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    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: **** out of 4
    Mitsuha (right) and Taki (left) in Makoto Shinkai’s latest anime feature, Your Name

    Screw my cutoff dates, I need to talk about this movie! The latest Japanese anime feature by filmmaker, Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, The Garden of Words), Your Name is not only one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year but quite possibly one of the best anime films I have ever seen, Yeah, I’m going there.
    It’s not often a non-Studio Ghiblianime movie hits me in the feels so much and keeps me emotionally invested all throughout the film. Your Name is so beautifully told, the characters are so strong, the risqué Japan style humor is refreshingly funny, and the emotional drama is executed so flawlessly I almost forgot Hayao Miyazaki’s production company didn’t make this movie.
    I went to see the movie in its original Japanese language and it had me hooked from beginning to end. The language helps make the characters seem much more alive than an English dub despite being animated characters, and in addition to the artistic background designs and Japan culture, it feels like I’ve gotten lost in an anime Japan world.
    The film follows two teenagers, Itomori girl, Mitsuha Miyamizu (voiced by Mone Kamishiraishi-Wolf Children) and Tokyo boy, Taki Tachibana (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki-Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Summer Wars) who are complete strangers living separate lives in Japan, not once have they ever met. Until one day the two of them mysteriously switch places, Mitsuha wakes up in Taki’s body and he in hers.
    The body swapping seems to happen at random and Mitsuha and Taki must adjust their lives around each other. The two of them build a strong connection, communicate by writing notes for each other, and more importantly an imprint.
    When a comet strikes, something shifts and Mitsuha and Taki seek each other out wanting something more, a chance to meet in person. But as they try something more daunting than a long distance prevents them from seeing each other.
    Overall, Your Name is a perfect cinematic experience, can’t think of any problems with this film. The characters are developed very well and the best part is you CARE about them and want to see them together in the end, the hand-drawn animation is stellar and really makes Japan pop, and gives computer animation the finger (DISCLAIMER: I have nothing against computer animation but it’s so refreshing to see an animated movie that doesn’t need it).
    The humor is definitely more risqué than most PG-rated movies these days and certainly not America’s idea for PG-rated humor. References to sex, boobs, even scenes involving boobs being squeezed, I can safely say this is a PG rating that actually means something.
    On paper the story sounds like a typical teen melodrama, but let me tell you, the emotional drama of this film is unbelievable. The first act is pretty light and fluffy in tone but the second and third acts of this movie had some of the most tear-dropping moments I’ve ever experienced in an anime movie, characters experience death, time travel to prevent some future catastrophe, and the two characters forgetting each other’s names, haven’t felt like this since When Marnie Was There.
    The more I watched the dramatic aspects of the film, the more I realized this is the kind of material I look for in great anime. Emotional connections with its characters and following them on their journey, I could care less if a Sailor Moon character died (Buy your torches and pitchforks here!) but a character in something like this is enough to get me crying, I’m dead serious.
    Your Name is a thoughtful, beautiful, and emotional journey from beginning to end that will be impossible for me to forget. Thanks to strong characters, thought-provoking storytelling, and drama that hits multiple feelings at the same time, this is one of those movies I can recommend not only to anime and film enthusiasts but everyone.

    Please take some time out of your weekend while you’re waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi and just go to your local art-house theater and see this movie. You won’t regret it, I’ll probably be watching it several more times in the future to guarantee that I will never forget…Uh, what movie am I talking about again?

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (left) and Vin Diesel (right) return as Luke Hobbs and Dominic Toretto in The Fate of the Furious

    Who asked for this after the surprisingly beautiful finale to 2015’s Furious 7? I was very skeptical when I first heard an eighth installment of the long-running Fast & Furious franchise especially after the death of Paul Walker, who played Brian O’Connor in the earlier films.
    Furious 7 expanded the action of the franchise to the point where the climax was a car chase involving a futuristic looking attack drone, and was a perfect farewell to Walker, it would have been a perfect conclusion to the series. Guess what, grossed over a billion dollars at the box office, became one of the highest grossing films of all time, and Universal just wants to shake as much cash out of these movies as possible.
    That’s where The Fate of the Furious comes in, with Vin Diesel (Riddick trilogy, XXX, Guardians of the Galaxy), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (The Scorpion King, Central Intelligence, Moana), and (most) of the cast from the franchise reprising their roles, and under direction by F. Gary Gray (A Man Apart, The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton). Obviously, F. Gary Gray blew us all away with Straight Outta Compton and has directed good films before but I was worried because this was the first film in the franchise since 2006 to not feature both Diesel and Walker, and one of my favorite aspects of the first film as well as 5-7 was the chemistry between the two actors, not to mention both of the non-Diesel and Walker films that came before sucked the big one, 2 Fast 2 Furious and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
    So, I came into this movie not expecting much, and really, that’s what I got, The Fate of the Furious is dumb fun and nothing more. Over-the-top action, fast cars, corny dialogue, and beefy dudes and hot babes behind the wheels, pretty much everything that made Fast & Furious the franchise it is today.
    After the events of Furious 7, we find street racer, Dominic Toretto (Diesel) on his second honeymoon with his wife, Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez-Resident Evil, Avatar, Machete) in Cuba and starting a new peaceful life after Letty got her memory back. However, he is approached by a woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron-Monster, Prometheus, Mad Max: Fury Road), who is revealed to be a cyberterrorist and manages to manipulate Dom into working for her.
    One night, after a successful mission, Dom goes rogue and turns against his team to help Cipher plunge the Earth into World War III. It’s up to Letty, Agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson), Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson-Flight of the Phoenix, Transformers 1-3, Death Race), Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges-Hustle & Flow, Crash, RocknRolla), covert ops team leader, Frank Petty (Kurt Russell-Tombstone, Death Proof, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2), and hacker, Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel-Twenty8k, Game of Thrones, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) to stop Toretto and Cipher, and find out what she did to him, but the team will have to join forces with an old enemy, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham-Crank, The Transporter trilogy, The Expendables trilogy).
    The film also stars Luke Evans (The Hobbit trilogy, The Girl on the Train, Beauty and the Beast (2017)) as Owen Shaw, Elsa Pataky (Snakes on a Plane, Manual of Love 2, The Wine of Summer) as Elena Neves, Kristofer Hivju (Manhunt, Game of Thrones, The Last King) as Rhodes, Helen Mirren (Excalibur, The Queen, RED) as Magdalene, rapper, Tego Calderón as Tego Leo, and singer, Don Omar as Rico Santos.
    Overall, The Fate of the Furious delivers exactly what it advertises, vehicular mayhem and action at its finest. The highlight being the chase sequence in the middle of the film, yeah, the best action scene in the movie isn’t the climax this time around.
    The climax, while fun, I felt was kind of underwhelming, it was a chase on ice involving a submarine. It’s not bad but I wasn’t nearly as thrilled by it as I was with the drone chase in the last movie.
    The acting is pretty standard, traditional Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson performances, but the one who steals the show is Charlize Theron. She makes a great villain and the way she gets Dom to do what she says is actually kind of terrifying, I’m not giving it away, quite possibly as enjoyable as she was as Queen Ravenna in the Huntsman movies.

    If you’re a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise you’ll probably enjoy The Fate of the Furious even without the presence of Paul Walker. Don’t expect it to be as exciting as the earlier films but you’ll get plenty of Fast, dumb, fun.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
    Something Smurfy this way comes in Smurfs: The Lost Village

    As many of you know, I’ve had some bad experiences with film adaptations of Peyo’s iconic Smurfs cartoon in the past, me and everyone else. The Smurfs was a cartoon I barely watched growing up, I recall seeing bits and pieces of it when Cartoon Networkwas rerunning it, but it did not spark my interest.
    I’m not prejudiced towards The Smurfs, it’s pretty hard to rip on something clearly meant for little kids. Unless we’re talking about the dreaded live-action/animated films from Sony Pictures Animation, they Smurfin’ sucked, nothing more to say.
    Due to the very poor critical reactions towards the live-action movies, or Sony just wanting to shake more money out of children’s pockets, we got an all-animated reboot, Smurfs: The Lost Village. I had very low expectations coming into this movie due to my dissatisfaction of the earlier films, and after seeing the trailers and ads; but it looked much more promising and closer to its source material than The Smurfs (2011) or The Smurfs 2.
    I saw the movie, and came out very surprised, no, it’s not a good movie, but for a Smurfs movie, it’s a huge, HUGE, improvement over the earlier films. No live-action, no magic portal to the real world, no Neil Patrick Harris, no New York City (Bad City, you’re sleeping in the doghouse!).
    It’s the Smurfs in their own unique world and the bizarre things they encounter on their journey. So, this movie alone has much more imagination and more of an understanding of what The Smurfs is than either one of the live-action movies, and I’m so relieved to say that.
    The film follows, Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato-Camp Rock, Princess Protection Program, Glee), the only girl Smurf in Smurf Village, feeling out of place due to her being created by the evil wizard, Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson-The Office, Monsters VS Aliens, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) to capture the Smurfs so he can extract their magic essence and become the most powerful sorcerer ever. But thanks to Papa Smurf (voiced by Mandy Patinkin-The Princess Bride, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, The Wind Rises) she was able to turn her back on Gargamel and become good.
    During a fun day with her friends, Clumsy Smurf (voiced by Jack McBrayer-30 Rock, Phineas and Ferb, Wreck-It Ralph), Hefty Smurf (voiced by Joe Manganiello-Spider-Man, How I Met Your Mother, Ture Blood), and Brainy Smurf (voiced by Danny Pudi-Greek, Community, Powerless), Smurfette discovers a map that could quite possibly lead to another village of Smurfs. Upon hearing about the village, Gargamel and his lackeys, Azrael the cat and Monty the eagle plots to find it, capture all the Smurfs, and extract their essence.
    It’s up to Smurfette, Clumsy Smurf, Hefty Smurf, and Brainy Smurf to get to the village, warn the Smurfs about Gargamel, and fend him off.
    The film also features the voices of Julia Roberts (Hook, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Ant Bully) as Smurf Willow, Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious franchise, Avatar, Turbo) as Smurf Storm, Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as Smurf Blossom, Ariel Winter (Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children Complete, Phineas and Ferb, Mr. Peabody & Sherman) as Smurf Lily, singer, Meghan Trainor as Smurf Melody, Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed, New Girl, High School USA) as Grouchy Smurf, Gordon Ramsay (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen, MasterChef) as Baker Smurf (Fitting), Tituss Burgess (30 Rock, The Angry Birds Movie, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) as Vanity Smurf, Gabriel Iglesias-The Fluffy Movie, The Book of Life, Cristela) as Jokey Smurf, Jeff Dunham (The Jeff Dunham Show, Delta Farce, From Up on Poppy Hill) as Farmer Smurf, and the film’s director, Kelly Asbury (Shrek the Third, Gnomeo & Juliet) as Nosey Smurf.
    Overall, Smurfs: The Lost Village is everything the first live-action Smurfs movie should have been, but wasn’t. The movie understood the source material while still being a serviceable kids film.
    The Lost Village did not need magic portals, New York, or Neil Patrick Harris, instead it gave us new Smurfs, a simple but decently-paced story, humorous voice acting, and something the live-action movies were completely devoid of…IMAGINATION! The world of the Smurfs in this film is fascinating and amazing to look at, even if the animation isn’t exactly the best.
    Instead of boring old New York City or Paris, this film has Smurf eating flowers, rivers that float in the air, glowing bunnies that sound like horses, and plants that punch Smurfs with boxing gloves…where the Smurf was all this in your movies Raja Gosnell!?! The live-action films I can only call Smurfs by name, everything in this movie feels like an updated Smurfs cartoon, and I wouldn’t mind showing it to my kids and this coming from a guy who would keep the live-action movies as far away from my children as possible.
    A huge improvement over the earlier films, but there is a huge problem I have with this movie, the humor. Obviously, this movie is meant for kids, what is a common cliché for comedy in children’s films? Lots of butt and fart jokes, except here pretty much the entire comedic aspect of the film is fueled on this type of humor and it gets old REAL fast.
    But I am willing to forgive this movie for its lack of laughs because concept and story wise, it delivered what I wanted to see in a Smurfs movie, the world of it. The live-action movies lacked the imagination of the cartoons and humor, this movie lacks the humor but the imagination and creativity is in full force here, so I’m glad I saw it.

    If you want something harmless to take the kids to on a Saturday matinee or if you’re a longtime Smurfsfan, Smurfs: The Lost Village may deliver what you’re looking for.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    Scarlett Johansson as Major Mia Killian in Ghost in the Shell

    Unbelievable, after two infamous attempts to adapt a beloved Japanese anime into an American live-action film, Speed Racer and Dragonball: Evolution, we finally have an adaptation of an anime film that, for the most part, worked. Director, Rupert Sanders (Snow White & the Huntsman) and produced by Marvel Entertainment alumni, Avi and Ari Arad (X-Men 1-3, Spider-Man trilogy, Iron Man) bring the fascinating world of Mamoru Oshi’s Ghost in the Shell to life in (so far) the best American live-action adaptation of a Japanese anime we’ve gotten.
    I was both excited and very nervous about the film when I first saw the trailer back in November. It looked stunning from a visual perspective and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Jungle Book) kicking ass is always welcome no matter what she is, despite the controversy surrounding her casting choice.
    But, I can’t erase the sins of Speed Racer or Dragonball: Evolution, two notorious American adaptations of popular anime that were pretty much a complete insult to its source material. However, I recall talking about the production of the live-action film in my review of Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie from 2015, so it makes sense for me to watch it and see how it holds up compared to the 1995 classic or any of its sequels.
    And, the film is solid, not nearly as amazing as the original movie but it’s so refreshing to see a live-action adaptation that understood exactly what the world of Ghost in the Shell had to look like, keep the fans satisfied, and remain a standalone movie. It lacks the complex storytelling of the original film and kind of reverts to the typical good vs evil formula, but it’s done fine and the action is thrilling enough to keep audiences entertained, even if you haven’t seen the anime films before.
    Set in the near future where the majority of humans are augmented with cybernetics that enhance various traits like vision, strength, and intelligence, Major (Johansson) is the first of her kind, a woman who was saved from a terrorist attack, and was transformed into a cyber-enhanced soldier with a human brain devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals, courtesy of Hanka Robotics, the world’s leading developer of augmentative technology. But when terrorism reaches new heights including the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop them.
    Unfortunately, she soon discovers she’s been lied to and maybe the people who saved her, didn’t really save her, but stole her real life. Major is determined to find out who she was and find out who did this to her and stop them before they do it to others.
    The film also stars Takeshi Kitano (Yes, the man behind Takeshi’s Challenge) as Chief Daisuke Aramaki, Michael Pitt (Funny Games, Boardwalk Empire, Hannibal) as Hadley Cruz, Pilou Asbaek (R, A Hijacking, Game of Thrones) as Batou, Chin Han (The Dark Knight, 2012, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as Togusa, Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Chocolat, Godzilla (2014)) as Dr. Ouélet, Lasarus Ratuere (Terra Nova, The Mule, Ready for This) as Ishikawa, and Peter Ferdinando (Snow White & the Huntsman, 300: Rise of an Empire, High-Rise) as Cutter.
    Overall, Ghost in the Shell is one of those rare American adaptations of a popular anime that actually understood the source material and delivered a faithful re-telling of the first film. A minor issue I had with the film though, was the screenplay by Ehren Kruger, it’s not Transformers sequel bad but it can get really corny at times, thankfully it doesn’t ruin the movie.
    Most of the performances are solid, Scarlett Johansson as Major, the badass heroine, that’s pretty much been working for her since Iron Man 2, Peter Ferdinando is a great over-the-top villain as Cutter, Pilou Asbaek nailed Batou’s character, which shocked me because I thought his portrayal looked kind of silly in the trailer, and every time Takeshi Kitano was on-screen I couldn’t stop making jokes about Takeshi’s Challenge and perhaps you can call that game a prequel to this movie…just saying.
    Visually, it looks like the Ghost in the Shell world brought to life, really, the only way I can describe how it looks on-screen is like a hybrid of Blade Runner, A.I., and Back to the Future. Every shot of the city in this movie is absolute eye-candy, especially if you watch it on IMAX.

    It’s not a perfect adaptation of the anime, but just saying Ghost in the Shell is a solid movie at all and it understood the source material was so relieving. Die-hard fans, no need to worry, this is no Speed Racer or Dragonball: Evolution, it’s an American adaptation of a popular Japanese anime with EFFORT! And I’m so glad to say that, and on a side-note the film must be viewed on IMAX 3D, you won’t regret it.
  5. LIFE:

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    We were better off alone in Life

    No, this is not a prequel to the Venommovie, just letting you know, now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about Life. The latest film in the “Trapped in Space” sci-fi horror genre that Ridley Scott’s Alien made popular back in 1979.
    The film is directed by Daniel Espinosa (Easy Money, Safe House, Child 44) and was originally supposed to be directed by Byron Howard, yeah, the director of Tangled and co-director of Zootopia was set to direct a movie where an alien creature kills people in grotesque, horrifying ways. The marketing of the movie doesn’t show much which adds to the suspense and made me say “Whoa, how the hell does that happen? I won’t be able to sleep until I find out what it is”.
    So, I went to see it opening weekend and…it’s a decent horror flick but with LOTS of creative kills. At least from what I saw, the plot of the movie is very reminiscent of Alien meets Gravity where a group of people are trapped in space with an extraterrestrial life form out to kill them.
    The film follows a six-member astronaut crew aboard the International Space Station, senior medical officer, Dr. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal-Donnie Darko, Prisoners, Nightcrawler), Quarantine officer, Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson-Hercules (2014), Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Girl on the Train), American engineer, Rory “Roy” Adams (Ryan Reynolds-National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, The Proposal,Deadpool), space station pilot, Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada-Ringu 1 and 2, Sunshine, Mr. Holmes), biologist, Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare-The Dark Knight, Jupiter Ascending, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and commander, Katerina Golovkina (newcomer, Olga Dihovichnaya) on the cutting edge of discovering something astounding, the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. A multi-celled organism that reacts to stimuli, however as soon as the crew begin their research they realize the creature may be more intelligent than it looks.
    And then, terror begins as the creature starts axing off the crew one by one in grotesque ways. Not to mention, they soon discover the creature has been responsible for destroying all life on Mars and must fend off the alien before it can make it to Earth or humanity will be extinct.
    Overall, Life is short on creative storytelling, but makes up for it with solid acting and gruesome terror. I mean it, the kills in this movie get very brutal and watching it on IMAX made me have flashbacks of when I saw Prometheus for the first time in 2012.
    Now that I think about it, Life is more reminiscent to Prometheus than it is to Alien when it comes to its gruesome kills, the creature squeezes someone’s hand to the point where it breaks and it reminded me of the alien snake attack scene in Prometheus. Still, quite worthy of the R-rating, even though it’ll probably be forgotten when Alien: Covenant comes out later on this year.
    Besides the gore, the acting is quite good, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is solid as a doctor who prefers to be in space than on Earth, Ryan Reynolds cracks a lot of jokes, though at times I wonder if he forgot that this isn’t a Deadpool movie, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya aren’t household names yet but I hope they go places, because they do a great job portraying Hugh and Katerina in this film, specifically Bakare, everything he says sounds interesting and makes me want to follow him throughout the film.
    The camera work and visuals are spectacular, the way the movie is shot feels like you’re in the spaceship, and the design of the alien creature is very unique. Almost like a weird intergalactic jellyfish that has a craving for human blood, finally a movie with an alien that doesn’t look like something H.R. Giger made.

    If you’re a fan of Alien or even Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, or just looking for a thrilling and terrifying experience in space, Life is worth a viewing. Don’t expect a horror masterpiece but you can expect thrills, gore, and disgust.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    (From left to right) Black Ranger, Yellow Ranger, Red Ranger, Pink Ranger, and Blue Ranger ready to morph in Power Rangers

    Okay, a lot of you know that I’m a sucker for superhero movies, then again who isn’t these days? Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men, Ninja Turtles; chances are I’ll be in the theater watching it.
    But, here’s a confession from someone who is usually a fan of these types of franchises, I never really got into Power Rangers. Yeah, Saban’s phenomenal hybrid of teenage superheroes, Godzilla-style monsters, and giant robots battling in a very campy way, for some reason I couldn’t get into it that much.
    Not because Power Rangers was bad or anything (though you could debate if it’s actually a good franchise) but as a child I thought it was a little too cheesy for my taste (and this is coming from a guy who watched Sonic X as a kid, but I digress), though I did watch an episode or two in my lifetime. But, it was a huge success with a lot of kids and became the next best franchise since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Take some notes Cheetahmen).
    Toys, Halloween costumes, other versions of the show, cosplays at conventions, video games, and of course movies. Two films that tied directly to the TV series it’s based on, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie from 1995, which was so laughably bad, its 1997 sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, which was bad but had much better special effects (for a Power Rangers movie), and now a reboot of the franchise directed by Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) and features a brand-new cast as the show’s iconic characters.
    At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of the new Power Rangers movie when I first saw the trailer and ads. I was intrigued by the marketing of the film but it looked like it was severely lacking the campy action scenes and corny dialogue, and a certain trainwreck from 2015 suffered from that (No, not that Trainwreck!).
    But, seeing how I have been known for seeing movies like this, I paid my ticket, sat down, and gave the new film a watch. I was pleasantly surprised; Power Rangers was actually a pretty solid flick.
    I was expecting something more along the lines of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformersmovie, very stupid and overblown by special effects and annoying characters. Well, for a Power Rangers movie, the characters are developed pretty well, the story is brilliant, and despite having a “slightly” darker tone, the over-the-top action, corny one-liners, humor, and spirit of its source material are still present.
    Set in the fictional town of Angel Grove, the film follows a group of wise-cracking teenage outcasts, star quarterback, Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery-Stranger Things) who got suspended from the football team, placed under house arrest, and is required to spend every Saturday in detention after a crazy prank he pulled on his rival team, autistic nerd, Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler-Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and former cheerleader, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott-Terra Nova, The 33, The Martian) who is there after supposed rumors of her knocking her ex-boyfriend’s teeth out. The three of them start hanging out at these mines where Billy’s deceased father worked at.
    Suddenly an explosion appears, catching the attention of two of their other classmates, Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin-Marco Polo, Monster Hunt) and Trini Kwan (Becky G-Austin & Ally, Empire) and the five teens discover these mysterious artifacts called Power Coins. Each of them take a different colored coin and end up getting superpowers.
    The group comes across an ancient spaceship and where they meet a talking robot named Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader-Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs, Men in Black 3, Inside Out) and Zordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston-Breaking Bad, Godzilla (2014), Trumbo), the original Red Ranger who lived billions of years ago until his consciousness was uploaded into the ship’s matrix at his moment of death. Zordon and Alpha 5 explain that the five teens were chosen to become a team of heroes known as the Power Rangers to combat the evil alien invader and former Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks-Spider-Man trilogy, The Hunger Games franchise, The Lego Movie) who plans to steal the Zeo Crystal, the artifact that gives the Rangers their powers, and unleash her monstrous creation, Goldar on the world.
    So, it’s up to the Power Rangers to unlock their Morphing abilities, morph into their Ranger armor, and use their giant robot dinosaurs called Zords, weapons, and combat skills to battle Rita and save the world.
    Overall, Power Rangers is dumb fun that feels very satisfying after you watch it, the action is exciting, some of the lines get a good laugh, and offers plenty of fan-service to those who watched the show or grew up with it. Although something I should address with this movie, don’t expect much Morphing in this movie, the first half of the film is buildup and backstory, which is appropriate being a reboot and you need to introduce these characters and story elements so people who have never seen Power Rangers before can follow along, they don’t even get into their armor until right before the climax.
    Unlike the 2015 Fantastic Four movie which suffered from uninteresting characters, dull storytelling, and a lack of action Power Rangers’ characters have fun, crack jokes, and have chemistry. Not once did I want to fall asleep, granted I would have liked to see more Morphing and Zord action but I enjoyed the characters and acting, especially Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, she is such a joy to watch and it looks like she’s having fun with her role, spot on.
    Besides the lack of Ranger action, what does kill the film for me is its use of product placement, remember the infamous 1997 action movie, Double Team which literally played out like a giant ad for Coca-Cola? Well, this movie is a giant ad for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, I’m not kidding, it plays a part in the story.

    But with that said, the first half of the movie is great storytelling, the final act is fun but ridiculous, and if you’re a fan of Power Rangers or looking for some dumb, cheesy, enjoyment, grab your friends, Morph, and Go, Go Power Rangers!

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast

    After the major success of last year’s Jungle Book and 2015’s Cinderella, Disneyhas now given us a live-action reimagining of one of the most beloved stories of all time, Beauty and the Beast. Like many, I wasn’t entirely onboard for a remake of the 1991 animated film, not because it sounded bad or anything like that, but nothing could top the original classic.
    Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast is a timeless classic, no matter what age or gender you are, admit it, you were under the magical spell of that film. It was a huge hit in 1991 following the success of The Little Mermaid in 1989, helped kick off the Disney Renaissance with Aladdin the following year and especially The Lion King in 1994, and became the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
    How do you top that with live-action? You don’t, but you do get a solid retelling of the story on its own. That’s where the new Beauty and the Beast film comes in, directed by Bill Condon (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Parts 1 and 2, The Fifth Estate, Mr. Holmes) and starring cinema sweetheart, Emma Watson (Harry Potter franchise, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Noah) as Belle.
    Despite being played by the numbers from the original for the most part, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to watch from a visual perspective, lots of gold and sparkle everywhere (Debatably more golden than Belle’s dress in the movie), and very reminiscent to the production design from Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella. I saw the film in IMAX 3D and every scene in the Beast’s castle feels huge and you almost forget you’re in a movie theater, you can tell this is a film that’s made for IMAX.
    Once upon a time, there was a young prince who was spoiled and cruel to everyone, with absolutely no love in his heart. One day a sorceress curses the prince and transforms him into a vicious beast and gives him a magic rose that, if he does not find true love before the last pedal falls, will turn him into a beast forever.
    That’s where our heroine comes in, a French village girl and bookworm named Belle (Watson) who is tired of her life in the village and searches for something more. The other villagers question her fascination for books and is constantly stalked by the narcissistic but hunky town hero, Gaston (Luke Evans-Clash of the Titans, The Hobbit trilogy, Fast & Furious 6) who is determined to marry her, with the aid of his dim-witted lackey, LeFou (Josh Gad-Ice Age: Continental Drift, Frozen, The Angry Birds Movie).
    Suddenly Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline-A Fish Called Wanda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ricki and the Flash) has been captured and taken prisoner one night by the Beast (Dan Stevens-Downton Abbey, The Guest, A Walk Among the Tombstones) and comes to his rescue.
    Belle urges the Beast to let her father go and she’ll take his place, the Beast accepts and Belle spends the rest of her days in his castle. In time the two of them get along and eventually fall in love with each other, quite possibly their love will be strong enough to break the spell.
    The film also stars Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Episodes I-III, Big Fish, Robots) as the voice of Lumiére, Stanley Tucci (Julie & Julia, Captain America: The First Avenger, Transformers: Age of Extinction) as the voice of Maestro Cadenza, Ian McKellen (X-Men franchise, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbittrilogy) as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee, Brave, Saving Mr. Banks) as the voice of Mrs. Potts, Audra McDonald (Seven Servants, Rampart, Ricki and the Flash) as Madame de Garderobe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Larry Crowne, Belle, Miss Sloane) as Plumette, newcomer, Nathan Mack as the voice of Chip, Adrian Schiller (The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other, The Danish Girl, Suffragette) as Monsieur D’Arque, Hattie Morahan (The Bank Job, Mr. Holmes, Alice Through the Looking Glass) as Agathe, Gerard Horan (Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Doctor Who) as Monsieur Jean Potts, and Henry Garrett (Atlantis, Zero Dark Thirty, Poldark) as The King.
    Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a well-made re-imagining of the animated classic, even if the story itself is by the numbers and doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the 1991 movie. The visuals, production design, and performances for the most part are more than worth the price of admission.
    Emma Watson’s no Paige O’Hara but her portrayal of Belle is solid, she’s definitely beautiful and won me over many times as an actress (Not just the Harry Potter films). Granted her singing voice is very hit or miss, it shows that Watson knows the story well, and she and the Beast have decent chemistry together.
    Dan Stevens portrays the Beast decently, though he’s not as intimidating as the animated Beast, he plays the part fine and the design of the Beast is pretty cool, even if it’s obviously CG’d. I would have been more impressed if the Beast was made through makeup, because you would actually have a Beast in front of the camera.
    Luke Evans is a lot of fun as Gaston, he’s charming, very funny, and when necessary threatening, I don’t think he’s as enjoyable as Gaston from the animated film but that seems unfair. Josh Gad gets some funny lines once in a while as LeFou, even if his performance feels like a dim-witted rehash of Olaf from Frozen.
    Song wise, not much to say, it’s the exact same songs from the animated movie, literally right down to having Alan Menken compose the film’s score. Be Our Guest, Something There, and of course Beauty and the Beast, all the iconic songs are present here so I doubt no rage here.

    If you enjoyed the 2015 Cinderella or last year’s Jungle Book, you should be satisfied with Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast film. Don’t expect it to top the original, but you can expect a magical experience.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    (From left to right) Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson fighting for survival in Kong: Skull Island

    What is this, like, the eighth film based on the iconic movie monster, King Kong? Alright! It’s amazing after all the Jurassic Parks, Marvels, Transformers, and whatever else is popular right now, classic movie monsters like Godzilla and King Kong still manage to last for many years.
    The original 1933 King Kong film is a timeless classic and still dazzles movie-watchers even to this day and spawned a sequel, Son of Kong (which came out the exact same year as the first movie BTW!), the 1949 Oscar winning standalone film, Mighty Joe Young, two films released by Toho including the original King Kong VS Godzilla, and of course the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. Now because every movie studio wants to be like Marvel these days (DC, Universal Monsters, %^&*ing Transformers is becoming one!), we have Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Death Valley, The Kings of Summer, Nick Offerman: American Ham), the second installment of Legendary Pictures’ “Monster-Verse”, the first being 2014’s Godzilla, which will eventually lead to a rematch of King Kong VS Godzilla in 2020.
    I wasn’t expecting this film to surpass the 1933 classic and let’s face it, nothing can top that landmark film. But seeing how I enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla film and was already dazzled in 2005 by Peter Jackson’s King Kong, I was curious to see how this film would turn out.
    It’s monster movie fun, and that’s about it, I appreciate Skull Island for not being another remake of the same King Kong story because we got plenty of those. The action is exhilarating and the performances by Tom Hiddleston (Marvel Cinematic Universe, War Horse, Crimson Peak), Samuel L. Jackson (Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Flight, 10 Cloverfield Lane), and John C. Reilly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Wreck-It Ralph, Guardians of the Galaxy) are decent.
    Unfortunately, the script isn’t written that well, at times the effects are lousy, the characters aren’t very engaging, and the pacing gets sluggish. Really, whenever you’re at a scene that doesn’t involve Hiddleston, Goodman, Jackson, Reilly, or any of the Skull Island monsters, the movie is kind of boring.
    As much as the Peter Jackson movie drags, at least it’s a solid visual spectacle from start to finish, and the characters are developed well enough for someone to have an emotional connection with. Fortunately, Skull Island makes up for its mediocre storytelling and forgettable characters with some exciting action sequences and in terms of runtime, you won’t have bladder issues in the third act.
    Set in 1973, the film follows former British Special Air Services Captain James Conrad (Hiddleston) being hired by government agent, Bill Randa (Goodman) to lead an expedition to map out an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as Skull Island. Accompanying him is the Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson), who is recruited by Randa to escort him to the island as well as pacifist photojournalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson-21 Jump Street, Trainwreck, Room), who believes the expedition is a cover for a military operation and is determined to expose it.
    Upon getting to Skull Island, Packard’s men start dropping explosives to determine if the ground is hollow, but unknowingly they awaken a species of monsters called Skull Crushers (I didn’t name them, John C. Reilly did) bent on destroying them. Not to mention the hollow ground operation ends with the Sky Devils squadron being attacked by a 100-foot-tall ape that rules the island, Kong.
    Randa explains the true purpose of the expedition, to acquire proof of monstrous creatures that have been forgotten by humanity to prepare for their inevitable return. Meanwhile Packard and his men search for the survivors of Kong’s rampage, one of which being his right-hand man, Major Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell-Control, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls).
    The expedition crew and helicopter squadron encounter Skull Crushers, ugly-ass birds, natives, a stranded pilot named Hank Marlow (Reilly) who has been stuck on Skull Island since World War II, and of course Kong on their journey to get off the island before humanity belongs to the monsters.
    Overall, Kong: Skull Island is fun at best, but boring at its worst, all the scenes involving Kong and the other monsters are awesome, but when the film focuses on the human characters to discuss their mission or give the history of Skull Island, it really drags the movie to a crawl. The main reason is the characters aren’t that interesting, Hiddleston, Jackson, Reilly, and Goodman’s performances are good but their characters are forgettable, Hiddleston’s just the typical protagonist, Jackson is the angry colonel with a thirst for blood, Reilly’s a nutcase, and Goodman’s performance feels like a rehash of his performance from 10 Cloverfield Lane.
    You’re pretty much stuck with these poorly-written characters just waiting for them to get attacked by monsters. Remember how Godzilla was lacking screen-time in the 2014 Godzilla movie? Well, this movie has the opposite problem for me, I wanted more engaging human characters so I can be emotionally invested in them and not have to wait, and wait, and wait for the next Kong appearance.
    The effects are a mixed bag, at times they’re impressive and exciting to watch, but other times they look laughably bad and obviously green-screened. We’re in 2017 right now but the CGI in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong still looks much more impressive than the CG in this.
    Also the action kind of lacks variety, when you really get down to it, it’s Kong fighting the same monsters all throughout the film. Again, going back to Peter Jackson’s movie, despite its long running time, there was a lot of variety of action sequences in the film, Kong battled a T-Rex, giant insects, and of course the climax on the Empire State Building.
    But with that said, the things that are good are very good, there’s so many cool moments in the movie that makes it hard for me not to recommend a viewing. It isn’t a bad movie, Kong: Skull Island delivers exactly what it advertises, so if you’re a fan of monster movies, you’ll have a blast, but if you’re looking for strong characters to get emotionally attached to, this isn’t your flick.
  9. LOGAN:

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: **** out of 4
    Hugh Jackman dons the Wolverine claws for the last time in Logan

    Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, Prisoners, Eddie the Eagle) and The Wolverine director, James Mangold (Identity, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) return in Logan, the tenth installment of the long-running X-Men film franchise based on the Marvel Comics series of the same name, the third installment of the Wolverine trilogy, and the second X-Men film to receive an R-rating (the first being last year’s Deadpool). Not to mention the final portrayal of Wolverine by Jackman, and man, do they knock it out of the park.
    Not only could it be one of the best X-Men films of all time, but quite possibly the best X-Men film ever made…period! This movie earns the R-rating with its violence and basically it’s the complete opposite tone than Deadpool.
    You know how in Deadpool, the violence and gore had more of a comedic edge? Logan on the other hand is absolutely brutal and serious from start to finish, do not take your kids to this one, I cannot stress this enough. Violence aside, what really makes Logan a contender for the best X-Men movie ever is its themes and story. The movie is based off the Old Man Logan story arc of the X-Men comic books and has a much more depressing tone than other X-Men movies, at least from what I saw, it’s probably the tone the 2009 film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was trying to go for but failed.
    The film is pretty much an emotional drama that you would probably see nominated at the Oscars but with lots of excitement thrown in. It’s not like a movie that makes you sob your eyes out all the way through, the characters take time to show emotion and have fun when necessary.
    Granted like most Marvel movies, there is humor thrown in but it is seriously kept to a minimum this time around. Nowhere nearly as much comedy as a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie or Deadpool.
    Set in the year, 2029 where mutants have practically gone extinct, the film follows a washed-up, Logan/Wolverine (Jackman), who’s healing abilities have weakened severely and has been drowning in booze in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border with an aging Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart-Star Trek: The Next Generation, Steamboy, Green Room) who now suffers from seizures and dementia. But Logan’s attempts at hiding out from humans end when a mysterious woman comes into the picture with an urgent request, bring an extraordinary young girl named Laura/X-23 (Played by newcomer, Dafne Keen) to safety from a group of men out to capture her, calling themselves the Reavers led by the ruthless, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook-Milk, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Gone Girl), with a metal arm but he’s no Winter Soldier.
    Soon enough, Logan discovers that the girl is a mutant very similar to him, with retractable metal blades and a feisty attitude, who was created in a laboratory that experimented on mutant children to turn them into super soldiers (Kind of like Captain America’s story, except WAAAAAAAAAAAY more fucked up!). Logan’s claws come out once again as he and Charles make it their mission to bring Laura to the Mexican border and cross it to escape so mutants will continue to live on.
    The film also stars Richard E. Grant (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Gosford Park, Jackie) as Zander Rice, Stephen Merchant (The Office UK, Hot Fuzz, The Invention of Lying) as Caliban, Elizabeth Rodriguez (New York Undercover, Orange is the New Black, Fear the Walking Dead) as Gabriella, Eriq La Salle (ER, The Salton Sea, The Twilight Zone) as Will Munson, and Elise Neal (Hustle & Flow, The Soul Man, Scandal) as Will’s wife, Kathryn Munson.
    Overall, Logan is a satisfying final portrayal of Wolverine by Jackman and by far the saddest installment of the X-Men franchise. The emotion is cranked up to “Academy Award Nominated” level and by the end, you’ll pretty much be emotionally destroyed, which is very odd because the movie starts off hilariously but ends depressingly (and if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly what I’m talking about).
    You get emotionally attached to Logan and Charles in this movie and want to see them succeed in keeping this girl safe. Not to mention just looking at an aged Wolverine and Charles Xavier is enough for me to start sobbing my ass off, just throwing that out there.
    I’m so used to seeing Wolverine as this badass superhero, now he’s kind of a washed-up jerk and you feel very bad for him. Charles Xavier with dementia is very surreal and took me a while to get used to because again, he was the man of reason in the earlier films, now he’s a seizure experiencing, demented old man on the brink of death.
    Strangely enough, I took this movie much more seriously than the entire Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, I love those movies, but the way Logan’s story is told here feels like an X-Men story that could be real in the future, if we actually had mutants.
    If you’re a fan of the X-Men franchise, you’re definitely not going to want to miss Logan, it’s quite an emotional journey and a perfect farewell to one of the coolest superheroes of all time.
    G1prime likes this.
  10. GET OUT:

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: **** out of 4
    You don’t belong in this neighborhood, Get Out

    When you think of Jordan Peele (MADtv, Key & Peele, Keanu) of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele fame, you probably wouldn’t think of horror. Well, say hello to his first film as a director, Get Out, the latest horror film produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity franchise, The Gift, Split) and I won’t be lying if I said this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a long time.
    Remember when The Sixth Sense came out and M. Night Shyamalan delivered a phenomenal directorial debut, this movie does the exact same thing to Jordan Peele. He masterfully takes a very realistic concept and makes a scary flick out of it, nothing supernatural, no demonic possessions, no slasher movie tropes, just one seriously messed up neighborhood with a dark secret.
    The only way I can describe it without giving anything away is, imagine Selma or Straight Outta Compton mixed with Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ve never really been scared of horror movies that much, but this one, Oh My God, it’s horrifying in all the right ways.
    The camera work, set design, tone, music, and acting all set the mood phenomenally, and the film really takes its time with the subject matter and doesn’t jump right into gory slasher territory like most films in the genre these days. It builds up an uncomfortable atmosphere, develops its characters very well, and makes you ask questions about both the movie and what’s going on in real life.
    The film follows a man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya-Skins, Kick-Ass 2, Sicario) traveling for a getaway upstate with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams-Girls, The Mindy Project, The Simpsons) to meet her parents. At first, it’s kind of nice, her family seems friendly and the neighborhood looks lovely, it’s a dream vacation, at least that’s what they think.
    As the film progresses, Chris notices that the people in the neighborhood are acting strange and what starts off as a pleasant vacation becomes an uncomfortable nightmare. A series of disturbing discoveries about the family, house, and neighborhood in general lead him to a shocking truth that he could have never imagined.
    The film also stars Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich, Capote, Synecdoche, New York) as Missy Armitage, Erika Alexander (Living Single, Déjà vu, Last Man Standing) as Detective Latoya, Bradley Whitford (Bottle Shock, The Cabin in the Woods, Saving Mr. Banks) as Dean Armitage, Caleb Landry Jones (Friday Night Lights, The Last Exorcism, X-Men: First Class) as Jeremy Armitage, Lil Rel Howery (In Living Color, Friends of the People, The Carmichael Show) as Rod Williams, Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Selma, Straight Outta Compton) as Andre “Logan” Hayworth, and Stephen Root (Office Space, Cedar Rapids, Selma) as Jim Hudson.
    Overall, Get Out is a fantastic movie and a refreshing take on the horror genre, quite possibly the most realistic scary movie I’ve ever seen. The movie takes racism and makes a scary flick out of it, and Jordan Peele does it perfectly.
    It’s a movie that really made me think about what’s going on in the world, the movie is a work of fiction, but its subject matter is very real. I’m hoping this film does well at box office because I really want to see Jordan Peele tackle more horror movies, don’t support Universal by watching Fifty Shades Darker, support them by using your money for this instead.
    Something this original doesn’t come out that often, all throughout the movie, I was hooked. I had no idea where the movie was going and the final act will shock the hell out of you, it almost felt like a good Shyamalan twist.
    What Get Out does that I really applaud it for is making me care about the characters involved in the horror situation. The film doesn’t write Chris and his girlfriend as typical horror movie stereotypes but instead as ACTUAL PEOPLE! The acting and writing feel natural and you get attached to this couple and even with the two main characters, the film manages to throw a few twists their way.
    I also appreciate the film for blending horror with some comedy, it’s not as obvious as other horror films that try to have humor, but once in a while a character will have a funny response to a situation or a comment. The humor helps make the characters feel more alive and human, even if at times they sound robotic.
    Again, I hope this movie makes money at the box office because Jordan Peele could be the next Shyamalan in terms of horror. He’s proven himself as a funny actor many times before, but now he’s proven himself to be a brilliant horror director.

    Get Out and see this movie, I don’t care what kind of movies you like, this is a thought-provoking, chilling experience that also delivers social commentary on what’s happening now.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    (From left to right) Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, Matt Damon, Zhang Hanyu, and Willem Dafoe in The Great Wall

    What do you get when you combine American and Chinese filmmaking? An odd but exciting fantasy movie, The Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower) and starring Matt Damon (Bournefranchise, Ocean’s trilogy, The Martian), the film takes something so historical and iconic as the Great Wall of China and make a fictional story behind it.
    I wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie when I first saw the trailer before Universal’s Jason Bourne, but its concept, monsters attacking the Great Wall of China, got me interested. When the film was released, I caught a showing of it in IMAX 3D, sat down in the theater, and watched it, it’s fun.
    Not great but I wouldn’t call it horrible, the movie is far from being an accurate representation the Great Wall of China and goes for simple entertainment. And for the most part, it succeeded, exciting action, colorful visuals, and a laughably bad Matt Damon accent, lots of joy was had.
    Set during the Song dynasty in ancient China, legends have been told that the Great Wall of China has been built to fight off a race of ancient monsters hell-bent on killing and eating humans, dead or alive. After a monster attack, archer, William (Damon) and his brother, Tovar (Pedro Pascal-The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) are taken to the Great Wall to help an army of Chinese soldiers called the Nameless Order, led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu-Assembly, Back to 1942, Mr. Six) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau-Casino Tycoon, Drunken Master II and III, Firestorm) fend off the vicious beasts.
    William and Tovar’s fighting skills earn the trust of Commander Lin (Jing Tian-Police Story 2013, Kong: Skull Island, Pacific Rim: Uprising), leader of the Crane Troop and eventually meet Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe-Spider-Man, Finding Nemo, Daybreakers) who has been searching many years for black powder to destroy the monsters. So, it’s up to them to discover the monsters’ weakness and save China before total annihilation.
    The film also stars Eddie Peng (All About Women, Tai Chi 0, Operation Mekong) as Commander Wu, Lu Han (20 Once Again, 12 Golden Ducks, Time Raiders) as Peng Yong, and Lin Gengxin (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, Dancing Legend, The Taking of Tiger Mountain) as Commander Chen.
    Overall, The Great Wall is a mostly entertaining fantasy movie, the action is fun to watch, the visuals are impressive, and the stunt work is fantastic. But I’m not going to lie, the movie goes downhill when it attempts to develop its characters, Matt Damon is pretty forgettable in this movie, despite having a lot of badass moments in action, and his accent is so awful, and if you’re familiar with Willem Dafoe’s acting career, you will figure out very quickly what his character is going to do before the end.
    Another problem I had with the movie was, while the monsters had a pretty unique design, they lack variety. Really, it’s like an army of Chinese soldiers battling an army of the exact same monster, not even one dragon in the entire movie, missed opportunity.

    Don’t expect to be emotionally invested in the story, if you just want to watch some crazy action sequences for a couple hours, The Great Wall could be a satisfying visit. But ONLY if XXX: Return of Xander Cage or The Lego Batman Movie aren’t playing.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
    Batman ready to save the world in The Lego Batman Movie

    After the massive success of 2014’s The Lego Movie, it only figures to create a Lego Cinematic Universe (after all, that’s where the money’s at these days), and who better to start it than DC’s beloved Caped Crusader, Batman? Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Blades of Glory, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)) returns as the voice of the cocky, beatboxing superhero, Batman in The Lego Batman Movie, and he may very well be the funniest Batman we’ve ever had (Intentionally).
    The movie brilliantly satirizes Batman’s long history, several references to the Christopher Nolan movies, Batman v. Superman, the Tim Burton movies, Batman: The Animated Series, the 60s Adam West show, there’s even a couple references to the original 1940s movie serials and Batman Beyond in here. Lego Batmansucceeds at compiling several Batman elements together, something Zack Snyder failed at last year.
    It doesn’t stop there, with all the chaos and insanity happening in this movie, The Lego Batman Moviealso has a lot of heart. The characters are developed very well in this movie, and it teaches a strong lesson about family, with no whiny Chris O’Donnell Robin in sight to ruin the moment, but I digress.
    The film follows billionaire, Bruce Wayne, better known as Batman, just doing what he does best, fighting bad guys, keeping Gotham City safe, and of course looking really cool while doing so. However, Bruce Wayne unintentionally adopts a young, energetic, orphan named Dick Grayson AKA Robin (voiced by Michael Cera-Arrested Development, Juno, Scott Pilgrim VS The World) and tries to come to terms with being both Batman and a father.
    But when a mission to stop his arch-nemesis, the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis-The Hangovertrilogy, Puss in Boots, The Campaign) from destroying the city goes horribly wrong, when he tells the Joker that he means nothing to him as an enemy, the Joker enters the Phantom Zone where he unleashes an army of villains onto Gotham City, all because Batman hurt his feelings.
    So, it’s up to Batman to be aware of his greatest flaw as a superhero, he “Works Alone” and learn how to work with a team to save the day. Batman, his butler, Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes-The English Patient, Harry Potter franchise, James Bond franchise), Robin, and Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (voiced by Rosario Dawson-Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Unstoppable, Ratchet & Clank) must join forces to stop the Joker and become the best “Bat-Family” ever.
    The film also features the voices of singer, Mariah Carey (You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping) as Mayor McCaskill, Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets) as Harley Quinn, Siri as the Batcomputer (I’m not making this up!), Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars: Episodes V and VI, Batman (1989), Fanboys) reprising his role from Tim Burton’s Batman as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Héctor Elizondo (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman) as Commissioner Gordon, Conan O’Brien (Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2) as The Riddler, Jason Mantzoukas (The League, Regular Show, Regular Show: The Movie) as Scarecrow, Doug Benson (Friends, Curb Your Enthusiasm, How I Met Your Mother) as Bane, Zoe Kravitz (The Divergent Series, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Catwoman, Kate Micucci (Teen Titans Go, Rio 2, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water) as Clayface, Riki Lindhome (Gilmore Girls, Million Dollar Baby, Adventure Time) as Poison Ivy, Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe, 21 Jump Street, The Book of Life) as Superman, Jonah Hill (Horton Hears a Who, Moneyball, 21 Jump Street) as Green Lantern, and Adam DeVine (Workaholics, Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as The Flash.
    Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is an absolute blast, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight. The action is spectacular, the comedic timing is excellent, and just about every reference to Batman in the past is a hilarious throwback to the past.
    As I mentioned before, the characters in this movie are strong, you feel for Batman as a character in this, despite being kind of a jerk and fool of himself, he shows that he can see the flaws in himself and change for the best, I actually care about Lego Batman so much more than Ben Affleck in the DC Universe. Robin is also very likable in this, and it helps that he isn’t a damsel in distress this time around, he’s capable of helping Batman fight bad guys, has a good heart, and even delivers some really funny lines, also Michael Cera’s voice, perfect casting.
    Zach Galifianakis is funny as the Joker, and his take on the character is very refreshing, what he’s trying to accomplish in this movie is all because Batman doesn’t give his arch-nemesis the proper respect he deserves as a villain, kind of like if Wreck-It Ralph was a villain throughout most of that movie, and you actually feel bad for the Joker, so next time I watch him stab a man’s eye with a pencil, I’ll cry a little.
    What more can I say? Dazzling animation, thrilling action, lots of humor and heart, nostalgia, and plenty of unexpected surprises that only a Lego movie could do. Granted, I didn’t think the resolution of this film was as strong as The Lego Movie, but it does teach the importance of family and looking after one another, even if your dad dresses up like a Bat every night.
  13. RINGS:

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: * out of 4
    Samara is back to reign more terror in Rings

    First You Watch It, Then You Die, not only is that an appropriate tagline for the third installment of the Ring trilogy, but my review of it in a nutshell. I’d rather be drowning in Samara’s well than analyze this atrocious movie, I’m DEAD ^%&#ING SERIOUS!
    The first film released back in 2002 under direction by Gore Verbinski and starred Naomi Watts was a critical and commercial hit as well as a refreshing return to the Horror genre’s original, suspenseful roots. It did not rely on gore or any of the typical slasher movie tropes that were popular at the time, but instead an eerie, mysterious thriller with a brilliant concept and strong characters, not to mention it was one of three films that made a star out of Daveigh Chase, the other two being Disney’s Lilo & Stitch and the English dub of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
    It helps that The Ring also happens to be one of the best Hollywood film remakes, I haven’t seen the original Japanese film, Ringu in a long time, but I appreciate that the American remake can stand on its own quite nicely. Not to mention The Ring was the film responsible for inspiring Hollywood to remake other Japanese horror movies, most notably The Grudge.
    That is until The Ring Two came around in 2005 and it turned what was once a slow but effective scary picture into a complete joke. While it had a couple creepy moments, the second film didn’t have much going for it and pretty much played like The Exorcist meets Final Destination, granted Naomi Watts is still in it, she couldn’t save it.
    Now twelve years after the release of The Ring Two, we got a third movie…for some reason, Rings. For the longest time, I thought there would be no way to top the awfulness of The Ring Two, I was wrong, Ringscompletely surprised me at how unoriginal and far from terrifying it is.
    Have you seen The Ring and The Ring Two? Then you’ve seen Rings without even knowing it! It’s literally the exact same plot of the first movie except replace the likability of Naomi Watts and her son with a bunch of tools and bland characters and shoehorn moments from the second movie in there.
    Set thirteen years after the events of the second film, a young woman named Julia (Matilda Lutz-Fuoriclasse, The Divorce Party) becomes worried after her boyfriend, Holt (Alex Roe-The Cut, Sniper: Legacy, The 5th Wave) discovers a mysterious videotape that, after watching it, causes you to die in seven days. Julia subjects herself to the video and sacrifices her life for Holt’s and upon doing that, she discovers that there is a “movie within the movie” that no one has ever seen before.
    Julia and Holt set off to uncover the mystery behind the hidden video and possibly discover the truth about the little girl in the video who survived seven days in a well many years ago, Samara (Bonnie Morgan-Mind of Mencia, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Castle).
    The film also stars Johnny Galecki (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Roseanne, Hancock) as Gabriel, Vincent D’Onofrio (Men in Black, Jurassic World, The Magnificent Seven) as Burke, Aimee Teegarden (Friday Night Lights, Scream 4, Star-Crossed) as Skye, Zach Roerig (As the World Turns, Friday Night Lights, The Vampire Diaries) as Carter, Laura Wiggins (Shameless, Hit List, 20th Century Women) as Faith, and Lizzie Brocheré (American Horror Story: Asylum, The Strain, Falling Water) as Kelly.
    Overall Rings is an absolute mess of a horror movie; it fails as a sequel and as a horror movie on its own. Pretty much every scare in this movie has been already used in the previous movies, I swear I’m sick of seeing a corpse from behind and revealing its deformed face, if I see another one of those I’m going to shove this movie up the filmmakers’ assholes.
    What happened to this franchise? You start off with a brilliant horror movie and it gets stuck in all these bad horror sequel trappings. The characters suck, the dialogue is terrible, the scares fall flat, and it just raises more questions rather than provide answers.
    It’s bad folks, really, REALLY, bad, how bad is it? Rings puts Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes horror movies to shame. I’d rather watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the 2005 Amityville Horror, or the 2011 Nightmare on Elm Street than this movie.
    Aside from a couple decent performances and flashbacks of Daveigh Chase as Samara from the earlier films, there is practically nothing to redeem. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to jump into a well and drown myself to death.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
    Milla Jovovich is back to take down Umbrella in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

    After fifteen years of zombie carnage, the financially successful Resident Evil film franchise, based on the popular Capcom video game series, finally comes to an end in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the sixth installment of the long-running franchise. Director, Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Alien VS Predator, Death Race) returns along with the badass babe herself, Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Zoolander) as Umbrella experiment turned hero, Alice.
    I’m not a purist on the original Resident Evil games, obviously, I’ve played them from time to time in my life. What I do know is the movies skipped over the horror tone of the games and went for a more action-oriented tone, kind of like what James Cameron did with Aliens, except…not.
    Not gonna lie, I was sort of a fan of these movies when I was younger in my middle and high school years. Despite the main character being completely made up for the movies and lacking the horror tone of its source material, they at least pay homage to the games by including iconic characters like Jill Valentine and the Redfields, and it has some creative zombie designs, impressive stunt work, and a pretty awesome female lead (Wouldn’t be surprised if Selene from Underworld was inspired by Alice).
    But then you grow up and realize that maybe these films weren’t that good, a lot of the time the movies rehash gimmicks from other installments, poorly developed side characters, and confusing plot elements. With that said, the last time I watched these movies (around the time of Resident Evil: Retribution’s release in 2012) I developed a new appreciation for the franchise as being so bad it’s funny.
    All the action sequences are ridiculous, the scares are cheap, and they all have actors not trying, these are the kinds of films you watch, smoke a little pot, and have a few drinks. I gained a new appreciation for the movies because of how enjoyably bad they are.
    Now we’re at the end of the franchise, of course since I made it this far with the franchise, I might as well finish what I started. And I came out very surprised, The Final Chapter was actually close to being decent, I still wouldn’t consider it a good movie but it explored more details about what caused the zombie apocalypse and the history of the Umbrella Corporation, nevertheless it’s a thrill ride of delightful crap.
    Set three weeks after the events of Retribution, humanity is on its last legs after Alice and her comrades were betrayed by the power hungry, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts-Emily of New Moon, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Edge of Darkness) of the Umbrella Corporation, the corporation responsible for unleashing the T-Virus on the world several years ago, and turning almost everyone into flesh eating zombies. As the only survivor of what was meant to be humanity’s last stand, Alice returns to where the apocalypse begun, the now-destroyed, Raccoon City where Umbrella is gathering forces to make a final strike on the remaining humans.
    Alice reunites with old friends and makes an unexpected partnership with Umbrella’s artificial intelligence, The Red Queen, who informs her that Umbrella contains the An-T-Virus, which could end the apocalypse for good. It becomes a race against time and survival as Alice and her crew infiltrate Umbrella, obtain the An-T-Virus, and of course get her revenge on the one responsible for destroying humanity, Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen-Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Iron Lady, Kick-Ass 2).
    The film also stars Ali Larter (Varsity Blues, Final Destination 1 and 2, Heroes) as Claire Redfield, Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, John Wick: Chapter 2) as Abigail, Eoin Macken (Fair City, Merlin, The Night Shift) as Doc, William Levy (The Single Mom’s Club, Single Ladies, La Tempestad) as Christian, Lee Joon-gi (The Hotel Venus, Virgin Snow, Never Said Goodbye) as Lee, fashion model, Rola as Cobalt, Ever Gabo Anderson as The Red Queen, and Fraser James and Razor.
    Overall, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter doesn’t offer that much new in terms of its setup, if you’ve seen one Resident Evil movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Zombies, Milla Jovovich jumping, flipping around, and beating the crap out of the undead, actors not trying as well as laughably bad acting, the list goes on.
    However, this one I felt was the closest since the first movie to have an engaging plot, I still don’t think it works as a whole, but we dive deeper into the Umbrella Corporation and learn more details about what happened when the virus was unleashed, I was a lot more intrigued by this film than the others. Most of the others were just stupid popcorn entertainment with at times, moments to laugh unintentionally at.
    Milla Jovovich still kicks plenty of ass in this movie and I’m certainly going to miss watching her as Alice, the action ranges from traditional zombie violence to things you would probably see in a Mad Maxmovie. Not to mention this movie delivers something I like to call, Roasting the Undead, and once you see the movie you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
    Resident Evil: The Final Chapter still probably won’t win over fans of the games, but if you enjoy the films on their own or just looking for an entertainingly stupid movie, I actually recommend The Final Chapter. It’s a Final Chapter to a bad franchise that came close to being intentionally decent.

    By Nico Beland
    Movie Review: *** out of 4
    Vin Diesel is back as Xander Cage in XXX: Return of Xander Cage

    Action badass, Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, Riddick trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy) is back as athletic secret agent, Xander Cage in the third installment of the XXX film trilogy. XXX: Return of Xander Cage marks the first XXXmovie in over ten years as well as the first film from Revolution Studios since The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep in 2007.
    The first XXX movie, released in 2002, and directed by Fast & the Furious director, Rob Cohen, was one of the many films I love watching when seeking dumb popcorn entertainment. I loved it when I was younger and I still enjoy it to this day, it isn’t a perfect film in any way but it delivered crazy action sequences, cheesy one-liners, and it helped make Diesel a likable action star.
    Upon release, the reception for the first movie was very mixed and was even nominated for a Razzieaward, and honestly I don’t get it. I’m not defending it as a great movie but it’s an enjoyable film to turn your brain off too, I guess critics at the time were expecting something on par with the Bond or Bourne films, which is fitting because The Bourne Identity and the final James Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan, Die Another Daycame out the exact same year the first XXX movie did.
    The good news is the mixed reception didn’t stop the movie from getting a sequel, the bad news is it was XXX: State of the Union. Released in 2005 and Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen were replaced by Ice Cube and Lee Tamahori, due to Diesel passing on reprising the role to star in that piece of family-friendly bullshit, The Pacifier and Cohen directing the disastrous, Stealth, and guess what? State of the Union flopped…for good %^&#ing reasons.
    Twelve years later, Diesel dons the fur coat once again in XXX: Return of Xander Cage and in the director’s chair is D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea, Disturbia, I Am Number Four), and it delivers exactly what the title promises. The film fixed my #1 problem with State of the Union, I’m serious, Sony should wake up tomorrow morning and see how Paramount succeeded in what they failed at, track down all the XXX: State of the Union DVDs in the world, and destroy them.
    The film follows extreme athlete turned government agent, Xander Cage (Diesel), thought to be long dead, coming out of self-imposed exile and is recruited by the CIA to obtain a powerful weapon known as Pandora’s Box, that can manipulate military satellites and pretty much transform them into giant nukes of destruction before a super-terrorist named Xiang (Donnie Yen-Once Upon a Time in China II, Iron Monkey, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) can use it. Xander puts together a team of thrill-seeking cohorts and they go through with the mission, but he soon finds himself in a conspiracy of corruption among world governments including insiders of his own country.
    The film also stars Deepika Padukone (Cocktail, Chennai Express, Finding Fanny) as Serena Unger, Kris Wu (Somewhere Only We Know, Journey to the West 2, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Harvard “Nicks” Zhou, Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, John Wick: Chapter 2) as Adele Wolf, Tony Jaa (Ong Bak trilogy, Skin Trade, Furious 7) as Talon, Nina Dobrev (Away from Her, Chloe, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Rebecca “Becky” Clearidge, Samuel L. Jackson (Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe) reprising his role from the first two films as NSA Agent Augustus Eugene Gibbons, Toni Collette (About a Boy, Little Miss Sunshine, Krampus) as Jane Marke, singer, Nicky Jam as Lazarus, Rory McCann (Hot Fuzz, Clash of the Titans, Game of Thrones) as Tennyson “The Torch”, Michael Bisping (Plastic, Strike Back) as Hawk, newcomer, Ariadna Gutiérrez as Gina Rolf, Hermione Corfield (Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, Mr. Holmes, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Ainsley, former NFL player, Tony Gonzalez as Paul Donovan, and Ice Cube (Boyz N The Hood, Friday trilogy, 21 Jump Street) reprises his role from XXX: State of the Union as Darius Stone.
    Overall, XXX: Return of Xander Cage is a satisfying return to the XXX franchise, though it probably won’t win over any new viewers. If you’re looking for something intelligent or challenge your mind, you will probably have a miserable time with this movie because this film is stupid, but it’s the right kind of stupid.
    It’s on the same level of dumb films like Independence Day or the first Transformers movie, where its stupidity leads to great entertainment and you can let it pass as fun. Undeniably flawed and doesn’t do much new with its genre, but if you love watching extreme stunts, things blowing up, and lots of one-liners, you’ll have a lot of fun here.
    The movie gets ridiculous very quickly, characters do a lot of implausible things during action scenes, a character using mechanical fists to fight, motorcycles with built in jet skis, and blowing up a plane by flying it into a falling satellite. XXX is officially a superhero franchise, literally right down to making an obvious reference to a certain franchise when Samuel L. Jackson is recruiting a new XXX agent.
    This is how you follow-up XXX correctly and thanks to this movie I am down to see a XXX 4 sometime in the future. Return of Xander Cage is fun, State of the Union is anything but, and it delivers (so far) the best quote I’ve heard all year, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Grenade Launcher, well played XXX.