Leave a comment

Grade:  B+/A-

Drama-Fantasy Adventure

Rated R

I’m beginning to wonder:  has a generation of gamers accustomed to living virtually on multiple levels led us to the point where many films going forward will also happen in multi-dimensions?

Although physicists and philosophers have been arguing about the possible existence of a multiverse (it’s not scientifically provable yet) since the 5th century BCE, and while the first mention of an alternate, simultaneous universe in pop culture seems to have been  back in 1961 when “Flash of Two Worlds” appeared in the Flash Vol. 1 No. 13 comic book, it has taken Hollywood decades to catch up.

But once Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse caught a wave of public approval in 2018, we’ve since gotten two non-Hollywood films about the “multiverse” and also Legends of the Multiverse (2022), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), Teen Titans Go! & DC  Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse (2022), Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), and a 2023 TV series, Mila in the Multiverse.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)took the multiverse to another level, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Film Editing. That’s quite a haul for a film that won’t be for everyone. Some films are ahead of their time, but Everything Everywhere All at Once is a visual and narrative mind-blower that almost feels retro—like it could have come out of the late sixties and early seventies, if they had had the visual fx technology.

I’m not going to pretend that I understood everything the film threw at the wall to see if it would stick, but I think I got the gist of it.

At one point Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) says, “So even though you have broken my heart yet again, I wanted to say, in another life I would have really liked just doing laundry and taxes with you.” He’s speaking to his wife, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), with whom he runs a Laundromat and laundry service and lives above the business with her aged father (James Hong) and their daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), with whom Evelyn butts heads.

Evelyn is having an Uncle-Billy-lost-the-money crisis—and yes, there’s a noticeable reference to It’s a Wonderful Life, as there is to 2001: A Space Odyssey and other films. Evelyn’s system of accounting is all messed up, and her own system overloads when the family has to bring all their records to a tax audit with a no-nonsense tax examiner named Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis), and when her increasingly estranged daughter announces that she is a lesbian and introduces her to her “friend,” Becky (Tallie Medel).

That’s when, instead of a fantasy in which a guardian angel shows someone that his life is significant and special, a multiverse fantasy accomplishes the same purpose with Evelyn. Most multiverse movies are about superheroes, and that premise is used here to good effect, where we see Evelyn’s battles against the IRS and her daughter dramatized and explored in fantastic dimensions of alternate existence.

Is it for family viewing? The message is positive, if you can pick it out of the images and  actions that come at you as fast as the starscape in a Disney ride, and today’s youths see a similar level of violence in video games. But this film has gotten a lot of press and will spark the curiosity of a lot of children asking their parents if they can watch the film. If they’re ‘tweens and older, I would say, yes, because Everything Everywhere All at Once feels like a milestone.

I don’t know what was more impressive:  the acting, or the visual effects. The multiverse gimmick (yes, I went there) gives the main actors the chance to explore their characters across a wider range of emotions and personalities than a one-dimensional film, and all of them rise to the occasion. They go all out, and every scene is fun to watch because of that.

But this film doesn’t happen without the visual effects, and, hard as it is to believe, the team that created the effects wasn’t professionally trained. They taught themselves how to do it by looking at various Internet sources and tutorials. How impressive is that?

Then again, the film is such a wild ride with strobe-like effects and multiple cuts that the editing was just as impressive as everything else.

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert won a well-deserved Oscar for their rock solid  (ahem) direction, pulling career performances out of Curtis and Quan, for whom the film was the first since he appeared in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies as a child actor. My only complaint is that some of the fantasy battles that Evelyn faces with her demons and nemeses can start to feel a bit long and repetitive as the third act of this 139-minute film rolls downhill to its conclusion. But that’s my only criticism.

As I said, Everything Everywhere All at Once won’t be for everyone. It’s a strange film that pulls so many visual images, pop culture allusions (hot dog fingers? pet rocks?), and alternate selves (and therefore, realities) out of Evelyn that you can fully imagine people in the psychedelic sixties “grooving” on it. But ultimately the film left me (and no doubt others) with one impression:  if we are the heroes of our own stories, then maybe, just maybe, the multiverse is different for each of us . . . and a product of our own imaginations.

Entire family:  No (‘tweens and older)

Run time:  139 min., Color

Studio/Distributor:  Lionsgate

Aspect ratio:  1.85:1

Featured audio: Dolby Atmos

Bonus features:  B+

Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital

Amazon link


Rated R for some violence, sexual material and language

Language: 5/10—close to double-digit occurrences of the f-word, plus some lesser swearwords, though they frankly don’t stand out with all the frenetic action and images

Sex:  510—Phallic symbols and dildos, some object humping in the background of one shot, and a comic scene with a sex dungeon that isn’t explicit except for the props; the most extreme scene is a dildo-shaped trophy that ends up inside a man who sits on it, while others insert one manually and any nudity is pixelated (though bizarre)

Violence: 5/10—Lots of fantasy fighting and plenty of blood, but the images are often comic or surreal (a man’s head blows up into confetti? another person gives themselves deliberate paper cuts? an animal is punted like a football?), which blunts the violence

Adult situations:  3/10—Some smoking and vaping

Takeaway:  The pace of this film is breakneck, and if that’s any indication of how the upcoming TV series Star Wars: Skeleton Crew is going to play out, you’d better yourselves; with Daniel Kwan directing, it could be a wild ride


Leave a comment

Grade:  B-
Sci-fi action-adventure
Rated PG-13

In 1990, Michael Crichton scored a hit with his sci-fi novel about dinosaurs brought back into existence through DNA preserved in amber. A film version was released in 1993 to critical and audience acclaim. The concept was inspired, the special effects were wondrous, the characters were introduced in such a way that we got to know them before the coprolite hit the fan, and the science was sufficiently explained. You believed it was possible, and that made it all the more terrifying.

Since then, the franchise has failed to clear the high bar set by the first film, which was a hit with 92 percent of the critics and 91 percent of viewers at Rotten Tomatoes. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) only got a 54 percent approval rating from critics and a 51 percent rating from viewers. Jurassic Park III (2001) dipped even lower, with a 49 percent critics’ rating and 36 percent fan approval. Part of the problem was that there was less story in the sequels, which began to take on the one-dimensional character of action films.

After a dormant period, the franchise rebooted with Jurassic World in 2015, and that pleased 71 percent of critics and 78 percent of fans, helped by Chris Pratt and his “raptor whisperer” antics and the bond he had with one special raptor. But the 2018 sequel in this second trilogy, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, only appealed to 47 percent of the critics and 48 percent of fans. That makes it the lowest rated film in the franchise . . . until now, if you believe the critics.

Only 30 percent of Rotten Tomatoes critics liked Jurassic World Dominion (2022). Curiously, though, 77 percent of viewers liked it—making it the fans’ third favorite, behind the original and Jurassic World. So depending on your outlook, it’s either the absolute worst of the six films, or the third best.


Review of GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade:  B+
Rated PG-13

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) is the kind of film that unapologetically panders to fans of the franchise. Dedicated to the late Harold Ramis, this fourth incarnation features nostalgia-inducing cameos by stars of the original 1984 smash hit:  Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver.

That original cast appeared in a slightly disappointing 1989 sequel, but was absent in the polarizing 2016 all-female reboot starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems aimed at an audience of both fans who have felt like the franchise owed them one and fans of child-centered mystery-drama-adventures like TV’s Stranger Things or the newer Jumanji films.

So who ya’gonna call to direct a heavily nostalgic picture that aims to please both old and young viewers? How about Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking), son of Ivan Reitman—the man who directed the first two Ghostbuster films.


Review of LOVE AND MONSTERS (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

Grade: A-/B+
Sci-fi/Fantasy Adventure
Rated PG-13

Love and Monsters has a lot in common with 2009’s Zombieland, except that the post-apocalyptic plague that threatens surviving humans in this 2020 film consists of mutated monster-size insects and toads and such, rather than a viral-induced plague of zombies. Both are post-apocalyptic coming-of-age films.

Instead of an unproven and unsure-of-himself teen trying to get to his family in Ohio, Love and Monsters features an unproven and unsure-of-himself young adult (Dylan O’Brien)—more sensitive artist than warrior. After everyone in his survivor group had paired off romantically, Joel decides to leave the bunker and trek the “surface” for seven days to find the girlfriend he had acquired just as the catastrophe had struck seven years ago.

Instead of meeting and joining forces with a mentor who was an expert zombie killer in search of the last Twinkies on Earth (as Jesse Eisenberg’s character did), Joel meets up with a grizzled survivor (Dan Ewing) who has been living on the surface with an adopted young girl called Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt). One quester learned the secrets of zombie killing and survival in a zombie world, while the other learns how to stay alive in a world filled with monsters that can attack at any moment.

Although Zombieland and Love and Monsters are both quest/survival stories involving a likable young male character, there is one important difference for families to note: Zombieland was rated R for horror violence/gore, while Love and Monsters is rated PG-13 for action/violence, language, and some suggestive material. The latter feels like a hero’s journey through a fantasy land filled with the kind of fantastic creatures one saw in films based on J.K. Rowling books, while the former features humans turning into zombies and then having to be killed. But visually they’re still humans, and as a result it feels more like killing than it does to eliminate an enormous and enormously fantastic monster. Plus, Zombieland was all about finding creative (and graphic) ways to kill zombies. It had a Whack-a-Mole feel to it, having more in common with slasher-horror movies than anything else. But the focus in Love and Monsters is more on Joel’s own survival and his quest for love. Love and Monsters feels like a fun monster movie, with a scarier Alice in Wonderland feel to it, which makes Love and Monsters more suitable for a younger audience—say, 8 years and up? More


Leave a comment

Grade: B-
Rated PG-13
Sci-fi Fantasy

George Lucas and The Rise of Skywalker director J.J. Abrams had to be dreading the day when the last of the nine-film Star Wars franchise finally went into production—less so because a beloved series was ending, and more because fans have been notoriously hard on final installments. Just ask the Game of Thrones people. They know a little something about expectations being so high they can seldom be met.

But if you’re going to market all things Star Wars over four decades, including books about the various creatures, weapons, uniforms, and vehicles, you’ve got to expect that diehard fans are going to downgrade the film if they see inconsistencies, as überfans did. You also could have predicted that critics, who expect originality in every episode of a storied franchise like this, would also complain that there were too many scenes that seemed little more than variations on iconic scenes from previous Star Wars films.

But if you’re just a casual Star Wars fan who’s looking to be entertained, The Rise of Skywalker is a decent enough popcorn movie.

Yes, the original Star Wars trilogy— A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983)—remains the best trio of the franchise because the films stayed true to what Lucas wanted to do in the first place: make a contemporary version of the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Commando Cody serials he grew up watching. That meant creating a slam-bang cliff-hanging adventure that was as fun as those old-time black-and-white serials. In the original trilogy, Lucas managed to perfectly capture the blend of action and tongue-in-cheek campiness that made those old-time serials fun. He created a fantasy adventure that didn’t take itself too seriously, with the actors bantering at times like those you saw in another old-time genre: the screwball comedy. More

Review of ICEMAN (1983) (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

Grade: B-
Entire family: No (but just about)
Sci-fi drama
1983, 100 min., Color
Kino Lorber
Rated PG (for some violence)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: C+
Trailer unavailable
Amazon link

Like many kids these days, my son was really into dinosaurs. At age four he could identify most of the prehistoric creatures and even recite many of their scientific names.

Together we played with his dinosaur figures and watched all-things-prehistoric on TV and film, whether it was Disney’s Dinosaur, speculative documentaries like Walking with Dinosaurs and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts, the Jurassic Park films, or animated adventures like The Land Before Time series. And if Kino Lorber had released Iceman on Blu-ray when my son was in his last few years of elementary school or junior high, I think he would have watched and enjoyed this 1983 drama as well.

Notice I didn’t say action-drama, because there’s not much in the way of action. Iceman is speculative storytelling for the junior scientist crowd and people who enjoy asking, “What if…?”

If dinosaurs could be cloned from DNA in Jurassic Park, and if whole preserved woolly mammoths can be found in Siberian permafrost with the hair still perfect as can be, what if a cave man was likewise discovered in a block of ice? And what if there was a miraculously plausible reason for his being not only well preserved, but also in what amounted to a state of suspended animation? What if he could actually be brought back to life after 40,000 years?

That’s the premise of Iceman, which stars Timothy Hutton as a scruffily bearded anthropologist who’s summoned to an arctic base after a research team discovers the body of a prehistoric man. They were going to dissect him and learn from him, but that plan changed when one of the scientists behind the surgical mask noticed brain activity. Before you know it they’re applying the paddles and bringing this Neanderthal back to life. Conveniently, this elaborate research station has a large biodome intended for studying bears, but when they revive the cave man they move those bears to cages and transfer the iceman to this controlled habitat.

Dr. Shephard (Hutton) gets free reign to study the cave man, and most of the film revolves around his attempts to communicate, to understand the man, and to interact with him. Lindsay Crouse plays the other main character, Dr. Diane Brady, while Danny Glover turns up as one of the crew and David Strathairn is among the doctors. Structurally, Iceman resembles Anne Sullivan’s attempts to get through to a wild and unfocused Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. More

Review of SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
Sci-Fi Action-Adventure
2019, 129 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Columbia Pictures / Marvel Studios
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Amazon link

Some franchises age better than others. Spider-Man, in fact, keeps getting younger as the studio aims for a youthful, social media savvy audience. In fact, 22-year-old British actor Tom Holland learned he got the role of Spider-Man three years ago via an Instagram post.

In some respects, Holland has come a long way since he played the lead in Billy Elliott: The Musical, but in other respects he’s still playing that awkward youth who struggles as much with his own self-image as any other adolescent or teen. In Spider-Man: Far from Home—his fifth film wearing the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man costume (counting appearances in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame in addition to the 2017 film Spider-Man: Homecoming)—Holland as Peter Parker is awkward around girls, unsure of himself, and as reluctant a hero as ever there was.

Director Jon Watts said that audiences responded well to the high school student excursion to Washington D.C. monuments in Homecoming, so it was a no-brainer to take those students abroad. But some parents might wish that the kids traveled with a teacher who wasn’t cut from the Disney Channel template of clueless adults, more cardboard comic relief than flesh-and-blood character. Still, I suppose if Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) wasn’t so clueless, there’d be no way to quickly and easily move the group from one part of Europe to allow Peter Parker to do his “Peter tingle” job, as his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) likes to call it. More

Review of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

Grade: C+
Entire family: No
Sci-Fi Action
2019, 132 minutes, Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action violence and destruction and for some language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Amazon link

A fellow film critic once quipped, “If all movie critics agreed, only one of us would have a job.” But every now and then we watch a film and find ourselves saying the exact same thing.

In the case of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it’s that the film has great special effects, great action sequences, and a score that amplifies the mayhem. But if you’re looking for any kind of clever plotting or characters with meat on their bones, you’d better look elsewhere.

This 2019 film by Michael Dougherty gets off to a start so fast it would make bobsledders envious. But after that it’s one big downhill slide. Vera Farmiga plays the familiar character of a scientist that none of her colleagues believe. The action takes place five years after monsters collectively referred to as “Titans” had resurfaced and were somehow contained for scientific study . . . or pure containment. When a larval Mothra goes crazy, Dr. Emma Russell calms her down with a sonic device known as an “Orca.” That killer (whale) name notwithstanding, music still apparently calms the savage beast—even if it’s newer than New Age and projected on a frequency that would get dogs howling. More

Review of CAPTAIN MARVEL (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

Grade: B/B+
Entire family: No
2019, 124 min., Color
Marvel / Disney
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action and brief suggestive language
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widesscreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link

Two origin stories for the price of one?

That’s what Marvel Cinematic Universe fans get with Captain Marvel once S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) joins Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) a third of the way into the film. What might have been a warm-up for Shaft also turns out to be Jackson’s most entertaining role since Pulp Fiction.

Swagger + Banter + Bad Ass + Latent Rule-breaker + Alien Handler = a lot of fun to watch, especially playing opposite Larson, who for the first third of the film doesn’t seem to have the same ease prancing about in a superhero suit as, say, TV’s Melissa Benoist does as Supergirl. But Larson comes to life in her “buddy” interactions with Fury, the film takes off after that.

Fans who tire of the same basic plot—a supervillain poses a threat to Earth, so one or more superheroes have to rise to the occasion—will appreciate that the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe offers a different kind of narrative problem.

Not to be confused with Fawcett Comics’ Captain Marvel, who was a little too close to Superman for DC Comics’ comfort, Captain Mar-Vell first appeared in the 1967 comic Marvel Super-Heroes #12, yet another creation of Stan Lee’s, drawn by Gene Colan. In that first comic, Mar-Vell is a Kree “he” sent to Earth to observe their development of weapons technology. In 1982 Mar-Vell was replaced by a woman named Monica Rambeau in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16, and the character changed again with Silver Surfer Annual #6 (1993), Captain Marvel #16 (2004), and Civil War: The Return (2007) before Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Ms. Marvel, got promoted to Captain for a role that (re)creator Kelly Sue DeConnick describes as “Carol Danvers as Chuck Yeager.”

So did they finally get it right? Considering the success of rival DC Universe’s Wonder Woman, one would hope so. BC (Before Carol) the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t had a stand-alone female hero. Now they do, and her back story—a combination of elements from all of the Marvel comic renditions—isn’t as confusing or complicated as others have been. It’s just presented as flashback rather than in chronological time. More

Review of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

Grade: B+
Entire family: Almost (parental discretion advised)
2018, 118 min., Color
Action sci-fi-comedy
Marvel Studios
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Amazon link

We’ve gotten to the point where we know a Marvel superhero movie is going to be good, just as surely as we know that legendary Stan Lee is going to turn up in a cameo. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another solid entry in what’s becoming a long line of solid Marvel productions. A little less dark and violent than some of the Marvel movies, it’s also one that’s close to being appropriate for the whole family. It’s just a question of where parents draw the line with sci-fi violence.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly click pretty well together as the title characters, and if you don’t happen to have seen (or remember) Captain America: Civil War, not to worry. There’s enough exposition included for you to have an idea of why Scott Lang (Ant-Man) is currently wearing an anklet and serving a two-year sentence under house arrest. In fact, the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is much easier to follow than any of the Avengers films, which is another reason why children younger than 13 can also enjoy this one. It’s not just miniaturization they’ll see, but mega-enlargement as well, and that’s fun for any age. More

Older Entries