Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Moonfall (2022)

Directed: Roland Emmerich  Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2h 10m Studio: Lionsgate Movies Screenwriter: Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spencer Coen 

Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Charlie Plummer, Michael Peña, Kelly Yu

Some movies are “so bad, they’re good,” which is a polite way of stating ‘it sucks, but not so much I couldn’t sit through it again.’ Moonfall is no such movie.

Watching the trailer for Moonfall, I cringed and snickered while the lines from a Britney Spears song popped into my brain regarding director and writer Roland Emmerich; “Oops!…I did it again!” 

In Moonfall, it’s not an all-out alien invasion, this time out to destroy Earth. No, it’s the ludicrous, deeply implausible manner in which the moon will swing around Earth until it smashes into it completely. 

Emmerich certainly has a genre type he likes to make, but his problem isn’t the genre; he can’t write anything original for it anymore. He suffers from the same issues as director/writer James Cameron; they recycle their past works with new packaging. It’s reminiscent of a bad copy-and-paste job for a word file. We, the audience, see it and the flaws, but why do we keep going to see these? Continuing to see these insults to cinema is (partly) why studios keep green-lighting these projects. We, the movie-goers, must stop this crazy cycle! Other filmmakers are guilty of this too, but it takes a certain level of arrogance and stupidity to keep letting it happen with high-budget projects. How many regurgitations of the same story from the same filmmaker do we need? 

Halle Berry & Patrick Wilson in Lionsgate Movies ‘Moonfall’ via

Besides Moonfall giving off watered-down Independence DayDay After TomorrowArmageddon, and Transformers vibes, in the weakest sense, plot and storyline-wise, is the terrible dialogue! Point of observation, if you, the writer, write lines so frequently, in a non-comedic attempt, that has viewers thinking, “no shit, Sherlock,” or “thank you, Captain Obvious,” so much you could get half drunk a third of the way in, you need to rewrite. Or burn the script and start again. 

Even a good cast couldn’t have saved Moonfall from this poorly-written script, even with a good director. Yet, with Moonfall, the writing is mediocre (I’m being kind), the plot/story is ridiculous…and the acting. They may be lovely people, but when Halle Berry and John Bradley are your prominent cast members, even next to Patrick Wilson, what about that casting choice implies this film won’t be an abject failure? Halle Berry is the top billing for this film; I know it’s going to suck before I ever watch the trailer (totally misleading, BTW) because she can’t act! 

Image from Lionsgate Movie’s film ‘Moonfall’ via

The characters are all just…there. You can tell who’s related, who can’t stand who (and why), and how others are connected. Cool. It’s the end of the world, so who wouldn’t want their families safe? Still, none of them have depth or develop into someone or a subplot you want to root for. Why bother watching if you’re not invested in the characters or the story? 

There are so many plot holes and basic scientific blunders; the moon might as well be real Swiss cheese! How many people are required to launch a space shuttle? Three? Five? Oh, and the arrogance factor! A global catastrophe is occurring, and America is the only country to act or have a say in what to do about the moon. And, of course, there are nukes. At least in Emmerich’s Independence Day, there was communication and cooperation, or attempts at it. Here, no one but NASA is in charge until even they say, “fuck it, I’m out.” It’s a wonder the writers of this film had the balls to think the sequel they set this film up for would ever see the light of day. That will never happen! 

John Bradley in ‘Moonfall’ by Lionsgate Movies via

If Independence Day 3 ever happens, I’d rather see that than watch this film again, let alone a sequel. Comparatively, Independence Day: Resurgence was a far superior film (that Emmerich only directed, thankfully) worth rewatching, or just about any other disaster/apocalyptic movie. 

Moonfall isn’t “so bad it’s good;” it’s a master class on multiple things not to do in a film. Ever. That’s nothing to waste your free time on, so skip placing this movie on your watchlist.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Director: James Cameron   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 3h 12m

Studio: 20th Century Studios   Screenwriters: James Cameron, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Winslet, Stephen Lang, CCH Pounder

After 13 years, director James Cameron finally released the second (of five planned) Avatar films. With Avatar: The Way of Water, what viewers get is catfished. 

Unlike the first film, there is no new CGI or motion capture technology to prop itself on this time. With a beaten-dead horse of a plot and story, there is nothing impressive about Avatar 2. This particular trailer is all the exciting bits of a three-hour film compressed into a two-minute trailer. That should tell you all you need to know!

Worthington and Saldaña’s performances as Jake Sully and Neytiri were not as strong in this movie, with Saldaña’s taking more of a backseat to her kid’s characters. I’ll talk about this a bit, but despite what I’m about to say, it’s not a spoiler for the film. One of Sully’s “kids” is played by Sigourney Weaver, whose original character, Grace, died in the first film. But Weaver’s new character, Kiri, is derived from the same logic of the Virgin Mary or Shmi Skywalker that a baby (Kiri) grew out of nowhere in Grace’s dead Avatar body. If you’ve seen the first film, it’s not a leap to connect ideas in your head. You still might go WTF, and who wouldn’t? Yet, there’s nothing about that in this movie. You can speculate how she came to be, but it’s an unimportant point now to the writers. It certainly would have added needed depth to the story. Still, perhaps in another decade or two, Cameron might enlighten us. 

Sigourney Weaver as Kiri in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

Cameron’s desire to show off his take on underwater shots as realistic after the shade he threw at Aquaman director James Wan is laughable. It’s all fictional; all of it relies on CGI. Yet Aquaman is watchable and entertaining as a sci-fi film. Avatar 2 is a pointless snooze fest that comes across for the first half of the film as a National Geographic reject. As non-fiction, a NatGeo special is more entertaining. At least I don’t want to leave those 45 minutes in, unlike Avatar 2, which I thought about. I must be a masochist because I stuck it out, despite checking my watch often and the headache I endured for hours. 

The first Avatar plot was a mashup of Pocahontas and Ferngully The Last Rainforest blended with colonizers. Or, basically, what English settlers did to America but on an alien planet. That was tenable for viewers because the CGI held the movie up for them. There is nothing redeemable about Avatar 2. Its plot, if you can call it that, is a resurrected Col. Quaritch (Lang) seeking revenge for killing him. You read that right. The universe forbid the writers come up with a new, compelling villain/foe for this film.

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

Quaritch hunts down the Sully clan, so when fleeing, they end up near a version of the Na’vi who live in the water. But who wants to help them? They’re danger magnets and half-breed demons. Sound like something you’ve watched before? 

James Cameron took 13 years to craft a sequel full to the brim of overused tropes and plot devices, various levels of stereotypes, and the use of indigenous mannerisms with little to no symbolic references. Where the glass that holds it all in is uber-greedy white capitalists. If you’re going to borrow from all these things, at least make it interesting. Try to give it an original take. But he can’t. Instead, he uses a skelton frame from Terminator 2 to drive one ideal (revenge), with a bit of Titanic for the hell of it. They are in the water, so why not…

Kate Winslet & Cliff Curtis in ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ from 20th Century Studios via

I cannot fathom how someone at the studio said, ‘yeah, this is good, release it!’ It’s a terrible, joyless excuse for cinema, with a ridiculous budget, that earned a ridiculous amount over that! Catfished. Movies should have a solid plot and compelling attributes to move the story. Develop characters well, and (in a series) leave you wanting more. As a filmmaker, you fail when a film is so lackluster in every regard that viewers fall asleep, leave, would rather have a three-hour root canal, get another vasectomy, or watch fire ants engulf them.

No one is more to blame than James Cameron’s ego and the studio that paid him. Avatar: The Way of Water is an insult to cinema and never belongs on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Matrix: Resurrections (2021)

The Matrix: Resurrections (2021)

Directed by: Lana Wachowski  Rated:Runtime: 2h 28m  Studio: Warner Bros. 

Screenwriter: Lana Wachowski, David Mitchell, Aleksandar Hemon

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

The Matrix: Resurrections, director and creator Lana Wachowski take to heart the motto of House Greyjoy from the TV show Game of Thrones “what is dead may never die.”

As the film’s title might suggest, characters make a comeback in the fourth installment of the Matrix franchise, and the trailer gives it away too. If you haven’t seen any of the original three Matrix films, don’t read this review. By default, it will spoil them, which I am against doing. However, Resurrections is chalked full of flashbacks, references, and actual clips from all three of its predecessors, so it would be impossible to review this without bringing them up. 

I like a film where I can try to figure out the plot versus having it spelled out for me because some filmmaker or studio thinks I’m too ignorant to follow along otherwise. You understand my meaning if you’ve ever seen a Christopher Nolan film. The Matrix: Resurrections, on the other hand, is the cinematic mind fuck of the other variety. The one where I ask myself what did I watch? Usually, that doesn’t happen in the first ten minutes or less, but this film did. I’m pleased I didn’t pay to see this in theaters.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Anne Moss in ‘Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros.

In typical Matrix-style, there’s too much talking with an overload of technical jargon that many viewers won’t understand. In the film, they use the term modal/window pane. This term can have a few meanings, mostly mathematical and dealing with web pages. Its rationale is thrown out in a ten-second line that if you miss or don’t understand, you’ll be confused about what’s going on. That, of course, makes it hard to watch a movie when you’re busy trying to figure out what you missed. So, allow me to explain a bit if you want to watch this film and don’t understand webpage technical speak. 

When a game developer, for example, wants to add new content or fix something with an existing product, they do so on computers in what is referred to as a sandbox. That way, they can’t inadvertently crash a server, think of playing a game online with others, or cause errors they can’t fix. The sandbox keeps all the testing contained until the developer wants to let it become a part of the program. I hope that makes sense. That is what they mean by a modal in this film. Bugs (Henwick), the new white rabbit, observes something that she understands as truth, something from the past, yet knows it’s wrong. That leads to the question of why? Enter the plot. 

Jessica Henwick as Bugs in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via

We learned man made machines and artificial intelligence in the trilogy, duh. At one point, the AI of machines went to war with mankind, and we lost. Machines took over the Earth. With no method of producing power the same way for themselves, the machines decided to grow human beings and use them as batteries. The Matrix was constructed to keep the billions of podded humans subconsciously oblivious to reality. In that, they allowed two main programs to run the system. That was, of course, a big reveal, the whole point of the second movie- getting to the architect. Culminating in the third film where Neo (Reeves) has a choice (not really.) Any of his options have a list of outcomes the machines find calculatedly acceptable, even wiping out Zion and starting over with a select few “freed” people. Those people won’t remember any of it, like wiping a hard drive and starting over. It’s a sick outlook on the ideas of fate, destiny, and free will. That no matter how hard you try, especially if you don’t know you’ve already lost, you are fucked. That twist about mankind’s chances was like a slap in the face. On the one hand, it was a good ending, as far as non-happy ones go. Yet, what was the point the Wachowski’s seemed to give the finger to everyone after creating all that?

Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via

A viewer needs to remember those points about the original trilogy when watching the fourth installment. That no person has a choice, free will doesn’t exist. And the machines can wipe you like a computer, which is what the human brain is essentially, and put in what they want. That is how we find Neo again—saved by the machines and re-podded. In retrospect, he was carried off in the third film; he could have just been unconscious. Why fix his eyes, though? So Neo is reverted to being Mr. Anderson, another blue pill of the Matrix. Trinity (Moss) had rebar through her; she was dead! So I questioned while watching this how human was she? How much of her was synthetically replaced? The movie doesn’t address that at all; that’s an observation. Or why neither is, visually, 60-years older.

The logic, the construct for Neo/Thomas’s place in the Matrix again, isn’t original. I get the rationale; it’s a fitting “role” to put Thomas’s persona into after two decades. So he needs to be “freed” again. Yet this time, the Matrix is different. It’s gotten smarter about how to keep humans from wanting freedom. Sure it’s a reflection of people today being compliant and jacked in more to portable devices; straying from that is the architect of this. Well, he’s not an architect anymore; he’s an analyst. The parallel of an analyst and a psychiatrist is amusing, but Neil Patrick Harris does it so convincingly. 

Neil Patrick Harris as the analyst in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ vs. Helmut Bakaitis in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ Image: Warner Bros. via

While the addition of Henwick and Harris are well placed and logical, those of Mateen’s Morpheus and Groff’s Smith is not. The logic is that Morpheus and Agent Smith’s characters were the cause and effect of Neo/Mr. Anderson’s freeing and growth in the original trilogy, therefore he would need a representation of them again. Except that Smith was obliterated, purged, deleted, whatever, and Morpheus is long dead too. Yet, “what is dead may never die” springs up again because Lana Wachowski has a problem letting go. While Mateen is an exceptional actor, his Morpheus comes across as a cheap knockoff, a poor duplicate of the original with none of the commanding presence Lawerance Fishburne gave to the character. Groff’s Smith is an off-putting show of bad acting, or what I imagine it was like for him at his casting call audition. Like a drunk guy at Comicon embarrassing himself in front of Hugo Weaving. Yet, the Matrix (the system) seemed to get off on its display of a toxic work environment with a boss who was completely comfortable, causing an employee with known PTSD to be triggered. Yes, that’s an evident and well-deserved middle finger to Warner Brothers by Lana Wachowski. 

Jonathan Groff in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via

The script for this film sucked. The story’s entire emotional resonance rests on how much you liked the Neo/Trinity love story in the first place or The Matrix trilogy in general. A script should be like the soul of a project, and The Matrix: Resurrections feels like a ghost. Reeves and Moss look tired, like their hearts were not in this project; others were utterly forgettable. In terms of entertainment, there is little meaningful purpose to be found in this movie. 

The plot has holes and questions that are never addressed, let alone answered. This lack of attention to detail creates an uneven pace far from seamless or cohesive. That, of course, is a significant reflection of the structure of the film, the direction. It highlights how much Lana needed Lily’s help with this project. The messages and themes crammed into this film go way beyond an excellent philosophical discussion creator. It’s a hot mess. Like throwing too much shit into the blender for a smoothie and thinking it will taste fine. Sure, there’s conflict and resolution, but how it’s propped up and how you get to the end is a gigantic waste of time and brain cells. 

Human batteries in ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ Image: Warner Bros. via

Visually it was fine, the sets, costume, etc., a far departure from the look of 1999. The music was as expected, fitting and relevant- except the Rage Against the Machine cover during the credits. What kind of mood were they trying to elicit with that? 

When The Matrix first debuted, it was visually ground-breaking for others in cinema regarding what they could do with special effects. It’s part of what made The Matrix such a hit, things like bullet-time. Twenty years later, with nothing like that to hold it up, Resurrections highlights just how vital a great script is and how much nostalgia alone doesn’t matter in cinema. Resurrections is a rampant display of why “what is dead may never die” should very much have stayed dead from all parties involved. The Matrix: Resurrections shouldnever be on anyone’s watchlist, and I wish there were a blue pill to make me forget I ever did. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Dune (2021)

DUNE (2021)

Director: Denis Villeneuve  Runtime: 2 hr 35 min  Rated: PG-13

Studio: Legendary Pictures  Based on: Frank Herbert’s novel ‘Dune’

Screenwriter: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Timohée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling, Sharon Duncan-Brewster

Dune is a science fiction saga layered with all the typical trappings of humanity. Rife with greed and civil unrest as a set of noble houses control planets for resources, wealth, and power. Often to the detriment of the locals. 

Not too far into the film, and I’m having a flashback to 2015’s Jupiter Ascending, which was marginally more exciting than this film. 

In Dune, the house of Atreides is given stewardship of planet Arrakis by the overlord of all the houses-the Emperor. House Atreides, people of a water planet, go to Arrakis, a desert world, to mine spice. It’s the only thing of value to the houses because though spice is a drug; they also use it to navigate space. Okay. Spice is only on Arrakis, with two other things: the locals, known as the Freemen, and massive sandworms. 

The Freemen walk in a certain way to not cause unnatural vibrations in the sand that would otherwise attract the worms. They also wear special garb to help them endure the intense heat of the surface. Freemen characters are Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem), and Dr. Kynes (Duncan-Brewster). Dr. Kynes has the most screen time out of these three, and the trailers for this movie imply the other two have more significant roles than they do. So if you see Dune just because they are in it, you’ll have to wait for most of the film and will be vastly disappointed. 

Javier Bardem’s Stilgar in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The previous stewards of Arrakis, House Harkonnen, mined the spice for 80 years and left abruptly. Houses Harkonnen and Atreides are sworn enemies but obey the Emperor’s decree of change. Still with me?

Paul Atreides (Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Isaac), next in line to rule his homeworld. Paul follows his father and mother, Lady Jessica (Ferguson), to Arrakis to learn how to lead more. Dune is billed as a sci-fi hero’s journey of a young boy born for a destiny he can’t grasp. A journey to provide safety for his people and family, all while not giving into fear. 

Frank Herbert originally published Dune in 1965. 

‘Dune’ Spice harvester Image: Legendary Pictures via

To get to my following observation, let me highlight some key phrases and notions about Dune. 1. An Emperor (really) 2. Mine spice (Kessel) 3. Planet of sand (Tatooine) 4. Massive worms (Sarlacc pit, or Jabba) 5. Walking a certain way (Sand people) 6. Wear special garb (Sand people) 7. Hero’s journey (Luke) 8. A Young boy(Luke/Anakin) 9. Destiny (Luke/Anakin) 10. Not giving in to fear (Jedi) 11. High council (Jedi)12. Superpowers (the Force) 13. Imperium (Empire). I could go on. Before seeing this version of Dune, I knew nothing about it. I had never read the books or seen the previous movies, so I walked into the theater with no pre-knowledge or conceptions. However, after only a few minutes into the film, I was beyond irritated. 

This irritation was because I couldn’t stop thinking about how much George Lucas poached from Frank Herbert. Not drew on as inspiration, full-on stole. George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars films, A New Hope, twelve years after Dune was published. Yes, the troupes of a young hero’s journey, saving one’s family, and the notion of destiny are all well used throughout cinema and literary works; but this is something else. 

Sandworm of Arrakis in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

My urge to slap George Lucas aside, Villeneuve’s Dune isn’t worth the hype. It’s dull, cold, and wastes its runtime with lackluster performances. This film should have had gravitas and more substance, considering the vast source material available. I saw the trailer like millions of others, but I was unimpressed. The movie, like the trailer, left me with no investment in the plot or the characters. Dune’s filmmaker expects the audience to care and follow along with this story, though there’s no satisfaction at the end. 

Why is there no satisfaction or excitement to find out what happens next? Imagine the following: you wake to strangers in your home, there’s shooting, fire, and death. Therefore you flee for your life through dangerous parts of town to seek shelter and help from people you barely know. All while not disturbing the gigantic sandworms and daydreaming about a girl. These people agree to help you- end film. Without actual spoilers, I just summed up Dune

Zendaya in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Villeneuve cuts Dune off after two-and-a-half hours with no actual climax/resolution. Walking through worm-infested dunes isn’t a proper climax. It’s a bloody boring letdown. As an avid reader and fan of films, I know that movies rarely do their sourcebooks justice. Even though I haven’t read Dune, I don’t believe the first novel ended the way the film did. Please correct me if I’m wrong because Dune is one of the top 100 books of all time. 

How does such a popular novel make it to the silver screen with lackluster cast performance, pace, and lack of details? The most energy any character provides is Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho, discounting Brolin and Bautista’s roles as gruff, angry soldiers. That’s not a stretch for them, so I hardly call it acting. 

Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Stellan Skarsgård’s depiction of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was said to be terrifying. I’m a big fan of Mr. Skarsgård’s work, and terrifying isn’t the word I would use to describe him in this film. Authoritative, vengeful, physically imposing (he’s a tall man in real life) who flies, which I find to be a weird ability, but not terrifying. Again I haven’t read the books; maybe he’s amazingly terrific as his literary counterpart description. 

The Lady Jessica is credited as Atreides but is referred to as the Dukes’ concubine in the film. If she’s his concubine, she’s not his wife. Either way, she is the mother of the Dukes’ son, Paul. The Lady Jessica is part of the Bene Gesserit, a political shadow group of sorceress with a breeding program. Again, I have that Star Wars connection in my mind. Breeding, cloning. Female sorceress’s, the Nightsisters of Dathomir. By and large, Ferguson’s emotional range is that of a brick wall. 

Chalamet, Ferguson, and Isaac in ‘Dune’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

Ferguson is a brick wall, and Timothée Chalamet is a wet mop. Why is there hype around this kid? Harry Potter had more emotional responses about his dead parents, whom he’d never met than Paul does about any of the stuff happening around him. And Paul is a lot older than an eleven-year-old. For that matter, Harry’s dead parents in memory form or in moving magical photos conveyed more emotion for their son than Lady Jessica. 

It’s not fair that all I can think about is Star Wars when watching this; Frank Herbert really should have sued George Lucas at some point. Star Wars has plenty of other things that separate it from Dune. Still, so many of the broad strokes are not original, leaving me with a bitter taste in my mouth about the franchise. Herbert crafted a sci-fi series in novel form, and had George Lucas never come along with Star Wars, who knows how popular the Dune series cinematically could have been long term. All it needed was a studio, cast, and director, along with an excellent screenplay to bring it all to life- a few decades too late. Instead, now, Dune is left seeming like recycled content. 

Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho in ‘Dune.’ Image: Legendary Pictures via

The script and direction should be solid when watching a big-budget film with a solid cast based on a classic novel. The passage of too much time and George Lucas robbed Dune of its full potential. Try as Denis Villeneuve did to make a better version of the 1984 attempt of Dune; it still falls flat. The devil is in the details, and there were not enough of them for Dune to resonate as the larger-than-life story it’s branded to be. 

Hopefully, the next attempt at Dune on the big screen will better incorporate details about the Houses in general, the interpersonal connections, and the mystical components that were played up but meant nothing. The story isn’t compelling enough without energetic performances and more complete pictures of characters and story arcs. 

When plot mechanics are the backbone of a film with little emotional resonance (story), it shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist. That’s not a film worth anyone’s time.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloé Zhao   Runtime: 2 hr 36 mins  Rated: PG-13 

Studio: Marvel Studios  Screenwriter: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo

Cast: Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Bill Skarsgård 

Eternals is everything a decade’s worth of MCU films couldn’t do; it tells a complete, complex, and compelling story, with a strong plot, from beginning to end. A story where you didn’t know how it or the characters would end up. When you spend a decade establishing characters, building up an ensemble to fight together, you expect them to win. You expect them to make it to the end of their respective standalone films, so there’s little mystery there. How you get from Iron Man to Endgame is largely spectacle. Flash over substance. 

Eternals is more substance over flash, and many movie-goers hate that. Over the years, the MCU model conditioned people to expect less story from Marvel films, which are padded with costumes, CGI, and action. Don’t despair. Eternals have plenty of CGI and action woven more intrinsically within this detailed, rich story. 

Perhaps this is part of what many disliked. Details. Being required to listen and pay attention; when it’s not a spectacle, that’s what films need. Perhaps it’s the openly gay couple with a kid? Get over yourselves. Maybe it’s the sex scene? Hm, that one is fair. Up to this point, you could take young kids to see their favorite superhero in what has been a G/PG rated aspect of this topic in the MCU thus far. Well, kids grow up. Comic characters are not just for kids, nor have they ever been. Eternals isn’t dark and deranged like Zack Snyder’s comic book character depictions. Eternals fall in the middle. I’ll grant you this tiny spoiler if you’re on the fence about this film based on this point. It’s tastefully done. Sure it’s clear at one point two of the characters are lying down and don’t have clothes on anymore, but it’s from the collarbones up. Take from that what you will. 

Image: Marvel Studios, composite by Kirsten Acuna/

Exploring this further, Eternals has a well-rounded, diverse cast. There are black people; one of whom is deaf, white people, an Indian character, Asian characters, a Spanish character, and a kid. This large cast ticks off a bunch of boxes with ease and not for the sake of ticking off boxes. I appreciate a well-rounded, talented cast that lets the film be about the story-not character-specific. In prior MCU films, one or two characters always managed to show up even when it wasn’t their standalone film like the film wouldn’t work without their inclusion. While Eternals have costumes, you should consider them more as uniforms, extensions of their powers, and ship. In this manner, this ensemble is without the brightly colored spandex costumes and accompanying ego trips. It’s all the better for it. 

Fans, however, may not feel better about the film’s opening sequence. They’ll need to read the screen. This isn’t a bad thing! It certainly sets the tone for the movie and the upfront departure from every other MCU project to date. It provides needed backstory in a format that consumes less screen time and budget. This format will not resonate with every viewer, but it’s an essential blip in the overall runtime of the film. It’s hardly the first film to use this tactic. So, read it without complaint. It’s also an important reason to remember to show up and find a seat before the film starts! 

Celestial image from the MCU Image: Marvel via

Eternals has gotten mixed reviews, and I’m going to point out why you should ignore the naysayers. 1. Marvel didn’t put nearly the marketing effort into hyping this movie as others. It’s like they didn’t know how because 2. They are obscure characters with no prior buildup 3. The teaser trailer did nothing for this movie. Please ignore it. 4. It’s not all Hulk-like smashing, gun-heavy violent 5. The box office sucked. On that last point, when American films come out usually, other countries see them first. China is an excellent example of this, and they opted not toallow Eternals into their theaters. When that happens, the studio will see fewer zeros from ticket sales. That’s just a fact. Couple that ban with still touchy post-Covid theater options, and it’s clear those previous metrics for evaluating a hit or flop need reassessment ASAP. With all that against it, tossing that all aside and Eternals should be considered a box office hit. 

Chloé Zhao did a bloody marvelous job bringing together a large ensemble that portrayed characters worth being invested in. A cast who have great chemistry and energy that are believable and meaningful. Full of details that make the plot move along at an incredible pace, with seamless cinematography. Zhao tells a consistent story whose themes are just right and impactful. The audience can understand their story, who they are, why they are on Earth, their purpose, and how it all fits together in the MCU, which is a fair point after Thanos. 

Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo in ‘Eternals’ Image: Marvel Studios via

Moving forward, I sincerely hope that the house of mouse doesn’t “Disney-fi” future work with the Eternals within the MCU because this fresh infusion of characters is a palate cleanser. The right amount of serious and grownup to intermix with the sassy, zany and quirky characters left doing projects with the MCU. 

Eternals is worth a spot on your watchlist and your time. Make sure to stick around for the two end credit scenes; one’s at the very end. Cheers!

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

I AM MOTHER (2019)

I AM MOTHER (2019)

Director: Grant Sputore  Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hr. 53 mins   

Studio: Rhea Films/Netflix   Screenwriter: Michael Lloyd-Green

Cast: Clara Rugaard, Rose Byrne, Hilary Swank

What is it with Netflix and robots? Is it just me? What is with the mass appeal of dystopian or apocalyptic premises in the last decade of screen media in general? Okay, if people didn’t like it or were sick of it, such projects wouldn’t get made. That doesn’t mean they all should. 

So here’s I AM MOTHER with robots and the end of the human race. Hardly an original concept. After some extinction-level event wipes man from the Earth, robots inherit it. “Mother” is a nanny bot, voiced by Rose Byrne. Mother’s function is to repopulate the human race from a secret bunker with over 60K human embryos. She grows one, a female, and calls her “daughter” (Rugaard). Why just one? Mother needs to practice being a good parent before going all out. Here’s my first question, how would she handle more than a few? She’s the only robot. Then again, I had Alien and Prometheus vibes (sans actual aliens), so what do I know. Over time Daughter grows into a teenager, fully educated by Mother and curious about the world beyond the bunker. Who wouldn’t be?

Hilary Swank in ‘I Am Mother’ Image: Netflix via

Daughter’s safety and sheltered existence are challenged one day upon “the wounded woman’s” (Swank) arrival. Seriously, Swank’s character isn’t even credited with a name, just a description. If you’re the last of your kind, do names matter? Unlike Daughter, who didn’t need one, Swank’s character is an adult and probably had one at some point, so it leans towards degrading. I digress on this point. 

Through a series of events, “the woman” ends up in the bunker (sorry, baby spoiler) and causes Daughter to question her life and Mother. The rest of the film is a letdown to the ideas planted of what viewers think is coming. Instead, it has strong echoes of the Alien franchise merged with Terminator and Star Trek’s Borg. As badass as that mashup implies, it culminates in nothing. It’s poached ideas that are left undercooked. 

Embryo from ‘I AM MOTHER’ Image: Netflix via

I AM MOTHER is a better-wrapped product than others whose packaging is recycled content. That’s all this film is. The script and performances were as flat as a sheet of paper. Watching this out of sheer boredom, I AM MOTHER has the appeal of lukewarm coffee, completely worth tossing aside. 

There are so many (better) original films out there to spend your time on, some I mentioned. This film, however, has no place on your watchlist- unless you like unoriginal crap.

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho   Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min   Rated:

Studio: Moho Films Screenwriter: Bong Joon-Ho, Kelly Masterson

Cast: Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell

Snowpiercer is a French comic brought to the big screen by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The year is 2031, and the entire world’s remaining population lives aboard a train that never stops moving, or everyone on it will freeze to death. Just like the rest of the world did almost two decades prior. Humanity is an endangered species, and the train is the Hotel California. You could check-in, but you’re never going to leave.

This train generates energy by constantly moving, and since the great freeze means it can never stop. It does one lap around the globe each year. The train, this snowpiercer, was created by a man called Wilford, who divided the train into three parts. The elite at the front, poorest at the end, and the workers in the middle who service the train. The inhabitants at the back endure much. They live off of gelatin-like “protein bars” and nothing else. They have their children taken, live in squalor, and are executed periodically to reduce the population. These individuals are never allowed beyond the train’s tail. So, surprise, they sometimes revolt. In Snowpiercer, they try again, with a new plan, to make it to the front and control the engine. After all, those that control the engine control the world, such as it is. 

I watched this film begrudgingly. I stopped it mid-film three times and took days in between to finish it. There needs to be more attention to detail for a plot like this to work on screen. Expand upon what’s not in the original material, or ignore it and make it better. He’d hardly be the first moviemaker to do so. This film has a trailer that holds up this movie to be far more exciting than it is. A film shouldn’t create so many questions and not answer them. 

‘Snowpiercer’ staring Chris Evans and Jamie Bell. Image: Moho Films via

The beginning of the film drops the audience into a story in progress. While it’s not difficult to catch on to the plight and goals of the characters, it is a little confusing. Utilizing this tactic is problematic because the viewer isn’t invested yet in the characters. Bong Joon-ho’s choice to cast Chris Evans as Curtis and Octavia Spencer as Tanya aren’t enough. Both are phenomenal actors, but their addition to this cast was to grab more Western viewers, not because actual acting was required. 

Initially, the director didn’t want to cast Chris Evans because he was too fit. Malnourished from living in poverty, it would be hard for anyone to believe he was from the tail car. All the people there are frail. So, instead, he’s covered in clothing to hide his bulk. On that logic, I’d like to point out that he cast Octavia Spencer! No disrespect to her, but she’s a heavy-set woman. It’s the reverse logic of not wanting a physically fit person cast. After almost two decades on a train in squalor-like conditions, she’d be thinner. She’s the only plus-sized person I saw in that section. So back to my point about more Western eyeballs. 

Child labor in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: Moho Films via the

The logic of this film makes zero sense. The train isn’t that big when you think about it or see shots of it. How is livestock raised or food for so many people aboard a train? How do you maintain the train? Where do the spare parts go, how do you make more? At what point do you run out of clothes, supplies in general, on a ride you can’t stop? How many people have to die every year to sustain everyone else? 

Now, cultures other than mine find eating insects acceptable, okay. What’s not okay is how it’s depicted in this film. Besides being excessively disgusting, where did they all come from? The squalor from the tail and the production/growth of food alone isn’t enough to generate that many insects frequently enough to be used as they are in this film. Remember, they are all dead outside the train. 

Protein bars for every meal in ‘Snowpiercer’ Image: CJ Entertainment via

If I, or you, were boarding this life-saving train on day one, one of the many questions I would want to be answered is, what about the tracks? This train rides around on one gigantic loop around the Earth; what keeps the tracks from freezing so much the train doesn’t derail after months or years? Everyone dies if too much snow blocks a section and stops the train. These are no small questions, and someone could have dreamed up an answer and brought it up with relative ease, but no. Instead, the audience is dropped into a story where the plot is to take the engine car or die trying. In a gritty, difficult to watch (camera work), violent hail Mary to overthrow an authoritarian dictator and his lackeys. 

As dystopian, apocalyptic-like, fate of humanity films go, Snowpiercer is a dull, thinly plotted, implausible train wreck despite the otherwise talented ensemble. It’s not worth the hype many gave it nor a place on anyone’s watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Star Trek (2009)

Director: J.J. Abrams    Runtime: 2 hrs. 7 mins.    Rated: PG-13

Studio: Paramount Pictures    Screenwriter: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

Based on: TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Lenard Nimoy, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood

It’s always a pleasure when something classic is reimagined and doesn’t stink. It’s even more enjoyable when there’s a substantial time gap between the two. Today I’m talking about Star Trek. Yes, a few T.V. shows bear that name, but this film is rebooting the original T.V. series in a fashion. 

Paramount Pictures Trailer for ‘Star Trek’ via Classic Trailers on YouTube.

J.J. Abrams directed a star-studded cast that perfectly depicted and paid homage to the original characters and the actors that played them. If you’re familiar with the original T.V. show or films, you can appreciate it more than if you have not. Creator Gene Rodenberry crafted a reality that explores space, sure, but set the bar for how humanity should be. Peaceful, collaborative, intelligent, inclusive, and open-minded. He was decades ahead of his time. His amazingly radical notions don’t have quite the impact today as they did when Star Trek first aired, but that’s a good thing. It represents progress. 

“Space, the final frontier.” I think of these iconic words as I look out an airplane window at 40,000 feet writing this. The multiple shades of blue, nothing visible beneath me, sparse speckling of clouds smeared onto the sky like an artist at work. It’s nothing compared to seeing the entire planet from above and afar. To try and imagine that or other worlds is beyond the scope of my appreciation. So when J.J. Abrams and the production team gave birth to this remake in such a vivid, plausible, and fun manner, it just had to be good. Right?

Yelchin, Pine, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Saldana in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’ Photo via

Captain James T. Kirk (Pine), Spock (Quinto), Lt. Uhura (Saldana), Soo-Lu (Cho), Ensign Chekov (Yelchin), Doctor McCoy (Urban), and Scotty (Pegg) are all superb casting choices! Everyone has this well-blended chemistry that makes you fall for them as their respective characters. Though Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to the original Spock, Lenard Nimoy, is uncanny. It’s one thing for an actor to look like someone else, but accurately depicting them is vital, and Quinto makes an excellent Spock. R.I.P. Mr. Nimoy.

This film introduces the Star Trek universe and the cast’s journey together. However, how the story originates is brilliant. Using one of the original Trek members as the catalyst to the plot allows the story to honor the original and carve out its own path for newer generations. It’s a genuinely clever way to reset many things about the original without destroying its memory. 

Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto as Star Trek’s Spock. Credit:

The freshly minted crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of Star Fleet, work together to tackle the immense challenge of stopping a rogue Romulan captain named Nero (Bana) who is out to destroy the Federation, one planet at a time. Why? And how do you stop someone that can destroy planets? The answer to that and the reason for the plot working so well was the addition of “Spock Prime” (Nimoy) as he’s credited. The concept of the plot doesn’t work without his inclusion. 

It’s not just Mr. Nimoy but the entire cast who brings depth, energy, and believability to their roles. After all, that is what anyone wants from an actor, an outstanding performance. Star Trek gets that from everyone attached to the film; to me, that is a sign of great hiring. It’s also a sign of a great script. A project can have the best actors around, which can flop from a terrible script or a bad director. 

The Romulan ship, the Narada in ‘Star Trek.’ Image: Paramount Pictures

Another attribute that makes this iteration of Star Trek so appealing to watch is the production that created believable costumes for the various aliens, the sets and props, and the technology used to complete all the CGI. Every time Star Trek is taken on anew, it automatically benefits from the newest filmmaking tools of the time. This franchise has come a long way in visual appeal since 1966. It’s come a long way in general and paved the way for many first on T.V. 

This Star Trek does a spectacular job of character development in weaving the storylines together and representing how different species manage meeting new people in life and on the job. 

Bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Paramount Pictures ‘Star Trek’

Fantastic acting, set design, cinematography, directing, story, and humor make this film worth the effort into creating it. All these attributes created a movie worth seeing. J.J. Abrams boldly chose to go where many have gone before and comes out of warp speed with a refreshing winner of a reboot of a beloved sci-fi franchise. This Star Trek is worthy of a place on your watchlist!

-A Pen Lady


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by: James Gunn Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hrs 18 mins

Studio: Marvel Studios Screenwriter: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Teaser Trailer from Marvel Studios

So here we find our Guardians of the Galaxy, again, as the MCU’s tenth film. The Guardians are hired by a race called the Sovereign to save their planet’s power supply from becoming a dimensional-jumping onto-slug’s dinner feast. That plays out how it does, with the Sovereign chasing them across space for offending them. Remember, Rocket (Cooper) is a part of this group.

Along the way, they encounter a pair (Russell and Lementieff) who claim to know Quill’s (Pratt) father. Vol. 1 focused on Quill’s mom’s issues, so it follows that James Gunn would make Vol. 2 about his father’s issues. So, Peter, Drax (Bautista), and Gatorade (Saldana) go with the pair. Rocket and Groot (Diesel) have another task, including dealing with the incredible Karen Gillan’s Nebula.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Pom Klementieiff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana Credit: Marvel Studios via

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the characters explore places and ideas that change how they view family and the universe. It’s touching moments like when Rocket gets a therapy lesson from Yondu of all people, with the humor and action that ground the story and moves it along with ease. The soundtrack helps too! Gunn’s starship of misfit toys and the well-selected tracks mesh so well. It’s another dose of quirk, the opposite of the Avengers ensemble, and it’s incredible how it all comes together. Plenty of people have posed the question ‘team Iron Man or team Cap’ over the years. What they should have been asking is, are you team Avengers or team GotG? Really, who would you want to save the universe?

As a sequel, the surprises of the characters’ personality traits and Gunn’s outlandish style is gone for the audience in Vol.2. Thankfully, it’s not gone-gone. Gunn’s focus is always the characters so the story feels like it’s organically in response to them.

Michael Rooker and Bradley Cooper in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is a fun, energetic, semi-dirty follow-up to Vol. 1. While not all the jokes hit their mark, plenty still do. The comedic style is still there, just like the tone and spunk of the first one. The story is solid, considering it focuses on Quill’s daddy issues. Full of sass and wit, it also has substance and continued character development, which is essential when characters will be seen again and again.

Personally, I think that Yondu and Baby Groot steal the film overall. Share your thoughts on your favorite Guardian character in the comments!

If you enjoyed Vol.1, you’d love Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 just as much. So it should be on your watchlist!

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Tomorrow War (2021)

The Tomorrow War (2021)  

Directed by: Chris McKay   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs 20 mins

Studio: Skydance, Paramount Pictures, Amazon   Screenwriter: Zach Dean

Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons

The Tomorrow War is a story about humanity dealing with an extinction-level event. The best way to avert it is by the world coming together. Okay. The threat is aliens. Tired and well used, but, still, okay. Then…

Solider’s from 2051 show up via a portal of some kind in 2021. Explaining and warning that “We are you, 30 years in the future.”… “In eleven months, all human beings in the future will be wiped from the face of the Earth.” Unless, of course, the humans of 2021 help. 

Director Chris McKay said in a Collider interview that he didn’t think about the time travel mechanics, as it didn’t matter to solving the issue of the story. That’s the gist of what he said anyway, and he couldn’t have been stupider for ignoring it. Just because the director doesn’t want to think about it doesn’t mean the audience won’t. Magically, all of the issues of time travel and creating paradoxes just vanish in his mind. Well, not in mine and not in others. Especially when the device which allows thousands or millions of people to travel through time and space is held together by the equivalent of tape and chicken wire. WTF? Do not beam me up, Scotty! 

The main problem is that writer Zach Dean created and left the line stating “…all human beings…” all humans will be dead in eleven months. Well, if all of humanity is dead, how are there still people around 30 years later to come to 2021 and warn humanity? Words are important. A viewer shouldn’t need to pause their film (in this case) to try and figure out what they’ve seen before that can logically explain this. 

Screenshot of device that allows time travel in ‘The Tomorrow War’ Credit: Paramount Pictures and Amazon

What should have been said is ‘almost all of humanity will be wiped from the face of the Earth.’ Maybe even giving an estimate of who’s left in eleven months. Then the audience can follow along with ease and still grasp the dire predicament. 

The entire world gets on board. Yeah! Like Independence Day

But the lack of logic and common sense is so prevalent it’s incredible this film got made. So, first, some military personnel are sent to the future, then everyday people are conscripted. They are given no training or actual gear. You have a motor mouth that can’t load a weapon and points it at himself. Other characters take spare ammo off the dead, which is a brilliant move, while others seem to never run out of ammo. Future humanity “needs” help yet firebombs its recruits just to kill the enemy. Past humans are no more than to-go fodder. It reeks of desperation and poor storytelling. 

‘The Tomorrow War’ alien Credit: Paramount Pictures and Amazon via

Make no mistake, this shitty script is full of holes that leave it dull and irritatingly illogical to follow along with. Like a high school student with the answers to when, why, where, and how a plot point no one in the thirty years after him was able to figure out. Since when do we default to a teenager for “expert” information? That a plane, an American one at that, could just fly deep into Russian airspace undetected? Give me a break. That specific scientific components with alien DNA will *magically* be unlocked in less than a day? Should I continue? Sadly, I could.

Sadly, all of that isn’t a summary of the entire film. This movie clocks in at 2 hours and 20 minutes and feels double that. Just when you think the film is going to end, it keeps going. There were so many areas where the pace needed to pick up or be left out altogether. It’s not that The Tomorrow War doesn’t know what it wants to be or where it wants to go. It doesn’t have that problem. Its most significant issue is that it tries to be like every other sci-fi creation before it, all while being fresh. It’s not rotten, but it does stink. 

Jasmine Mathews, Chris Pratt in ‘The Tomorrow War’ Credit: Amazon and Paramount Pictures via

Perspective is critical in this film in that everything is from Dan Forester’s (Pratt) perception. How he processes the events unfolding around him, his take on solving it, everything. The filmmaker’s choice allows Pratt’s character to have a fuller story arc, which is well developed. Pratt actually does a great job of depicting a loving father, former soldier, teacher, and unwitting participant. However, the focal point being on him is at the expense of the other characters.

There are some impressive action sequences with the fighters and aliens in various places. The CGI isn’t terrible. The aliens at least look like something I haven’t seen before. Those are the best things I can say about this movie. 

The Tomorrow War was a waste of my time and brain cells. There are so many other films in the sci-fi realm worth seeing over this. Any of the movies this one rips as “inspiration,” such as Pacific Rim, Jumper, Alien, Independence Day, A Quiet Place, or War of the WorldsThe Tomorrow War is an illogical, tedious waste of effort that has no place on a watchlist. 

—a pen lady