Category Archives: Movie Reviews

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

Godzilla Vs. Kong

Directed by Adam Wingard

Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, and Demian Bichar

Backstory

What an amazing journey it’s been for the MonsterVerse. It all started when Legendary Entertainment got the rights to Godzilla and gave us the 2014 American film. Then they got the rights to King Kong, and gave us Kong: Skull Island. Hearts were all aflutter when they announced that, with the rights to these two titans under their same roof, they would eventually be giving us the rematch of the century. A King Kong vs. Godzilla with today’s modern effects? Sign me up. Sadly, didn’t get to see this in theatres, with movie theatres in my part of the world still closed because of the pandemic. So was it worth the $25 on PVOD?

Plot

It’s been a few years of relative peace between humans and the Titans, thanks to Godzilla becoming the Alpha. But then, out of nowhere, Godzilla attacks a facility owned by Apex Cybernetics. Madison Russell (that’s Millie Bobby Brown from the last film) is convinced that Apex Cybernetics did something to provoke Godzilla, and teams up with a conspiracy theory podcaster to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, over on Skull Island, Monarch has Kong safely confined. Because Kong and Godzilla are both Alphas, it’s theorized that if their paths ever crossed, it would be a battle of apocalyptic proportions. But Apex comes to Monarch and Dr. Ilene Andrews — the scientist studying Kong — with a proposal. It’s theorized that all these Titans came from an underground world, and in that world is an immense power source that all these Titans draw energy from. Apex Cybernetics wants to return Kong to the underground world in the hopes Kong will guide them to this power source so Apex can study it. It turns out Apex Cybernetics is playing a dangerous game…one that will eventually lead to Kong and Godzilla throwing down.

What I Liked

You’ve come to see Godzilla and Kong throw down, and throw down they do. The special effects are phenomenal, as the giant monster battles are everything you want in movies like this. I like how Kong is our main character, as we follow his journey down to the underground world and his quest to find more like him. And speaking of the underground world, there’s some fantastic world-building going on as they expand the world of the MonsterVerse.

What I Didn’t Like

As I’ve lamented before, the big problem with these kinds of films is they can never figure out what to have the humans do. This one goes a little too far in that direction, as we barely get time to learn people’s names or their motivations. Yeah, I know I came for the giant monster fights, but would it have really been so bad to find out a little more about the humans and why they’re here?

Final Verdict

You came to see the giant monsters fight, and fight they do. As I said when I saw that first trailer, Kong winding up and punching Godzilla in the face is exactly the kind of ridiculousness I need right now, and the film certainly delivered on that. Well worth the $25.

3 Nibs

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon poster

Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada

Starring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, and Sandra Oh

Backstory

I’m still a sucker for Disney animation, and I’m still feeling sad that I can’t get out to the theatres. So when I saw that they’re next animated epic, Raya and the Last Dragon, would be the next to follow the premiere access model on Disney+, I figured it would be worth a shot. The trailers were looking pretty cute, and it starred Kelly Marie Tran, whom I still adored from The Last Jedi. So the question is, it worth your $35 to watch at home?

Plot

The mystical land of Kumandra is besieged by evil beings known as the Druun. The Druun are finally driven off when all the dragons put their magical energy into a magical gem that they use against the Druun. And because people are terrible, Kumandra instantly goes to war with itself, and is divided into five kingdoms that fight over the gem. Chief Benja, the leader of the kingdom of Heart and the kingdom that posseses the gem, tries to broker a peace. But things go terribly wrong, the gem is shattered with each kingdom claiming a piece, and the Druun are free to attack once again. Benja’s daughter Raya takes it upon herself to find the last dragon and reunite the pieces of the gem and Kumandra. Now, alongside Sisu the last dragon, Raya is off on a dangerous quest. Will she succeed in reassembling the gem? Will the people of Kumandra learn to trust each other once again?

What I Liked

If you’re still grouchy that Mushu was left out of the live-action Mulan, you will get over it once you see Sisu. Awkwafina’s Sisu is one of the funniest Disney sidekicks in a long time. But she’s not just all about the comedy. She knows when to tone it down and give our heroine the words of encouragement she needs. In fact all of the voice acting is top-notch. As expected, Tran is a phenomenal Raya, knowing when to be vulnerable and when to be a quippy action hero. Gemma Chan is equally excellent as Raya’s nemesis Namaari. And it’s Disney, so the animation is, as expected, just mindblowing.

What I Didn’t Like

The plot is rather episodic as it follows a pretty set structure: go to a kingdom, find the gem, move on to the next one. But I really don’t mind as each “episode” has enough flavour to be different.

Final Verdict

Raya and the Last Dragon is equal parts adventure tale and heist film, all in an amazing and wonderful world. I really enjoyed it.

3 Nibs

Bill & Ted Face The Music

Directed by Dean Parisot

Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Kid Cudi, and William Sadler

Backstory

At the tender age of 12, I got to go to the theatre to see Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and I loved it. As soon as I discovered the Internet and started googling movie rumours, whispers of a third film abounded. The idea of catching up with a middle aged Bill & Ted really started picking up steam about five years ago, and when they announced it was happening, I was thrilled. In these pandemic times, the home premiere has caught on for films. So rather than go out to the theatre and see it, I decided to drop the $20 to rent it digitally. So how are Bill & Ted in middle age?

Plot

After the events of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Wyld Stallyns went on to have great success as rock stars. But, Bill & Ted have yet to write “The Song,” the one that will unite the world in peace and harmony. Over the next 25 years, their attempts to write The Song grow more and more desperate, alienating their fans and putting a strain on their marriages. About the only bright spot in their lives are their daughters, Billie and Thea, who adore their fathers. Just as Bill & Ted are about to give up and go get real jobs, an emissary from the future arrives. Because Bill & Ted haven’t written The Song yet, the timeline is starting to collapse. If they don’t write and perform The Song in the next 75 minutes, all of reality will be undone. So, Bill & Ted hop in their ol’ time traveling phone booth and decide to get the song from their future selves, when they’ve already written it. While this goes on, Billie and Thea have their own excellent adventure, as they round up history’s greatest musicians to form their dads’ new band. Will Bill & Ted find the song in the time stream? Can they save all of reality?

What I Liked

Oh, it’s just a nostalgic joy to see these characters back at it. It’s almost shocking how little they’ve aged. And bringing them to middle-age and dealing with all that comes with it was just the most logical place to go. The casting is top notch, too. The kid playing Billie — Ted’s daughter — has young Keanu Reeves’ mannerisms down pat. And there’s some great laugh out loud moments as we see the future Bills and Teds. And you can’t help but cheer when old friends like Death show up to be part of the ride.

What I Didn’t Like

I think Keanu Reeves has been playing John Wick for too long, as he seems to be taking this far too seriously. I don’t think Ted cracks a smile once in the film. And I was almost taken aback at how small scale it is. Aside from some big set pieces in the Future and Hell, it’s mostly smaller character stuff. I don’t know what I’m putting that under “What I Didn’t Like,” as it allows for great character growth. I guess, after 25 years, I was just expecting it to be bigger.

Final Verdict

A fantastic return for Bill & Ted. Give us a the spinoff about Billie and Thea now, please.

3 Nibs

The New Mutants

Directed by Josh Boone

Starring Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga

Backstory

We have reached the end of the Fox X-Men franchise, and it has become one of the most troubled productions in the franchise. At the outset, it looks like a horror film set in the X-Men universe would be ideal. Burgeoning mutant powers lends itself to all kinds of David Cronenberg-esque body horror. Originally supposed to come out in April of 2018, it was moved to the spring of 2019 for re-shoots to ramp up the horror aspects. But then the Disney buyout of Fox began, and the film got lost in the shuffle. Once the deal was sorted out, it looked as though the film would be dropped in theatres to just get it over with. And here we are.

Plot

Danielle Moonstar awakens in a strange hospital. She’s told that her reservation was destroyed by an unknown force, and she was the only survivor. The doctor in charge of the facility — Dr. Reyes — tells Dani that they suspect she’s a mutant, and it was her mutant power that saved her. She is at the hospital to learn what her power is and to control it. She soon meets the other patients at the hospital: Rahne, who can turn into a wolf; Illyana, who can teleport and summon a magic sword; Sam, who can summon energy blasts to propel himself; and Bobby, who can shoot fire. Together, they start learning about themselves, their powers…and the sinister forces that Dr. Reyes works for.

What I Liked

The cast is pretty good and does all they can with the material. Maisie Williams makes and adorable werewolf. The small cast and confined setting gives it an intimate feel not often seen in superhero films. And (spoiler warning) how can you hate a film where a dragon fights a giant bear?

What I Didn’t Like

As horror films go, it’s not very scary. And I’m not big on horror films. It doesn’t take much to scare me. This winds up being just another variation on The Breakfast Club as our heroes sit around and talk out their issues. Even though it’s superpowered beings doing it, it’s just so run-of-the-mill.

Final Verdict

It’s not a horror film as much as it is a YA film with some jump scares. And as YA films go, it’s pretty cookie-cutter. Kinda bland.

2 Nibs

Birds Of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of Miss Harley Quinn)

Directed by Cathy Yan

Starring Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, and Ewan McGregor

Backstory

One of the few things that people agreed on with Suicide Squad was that Margot Robbie crushed it as Harley Quinn. So there was very little surprise that she’d be getting her own movie. It was a little curious, though, that the movie was going to involved the super-team Birds of Prey, as Harley traditionally had very little to do with them in the comics. But still, more Harley Quinn is never a bad thing.

Plot

Harley Quinn and the Joker have broken up, and this time, it looks as though it’s for good. After having been identified as the Joker’s main squeeze for so long, Harley is thrown into the existential crisis of trying to figure out who she is. Of course, what complicates things is, as she’s no longer affiliated with the Joker, a lot of Gotham City’s criminal element have now declared fair game. Top of the list, the crime lord Roman Sionis, better known as the Black Mask. Sionis is on the trail of a young pickpocket named Cassandra Cain, and young Cassandra soon falls into Harley’s care. Also getting drawn into the chase for Cassandra are detective Rene Montoya, nightclub singer Dinah Lance, and the last heir to the Bertinelli crime fortune, Helena Bertinelli. Together, these ladies need to band together, and through it all, Harley just may find herself.

What I Liked

The fight scenes are spectacular. In case you didn’t hear, they brought the director of the John Wick films to spruce up the fight scenes during reshoots, and man, does it show. On top of that, the performances are once again top notch. Robbie again knocks it out of the park as Harley, and McGregor is wonderfully sleazy as the Black Mask. I also got a real kick out of Winstead’s Huntress, which leads into….

What I Didn’t Like

Ya know, for a movie called Birds of Prey, we really don’t see that much of the Birds of Prey. I would have really liked it if we got to know Black Canary and Huntress a little more, but as it is right now, they just kinda get dragged along for the ride.

Final Verdict

Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey was just a whole heck of a lot of fun. Bring on the sequel where Harley finally hangs out with her BFF Poison Ivy.

3 Nibs

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Rise of Skywalker Poster

Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russel, Kelly Marie Tran, and Ian McDiarmid

Backstory

And it all comes to an end. The Disney-produced Star Wars sequel trilogy finally reaches its closing chapter. While people mostly loved the first one, The Force Awakens, the second one, The Last Jedi, proved to be incredibly divisive in the fan base. (I’m in the “loved it” camp.) So, it was hoped that the guy who gave us the better-liked Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams, could bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion. Does J.J. stick the landing?

Plot

There’s a chill going through the galaxy. Mysterious transmissions are broadcasting the Emperor Palpatine lives, and has allied himself with Supreme Leader Kylo Ren to form a new order…the Final Order. Our heroes decide that to end this conflict once and for all, they have to take out Palpatine’s stronghold on the hidden planet of Exegol. They quest is on to find a Sith Wayfinder, the only thing that contains a map to Exegol. To do so means finding friends both old and new. But complicating things is the fact the Kylo Ren and his Knights of Ren are in hot pursuit. It seems Palpatine has nefarious plans for young Rey, and wants her alive. What are the Emperor’s plans for Rey? Will the mystery of her parents finally be explained? And will our heroes save the day?

What I Liked

Once again, we’ve got some very likable heroes in here. And it’s nice to see our core trinity of Rey, Poe, and Finn finally having an adventure together. Yes, there are some callbacks and nostalgic references to the greater Star Wars saga (resulting in some surprising cameos), but it never felt too gratuitous. Great lightsaber battles, great space battles, and some truly great performances by our lead actors.

What I Didn’t Like

The first half of the film is incredibly episodic and bouncing around as our heroes quest for the Wayfinder. New characters are introduced, and we barely get to know them, before we’re whisked off to our next step on the quest. Some characters wind up shoved to the side. As one of the few who actually liked Rose, I would have liked a little more of her. There’s just a little too much in that first half.

Final Verdict

The film took a while to find its footing, but once it did, it was a great ride at the movies. All three of these Star Wars sequels made me cry.

3.5 Nibs

Frozen II

Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Starring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, and Martha Plimpton

Backstory

I’m still frequently amazed at the longevity of Frozen. Normally, by now, Elsa and Anna would have been lumped in with the rest of the Disney princesses. But the film somehow managed to strike a nerve, and Frozen still remains it’s own thing. It’s been six years since the original hit theatres. I finally saw it back in the day, thanks to the ton of positive reviews, and I came out of the theatre back then thinking it was good, but not great. But I did get a few goosebumps from the trailers for Frozen II, and I am enough of a sucker for Disney animation, that I figured I had to give it a look-see.

Plot

It’s been about a year since the first film, and our heroes are mostly in a good place. Anna and Kristoff are working on their happily ever after, with Kristoff working up the nerve to propose. Elsa seems to be settling into her role as queen, but something troubles her. She keeps hearing a voice calling to her. While following the voice one night, Elsa accidentally awakens spirits of water, fire, air and earth, threatening her queendom. It turns out the spirits, the voice, Elsa’s powers…they’re all connected. In order to get to the bottom of this, our heroes embark on a quest to an enchanted forest, that remains enveloped in an impenetrable fog. Our heroes venture in, where they’ll discover long lost tribes, more magical spirits, and terrible family secrets. Will Elsa be able to save her queendom? Will Anna and Elsa’s sisterly bond survive?

What I Liked

There’s a lot to like about the film. Olaf and his comedic relief don’t feel as forced in as they were in the first film. In fact, all the characters are still just as we remember them, and each one seems to go on a journey of self-growth. There’s some great new concepts and characters introduced. And, this being Disney, the animation is, as always, spectacular.

What I Didn’t Like

As I mentioned, some great new characters are introduced, but we hardly get a chance to know them and find out what their deal is. And while the new songs are good, the musical numbers do feel a little like they’re forced in.

Final Verdict

While I felt that the first one was good but not great, I feel that Frozen II is also…good, but not great. I had a good time, I felt some feels, but it wasn’t quite a home run.

3 Nibs

Joker

Directed by Todd Philips

Joker movie poster

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, and Brett Cullen

Backstory

Ahh, Batman. King of the superhero adaptations at this point. But people are always looking for new facets of the Dark Knight to explore. And thus, we get a solo film exploring the origins of his greatest nemesis, the Joker. I was mildly curious about the whole endeavour. I mean, they’ve been trying to do Batman-less Batman stories on TV for years. Would they be able to do so on the big screen?

Plot

Arthur Fleck is a deeply disturbed man. He suffers from a litany of mental illnesses, the most prominent of which is neurological condition that makes him occasionally burst out in uncontrollable fits of laughter. But, he soldiers on, working as a party clown, pursuing a dream of stand-up comedy, and being the caregiver for his ailing mother. He does find solace in his favourite late night talk show, and starts developing a relationship with a woman who lives in his building. It’s not long, though, before he reaches his breaking point and kills three men on the subway. As his life starts to spiral out of control, Arthur begins his path to becoming one of the greatest criminals Gotham City has ever known.

What I Liked

Joaquin Phoenix gives a truly remarkable performance as Fleck, making him both sympathetic and unlikable at the same time. It really is his movie, as he commands the screen every time he’s on. There’s a few knowing references to Batman lore, and how they incorporate the Wayne family into this is pretty neat. But….

What I Didn’t Like

I almost lost it at the end. It seems like there’s one scene that must be in every Batman movie, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t find a way to shoehorn it in.

Final Verdict

I found Joker to be a very disturbing film, but very good. I’m not big on scary films, but I got my one for this Halloween, thank you very much.

4 Nibs