Review: Anna (2019)

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Director Luc Besson has a very rocky reputation. He’s directed gems like The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, and La Femme Nikita. However, he’s also directed films like Lucy and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. He’s written action films such as the Transporter series and the Taken series. So it’s hit or miss whether he’ll actually deliver. Let’s see how he does this time.

The gist.

Anna (Sasha Luss) is a Russian model who gets trained by the KGB to become an assassin. Her contacts in the KGB include Olga (Helen Mirren) and Alex (Luke Evans). Eventually the CIA started looking for her, their point of contact being Lenny (Cillian Murphy). Anna just wants out, but how can she do that with both the CIA and KGB following her every move?

What doesn’t work?

We need to start with the negatives, which isn’t usually a good sign. This is a painfully boring movie and is not at all what the trailers lead you to believe. There’s only two action pieces in the film, both in the second half, and those are almost entirely the trailers you’ll see for this 2 hour behemoth of a film. This is not an action film, this is a character drama about a Russian woman trying to escape this life she’s found herself in.

And let’s talk about our lead, Sasha Luss, who director Luc Besson discovered while shooting Valerian. She’s convincing enough in these few action moments but she should not be relied on to deliver intense drama, so the most emotional moments of this film ring false. She’s not likable, not charismatic, you don’t feel anything for her character.

And for some reason Helen Mirren and Luke Evans play KGB officers and they both have horrible accents. I wish the movie was captioned because the accents in general are incredibly difficult to understand.

Also, just to add a dose of confusion to this slow journey, the movie repeatedly jumps through time, but not always in the same direction. Six months earlier. Five years later. Two years later. Two months earlier. It gets incredibly confusing trying to keep track of where these events happen in relation to what we know. And several times, we get a big moment with a twist, then we go back in time to see how that twist came to be. It’s confusing, though the movie would have been even more boring had it been linear, because nothing interesting would’ve happened till the last few scenes.

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What works?

After all that, does anything work? The two fight sequences we do get are pretty awesome, though frankly they were edited better in the trailer, here they lack a certain punch. Still, it’s something. Once these scenes are posted somewhere on YouTube, check them out.

And aside from the accents, Helen Mirren and Luke Evans help legitimize this film a little bit. Not enough to really save it however.


You would think this film is an action film, like the next Transporter. It’s not. It’s a character piece with a few moments of suspense and intrigue. The movie has a painfully dull first half, which even a fun second half can’t redeem.



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Review: Late Night (2019)

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Late Night.

Mindy Kaling hasn’t really carried a film like this before, so I was definitely curious going in. She had ensemble roles in both A Wrinkle in Time and Ocean’s Eight, but carrying a comedy like this as the lead is quite a different story. Let’s see how she did!

The gist.

Molly Patel (Kaling) is hired on as a new writer on the longstanding late night show hosted by Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), who has just discovered they’re planning to replace her. So, Newbury needs to find a way to bring this show into relevancy again, while Patel struggles with being the only woman of color in a white male-dominated office.

We also have John Lithgow as Newbury’s husband, Ike Barinholtz as a rude upcoming comedian, and Amy Ryan (The Office) as the President of the network who is shutting Newbury down. We also have a writing staff including Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott, Denis O’Hare, and Paul Walter Hauser.

What works?

While Kaling does a fine job here, it’s really Emma Thompson’s movie. She is the heart of this thing, struggling to reinvent herself amidst all sorts of personal tragedies. Kaling’s Molly helps her grow and confront these things, but seeing Thompson’s performance here is the highlight of the film. Emma Thompson is great in nearly everything she’s in, but this might be up there with some of her best work, even if the movie itself isn’t elevated that highly.

In terms of comedy, I found this movie pretty funny and clever, though it hits many of the same notes as the television show 30 Rock, so it can feel a bit redundant if you’ve seen that show. I laughed a lot, so if you’re looking for escapism, this will do it for you.

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What doesn’t work?

Like I said, Mindy Kaling is billed as the lead here but it feels like she’s just supporting Thompson’s performance. Not bad, just maybe misadvertised. You won’t get anything from Kaling that you haven’t seen from her before, which can be a good thing if you’re already a fan.

This movie falls right down the middle for me. I laughed but even now as I try to write this, I have a hard time remembering the jokes and what parts I enjoyed, which usually indicates that a movie doesn’t have much staying power.


This is a fine movie, with a decent performance from Mindy Kaling. The real star is Emma Thompson, though the movie itself isn’t really memorable enough to stand out in the long run. If you want some laughs and a few hours of escapism, this will do it, but don’t expect much more.




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Review: Toy Story 4

toy story 4 headeradam reviewToy Story 4.

It’s been awhile now since the Toy Story trilogy capped off with the incredible Toy Story 3. We all thought it was over, one of the finest trilogies in movie history. And then we get the news that there’s a Toy Story 4 in the works. What could this movie add? Is it worth it to go back to that mine for a fourth time? Let’s see!

The gist.

When Toy Story 3 ended, our toys were passed on to a new child, a young girl named Bonnie. Woody (Tom Hanks) feels very protective of her and wants her to be safe, so he stows inside her backpack as she goes to her first day of kindergarten. She isn’t allowed to bring toys, so she creates one out of art supplies, resulting in Forky (Tony Hale), who isn’t meant to be a toy and has a major conflicts about his place in the world. On a vacation, Forky flees from the family’s RV, resulting in an adventure to find and bring Forky back to Bonnie.

In this adventure, Woody finds his old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), alongside new toys voiced by Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, and Ally Maki. The villain of the movie is a doll who wants something that Woody has (voiced by Christina Hendricks).

Returning voices for the other toys include Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kristen Schaal, and more.

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What works?

The question of “Should this have been made?” will come up, questioning if this movie will undercut the punch at the end of Toy Story 3. To put your mind at ease, this movie tackles issues and topics that weren’t addressed in the first three, so this does feel like a unique film. In general, it feels more like an epilogue to the third film. “What now?” How do the toys cope with moving on from Andy? Is it so bad to be a “lost toy” without a child? This movie also features themes of attachment to toys, when the girl Bonnie can’t go on without her favorite spork Forky. There’s some interesting and new ideas here that justify this movie’s existence.

For children, they’ll love this movie, though it does feature (like the other movies have) some terrifying moments, of dolls and ventriloquist dummies coming to life. Most of the movie though is bright and funny and I’m sure kids will love some of the new additions such as Key and Peele as two stuffed animals rescued from a carnival attraction and the stunt driver Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). There’s plenty of repeatable jokes and lines that kids will love.

So this, like most Pixar films, manages to walk that fine line of appealing to both adults and children, there’s definitely something here for everyone.

When talking about the voice performances, Tom Hanks carries this film. Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear has a few moments to shine but is really just a supporting character here. Christina Hendricks gives us an amazing performance as Gabby Gabby, the “villain” for most of the film. There weren’t any poor performances, generally stellar stuff here. The most surprising performance was Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep) for his role as Forky. He is hilarious and he has an incredible back and forth with Tom Hanks, often stealing whatever scene he’s in.

I also need to applaud the visuals here, as this movie’s settings appear almost photo-realistic. There’s an antiques shop that especially feels real, full of details that make it seem incredibly authentic. Pixar is truly the best at what they do.


What didn’t work?

First off, there is no animated short before this movie begins, marking the first time they haven’t included one since the original Toy Story! I can only imagine something came up late that stopped the short from being included. it’s definitely a bummer.

Out of all the new characters, I think the most divisive pick will be Key and Peele’s stuffed animals. Yes, I laughed, but I also cringed. And I remain skeptical on how important their addition was to this film, as they are kind of dragged along throughout the plot with no real importance. I think the movie might have been a bit tighter without them.

And while I acknowledge the film offered something that the past three films didn’t, I still don’t know if this is a better ending to the franchise or not. I liked it, but would this franchise as a whole be better ending with Toy Story 3 instead? I don’t know but I’d venture to guess many people might still prefer how 3 ended.


This is a great movie, though I’d argue not as great as the first three entries. This feels like an epilogue, like a “what happened to…” story that adds to the mythology but isn’t ultimately necessary. If you have kids, they’ll love it but they may be traumatized by some of these horrifying dolls (I know I am). The addition of Tony Hale is inspired and Forky is a character I didn’t know I needed in my life until now.




















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(Review) Men in Black: International

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Men in Black: International.

Now I remember liking the original Men in Black films but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say they’re good. I think we often have rose-colored glasses for franchises that meant a lot to us as kids. It’s been a long time now since that trilogy wrapped, so it’s finally back with a soft reboot, revealing a more global perspective of the Men (and women) in Black. We know that Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson have chemistry from Thor: Ragnarok but does that necessarily mean they can carry another film? Let’s see.

The gist.

When she was young, Molly (Tessa Thompson) witnessed an alien encounter and it was never erased from her memory. She’s dedicated her life after that to finding (and joining) the Men in Black, eventually ending up in the office of O (Emma Thompson), who gives her a probationary mission in London. While there, newly minted agent M (formerly Molly) teams up with their hotshot agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to get to the bottom of an alien conspiracy, led by a shapeshifting alien race called the Hive. The London branch is spearheaded by Agent High T (Liam Neeson) and Agent C (Rafe Spall). M and H also partner up with a living chess piece, voiced by Kumail Nanjiani.

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What works?

The world of Men in Black is still very much alive here, full of interesting alien races and unique ways to portray life. One of my favorites here is an alien arms dealer (played by Rebecca Ferguson) who has a third arm growing from her back. Aaaaand I just realized how clever it is that she’s an arms dealer. Everything looks interesting, including the main villains, a race called the Hive. They can change matter, so they’ll turn solids to liquid and back again, using these powers in really interesting and visually cool ways.

I also appreciated the chemistry between Hemsworth and Thompson, as they had a very natural back and forth. Nanjiani was an interesting addition, though it was hit or miss whether his comedic moments really landed.

What didn’t work?

While I chuckled, the comedy didn’t hit as often or as hard as I would’ve wanted. It’s a little rocky, so we often get silent reactions to a joke. Hemsworth is funny most of the time, likewise Kumail Nanjiani’s living chess piece, but they both have plenty of jokes that fall flat. It’s not really consistent.

The biggest eh factor is that this movie doesn’t really do anything new or interesting, other than inhabit an already interesting world. I think it’ll be ultimately forgettable, a mid-tier action comedy that you’ll see on TBS in a few years and think “Oh I forgot about this” and play it in the background as you prepare for dinner. It’s not bad, but it’s fine. It doesn’t try to risk anything or do anything outlandish for it to actually fail. It’s safe, relying on the name brand to get it by.

There’s also a big problem with the villain here, who for 90% of the movie is a pair of mute twins who follow our heroes around the globe. We don’t really understand their motive. Even as the credits roll and we’ve had the big plot laid out for us, it’s still a little messy and unclear why this whole adventure transpired.

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You’ll have a fine time here. Big explosions, cool aliens, and a lot of nostalgic throwbacks to the original trilogy. However, that’s it. The plot doesn’t really pay off, the humor is hit or miss, and it ultimately doesn’t feel necessary. With reboots or remakes, you often wonder “Why are they doing this?” and that’s a question that will pop into your head a few times no doubt. That’s not always bad, as you can still have a few laughs and enjoy a few hours in the air conditioning, just don’t expect much more than that.


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Review: The Secret Life of Pets 2

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The Secret Life of Pets 2.

The original film was fine, but wasn’t anything that I ever looked forward to revisiting, ultimately being a bit forgettable. Does this sequel manage to make a lasting impact?

The gist.

Max (Patton Oswalt) loves his life, made even better by having a new baby in the family. However, he’s become so protective that he gets a nervous tick and repetitive itch, forcing his family to take a calm weekend in the country, where Max encounters a wise old farm dog named Rooster (Harrison Ford). Back in the city, our superhero rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) encounters a dog in need (Tiffany Haddish), who needs help rescuing some animals from a visiting circus. We also get returning voices such as Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Eric Stonestreet, and Dana Carvey.

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What works?

This is the Kevin Hart / Tiffany Haddish combination that we deserve, managing to play to both of their strengths and actually pulling off some clever humor. Step aside Night School. I laughed much more than I remember laughing at the original, so that’s something.

I also appreciated Patton Oswalt, as he replaced Louis C.K. as the main dog Max. Oswalt’s Max was a little more sympathetic, especially given the more sentimental nature of this film.

What doesn’t work?

This feels like three separate story arcs that don’t really come together in a meaningful way (yes, they do come together but I’d argue how well that worked). While I enjoyed Max’s arc, his detour to the farm didn’t really land, ultimately just resulting in one adventure with the dog Rooster and then all of a sudden he learned a life lesson. It felt like amateur writing, just getting a sequel cranked out.

I realize as I’m typing this that I’m maybe being too critical. But when we get animated films that do everything right, ala Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, it’s hard to not have a high bar. So yes, if you just want a kids movie and some decent laughs, this will do it, but this movie doesn’t excel at anything and might leave adult viewers a little disappointed.

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Here’s the thing you need to consider… If you’re bringing the kids for a fun movie out, this will absolutely do the trick. It’s funny and is full of repeatable moments for your little ones to copy. It’s an A+, it does the job. However, if we step back and look at this in the genre of animated movies with today’s high bar, this falls short. This movie doesn’t do anything risky or new, has a few subplots that don’t really matter, and ultimately will be pretty forgettable for most of you that are now adults.


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Review: Dark Phoenix

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Dark Phoenix.

Okay, this is very complicated for me. The X-Men are my favorite superheroes and it’s been frustrating watching the fumbles made by Fox in regards to these films. So with Dark Phoenix being the last X-Men film made by Fox, I went in expecting very little and I’m just excited for an eventual reboot. So, does that make me biased? A bit, maybe I hope for too much and expect too little? Let’s see.

The gist.

Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) tries to help mutants but there’s one that he’s especially struggled with, the incredibly powerful telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). In this film, Jean is exposed to an alien entity called the Phoenix which slowly corrupts her and drives her to destroy what she holds dear. We have returning X-Men including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters). The only two remaining from the ‘first class’ include Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Xavier’s rival Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has created a utopian island for mutants where he stays off the grid. He has a few mutants that follow him around, though we never get their names or motives, as is typical for X-Men films.

As Jean’s powers start to become destructive, we’re introduced to a villain played by Jessica Chastain. The trailers didn’t allude to her origin or motives at all but it’s super disappointing.

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What works?

There are brief moments that were interesting, hidden inside this literal train wreck. We get to see a few sequences of Storm actually doing things like Storm should do. Nightcrawler gets a fight sequence that reminds me of (but isn’t as cool as) the fight from X-Men 2. Little moments that were cool.

I also still applaud the commitment of some of these characters, most notably James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who continue to be the best parts of these films. Do they look like they’ve aged 30 years since the original film? No, but we can let that slide because they absolutely bring this movie to life, when it otherwise feels lifeless.

What doesn’t work?

It confuses me when movies like this don’t work because there is so much quality source material, you’d think combing through for a solid story would be easy. This is the second time they’ve attempted to adapt this story and both times have failed. This time, when you discover who Jessica Chastain plays and what they’re up to, this whole story becomes something very different than the source material.

I wouldn’t remember Jessica Chastain’s character’s name, if I weren’t looking at the IMDB. I wouldn’t remember what the group was called that’s she with. Even her motives are unclear. In a post-Thanos era, we need to set a higher bar for our villains as she clocks in as one of our all-time worst.

This movie is also surprisingly dull. We get only two major action sequences, including one attack on a building where Jean is holed up and a second on a train, the climax of the film and a literal train wreck. We don’t even get a cool Quicksilver sequence, the best parts of both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. It’s a shame that such an epic story resulted in such a tame and uninteresting film.

Also, why do they keep creating fictional villains for these films instead of actually finding villains from the comics?

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There’s some hyperbole that this might be the worst X-Men film yet. I don’t know if I wholeheartedly agree with that, considering how Wolverine: Origins ended up, but this isn’t a great film. It mismanages the source material, is painfully dull, and ultimately doesn’t matter, as we just wait a few years for a new reboot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


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Review: Rocketman (2019)

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Following in the footsteps of other recent musical biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, this movie tells the story of Elton John, a story of struggle and addiction. It reunites lead actor Taron Egerton with director Dexter Fletcher, who also directed Eddie the Eagle (which I really liked). Fletcher also was a Producer on Bohemian Rhapsody and even finished directing the film when the first director Bryan Singer was fired mid-production, so this isn’t his first foray into this type of film.

The gist.

Born Reginald Dwight, this is the story of Elton John’s (Egerton) rise to fame. He has a complicated relationship with his parents (Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh) but finds solace in music, eventually teaming up with songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) and an ambitious agent John Reid (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones). It covers most of Elton’s rise, focusing on his troubles with drugs and alcohol and his somewhat secretive (at the time) love life.

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What works?

Taron Egerton is undoubtedly one of the best young actors out there today. If you need further evidence than his performance here, watch Eddie the Eagle and the Kingsmen franchise. There are no three characters more different. Here, he absolutely becomes Elton John, both in his acting performance but also his vocal performance as well, recreating most of Elton’s classics seamlessly. Summer movies aren’t usually big contenders for Oscars but I hope we see the Academy remember his performance here when the nominations open.

The movie itself is also really interesting. Where Bohemian Rhapsody only featured music as they performed it live, this film is much more of a musical where the characters will break out into song, using Elton’s biggest hits to showcase his emotional ups and downs. This movie isn’t literal, as we see Elton John step back into his own memories and literally confront his younger self. It’s not realistic but it’s completely entrancing.

I also want to give a shout out to Jamie Bell, who serves as Elton’s best friend and songwriter Bernie. Bell has had some unfortunate turns in Hollywood, often dragged down by bad movies, but here, he gives an incredible performance and his chemistry with Egerton is perfect.

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What doesn’t work?

This musical style (and embellished reality) doesn’t always work and there’s a few sequences that either took too long or maybe weren’t executed properly, where the surreal idea they were trying to execute took me out of the movie. One sequence just spun the camera in circles and I literally had to look away as I was getting dizzy.


Rocketman is a fantastic film, anchored by a jaw-dropping transformation from Taron Egerton. It’s a sometimes heartbreaking journey but there are enough high-energy songs to keep you engaged throughout. There’s plenty of style and flash, including huge dance numbers, but Taron’s performance also gives us a lot of subtlety. This movie’s only fault is that sometimes the creative vision doesn’t always translate, so some of these wild sequences overstay their welcome or don’t land at all. For most of you, this should prove a really entertaining and engaging story, made better by the fact that Elton John himself was involved in its making.



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