Creed III and all the images you see in this review are owned by MGM Pictures
Directed by Michael B Jordan
Who would have expected that we’d get two movies back to back starring Jonathan Majors, and even more unlikely that there are a lot of similarities between the two? Perhaps it’ll be worth probing into those odd connections later, but for now, we’re here to talk about the latest entry in the Creed franchise and the directorial debut of its star, Michael B Jordan! He’s got some big shoes to fill; not only with this being the latest entry in the venerable Rocky series but also coming in after Ryan Coogler and Steven Caple Jr left their own marks on the franchise. Is it a worthy successor to everything that came before it, or is the Creed franchise destined to repeat the mistakes that the Rocky movies made once they got a few sequels in? Let’s find out!!
Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) is on top of the world as the boxing champ and has decided to retire while he still can, so instead of preparing for yet another fight he’s training an up-and-coming talent (José Benavidez Jr) with the help of Little Duke (Wood Harris) and the only thing that could get in their way is… I don’t know, perhaps a part of Creed’s past coming back to haunt him. Then again, what are the chances of that, am I right? Oh, wait, it looks like an old friend of his just got out of jail and is throwing more than a few subtle hints that he wants a shot at the title. Yes, the blast from the past turns out to be a guy named Damien (Jonathan Majors) who seems cool at first as Creed’s longtime friend who’s ready to turn his life around, but he ultimately lives up to the name and before long he ends up on top of the boxing world under very dubious circumstances. Creed having to confront his past brings up some very mixed feelings that start to affect his relationship with his wife and daughter (Tessa Thompson and Mila Davis-Kent) and when it comes down to it, does he have what it takes to set Damien straight and stop a monster that he has inadvertently created? Will his family be able to follow him on his path to redemption, or are the wounds of the past too deep for them to heal? Sure, this guy beat Drago Jr, but I don’t know; maybe Kang the Conqueror is just a hair outside of his league?
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Peyton Reed
Hey, it may take me a minute but I usually get around to what I say I’m gonna do, and in this case, that’s reviewing the latest Marvel movie which, if I wait much longer, won’t be the latest Marvel movie. Now I’ve always had a soft spot for the Ant-Man films which have intentionally scaled things down to a more human level which has given us some of the best characters in the Marvel canon. This latest film however seems to be more than just another wacky heist adventure and is serving as the stepping stone for what will be the main thrust of the MCU narrative going into Phase Five which seems like an odd choice for such a breezy series. Do the wider scope and heavier conflicts elevate the series to a new level of greatness, or have we lost something while paving the way to the next Avengers film? Let’s find out!!
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has it pretty good, all things considered! He’s the most recognizable Avenger that’s both not dead and not emotionally crushed by the events of Endgame, he’s got a book coming out that’s getting all sorts of attention, and he even has a loving family to go home to each night; his wife Hope (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), and even his in-laws Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer). Okay, so they seem to be working on their own thing and Scott is feeling more and more distant from them, especially since Cassie spent the Snap becoming a science genius and is not as entertained by up-close magic as she used to be, but that’s all small stuff which Scott isn’t about to sweat over! That is until one of Cassie’s experiments with the Quantum Realm ends up sucking the whole family down to a hereto unknown world of infinite possibilities at a microscopic scale and they all have to find a way back out. This isn’t as easy as it would seem however as the Quantum Realm is no longer just a vaguely defined world of microbes and far-out imagery; it’s a thriving society full of itty-bitty people and creatures who are all under the authoritarian thumb of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors) and the appearance of the Ant-Family along with their powerful Pym Particle technology may be just what he needs to expand his kingdom. Will our heroes be able to escape from the clutches of Kang’s army, including his top warrior MODOK, without giving Kang the tools he needs to escape? With Janet having spent so much time in the Quantum Realm before being rescued in the last movie, is it possible she knows more about what’s going on here than she’s been letting on? Seriously, I know he’s actually a hero at heart and can prove himself in dire circumstances, but what exactly is Ant-Man gonna do to a guy who calls himself The Conqueror? Get really small and pull his nose hairs!?
And so with the good must also come the not-so-good. Yes, it is time once again to look at some movies that just didn’t quite hit the mark and I think 2022 had a pretty decent crop of movies that needed some improvement. We’re still coming out of the Pandemic, by which I mean most everyone is completely ignoring the ongoing Pandemic, and so a lot of films got caught in the lurch which might have been a contributing factor in these films not living up to their potential, though whether there’s a reasonable excuse or not, it’s still worth pointing out what was done poorly and how they could have been just a little bit better! Let’s get started!!
Crimes of the Future
While I’ve always felt that this yearly list is not just a Worst of the Year list in disguise, it’s still probably worth stretching my conception of what can be talked about here which is why I’m including a movie I actually genuinely liked but cannot deny is heavily flawed. David Cronenberg’s bizarre snapshot into the lives of pretentious body-horror art snobs is a unique take on his contribution to filmmaking, though knowing if it’s sincere, a send-up, or his deepest dreads brought to life is a question I don’t feel qualified to answer; at least not until he hires me to be his therapist. There are definitely the bones of a great movie in here and I can appreciate a lot of what he’s trying to say, but it feels like they just didn’t finish filming it and had to cobble it all together in the editing room. Perhaps the issue is that it’s trying to be in two worlds as it wants to be a meditative and immersive look into a disturbing future that in some ways reflects our own culture while at the same time weaving a narrative of rebellion, political maneuvering, and the curious motives our of enigmatic protagonist. The former ends up being undercut by too many scenes of exposition and narrative maintenance while the latter feels underdeveloped and missing some very important story beats despite the exposition trying to fill in the gaps. Perhaps a rewatch will clarify more of the narrative which would in turn provide the structure and momentum to carry us through the gaps between its more bizarre moments, but even with it feeling like an incomplete work it still ends up being an utterly unique beast that’s far more interesting than something more straightforward and less imaginative.
I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly punctual with these things, but the start of 2023 really threw me for a loop and it’s taken me much longer than I would have liked to put out these lists. Still, there’s no shame in taking your time with something you only do once a year, and given how little free time I’ve had the last few weeks to work on it, I’m surprised I managed to get them done at all. In any case, we’re starting with the good list and 2022 definitely had some standouts even if we were still trying to figure out how to make movies in a Post-Pandemic world; or at least in a world that is choosing to ignore the still ongoing pandemic. In any case, let’s get started!!
Honorable Mention– The Marvel Cinematic Universe
It’s hardly an interesting choice given how pervasive the MCU has been for the last decade and even I’ll admit to feeling some fatigue in trying to keep up with it all. Still, where other franchises are struggling to adapt to the new Normal, Marvel has managed to once again stay ahead of the curve with a slew of outings this year that will cater to just about anyone still invested in this universe. Lighter fare like the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and She-Hulk sat alongside some of its darker outings like Moon Knight and Werewolf by Night, and all were perfectly suited for a more casual viewing experience which was greatly appreciated as things got very hectic this year. Moon Knight in particular was a highlight as it had some excellent acting to go with its moody atmosphere and I appreciated that it spent much more time on that than the action so that when things finally did ramp up it felt like a genuine escalation of stakes. The ones that did make it to theater, like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder, may not be the highlights of the MCU but were still some of the better blockbusters of the year and are the kind of movies that make theaters worth seeking out even as they cede more and more ground to the streaming services. In any case, this is less about saying that Marvel is the height of cinema as it is about appreciating how they continue to make their output more accessible with each passing year; something that DC and Warner Bros Discovery have proven is not as easy as it looks.
Michael Bay may not always hit it out of the park but I appreciate the times when it’s clear that he’s invested in the movie he’s making and not just churning out another paint-by-numbers summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, those films also tend to be the ones that underperform and even with such a low budget to overcome, this just didn’t grab audiences the way that it should have. It’s a shame that, once again, he makes a great film and not enough people show up to see it, but regardless of its lackluster box office, it’s still one of the better action films of the past few years. Gunfights, chase scenes, they’re all present and accounted for in Bay’s uniquely exaggerated world, but the cinematography is a standout as he manages to pull off some fantastic shots with far fewer resources than he’s used to working with; once again proving how much of a genuine auteur this guy is even if I can barely stand half his filmography. It helps that this is just as much a character piece as it is an action film with the majority of the film taking place in or around the titular ambulance, and with such a tight focus it ensures that the momentum is constantly motivated and forward moving which can often be an issue with his bigger movies that tend to spread themselves too far with no clear direction or purpose. Bay’s passion is infectious when he really puts himself into a project and I hope that those Transformers movies got him enough clout to continue making movies like this, and I’ll still show up to see them even if no one else will.
Knock at the Cabin and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by M Night Shyamalan
M Night has had one of the more interesting career revivals as his latest film are not quite reaching the peak of his earlier work, but they’ve been solid features that have made a decent amount of money, so he’s gained much of his prestige back after being thought of as a joke for over a decade. Is his latest mysterious picture even more evidence that the king of twists is clawing his way back on top, or will it turn out that the hope he inspired in us was his greatest twist of all? Let’s find out!!
Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge) are just trying to have a pleasant holiday with their daughter Wen (Kristen Cui), but things just can’t seem to go right! They have no cell service in their cabin, DoorDash isn’t willing to deliver this far out into the woods, and if that wasn’t bad enough, four religious fanatics with makeshift weapons and color-coordinated outfits have broken into their vacation home and tied them to a couple of chairs! The leader of the group is Leonard (Dave Bautista) who informs this unlucky family that the apocalypse is coming and there’s only one very arbitrary way to avoid it that no one here is going to like. The other three intruders, Sabrina, Adriane, and Redmond (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abby Quinn, and Rupert Grint) plead their case as best as they can, but it’s certainly a hard sell and time is running out as the world seems to start crumbling around them. Will Eric, Andrew, and Wen be able to escape from their tormentors before they do something even more drastic? Is this just a simple case of mass hysteria as the four intruders see fate where there’s only coincidence, or is there more to the story than can be rationally understood? Seriously, what’s with the matching shirts? It’s not exactly something you’d do if you DIDN’T want to come off as complete weirdos!
Plane and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate
Directed by Jean-François Richet
Gerard Butler and I have something of an understanding; albeit one that’s completely one-sided. As long as he doesn’t make anything as truly detestable as London Has Fallen again, I’ll continue to hold him up as one of our best B-Movie action stars. Shouldn’t be too hard as being better than London Has Fallen is a very low bar to clear, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of his post-2016 outings. Will his latest outing, which looks to be as simple and straightforward as its title, prove to be another solid entry in his shining career, or will he finally sap away whatever goodwill I had left for him? Let’s find out!!
Our pilot for this adventure is Brodie Torrance (Gerard Butler) who has the dark background, short temper, and cheeky wisecracks of a typical Hollywood action star, but he’s not in the mood for heroics and just wants to get home to his daughter after this one last flight. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie if something bad didn’t happen, and after being brow beaten by corporate to fly through a storm to save some fuel, the plane crashes on an isolated island far from their intended flight plan; leaving it up to our esteemed captain to keep order and find a way to bring everyone back home. Complicating matters is the presence of a convict Louis (Mike Colter) who was added to the flight at the last minute, not to mention a bunch of whiney passengers who want to live stream their plight, but those concerns are small potatoes compared to the army of angry militias that are barreling towards them with the intent to murder them, ransom them, or both. Will Brodie be able to keep the peace in such a tense situation while working on a way to contact the outside world? Can Louis be trusted as an ally in keeping these people safe, and what will he do when the situation puts him closer and closer to being a free man? Did they at least save the in-flight peanuts, or are those still gonna cost extra?
M3GAN and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Gerard Johnstone
Every year like clockwork we get a horror movie that seemingly comes out of nowhere and gets the mass’s attention in a big way. Last year it was Terrifier 2, arguably Malignant the year before, and with this little robot girl’s meme-worthy dance moves, there was little doubt that this was going to make a splash in the usually ho-hum month of January. Still, the killer-doll movie is not the easiest story to pull off as failing to make the situation scary turns it into laughable nonsense, and however well M3GAN can pull off those Tik-Tok dances, she’s still gonna have to deliver on the horror if this is to live up to the hype. Is this a fantastic entry in the genre with a very savvy marketing campaign, or have we already seen the best this movie has to offer? Let’s find out!! Each generation needs its definitive doll; from Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo all the way to Bratz and Monster High. Of course, none of those dolls were able to connect to the web or pass a Turing Test, and that’s the niche that M3GAN (Amie Donald and Jenna Davis) hope to fill as her creator Gemma (Allison Williams) promises to not just be a toy but a true friend! Good thing too, considering that Gemma’s sister just died in a horrible car crash with her husband and now has to take care of her niece Cady (Violet McGraw) who she can’t quite relate to but provides just the inspiration she needs to turn M3GAN into more than just a pipe dream and a tortured anagram for “Model 3 Generative Android”. With M3GAN finally approaching something resembling functional, Gemma gives her to Cady to help her navigate life after such a devastating loss which also allows her to field test the robot so her company can put her on the market. It certainly seems like a lot of responsibility to put on a freshly compiled artificial intelligence, and perhaps Gemma’s eagerness gets the best of her as M3GAN seems to be learning a little too much out there in the real world; one that can’t easily be quantified by code or operates on a set of defined rules. Will M3GAN take the wrong lessons from the world around her and become yet another cautionary tale of science gone wrong? How will Cady cope with the loss of her parents, and can M3GAN be a suitable replacement for the love and support that Gemma seems unable to provide? Seriously, is there anyone out there, robot or otherwise, that can remain well-adjusted with a non-stop internet connection?
We all know how bad the Star Wars Holiday Special is, but there’s more to the story than it just being a poorly made variety show. What went on behind the scenes that led to the special turning out this way, and how has it affected the Star Wars franchise ever since?
Halloween may be in our rearview mirror, but I saw quite a few movies that I wanted to talk about! After all, if Christmas can start encroaching on the months leading up to it, why can’t Halloween bow out with a bit of fanfare? Was this a great year for spooky movies and frightful flicks, or was this crop of films as disappointing as getting a rock while Trick-or-Treating? Let’s find out!!
Terrifier 2 is owned by Bloody Disgusting
Directed by Damien Leone
One year after the horrific events of the first film, Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) is back and ready to turn another Halloween into an unfathomable blood bath. This time around, however, he’s accompanied by a young girl in clown makeup (Amelie McLain) who is egging him on further and seemingly in the direction of Sienna (Lauren LaVera) who’s having strangely prophetic dreams about the killer while her brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) is becoming obsessed with last year’s killings. With such a nightmarish and cheekily-obnoxious villain on the loose, will anyone survive this Halloween with their sanity, and organs, intact?
It’s the 2022 Little Indie Film That Could as everyone in horror circles started talking this one up throughout October, and for the most part the enthusiasm is warranted. For me, the first one suffered from a very straightforward and uninspired narrative that was only salvaged by the interesting new villain at the heart of it, Art the Clown; truly a monster for our time. What we have with this film is exactly the kind of thing you want from a sequel as it bolsters what worked about the original but is unafraid to take things in new directions. The rather one-note grungy aesthetic of the first film got old fast, even with the absurd escalation of violence, and thankfully they improved greatly on that with a new vibrant coat of paint that makes the set pieces far more interesting, and there’s a depth to storytelling that allows for more than just picking off victims one after the other. Art gets to have a bit more personality and we see more of his internal machinations between violent murders, and Thornton’s eerie performance that’s one part Pennywise and nine parts Reddit Troll keeps his scenes compelling without allowing the film to twist things too far to his perspective as I did genuinely root for the cast of characters here who were caught in the crosshairs. Where the movie will gain its infamy will be the gore scenes which are at least a little more tasteful than they were in the first one, but are still some of the bloodiest and nastiest kills we’ve seen in quite a while, and it certainly helps that there’s more context here that gives some weight to the kills. Where the first film’s pacing stopped dead at the halfway point, this one manages to keep things escalating all the way to the bitter end. The film is a huge improvement in terms of tone, cinematography, and ambition, but where it falls short is in its writing which, as I said is much improved with solid characters and more creative set pieces, but it also feels rather amateurish. It’s a testament to the value of good nuts and bolts writing when you don’t even notice the movie establishing its characters, rules, and boundaries, and this movie is in too much of a hurry to show off that it keeps contradicting itself or leaves very basic things far too ambiguous. You could argue that it’s another feature and not a bug, that the unfiltered imagination of its creator is far more interesting than any number of overly polished horror remakes. I can get somewhat behind that given how out-there the movie is and that it at least partially operates on dream logic, but abstraction and symbolism are not the antitheses of coherent narratives and there are mistakes here that feel more to do with inexperience or carelessness than ambition. Perhaps the example that stuck out the most for me was how the movie could never settle on the age for its main character; a seemingly inconsequential point, but one that sticks out like a sore thumb when you consider how few other movies stumble over such a question. With a better aesthetic, more varied locations to wreak havoc in, and an imaginative spirit that grows the narrative far outside the confines of the original, this is definitely a sequel that gives you more to chew on and I’d say that it’s worth your time if you’re looking for something outside of mainstream horror offerings. Still, I feel there’s a ways to go for this series to truly live up to its potential and I hope that the creators are using their time in the spotlight to grow as filmmakers.