BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE Review

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Return for a Fourth Round in the Franchise and Continue to Deal with the Challenges of Aging in a Young Man's Game.

IN A VIOLENT NATURE Review

This Experimental Slasher Flick puts Audiences Literally In-Step with the Killer and Features Some of the Most Gruesome Deaths in the Genre's History.

FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA Review

Director George Miller Returns to the Wasteland with a Full-Fledged Epic that Balances the Titular Character's Story with the Bombastic Vehicular Mayhem.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Review

This Latest Installment in the Planet of the Apes Franchise isn't Necessarily Bad, but is Probably more of a Forgotten Chapter in the Franchise Mythology.

THE FALL GUY Review

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt Kick-Off the Summer Movie Season with a Big, Fun, and Funny Action-Packed Adventure that Fully Delivers on its Promises.

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A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE Review

Some movies are good because they achieve exactly what they set out to do, some movies surprise because they rise above their own genre estimations, and others are just rock solid all-around because everything happened to align in just the right way at just the right time. I would love to say A Quiet Place: Day One falls into that last category or even into the second which is where the two previous films in this franchise nicely settle, but director Michael Sarnoski - the latest filmmaker to be promoted directly from small indie to giant blockbuster - has crafted a film that, despite maybe having more ambition, ultimately scrapes by on achieving its main objective. 

Odds are, much of this isn't the fault of Sarnoski as this franchise studio film crafted at the hands of a fresh-off-the-circuit filmmaker reeks of boardroom tinkering in even the slightest of ways. The combination of insert shots interrupting what are otherwise more precise sequences, the sheer number of focus pulls seemingly used to guarantee easier transitions in editing, and the shoddier special effects used to fill out the frame whenever the shot goes too wide (this was shot entirely on a backlot set in London, not New York City) not only signal a certain kind of approach but an apprehension about whether or not this was the right move with the right franchise. Whether true or not, this kind of mentality ultimately resonates in the production quality of the film - and deflated my excitement for what this chapter might offer when as much became apparent - yet the script still manages enough individual moments of creativity and tension to entertain if not necessarily captivate.

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE Review

It’s nothing new for a Bad Boys movie to have an overly convoluted plot and too many side characters, but what has remained consistent is how each movie somehow manages to not let those things detract from the centerpiece chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Four years is the shortest amount of time between sequels in this franchise thus making the latter two films feel as equal in weight as the impressive debut and chaotic classic that is Bad Boys II. Why Bad Boys III didn’t come out in 2009-2010 and why we converted to confounding subtitles rather than sticking with the already established roman numerals I will never understand, but here we are with two very distinct halves of the Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett saga. 

In truth, it would be hard to mess one of these movies up and fortunately all the key ingredients are present with Bad Boys For Life directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah returning in full "Bayhem" mode employing (and deploying) as many drones to shoot the film as Alexander Ludwig's character does to shoot the bad guys. Screenwriter Chris Bremner returns while Aquaman and Justice League scribe Will Beall joining him to fashion a story around the next phase in Mike and Marcus' already illustrious careers after seemingly working through all the late-stage personal and professional conflicts these two would have encountered as aging lieutenants. 

This is where the real challenge of the film lies though, as up to this point each Bad Boys film was capturing these characters at very different stages of their lives and careers, but as a direct sequel to "For Life" this not only deals in many of the same themes, but picks up certain plot lines directly and carries them through. There isn't anything wrong with this approach from a high-level perspective (though I hope they don't wear out their welcome because this is the only viable franchise both are currently clinging to) but as you get into the weeds of what matters on a story-level one can feel the straining to both find new layers for Smith and Lawrence to explore with these characters while also seemingly trying to set-up the future of this franchise in two successors who have ever met one another and whose chemistry - the necessary chemistry that allows these movies to elevate themselves above other, traditional police procedurals - is untested.

IN A VIOLENT NATURE Review

About twenty minutes into writer/director Chris Nash's In A Violent Nature we meet the group of early twenty-somethings we would have typically followed from the couple amongst them's duplex to the remote cabin in the woods where the six of them now sit around a campfire airing out grievances and ghost stories. Typically, key word here, we would have more context for said grievances and a deeper understanding about who each of these people are and how they play into each other's lives allowing for any kinship or tension between them to also play into the dynamics of their impending doom given the order with which they are dispersed. Again, typically we would have a focal point, our final girl if you will, who is highlighted early and earnestly before both the film and her world descend into a madness she would have never imagined on the sunny, optimistic-filled drive she embarked on upon our introduction to her. Instead, it is not until that twenty-minute mark that we meet anyone with a remotely optimistic viewpoint as Nash opens with dread rather than allowing his movie to descend into it.

The hook (pun intended) of In A Violent Nature is that it is told almost completely from the perspective of the killer. As is the case, much of what we're treated to are tracking shots of our antagonist lurking through very green, very lush, wooded areas until he comes upon his victims and then - without much forethought or hesitation - moves forward with some of the most gruesome gore you've seen at the movies. In many ways, this leads to the film being more an exercise in style and form than it does in story or theme. These are essentially iterations of scenes we've seen hundreds of times before in this genre with Nash simply looking for new ways of framing them. It's hard to imagine there was much of a script for the film, but likely more a collection of death descriptions along with the routing of our killer's journey. In A Violent Nature is a largely wordless affair, the only dialogue coming from the aforementioned group of twenty-somethings whose pre-determined fate more or less negates any interest in what they're talking about. This could both serve as a warning sign for those who feel it necessary to have characters to invest in and root for, but considering the tone Nash establishes early in the film it is understood this is not the point of his slasher. Instead, any ideas or commentary audiences pull from In A Violent Nature would seem to be wholly their own - the film itself serves only as a prompt.

FURIOSA: A MAD MAX SAGA Review

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Fury being the key word here. We all crave revenge though, just as Chris Hemsworth’s wicked Dementus would say, but while we may not be able to balance the scales of our suffering with such revenge - seeking after such does have the capacity to make for one hell of a story. Such is the tale of the titular Furiosa in George Miller’s nine-year-later follow-up to his bombastic Fury Road. While that film - itself a thirty-six-year-later follow-up to Miller’s dystopian trilogy that began simply as a story of another vengeful Australian who set out to stop a violent motorcycle gang - is now something of a cultural milestone and turning point for action filmmaking in and of itself it didn't necessarily blow me out of the water in the way so many of its fans praise it for doing (more on that later). Why Miller, who will be eighty in less than a year, chose to enter this world once again through the prism of a prequel to flesh out the details of a fascinating yet not necessarily unambiguous character whose destiny we are well aware of might at first feel a little puzzling as the film unfolds the filmmakers justifications are made clear: re-entering this world and continuing to flesh out not only the character of Furiosa but all of the characters at play in these wasteland fortresses along with the wasteland itself is what makes it worth the trip. Such a task is an admittedly impossible line to walk in not only in having to deliver on the expectations set by Fury Road, but also in attempting to deliver something that is inherently cut from the same cloth yet stands on its own merits. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, for all the context, history, and set-up that would seem to inform its creation is ultimately still an origin story - the beginning of a saga if part of one at all - and needs none of the circumstances surrounding it to be known in order to flourish for what it is. Where Fury Road, for all its audacity and inspiration, felt more like an art installation of a movie - meaning I was floored by its visual achievements but not necessarily moved by or invested in its experiment - Furiosa is full-fledged epic where the storytelling is as front and center as the action - much to the chagrin of the majority of movie-goers, I'm sure.

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Review

In what is essentially the fourth new beginning in the Planet of the Apes franchise and the tenth film overall, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes has the difficult task of not only following-up the critically acclaimed and well-liked Caesar trilogy but establishing a new cast of characters for audiences to care about and maybe more critically - to root for. The fascinating thing about this franchise in particular is that it has no one anchor, no single selling point, but more it relies on each films ideas and themes to be the main attraction. These are blockbusters built on allegory, delivering spectacle to fulfill the experiential aspect of movie-going, but largely crafted for the purposes of the conversations that will take place afterward. In director Wes Ball's (the Maze Runner trilogy) re-boot each of these factors are in place to meet the aforementioned requirements of both entertainment value and parable-like storytelling, but much like with the previous two Matt Reeves films (my hot take regarding the Caesar trilogy is that Rupert Wyatt's film is actually the best of them) these frameworks for what these films intend to do and be end up mostly being only that: a structure. In Kingdom specifically, the themes themselves are such repeats of ideas and concepts this franchise has touched upon before that it almost feels the series is becoming that of which it is analyzing a la the cyclical nature of society - the triumphs and failures destined to collide with the systems put in place to try and form some type of order no matter the dominant species.

THE FALL GUY Review

Not to put anyone off The Fall Guy, but it does feature massive spoilers for a thirty-three-year-old movie titled Thelma & Louise. Warning aside, it is The Fall Guy’s appreciation, admiration, and recognition of such films as that Ridley Scott crime romp along with countless others like First Blood, the Fast franchise, and any number of Julia Roberts romantic comedies that make stuntman turned filmmaker David Leitch's latest so endearing to avid movie fans like myself. The flipside of that coin is that The Fall Guy is also very much one of those types of movies, whether it be an over the top action adventure flick or a bombastic rom com, for modern audiences now breaking free of the serialized blockbusters we’ve become accustomed to over the last generation and who are now being ingratiated into true summer blockbuster territory. It may spoil Thelma & Louise but what it really wants is for you to either seek these movies out or re-visit them in hopes of discovering or renewing a sense of inspiration. As Ryan Gosling's Colt Seavers would say, The Fall Guy is very much a “thumbs up” version of this kind of moviemaking; a fun, ostentatious (in the best way), and wholly entertaining palette cleanser. 

What makes The Fall Guy even more of a return to those summer blockbusters of yesteryear beyond the somewhat novel concept (it’s partially based on the 80s TV show starring Lee Majors and Heather Thomas who both make cameos in a mid-credit scene here) is the fact the film is being sold as much if not more on its stars than its premise. Riding high off the pink nuclear fumes of last summer’s “Barbenheimer” Universal paired Oppenheimer’s Emily Blunt with Ken himself and in many ways, this feels like a culmination of this current phase for both of these actors' careers. Gosling is THE marquee star of the moment yet upends that persona by playing a “forgettable” stunt man (brilliant!) whereas Blunt is not only game to be the love interest, but is very intentional about positioning her Jody Moreno as a woman at the helm of this massive production who not only has a vision and a voice, but is able to steer the ship in a successful fashion all while working with Colt to better understand their relationship status. That relationship status is the heart of the film as Colt seeks to atone for past mistakes but the action he's chasing outside his professional life doesn't supplant the film's main objective: blowing things up and beating the shit out of people.

CIVIL WAR Review

Not all, of course, but the majority of politicians typically turn out to be boring, quite predictable people who - in place of actual personality - feel the need to pervert even the simplest of exchanges or interactions as they often mistake complicated for interesting. Photographers, writers, and other members of the press, the more creatively inclined types, inherently stand to be more individualistic or at least more occupied with ideas than they are self-preservation or importance. To clarify, I'm not discounting the ego numerous members of the media possess, but am more drawing attention to the difference in those who believe they naturally possess a sense of charismatic authority and those who seek it above all else in order to prove to the world they aren't who they know they truly are. And knowing who you truly are is key to knowing where you'll land on Alex Garland's Civil War

Despite writer/director Garland's latest not explicitly making any type of political allegiances where his ideologies occupy are made more than clear in the text. By making his protagonists objective photojournalists who "record so others can ask questions" while making the antagonist a fascist President who has dismantled the FBI it's pretty explicit where Garland tends to fall even as the films allegiances end up not mattering as the writer/director and the movie itself are more interested and fascinated by what brings individuals to their loyalty in their beliefs in the first place; why they believe, not simply that they do. Drawing understanding from under the surface and not just from it gives the frame of mind of these photojournalists a more particular outline rather than being reduced only to the stereotype their label provides. Much of it goes back to Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black when he said, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it." While the context of the title and timing of the release would lead audiences to expect members of two staunch, opposing sides battling things out on the street in a modern fashion intercut with talking heads in suits discussing strategy and morality in board rooms the truth of the matter is, the bullet points for siding with one political party over another go out the window once actual bullets begin flying.

MONKEY MAN Review

Anger may not quiet the soul and an eye for an eye might eventually make the whole world blind, but corruption must be reckoned with in some fashion and Dev Patel makes it satisfying as hell in his directorial debut, Monkey Man. While the story of revenge is the most common kind of story, especially in the action/thriller genre, Patel elevates the material by making that aforementioned anger more deeply felt and the context hyper-personal as well as lathering the execution in every influence the writer/director/star has clearly made note of since directing became an ambition. 

Patel, the director, has a real penchant for framing his shots around an unexpected primary focal point that communicates plot elements visually while simultaneously building the world - not an easy task when considering you're doing so from the ground up. He does this in a somewhat brash fashion backed by either a heavy soundtrack or Jed Kurzel's Harold Faltermeyer-esque score that culminates in a style desperately trying to carve itself out of those influences. Whether it was my experience as a first time viewer or Patel actually realizing his intention through experimentation, by the end of the film the extreme from-the-hip angles coupled with the extreme close-ups of particularly gritty moments in hand-to-hand combat make for a very ecstatic and unrestrained tone that can't help but to be felt if not necessarily viewed as singular. But also, as a director, if you don’t have women cheer for you when you take off your shirt onscreen what are you even doing?

2024 Oscar Predictions


It feels like, for one reason or another, this has been the longest awards season I've ever experienced. Maybe it's because last year's biggest movie-related story was that of "Barbenheimer" and because both have ended up playing heavily into this awards season it seems we've simply been on this wave for eight months straight or maybe it is simply the deluge of precursors and other ceremonies I've paid attention to, but either way I think I'll be more relieved by the time this weekend is over than excited about any of the (mostly foregone) results. To put it simply, this is the year of Oppenheimer and I don't really see things swaying in another direction even if the manifestation of Christopher Nolan's career doesn't win in every category it's expected to. Oppenheimer leads all nominees with thirteen nominations this year, one fewer than Titanic's record and listen, this is all fine by me. As someone who saw Batman Begins twice opening day, a few days after graduating high school, and then stood in line for five hours to get a good seat at the midnight showing in the only IMAX theater in Arkansas as a 21 year-old (before assigned seating and early Thursday night previews were a thing) I have been on the Nolan fan train as long as his name has been relevant. Given I saw Dark Knight at such a formative and impressionable point in life I've been rooting for the auteur to win the big award ever since. With a historical biopic of one of the more complicated if not necessarily influential figures in American history, the worlds of Nolan's aesthetic and Academy prestige came together to give us this moment and I just can't imagine the likes of Poor Things or The Holdovers overtaking that. All of that to say, while Oppenheimer may appear as the predicted winner in many categories below 2023 was a strong year for movies all-around and a fair amount will still be celebrated as winners at this year's ceremony.

DUNE: PART TWO Review

We tend to like our space operas with well-defined heroes and villains. Whether it be Star Wars or the latest incarnation of Power Rangers, the line between nobility and corruption is made clear whether it be through direct action or the color scheme of the costumes. Hell, even in something as sophisticated as Denis Villeneuve's two Dune adaptations the heroes are largely surrounded by pure, white sands while the villains literally dip themselves in black goop (neither this review nor the Dune movies are sponsored by Gwyneth Paltrow -- as far as I know). What is immediately striking about Dune: Part Two is how it continuously questions its own mythology. While the whole of Dune is essentially a story of heroes and villains in a race for ultimate power and control through the ultimate commodity, what it is actually about (the films, anyway) are the power, control, influence, and questions the presence of a messiah manifest. In Villeneuve's first Dune film Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides was a boy born into a destiny beyond his understanding. What makes Part Two the more complex, interesting, and arguably more epic of the two films is both Paul's understanding of and ultimate embrace of this destiny that has been prescribed to him his entire life. 

In the first film, Paul's father (Oscar Isaac) tells him, "A great man doesn't seek to lead; he is called to it." In Part Two, we see that calling play out as Paul is guided in his decisions - through both dream-like visions as well as his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) parlaying a prophecy into as much of a reality as she can - to the point there is hesitation in Paul's actions, a sincerity as Zendaya's Chani sees it, that makes him question whether seeing this prophecy through or putting a stop to it altogether is the better decision for the universe as a whole. There is of course, much more going on around Paul, the Fremen people, and the planet of Arrakis on which they reside that factor into Paul's deliberations, but for as much time as Dune: Part One spent on building the mythology of Frank Herbert's universe it only seemed natural that Part Two might then define what makes this mythology, these characters, and these worlds worth investing in. Rather, Villeneuve and screenwriter Jon Spaihts (Prometheus) spend much of the runtime of this continuation within the ethical questions Paul seeks to (re)solve - questions that could also be applied to the religion and politics of this universe that naturally mirror our own. The result being that by investigating these questions and conflicts the characterizations and significance of what could easily be perceived as pure nonsense do, in fact, become meaningful as if the attention and care paid to the depth allows for the breadth to sustain itself.

ARGYLLE Review

I could watch two Channing Tatum movies in The Vow and The Lost City and get this same movie while having a more rewarding viewing experience and I would absolutely rather watch two consecutive Channing Tatum movies than ever experience Argylle again. 

That is to say, unfortunately Matthew Vaughn has officially become a director of diminishing returns. Out of the gate, Vaughn only continued to improve with each of his first five features. In his first (seemingly) original film since 2014 after making three films in the same universe and launching a third franchise with Argylle clearly intended to be a fourth (even though that definitely won't happen), it would seem Vaughn has finally hit a career low. While this would seem to indicate he can only go up from here, this winking hodgepodge of a meta-comedy, action caper lets us know early on what we're in for when it becomes clear just how little Vaughn is invested in the construction of the film by the placement of the title card. Why would you not at least save it until after the worst looking high speed car chase in history? 

Written by Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman) and including such classic dialogue as, “You and I, we’re not so different…” it is important to stay aware of the film's intent as Argylle unravels (pun fully intended). The point being, there is no intention or ideas outside of being "big" entertainment. Not even pure entertainment because if that were the case this would have been half an hour shorter, but in keeping with the "big" part of being entertaining this is nearly two and a half hours and absolutely doesn't need to be. Had they streamlined some of this overly convoluted nonsense it might have actually resonated simply as entertaining and fun, but it instead becomes a laughable (as in definitely laughing at and now with) slog. Even worse, a lot of the admittedly inventive action set pieces would be really clever and genuinely funny if they didn’t look like complete shit. I just can't understand how Vaughn's modern action sequences are so much uglier than the outright classics he was concocting ten and fifteen years ago?

ORIGIN Review

Why do we do the things we do to one another? Maybe it's because I'm a fairly new father, maybe because I see the faces of a 9 year-old, 4 year-old, and almost 2 year-old whom I am responsible for daily and they have softened me, but I can't see a movie that deals in even the tiniest infraction against an innocent child and not question not only why the collective "we" do the things "we" do, but how people can perpetrate such hatefulness and bigotry toward someone else, much less an innocent child who has not only done nothing wrong but also doesn't understand why there is a prejudice against them in the first place. Not to spoil anything about Ava DuVernay's latest, Origin, but while much of this fictional adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is focused on Wilkerson herself (portrayed by the great Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) as we follow along on her journey to research and write the eventual book many of the ideas in this film are based on, where Origin really flourishes is when it detours into the past and recreates these stories from throughout different stages in history that inform the present story Wilkerson is desperately trying to shape and make sense of. Undoubtedly, these detours are what will cause some critics and viewers to hasten toward thoughts that the film is disjointed and tonally uneven, but the way in which DuVernay uses these reenactments to not only emphasize to the viewer the reality of these things Wilkerson is learning, but – for my money – beautifully weaves them throughout are what make both the film’s narrative and Wilkerson’s arc feel whole. To use a tired turn of phrase, they complement one another in such a way that by the time we reach the final moments where these two strands of storytelling coalesce, I was moved to tears – asking myself the basic question of, “Why do we do the things we do to one another?”.

MEAN GIRLS Review

Like so many movies these days, 2024's Mean Girls first had to prove its reasons for existing were valid. And like so many movies these days, I tend to appreciate them for where they succeed rather than condemning them for where they don't. In the broad scheme of things this new Mean Girls movie is perfectly fine, but when remaining within the stratosphere of this movie adaptation of a stage musical that itself was adapted from a twenty year-old feature film based on a 2002 non-fiction bestseller titled "Queen Bees & Wannabes" it becomes something bigger, something more; an investment in the material, the thought behind it, and how as much earned it the place it holds in our culture. 

"Like all history, this is emotionally layered and culturally dense." I was seventeen in 2004 when the original Tina Fey adaptation was released, I remember writing about it for my school newspaper, and realizing Fey had officially made the leap while simultaneously cementing Lindsay Lohan as a figurehead of my generation. Mean Girls never didn't feel like a big deal and so it wasn't surprising so many of the jokes and bits from that original film endured, but because of the endurance factor I couldn't help but wonder what the translation to the modern high school experience might have to say about our less PC and, as a result, more merciless environment. Additionally, I’d never seen the stage play and was thus unfamiliar with the production and music (written by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin). While Mean Girls '24 then had to really justify itself what was maybe most surprising about the addition of the not exactly memorable music was how quickly it helped move me past the nostalgia factor and into appreciating what this retelling had to offer.

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE Review

An ambitious (audacious?) yet disjointed film that seems to attempt more than it intends leaving little to latch onto, but much to consider. A conundrum of both a film and experience. Coming out of writer/director/composer Jeymes Samuel's 2021 feature debut, The Harder They Fall, it was more than evident the multi-hyphenate had a distinct mission, but almost more importantly: a distinct style to match it. With as much noted it was easy to walk into Samuel's follow-up, The Book of Clarence, with a certain expectation of what it might be. As The Harder They Fall made it clear white people were not alone in the westward expansion following the Civil War, The Book of Clarence would seem to run with the fact they were essentially non-existent in Nazareth in the time of Jesus (or the Messiah, as he was probably more often referred to during his life). The correcting of the consistent portrayal of Jesus as a white, European man throughout history would then seem to be the anchor of Samuel's religious satire especially given this depiction has come under scrutiny as of late with the legacy of racism in society being more critically discussed. While this is certainly on the itinerary though, so are about twenty other items that seem to have sprung from Samuel's original intent through the process of putting this initial idea to paper. We can see the bones of Samuel's original idea in renovating the Biblical epic, but as our titular Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) becomes swept up in and ultimately accepts the idea that Jesus may in fact be the real Messiah so too does the movie in becoming an actual Biblical epic. 

At just over two hours it doesn't quite go all the way to fit that bill, but though there are moments of biting irreverence these are always directed more toward how the familiar events of the Bible have come to be perceived rather than toward the events themselves or so seems to be the case, I could certainly have misinterpreted. The cause for such uncertainty comes with how reverential Samuel ends up treating the cornerstones of his protagonist's journey. These tonal transformations make it difficult to identify a genuine response to the material, but the film doesn't leave you with nothing. In fact, more than anything The Book of Clarence will leave many confused as to what meaning we're meant to take from this double-edged parable which - I guess - could be seen as appropriate given the conflicting nature of faith for those who question it. There is a line in the film that states, "Any man who follows rules blindly is easily overcome," which is a direct challenge to one of if not the mainstays of what "faith" is meant to illustrate. This point of view is further emphasized when, in the final act of the film, Stanfield's false Messiah calls for enlightenment over punishment. Both sentiments would seem to move the thematic needle towards the challenging of ideas and the broadening of intelligence for the sake of insight and progress as favorable and more sensical than divine knowledge and irrational acceptance, yet the film still concludes with a message that remains largely pro-faith. Hence, the confusion and conflict.