The final installment in the nine-part Skywalker saga of the Star Wars movie franchise that has spanned over four decades beginning with Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, although definitely not the best film in the series, is a suitably entertaining movie that will appeal to Star Wars fans for its attempt to wrap up all of the many different character narratives and also will attract casual viewers looking for a CGI space epic. The movie takes place in the midst of the Resistance against the First Order led by a mysterious leader that may be recognizable from the previous films, as well as the increasingly powerful Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver. The characters that we have come to know over the previous two movies return as they are shown strategizing and bringing the fight to finally take down the even more malevolent First Order. General Leia Organa, played by the late great Carrie Fisher, is still the beloved leader of the Resistance along with the more symbolic leader Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who finally masters the Jedi Force. Rey again teams up with the X-wing fighter pilot Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, and the former Stormtrooper Finn, played by John Boyega, to discover the whereabouts of the true evil overlord behind Kylo Ren who has one last major weapon that could destroy the Resistance and its supporters for good. Of course, a Star Wars movie would not be the same without the sidekicks Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 who appear as members of this desperate mission. In order to please Star Wars fanatics, the film effectively uses the tropes of a Star Wars movie by including spectacular sci-fi action in space and on strange planets, showing the return of some of the more unique creatures, and finally answering such questions as who Rey’s parents are and who is really commanding the First Order. This final installment could have been one of the greatest if it was not for the feeling the filmmakers were rushing to find a way to conclude the long-running series that would give fans a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker narrative arc. Yes, there are some emotional moments of the film, including the complex relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren in addition to a proper farewell to Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. The filmmakers did an excellent job of bringing Princess Leia back by using unused footage from the previous films that were filmed before Carrie Fisher’s death in 2016; the reappearance of such a beloved character made her scenes the most meaningful and sentimental parts of the movie. Overall, I found it to be a good continuation of the global phenomenon that is Star Wars by trying to tie up the loose ends of such a large cinematic universe developed over several decades, but it still did not live up to the very high standards of the first Star Wars movies made in the 1970s and 1980s.
The sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle that is a reboot of the 1995 movie Jumanji starring Robin Williams, Jumanji: The Next Level is a very entertaining and fun adventure movie that relies on recapturing the magic of the 2017 version of the Jumanji franchise, with its creative plot and funny characters. Like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the same group of now college-age students find themselves sucked into the video game Jumanji after realizing that the nerd in the group Spencer has possibly entered the game by himself. However, some of the characters become different avatars in the video game, as well as the addition of two new characters of Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, played by Danny DeVito, and Eddie’s old friend Milo, played by Danny Glover. Due to all of their hilarious surprise, the grumpy Eddie becomes the strong archaeologist and explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson, the slow talking Milo becomes the scrawny and squeamish zoologist and weapons valet Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by the hyperactive comedian Kevin Hart, the popular jock “Fridge” becomes the obese middle-aged archaeologist and cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, hilariously played by Jack Black, and the shy unpopular girl Martha remains the attractive commando and martial artist Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan. While searching for Spencer in the Jumanji world, they are given a new mission that must be completed to return to the real world: retrieve the Falcon’s Heart jewel from the powerful villain Jurgen the Brutal, played by Rory McCann best known as The Hound in the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Eventually, the very mismatched group reunite with the beautiful popular girl Bethany who was left behind but found her way back into the game as a horse named Cyclone with help from the pilot and adventurer Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, played by Nick Jonas. They also finally discover Spencer as a new and rather unexpected avatar and says he wanted to re-enter Jumanji because he feels out of place in the real world and estranged from his friends, especially Martha after they started a long-distance romantic relationship. Extremely similar to the previous installment, the film uses the effectively fun formula of creating eccentric characters who find themselves in rather hilarious situations dealing with their new bodies as they embark on a dangerous adventure. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining blockbuster movie that may have recycled the same premise as the previous movie but did so in a way that did not lessen the audience’s enjoyment and was helped by the addition of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover.
Directed by Danny Boyle who won the Academy Award for Best Director for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, Yesterday is a very clever and endearing romantic comedy that is remarkable for its extremely creative story in which the protagonist is the only person in the world who has heard of The Beatles after a freak accident. We first meet Jack Malik, played by the talented British actor Himesh Patel best known for his role on the BBC television show EastEnders, struggling to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a successful singer-songwriter but is always encouraged by his childhood friend and manager Ellie, played by Lily James best known for her role on Downton Abbey. While riding a bicycle in his small seaside English town one night, he is involved in a freak accident after a mysterious worldwide power outage and soon discovers after playing a Beatles song to his friends that no one in the world has ever heard of The Beatles, it is as if they never existed. He decides to record as many of The Beatles songs that he can remember and pass them off as his own works, which eventually makes him a major musical star after he catches the attention of singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, played by himself. Over the course of the movie, Jack embarks on a whirlwind and quite entertaining journey to worldwide fame, all set to the greatest hits of The Beatles sung in a different way by the actor himself. However, his recording and tour schedule strictly dictated by his new Los Angeles recording agent Debra, played by Kate McKinnon, pushes him away from his beloved friend and secret love Ellie. Besides the wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack, the film has several moments of humor, including the overall premise of the plot and additional parts of our daily lives that also magically disappeared, as well as the buffoonery yet sweet nature of his roadie and sometimes assistant Rocky, played by the very funny British actor Joel Fry. After his experiences with the glamorous lifestyle of the famous, Jack gradually comes back down to earth, and the film becomes more of a romance after he realizes that he missed out on his chance for true love with Ellie and dedicates the rest of the movie to trying to win her back. Overall, I found it to be a light-hearted and joyful cinematic experience that has truly one of the more innovative and unique storylines and is perfectly set to everyone’s favorite Beatles songs.
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.
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.
Directed by Tim Burton and a live remake of the original 1941 Disney animated film, Dumbo is a visually arresting movie that attempts to recreate the magic of the original beloved classic but ultimately fails to provide the expected high-flying inspiring emotions. Set in 1919 America, the film begins when we meet a soldier returning from World War I named Holt Farrier, played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell, to the Medici Brothers’ Circus where he was employed in a horse show and is reunited with his two kids who just recently lost their mother and his wife. The owner and operator of the circus Max Medici, played by Golden Globe winner Danny DeVito, knows that his circus is in financial distress so he takes a gamble in purchasing a pregnant elephant named Jumbo. After the aging elephant gives birth to a baby elephant with abnormally large ears and is made fun of and called Dumbo, Medici tries to get rid of both elephants. However, Holt’s children Milly, played by newcomer Nico Parker, and Joe, played by Finley Hobbins, become attached to the mother elephant and her son and quickly discover Dumbo is very special because he can fly. Eventually, Medici discovers his baby elephant’s potential to make money and decides to sell Dumbo and the entire circus to V. A. Vandevere, the slick owner of a amusement park known as Dreamland and is played by Oscar nominee Michael Keaton. Also deep in financial troubles and trying to get financing from a New York banker who is played by Oscar winner Alan Arkin, the amusement park owner is desperate and cuts all corners in order to make money off of Dumbo and separating him from his mother to avoid a distraction. He even asks his prized trapeze artist Colette Marchant, played by Golden Globe nominee Eva Green, to join a very risky trick with Dumbo using his ability to fly. Towards the end of the movie, things go very badly for the villainous Vandevere and a plan is hatched by the members of the Medici Brothers’ Circus to rescue Dumbo and his mother. Where the loosely adapted story of the animated film is lacking, Tim Burton’s unique visual vision is brilliantly able to recreate a glossy circus and amusement park from a vintage era in which showmanship was essential. Overall, the highly anticipated movie fell short of expectations and puts into question Disney’s money-making strategy of sometimes unnecessarily remaking their animated classic catalog into live action movies.
Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson best known for the 2011 comedy A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, Isn’t It Romantic is a very creative romantic comedy that satirizes the genre itself and is helped by a well-written script and a charismatic performance given by comedic actress Rebel Wilson. The story follows an Australian architect living in New York City named Natalie, played by Rebel Wilson who is best known for her role in the Pitch Perfect film series, who is disappointed in her life as a disrespected architect and tells her assistant Whitney, played by Betty Gilpin, how much she despises romantic comedies as unrealistic. However, she does not realize that her best male friend Josh, played by Adam DeVine who is often in movies with Rebel Wilson, actually likes her more than just a friend. Her life changes after she hits her head in the subway and wakes up to the realization that she is in a PG-13 romantic comedy in which life seems perfect. Horrified by the prospect of being stuck in such an fake world, Natalie believes the only way to escape this alternate reality is to fall in love just like in a romantic comedy. A very handsome and wealthy Australian man who was a mean client in the real world named Blake, played by Liam Hemsworth, begins to fall in love with Natalie and treats her like a princess stereotypical of a romantic comedy. There are several scenes which are highly effective in making fun of romantic comedies, especially a sequence in which you wakes up in the morning with Blake but never experiences the sex because it is a PG-13 romantic comedy world. Also bizarrely, her best friend Josh begins a whirlwind romance with a beautiful supermodel named Isabella, played by Priyanka Chopra. With their quick engagement, Natalie realizes that she may in fact be in love with Josh even in the real world and sees that he has affection for her too. The major theme that comes across eventually is that Natalie must love herself in order to live in an enjoyable life. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining light-hearted film that uses the innovative twist of poking fun at romantic comedies to craft a wholly unique comedy headlined by the perfectly comedic Rebel Wilson.
Written and directed by British filmmaker Joe Cornish best known for 2011’s sci-fi movie Attack the Block, The Kid Who Would Be King is a surprisingly well-done and fun family-friendly adventure film with a very creative take on the iconic British legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The film follows a young teenager named Alex, played by newcomer Louis Ashbourne Serkis, living in London who leads a fairly typical adolescent life until one day he discovers the magical sword Excalibur previously possessed by the legendary Arthur. Along with his bullied best friend Bedders, Alex is unwittingly tasked with saving England by fighting off the magical evil force of Morgana, played by Rebecca Ferguson, who is the half sister of King Arthur and the mortal enemy of the wizard Merlin. With the discovery of Excalibur, she and her magical zombie army are awakened from the depths of Earth after a centuries-old spell to avenge Arthur’s curse and destroy Great Britain during a solar eclipse. The fatherless Alex is told this unbelievable story and how he is a descendant of the great King Arthur from the famed wizard Merlin who is disguised as a older teenage student, played by the film’s comic relief Angus Imrie. When he is not trying to blend into modern-day England, Merlin appears either as an owl or an older man, played by the great Patrick Stewart. Eventually, Alex and his best friend are reluctantly partnered with the school bullies Lance and his girlfriend Kaye to go on a perilous journey to locate and kill Morgana. In the process, the four of them learn moral lessons to overcome their challenges with each other to become lifelong friends despite being enemies prior to their quest. Overall, although it is definitely geared to be a wholesome family movie, I was pleasantly surprised to discover it to be a terrifically entertaining adventure story also appealing to adults looking for a fun time at the movies.
The sixth installment in the DC Extended Universe comic book movie franchise first started in 2013 with Man of Steel, Aquaman is yet another superhero movie that is stuffed with an overabundance of CGI but slightly departs from the many others by embracing the fun and silliness of the genre. The movie begins in 1985 on the remote coast of Maine when the lighthouse keeper Thomas Curry rescues the mysterious Atlanna, played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, who is discovered to be the underwater princess of the mythical world of Atlantis. They have a child together named Arthur, but Atlanna is forced to leave her family to return to her father who is the king of Atlantis. As he grows up with his father and is occasionally trained by an advisor of Atlantis named Vulko, played by Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, Arthur, played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, learns he has great superpowers as a half-Atlantean who can swim fast underwater without having to breathe air. At this point, the movie follows the typical formula of a superhero origin story in which the protagonist plays with his newfound powers and eventually discovers he could use his very special skills for good by saving sailors and fishermen. Aquaman, which becomes Arthur’s superhero alter-ego, enjoys a relatively peaceful life on the surface world until his half-brother Orm, played by Golden Globe nominee Patrick Wilson, sees him as a threat to his legitimate claim to the throne of Atlantis. Orm has a stereotypically villainous plan to overtake rulership of all the seven underwater kingdoms by starting a war with the surface world and humans who are polluting the oceans. Over time, Aquaman is joined by the beautiful Atlantean Mera, played by Amber Heard, who is originally betrothed to Orm by one of the other rulers who happens to be her father, played by Dolph Lundgren. Over the course of the spectacular and quite frankly over-the-top underwater CGI sequences, Aquaman along with his new love interest Mera fight to save both the underwater and surface worlds from the destructive designs of his half-brother. In addition to the surrealistic visuals in which sea creatures come to life, the script, with its self-referential humor and quite silly jokes, lends the movie a certain quality of not taking itself too seriously and thereby promoting the inherent ridiculousness of the story. This aspect of purposely pointing out the ludicrous nature of what takes place on screen helps the movie overcome simply being just another bad attempt at exploiting the superhero genre to make a boatload of cash. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining film that, despite its generic stereotypes, makes for an enjoyable distraction from reality, led by a charismatic actor who truly looks the part of Aquaman.
Co-written and produced by legendary filmmaker Peter Jackson who is best known for directing the massively popular and acclaimed Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series, Mortal Engines is a visually arresting and creative blockbuster movie that follows in the long line of post-apocalyptic films based on young adult fiction, but, ultimately, the weak script filled with plot holes and devoid of truly compelling characters is a recipe for a massive flop. Based on the Mortal Engines novel quartet written by Philip Reeve beginning in 2001, the plot revolves around the young revolutionary Hester Shaw, played by Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in which most of humanity lives on massive mobile cities that rove the so-called Great Hunting Ground and must take over smaller settlements on wheels in order for the larger communities such as London to survive. The visuals very much reminded me of the Mad Max movies in which elaborate machines built from a hodgepodge of antiquated technology move across desolate and immense landscapes. The protagonist Hester is on a revenge mission to kill one of London’s leaders named Thaddeus Valentine, played by the only recognizable actor Hugo Weaving, who was responsible for her mother’s death years ago. At the same time, she sympathizes with the opposition Anti-Traction League whose people live on static settlements behind the Shield Wall in what used to be Asia. Rather stereotypically in movies in this genre, the young heroine must fight off evil forces who pose an existential threat to the good guys. The secretly malevolent Valentine whose own daughter Katherine does not really know his intentions is in search of Old-Tech weapons that can wipe out the Anti-Tractionists living beyond the previously impenetrable Shield Wall. Eventually, Hester along with an apprentice historian from London named Tom, played by Irish actor Robert Sheehan, team up with a revolutionary leader named Anna Fang, played by South Korean musician and actress Jihae, who pilots a fantastical aircraft. There are several other subplots involving formulaic romances and unusual guardians that, rather than adding to the story, bogs down the already messy storyline. Overall, it is a rather large disappointment for a Peter Jackson-produced fantasy movie that relies too heavily on elaborate CGI, which are rather spectacular and unique even for the genre, and whose creative imagery and premise is not done any justice by the overall poor quality of the story and acting.