The Batman

Gotham: a city beset with drugs and crime.  The police are overwhelmed and have sought the help of a vigilante known as Batman (Robert Pattinson).  Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask, is more than willing to oblige.  After two years, he has instilled fear into the city’s criminals, but criminal activity is on the rise despite his actions.  Within this hellish landscape emerges a man dressed in green and the city’s power structure in his sights.  On Halloween night, he brutally kills the mayor, but isn’t satisfied with committing murder.  Instead, he leaves behind ciphers, a card addressed to Batman and the words “No More Lies” scrawled on the victim’s face.  With each successive murder, the Riddler (Paul Dano) exposes the corruption at every level of Gotham.  For reasons known only to himself, he seeks revenge upon the people in Gotham’s power structure, including the mayor, the police commissioner, district attorney (Peter Sarsgaard) and a “rat” who helped them all put a gangster behind bars years ago.  Surprisingly, millionaire and philanthropist Thomas Wayne is also implicated by the Riddler, making Bruce a target as well.

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Minions: The Rise of Gru

In this prequel sequel, Gru (Steve Carrel) is intent on joining the Vicious6, a group of super villains who have deep-sixed their leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin).  Even though the minions have given Gru nothing but unwavering loyalty and dedication to his cause, he doesn’t believe that the minions are ready for prime time.  What 11 & ¾ year-old kid doesn’t need some help becoming a supervillain?  As for Wild Knuckles, he’s furious that the team he founded tried to kill him.  If you haven’t guessed, Minions: The Rise of Gru is about loyalty.  Well, it’s about loyalty in those moments when it isn’t hilariously funny.

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Nope

The flying saucer movie has been a staple for over seventy years.  The first movie to feature a UFO, appropriately titled The Flying Saucer, came out in 1950.  Since then, the genre has primarily been about a flying saucer, or flying saucers, showing up on Earth causing problems for hapless humans.  There have been some great ones over the years, including The Day The Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.  However, this category of science fiction mostly exists to provide cheap thrills.  Oh no, a big-headed alien has just abducted our helpless heroine!  Send in the Army and all of its tanks, jets and men with machine guns!

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Thor: Love and Thunder

What if all Gods are jerks who couldn’t care less about the suffering of the faithful?  For Gorr (Christian Bale), the sole surviving member of an extinct race whose daughter just died, the answer is simple: kill ‘em all!  If I didn’t know better, I’d accuse Thor: Love and Thunder (or Thor4) of appropriating Nietzsche’s most famous quote (God is dead) for a plot device.  Not to worry, this is the only deep thought the movie has to offer over its two hour run time.

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Where The Crawdads Sing

If Where The Crawdads Sing was only about a girl living in the North Carolina marsh who, after being abandoned by her entire family, learned how to survive and grew up to become a successful nature illustrator, the movie would have been a compelling one.  Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have anywhere near the confidence that Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has in herself.  Instead of following through on the themes of independence and self-reliance, the story chooses a safer approach by including a plethora of subplots that are under-cooked and unconvincing.

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Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis tells the story of a performer who, if you’re versed in American popular culture, needs no introduction.  This movie, however, is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill biopic.  While the movie does a decent job of recounting the key events of Elvis’ life, it intends to remind us of how exciting Elvis was as a performer.  Mission most definitely accomplished there, as Austin Butler and director Luhrmann amazingly channel the electricity of Elvis on stage, when he was at his best.  The movie also tries to refurbish Elvis’ image by addressing criticisms of racism and cultural appropriation.  Even though the movie’s attempts were made in good-faith, I doubt they will likely win over any new converts.

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The Black Phone

Set in 1978, a child killer nicknamed The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) has been terrorizing a Colorado suburb.  Under the guise of a hapless magician, he snatches kids in broad daylight, spraying an intoxicant into their faces before cramping them into his black van.  A middle-schooler named Finney (Mason Thames) eventually becomes his target and finds himself trapped in a soundproofed basement.  When Finney is alone, a phone on the wall rings.  This is curious as the phone is disconnected.  On the other end is the voice of another boy Finney knew.  Subsequent calls are from the other boys who’ve gone missing, five in all.  Initially they give Finney advice on how to not play The Grabber’s “game”, which has been lethal for them.  They then proceed to coach him on things he can do to try to escape.

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Lightyear

Pixar, the studio that has produced so many animated classics, has managed to do the unimaginable.  Somehow, they’ve taken one of their best known and beloved characters, Buzz Lightyear, and put him into a boring, generic science-fiction adventure.  On top of that, Buzz is no longer the officious-yet-funny blowhard.  Instead, he’s a person with no sense of humor and several troubling psychological tendencies.  In Lightyear, Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans) is a Space Ranger whose dislike of computers is matched only by his avoidance of help from others.  (Why?  Who knows.)  His single-mindedness nearly gets himself and everyone else killed, and from that point on, he’s fixated on undoing his mistake.  Buzz proceeds to spend years testing a new fuel cell that could get everyone back home, to the exclusion of all else.  Every test only lasts minutes for him, but years elapse for everyone else.  Best with failure after failure, he loses his only friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) to old age.  (Yes, this is a children’s cartoon.)

Fortunately, his new companion, a computerized cat robot named SOX (Peter Sohn), helps him solve a problem with the fuel cell.  But first, Buzz must deal with Zurg and his robot henchmen.  Why is Zurg attacking the colony?  Why is Zurg hell-bent on capturing Buzz?  The answers may surprise you, especially if you’ve seen The Lego Movie: The Second Part.  Everything about Lightyear is surprisingly lazy.  With the exception of SOX, the jokes fall flat.  The science-fiction aspect is a timid riff on Interstellar.  The graphics are shockingly dull for a company that made Wall-E.  The morals of the story, about moving on from failure and accepting the help of others, have none of the emotional resonance of prior Pixar movies.  There may never have been a good reason to make Lightyear, but that’s no excuse for the result being this shallow and listless.  If cribbing from a Warner Brothers animated feature isn’t the equivalent of Pixar hitting rock bottom, I don’t know what is.  Pixar won Best Animated Feature not even two years ago for Soul.  How can this be the same studio?  Not recommended.  (Not even on Disney+)

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Jurassic World: Dominion

In Jurassic World: Dominion, humanity is beset by two man-made disasters: dinosaurs running amok and gigantic locusts devouring the food supply.  The former is fallout from the previous movie, where the baddie had the brilliant idea to hold a dinosaur auction in his mansion.  The latter is the result of some nefarious genetic engineering on behalf of Biosyn, run by ruthless tech bro Dodgson (Campbell Scott).  Not content with controlling the world’s food supply, Dodgson is searching for Maisie (Isabella Sermon), a genetically-engineered clone who is now the ward of Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The supersized locusts catch the attention of Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who promptly recruits old flame Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to visit the Biosyn headquarters at the behest of mutual friend Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).  (They need a locust sample to prove that Biosyn is behind the big bugs.)  The headquarters doubles as a dinosaur sanctuary, and you just know the dinosaurs won’t be kept under wraps for long.  After Dodgson’s henchmen kidnap Maisie and Blue’s baby raptor, Owen and Claire head for Biosyn to retrieve their children.  After running from dinosaurs separately, the two casts unite so they can run away from the dinosaurs together.  

Dominion is not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination.  Its plot is driven by coincidences and contrivances.  The dialog is mostly perfunctory.  In spite of its limitations, I enjoyed it.  In the sixth entry of this franchise, the filmmakers can still rely on a solid performance by Pratt and a tolerable one by Howard to anchor the proceedings.  The dino-action is, as always, top notch.  The movie avoids the unforced errors that sank Fallen Kingdom, in that nobody does anything glaringly stupid.  I’m not sure if the reappearance of OG trio Neill, Dern and Goldblum was a panic movie to regain fans after that disastrous sequel, but it ultimately disappoints, with the gentlemen tossing gutterballs.  (Dern emerges unscathed.)

Fortunately, the chances director/writer Colin Trevorrow took with the story succeeded, and turned the movie into something better than the sum of its parts.  He thankfully moves the franchise beyond the tired “dinosaurs as entertainment” angle into interesting new territory.  He shows us what a world where dinosaurs and humans coexist actually looks like.  Then, he explores how the genetic engineering used to bring dinosaurs back to life could make things dramatically worse for humankind.  Finally, he turns the question of dominion on its head for a theme of cooperation and collaboration.  The movie also introduces several intriguing new characters, including DeWanda Wise’s tart cargo pilot Kyla, Dichen Lachman’s henchwoman Soyona and Mamoudou Athie’s Ramsey, an heir-apparent to Goldblum’s Malcolm.  Omar Sy is also back, and if this series will continue with another trilogy, he should be given the leading role.  Dominion takes risks when none were expected, and for that it earns my respect.  Recommended.

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Men

If director Alex Garland had any sense of humor at all, he would have titled the movie “Fear and Loathing in Cotson”.  As it is, Men is about how badly men behave, particularly when they are rejected by women.  Jesse Buckley plays Harper, a woman suffering in a marriage with the violent and emotional James (Paapa Essiedu).  When she says she wants a divorce, he threatens her with committing suicide.  He figures she would prefer to stay married over having to deal with the guilt of his death, but Harper is determined.  James dies suddenly, and it’s unclear whether it was intentional or an accident.  Some time afterwards, Harper decides to take a vacation.  She rents a house in the English countryside.  Once there, Harper meets proprietor Geoffrey, an overly polite English type.  On a walk, she’s stalked by a naked man.  Shortly afterwards, she is confronted by an angry child, an oily vicar, a dismissive policeman and assorted male dullards, all played by Rory Kinnear.   (“The Many Faces of Rory Kinnear” would also have been a better title.)

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