March 2023



Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

DIRECTOR: James Cameron

CAST: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Cliff Curtis, Kate Winslet, Edie Falco, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao, CCH Pounder, Brendan Cowell, Jemaine Clement, James Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Jack Champion, Bailey Bass


James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar surpassed his own Titanic to seize the “king of the world” title of highest-grossing film of all time, but at the time and possibly even more so in the decade plus since has become—-in spite of, or because of its runaway box office success—-a polarizing film with slavish adherents and others denigrating its narrative as Dances With Wolves In Space with dashes of Pocahontas and Ferngully thrown in for good measure. That it has taken Cameron over a decade to bring a follow up to the screen—-missing the old adage of striking while the iron is hot—-and his lofty stated ambitions to make a total five film series (!), led to some room for doubts even for those wary of betting against Cameron (who has never had a flop on his filmography). Unfortunately, the long-awaited Avatar: The Way of Water is an overlong, overly self-indulgent, narratively unwieldy sequel that despite some admirable qualities and strong moments is too often a slog to get through its bloated runtime.

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The Batman (2022)

DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves

CAST: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard


With the simply-titled The Batman, Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has become only the second filmmaker—following Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy and the more recent misfires of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman and Justice League—to get a live-action Batman movie right. In fact, this might be the most “Batman” of any live-action Batman movie thus far, and like Nolan’s trilogy, it’s a stand-alone reboot doing its own thing unconnected to the DC Expanded Universe. It’s also the darkest, most adult-oriented Batman movie yet—surpassing the seriousness of Nolan’s vision—and an unconventional comic book movie. Essentially a serial killer/murder mystery/detective story with superhero and comic book elements that often resembles David Fincher’s Se7en more than a typical comic book flick, The Batman shows no lightening of the darkness in which onscreen incarnations of its title character are steeped.

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The King’s Man (2021)

The King's Man - IGN

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci


While The King’s Man is a bit of a redundant movie, it’s at least redundant in a slightly different way: instead of a dime-a-dozen unnecessary sequel, this one is an unnecessary prequel. 2014’s Kingsman was a fun campy romp, but 2017’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle proved that trying to draw a franchise out of it might have been overkill, and The King’s Man, reaching back to WWI to show the “origins” of the titular secret society of gentlemen spies and modern-day knights, has not changed that opinion. With an episodic structure that veers between a campy action/spy romp to a grim WWI war drama and eventually comes back round again, The King’s Man tries to be two clashing things at once and doesn’t fully succeed in any direction. It’s moderately enjoyable, but doesn’t recapture the entertainment value of the original installment.

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The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix Resurrections' is brilliant, but not for everyone | Engadget

DIRECTOR: Lana Wachowski

CAST: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Jada Pinkett-Smith


More than a few franchises have overstayed their welcome—Alien, Predator, Terminator—and The Matrix arguably never needed sequels to begin with. The 1999 original movie, while a bit style over substance (though it wasn’t devoid of the latter) and not having aged well in a couple aspects (its overinflated sense of its own leather jacket-clad, sunglasses-wearing coolness included), was a kinetic and hyper-stylized blast. Alas, its lackluster sequels, 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, fell victim to Pirates of the Caribbean Sequel Syndrome, following up a comparatively simple and straightforward original with overly padded sequels getting bogged down in labored convoluted “epic” mythology and taking themselves way too seriously. And now, almost twenty years later, Lana Wachowski (no longer co-directing with her sibling Lily) has brought us The Matrix Resurrections, a movie way past its sell-by date. An uninspired, messy, and often incoherent hodgepodge, undeservedly self-satisfied with its own copious and heavy-handed meta self-referencing, Resurrections is a turgid slog, a movie that’s not only hard to follow, but doesn’t make us care enough to bother. If this was the best the still-involved Wachowski sibling could come up with after almost two decades of developing a continuing story, The Matrix should have stayed dead.

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Jungle Cruise (2021)

The Rock rejected: See Dwayne Johnson's failed move on Emily Blunt in  exclusive 'Jungle Cruise' deleted scene

DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez, Paul Giamatti


Jungle Cruise follows the massively lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and The Haunted Mansion in Disney’s raiding of its properties to stretch a movie out of a theme park ride. To that end, Jungle Cruise is about what you’d expect, a moderately enjoyable campy adventure romp whose modest charms aren’t quite enough to make up for an overlong runtime and derivative plot that leaves no cliche (or movie it can “borrow” from) unearthed. Mostly ignoring the source material apart from a jumping-off point and marketing hook, it borrows pages liberally from The African Queen, The Mummy (the one starring Brendan Fraser, not Tom Cruise), Romancing the Stone, Indiana Jones, and the aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean, but most of these aren’t flattering comparisons for Jungle Cruise to invite upon itself.

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Eternals (2021)

Eternals Currently The Lowest Rated Marvel Movie on Rotten Tomatoes -  Disneyland News Today

DIRECTOR: Chloe Zhao

CAST: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Kit Harrington, Harish Patel


In its ongoing quest to further expand its cinematic universe and prove there’s still fresh places to go and life left in the franchise post-Infinity War/Endgame, Eternals represents another risky departure by Marvel Studios, but while this worked for, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, this might represent a rare significant misstep by the studio which has seemed a virtual box office King Midas for the last decade plus. While not a complete failure—in fact, it has admirable qualities, though it ends up feeling somewhat less than the sum of its parts—Eternals is plagued with issues, some of which come from trying to fit it, like a square peg in a round hole, into the greater MCU, while others are its own self-contained pacing and narrative problems.

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Dune (2021)

Dune 2021 film review: The spice must flow, but it stops abruptly | Ars  Technica

DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve

CAST: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster


Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, a futuristic geopolitical allegory that is unabashedly pro eco-radicalism, anti-corporate, and Islamophilic, is such a notoriously dense work that some believed it was unfilmable, even though it had an influence on various more commercialized sci-fi works that came after it, including George Lucas’ Star Wars (Dune takes place on a desert planet, features a scheming emperor, and involves a mystical power called “The Voice”….sound vaguely familiar?). Attempts were made, most prominently David Lynch’s borderline incoherent—and loosely adapted—1984 film, but its garbled narrative and the deviations it took from the source material rankled Dune fans. Later, a 2000 television miniseries adapted the plot more faithfully, but its low budget TV movie quality kept fans waiting for a definitive adaptation and did not fully allay concerns that perhaps Dune just didn’t work as a movie. Denis Villeneuve has tackled the ambitious task of bringing Dune to the screen in big-budget fashion, and while not a completely unqualified success, his version is successful and engaging enough that the biggest thing wrong with it is its subtitle “Part One”. The approximate first half of Herbert’s original novel has been brought to the screen, but with funding for the rest not yet secure, it remains to be seen if Villeneuve will be allowed to finish his work or whether this Dune will remain a half-told story.

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

First reactions to Marvel Movie 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings':  Is it

DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton

CAST: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong



With the Infinity War phase ended, the Marvel Cinematic Universe must now turn its focus toward the next era of its superheroes, including replacing some of its long-running mainstays who’ve left us (Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow) with the next generation. To that end, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an engaging origin story that manages touches of an epic feel and does things different from what we expect from the Marvel formula and whose first half feels like an old-school martial arts action flick and whose second half feels like a mythological fantasy epic with shades of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Mulan.

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The Suicide Squad (2021)

DIRECTOR: James Gunn

CAST: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, Daniela Melchior, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Sylvester Stallone (voice)


With The Suicide Squad (with a “The” tacked on to differentiate it from David Ayer’s sporadically entertaining but scattershot 2016 hot mess), James Gunn has become the second high-profile Marvel director to moonlight in the DCEU, and fortunately his DC detour is more successful than Joss Whedon’s misbegotten Justice League. In fact, while not entirely escaping some of the flaws of its predecessor, Gunn’s rendition of the titular squad of supervillains is enough of an improvement over Ayer’s that it’s possible to disregard the previous film’s existence (this one exists in a vague unspecified territory between a loose sequel and a quasi-reboot, and features a few returning characters and actors, but no previous events are directly referenced, so familiarity with the “first” movie isn’t necessary to enjoying this one). Gunn delivers the same quirky, breezy tone that helped make his Guardians of the Galaxy so popular, but combined with his warped, blackly comical, and often gory tendencies now being given free rein by an R rating that Disney/Marvel would never have allowed. This isn’t a movie for the kids, but for adults who aren’t squeamish, it’s flawed but a blast of wild irreverent fun.

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Black Widow (2021)

DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland

CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle, Ray Winstone, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt


Black Widow, the movie to finally give the long-running MCU character her own posthumous solo movie, arrives at an awkward time, skipping back to sandwich itself into the time period between Captain America: Civil War and The Avengers: Infinity War and attempt to give more depth and backstory to a character who’s already dead. If timing is everything, Black Widow has missed the boat and feels like it should have come out several years ago, but setting the awkwardness of its release date aside, it’s an enjoyable enough stand-alone adventure, although it’s more successful in giving an often underdeveloped supporting Avenger a deeper backstory than it is in its generic narrative that feels like it borrows a page—or several pages—from other movies in the spy thriller genre.

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