to her. So when Browne interacts with her new pet spider, we truly understand why and actually believe it. I actually believed it, especially since I feel like people who own spiders are pets are sociopaths. As for everyone else who encounters the spider, it’s like midnight at the drive-in.

Part of the inherent cheesy fun of “Sting” is watching all the characters come into focus, while figuring out who’s going to be eaten first. There’s a baby, some elderly ladies, an exterminator who hates coming out to the apartment, a yappy dog and plenty of other tenants that could potentially become spider food. It’s the same formula as the a lot of 80s slashers, but instead of a knife wielding maniac, it’s an eight legged monster.

There is a sense that “Sting” is lacking something. It’s lacking a cast of characters we should all care about, but there’s inherently nothing wrong with watching the spider pick them one-by-one. “Sting” is more of a comedy than a horror first, but it’s not consistently fun. What I’m trying to say in so many words is that “Sting” isn’t perfect, nor is it great, but I admire that it seems like everyone knows they’re making a modern creature feature with chuckles and a cast that will put a smile on your face.

Film Review: “Godzilla 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”


  • 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: “Monkey Man”


  • Starring:  Dev Patel and Sharlto Copely
  • Directed by: Dev Patel
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs, 1 min
  • Universal


Here are four words I thought I’d never see together:
“Dev Patel – Action Star.”  Yet, in the new film “Monkey Man,” Patel proves he can kick ass both on screen and, as the film’s director, behind it.


Meet Kid (Patel), a man trying hard to forget his past, no matter the nightmares.  To earn money, he participates in unsanctioned UFC-style battles with very few rules.  And he fights wearing the mask of a monkey.  Meet the Monkey Man.


Basically a young-man-seeking-revenge thriller, “Monkey Man” is far superior to many films of that type thanks to Patel’s work both as actor and director.  I’ve always been a fan of Patel on screen.  From “Slumdog Millionaire” to his Oscar nominated (and BAFTA winning) performance in “Lion,” he has been an actor whose work I admire and actually look forward to seeing.  This film is no different, as he gives another fine performance.


But it is Patel the director who is the real star here.  The film is full of non-stop action, with each encounter more thrilling then the last.  Patel allows his cameras to become part of the on-screen ballet, capturing the fury of every punch.  With the use of Go-Pros, the viewer is put directly into the action with such realism that you may find yourself ducking in the audience.


I will note that the film is quite brutal in some of it’s depictions of violence so be prepared to squirm in your seat a little.  But squirm away because I can guarantee you this isn’t the last time you’ll see Patel behind the camera.


On a scale of zero to five, I give “Monkey Man” ★★



Panic Fest Film Review: “Azrael”

Starring: Samara Weaving, Vic Carmen Sonne and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Directed by: E.L. Katz
Rated: NR
Running Time: 85 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Movies being shelved is nothing new. However, the legend and infame of those films remains. Depending on the genre, that movie can spend years being whispered about before it ever sees the light of day or is shown beyond secret Hollywood home screenings. The latest potentially shelved and never to be seen again (I’ll get to this later) film is “Azrael,” a post-apocalyptic film that uses Biblical theology to tell a wordless story splattered in blood and shockingly delivers unexpected supernatural thrills without a single syllable of discernable dialogue.

Samara Weaving plays the titular Azrael, who roams the woods dodging mud covered looking creatures with disfigured twitching torsos and milky zombie eyes, and other humans looking to sacrifice her to those previously described creatures. All the humans we encounter, except for one, have removed their vocal cords, leaving a cross as a scar over their throat. You see, this film takes place after the Christian rapture, the supposedly end-of-times day where all of God’s believers are taken to Heaven before good and evil lay waste to the Earth in battle. So, as the movie goes, you automatically know nothing is off the table in terms of supernatural shenanigans, morality, and what happens to the pregnant villain of the story. That being said, nothing is officially known.

You will learn nothing as the film goes along and at times it’s almost like watching someone choose their own adventure based on knowledge they’re not telling you. Besides onscreen text, the magnificent facial acting of the entire cast (especially Weaving) the privileged few who attended a director screening of the cut (Me!), you will not ever 100% (maybe even 50-90%) know what is actually going on. It’s entirely possible that multiple people with different theories as to what is happening aren’t wrong. Even at the Panic Fest screening, the film’s writer, Simon Barrett, was mum on the more specific plot details and ideas.

“Azrael” deserves a proper autopsy if it is never released, but right now, it’s an unseen circus act I’m guaranteeing is worth the price of admission. It’s difficult to glow about a film that may never see the light of day because, as Barrett also stated at Panic Fest’s “Azrael” screening, the movie is currently in limbo. Just a little after it’s SXSW premiere, the distributing company for “Azrael” seems ready to do what other distributors have done recently, just like with “Batgirl.” Whether it’s because shelving the film will save “save money,” “trim fat,” or whatever potential lie the millionaire powers to be are claiming, it’s frustrating. Even if someone disagreed with me about “Azrael,” they deserve the opportunity to watch it. “Azrael” is more than a silent gimmick, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. Buoyed by Weaving’s face, the film is relentless, even as it blows past questions it’s never going to answer.

Blu-Ray Review: “Lisa Frankenstein”

Starring: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse and Lisa Soberano
Directed by: Zelda Williams
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 101 minutes
Focus Features

Movie Score: 3 out of 5 Stars
Blu-Ray Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

I’m not really one to talk about the qualities of feminist horror. Not because I don’t like it, but mainly because I’m a man and I’m more than likely going to miss the point. For example, I probably dismissed “Jennifer’s Body” in 2009, solely for its similar feel to the “Twilight” films of the time. Now it’s considered a feminist cult classic. I guess I should re-watch and re-evaluate my attitude towards it. So, I approach “Lisa Frankenstein” cautiously, enjoying the elements I liked and questioning whether or not my dislikes are merely a viewpoint that I’ll need to re-evaluate in 15 years.

When we first meet Lisa (Kathryn Newton), she seems like a modern-day Lydia Deetz, with a wardrobe consisting solely of black-on-black and spending her free time at an abandoned cemetery with her nearest, dearest and deadest friends. We’re uncertain if she’s always been the gloomy outcast, but she explains that her more morose attitude is because of the death of her mother, at the hands of a serial killer slasher. Her father quickly remarries Janet (Carla Gugino), a less than caring stepmother who seems to believe Lisa is the embodiment of every cautionary 80s and 90s PSA about teenage drug use, sex and violence. On the flip side is Lisa’s new stepsister, Taffy (Lisa Soberano) with a personality brighter than the sun.

Taffy, always looking to please her stepsister, doesn’t question anything when Lisa joins her at a house party. Lisa’s intention? Hoping to connect with the cute boy at school who may or may not have a thing for Taffy. During the course of the night, Lisa partakes in a spiked drink, gets incredibly loopy, struggles to get a creep off her and ignores the Biblical lightning storm that resurrects a young Victorian man (Cole Sprouse) in her favorite headstone hangout. The man, simply referred to as the Creature in the film’s credits, goes straight to Lisa who has spent who knows how much time opining about love and loss at his gravestone. The rest of “Lisa Frankestein” involves watching Lisa and the Creature, copy and pasted from Tim Burton’s universe, as they stick out and get in trouble in this John Hughes-esque world.

Despite its glorious goth nature, the film never capitalizes on the 80s aesthetic. There are actually more Gen X vibes in the film’s promotional material than there is in the actual film. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it makes you wonder how much more visually stylish and eye-catching “Lisa Frankenstein” could have been. What it lacks in, it makes up for in dark humor, high school hijinks, and Newton’s magnetism as the lead. The film is also surprisingly energetic, a course of electricity runs through everyone, living and dead. The audience also has to see how it all plays out as Lisa loathes the living to the point that she begins creating her own reality through the Creature.

While the film’s flaws don’t derail the whole thing, they do eat at the back of your brain. There’s a lot of dangling plot threads, like the masked serial killer who killed Lisa’s mother, Taffy connecting with her stepdad, and the fact that as people begin dying, no one seems to be concerned or curious about it. In that regard, it feels a bit like “Heathers.” The absolute lunacy of these situations seems to be like everyday disturbances and the characters at times struggle to state why these issues are minor inconveniences. I’m not sure if the issue is Diablo Cody’s script, Zelda Williams direction, or a combination of the two. It could also be that the studio kneecapped the film, demanding a PG-13 to better sell tickets. I can only imagine the macabre ideas that could have been with an ‘R’ rating. However, I honestly don’t think any of my issues haunt the film. “Lisa Frankenstein” is a late night, teenage popcorn flick. I imagine the film is best viewed in pajamas at a sleepover.  Maybe 15 years from now, I’ll see if it is a midnight masterpiece.

For big fans of this film, the “Lisa Frankenstein” blu-ray is loaded. First off, it has a fantastic feature commentary with Director Zelda Williams. That being said, I’m not the biggest fan of solo commentaries, but Williams holds her own as she dissects her first film. The blu-ray also comes with deleted scenes and a gag reel that highlights the onset shenanigans. The other features serve as behind-the-scenes peeks that feature interviews with Williams, writer Diablo Cody and others. 


Digital Review: “American Fiction”









American Fiction was a great time indeed. Without revealing too much, it was often hilarious whilst taking on some serious issues. It’s a different kind of film.

The kind of film which will hook you from its cracking opening dialogue – pre-credits – American Fiction has arguably been done a disservice by trailers and, indeed, reviews, which reveal far too much about a story that unfolds organically and expertly, and really needed no telegraphing, let alone descriptions that explain events that don’t happen until towards the start of the second act.


The story follows the character of Thelonious Ellison (everybody just calls him Monk) a struggling writer who has just been given a temporary leave for his blunt approach to racial “issues” in his classes, returning home to his ageing mum only to find her ailing health and requirements for medical care demanding the kind of money that zero book sales simply won’t cover. Taking a different approach to his work, Monk suddenly finds himself in an increasing series of cascading, complicated manoeuvres which offer him potential monetary rewards but only appear to fuel the bitterness in him.


Jeffrey Wright’s had some excellent roles, but is also an actor clearly capable of elevating even the less obvious ones – he’s a great Jim Gordon in The Batman; a great Felix Leiter in Bond, and he managed to impressively fill the gaping void left by Anthony Hopkins in later seasons of Westworld. Seldom gifted a leading opportunity, however, American Fiction is the perfect vehicle to showcase his weathered, cynical, but eminently intellectual charms.


It’s pure Wright, and whilst he gets a decent roster of chewy supporting cast members (This is Us’ Sterling K. Brown has a ball, Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis Ross steals her scenes, The Lovebirds’ Issa Rae challenges expectations, and a few nice cameos from the likes of Keith David and even Adam Brody sweeten the pot), the film is defined by Wright’s Monk and his fabulous use – and misuse – of language. Though the film throws a whole bunch of heady topics and themes into the melting pot, Wright’s Monk helps you not to get lost in some kind of messy sociopolitical quagmire and instead remain firmly focused on this one man, and his identity, and his ideals.


The directorial debut of writer Cord Jefferson (Master of None, The Good Place, Succession, HBO’s Watchmen, Station Eleven), it’s immediately impressive how smoothly Jefferson manages to navigate a potentially more aggressively racially bent landscape without hitting any landmines, all the while working in masterful subversion into a narrative that’s so staunchly satirical that you don’t even stop to question the motivations of its author – because he’s the lead character. Launching headfirst into quick-witted put-downs, but unspooling that almost immediately courtesy of some sibling honesty, American Fiction constantly bats back and forth between the unreal and the real, never so sublimely as a drunken shot at a manuscript that cleverly sees the characters brought to life before Monk’s eyes.


There’s a lot under the bonnet of this debut work, subtly dissecting its lead character(s) whilst lightly commenting – again through the veil of that very dissection – on the literary landscape and genre expectations (not just of books, but movies too), it has a lot of fun with the story-within-a-story approach, but mostly holds your attention through its commitment to real characters, given depth and lived-in lives. You’ll be sold (or not, as the case may be) from the opening lines, but you’ll hopefully stay for the underlying resonance, and pleasantly organic food for thought. And for the long overdue standout lead performance of Jeffrey Wright. Absolutely superb film.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ⭐️  out of five stars

There are no extras as this is a digital copy

Dan Allen talks about Bambi: The Reckoning, Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey II and the Poohiverse

Dan Allen is the director of the upcoming Bambi: The Reckoning, the editor of Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey II. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Dan about his new films and the upcoming Poohiverse franchise.

Film Review: “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”


  • 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”


  • 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: “Arthur the King”


  • Starring:  Mark Wahlberg, Nathalie Emmanuel and Simu Liu
  • Directed by:  Simon Cillan Jones
  • Rated: PG 13
  • Running time: 1 hour 30 mins
  • Lionsgate



Did you know that there is an annual race in the Dominican Republic called the Adventure Racing World Championship?  Neither did I.  And I can tell you, as someone who used to enjoy running 5K races…I want to part of it.  Five days.  Over 400 miles on land and water.  Yikes.


Mikael (Wahlberg) used to enjoy Adventure Racing.  At least until his last race ended with he and his team stuck in a dry river bed because Michael led them in the wrong direction.  Now Mikael lives with his wife and daughter in Colorado and, while he no longer competes, he trains hard because the desire is still inside him.  He decides to put a team together for one last adventure.  An adventure that continues to influence his life today.


A story of faith, both in yourself and others, “Arthur the Kind” is an inspirational story of endurance, both physical and mental, and what it takes to succeed at both.  Mikael’s team is a mashup of personalities:  a former teammate with a bad knee, the up and coming daughter of a famous rock climber and a racer who spends more time on social media then he does in the gym.  At one of the rest areas they are approached by a stray dog.  Mikael gives it a meatball and the team heads back out, traversing dense jungles at night.  Miraculously, after trekking another hundred miles they are surprised to learn the dog has followed them.  Mikael gives the dog the name Arthur, as in King Arthur.  Now a quintet, the team forges on towards the finish line.

I have never been more exhausted at the end of a movie.  Director Jones puts his camera smack dab in the middle of the action and you feel the aches and pain caused by every step…every stretch….every stroke of an oar.  Like the race itself, the film keeps a fast pace and never slows down.


If there is a message here, it is don’t judge a book by its cover, whether the book is a man or a stray dog.  The script, by Michael Brandt and Mikael Lindnord, is based on a true event.  Lindnord – on whose story the film is based –  is honest, and strays away from the usual inspirational tropes similar films have.  Whatever their goals are, Mikael and Arthur will only achieve them on their terms.


With the Easter holidays approaching, “Arthur the King” is truly a film for the whole family.

On a scale of zero to five I give “Arthur the King” ★★★★

Film Review #2: “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.

“Oppenheimer” is Big Winner at 96th Annual Academy Awards


Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s epic about the dawn of the nuclear age, took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture, last night at the 96th Annual Academy Awards.  The film, which led all films with thirteen nominations, also received awards for Director (Nolan), Actor (Cillian Murphy), Supporting Actor (Robert Downey, Jr.), Film Editing, Cinematography and Original Score.  On the other side of the massive Barbieheimer battle, Barbie only took home one award, for the original song “What Was I Made For?”, written by Billie Eilish  and Finneas O’Connell.  The win made Ellish, at age 22, the youngest person ever to have won two Academy Awards  She received her first Oscar two years ago for the title song to the James Bond film No Time to Die.

Other major award winners were Emma Stone, who won her second Best Actress award for Poor Things, Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Best Supporting Actress for The Holdovers) and The Zone of Interest, which was named the Best International Feature Film.  Seventy years after making his film debut, Godzilla Minus One earned the big green guy his first Oscar, winning for Visual Effects. 


Hosted again by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, the show moved quickly, coming in at just under three and half hours.


While Ellish’ song from Barbie took home the Oscar, it was another song from the film, “I’m Just Ken,” performed by Best Supporting Actor nominee Ryan Gosling.  The number, which featured Gosling all in pink as a tribute to Marily Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” featured guest appearances by guitarists Slash and Wolfgang Van Halen.  Another fun bit was John Cena coming out to present the Best Costume award wearing just his birthday suit.


The low point for me was the IN MEMORIAM portion of the show.  The segment began with a brief clip of Alexi Navalny, who recently passed away in a Russian prison.  However, it was all downhill from there because, for whatever reason, the tv director felt it was best to go with a long shot most of the time, so the names of many of those being honored could not be read on the screen.  Also, in what I assume was an attempt to silence the fans who, the next day, always complain that “so and so” wasn’t mentioned, the segment ended with about 50 names all crammed into a circle.  One of those names was Oscar nominee Burt Young, who deserved better!


Here is a complete list of the winners:


Best picture: “Oppenheimer”

Best director: Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Best actress: Emma Stone, “Poor Things.”

Best actor: Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

Best supporting actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Best supporting actor: Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”

Best original screenplay: Justine Triet and Arthur Harari, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Best adapted screenplay: Cord Jefferson, “American Fiction”

Best animated feature: “The Boy and the Heron”

Best animated short: “War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John Lennon and Yoko Ono”

Best international feature: “The Zone of Interest” (United Kingdom)

Best documentary feature: “20 Days in Mariupol”

Best documentary short: “The Last Repair Shop”

Best live action short: “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

Best score: Ludwig Göransson, “Oppenheimer”

Best original song: Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, “What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie”

Best sound: Tarn Willers and Johnnie Burn, “The Zone of Interest”

Best production design: James Price, Shona Heath and Zsuzsa Mihalek, “Poor Things”

Best cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema, “Oppenheimer”

Best makeup and hairstyling: Nadia Stacey, Mark Coulier and Josh Weston, “Poor Things”

Best costume design: Holly Waddington, “Poor Things”

Best editing: Jennifer Lame, “Oppenheimer”

Best visual effects: Takashi Yamazaki, Kiyoko Shibuya, Masaki Takahashi and Tatsuji Nojima, “Godzilla Minus One”

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