Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness – A Movie Review

No pun intended, but it’s very strange to me that Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen have, in many ways, become the heart and soul of the MCU. I happen to really like both of them as actors, but I never dreamed Cumberbatch would play such a significant role across many MCU films after his initial Dr. Strange movie, nor did I expect Olsen’s character, Wanda, to undergo so much growth after first appearing in Age of Ultron.

Furthermore, Multiverse Of Madness seemed to be the crux of several previous MCU storylines. WandaVision, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home and more all seemingly led to this film, which, obviously, created high expectations.

Finally, adding Sam Raimi to the mix elevated the excitement even more. In many ways, Raimi is the unofficial grandfather of the MCU thanks to his Spider-Man movies, and, if you check out his IMDB page, is no stranger to making weird horror films. He felt like the perfect fit for Dr. Strange.

So what did I think of Multiverse Of Madness?

No spoilers, I promise.

In the end, I liked it.

In the beginning, I didn’t.

I felt that Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness started off maddingly slow. Additionally, the special effects were … not good. Almost laughably bad, in fact. But, the good news is that the movie soon picked up speed and maintained a quicker pace, and the special effects got much, much better. I’d also like to say that some of those slow beats in the beginning paid off in the end. I was surprised that, for a film spanning multiple realities, a coherent, connected storyline eventually emerged.

Dr. Strange is a ridiculous looking character. Benedict Cumberbatch, at first glance, looks ridiculous as Dr. Strange. Yet, somehow, someway, Cumberbatch infuses a strange mixture of arrogance, charm, regality, intelligence, and even heroism into his performance in such a way that the audience quickly accepts all of the visual silliness and commits to the story. There were moments in this movie when I felt that Cumberbatch appeared as though he stepped right out of a comic book panel–and I mean that as a compliment. Cumberbatch plays very similar characters–he’s been typecast to a degree–yet there’s something different about him as Dr. Strange. Even apart from the hair and goatee, his entire appearance and demeanor just seems … different from his real life persona. A transformation occurs.

Of course, who knew Elizabeth Olsen would take an initially paper-thin character like Wanda from Age of Ultron and eventually turn her into perhaps the most sympathetic, relatable, and horrifying character in the MCU’s entirety? Again, no spoilers, but Multiverse Of Madness zigged when I definitely thought it was going to zag. I appreciate the fact that it proved unpredictable, and much of the film’s originality hinged on Olsen’s performance. No matter what, I’m Team Wanda, and I think most people are. That’s absolutely due to Olsen’s portrayal.

As stated earlier, Sam Raimi fit this movie perfectly. On the one hand, there were some obvious Sam Raimi choices. Overlays, fade-outs, audible cues–you’ll easily identify his fingerprints. On the other hand, his experience with horror and super heroes truly paid off. Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness had some genuinely scary moments. This is not the typical MCU kid gloves. Characters look scary, frightening things happen, and the gore, given it’s the MCU, shocked me on some occasions. I’m not sure we got full Raimi, but we got way more Raimi than I expected! I’m not convinced Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness was perfect for him, but he was certainly perfect for it.

Let’s quickly touch on some other performances. I loved Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez. Her character’s arc drove the film’s plot, which meant Gomez had to do a lot of work. She had to win over the audience, be both vulnerable and capable, and strike the right chemistry with her co-stars. No easy feat for a first appearance! Chavez pulled it off and I look forward to seeing America again.

Of course, Benedict Wong always steals the scenes. I love that his Wong has somehow become an MCU touchstone.

I’m also so glad that they finally gave Rachel McAdams something to do as Dr. Christine Palmer. The MCU was not especially gracious to its female “love interests” in the beginning, but they seem to be course correcting now. McAdams is an exceptional actor who is finally getting to show her skill to the MCU audience.

I guess we should address the anticipated cameos, right? Wrong. I’m telling you nothing. I’ll just say they made me so, so happy. Yet, like everything else about this movie, things did not go as expected. I’ll just leave it at that.

Credit scenes? Yep. The mid-credit scene is vital and has me SO excited for future possibilities. The post-credit scene is not must-see, but I loved it. It’s the perfect Raimi send-off.

Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness will prove polarizing among fans and critics alike. It dared to go against the grain, which will surely create some controversy. Another pain point for audiences could be that it does not have any interest in catching people up. It assumes you’ve seen all the Marvel shows and movies, and if you haven’t? Try to keep up. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but Raimi’s direction, the performances, the utter weirdness of it all, and the titillating cameos made for an entertaining experience.

The Batman – A Movie Review (No Spoilers)

I’ll admit that I initially didn’t get too excited by the prospect of yet another new Batman. I happened to like Ben Affleck as Batman and wasn’t quite ready to accept the guy from Twilight as his would-be replacement. To go along with that, I was fully invested in the Snyderverse and didn’t want to switch directions from that, either. Furthermore, it wasn’t the idea of a parallel Earth that bothered me. I’ve been enjoying DC comics since 1980 and am therefore very comfortable with the multiverse plot device. I am fine with a few different Batmans running around in my movies. I just didn’t think I wanted this Batman because it looked as though it would simply be a retread of Nolan’s films.

Let me say this clearly and in all caps: I WAS WRONG.

The Batman depicted the comic book character we know and love more closely than any other version I’ve seen on screen. Also, the film was dark, gritty, street level, violent, rainy, and seething with noir.

Robert Pattinson, the aforementioned Twilight guy–fantastic. His Batman was physical, cerebral, brooding, and emotionally damaged. Best of all? He wore the costume for 90% of the movie. (It had to be absolute hell for Pattinson to film this thing, by the way. I read somewhere the costume weighed 60 pounds.) This Batman truly seemed detached from his emotions. He didn’t strike me as a rich guy with fancy gizmos. He honestly depicted a man unable to overcome his emotional devastation while seeking solace by beating criminals to a pulp. Yet there was an emotional vulnerability to his Batman as well. Watch closely for his reactions when kids are being impacted by crime. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and also laid the psychological groundwork for how a “Robin” could even be possible in Batman’s world. Speaking of subtle, Pattinson is definitely the strong, silent type. The camera made a point to zero in on Batman’s face often. There Pattinson did his best acting. A flutter of the eyelids. The setting of the jaw. The dead stare daring someone to challenge him. It was remarkable.

Of course, I must give credit to Pattinson’s costars as well. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon proved a force. I never thought anyone could challenge Gary Oldman’s hold on the character, but Wright most definitely has. He and Pattinson delivered an unspoken, unbreakable trust between Gordon and Batman. However, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a more compromised Jim Gordon. Gordon is constantly vouching for Batman, squirming as he’s questioned for bringing a vigilante to a crime scene, yet totally confident in the masked man’s help and moral center. Again, it’s a complicated balance to accomplish, but they managed to pull it off. It mirrored what we’ve seen in the comics for decades. Have you ever seen Batman investigating a crime scene while surrounded by the police in any other Batman movie? No, but it’s common in the comic books. It was stunning to see Batman, Gordon, and a crowd of police officers crowded in a room studying evidence together.

Speaking of stunning, Zoe Kravitz is phenomenal. She’s charming, physical, and magnetic as Catwoman. She and Pattinson have real chemistry, which is quite a feat considering Pattinson had a mask on for all of their interactions. I do think they could have done a lot more with Kravitz, but here’s hoping a spinoff will further showcase her talents.

Paul Dano was creepy as could be. Disturbing. I don’t want to reveal too much, but they definitely tapped into the Joaquin Phoenix “this could be your neighbor down the street” kind of vibe. His intelligence seemed atypical, but his emotional scarring, his need to lash out, and his misguided social affiliations did not.

John Turturro played Carmen Falcone, a character I have never–ever–cared about … until now. Turturro made him strangely human–even likable–as his character helped with heinous actions.

Finally, though, I must give my MVP award to Colin Farrell. Farrell played the Penguin. This ain’t your previously established Penguin, though. Farrell was completely unrecognizable, and with that came a side of the actor that I’ve never seen. I still have trouble believing it was actually Colin Farrell. This man was boisterous, ugly, loud, and decidedly uncool. The opposite of Farrell in every way. He definitely squeezed every ounce from his character that he possibly could.

Matt Reeves wrote and directed The Batman. Yes, you can certainly trace moments of the film to comic book inspirations, but it also felt uniquely different. On one hand, Batman was in virtually every scene and in costume. That struck a chord with me because I remember in my younger days always wanting more Batman, less Bruce Wayne. It also felt far more grounded and realistic, even compared to Nolan’s films. Furthermore, between the rain, the action, the crowded sets, and the many, many close-ups, The Batman appeared to be a very difficult film to shoot. No angle looked easy; no scene took the simple way out.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I highly recommend The Batman. Believe it or not, it’s different from any other Batman you’ve seen before. And while I can’t believe I’m saying it, Robert Pattinson’s performance while wearing a mask and Colin Farrell’s performance while wearing copious amounts of makeup proved to be what I enjoyed most. It’s largely a performance driven film, which sounds ridiculous, but is true. I consider The Batman a victory in every facet.

By the way, my sincere apologies to the 1989 Batmobile, but you’ve been put on alert. The 2022 Batmobile is somehow even cooler and looks like something that could actually function on the roads as intended. I’m not saying it’s replacing the 1989 Batmobile as my favorite … but it is in contention.

Nightmare Alley – A Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. I try to make it to the theater for any of his work. Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley was in and out of the theaters so quickly that I couldn’t free up the two and a half hours necessary to take it in. Luckily, it’s already available on HBO Max.

Here’s what I’d like to say up front: I loved the acting, the costumes, the cinematography, and even the story itself. Conversely–I didn’t care for the movie as a whole.

Let me quickly summarize this 1947 remake … without spoilers, of course. Set in the days before WWII, Nightmare Alley follows Cooper’s character, Stanton Carlisle, as he finds himself adrift and working at a carnival after Clem Hoatley, played by William Dafoe, offers him a position. He falls in with Toni Collette’s character, Zeena the Seer, whose husband teaches Stan little tips and tricks which make people think he can read their minds or communicate with those beyond. Stan develops a relationship with Molly Cahill, played by Rooney Mara, who can seemingly endure electrical jolts. Among many duties, Stan finds himself helping Clem with the carnival “geek,” a nomad they drug, treat like an animal, and then present as a freakshow. Stan hones his mentalist skills to such a degree that he leaves the carnival with Molly in tow and starts his own act. Stan achieves success he never expected, but soon crosses paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett. At that point a series of selfish deceits, deceptions, and cons take place, which ultimately seem to convey the message that no one can escape their destiny.

This is a beautiful movie to behold. The texture is so rich, you feel as though you can reach out and touch what you’re seeing on screen. Furthermore, the costumes are gorgeous, the scenery is exquisite, and the cinematography is fantastic. As you can tell by the names above, the acting is topnotch. (There are even more excellent actors in this movie that I didn’t mention.) The story itself is really, really good and the ending, in my mind, is perfect.

Yet, even with all of that being said, I can’t say I like the movie as a whole. In the end, I think it was simply too long with too slow of a pace. Though I loved the conclusion it reached, I think it unnecessarily took too much time getting there.

Though exciting at times, I wouldn’t call it a thriller. Though creepy, it’s not a supernatural tale. Though mysterious, I wouldn’t even call it a mystery. Though accurate to it’s era, it’s not a traditional period piece. In the end, I find the film to be an exceptional example of irony. However, I’m not sure that’s what they primarily intended.

Of course, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. There’s a lot to like about Nightmare Alley, and you may appreciate the films as whole more than I did.

Last Night In Soho – A Movie Review

Last Night In Soho featured some of my favorite talent. Edgar Wright–who directed Shaun Of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Baby Driver–directed this film starring Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy. Many were saying Last Night In Soho was Wright’s foray into true horror, but I found that hard to believe. All of his previous films had a certain level of humor that I felt would make out-and-out horror unlikely.

In the end, Last Night In Soho did indeed achieve horror, but not that of the supernatural kind. It instead explored the horrors that can unfold as one chases the allure of stardom.

Before I continue, let me briefly summarize the film’s premise. Thomasin McKenzie played Eloise, a young woman who was able to see her dead mother in mirrors and who loved the 1960s as well as fashion. In fact, she’d been accepted into fashion school in London. After arriving she soon realized dorm life was not for her and promptly moved into a flat. During her first sleep in the flat, she was somehow transported back in time and saw through the eyes of Sandie, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Sandie was trying to become a singer, and in doing so, crossed paths with Jack, played by Matt Smith. Jack was said to be a talent manager. At first, Eloise fell in love with the chemistry shared between Jack and Sandie. They encapsulated everything admirable about the 1960s. That initial sheen quickly wore off, however, as Jack proved to be something unexpected and Sandie followed him in a downward spiral. Eloise became obsessed with them, as well as what happened to them, to the point that she could no longer differentiate between past and present … or perhaps it was the other way around?

As I said, while there are supernatural elements in Last Night In Soho, it was the depravity of people that truly horrified me during this film. Both Sandie and Eloise were pushed to their limits, and you’ll be surprised by the actions taken by both.

Of course, Matt Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy are presently movie stars in every sense of the word. I appreciated the dark journeys they portrayed, but when their characters were initially introduced and all was well … I could have watched them for hours. They both simply oozed charisma, especially when they were at their most charming.

Of course, as you would expect, Edgar Wright flourished when it came to direction. The manner in which he depicted Eloise seeing through Sandie’s eyes was mesmerizing, especially with mirrors and reflections. The music obviously triumphed. Like James Gunn, Wright seems especially talented at choosing just the right songs at just the right moments.

However, the film failed me somewhat in terms of tone. It seemed as though it couldn’t quite settle on whether it was a horror film, a crime drama, or a supernatural mystery. As a result, it didn’t achieve the tonal consistency necessary. Furthermore, I became distracted by the fact that the supernatural “rules” established early in the film were ignored by film’s end. Again, that lack of consistency detracted from my experience.

I must admit, though, that I appreciate Edgar Wright for trying something different. It would be very easy for him to keep making the same movie over and over again, but with Baby Driver and now Last Night In Soho, he continues to push himself. I find that admirable.

I think Last Night In Soho will prove a different kind of experience for each viewer. The supernatural element wasn’t particularly scary, but the very realistic vagaries certain characters endured struck me as quite disturbing. Even with that said, the costumes, the cars, the music, the scenery, and the megawatt movie stars were truly something to behold.

No Time To Die – A Movie Review

I’ve seen most of the James Bond movies, but I have to admit that I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan. In fact, when I talk to true James Bond aficionados and tell them that Sir Roger Moore has always been my favorite Bond, the look on their faces confirms my belief that James Bond isn’t really for me.

That being said, I do like Daniel Craig as the super spy. In fact, I’d say he’s my second favorite Bond. I also deeply enjoyed Casino Royale, Craig’s first outing as Bond.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I much favored Craig’s subsequent Bond movies. If I’m being honest, I remember being confused through much of them, never quite understanding what was going on.

Sadly, No Time To Die continues this tradition.

At two hours and forty-three minutes, No Time To Die appears to cover a lot of ground. Yet, in the end, even with such a long runtime, they didn’t invest enough of it in the emotional foundation that was to serve as the gut punch during the final act. More on that in a moment.

My problem with the Craig era is that while they do seem to continue a running storyline, they don’t always remind the audience of what came before, and I’m not sure they always even conform to what was previously established. For me, this results in a lot of confusion.

This could be considered a spoiler, so consider yourself warned. At the beginning of No Time To Die, Bond is on a trip with his wife. Yes, you read that right. Now, as I’m watching the beginning of this movie, I’m thinking to myself, “Did Bond marry this woman in the previous film?” He then suspects her of being a secret agent, puts her on a train, and tells her he’ll never see her again. Flashforward ten years, five of which Bond has spent in retirement, and she’s reentered his life. He spends a lot of time saving her life, protecting her, and running around. By movie’s end, he tells her that she was the only happiness he’d ever known. What?! He’d spent more time talking to Q in the movie, yet we’re supposed to believe that?

There was also a plot about poison being delivered through DNA and M having something to do with it … I don’t know. Craig’s Bond movies, to me, seem so overly complicated that they get boiled down to nothing more than action. Or maybe they’re not overly complicated; maybe they’re just nonsensical and the action is what drives the movie.

In my heart of hearts, I do believe Bond movies can be simple, full of action, and under two hours. They used to be that way. They can be again. But they tried with No Time To Die. They really did try to shake it up a little.

You may have heard that there’s a female 007 in No Time To Die. Again, this is a slight spoiler, but there is. She’s played by Lashana Lynch and she’s great. Handles the action very well. You also perhaps heard about Ana de Armas being in it as well–after all, her name is on all the posters. She is indeed in the movie, has a great moment, but that moment regrettably ends after about twenty minutes. I don’t know if they were setting her up for a spinoff or what, but she seemed very shoehorned into the film (while stealing every scene).

Léa Seydoux plays Bond’s former wife, Madeleine, and does so just fine. I personally felt no chemistry between Craig and Seydoux nor did I believe they ever actually loved each other. I certainly didn’t believe that the brief time we saw them as husband and wife were the happiest moments of Bond’s life. At movie’s end, they desperately need us to believe this in order to hit an emotional payoff, but for me … not so much.

And that’s where No Time To Die got itself in a bit of trouble. Beyond the typically overly complicated “bad guy” plot, it also tried to walk an emotionally complex tightrope in the hopes of grabbing us by the heartstrings at story’s end.

Furthermore, I don’t mind a funny Bond, after all, Moore is my guy. Craig seemed a little out of character, though, when he would toss in a wisecrack or two. I don’t remember that side of Craig’s Bond, not to such an extent, and it struck me as awkward.

Finally–the action. At least with a Bond movie, no matter what, you’re going to get some killer action. I found myself underwhelmed on this front as well. There were exciting moments, to be sure, but nothing that amazed me. I think the Mission Impossible movies have spoiled us a bit in that regard.

Even with all of that being said, Daniel Craig is STILL my second favorite James Bond, and I’ll continue watching James Bond movies even if I don’t ever particularly love them. I think the attempt they made at modernizing him a bit in No Time To Die was well-intended, they just hit the wrong notes at the wrong times. James Bond can still thrive as a movie franchise, but I think it’s time to take him back to basics on one hand, and on the other hand, I think it’s time to rethink his entire mythology. That’s a topic for another day, though.

In the end, No Time To Die is fine. It’s Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond, so that alone makes it worth watching.

The Last Duel – A Movie Review

On paper, The Last Duel had a lot going for it. Obviously, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Adam Driver are major draws due to their established talent.

Jodie Comer, if you’re not familiar with her, is brilliant in Killing Eve, and I’m very happy to see her transitioning into major motion pictures.

And, of course, The Last Duel was helmed by the legendary director, Ridley Scott. You know Ridley Scott as the genius behind Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, and many, many others.

That being said, as you would expect, The Last Duel looks amazing. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time to medieval France. The architecture, the armor, the clothing, the landscapes, the weaponry, the messiness of the era–it all looks grounded in absolute reality. This isn’t surprising considering that it’s a piece of historical fiction.

Damon, Driver, and Comer nail their roles. Damon is hugely unlikable, Driver is both charming and horrible, and Comer is potently restrained.

But in the end, I found the entire premise of the movie distasteful and the tone uncomfortable. Yes, the movie is based on actual events, yet that alone did not dictate the direction and artistic choices made by the creatives. After all, The Last Duel is not a documentary.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Damon’s character marries Comer’s character in order to amass more land and to produce an heir. His friend, played by Driver, finds himself favored by royalty and continues gaining advantage after advantage, which enrages Damon’s character. Comer’s character eventually accuses Driver’s character of raping her. It is then decreed that Damon’s character will battle Driver’s character in a duel to the death. The winner will supposedly be chosen by God, and that will determine whether an actual rape occurred or not.

The premise is troubling enough as it is, but the execution of the film is where it truly lost me. The film is broken into three components–first from the perspective of Damon’s character, then Driver’s, and then Comer’s. The script seems to want the audience to believe that Comer’s character was in love with Driver’s character and set him up, which ultimately was not the case at all. I found that manipulation alarming. In this day and age, blaming the victim is simply reprehensible. They also chose to depict the rape of Comer’s character three separate times, a little differently each time, which stuck me as gratuitous and unseemly.

I hoped that at some point, there would be a message in this movie. There would be something we could learn about the human condition. There would be something that reinforced the fact that human rights and individual dignity must take precedence no matter when or where a story takes place.

That did not happen. Perhaps the filmmakers intended a deeper meaning. Maybe they wanted to convey a criticism of the horrors women have endured throughout history. However, in my opinion, the film simply seemed to relish in its disturbing plotline.

As I said before, it’s not a documentary. The filmmakers may argue that they simply reconstructed actual events. I would counter by saying that the actors playing Frenchmen in this film did not even use a French accent, so I’m not sure how beholden they were to authenticity. In other words, they made choices, and I disagree with many of those choices.

I do not recommend The Last Duel.

The French Dispatch – A Movie Review

I truly wanted to see The French Dispatch when it was in theaters but simply couldn’t find the opportunity. Fortunately, it found its way to Blu-ray in record time. Thanks to my local library, I was able to watch it the other night.

The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s latest film. You know Wes Anderson as the director of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you enjoy Wes Anderson’s general style, you’ll love The French Dispatch as well. Although, I have to admit, it is slightly edgier than his normal work. More on that in a moment.

The French Dispatch is about an American man who started a branch of his father’s newspaper in a French town. The film delivers five separate vignettes depicting local stories in the newspaper’s final edition. Why is the newspaper coming to an end? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

As usual, Wes Anderson manages to deliver something new with each of his works. The French Dispatch utilizes some fascinating angles, lighting, use of black and white, and even animation. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Furthermore, in my opinion, The French Dispatch is a touch more adult than previous works. There is quite a bit of full frontal nudity, which is completely related to a particular story within the movie, as well as a bit of violence that I found unusual for him as well. In fact, those five vignettes are thematically linked but fairly unique from one another, which is perhaps why we see some atypical offerings from Anderson. Of course, as you would expect, each story within the movie is all at once whimsical, revealing, thought-provoking, irreverent, and bold.

Anderson brings back his old favorites as well as some new faces for The French Dispatch. You’ll recognize Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Tony Revolori, and even Henry Winkler.

I happen to love Anderson’s approach to film. I’m not sure a casual movie-goer would find The French Dispatch all that enticing, but for fans of the filmmaker, it’s a noteworthy addition to his body of work.

Finch – A Movie Review

If you like any combination of dogs, robots, or Tom Hanks, Finch is perfect for you.

Found on Apple TV+, Finch is an Apple Original Film starring Tom Hanks and … well, mostly just Tom Hanks. He’s an engineer who survived a massive solar flare that ultimately wiped out most of civilization. He happened to be at work when it occurred, a robotics firm, and pretty much just stayed there. He mostly wants to survive in order to care for his dog, Goodyear, and has devised many ingenious ways to use robotics to help him scavenge for food, tools, and general supplies. However, St. Louis–his city–is about to undergo a cataclysmic storm that even his bunker won’t survive. Furthermore, the brutality of a depleted ozone has taken its toll on him–he knows he doesn’t have long to live. His goal? Build a caregiver for Goodyear, get Goodyear out of the city, and then leave Goodyear somewhere safe in the caregiver’s capable hands. That caregiver? Jeff.

Jeff is a robot that Finch builds to care for Goodyear, and this is when the movie really starts to shine. Voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, Jeff starts out very childlike and provides much of the film’s levity, but as time goes on, Jeff begins to understand both Finch and Goodyear, as well as the very special bond the two share.

Because Finch essentially only shows one human being–Tom Hanks–it’s very easy to get strong Cast Away vibes. There are parallels, to be sure. However, that’s really where the similarities end. After all, Finch isn’t about a man trying to save himself at all–it’s all about that dog.

The real achievement of Finch, however, is the special effects. Jeff the robot looks completely grounded in each and every scene. Hanks truly appears to be interacting with Jeff at the actual scale of the robot. I haven’t watched any “making of” specials on Finch, so I don’t know where practical effects end and CGI begins, but I never caught myself noticing the special effects as anything other than part of the film’s reality. That’s meant as a sincere compliment.

Finch is a mostly lighthearted film with touches of suspense, violence, and sadness, but overall it’s an exploration of what exactly it means to be “human.” Is it our capacity to care for others that makes us special, and, if so, are blood, bone, and flesh required?

Werewolves Within – A Movie Review

I honestly had no idea this movie was based on a video game, nor did I really know anything about it. I wanted to see it for one simple reason, and one reason only–Sam Richardson.

In my opinion, Sam Richardson is one of the funniest guys out there. I first discovered him on VEEP, and that’s where he won me over for life. Apparently, I’m not the only one. His IMDB page suggests he’s getting plenty of work!

Werewolves Within is about a very nice–maybe too nice–forest ranger (Richardson) sent to a small town called Beaverfield. This tiny town is warring with itself due to a proposed gas line that wants to run right through the middle of it. Half the town wants the money, half the town wants to preserve the envrionment.

Richardson’s character, Finn Wheeler, quickly befriends a new postal worker named Cecily Moore, played by Milana Vayntrub (the former AT&T lady). Richardson and Vayntrub have superb chemistry with each other, and Vayntrub proved far funnier than I ever suspected.

Besides the pipeline controversy, the town soon appears to suffer from a violent creature picking off residents, pets, and generators. That creature? A werewolf!

Before long, Richardson, Vayntrub, and a host of hilarious actors are trapped in a bed and breakfast as the werewolf prowls outside. Personally, I got major Clue vibes at this point, and that’s a total compliment. Of course, as you expect, they quickly begin to suspect one another as the actual werewolf. At that point the film quickly reaches a climax and draws to a close.

I have to say that I found Werewolves Within highly entertaining with some truly funny moments. However, be warned, at times it’s surprisingly violent and even a little scary. Furthermore, I actually became invested in the mystery concerning the werewolf’s true identity. Not to worry, it is revealed by movie’s end.

If you like horror and comedy, and you want a quick, 90-minute film, I recommend Werewolves Within. Richardson is great, as always, and Vayntrub proves she’s got comedy chops as well. (And after researching her IMDB page, I feel stupid for writing that last bit about her. She’s been on fire for years and years.)

The Matrix Resurrections – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, folks.

The Matrix Resurrections is about bringing things back to life: characters, storylines, themes, a franchise.

That being said … I liked The Matrix Resurrections.

Bear in mind that I did not conduct a Matrix series re-watch before seeing Resurrections, but I watched the other Matrix movies enough over the years to generally remember the major beats. What I remember most is LOVING The Matrix, finding The Animatrix really cool, hating The Matrix Reloaded, and being okay with The Matrix Revolutions.

The Matrix Resurrections most resembles the original Matrix is that it splits its time pretty evenly between the digital world and the real world, which I appreciated. I also loved the fact that The Matrix Resurrections found itself far more interested in further exploring Neo and Trinity’s relationship than anything else. I won’t go so far as to say that this is a “character driven” movie, but those two were definitely the driving force of the film.

I also enjoyed the fact that, in this film, Trinity is “The One” for Neo, whereas Neo was “The One” to the entire world in The Matrix. Only “The One” could save the world, but what if “The One” needed to be saved by his “The One” in order to do so? It’s a fascinating development appropriate to this day and age. I wouldn’t say Trinity was treated only as a plot device in the previous movies, but she’s certainly given far more importance in The Matrix Resurrections. (Of course, if you know the background of the film’s creators and their evolution over time, a rather complex think-piece could be written exploring “artists and their art.”)

Consequently, Resurrections establishes that a certain “happy ending” occurred thanks to Neo and Trinity’s previous sacrifices, one that I found hopeful. Equilibrium … balance … these seem to be important themes in The Matrix Resurrections.

In keeping with that idea, I was thankful that they did not touch up Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ appearances in Resurrections. These are two beautiful people, obviously, but they clearly look twenty years older than their original introduction. In fact, the filmmakers go out of their way to make Neo unkempt and unfashionable compared to his previous incarnation. People age, and, as Resurrections conveys, with age and experience can come wisdom and self-realization.

Part of the reason I loved The Matrix so much was because it introduced some very big, even mind-blowing, ideas. Resurrections never achieves that level of ingenuity, but it does indeed call out our society over the last few years. There are several lines about falling victim to fiction and believing big lies that did not go unnoticed. I suppose, though, that compared to other recent movies, a blockbuster sci-fi film driven by love is pretty rebellious.

Finally, The Matrix Resurrections seemed a little more willing to laugh at itself this time around. There were several metafiction gags that brought forth a chuckle.

On the flipside of that, though, those gags came dangerously close to becoming cringeworthy. Furthermore, some of the characters, such as Morpheus, were making fun of themselves while never clearly establishing why. I’m still not exactly sure who “Morpheus” was in this film, by the way–a facsimile or the original? A hybrid program? I considered this a shame because the original Morpheus was such a cool “wizard/mentor” archetype.

Which brings me to another point: I was confused for quite a bit of this movie. I didn’t totally understand the primary antagonist’s motivations, I didn’t fully grasp former villains’ new roles, nor did I comprehend Neo’s “the matrix” within “The Matrix.” I think he called it a “modal.” Why did he make it? What purpose did it serve?

I also thought the film kept one foot a little too much in the past. There were many, many literal flashbacks to the other films, and many of the scenes themselves mirrored scenes from the predecessors as well. A touch would have been fine, everybody loves nostalgia, but it got a little heavy-handed.

On that note, The Matrix Resurrections didn’t appear to break any new ground regarding visuals, which I found very disappointing. The Matrix melted my mind back in ’99. I saw things in that movie I’d never seen on screen before. Resurrections had some cool moments (mostly revealed in the trailers), but nothing that made my jaw drop. With today’s technology and the filmmaker’s trailblazing spirit, I honestly expected revolutionary special effects. We didn’t get them.

In the end, though, Neo and Trinity proved more than enough. They were the heart and soul of The Matrix (along with Morpheus, who sadly got sidelined in this film), and seeing them on screen again together more than made up for any of the film’s shortcomings. They’re older and grayer, to be sure (aren’t we all?), but they are also more fully rounded and emotionally realized.

Full disclosure–I didn’t like The Matrix when I first saw it. I didn’t get it. However, after dozens of re-watches over the years, I fell in love with it more and more. It’s entirely possible I didn’t completely understand The Matrix Resurrections on my first viewing. I absolutely plan on watching it again and I’m sure I’ll pick up on some new things and better comprehend the plot. But the good news is that I did indeed like it. Do I want more from The Matrix universe? On the one hand, I’d watch anything with Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves acting together. On the other hand, I don’t see much potential for this story to continue in fresh, innovative ways. The Matrix Resurrections seemed to be a nice send-off for the characters rather than a launch pad to new horizons.