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Movie Review: ‘Barbarian’ is Not a Creative Game-Changer or Box Office Powerhouse

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September 22, 2022 With “Barbarian,” writer/director Zach Cregger of “The Whitest Kids U Know” becomes the latest performer primarily known for comedy to take a stab at the horror genre. The gold standard is of course Jordan Peele, whose “Get Out” in 2017 was an out-of-nowhere success both at the box office and awards podiums. Then there’s John Krasinski, who led “A Quiet Place” to critical and commercial success in 2018, and perhaps even more impressively, “A Quiet Place Part II” to becoming arguably the first post-pandemic blockbuster last year. “Barbarian” isn’t a creative game-changer or a box office powerhouse, but it gets Cregger’s foot in the door for what might be a rewarding career in horror. The film (at first) follows Tess (Georgina Campbell), a woman traveling under unenviable circumstances. It’s dark, it’s rainy, she’s not familiar with the area, and she’s in a bad part of Detroit. All she wants to do is check into her rental home, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s no key in the drop box. But there is a light on inside. It’s a skittish man named Keith (Bill Skarsgard), who claims that he’s the one renting the house this weekend. He offers to share the house, and the out-of-options Tess agrees. But something is off about Keith. He suffers from night terrors, he insists way too hard that he’s not a threat, and he’s played by Pennywise from “It.” Tess finds her way into the basement, and clearly someone has been doing more than laundry down there. She finds an unlit passage and enlists the moderately-suspicious Keith to go ahead of her to investigate. Something horrific happens.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Decline ‘The Invitation’

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September 17, 2022 Last year, a longstanding tradition was bucked when the MCU’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” opened to an impressive $75 million at the domestic box office over Labor Day weekend. For some reason, maybe having to do with the kids being back in school, Labor Day weekend is typically one of the worst box office weekends of the year. Not just one of the worst holiday weekends, weekends overall. Now in 2022, things are back to relative normal, and theaters were once again nearly deserted over Labor Day weekend. The big movie was a re-release of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” from last December with $6 million, followed by “Top Gun: Maverick” from May, “DC League of Superpets” from July, “Bullet Train” from early August, and “The Invitation” from last week. I was on vacation last weekend and unable to review “The Invitation,” so it gets the dubious honor of warranting a review on this ditch on the box office calendar.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: There’s A Lot to Like About ‘Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero’

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September 14, 2022 Here we are with another anime movie based on a property that is entirely unfamiliar to me. Actually, that’s not true – I’ve at least heard of “Dragon Ball” (though this is the first time I haven’t seen a “Z” attached) and I know its main character is named Goku. That’s more than I can say for recent big-screen versions of “Demon Slayer” and “Jujutsu Kaisen,” but I know it isn’t much help. Just remember that everything that follows is from the perspective of someone who is very late to the “Dragon Ball” party. The film largely follows characters that are descended from supposedly familiar players. Evil tycoon Magenta, the son of previous villain Commander Red, teams up with Dr. Hedo, the brilliant-but-arrogant grandson of evil scientist Dr. Gero, to reform the defunct Red Ribbon Army and create androids that can take over the world. Hedo creates formidable fighters Gamma 1 and Gamma 2 as a sort of warm-up. The two think they’re superheroes working for the good guys, hence the film’s title. But Hedo’s real assignment is to perfect Cell Max, a massive being capable of unimaginable destruction. I hate it when villains seek to cause irreparable damage to the planet in the name of ruling it – do they really want to take over a massive crater? – but clearly Magenta is set on going in this direction.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Writer/Director Jordan Peele’s Third Horror Outing ‘Nope’ is a Solid Effort

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September 6, 2022 I had to take a week off from the column three weeks ago when “Nope” opened at #1 at the domestic box office. While I’m not sorry that I gave all my attention to a wedding that weekend (shoutout to my Uncle John and new aunt Amy!), it is a shame that this movie didn’t get a review until now. The film follows O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em Haywood (Keke Palmer), sibling owners of a Hollywood horse ranch. The ranch has been in the Haywood family for generations, but has been going through some tough times ever since the death of patriarch Otis (Keith David). O.J. knows how to handle the horses, but isn’t socially graceful with the Hollywood people that hire the trained animals. Em is more fluent in the ways of Hollywood, but doesn’t know the first thing about horses. The pair’s skills are supposed to compliment each other, but right now they’re just failing on both fronts. There’s an offer on the table from Jupe (Steven Yeun), a former child star with a traumatic past and a tacky amusement park, to buy the ranch, but O.J. is not ready to sign away his birthright. By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Chris Hemsworth Demonstrates Effortless Chemistry in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’

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July 14, 2022 Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hasn’t been seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” where he decapitated Thanos, got really fat, and ultimately left to go have space adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy. I remembered the first two parts just fine, but I had to be reminded of the third prior to “Thor: Love and Thunder.” It seems like the movie had to be reminded of that as well, like it only remembered at the last minute that it needed to include the Guardians. Chris Pratt and company pop up early in this movie, but they and Thor soon part ways. If you saw this movie’s advertising and thought you were in for a 50/50 Thor/Guardians split, you are in for a letdown. Fortunately, the old-hat Guardians are replaced with something arguably even better: the return to the MCU of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Thor’s former lover from the Asgardian god’s first two standalone films in 2011 and 2013. Jane’s mind is as sharp as ever, but her body is failing her. She travels to the city of New Asgard, now a tourist trap run by a bored Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to see if she can be magically treated by the remnants of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, which was destroyed in “Thor: Ragnarok” back in 2017. Due to a protection spell put on the hammer by Thor while he and Jane were dating, the hammer repairs itself with Jane as its new wielder. By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Minion Mayhem Continues with ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’

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July 7, 2022 I believe the opening of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” represents an important milestone. If I’m correct, this is the last movie whose trailer I saw prior to the pandemic. I’ve made a ton of jokes about how many times I had to sit through the trailers for “Morbius” and “Top Gun: Maverick” before those movies opened, but unless I’m mistaken, this was the last holdout. Was the two-year-plus wait worth it? Not really. It’s not the disaster/punchline that “Morbius” was, but it isn’t up to the level of a crowd-pleasing smash like “Top Gun: Maverick,” either. The new film takes place long before the “Despicable Me” movies, but after 2015’s “Minions.” 11-year-old Gru (Steve Carell, whose vaguely-Eastern-European accent is even more annoying when he adds childlike affectations) dreams of one day becoming a supervillain. Luckily there’s a spot open on the legendary squad known as the Vicious 6 since they kicked out founding member Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) right after he procured them a powerful relic. The Vicious 6, now led by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), dismiss Gru for being too young, and he retaliates by stealing the relic for himself. He’s soon abducted by Wild Knuckles, who is planning his comeback. Gru is simultaneously terrified and in awe of his favorite villain. Maybe as a side-project to the kidnapping, W.K. can mentor him on becoming a supervillain.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Lightyear’ Falls Flat with Action, Setting, Unfunny Jokes, and Characters

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June 23, 2022 The streak is over. For over a quarter of a century, Pixar has been turning out some of the most thoughtful, imaginative, entertaining movies on the planet. The studio’s annual output usually tops my year-end Best List, and I frequently hope that one of its movies will win an unprecedented-for-animation Best Picture Oscar. And even though I may not love every single one of their movies (“The Good Dinosaur” just barely scraped by), all have them have at least been good enough to warrant a recommendation from me. Until now. With “Lightyear,” I have to say for the first time ever that Pixar has let me down. A title card tells us that this was the favorite movie of Andy from “Toy Story” back in the 90’s. It was why he wanted a Buzz Lightyear action figure so badly. I have a hard time believing that this was ever a child’s favorite movie, and a harder time believing that any child who did see it would want a Buzz toy. All the outer space stuff in this movie? Fine, suspension of disbelief and all that. But that even one kid was sold on Buzz based on this movie Unswallowable.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Jurassic World Dominion’ Proves There is Still a Place in Moviegoers’ Hearts for Man-Eating Dinosaurs

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June 16, 2022 Even among the crowded 2010’s box office, “Jurassic World” managed to be one of the most successful franchises of the decade, after “Stars Wars” and the MCU. This despite my worries that “Jurassic Park” fandom ended after the disastrous third film in 2001. The first two films of the new trilogy made a combined $1 billion at the domestic box office, proving that there is indeed still a place in moviegoers’ hearts for man-eating dinosaurs. Now comes conclusion “Jurassic World Dominion,” which is opening in the 2020’s where almost everything underperforms. But this movie is entertaining enough that I don’t see why it can’t be an exception. The movie picks up four years after teenage clone Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) let a cache of dinosaurs out of her grandfather’s compound and into the world. She now lives in an isolated cabin with former dino-keeper Owen (Chris Pratt) and redemption-seeking former exploiter Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). She needs to be kept hidden away from bad people who want her clone DNA, but she wants to go on adventures and live life. She needs rescuing roughly one minute after striking out on her own, as she gets kidnapped trying to rescue a raptor, also captured for its DNA.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ is Predictably Funny with Creative Wordplay

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June 9, 2022 Since premiering in 2011, “Bob’s Burgers” has very quietly become an invaluable part of Fox’s Sunday night animation lineup. In fact, it has become the best part. By which I mean that current-era “Bob’s Burgers” is better than current-era “Family Guy” or “The Simpsons,” though 90’s “Simpsons” is something of an all-time champion. Now struggling restaurant owner Bob Belcher and his family have made the jump to the big screen, and the result is predictably funny and enjoyable. Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and his wife Linda (John Roberts) are hoping to get an extension on a bank loan so they can keep their restaurant open for its best summer ever. The extension is curtly denied, and the family has just a week to make payment or they’ll be shut down. Bob will have to sell a lot of burgers to make the payment, but the start of summer means the start of tourist season, so they might just pull it off. But then a huge sinkhole opens up in front of the restaurant, blocking its entrance, which means the family can sell zero burgers. Bob’s friend Larry (Larry Murphy) tries to set them up with a cart so they can sell burgers at the nearby boardwalk, but they don’t have a vendor’s license the local carnies aren’t exactly welcoming.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Likeable Characters and Exciting Action Sequences Make ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ a Crowd-Pleasing Summer Blockbuster 

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June 2, 2022 I watched the original “Top Gun” from 1986 to prepare for “Top Gun: Maverick.” The aerial stuntwork and action sequences were impressive, but like many 80’s movies, it fell into the trap of having a smarmy protagonist in Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. I was particularly skeezed out by a scene where he blatantly overstepped a boundary by following prospective love interest Charlie (Kelly McGillis) into a ladies’ room to hit on her. Fortunately, Maverick is much better-behaved in the new movie, at least around women. He still gives his superiors headaches with his against-protocol flying style, but he’s done enough growing up in the last 36 years that I can properly root for him now. The new film opens with Maverick saving a manned Navy flying program from a drone advocate (Ed Harris) by pushing a prototype plane to Mach 10. The flight is totally reckless and the plane is destroyed, but all Maverick had to do was get it to Mach 10 in the first place, so it counts as a win. The bureaucrat wants to ground Maverick permanently over the stunt, but our hero is instead transferred to the Top Gun flight academy in California, where he is to instruct an elite group of pilots on how to take out a secret weapons arsenal on dangerous foreign soil (the exact country is unspecified, probably for the best).  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Acting, Writing, and Production Design are the Best Things Out in Full Force for ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era’

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May 26, 2022 It might not be the epitome of blockbuster entertainment, but I do understand the appeal of “Downton Abbey.” The British television series, which ran from 2010-2015, is recognized as the most acclaimed “international” series in Emmy history. And of course, it developed a fandom based on its impeccable 1920’s costumes and sets, as well as its intricate storylines and snappy dialogue. A post-series movie came out in 2019, and made just short of $100 million at the domestic box office. That performance warranted a sequel with “A New Era.” I don’t think the new film will find the same success as its predecessor, as it’s opening in a “New Era” of its own, one where theater attendance is way down. But I would love to be proven wrong, as this is a very enjoyable movie. Everyone from the aristocrats to the servants has a story at Downton Abbey, with over 20 billed characters interacting. The movie does the abundant cast better justice than I can in my story summation. Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) inherits a villa in the south of France from an acquaintance she hasn’t seen in decades. Her son Robert (Hugh Bonneville) brings his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and a host of family members and servants to the villa to meet the benefactor’s son (Jonathan Zaccai) and hopefully uncover the nature of their parents’ relationship (Robert fears the worst).   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Many Things are Wrong with ‘Firestarter’; Hard to Think of Anything Positive

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May 20, 2022 It’s the week after a big blockbuster in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and you know that means: I’m going to review a movie that got absolutely stomped on at the box office. There can be respectable runners-up in busy holiday seasons, but very rarely does something worthwhile open right after that first-weekend-in-May extravaganza, especially when the MCU is involved. Make no mistake, Universal sent this movie out to die, its only audience comprised of people who “have” to see a movie every week (people like me, come to think of it). And being sent out to die is exactly the kind of release this movie deserves. The film is based on a Stephen King novel about a girl with telekinetic powers that can cause deadly destruction when emotionally triggered. Not “Carrie,” a different one, though I can’t help but think that giving the main character a name that’s about two letters off isn’t going to make it seem less derivative. 11-year-old Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) can start fires with her mind whenever she wants, and sometimes when she doesn’t want. It’s basically the opposite problem as the main character from a certain kids’ movie, and yes, I did sarcastically sing “Let It Go” a few times while watching this garbage.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Can Never Quite Deliver the Right Amount of Chaos

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May 13, 2022 After “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” I was a little apprehensive about the Marvel Cinematic Universe exploring more of the Multiverse. Sure, seeing guest stars from two other universes was great and all, but I was (and still am) worried that the MCU will use the Multiverse as an excuse to do whatever it wants. Years of continuity can be undone with the writers just shrugging and saying, “The Multiverse.” Don’t get me wrong, some course corrections may be worth making (can we get Michael B. Jordan’s “Black Panther” villain Erik Killmonger back somehow?), but if they’re overdone, the movies will become stakeless and uninteresting. The good news is that “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t fall into this trap. Aside from a rapid-fire sequence in the middle, this movie only spends significant time in four or five universes. We get a variety of settings without the movie overdoing it, like the imaginative-but-cluttered “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” For a movie about the Multiverse, this movie was a lot more grounded than I expected, and I mean that in a good way. The bad news is that I couldn’t really get invested in the story in any universe, and of course I don’t mean that in a good way.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Characters Given Great Deal of Charm by Cast of ‘The Bad Guys’

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May 5, 2022 The animated comedy “The Bad Guys” has very quietly been the #1 movie at the domestic box office for the past two weekends. The film follows a group of supposedly unlikeable animals as they do bad, do bad while they pretend to want to do good, then grapple with the decision whether or not to actually do good. Spoiler Alert for this family movie: they do not unanimously decide to remain bad. The leader is the Big Bad Wolf (Sam Rockwell), his best friend is Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the rest of the team is Miss Tarantula (Awkwafina), Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson). At the start of the movie, they lead a life of crime since no one is willing to give them a chance in life, what with the scariness and portrayals as villains and such. Seriously, the world is afraid of “these” animals? These are the most family-friendly versions of these animals imaginable. I’ve been unnerved around some of the fakest snakes you’ll ever see, and I wasn’t for a second scared of the snake in this movie. The Beast from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” could be legitimately terrifying at times, so his arc about having to overcome his image made sense. To have the characters be so adorable so early just makes the film so… over-sanitized.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Magic is Long Gone From the Wizarding World of ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore’

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April 21, 2022 Unlike the 8-movie “Harry Potter” series, the “Fantastic Beasts” sector of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World has never been able to quite get off the ground. Maybe it’s because audiences find it hard to get behind skittish protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as a hero. Maybe it’s because of all the bad press surrounding actors Ezra Miller and Johnny Depp (here replaced by Mads Mikkelsen) and even Rowling herself. But I think the real reason is that audiences see “Fantastic Beasts” as a transparent cash-grab; Rowling was under pressure to add to the Wizarding World, so she came up with this 1920’s prequel series strictly for the sake of getting in more movies. There will always be viewers that want to see what happens next in the Wizarding World, but audiences both dedicated and casual can sense a lack of passion.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ Is A Fine Choice for Families with Kids

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April 14, 2022 Last week I reviewed “Morbius,” a film whose constant delays in release turned it into a punchline. Next week I’ll review the new “Fantastic Beasts,” part of a franchise whose behind-the-scenes scandals have turned it into a punchline. Sandwiched between the two is “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” an agreeable, lighthearted affair whose only crime is being a sequel to a film whose disastrous first trailer turned it into a punchline three years ago. One of the very few bright spots of the 2020 domestic box office was the success of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” The Sega video game adaptation made $148 million, making it one of only two movies to pass $100 million in that pandemic-tainted year. More importantly, it became the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time. Short of a pandemic-sized roadblock, “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” is on track to break that record thanks to a $71 million opening weekend and Easter right around the corner. Not bad for a franchise that gave the world one of its most hated CGI monstrosities when the first trailer was released in 2019. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the gangly, human-toothed Sonic from that trailer caused a months-long delay while the character was redesigned. But the rework paid off, as it led to both critical and commercial success for the film, not to mention interest in the sequel. By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘The Lost City’ Only Works in its Dramatic Scenes, Not Action or Comedy

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March 31, 2022 “The Lost City” is the kind of movie that looks like it was a lot more fun for the actors to film than it is for the audience to watch. Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum got to spend time in each other’s company, goofing around in a comedy in the jungle that was probably closer to a nice beach than the movie makes it seem. That fun should have translated to me enjoying the actors’ company right along with them, but it’s more like being subjected to lengthy footage of a friend’s vacation rather than the immersive experience that this movie wanted to be. Recently-widowed romance novelist Loretta Sage (Bullock) goes on a book tour to promote her latest novel, a lazily-assembled tome that combines her barely-addressed expertise in ancient history with the kind of trashy romance that sells paperbacks. She’s forced to share the stage with Alan Caprison (Tatum), her cover model and public face of protagonist Dash McMahon, brought in to play to audiences that don’t share Loretta’s passion for dead languages. The two don’t like each other, with her thinking he’s nothing more than a handsome face and him thinking she needs to lighten up. By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0’ Engages Viewers with Creative Designs

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March 24, 2022 Last year, the Japanese anime “Demon Slayer: Mugen Train” racked up an impressive $49.5 million at the domestic box office. It even accomplished the rare feat of climbing to the #1 spot in its second weekend after opening at #2 (because “Mortal Kombat” was terrible and fell like a rock). Similarly, the anime “Jujutsu Kaisen 0” opened at #2 this past weekend behind the third weekend of “The Batman” and I would love to see it climb to #1 next weekend. That overstuffed cash cow could stand to be taken down a peg and this movie deserves whatever success it can find. The story follows teenager Yuta (Megumi Ogata, and I’m going by the Japanese version with English subtitles, rather than the English-dubbed version that is alternately available) as he struggles with a powerful curse he accidentally put upon himself as a child. The curse takes the form of a powerful monster named Rika (Kana Hanazawa) that pops up and attacks enemies whenever he gets too upset. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and even contemplates submitting to an execution to rid the world of his curse, but blindfolded teacher Gojo (Yuichi Nakamura) tells him there is another way. Yuta can come study under him at a special secluded school and learn how to control the curse so that it benefits the world and even help rid it of evil curses. Comparisons to “Harry Potter” and “X-Men” are unavoidable, but the template is used to its full potential.    By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Characters in ‘The Batman’ Lack Fun and Every Misstep Seems so Glaring

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March 10, 2022 The first thing I noticed about Robert Pattinson’s take on Batman in “The Batman” was his walk. I don’t think there’s ever been so much emphasis put on his walk. When I picture Batman moving, I think of him swooping on a rope, or maybe running in place like he and Robin did in the opening to their 1966 TV show. But the whole “intimidating walk” thing is unique to this version. It’s emblematic of it, really. It’s well-shot and grounded, for people who like to take their comic book movies seriously. But at the same time, do we really need a take on Batman that’s this realistic? It’s a guy in a ridiculous costume up against one of the most colorful rogues galleries in all of entertainment. Can’t he be allowed to have fun and do some swooping? Other characters are lacking in fun as well. The Penguin (Colin Farrell – unrecognizable under an undeniably-great makeup job) is just a balding gangster with a nickname. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is a Zodiac knockoff with a little Jigsaw thrown in, though not the part with the creepy puppet. Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) embraces her gimmick the most, taking in several stray furballs and often utilizing her long fingernails, I mean, claws. By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: Channing Tatum Shines Under Canine Co-Star in ‘Dog’

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March 3, 2022 It is said that actors should never work with children or animals or they’ll be upstaged. This is most definitely true of star/co-director Channing Tatum in “Dog.” But the good news is that the dog is so great that there’s plenty of room for Tatum to shine under his canine co-star. There’s no shame in Tatum being #2 to this dog, just like there’s no shame in “Dog” being #2 to “Uncharted” at the domestic box office for the second weekend in a row. That movie had over $100 million more in its budget, plus a ton of other advantages. Though if I had my way, “Dog” would be the better performer of the two. Tatum stars (well, he’s the human star) as Briggs, a broken-down former Army Ranger. He suffers from PTSD, he never sees his daughter, he works a dead-end job in fast food, and he can’t even bother to get his military ID updated. He’s one recommendation away from a job that pays $200K a year, but he’s not going to get that recommendation given his array of injuries and mess of a personal life. On top of everything, a fellow Ranger named Rodriguez just died under particularly saddening circumstances.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Uncharted’ was Not Enjoyable with Lame Treasure Hunt, Unfunny Jokes, and Passable Action Sequences

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February 24, 2022 Solving puzzles is fun. Watching other people solve puzzles is less fun. Watching entire movies built around fictional characters solving puzzles (where the filmmakers have already decided whether or not the characters will ultimately solve the puzzles) is even less fun. It’s why I could never get into those “Escape Room” movies. Frankly I’m questioning how much I’m going to enjoy Batman doing battle with The Riddler in two weeks. But I do know that I didn’t have much fun at “Uncharted.” Tom Holland stars as Nathan Drake, a descendant of explorer Francis Drake, who dabbles in studying history and artifacts when he’s not stealing small treasures from bar patrons. He’s recruited by treasure hunter Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to find a stash of lost gold belonging to Ferdinand Magellan. Sully was working with Nate’s brother, who went missing and is presumed dead (feel free to roll your eyes at that presumption). Nate received a series of postcards from his brother, which may be a clue as to where the treasure can be found. Sully really just needs Nate for that one clue, but he also sees that the kid can be useful as a consultant, a decoy, or a temporary ally, but certainly not as a partner or a friend. Of course there will be an arc where the two become uneasy partners and friends.  By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Death on the Nile’ Manages to Keep its Head Above Water with Witty Dialogue and Chemistry Between Actors

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February 17, 2022 It is ironic that the #1 movie at the domestic box office on Valentine’s weekend would be one where all but one relationship ends badly. If you are watching this movie with a partner, be sure to say something like, “Good thing we’re not as screwed up as these people, right?” If your partner can’t answer because they are too busy jotting down notes on how to plan the perfect murder, perhaps your relationship has run its course. Following 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” Kenneth Branagh is back as legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. More importantly, Poirot’s ridiculous mustache is back, complete with its own black-and-white origin story. It’s almost, but not quite worth sitting through some lousy digital de-aging effects on Branagh to understand some of Poirot’s motivations. The bulk of the film takes place, in color, in 1937 Egypt. Poirot is on holiday when he spies old partner Bouc (Tom Bateman). By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Licorice Pizza’ Has a Subtle Way of Being a Rewarding Moviegoing Experience 

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February 3, 2022 There were no new wide movie releases this past weekend, and I can’t say I blame the studios given that a snowstorm kept much of the East Coast indoors. Outside of the COVID era, I think this is the farthest down the weekly box office chart I’ve ever had to go to find a movie to review. “Licorice Pizza” came in 9th place in its tenth weekend, earning less than $700,000 on fewer than than 800 screens in the whole country. It should be disheartening that I have to dig so deep, but actually it’s the opposite. I’m glad I have the opportunity to shine a light on this movie, one that normally wouldn’t get this kind of attention in a column that aims to cover blockbusters. The film comes courtesy of Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the most highly-acclaimed writer/directors of his era. It stars Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frequent Anderson collaborator) and singer Alana Haim, both making their film debuts. I’d say it is extraordinary that these two are so perfect in these roles right out of the gate, but I have to factor in that they have showbusiness pedigrees, so they’ll just have to settle for me saying that they give performances more than befitting their families’ reputations.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Redeeming Love’ is a Mushy Romance that is Poorly Paced and Unpleasant

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January 27, 2022 “Redeeming Love” is a cross between a Christian movie, a mushy romance, and a demented exploitation film. This might sound like an intriguing combination, but the genres do not go well together, nor do they result in an entertaining trainwreck. On top of my many, many complaints about this movie, it cannot be forgotten that it is a poorly-paced slog that has no business taking up 134 minutes of your time. Really, it has no business taking up one minute of your time, let alone 134. Set in the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, the film follows “Angel” (Abigail Cowan) as she is saved from a life of prostitution by humble farmer Michael (Tom Lewis). I’ll start with him. This is a character that can only exist as a protagonist in a work of fiction. To be sure, there are many men in the real world that are kind, compassionate, respectful, generous, patient, and refuse to take advantage of women even though they have ample opportunity to do so. But this is a guy that pays a prostitute double just to flirt. “Angel” runs away from him at least three times during the movie, and the official reason is that she thinks he’s too good to be true or she isn’t worthy of him, but I suspect that on an unofficial level she sees that he’s perfect and perfect is boring.   By Bob Garver

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Movie Review: ‘Scream’ is a Worthy Successor to 1996 Film; All Pieces in Place for a Great Slasher

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January 20, 2022 I love the original Wes Craven “Scream” from 1996. Not only do I count it among my favorite horror movies of all-time, it’s also one of my favorite comedies. The Ghostface mask worn by the film’s killers has given me plenty of sleepless nights, and I consider some of its jump scares to be among the best in cinema history. Then there’s all the reflexive humor about the characters being trapped in a horror movie and needing to follow certain “rules” to stay alive. Add in some likeable, memorable characters (I even have a soft spot for Rose McGowen’s Tatum, though some fans can’t see past a bad decision that leads to her death), and you’ve got a true modern classic. I didn’t much care for the sequels, though. The subsequent films could never come up with characters, jokes, or kills that could match the magic of the original. But now there is a “re-quel” version of “Scream” is in theaters, and it comes the closest to re-capturing my love for the 1996 film. By Bob Garver

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