4 Stars Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 (2023)

“Once more with feeling.”

I can’t remember the last time an MCU film truly lived up to the tagline on its poster. 

3 Stars Movies

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

A week ago, I talked about the Dungeons & Dragons movie, which was entertaining for something I knew very little to nothing about. Now, the other side of the coin, comes The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which I have known too much about since my brother and I got our first Super Nintendo when I was five years old.

Maybe that is a bit unfair. Indeed, there have been fans of DnD since before my time. Yet even those die hard fans have got to be fans of arguably the most popular mascot in video gaming. I have not played all of the games, but you don’t need to see his growth as a cultural icon. From the simplicity of sidescrolling and jumping to race karts and nearly every imaginable sport to galaxies and odysseys, Mario knows no bounds.

According to the critical consensus of Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rather thin plot. While this is not entirely wrong, perhaps it is best remembered that this movie is for those averaged around the age of seven (such as my nephews that went with me to see the film). Though in my years of being affiliated with Mario, I never thought of him as having a big family (although him being an Italian should have been a giveaway.) 

Of course, there is no real surprise to see the film start off with Mario (Chris Pratt) and his brother Luigi (Charlie Day) starting out on their own as a new plumbing company. It isn’t long before they take the wrong pipe to another world, where the evil Bowser (Jack Black) is dead set on domination of all he sees, especially the Mushroom Kingdom and it’s ruler, Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy).

That is it as far as the story goes, which is just about the right amount of band width kids such as my aforementioned nephews (who loved the film) can take for a plot. Some may think of that lack of plot as a weakness, but it as far as keeping kids intrigued, it is a strength.

Surprisingly, the film also has some hidden strengths in it’s voice casting. Like many, I was more than hesitant at the idea of Chris Pratt voicing Mario, but it actually got to the point where I did not notice it at all. I have always been vocal in my fandom of Anya Taylor-Joy as a performer, and I won’t be saying anything different here. If anything, I was a bit more surprised her Princess Peach had more of a role than Luigi does.  There are others such as Keegan-Michael Key ramping it up as Toad, a really unrecognizable Fred Armisen as King Kranky Kong, and Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong sounding like…Seth Rogen (which is not a negative in the slightest). Sadly, perhaps my favorite character was not in the film, but does show up in the post credit scene, so there is hope for the sequel.

In the end, there is one clear winner as the scene stealer, and it is Jack Black’s Bowser. Aside from adding more bass to his voice, there is the classic (albeit family version) of Black all over the Bowser scenes. It is one thing for Bowser to be a truly helpless “hopeless romantic”: it is another to have him playing the piano with the help of Black returning back to his days in Tenacious D. He is truly the best part of the film.

Parents, the film is PG. Your kids will be fine seeing this movie.

Those who are still skeptical should know something rather obvious: While this is no clear masterpiece, it is still much much MUCH better than the infamous catastrophe that was the 1993 version with the late Bob Hoskins. That movie was the start of a long run of movies based off of video games that were so bad it seemed like even a decent one would be a rarity. Over the last few years, that trend seems to have reversed somewhat, with the likes of the Sonic the Hedgehog films, the fedora wearing in Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, the reboot of Mortal Kombat, and (especially) the TV show The Last of Us.

It seems movies based on video games have finally had the dust blown out of the cartridge for good.

Let’s a- go!


Rating: 3 out of 5.
1 1/2 Stars

Jurassic World: Dominion (2022)

Had I been born approximately two or so years earlier, I would have fond memories of the original Jurassic Park in the theaters during its original release. Alas, I was six, so I had to wait until home video. After the promise of a series revival of sorts with 2015’s highly entertaining Jurassic World, the series was on its last little Dino legs when the highly disappointing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in 2018. I hoped life may find a way to bring the series home to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. 

In the third and final installment of the Jurassic World trilogy (and possibly last in the Jurassic saga), Jurassic World: Dominion indeed brings the series home…to extinction.

1 1/2 Stars Movies

The Tomorrow War (2021)

Maybe I was just Mr. Grumpy pants when I was watching this film.

Perhaps I just was not giving The Tomorrow War a fair opportunity to try to be a semi fun time travel film. I do confess that I can overthink a lot at movies, but it did not take me a long time to realize this film should have stayed in the future. The very, very distant future.

2 1/2 Stars Movies

Onward (2020)

Coming up this November will be the quarter century mark of the release of Toy Story (1995), which was the birth of Disney/Pixar (though Pixar had done some of the animated shorts beforehand). Having seen all but two of their full length films (2015’s The Good Dinosaur and 2017’s Cars 3 got past my radar), the quality of the films of Disney/Pixar have nearly always been able to exceed all expectations, despite how high they may have been. With very few “duds” to their credit (most of the non-Toy Story sequels and Brave), the combined duo shows no sign of stopping, even if they make films of lesser quality. Which, sadly, brings us to Onward.

The brief history of magical creatures states that magic has been nearly lost and almost forgotten. While magic once thrived, scientific discovery had replaced it. Still, there are a few who still believe it exists, mainly the over eager Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). After the death of his magic loving dad (because this is Disney, so the one parent rule is almost always in effect), he tries his darndest to be somewhat of an influence to his younger teenage brother Ian (Tom Holland).

As the film begins on his 16th birthday, the somewhat introverted Ian tries to stay somewhat distant from his much more extroverted older brother. That is, until his mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in her second Disney/Pixar film since A Bug’s Life) reveals a present to be given to both her sons when they turned sixteen. It is a staff, which will be able to bring there dad back (with the help of a rare phoenix stone their dad gave them as well) for one day. Unfortunately, trouble with the spell brews (pun intended?), and only the legs of their dad appear. They must then set forth on a quest to find another phoenix stone if they wish to see their whole dad before the 24 hour spell is over. Along the way in his (somewhat) trusty van Gwinivere, Barley passes on his knowledge of magic to his brother (who we discover is the one with magical abilities).

Compared to other films in the Pixar canon, there seems to be fewer supporting characters that stick out. The ones that do include a manticore (Octavia Spencer), Laurel’s new boyfriend cop, Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), and some hard headed (and often funny) motorcycle pixies. And yes, we still get the Disney/Pixar treasured voice of John Ratzenberger, but it was so brief I admit I missed it.

There is also one (very minor) character, Officer Spector (Lena Waithe), who is officially the first openly gay character in a Disney/Pixar film. Sadly, this is more politicized than memorable. If you are going to include a homosexual character (in general, not just in animation), make it needed in the story itself. If Spector had not mentioned she was gay (though she does not use those exact words), I doubt it would make any difference to the outcome of the film.

The idea of being able to spend time with a dead loved one is indeed moving, but the way they established it seems just…awkward. I can understand the filmmakers wanting to add a twist of some kind, but just the legs? Yes, they find a way to communicate (somewhat) with them, but it just seems not as original or daring an idea that would expect from the studio.

Speaking of originality, when Disney/Pixar is at the top of their game, they give us worlds of endless possibilities. They have created countless universes with toys, bugs, monsters, cars, superheroes (even before the MCU), robots, emotions (!), and rats in the kitchen. Very few studios can say they have done something like that (save for Studio Ghibli).

That said, the universe of the creatures of Onward seems like it is from the minor leagues. Through out the film, I seriously had to remind myself I was watching a Disney/Pixar film, and not something from a lesser quality studio (I won’t name examples, but even the heads of other studios have to admit they have to almost always compete with Disney/Pixar).

Parents, the film is okay for kids provided you plan to have a conversation about the lesbian character, but I do admit I think the humor for the adults will be harder to find than it was in other Disney/Pixar films.

The deeper issues with being able to talk to a deceased family member did hit me at times (having lost my own dad a little less than a decade ago), but not as much as it could have. Consider the other great touching moments in the history of Disney/Pixar: Andy saying goodbye to his toys, WALL-E not recognizing EVE, Boo realizing (at the time) she won’t see Sully again, Miguel singing to Coco, the goodbye at the end of Toy Story 4, and, of course, the first ten minutes of Up. I would argue these (as well as moments which would produce “happy tears”) are groundbreaking moments for a child’s life as a movie goer (and some adults as well).

Disney/Pixar will, I am confident, still produce classics in the years to come (they have another film this year called Soul, which does look promising), but they need to remember to go Onward before going upward.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

5 Stars Movies

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. Few movies have been any kind of a threat of dethroning Marvel’s work (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War.

If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans), … ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye.

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. After all, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point because “We have a hulk” isn’t good enough for the Asgardians.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given not only the same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Perhaps the greatest difference between the films of the MCU and the (now defunct) DCU is that the former has far more layered characters. After spending a decade with most of them, we have seen a character arc in nearly every one of them, and have seen there ups and downs, fears and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses. How applicable are the words from Proverbs 18:24; “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The heroes are not blood related (Thor and Loki are brothers, but not by blood, as is the case for Gamora and Nebula), but have gone thru so much they may as well be. How can that not be relatable?

John 15:13 tells us a deep, moral truth: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.Avengers: Infinity War recognizes this truth time and time again. One critical point in the plot is the discussion over whether to kill Vision preemptively to stop Thanos from getting the Mind stone. Vision was willing to die (and did!) for his friends.

Parents, Infinity War is darker than most other Marvel movies, but still an acceptable film for Middle Schoolers and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.


Rating: 5 out of 5.

2 Stars

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

It was a fourteen year wait we all endured (along with the third film in 2001) before 2015’s Jurassic World brought back dinosaurs to the theme park, and was probably the best since the original classic back in 1993.

Three years later, we have Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Fallen indeed. It is like going to a great destination but having your GPS take you though places you never knew existed, resulting in you feeling somewhat interested, but wishing for other scenery on the route.

3 1/2 Stars

Jurassic World (2015)

I admit that when I heard they were doing a new film in the Jurassic series, I was hesitant.

The first film came out when I was six, and it was a great entertainment. Sadly, after the unimpressive (but mildly entertaining) The Lost World and the very anti-fun Jurassic Park 3, it seemed the original was doomed to follow the same path of another Spielberg classic, Jaws.