Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Directed by Jason Reitman

Starring McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, and Paul Rudd, with special appearances by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts

Backstory

Sony is really trying hard to do something with Ghostbusters. After the 2016 reboot failed to thrill fans or the box office, they decided to try again. It seemed like “legacy” was going to be the theme this time out, as exemplified by the director, Jason Reitman. Reitman made his name as the director of quirky, indie-style films, most notably Juno. But his father is director Ivan Reitman, who gave us the original Ghostbusters. When the first trailer came out, I couldn’t help but note that they were leaning heavily into nostalgia for the original film. As I tweeted, I was conflicted heading into the theatre. Would it just be one massive nostalgia wank for the original film, like Jurassic World was to Jurassic Park? But on the other hand, I love the nostalgia.

Plot

Callie has fallen on hard times. She’s broke, still bitter about her estranged father walking out on her, and is struggling to connect with her two kids: Trevor, who’s going through the usual teenage maladies, and Phoebe, who’s passionate about science and not much else. Callie eventually gets word that her father has died, and with nowhere else to go, she and the kids pack up and move to her father’s dilapidated farmhouse in Summerville, Oklahoma. Phoebe finds a kindred spirit in Mr. Grooberson, the local science teacher. Summerville is plagued by mysterious earthquakes, and Grooberson is investigating. As Phoebe pokes around the old farmhouse, she eventually learns the truth: her grandfather was the legendary Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. Turns out there’s something strange in this neighbourhood. It’s so big and so dire that Egon turned his back on his friends and family to fight it. Will Phoebe, Trevor, and their newfound friends be able to finish Egon’s work and save the world?

What I Liked

Firstly, a little bit of local pride. The entire film was filmed in Southern Alberta, with the Alberta Badlands filling in for Oklahoma, and man, does it look gorgeous on the big screen. The kids are great, as it is mainly their story. McKenna Grace does a wonderful job as Egon’s granddaughter, almost coming across as a little Egon. All the performances are great. I noticed a great use of practical effects, too, as I’m pretty sure some of the ghosts were old school animatronics. It’s also nice that it has some slow spots, to allow our characters to grow and breathe. The score is pretty good, as it most reinterprets the score from the original film.

What I Didn’t Like

Unlike the other Ghostbusters films, this one almost actively avoids being a comedy, and leans more into the sci-fi/fantasy aspects. Don’t get me wrong, it has some great funny moments, but you’re not got going to be quoting it for the next 30 years like the original film.

Final Verdict

I was afraid that the laughs had been replaced with nostalgia, but instead, they were replaced with heart. Wound up being a touching tale about coming to terms with your past and finding your place in the world.

3 Nibs

Eternals

Directed by Chloé Zhao

Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie

Backstory

We’re really getting into the deep cuts now for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But I’m still on board with the franchise. They said Guardians of the Galaxy was too deep a cut, but now, Groot is everywhere. Not only that, but Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao is running the show! With a proven track record and an Oscar-winner behind the camera, how could Marvel go wrong?

Plot

Eternals. Immortal beings created by god-like beings called the Celestials, and sent out to worlds to help burgeoning life grow and evolve. And to also protected said life from Deviants, monstrous creatures who feed on life. The Eternals of Earth eradicated the last of Earth’s Deviants centuries ago, and have gone their separate ways, living among humans. But now, the Deviants have returned, and they have a new objective: they’re hunting down Eternals. The Eternals must reunite to solve the mystery of these new Deviants, and along the way, uncover some harsh truths about their true mission on Earth. With the Eternals be able to stop the Deviants once again and save the Earth?

What I Liked

So many great new characters are introduced here. They’re led by Sersi, played by Gemma Chan, who is struggling with new role as leader. Kumail Nanjiani, as expected, brings the funny as Kingo, who went off to India and became a big Bollywood star. Lia McHugh as Sprite is the most compelling. She’s immortal, but she’s stuck at age 13, and is starting to grow resentful at having never been able to grow up. And, the casting that made headlines, Angelina Jolie as Thena, a warrior who’s millennia of battle has given her a sci-fi variation of PTSD. The characters really make it shine.

What I Didn’t Like

With the plethora of new characters, the film does start to feel rather cluttered. Throw in the fact that you’re introducing new concepts like the Celestials, and it all gets to be a little too much. And when you start throwing in too much, it starts feeling a little too long. It’s like Avengers: Age of Ultron in that way. It’s doing so much set-up for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it gets bogged down.

Final Verdict

Marvel’s first attempt at gigantic, cosmic-scale sci-fi is a bit of a miss, but it has one hell of a cliffhanger ending that makes me want to see how it all plays out. Good, but not great.

2.5 Nibs

No Time To Die

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Fiennes

Backstory

No Time to Die has to be one of the most troubled James Bond productions. After his infamous interview around the release of Spectre, where Daniel Craig said he’d rather slash his wrists than play Bond again, that sparked a whole bunch of rampant media speculation as to whether Craig would be returning or not. Craig did eventually sign on, and then they had trouble keeping a director. They finally found a keeper in Cary Joji Fukunaga, And then, COVID closed the movie theaters. It’s original November 2019 release date got pushed back all the way to October 2021. But, as it was made clear that this would be Craig’s final outing, this led to a unique opportunity: the creators could give Bond a definitive ending.

Plot

Spectre ends with Bond riding off into the sunset with his newfound love Dr. Madeleine Swann. The film starts shortly after. Bond believes that Swann sold him out to Spectre, and he and Swann part ways. Five years later, Bond is living in retirement in Jamaica, when his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter pays a call. Turns out a former Spectre scientist working for the British Secret Service has been abducted. Knowing what project that scientist was working on, Bond is pressed back into service, much to the chagrin of his former bosses, and Agent Nomi, who has inherited the 007 number. It’s a mission that will have Bond running into friends both old and new, back into the life of Madeleine, and on the trail of a rogue assassin name Safin. Will Bond be able to track down Safin and save the world?

What I Liked

As is the hallmark for the James Bond films, there’s some truly spectacular action sequences. We get, not just one, but several great James Bond car chases. Craig gives it his all in his final outing as Bond, as does the entire cast. I think Ralph Fiennes makes a fantastic M, and I hope they keep him around for the next Bond. And there’s some truly great Easter eggs and callbacks to the rest of the franchise…specifically, some musical ones that Hans Zimmer slipped into his score.

What I Didn’t Like

At 2 hours and 43 minutes, this is officially the longest James Bond film, and it feels like it. Sadly, was looking at my watch more than once. And Rami Malek’s Safin remains just a little too mysterious for a villain. We never really get to know him.

Final Verdict

A spectacular sendoff to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. I’ve loved them, but I sure hope the next Bond gets back to formula.

3.5 Nibs

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage movie poster

Directed by Andy Serkis

Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, and Woody Harrelson

Backstory

Sony continues to try to make the “Spider-Man supporting characters universe” a thing, and what better place to start than with Venom, the evil Spider-Man-turned-anti-hero? The first film, Venom, surprised a lot of people by developing an almost goofy buddy-cop dynamic between Eddie Brock and the Venom symbiot. So, it looked like the sequel would continue in that direction. Throw in Venom’s arch-enemy Carnage as the villain, and it looked to be a pretty good film. Does Let There Be Carnage stack up to the original?

Plot

Eddie Brock seems to be getting his life back in order. A series of interviews with convicted serial killer Cletus Kassidy has put his career back on track. But, Brock is at odds with his new partner, the alien symbiot known as Venom. Venom wants to be out on the streets, eating the heads of evil-doers, but Brock is trying to keep Venom’s murderous rage in check. Things reach a head when the Venom symbiot rejects Brock one night and heads out to make his own path in the world. But, things have taken a turn. In his final interview with Kassidy, Venom left his spawn behind. The spawn bonds with Kassidy to become Carnage, and they head out into the night to go on a murderous rampage. Will Brock and Venom reconcile to save the city from Carnage?

What I Liked

Tom Hardy once again gives us another wonderfully twisted relationship between Brock and Venom. They are just as goofy as they were in first movie. The action has gotten a little better as it’s easier to make out the two CGI blobs fighting each other. And the film is short, which keeps things moving nice and quick. Which sadly leads to….

What I Didn’t Like

Because of the film’s short length, it feels like we really don’t get enough Carnage. It would have been nice to have explored the Venom/Carnage relationship a little bit more, and maybe get more Venom/Carnage battles. And Venom and Brock spend far too much time separated.

Final Verdict

It could have really used a little more development for our supporting players. It was fun, but a little too brief.

2.5 Nibs

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Tony Leung

Backstory

Marvel continue to dig deep into their back catalogue with the film adaptation of Shang-Chi. It’s the first Marvel Studios film to feature an Asian hero and a predominantly Asian cast. Shang-Chi in the comics is pretty much the best dang martial arts practitioner in the Marvel Universe. Seems like the perfect set-up for a classic kung-fu film, albeit with some modern superhero tropes. Does Marvel pull it off?

Plot

Shaun seems to be aimless young man living in San Francisco. He works as a parking valet, and spends his nights out partying with his friend Katy. But soon, his past catches up with him. Turns out his real name is Shang-Chi, and his father is the notorious warlord Xu Wenwu, mastermind behind the international terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings. Shang-Chi was raised to be his father’s right hand and chief assassin, but he decided he didn’t want a part of that life and walked away. And now Shang-Chi must return home, reunite with estranged father and sister, and embark upon a dangerous quest. Will Shang-Chi take his place at his father’s side, or will he rise above and become a hero?

What I Liked

Firstly, there’s some great action scenes. We get the usual superhero stuff, like that fight you see on the bus in all the trailers, but there’s some wonderfully poetic stuff as well. The cast is amazing, with Simu Liu cementing his leading man status, and Awkwafina bringing just the right amount of comedy relief. Great special effects as well, as a variety of creature from Chinese mythology eventually join in on the fun.

What I Didn’t Like

Honestly, not much in there that I didn’t like. There’s a variety of henchman and side characters where it would have been nice to learn their stories, but in the end, it was nice to keep the focus on our heroes.

Final Verdict

A story about fathers and sons reconciling dressed up as martial arts superhero fantasy. A very satisfying superhero outing.

3 Nibs

The Suicide Squad

Directed by James Gunn

Starring Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian, and Daniela Melchior.

Backstory

It’s very appropriate that Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn is doing the next installment of Suicide Squad. 2016’s Suicide Squad always struck me as DC’s reaction to Guardians of the Galaxy. “Hey, kids, you like wacky bands of misfit superheroes? Well, we’ve got one over at DC, too!” At the end of the day, my biggest complaint with Suicide Squad was how overwhelmingly average it was. If Gunn could inject some of the same heart and humour into The Suicide Squad that he did with Guardians of the Galaxy, then it might turn into something special. So that’s the big question. Is The Suicide Squad something special?

Plot

Task Force X. Unofficially known as the Suicide Squad. Super-villains doing black ops missions for the government in exchange for reductions on their sentences. There’s been a revolution in the South American nation of Corto Maltese. A secret Corto Maltese project known as Project Starfish has officially fallen into the wrong hands. The Squad’s mission: infiltrate Corto Maltese and destroy Project Starfish. Our latest recruits: Bloodsport, an assassin doing time for trying to take down Superman with a kryptonite bullet; Peacemaker, a man who fights for world peace and doesn’t matter how many people he has to kill to make it happen; Ratcatcher II, who can control rats; Polka Dot Man, who shoots dots at people; and King Shark, a giant half-human/half-shark. Joining them from the last film are commander Rick Flagg and Harley Quinn. But, as is the case with missions like this, things quickly go sideways and our heroes find themselves in over their heads. Will they be able to pull off the mission and save the day?

What I Liked

As already revealed in the trailers, Project Starfish turns out to be Starro…a giant mind-controlling starfish from space. I can’t believe we finally got Starro in a movie. He’s portrayed as the perfect blend of absurd and horrifying. I’m glad DC’s starting to stop taking itself so seriously and embracing more of its absurdities. Margot Robbie continues to be absolutely prefect as Harley Quinn. Idris Elba gives Bloodsport the right blend of humour and anger at the situation. And he starts developing a good father/daughter relationship with Ratcatcher. Each of our characters if given a moment to shine, and thus grow. And they take full advantage of that R-rating to give us some 1980s-action-movie-style over-the-top violence.

What I Didn’t Like

Sometimes it does feel like Gunn is trying too hard to recapture what he did with Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m thinking whenever a classic pop song pops up on the soundtrack, or some of King Shark’s antics can feel a little like Groot.

Final Verdict

Feels like DC is finally starting to find their own path, and not just to mimic Marvel. The Suicide Squad is finally something special.

3 Nibs

Jungle Cruise

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti

Backstory

Ever since Disney had a hit with Pirates of the Caribbean, they’ve been trying to get lighting to strike twice with turning their theme park rides into movies. And it seems like they’ve been trying to get Jungle Cruise off the ground ever since. At one point, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were attached, in the first live-action teaming of the Toy Story stars. But that fell apart. It finally took the star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to get it off the ground. It was supposed to come out last year, but like a lot of other films, got pushed back because of COVID. It’s finally here…was it worth it?

Plot

It’s the 1910s. World War I is raging. Adventurer Lily Houghton is on the search for the Tears of the Moon…a near-mythical flower whose petals have mystic healing properties. With a magic map in hand, Lily learns it’s somewhere up the Amazon River. With her brother McGregor by her side, they’re off to the Amazon! They charter a boat from gruff and world-weary Skipper Frank Wolff. Frank isn’t so sure about their mission, because it’s a tough river ahead. But it turns out Frank has own motives for taking them on the cruise. It’s a treacherous journey indeed, as they must sail over the rapids, outrun a sadistic German general in a submarine, and are hunted by undead conquistadors. Will they find the Tears of the Moon and survive this jungle cruise?

What I Liked

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are an adorable duo, just filled with charisma. James Newton Howard delivers an amazing score. There is a pretty good plot twist about halfway through that I thought was pretty great. And the undead conquistadors have some really unique powers. One is essentially a living beehive and commands an army of bees. And it’s cute seeing how they incorporate some aspects of the ride.

What I Didn’t Like

Deciding that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Disney decided to borrow a lot of what made the first Pirates of the Caribbean so memorable. And once they start throwing in the more supernatural elements, it feels kinda like Pirates of the Jungle.

Final Verdict

Jungle Cruise was fun, yet familiar. You’ll probably have a good time.

3 Nibs

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Starring Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Ursula Corbero, Samara Weaving, Iko Uwais, Haruke Abe, Takehiro Hira, and Peter Mensah

Backstory

Why can’t Hasbro and Paramount figure out what to do for a G.I. Joe movie? Larry Hama created such a rich history for these characters in his comic, and they seem to be running on all cylinders with Transformers. But 2009’s The Rise of Cobra was good but not great, and the 2013 sequel Retaliation couldn’t even be elevated with the star power of Dwayne Johnson as fan favourite Roadblock. So, Hasbro and Paramount decided to do for G.I. Joe what they did with Transformers: a prequel-slash-reboot focusing on the origins of one of the franchise’s most popular characters. And for G.I. Joe, that would be the always silent, always masked ninja Snake Eyes. But a prequel where he’s not masked and talks? How will this fare?

Plot

Ever since he saw his father murdered before his eyes, the nameless man known only as Snake Eyes has had only one thing on his mind: revenge. One day, he’s approached by the Yakuza and hired for a dangerous mission: infiltrate an ancient ninja clan known as the Arishikage. If Snake Eyes can do this, the Yakuza will deliver the killer of Snake Eyes’ father to him. Snake Eyes does this by warming up to Tommy Arishikage, the one destined to lead the clan someday. He also begins getting close to Akiko, the clan’s head of security. But the closer Snake Eyes gets, the more he finds his loyalties divided, especially when he learns that the Yakuza are working with Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. With the Arishikage calling on the G.I. Joe known as Scarlett for help, Snake Eyes has to choose: will he avenge his father, or align himself with his newfound family?

What I Liked

The cast is certainly game. Henry Golding gives it his all as Snake Eyes, and Andrew Koji has wonderful smoldering intensity as Tommy, the man who will become Storm Shadow. The film looks great as well, taking place mostly in a neon-lit Tokyo. Think Hawkeye’s introduction in Avengers: Endgame, but for an entire film.

What I Didn’t Like

Samara Weaving is great as Scarlett, but it’s pretty much just a glorified cameo. The plot gets kind of muddled in the middle. It’s like someone went, “Wait a minute…this is a comic book movie!” and they figured they had to add more fantastical elements. Character motivations start getting clouded in order to compensate. And I’m really nitpicking now, but in some scenes, Henry Golding kind of forgets to do his American accent and his natural British accent comes through.

Final Verdict

I found Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins to be somewhat underwhelming. I keep holding out hope for a great G.I. Joe film, but sadly, this isn’t it.

2.5 Nibs

Black Widow

Directed by Cate Shortland

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz

Backstory

Marvel Studios is finally back! Well, that seems a little disingenuous to say. They’ve been doing pretty well on Disney+ with WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. It’s more accurate to say they’re back on the big screen. Black Widow got screwed around with quite a bit because of COVID. Originally supposed to come out in May of 2020, but the closure of movie theatres saw it get pushed back and pushed back. Finally, Disney decided to give it one of their hybrid releases. If movie theatres are open in your part of the world, you can go down to the theatre and see it. If they’re not open, or you’re not comfortable going out just yet, you can drop $30 ($35 CDN) to see it on Disney+. Plus, throw in the fact that it’s Black Widow. The fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow solo film ever since Scarlett Johansson made her debut as the character in Iron Man 2. It’s been a long road for Black Widow to get here…was it worth the wait?

Plot

Taking place in the months immediately after Captain America: Civil War, we find Natasha Romanoff living in hiding, officially on the run for being on Team Cap. As she prepares for a life of self-isolation, she soon receives a mysterious package. It turns out that the Red Room — the sinister former Soviet spy agency that trained her — is still very much active. Natasha’s sister Yelena, also a Black Widow recruit, has finally escaped from the organization, and wants Natasha’s help to bring it down once and for all. But they’re going to need help. First they call on Red Guardian, the Soviet Union’s answer to Captain America and their surrogate father. Then they call on Melina, their surrogate mother and one of the original Black Widows. But the Red Room’s got allies of their own, namely a deadly assassin known as the Taskmaster, who can learn any fighting style just by watching someone. Will this family reunion finally be able to bring down the Red Room?

What I Liked

This film is a lot grittier than most Marvel films. It’s also a lot more grounded, too. We see the bruises that Natasha accumulates and are reminded that she’s not really a superhero…just a highly trained spy. And that leads into the main thrust of the plot. This is very much Natasha’s redemption story. We’ve been hearing about that red in her leger since The Avengers, but now we finally see how it’s affected her life and her family relationships. The new characters are fun, too. Florence Pugh is great as Yelena, as she and Natasha instantly have a bickering sisterly relationship. David Harbour is also great as Red Guardian, bringing equal parts humour and pathos as the retired supersoldier who longs for his glory days, but for his final act, just wants to do right by his daughters. And we’ve also got the stuff that Marvel has down to a science at this point. The characters got their appropriate quips, and the action scenes are pretty good.

What I Didn’t Like

Speaking of stuff that Marvel is good at, “under-developing their villains” remains high on the list. We really don’t get a chance to know the sinister forces in charge of the Red Room or what their motivations are. And after some truly spectacular music scores as of late, Black Widow goes back to having some music that’s kind of generic.

Final Verdict

A friend asked if it was a gritty spy thriller like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but honestly? It reminded me a lot of Ant-Man: with the main thrust being characters and family relationships, the stakes feel smaller. But this deep dive into Black Widow was long overdue. It may not fill you up, but it definitely leaves you satisfied.

3 Nibs

Cruella

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walker Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong

Backstory

Well, as we all know, Disney’s been cranking out the live-action remakes of their animated classics for a while now, so it wouldn’t be long until they got around to 101 Dalmatians. But wait! They already did that, way back in the 1990s, and the live-action version has become a beloved classic. So they decided to do to 101 Dalmatians what Maleficent did to Sleeping Beauty: let’s delve into the back story of one of Disney animation’s most iconic villains. The film presents us with the untold origin story of Cruella DeVil.

Plot

Estella is a girl born with a most unusual affliction: she has black and white hair. She also has a bit of a mean streak, which tends to come out when defending herself from her bullies. This soon earns her the nickname “Cruella.” When her mother is killed and she blames herself for her death, she escapes to the mean streets of London, and is taken by a couple of kids named Horace and Jasper, who make their living with petty theft. As the years go on, Estella dreams of becoming a fashion designer, and working for London’s premiere designer, the Baroness von Hellman. However, it soon seems that Estella and the Baroness’s fates are intertwined, and if Estella is to ever make it in the fashion world, it is time to adopt Cruella as her true identity.

What I Liked

This film has a phenomenal soundtrack. It’s set in the 1970s, and you can’t go more than two minutes without another pop hit from the era coming through loud and clear. I was also pleasantly surprised at how a lot of it plays out like a heist film. With Cruella, Horace, and Jasper having made their living hustling on the streets, they look at their rise though the fashion world as being just another hustle and treat it as such. Great performances all around, led by Emma Stone as Estella/Cruella. It’s a classic “struggling with the darkness inside” story that we usually see in Batman. Also, went surprisingly darker than I thought it would.

What I Didn’t Like

Well, every film about fashion these days is going to draw comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada, and Emma Thompson’s Baroness does seem like a Disneyfied version of Meryl Streep in Prada. And probably just because I’ve seen too many of these kinds of films, but I saw some of the big plot twists coming from a mile away. Still appreciated, though.

Final Verdict

This is what makes Disney’s live-action remakes better than others: when they don’t do a scene-for-scene remake of the original, and instead bring a whole new take to the story. Cruella is such a bold departure from 101 Dalmatians that it becomes something new and original. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

3.5 Nibs