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Us (2019)
Wow, what an experience
23 March 2019
Horror/thriller Us, about a family being attacked by duplicates of themselves, was such a unique experience for me. This is only Jordan Peele's second film and he already has a confident sense of direction. Tightly controlled use of camera angles and fine use of color and scenery are all here. The panning out opening credits has a slow, unsettling strangeness to it. As I said, this is a thriller and the whole thing has taught pacing and fight scenes.

The general story is entertainingly freaky. The duplicates, with their scary gold scissors and gloves on only one hand, are unsettling. And it isn't exactly like they're a mindless horde. Each one has a distinct, weird personality.

The script is also pretty funny at points, but the humor never feels like it is detracting from the horror.

The music by Michael Abels is also delightfully eerie. Be sure to check out the opening credits. The movie's main theme might make the list of most recognizable horror music. (It sounds a little like the main theme from Akira if you've seen that.)

The entire cast, main and supporting, is great, including, surprisingly, comedian Tim Heidecker from Adult Swim's Tim and Eric. Winston Duke is fun as the family's goofy father and Lupita Nyongo excels in uncomfortableness as the duplicate mother.

The first act/setup is a little slow, but things run smoothly once the duplicates attack. The explanation to the duplicates' existence is a little vague. I mean the duplicate's motivations are made clear, but the logistical details of the whole thing leaves a lot of questions.

Overall, i highly recommend this to people who are looking for something a little new in horror.
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Stan & Ollie (2018)
Fine homage to the comedy duo
17 March 2019
Stan & Ollie follows famed forties comedy duo Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly) in their sixties during the 1950s. Their find themselves facing the decline of their careers as they tour Great Britain. What ensues is a rather entertaining and heartfelt biopic that balances humor and drama.

Confident direction from John S. Baird, especially the beginning and end. The opening is a continuous shot that competently reveals the exposition and Laurel and Hardy's personalities in a short amount of time. The ending scene knows just the right shots in order to direct the audience's emotions.

Sharp, funny dialogue. Fans of Laurel and Hardy will be pleased to see many of their routines here. However, if old-timey physical humor isn't your thing, it might get to be a bit too much for you after awhile.

Their are some good dramatic moments in this, however some of the more serious moments drag on in parts. The section about Laurel and Hardy waiting for funding for a Robin Hood movie is given way more time than needed. I thought they focused too much on manufacturing a conflict between L&O. Surprisingly, they leave out other sad factors of the end of their careers, Laurel being sick for a while and their last film Utopia being a bomb, which I think could've worked well in this.

Coogan and Reilly are the film duo I never knew I needed. Their chemistry is great. They completely sell the friendship between the two comedians. Reilly turns in one of his best performances, which is saying something. The entire main cast is strong, including Rufus Jones as silver-tongued manager Bernard Delfont, Nina Arianda as Laurel's outgoing wife Nina, and Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter's Moaning Myrtle) as Hardy's wife, constantly worried about his health.

Ultimately, this movie does a good job of capturing the spirit of the duo. If you're unfamiliar with them, then you'll still find a good story.
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Fun even if it's still following the same ol' Marvel formula
9 March 2019
Had a good time watching this. I'd compare this the most to the first Captain America in that is a good balance of plot, action, and comedy.

This film is surprisingly funny, which the trailers don't reveal. This is a buddy cop/road trip movie featuring interplay between Captain Marvel and Nick Fury.

Captain Marvel is likable enough, both confident and charming. Alison Brie does well in the role whenever it comes to the lighthearted bits. However, there are a couple times during the serious/expositional parts where she felt a bit wooden. It doesn't help that her tone of voice doesn't shift much.

Although, Nick Fury has been a regular of the Marvel films for a while, it's nice to see him finely be a lead character. Jackson seems to be having a lot of fun playing a younger, looser Fury (this takes place during the 90's).

Also a big fan of Ben Mendelsson as Talos, leader of a squad of the shapeshifting enemy race the Skrulls. I was afraid the actor was being typecasted in his villain roles recently, but this character is a total 180 of his previous ones. He's funny and one of the biggest people persons of the MCU villains.

Maintains the Marvel spectacle of visuals and action. They use computer graphics to make Jackson look younger and they have really perfected the technology. You only notice the CGI if you're looking for it. The graphics for Coulson aren't quite as seamless. I'm guessing they didn't put as much effort into him as he isn't in this as much.

The movie is a very typical Marvel movie. It doesn't establish it's own tone like the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther.

Suffers from trying to stuff too much plot and characters in. Marvel's past and relationships are given short shrift. More time should've been devoted to developing the characters of Marvel's best friend and the alien military unit she starts out as a part of.

They explain the cause of a certain event/line in a future Marvel movie but by trying to make a joke out of it. I did not like that at all. Robbed the seriousness of that moment and the attempt to play against expectations and the need for movie prequels to explain every little thing is just frustratingly predictable.

Ever since the Kree first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, I've been waiting to see them adapt the Kree Intelligence who has always had a unique design. We finally get it and sadly the directors/writers just went with the trodden entity appears as someone the person knows routine.

Yeah, this isn't the most standout of the films, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of this.
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Kingdom Hearts III (2019 Video Game)
Not perfect, but still recommended
6 March 2019
Kingdom Hearts is the latest game in the popular video game series that mashes Disney characters and Japanese action RPGs. Although there've been several spin-off installments, we haven't had a Kingdom Hearts game for a main console for such a long time. After all the waiting and anticipating did this meet my expectations? Well mostly. I had a lot of fun with this, but I admit it didn't quite match I and II or even Birth by Sleep (as mentioned these games are Japanese; some pretty odd names).

STORY: For a game with Disney characters, KH has become of the most complexly and confusingly plotted video game stories ever only on par with the Metal Gear titles. This can be a pain if you haven't played the many games across several consoles. They have a recap video section but it isn't thorough enough. I found myself being reminded of forgotten stuff from games I'd personally played. Doesn't help that some of the finer details aren't revealed in story but through journal entries you gain through optional fights after completing the game proper.

Still, I appreciate how much they've built upon what has come before. There are some pretty good twist and turns and an ending that comes close to matching the impact of the first game. The whole game does pretty well with the emotional beats. The past few games have introduced several good-hearted characters that have met tragic fates. (There are seven people that have ended up in sad limbo situations. That's a lot of limbo!) Since this is supposed to be the end of the Xehanort arc, the heroes fight against their enemy Xehanort (voiced by Rutger Hauer taking over from the late Leonard Nimoy) who wants to bring an end to the universe, we get the conclusion to all the character story-lines with appropriate weight to them.

However, I was hoping this game would feel more self-contained. Too much time is spent on hints for future games. It's annoying for the characters to spend a lot of time bringing up plot points that you don't get answers to. Maleficent and Pete are totally wasted as they show up early and frequently for a storyline with no payoff.

They also don't tackle some of the Disney movie stories as well as previous games. In the past, you often played truncated versions of the movies with our heroes thrown into the mix. However, the Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds basically try to squeeze in the full plots and too many characters and basically have your heroes pop in and out of them instead of feeling like they're directly part of the events.

They're are a lot of clever little story ideas and funny bits here too. The slapstick bits with Donald and Goofy (voiced by their regular actors Tony Anselmo and Bill Farmer) are a lot more than the other games and they work well. Really Goofy and Donald couldn't be better traveling companions as they're two personalities complement each other so well and provide a lot of general heart to the story.

Also, you get to see Pixar films for the first time, so yay. The previous games included FInal Fantasy and other Square Enix characters, but not this time, so boo.

GAMEPLAY: If it bugs you that many of the previous games have been mostly hack-and-slash, you'll be pleased to know that they've kept things more varied. You get a lot of varied attacks throughout battle to keep things lively, including attacks based on Disney rides. The developers really improved on your combat cooperation with your allies when compared to previous games. The summons are a little hit and miss as most of them only feel like they work better for non-hectic situations. Donald and Goofy's ability to heal you when needed is better too.

Thing is that all the special attacks make this the easiest game in the series. I beat this on hard mode without much difficulty. (Except the final boss. He is a challenge. Be prepared for he is a time vacuum and you can't save between his various forms and cut scenes.)

They removed most of your special forms from II, except for the rage form which only works when you're low in health. I will miss them because the edge they gave and the fact you couldn't use them as willy-nilly made them feel earned. However, now your keyblades have special forms and they're own special moves, plus you can up they're attack and magic powers at the Moogle shops.

SInce KHII got complaints for streamlining the levels and cutting down on the platform elements, this game does a decent job of bringing them back. The worlds are larger than ever before and often allow you to run up walls for ease of movement. There are a lot of pretty clever mini-game and level designs. (Although the Rapunzel dance mini-game feels completely superfluous but it is innocuous.) You even get to pilot a pirate ship and engage in full-scale battles in the PotC world.

They don't have quite as many Disney worlds as previous games, which they compensate for by making them longer. This can get exhausting sometimes. The Frozen and PoTC worlds are way too looong! The final world, although the physically shortest of the final levels, stretches on and on with the cutscenes. On the other hand, the Winnie-the-Pooh level is so short and simple you wonder why they included it.

The Gummi ship stages are back. They were dull in the first game, corrected and exciting in the second one, and back to dull here. This time they go with an open world space area. I appreciate them making battles more optional and adding several things you can do. But none of this is very interesting. (Sure looks nice though, I'll give it that.)

GRAPHICS: Definitely the best looking game in the series. The improvement is noticeable. Everything looks gorgeous. Since most of the DIsney levels are based on 3D movies, the game's creators were given permission to utilize the original digital frames from them. For a couple of worlds, they even change the visual style of your characters to match them. In the POtC world, the only live-action film, Donald and Goofy are clearly more detailed than in the rest of the game. The facial movements on the characters don't always quite gel, though.

The larger worlds have a lot more civilian characters in them and they feel more real.

Again the outfits for the original game characters and the designs of the Heartless and other villains are all so unique and detailed. It helps that the game's director Tetsuya Nomura started off as a visual designer. (He's still addicted to using zippers on his outfits but it works.)

MUSIC/SOUND: Composer Yôko Shimomura does the same thing she did with the previous games: good songs and music for the big dramatic moments, while the music for the Disney stages are serviceable and overstay their welcome if you play for too long.

Considering that Haley Joel Osment is voicing a character he started with as a child, he does a decent job. But, sometimes it's pretty obvious that it's an adult speaking in a high pitch. You get several voice actors from the Disney films returning. You don't get all the big names, but you get a nice handful, including Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Zachary Levi, and James Woods.

In summation, yeah this isn't the perfect gaming experience I was hoping for, but it was still a blast to play.
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Apollo 11 (2019)
Feels a little like a first hand experience
4 March 2019
Using a surprisingly large amount of existing footage of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, including the spaceship, NASA, and even the Texas unit responsible for picking the astronauts up safely, this documentary offers what is a thorough beat-by-beat depiction of the monumental event.

I thought this was going to be a look-back with modern-day interviews and narration, but nope, none of that. Only narration is some from the news footage of the launch. Any supplemental information is supplied by text and infographics of the space flight. I was pleasantly surprised by this. It really makes you feel like you're there in '69. I also learned stuff I never knew before like the multiple teams utilized by NASA for different aspects of the mission and the fact that the astronauts had to be immediately quarantined after the flight.

The whole thing looks and sounds great. (Though admittedly, I saw this in IMAX, which probably helps.) The digital restoration of those bright seventy colors really makes the thing pop. The audio for the launching rockets are really loud and completely capture the experience. The dramatic music really accentuates the dramatic tone of the mission. Only downside is that they play the same music during the ending credits which consists of footage celebrating the conquering heroes. It completely doesn't match what you see. It makes you feel like you're about to see a downer twist ending like a deadly organism sneaked along with the mission or the astronauts were killed and replaced by duplicates because they knew too much.

A downside is that a lot of this film is people at panels. I did lose attention a couple times.

If you can't do slow-paced, this might be not for you. However, if you're interested in how the very first moon landing actually went down then this is exactly what you're looking for. (There was applauding by some audience members at the end.)
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23 February 2019
Fighting with my Family, a dramedy biopic of World Wrestling Entertainment's Paige's journey to becoming a wrestling celebrity and her family who are all wrestlers, is a fun little film. It's fairly humorous. The oddball dynamics and conflicts within the family work well. It's also interesting to watch the training required for the WWE. (Although if you really prefer the illusion of the stories and personalities and all of that, you may not want to see how the sausage gets made.)

Paige's inner struggles could've been done better. Don't get me wrong, the protagonist has to have something to overcome, but her self-doubt was spread way too long. Doubt even occurs at her famed winning of the Divas belt, the most obviously manufactured scene in the film, which was a mistake. In order to be selected for such a publicized match, the wrestler's persona had to have been well-honed by then. Now that I think about it, you see Paige falter so much that you never get a real feel for her pubic persona at all.

Fans of WWE should be warned that even though the organization produced this the movie doesn't have the feel of it. This is a very British film directed by comic actor/writer Stephen Merchant. It has more the general pacing and feel of Bend it Like Beckham.

Florence Pugh does a great job as Paige. Heck the entire cast playing the family are pretty good, including Game of Thrones' Lena Heady as the mom and Nick Frost as the dad. He is really underappreciated as a character actor. He has all these little mannerisms that just make the performance. Vince Vaughn plays the more serious and predictable role of the tough but fair trainer/mentor, but he does it well and it's nice to see him no longer typecast after his Old School/Wedding Crashers period. Although the trailers advertise the Rock, he'sonly in three scenes. Still, he's THE ROCK and his first scene in particular is pretty funny.

I know I might've given more description to the cons than the pros here, but that's because a lot of this film works so fluidly that it's hard to really focus on the positive elements. I legitimately enjoyed myself and I'm not a professional wrestling fan.
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So much love for this
19 February 2019
To summarize Alita: Battle Angel simply and succinctly: This movie is totally amazeballs!

This may be the best looking film of the decade. It is truly an impressive world. It manages to duplicate the distinct look of the manga. This movie takes place in a futuristic dystopia, but it is kind of a fun lawless Wild West-type instead of the many dystopias today that take themselves too seriously. There's sort of an 80's pop sci-fi aesthetic to the whole thing. There are a lot of cyborgs in this and they're all so unique-looking. Alita's engraved porcelain-ish body is a particularly nice touch.

But what about the story? It is really well-balanced in both action and drama and light and dark. There are moments of wonder and human kindness in this, but also moments of darkness in a dog-eat-dog world.

This is an R-rated manga that was transformed into a PG-13 film. But considering that a lot of violence is between cyborgs, director Robert Rodriguez does a surprising job of making this a violent affair.

Though you never see her real face, Rosa Salazar's wonderful mocap performance makes it through for the computer-animated cyborg Alita. She effortlessly has the character switch from childlike innocence to a determined warrior. The movie made a lot of furor over the internet in its decision to give Alita big ol' anime eyes. The backlash after the first trailer was enought that Rodriguez had them look smaller. (Fun fact: the eyes actually weren't shrunk. The pupils were widened.) To be honest, the eyes never really necessary and they didn't really need to make Alita CG. However, I got used to the look real quick. (The CG is so good that she really feels like a person.) Alita is supposed to be different from everyone else, even other cyborgs, so being the only one with big eyes kinda helps cement this.

Christoph Waltz does a great job in a tenderr but world-wise role as the cyber-doctor who finds Alita and takes her in. He's been typecast in villain roles for far too long. The father-daughter relationship between the two, albeit a bit rushed, is a core of the film.

Rodriguez and fellow screenwriters James Cameron, yes that James Cameron, and Laeta Kalogridis tackle a certain number of chapters from the manga and really try to squish in every bit of content than maybe they needed to. Admittedly, this works pretty well for most of the film. Exposition is surprisingly natural here. However, the ending is a smidge rushed. It is an emotional one, but it could have been stronger and the need to tease a sequel, while producing a striking final scene, doesn't help either. There are two main cyborg villains in this and as much as I liked both of them, this could've been a smoother product if one of them was cut.

Despite my criticisms, I really love this movie. Highly reccomended.
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Surprisingly fresh take on the same concept
18 February 2019
I was a big fan of the first Happy Death Day, a horror comedy that was basically a slasher meets Groundhog's Day. I was looking forward to this sequel, but I became a little apprehensive when I found out that this was going the Back to the Future 2 route and revisit the same day. The entire first film had been lead Tree Gelbman (played by the wonderful Jessica Rothe) reliving the same day over and over. I get that the movie was probably going to go at events from a different angle, but I was worried about them things and it seemed a little cheap getting Tree back into the exact same time loop after fighting so hard to free herself. But my worries were unnecessary, this wasn't a time loop movie, but a time loop that takes place in an alternate reality movie, which was different enough for me to work. In fact, this was a lot of fun and almost as good as the first one.

Happy Death Day 2U shakes things up in three ways to keep things fresh. 1) It shifts the feel of the first movie from a horror comedy to more of a comedy-comedy. There are a lot less killer attacks. (There are a couple well shot scares for what there are.) The movie's soundtrack has noticeabley changed from horror to comedy. The whole thing's pretty amusing. They have more fun as deaths get even more ludicrous from the first. A funny joke you may have seen in the trailer turns out to be better in full.

2) It finally explains what caused the time loop and gets all science-fictiony.

3) The aforementioned alternate reality. After a rather interesting fifteen minute or so opener that I won't spoil, Tree winds up in a new timeline where events are mostly the same, so we don't need to waste time having with a lot of new exposition, but there are small but important differences scattered throughout. Tree finds herself going up against a new killer, and the film's strength is built upon twisting expectations.

I liked that this managed to bring back all the main cast from the first. (Not to mention a lot of bit roles.) They're all likable. Still, the movie once againn rests on Tree's shoulders. Considering that the first film was all her reaching an emotional arc, you'd think they wouldn't have many more emotional places to take her, but it does. Tree has a big thing happen to her and she has to make a serious decision. Jessica Rothe makes this movie, whether being funny or sad. To be honest the basic plot is a little thin if you look back at the script intellectually. It is Rothe's charisma that guides the whole thing.

Keep through the credits. There is a scene in the middle you shouldn't miss. They're plans for a third installment and if it manages to stay fresh like this then I'm all for it.
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Kim Possible (2019 TV Movie)
In the middle with quality
17 February 2019
This is a Disney Channel live-action movie of the once popular 2000's cartoon show about the titular Kim Possible, a high school girl who fought supervillains on a daily basis. Being a DC movie, I know I'm not the age group for this, but I was curious. The end result is like many of its kind: it's okay, just okay.

The middle of the movie is its Achilles heel, a formulaic and simplistically written story about Kim (played by Sadie Stanley) doubting her self and finding out high school life wasn't what she thought it would be. The whole school is out to get her in such an unnatural manner. Of course, there is a one-dimensional mean girl. This has one one of my most hated tropes: the school athletic team (usually cheerleader, but in this case soccer) that has no adult supervisor and the roster all depends on the captain, who in this case is a sophomore which makes even less sense. It maddens me so much.

Kim gets pretty jealous and mopey in this. It's a poor choice when you consider the people who are being introduced to her for the first time. She's supposed to be a determined, kickbutt-type, which the movie mentions a lot but could have shown more.

The parts that work, work well. The movie is written by the show's creators and has several of the funny and lines that were a trademark of the original. They manage to capture the classic bickering of villains Dr. Drakken and Shego, the Shredder and Krang of the 2000s. Todd Stachwick (Deacon from the Twelve Monkeys TV show) makes an okay Drakken, but Taylor Ortego steals the show as the sarcastic, tough Shego. She steals every scene she's in and does such a wonderful job wit her nonverbal reactions to everything that amuses or annoys her. Kim's best friend and sidekick Ron Stoppable's (played by Sean Giambrone) lines are either pretty funny or pretty bad. The actor's choice of goofy-sounding voice is really grating to the ears unfortunately.

The movie finds itself in the third act once it's gotten the emotional crisis out of the way and is fairly fun if predictable. Kim has a new friend Athena, created for the movie, and she works surprisingly well. Patton Oswalt has a small bit as a villain and it's always nice to see him.

The sets and special effects look a little nicer than you'd expect for a television budget.

If you're going to watch this for the nostalgia trip, well I'd say it has enough elements from the show that you may enjoy yourself, just keep your expectations low. As for your kids, it's a basic children's adventure flick and I think they'll be far more likely to like this.
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15 February 2019
I was a big fan of director Todd Strauss-Schulman's Final Girls, a comedy about a group of people sucked into the world of a horror movie. (If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.) So when I heard he was doing a similar movie, in which Rebel Wilson's character hates romantic comedies and finds herself in one after hitting her head, I was very curious. Unfortunately, the director couldn't strike twice. Though it has its moments, I found Isn't it Romantic to be an underwhelming experience.

The film does have it's funny, including some good-natured jabs at the romantic comedy genre, or heartfelt parts. The director and others were definitely trying. However, as a whole the thing doesn't come quite together. It feels like the script could have gone through another revision. The jokes and story just feel a little low-energy. This is one of those movies where it's especially sad because it feels like it comes close to a truly good film, but just misses the mark.

Pacing is a concern. The setup goes on too long, Rebel's character trying to wrap her head around the world takes too long, and guess how short or long the ending was?

Rebel's Wilson's performance is lacking. She excels at outrageous/outgoing comedy. However, here she plays more of a straight lead. It's the same issue I think she had with her short-lived television show, she doesn't quite know how to play it straight and is a little wooden. In fairness, direction may have had a hand in this. Adam Devine and Liam Hemsworth are the romantic interests, and though usually fun guys, they aren't quite as entertaining as usual.

On the other hand, Brandon Scott James does a great job as the movie world's dated stereotypical gay best friend. Glow's Betty Gilpin isn't in this much but she does pretty good double duty as Rebel's best friend in the real world and a completely different character in the movie world that I won't spoil. Her change in performance and appearance is so strong that it took me a minute to recognize her.

Like I said, the director was trying and it definitely shows in the appearance of this film. This is is a romanticized borderline perfect world and it shows. Super colorful; the lighting kind of look like it belongs to 80's on-location TV shows. A lot of detail; extras are constantly seeing doing little things in the background. There are a couple of decent musical numbers, too.

Now when I said this didn't work for me, I admit I may be biased. I'm not a big romantic comedy person. I think that Love Actually is one of the best romantic comedies because of the coldly rational reason that the shorter divided story-lines deletes the risk of drawing things out and boredom. Still, I do think there are much better romantic comedies than this.
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Cold Pursuit (2019)
Not a traditional Liam Neeson movie
12 February 2019
In Cold Pursuit, based on the Norwegian film Krafitidioten or, as it is known in the US, In Order of Disappearance starring Stellan Skarsgard, Liam Neeson is a hard-working, respectable member of the community and runs his own snow plow business. His life is turned upside down when his son is murdered, resulting in him going on a quest of vengeance. This seems like a traditional Neeson revenge/action flick. It definitely starts like one. However, what develops is a pretty entertaining dark comedy. Cold Pursuit is this decade's Fargo.

A big issue with revenge/crime films is that they often feel by-the numbers. This one keeps things lively. There are many surprisingly clever little actions or bits of dialogue. The movie features a wide cast of unique and interesting characters. In the middle, Neeson is missing for large periods of time, but you'll like the others enough that it doesn't matter. The cast is great all across the board. There are just too many great performances to all individually focus on. Though particular notice should be given to Murder on the Orient Express' Tom Bateman, who always steals the scene as as an odbball control freak/vegan mob boss, and Tom Jackson as a contrasting mob boss in a more controlled, but emotional performance.

Film looks great. The movie mostly takes place in a snowy Colorado resort town and the parts out in nature are just breathtaking. There is a particular repeated visual throughout this movie that is really clever and ties the whole thing together. The movie also has great filming locations; some really eye-catching buildings here.

Biggest weak point is that running at almost 2 hrs. the movie is longer than it needed to be. Some of the moments feel a little too movie-ish and unnatural. Good thing is that Neeson does the same angry but measured tough guy routine that he does so well. Bad thing is that it's the exact same routine he has does several times.

As I said, this is like Fargo. If you don't want things getting too dark, this isn't for you. But if you want something Cohen Brothers/Tarantinoesque than you'll probably like this.
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Not quite the first, but still pretty dang good
10 February 2019
Though it's not quite as good as the its predecessor, Lego Movie 2: the Second Part is a very enjoyable film. I'd put it in a tie with Lego Batman for the second best installment in the franchise.

This is a natural progression from the first one as we see LEGOs go against DUPLO and the girl audience-style LEGOs. Considering that they're the two other biggest brands of LEGOs, it just makes sense. It is also an interesting viewpoint on conflicting styles on imagination based on age and gender.

Though you couldn't really top the surprising twist from the first film, this one does contain a couple pretty effective reveals which like the first really support the emotional beats of the film.

LM2 is also a bit of a light musical. Due to the success of "Everything is Awesome," they added on the songs here and they work pretty well. The two best musical numbers hands down go to the ones sung by Tiffany Haddish's Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi. The comedian/actress is a surprisingly good singer. The songs are even catchier than the "Catchy Song," which was the movie's attempt to match "EiA." (I mean it's catchy but only short-term catchy.)

The movie looks great. The new universe of the Systar System is really well designed and colorful. The scenes that take place in the "other dimenson" are really well lit and have a very 80's/90's feel to them. The constantly shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi is an impressive bit of animation. (Though it still doesn't match the amount of effort that went into the form-changing Greedy scene from Raggedy Ann & Andy: a Musical Adventure. Check it out, it's really impressive.)

As mentioned, this doesn't quite match the first, which in fairness is a high bar to reach considering how everything worked almost flawlessly. There are many funny jokes here, but not the rapid succession that were in the first. Pacing isn't as fluid either. The likes of Benny, Ultrakitty, and Metalbeard are present throughout and have some nice lines, but they really don't contribute much. Basically, the writers were trying to include the whole cast, but since they were telling a more personal story between leads Emmett and Wildfire, they didn't seem to know what to do with everyone else.

Nitpicks aside this is a film that I think the whole family will like.
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A fun follow-up to the show and a change of formula
7 February 2019
Back in the 80's there was a short-lived Scooby-Doo show called "The Thirteen Ghosts of Scooby-Doo," in which the titular dog and friends hunted down thirteen evil apparitions that had escaped a magic chest. The show differentiated itself from other installments by being more humor-oriented and breaking the fourth wall, outfit changes, and new characters young con-artist Flim Flam and warlock Vincent Van Ghoul, voiced by the late great Vincent Price. Though short lived and not the best remembered show it has its fans. In a ranking of SD shows, this'd probably be in the middle.

Thing is: the show ended with only 11 ghosts being captured. Well someone at Warner Bros. Animation must be fond of this. Besides references to Flim Flam and Van Ghoul, we now, approximately 30 years, later have a conclusion to the show where the Scooby gang hunts down the final ghost. (Sort of a conclusion anyway. It's in its own continuity.) I was entertained and thought it was one of the better recent Scooby-Doo movies.

The creators were clearly having fun with this. The movie remains upbeat and there are a couple of pretty humorous lines. Fred and Velma weren't in the original show, so the film really runs with them trying to wrap their heads around the off-formula goings-ons of the whole thing. Daphne was the leader in the show, and she resumes it here. She does a good job in the lead having a sort of determined ability to roll with all the punches. Van Ghoul, who could've been a sixth-wheel to the group, surprisingly fits in. He has sort of a campy melodramatic backstory and resoluteness to himself that just works. Plus I love his childish obsession with bad horror puns.

The movie does lose some steam by the middle and the ending is a little underwhelming. Plus, the gang has a crisis at the beginning that isn't properly resolved. The movie stays within the tone of the recent SB made-for-DVD movies and not the show so not fourth-wall breaking jokes or Scrappy-Doo. Personally, I haven't liked Scooby's nephew, even when I was a kid, but I can see how fans of Scrappy would be upset that they do so much now-a-days to throw Scrappy to the side.

Animation remains bright and colorful with strong line work. There is one flashback scene that is really well animated. However, some of the action scenes seem a little weak compared to past movies. There are several nods to the unique looks of the characters during the 13 Ghosts. Though Daphne's hair and outfit and the Mystery Machine's appearance were too dated to use, we do get some impressive updates with Daphne in a leather jacket and the Mystery Machine designed to be more of a sleeker high-tech van.

Overall, your kids probably won't care about the backstory and this is self-contained enough that they won't be bothered. I think they'll like Vincent's puns.
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One of the better installments
6 February 2019
I've always been a fan of the Mega Man games. As much as I liked the last two installments, especially 10, I was disappointed with the 8-bit retro look. I wanted to see how the latest graphics portrayed Mega Man, and I was finally rewarded. Got to say that Mega Man 11 is one of my favorites in the series.

Story- Like most Mega Man games, the plot is pretty basic and doesn't matter that much. However, this is actually one of the more fleshed out ones. For the first time, we see into the past and origins of the rift between Mega Man's creator Dr. Light and the villainous Dr. Wily. It's a refreshingly unexpected bit of backstory.

Gameplay- So glad they brought back the power-up shot and slide abilities this time around. The newest thing about this game is the gear system, and it really adds something. The power gear allows you to increase your strength, including boss weapons, while the speed gear lets you slow everything around you. However, the abilities work for a limited time. Since a lot of this games works around having to slow things down, you probably won't be using the power gear that much except for boss battles. That having been said, the speed-based challenges are a real nice change of pace.

The robot master powers like in most MM games are a mixed back, some like the acid weapon, which is hard to work, aren't very useful, while others, like the wide range bounce and tundra abilities, will become your constant companions. I wished they'd done more with Rush the robot dog. We just get his two most common abilities, spring and jet, and nothing new. On the plus side, you get to use specific buttons to summon him rather than having to select him from the robot master powers.

They really updated the shop to fit the modern times. Used to be you could only get a few special items. Now you can really level Mega man up as the game progresses.

Like most Mega Man games, this is a short one. The levels are longer than past installments, I'll give MM11 that. Still, I missed the past games' attempts to evolve the challenges. There aren't any hidden items or paths you can search for. There aren't any attempts to add more levels than the robot master stages and Skull Castle, like MM3-MM6 and Mega Man & Bass did. I know it's a classic Mega Man feel, but I miss the ambition.

This can be one of the easiest or hardest Mega Man games in the series depending on the difficulty level. Some challenges are really, really hard. Since I was playing on the easiest level, I had unlimited lives and couldn't be killed by spikes or pits. I know this seems like no challenge at all, but I was still frustrated by parts. I fell into a pit a dozen times in the Block Man stage and the jumping mechanics in the Bounce Man stage are really frustrating.

Appearance- What I liked about Mega Man 7 and 8 is that they really upped the style. I was happy to see the natural progression in this game. These may be the best looking stages. The backgrounds have this cartoonish fun you don't see that often anymore and are just so detailed and fun. Be sure to check out the Blast Man stage, which is a blown up amusement park, and the Torch Man stage, which is a campground.

Instead of Mega Man just switching colors when he changes weapons, he'll switch between different looking helmets, and he looks a whole lot better for it.

Music/voice acting- Though I wouldn't say it's memorable, the music was good and keeps up the feel of past games. Voice acting is probably the most prolific here and definitely better than Mega Man 8, but that wasn't very hard to do considering how bad the VA was back then.

Conclusion- Okay, this doesn't do that much differently than the other games, but the gear system does make this a lot of fun to play.
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Interesting, but could have been more compact
3 February 2019
Netflix original Velvet Buzzsaw is an interesting combination of a supernatural horror movie and a biting critique of the business side of the art world. In it, an employee of an art studio finds out her recently deceased neighbor had tons of paintings in his apartment. There's a lot of publicity in an unknown artist who only becomes famous after death and the studio starts selling his work. Soon terrible fates fall upon those involved. Overall, I found this to be an interesting film that could've been better if the run time was cut down a bit.

I've got no complaints on the horror aspect. The deadly curse mostly operates through works of art. There are some of the most visually impressive and creative deaths I have seen in a while. The background of the artist, though maybe not the most original backstory, also manages.

The art world side however is hit and miss. The unscrupulous side of the business is interesting and at times the script and dialogue work. However, other parts are rather dry and at times dull. The film is longer and has more cast members than needed.

Director/writer Dan Gilroy, who also did Nightcrawler, has a pretty good sense of style, especially the aforementioned killings. The movie even has the dying breed that is the opening credits sequence. However, some parts don't quite work. In fairness, I think the film may have been hampered by the budget a little. (I think the brunt of the money went into getting Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo, Toni Colette, and John Malkovich.) The lighting is lifeless and there is a a segue involving a champagne glass that seems unnecessary and poorly edited and rendered.

Good cast. Gylenhaal, the lead, proves he has versatility by doing a swell job as a cynical, effete art critic.

I feel the choice of recommending this or not is difficult. This movie's mixing of genres makes it a rather subjective affair.
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Rent: Live (2019 TV Movie)
Fine presentation
1 February 2019
This is a television live broadcast performance of the popular stage musical, which was itself based on the opera La Boheme. Although made in the 90's, much of the musical's subjects remain pretty topical.

To be honest, this was only partially live for those who watched it the night of. Actor Brennin Hunt hurt his leg during the rehearsal. Luckily, it was filmed before a live audience, so this was a mix of pre-filmed and live performances. Still, if you're watching this by now, it probably doesn't matter.

Liked the cast here. Not arguing that they were better or worse than the originals, just saying I liked them all. Not a weak singer in the bunch. Nice to see Jordan Fisher in the lead. He's been a supporting player in a lot of stuff, and considering that he's personable and a good singer, it's nice to see him finally get his due.

This doesn't include ambitiously sprawling sets seen in recent TV musicals, but this isn't a simple one set. This takes place in a large warehouse-type that has room for large semi-interconnected scenery and a full audience surrounding. We also see them do a couple stunts that were a little neat. The whole thing is pretty impressive.

Thismhas a fine selection of songs, though personally I think a lot of them are the type you like but aren't catchy enough that you're singing them later. This is one of those operatic-style affairs that are mostly singing with little spoken dialogue. I appreciate the effort that goes into that amount of song work.

Overall, this was a very impressive and moving adaptation.
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The Good Place: Pandemonium (2019)
Season 3, Episode 12
Good finale
28 January 2019
Not the biggest joke-wise, but a surprising and pretty touching ending.
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Definitely one of the better entries in the series
21 January 2019
This film follow-up to the recent anime show Dragon Ball Super features the first in-canon introduction of the character Broly. Back during the run of the show's predecessor Dragon Ball Z, there were multiple movies with their own villains. The most popular one was Broly, a guy from the same alien race as main character Goku. However, the movies really didn't quite fit within the continuity of the show. Now, this film written by original creator Akira Toriyama, officially brings Broly into the universe.

I rather enjoyed this one and think it's one of the strongest films in the franchise. This is the third of the recent Dragon Ball revival films. The first was big on story and low on action, the second was big on action and low on story, and this one finally finds a good balance, literally. The film is exactly 50% story followed by 50% action. This is definitely better than the second one. The first one has the better story but this one has the better action.

This movie probably has more story than other many other DB movies and it pays off. The script actually improves upon Broly and his father Paragus. Originally Broly was practically a personality-less berserker who had the weak origin of hating Goku because his crying kept him awake when they were infants. Here Broly is a tragic/sympathetic character with a more fleshed-out backstory. Paragus while still more of a traditional villain does have reasonable motivations for his actions.

The movie officially tells the tale of the destruction of Goku and Broly's home planet Vegeta and of Goku's parentage and its all done pretty creatively. Toriyama has always been very imaginative and his vision of outer space is very unique.

The only issue is that this is mostly a Broly story. Goku and Vegeta (not the planet but another member of their race; confusing ain't it?) are kind of supporting characters and only a handful of other cast members from the series show up. Still, I appreciated the film making us care for this villain who drops into the characters' lives from out of the blue. DB's best know villain Freeza does feature a lot. Instead of being the main physical threat here, he has realized he can't currently physically defeat, so he slimily tries to manipulate events and it actually builds upon his character. Freeze is more interesting here as a supporting villain than he was in the last movie where he was the main one.

The movie is also fairly funny and quirky. However, Freeza's plans for obtaining the wish-granting dragon balls here, which funny, is basically the exact same joke used in the villain's motivations in the Red Ribbon Army arc in the original Dragon Ball. (I've read that Toriyama has a bit of a bad memory when it comes to his own work.)

Plot has a couple other nitpicks: The ending is a little fast and too telegraphed. Also, you get tired real quick of Broly's new ally Cheelai constantly repeating why we should feel bad for him.

But enough about the story. What about what Dragon Ball is most known for?: The action. This may very well have best action scene in the entire film series or animated films in general. The main fight in the second half is intense as all get out. I mean it truly gets epic. Puts many previous DB fights to shame. Thid movie doesn't have the biggest budget, but the animators really put their all into it.

Speaking of the animation, the whole thing is really colorful and unique to look at. The music during the fight scene really builds upon the mood.

If you're a fan of DB, you're sure to love it. I saw audience members in the theater applaud this. If you're not familiar, well this is a long series and may be difficult to get into. However, if you like action and are okay with watching stuff out of continuity, then you may want to try this out.
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Glass (2019)
Well, I was really entertained
20 January 2019
From what I hear, this is one of those really polarizing movies with some people really liking it and some not. I came into Glass a little cautious, but I was surprised to find out how MUCH i liked this.

I just found the whole world of this so fascinating. Some people don't like that a lot of this is talking, but this is an M. Night Shamyalan movie and considering Unbreakable had a lot of talking, I wasn't surprised. (Action fans shouldn't be too worried. There are two major fight scenes, and they are both pretty good, especially the first one.) The whole film focuses on characters like Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) arguing for the existence of real life superheroes and the psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) providing plausible arguments why they don't exist. Yeah, this rehashes concepts from Unbreakable, but I still found the ideas and dialogue to all be really interesting.

There is one thing they do near the end that rubbed me the wrong way, but then they quickly followed up with something I found so satisfying that I quickly forgave.

The third act is a little rushed, including one character's jump to a conclusion a little hard to swallow. Also, some of Mr. Glass' obvious comparisons to comic books sometime feel like Shamyalan is talking down to the audience. Still, it wasn't enough to take me from the film.

Also, this is a serious film but it does have some pretty good funny bits to lighten the mood.

Mr. Glass, the wheelchair-bound genius with brittle bone disease, and the Horde (played by James McAvoy), a serial killer with multiple personalities with different moral leanings, are still fascinating characters. Yeah, they've both done monstrous things and yet the movie still makes you feel for them. Jackson nails every scene, and it's pretty impressive how many characters McAvoy are able to shift between. (However, since they are revealing more personalities here, it seems like McAvoy was running out of ideas for voices.)

Unfortunately, Bruce Willis' superhero David Dunn gets short shrift here. He gets a good introduction, but once the second act kicks in they do very little with him, and I felt like the ending didn't do him justice.

Heard a lot of people complain about the psychiatrist being too talky, but I didn't see any issues. I liked that she didn't fall into frustrating movie psychiatrist tropes, by being well-meaning but totally incompetent and clueless or being an uncaring jerk. All three of the exceptional people have a supporting character on the outside who all really work well and again the actors do great work.

Say what you will about Shamyalan's writing style, but he has an excellent sense of visuals. He really pulls you in, which helped me be less bothered by any little stumbles in the plot. It is so nice to see a director who knows that you can shoot a scene at night and still have color and see what is going on.

I admit that many people could be bothered by the ending more than me. Seeing this could be a gamble, but if you were a fan of Unbreakable and Split, I suggest you take your chances on this.
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Blindspot: The Big Reveal (2019)
Season 4, Episode 10
20 January 2019
Nice to see the Zapata storyline playing out nicely here.

Overall, decent character work even if the main plot here was just okay.
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Replicas (2018)
Excellent premise, lousy execution
12 January 2019
In Replicas, Keanu Reeves is a scientist working for a company in a South American country focusing on cloning and trying to preserve the human mind on a computer. This turns out to be super convenient as the scientist loses his wife and kids in a car crash. Grief-stricken, he clones their bodies and transfers their consciousnesses (as one does). What results is a surprisingly amateurish effort considering the lead.

The dialogue is pretty weak. People do things that don't feel natural. Weirdly enough, the movie explains certain things pretty thoroughly and interestingly, such as the whole lazarus/rebirth process, while other plot points are just revealed abruptly and sloppily.

The acting doesn't help things either. Keanu is on autopilot here. The guy who plays his boss is hit-and-miss. But it's Alice Eve (She's Out of my League; Star Trek into Darkness) who has the worst performance. She acts like an animatronic. (And yes this is even before the cloning. It isn't a something-went-wrong-type situation.) She has two facial expressions: slightly happy and slightly worried. On the plus side, Silicon Valley's Ben Middleditch is the only one who manages to make all the dialogue work. My hat off to him.

It's sad that this movie was botched so badly because the actual general story could have worked. The concepts they explore here are fun and fascinating. A lot of thought did go into how they brought the family back.

To it's credit, the film does look really good. It has excellent color use and picturesque filming locations.

Overall, this is a bad film, but I wouldn't say it was downright painful. I didn't leave regretting having watched it. If you like making fun of bad movies, then you might want to check this out. Otherwise, I can't recommend this.
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Bumblebee (2018)
The Transformers movie we've wanted for quite a while
7 January 2019
Haven't seen the fourth and fifth Transformers, but for me this one beats movies two and three and is rather better than the first Transformers.

Best part is that with Michael Bay no longer directing, Transformers gets the simple things fans have been asking for all this time: stronger story, understandable action scenes, and easier-to-make-out Transformer designs.

The movie takes place in the 80's and it really feels it was made during it too. The movie is just fun and heartfelt. Admittedly since it's about a person who's lost a parent and befriends a non-human being, there are a lot of tropes here. You can easily see where things are going. (Plus there are some annoyingly over-the-top, stereotypical, and super-vicious-for-no-reason mean girls.) Still, the movie works well enough that it didn't matter to me.

Really helps that Hailee Steinfeld is the lead. She's acting on a higher level than you'd expect for a film like this. She nails both the comedy and drama so well. She make scenes where it's just her for a long period of time talking to a giant robot that turns into a car just so natural. John Cena is also pretty funny as the human villain.

As for any downsides, the movie does inherit the Bay curse of weird plot decisions by having one scene where you're wondering "Why on Earth isn't the army supervising this!" You'll know it when you see it. Also, the resolution of Steinfeld's character's conflict with her family is a little unsubstantial.

Especially since this got overshadowed by Mary Poppins and Aquaman, I highly recommend you see this. It is just a good action adventures that's fine for the family. (Plus I want this to do well 'cuz I want a sequel or follow-up.)
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Escape Room (I) (2019)
6 January 2019
Escape Room is about a group of strangers invited to participate in a series of escape rooms (for the unaware: group puzzle-solving activities) only to find out they're deadly. Sure, yeah killer traps and rooms have already been done in previous films, but I appreciate the idea of an escape room in general being used as a force of murder considering how popular they are these days. I wasn't sure how this film would turn out based on the previews, but I was pleased with the final product.

Yeah, the movie has some predictable characters and elements, but this is a very polished film. The script, occasional joke without sabotaging the mood, characters, and general direction are all solid. Great main cast all around, better than expected for movies of this type.

A lot of thought goes into the murder rooms, which are all impressively decorated and designed. They are a little over-the-top, but the film manages to explain how they work practically. The challenges and threats all pan out nicely.

The ending, while I wouldn't say it was bad, wasn't ideal for me. To clarify, I'm talking about the wrap-up after the final fight for survival, which works. 1) This final part breaks the tenuous suspension-of-disbelief as the antagonist or antagonists does/do something that seems impossible to pull off even with his/her/their resources. 2) There is a semi-long tacked-on setup for a possible sequel that seems more at home for a big blockbuster than a horror film.

Also, be forewarned that the reveal of the human face/faces to the antagonist/antagonists is a little underwhelming.

I wouldn't say Escape Room is a must-see, but I do recommend it to any horror fan who wants a good time.
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Doctor Who: Resolution (2019)
Season 11, Episode 11
Strong monster
3 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Although I do think that Daleks should be used sparingly, but I thought this was one of their better appearances. Interesting to see the Dalek without a casing as it's own threat, and the new design was freaky enough. He definitely was a threat here. Also liked the makeshift Dalek casing and the myth-like background.

Thought that Ryan's subplot with his Dad was decent but not standout. Graham again shines here. The guest characters were okay, but I didn't think there was enough time to develop them. The Doctor, however remains funny as ever.
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Aquaman (2018)
Immensely entertaining film!
29 December 2018
Aquaman is the second DCU movie to hit it out of the park. Though, I concede that Wonder Woman still had the stronger story.

The whole thing looks great. The film goes full balls-to-the wall in creating the entire fictional kingdom of Atlantis and several other underwater kingdoms and locations. The whole thing has an 80's fantasy/sci-fi/adventure feel to it. A lot of work went into the details on this. The movie includes one dress and one visual sequence (you'll know it when you see it) that really catch your eye. The fight sequences, including a full-scale battle, really nail it. I also applaud the movie's effort to bring Black Manta and Ocean Master's outfits to life without majorly reworking the designs.

The script does a fair job of balancing drama and comedy. Jason Momoa remains utterly cool and charming as the lead. He and Amber Heard as Mera have good chemistry. Credit should also be given to Patrick Wilson as Ocean Master. He is a complete jerk in this, but you always understand where he is coming from and why he feels justified in what he is doing.

The movie does try to cram in a little too much. We get Aquaman's backstory, Atlantis' surprisingly in-depth backstory, all three of Aquaman's best known villains, and practically every major supporting character except Aqualad. You do tend to get thrown from one scene to the next, and I wished Mera and Aquaman had a little more time to build their relationship. Still, I do give director James Wan credit for trying to get in as much of the Aquaman mythos as possible. There is a lot of thought put into this world. The script is busy, but it isn't confusing or particularly jerky. You are given all the info. needed, and the flashbacks about Aquaman's origin are really well integrated and don't overstay their welcome.
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