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THE MONKEY KING (2023) review

August 30, 2023


written by: Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman and Rita Hsiao
produced by: Peilin Chou
directed by: Anthony Stacchi
rated: PG (for action/violence and brief thematic material)
runtime: 96 min.
U.S. release date: August 18, 2023 (Netflix)


Based on the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, the computer-animated feature “The Monkey King” offers an update to a tale that will be familiar to a select few, but serve as a gateway into such folklore for most. Considering the name of that novel doesn’t really come into play until the very end, the frenetic and funny iteration that director Anthony Stacchi (“The Boxtrolls” and “Open Season”) is clearly designed to be an introductory story for viewers. That’s totally fine if you know next to nothing about the legend, but the story doesn’t stray too far from typical origin tropes that you’d find from the fantasy genre, leaving very little originality to take in. It feels like what is presented is set-up for future adventures, that seems unlikely to happen. Read more…

BLUE BEETLE (2023) review

August 22, 2023


written by: Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer
produced by: John Rickard and Zev Foreman
directed by: Ángel Manuel Soto
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence, language, and some suggestive references)
runtime: 127 min.
U.S. release date: August 18, 2023


If it wasn’t for all these other superhero movies, “Blue Beetle” would be a safe bet in adding something different to a genre that’s gotten quite crowded in recent years. Since only die-hard DC comics fans of a certain age actually know what the Blue Beetle character is (not who, mind you, since their have been more than a couple characters who’ve donned the title), there’s a lot of freedom in bringing him to the big-screen. Most moviegoers won’t even realize that this is a DC property. That can be a good thing and it also could hinder audience draw. After all, when it comes to putting butts in seats, viewers run to what they know. Read more…


August 6, 2023


written by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Jeff Rowe, Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit
produced by: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Weaver
directed by: Jeffrey Rowe
rated: PG (for sequences of violence and action, language and impolite material)
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: August 2, 2023 (theatrical) and September 1, 2023 (VOD)


It appears that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are timeless, having been in pop culture in some iteration since their comic book debut from writer/artist Kevin Eastman back in 1984. Since then, there have been various cartoon series on television, multiple toys, and an assortment of Halloween costumes for kids, keeping an awareness of them around even when popularity waned. Each decade, there have been kids discovering these “Heroes in a Half Shell” for the first time, thanks to their fun concept, look, and personality. However, their life on the big-screen hasn’t always been a hit. While some of the earlier live-action adaptations were an initial hit and went on to become cult classics, the Michael Bay-produced live-action updates just didn’t take off as hoped, despite making a ton of money for Paramount Pictures. Either way, the live-action iterations of these characters typically came across as visually odd or weird. The latest theatrical release is “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem”, from director Jeff Rowe (who serves as a co-writer here and also co-wrote/directed the Oscar-nominated “Mitchells vs the Machines” from 2021), which confirms that animation is the best way to go for this quartet. Read more…

TALK TO ME (2023) review

August 4, 2023


written by: Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman
produced by: Samantha Jennings and Kristina Ceyton
directed by: Danny Philippou and Michael Philippou
rated: R (for strong/bloody violent content, some sexual material and language throughout)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: July 28, 2023


What if a bunch of Gen Z kids messed around with an embalmed hand and inadvertently unleashed an unfathomable terror upon themselves? That’s the elevator pitch for “Talk to Me”, a supernatural horror flick directed by twin siblings, Danny and Michael Phillppou, popular YouTubers from Australia, who are making their directorial debut with a striking, trauma-inspired tale. It sounds absolutely silly, but the directors take the material seriously, while cleverly injected the right amount of understandable comedy to balance out the intensity and violence. The result is a tense and immersive genre feature with a surprisingly strong family drama at its core, that has a straightforward approach that’s quite admirable. Read more…


July 28, 2023


written by: Christopher McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen
produced by: Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie
directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material)
runtime: 163 min.
U.S. release date: July 12, 2023


Another summer means another movie summer for Tom Cruise to save! After “saving cinema” with “Top Gun: Maverick”, he’s back for another installment of the greatest action/thriller movies series based on a television series with “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”, the seventh outing led by the indefatigable Cruise. Once again, he partners (and co-produces) with Christopher McQuarrie, the director who’s helmed the last couple of sequels, starting with 2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, and the result is indeed another propulsive spy thriller with more outrageous spectacular action sequences in a story that surprisingly leans a little more on expositional espionage than the last two outings with the IMF gang. There’s still much to enjoy here, even if this “Part One” includes an overused MacGuffin and a phantom menace that’s obviously not going to be fully realized until next year. Read more…

SCARLET (2022) review

July 12, 2023


written by: Pietro Marcello, Maurizio Braucci, Maud Ameline & Geneviève Brisac
produced by: Charles Gillibert
directed by: Pietro Marcello
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2022 (limited) & July 7, 2023 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)


Back in 2019, Italian director Pietro Marcello premiered his second feature at the Venice Film Festival with “Martin Eden” a loose adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel of the same name. Known primarily for his documentaries, Marcello presented the moral and sentimental journey of an idealistic man in a captivating manner, while incorporating immersive footage from the period in an almost surreal manner. He takes a similar approach to his latest film, “Scarlet”, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival last year. It too is a loose adaptation, this time of 1923’s “Scarlet Sails” from Russian writer, Alexander Grin. This film plays like an amalgam of a tragic fantasy tale and a verite documentary, which is no surprise coming from Marcello. Read more…


July 5, 2023


written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp &
James Mangold
produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Simon Emanuel
directed by: James Mangold
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, language and smoking)
runtime: 154 min.
U.S. release date: June 30, 2023


After 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, what we needed was a paired down story with the titular hero as the main focus. That may seem odd since the title of the movies in this series would imply that the various adventures of a certain archeologist would be front and center, but the amount of characters in that last outing from director Steven Spielberg felt a bit too crowded. While I’m aware that many others feel that movie had loads of other problems, I did not. It had probably two too many supporting characters that took away from the time we spend with Harrison Ford‘s iconic whip-cracking “part time” teacher. Because of that, I was open to one more outing. Read more…

NO HARD FEELINGS (2023) review

June 30, 2023


written by: Gene Stupnitsky and John Phillips
produced by: Alex Saks, Naomi Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero, Jennifer Lawrence & Justine Ciarrocchi
directed by: Gene Stupnitsky
rated: R (for sexual content, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use)
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: June 23, 2023


A raunchy R-rated comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence? Sign me up! Yeah, that’s what went through my head while watching the trailer for “No Hard Feelings, the hilarious feature written by John Phillips and Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs, his follow-up to “Good Boys”), and it’s the kind of summer movie that has sadly been missing lately. Amid all the expected sequels, requels, and remakes, it’s refreshing to see an R-rated comedy headlined by someone who hasn’t gotten a shot at the genre yet, but considering her pedigree you just know she can pull it off. Lawrence brings her acute comic-timing and formidable sass to her character, along with some surprising venerable nuances. She’s a blast to watch in a movie with absurdities that run throughout sincere and silly moments. Read more…

THE FLASH (2023) review

June 23, 2023


written by: Christina Hodson
produced by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein & Joby Harold
directed by: Andy Muschietti
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity)
runtime: 144 min.
U.S. release date: June 16, 2023


This is the year we will likely see the last of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) superhero movies from Warner Brothers/DC Comics. After “Black Adam” and “Shazam: Fury of the Gods” tanked, the decision to shelve it all and hand the reigns over the co-chair/co-CEO reins to James Gunn and Peter Safran makes sense. They’ve been working on cleaning the slate and plotting out a whole new schedule for what’ll be called the DCU (it all sounds very MCU and that too makes sense) in hopes of creating better stories…not necessarily better movies, mind you, but better stories. So, before we get James Wan’s “Aquaman” sequel, there’s “The Flash”, which is the very first time the scarlet speedster headlines his own movie. Read more…

PAST LIVES (2023) review

June 15, 2023


written by: Celine Song
produced by: David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon & Pamela Koffler
directed by: Celine Song
rated: PG-13 (for some strong language)
runtime: 106 min.
U.S. release date: June 9, 2023 (select theaters) & June 23, 2023 (wide release)


I believe in love at first site and that it’s possible to have lifelong feelings for someone you perceived as your “first love”. That doesn’t mean you wind up with that person and it also doesn’t mean that if you were to go back in time and follow through and stay with that first love that everything would’ve worked out wonderfully. Nevertheless, the heart reserves a special place, one of tenderness, longing, and curiosity, for that first special someone that somehow either got away or never happened altogether. That place in the heart is true and real and it feels like that’s what writer/director Celine Song is touching on in “Past Lives”, her superb directorial debut that is one the very best films of the year. Read more…