Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The ninth installment in the action adventure movie franchise Fast and Furious first started in 2001 and the first spin-off movie, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a surprisingly entertaining action film deriving from a mostly cheesy and popcorn blockbuster movie series and is successfully able to set itself apart as a result of the charismatic rapport between the two main protagonist who themselves have starred in previous Fast and Furious movies. The plot follows the American government secret agent Luke Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson, and his one-time nemesis the British government secret agent Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham, who are forced to team up to fight a vast criminal organization and its new mechanically weaponized soldier Brixton Lore, played by the always terrific Idris Elba. They work with Shaw’s estranged sister Hattie, played by Vanessa Kirby, who is also a British spy falsely suspected of stealing a powerful biological weapon developed by the same evil organization that hired Brixton. All three team up to prevent the use of the deadly weapon known as Snowflake that could kill millions of people around the world. At the same time, they have to fight off the super powerful Brixton that is practically invulnerable because of the technology implanted in his body. Like the previous movies, there are elaborate car chases and spectacular action sequences that make it a typical action movie. The climax of the film takes them to Luke Hobbs’ home country of Samoa where he tries to reconnect with his estranged family in order finally defeat the threat posed by Brixton’s organization. What follows is a explosive battle sequence that involves traditional Samoan weapons instead of the generic gun battle. Overall, I found it to be a slightly more than just your stereotypical action flick that had elements of humanity all created by the terrific chemistry between all of the actors.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Winner of the 2019 South by Southwest Audience Award for a narrative film, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a heartwarming and quite beautiful comedy drama that has the feel of a Mark Twain adventure story that follows an unlikely friendship between two very different protagonists. The movie follows 22-year-old Zak, played by Zach Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome and lives at an elderly nursing home under the tender care of an employee named Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson. Tired of his lack of freedom, Zak, with the help of his elderly roommate played by Bruce Dern, is finally able to escape and go on an adventure throughout North Carolina where he lives. Eventually, he meets a down-on-his-luck fisherman named Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf in one of his best acting performances, who begrudgingly takes Zak on a wild adventure to meet Zak’s wrestling idol who lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Eleanor is desperately trying to find Zak who she worries is all alone and in need of help. Eventually, she finds Zak with Tyler and is convinced to join their journey on their makeshift raft floating in the Outer Banks. Throughout the course of the film, Tyler matures through his developing close relationships with Zak, and they both have wonderfully fun times together and encountering eccentric people, including a blind minister. Overall, I found it to be one of the best movies of the year because of its truly inspiring and uplifting story that is full of genuine love and joy. The filmmakers do an amazing of creating a film that does not take pity on Zak because of his disability but rather uplifts his story to be one of perseverance, courage, and normalcy.

Toy Story 4

The fourth installment in the beloved computer animated Pixar Toy Story series that began with the original released in 1995, Toy Story 4 is a clever and bittersweet follow-up to the widely popular Toy Story franchise and lives up to the other movies that brings back nostalgia for the original characters while also presenting new and fun characters. The movie follows the group of Andy’s toys as they have been the toys for the kindergarten-aged Bonnie for several years, and they face a new challenger for Bonnie’s affection as she heads off to kindergarten. Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks, is still the leader of the toys but has recently been left out as Bonnie decides to play with other toys, including Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Tim Allen. One day at kindergarten orientation, Bonnie makes her own toy made from a spork and other craft supplies and names him Forky, voiced by Tony Hale. Woody encourages Forky who insists he is only trash to stay with Bonnie as her new favorite toy that can help guide her through kindergarten like Woody did for Andy years ago. Struggling to keep Forky with Bonnie, the family goes on a road trip with the toys and a cute and humor-filled adventure begins as Woody encounters new and quite scary toys in a small town antique shop. Always saddened by the loss of the shepherdess Bo Peep, voiced by Annie Potts, Woody discovers a possible clue to finding his love Bo again. However, Woody along with the other toys, including his best friend Buzz Lightyear, face obstacles to returning to Bonnie and finding Bo Peep with the appearance of a devious old doll named Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, and her creepy ventriloquist dummies. My favorite part of the movie is the appearance of the character Duke Caboom, voiced by the perfectly cast Keanu Reeves, who is a Canadian daredevil toy and is a laughably depressed toy because he cannot do as advertised. filmmakers and animators do a brilliant job of realistically recreating an antique shop and carnival to replace Andy’s and Bonnie’s bedrooms as the more expansive settings for the characters’ unique adventures. Overall, I found it to be a charming film that was somehow able to continue the magic and witticism of the original released almost 25 years ago and appeals to both adults and children as a result of its remarkable ability to entertain while also teaching lessons about growing up and loss.

Men in Black: International

The fourth installment in the Men in Black film franchise first started with the release of the original in 1997 with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black: International is an average entertaining summer blockbuster that is not as bad as critics have proclaimed and the strongest asset of the movie is the dynamic chemistry between the two protagonists. A spin-off of the original, the movie follows the young and new female Agent M, played by Tessa Thompson best known for her role in the Creed movies, who becomes a probationary agent after tenaciously trying to find the secret agency following an experience as a young girl. The head of the United States division Agent O, played by Oscar winner Emma Thompson, sends her on a mission to help her colleagues in the London division led by Agent T, played by Oscar nominee Liam Neeson. There, she is teamed up with the popular yet recently reckless Agent H, played by the charismatic Chris Hemsworth, to eventually track down an extremely powerful alien force that could destroy the world. The two agents who have a playful and entertaining rapport find themselves traveling throughout the world, including Marrakesh and Paris, to save humanity and all friendly alien races. They are later joined by a wisecracking small alien creature named Pawny, voiced by the funny comedian Kumail Nanjiani. Along the way, they discover that not everything at the agency is as it appears and several plot twists develop as a result. Like the other installments in the franchise, the movie does a good job of creating fantastical alien creatures that are not scary but rather funny and endearing and are terrifically captured by CGI that has vastly improved over the years since the original. Overall, I found it to be a good movie to pass the time that brings back good memories of the original film and is more entertaining than the critics would have you believe.

Dark Phoenix

The 12th installment in the X-Men movie franchise first started in 2000 and a direct sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix is a remarkably bad superhero comic book film that is very predictable and full of dull moments in which the undoubtedly talented cast give rather lackluster performances. The movie follows the younger version of the X-Men from an alternate reality separate from the original X-Men movies headlined by Patrick Stewart and is set in the year 1992 when the X-Men mutants with extraordinary powers are sent on a rescue mission in space to save NASA astronauts. Primarily focused on the character Jean/Phoenix who has telekinetic powers and is played by Sophie Turner of Game of Thrones fame, the film delves deep into the circumstances of Jean finding herself among the X-Men and her transformation into a much more powerful mutant after being exposed to an extraterrestrial solar flare. She is joined by fellow X-Men led by Charles Xavier, played by Golden Globe nominee James McAvoy, Professor Xavier’s right-hand man Hank/Beast, played by Nicholas Hoult, one of the older X-Men Raven/Mystique, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, Jean’s love interest Scott/Cyclops, played by Tye Sheridan, as well as younger X-Men still learning. Jean becomes a danger to all of her friends as well as the rest of humanity when she absorbs the full power of what we later learn is a super powerful extraterrestrial being that an alien race of shapeshifters are looking for their own benefit. This is alien group is led by Vuk in the form of a female human, played by Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain, who is hell-bent on harnessing Jean’s superpowers. Eventually, the X-Men team up with Charles Xavier’s arch-nemesis Erik/Magneto, played by Oscar nominee Michael Fassbender, whose powers are needed to save and protect Jean from her own power and the aliens who are hunting her down for it. The movie does have several very typical CGI action sequences in which the X-Men use their fantastical strengths, but the scenes in between are rather mundane and lacking in any real emotions for such a character-driven movie. Overall, I was truly surprised by how much of a misfire the movie was for being part of the highly popular superhero genre, and it felt like a truly unnecessary addition to the already expansive X-Men franchise.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The 35th installment in the Godzilla movie franchise first started in 1954 in Japan and the third Godzilla production from a Hollywood studio, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a summer blockbuster that has everything expected from a monster movie, especially a film about the iconic Godzilla, full of spectacle and CGI chaos but light on story despite a stellar cast of well-known talented actors. The movie, which is a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla, follows scientist Dr. Emma Russell, played by Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga, and her daughter Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown best known for her role in the Netflix TV series Stranger Things, who are kidnapped by a shadowy eco-terrorist group led by Alan Jonah, played by the terrifically villainous Charles Dance best known for his role in the HBO TV Series Game of Thrones. Dr. Russell has developed a machine that can attract and control the large God-like monsters known as the Titans that are seen as a threat by governments across the world and are under surveillance and guarded by the secretive zoological organization known as Monarch, which Dr. Russell and her husband Dr. Mark Russell, played by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler, worked for as scientists and researchers. Over the course of the film, several of these Titans are released and inflict widespread destruction with Jonah’s idea that it would restore the Earth’s ecological balance with humans. Monarch tries to track down these monsters and prevent them from causing more chaos. This expansive classified agency is led by an expert team of scientists, including a Japanese scientist and the de facto leader played by Ken Watanabe, a paleozoologist played by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, a technology expert played by Thomas Middleditch best known for his role in the HBO TV series Silicon Valley, and a wisecracking crypto-sonographer played by Bradley Whitford best known for his role in the TV series West Wing. It will surely delight fans of the Japanese kaiju monster genre with the appearance of such iconic large-scale creatures as Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah, and Godzilla. Initially referred to as Monster Zero, Ghidorah is an extremely powerful three-headed monster who acts as Godzilla’s arch rival and is often shown in huge battles with Godzilla over who will be the apex predator. Godzilla becomes a sort of ally of the human race and the Monarch scientists as a result of his ability to defeat the other monsters and restore balance to the planet without further disaster. The best part of the movie is the CGI fight sequences between the humongous creatures as they lay waste to such major cities as Boston, and the filmmakers make the rather unusual decision to have the footage appear darker and granier to perhaps provide a dire atmosphere. Overall, I found it to be a fun and silly entertaining popcorn flick that provides enough monster mayhem to make for a suitable Godzilla film, and it should not be criticized so severely because its overall intention is not to take itself too seriously.

Aladdin

Directed by Guy Ritchie best known for such comedy crime films as 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and 2000’s Snatch, Aladdin is a live-action remake of the classic Disney animated movie released in 1992 that is full of CGI spectacle but does not come close to the original with its remarkable voice acting of Robin Williams. Set in a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom, the story follows the street thief Aladdin, played by Canadian actor of Egyptian ancestry Mena Massoud, who falls in love with the Sultan’s daughter Princess Jasmine, played by English actress of Indian ancestry Naomi Scott. After he is led to a secretive cave by the villainous advisor to the sultan Jafar, played by the Dutch actor of Tunisian ancestry Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin comes into possession of a magical lamp after he steals it from the power-hungry Jafar. Aladdin soon discovers that the lamp contains the powerful and magical Genie, played by a blue colored Will Smith, who enjoys putting on a show and making jokes but also has the ability to grant Aladdin three wishes. However, Will Smith’s character comes off way too silly and does not even come close to replicating the comedic genius of Robin Williams’ Genie. Aladdin decides to use the wishes to better pursue Princess Jasmine as his love interest and one way to do that is to magically become a prince from an unheard-of land. Despite the helpfulness of Genie who is obviously the comic relief of the movie, the situation becomes complicated especially with interference from Jafar who wants to become Sultan by all means. Similar to the original, the movie is filled with sometimes random musical numbers that are not quite as effective as they were in the animated version. Overall, I found it a mildly entertaining film that does a good job of creating a fantastical world while also importantly using a cast largely composed of actors of Middle Eastern descent, but it also beg the questions of why did the classic animated feature need to be remade and whether Guy Ritchie and Will Smith were the right fit for this particular movie.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Based on the internationally popular Japanese fantasy video game and television franchise Pokémon first created in 1995 and the 2016 video game also named Detective Pikachu, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a light-hearted and cute family film that will surely delight fans of Pokémon while also appealing to other audiences looking for silly and funny entertainment. It takes place in a fantastical world where Pokémon, adorable creatures with special powers, and humans live together in which most everybody has a Pokémon companion. The movie follows a young insurance salesman named Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith, who always had the dream of becoming a trainer for Pokémon to fight in battle against other Pokémon. When he learns that his estranged father who is a well-respected detective has disappeared, Tim finds himself in Ryme City where humans and Pokémon live harmoniously together to gather his father’s belongings but eventually is caught up in a mystery to discover what really happened to his father. Unexpectedly, a talking Pikachu Pokémon, voiced by the perfectly casted Ryan Reynolds, appears to Tim at his father’s apartment, and the bewildered Tim discovers that the very sassy Pikachu is his father’s partner. The rest of the film takes the audience on a colorful adventure where we meet a wide variety of Pokémon and evolves into a fairly funny movie with the comedic witticisms of Ryan Reynolds’ Pikachu character. The duo meet up with a young intern hoping to be a reporter named Lucy Stevens, played by Kathryn Newton, who helps them progress in their investigation of Tim’s father’s disappearance. The case leads them to a mysterious scientific lab run by a company owned by the wealthy founder of Ryme City named Howard Clifford, played by Bill Nighy. Overall, I found it to be a surprisingly entertaining and charming movie as a result of the wisecracking Ryan Reynolds performance and the whimsical world of Pokémon enhanced by fantastical CGI.

Avengers: Endgame

The twenty-second installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that first began in 2008 with Iron Man and the final film in Marvel’s so-called Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame is a terrific superhero movie that is both epic in scope and full of bittersweet emotions in which the audience feels a deep connection to the characters that have been part of Hollywood for over a decade. It follows the previous Avengers film in which the supervillain Thanos has vanquished half of the world’s population as well as half of the Avengers after he gains possession of the six Infinity Stones. Having the feel of a drama about losing loved ones, the majority of the first half of the film shows the comic book heroes in great despair and feeling hopeless in bringing back those who have vanished. Eventually, the surviving Avengers that include Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, War Machine, and Rocket devise a plan involving time travel to rescue the other Avengers and the millions of people lost. Although it does include the typical CGI-enhanced action sequences, the movie, unlike the rest of the franchise, is a very personal one in which all of our favorite characters are reunited and give very real human emotions as they cope with grief. At first blush, the three-hour runtime seems like it would be excessive, but the filmmakers are able to craft a very entertaining and sentimental movie that has just the right amount of time to explore some of the most memorable superheroes in what perhaps will be their last appearance together. Also, it does not always take itself too seriously by including some rather hilarious and fun moments that is reminiscent of some of the more comedic installments such as Guardians of the Galaxy. Overall, I found it to be a quite surprisingly heartfelt and emotionally powerful film that is very much a welcome relief from the stereotypical superhero comic book movies produced by Marvel, while also including elements of action and entertainment that has made the films so popular.

Shazam!

The seventh installment in the DC Extended Universe comic book superhero movie series, Shazam! is a wildly entertaining and sometimes quite funny superhero film that refreshingly takes a less serious step back from the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe and the rather disappointing movies in the DC franchise. We first meet an awkward young teenager named Thaddeus Sivana in the 1970s who is magically teleported to the so-called Rock of Eternity where he is greeted by a mysterious wizard named Shazam, played by Djimon Hounsou, who tells him that he could have his powers if he is a truly good person. The movie flashes forward to present day with the now power-hungry Thaddeus, played by the conniving Mark Strong, searching for a way to return to Shazam and steal the evil powers also contained at the Rock of Eternity. Eventually, he is able to get the powers and thereby becomes a supervillain intent on using his superpowers to enrich himself and get revenge for being bullied by his family. Meanwhile, we meet the young teenage orphan Billy Batson, played by Asher Angel, moving into a new group home with the very kind Vasquez foster parents who also are fostering five other kids. He is a troublemaker who has been searching for years for his real mother and does not want to be with this new family in Philadelphia. However, Billy’s life changes dramatically after he is transported to the Rock of Eternity where he accepts the powers imbued by the aging Shazam. When he returns to the real world, he discovers that he is a superhero in the body of an adult, played by Zachary Levi. He tries to figure out in several entertaining scenes what exactly are his superpowers with the help of his disabled foster brother Freddy, played by the funny Jack Dylan Grazer, who is a comic book nerd. Throughout the beginning of the movie until the middle, the movie shows Billy and the often bullied Freddy having fun and enjoying the fame associated with Billy’s new superhero adult alter ego who can be summoned by just saying the word Shazam. But, towards the end, the story follows a more typical superhero movie route by having Billy’s superhero body being forced to fight against the supervillain Thaddeus who has equally dangerous superpowers. Overall, I have not had as much fun in a while at a superhero movie as I did watching this very entertaining film that is made special by the charismatic performances and the hilarious childlike antics of what a kid with superpowers would really do as a superhero.