Take 2

Review: “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

Review: “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”

Rebecca’s Take

Bursting with color, imagination and heart-warming messages, the ambitious Christmas musical “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” lands on Netflix in time for the holidays. Starring a largely Black cast including Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key, the uplifting family film celebrates its diversity with an original soundtrack of show-stopping, hip-hop-inspired tunes. The sprawling production elicits wonder for bringing its period aesthetic and well-staged musical numbers to life.

But as gorgeous as “Jingle Jangle” is to watch, the holiday bonanza is a mixed gift bag. The film curiously underuses some of its best elements. “Jingle Jangle” is held back by its poor pacing, too many subplots and lack of time for key cast members.

In the Netflix fantasy, genius toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (first Justin Cornwell, then Whitaker) invents a toy like no other: a living doll (voiced by Ricky Martin). The toy promises to make Jeronicus famous and provide for his family, including his inquisitive daughter, Jessica. But Jeronicus’s apprentice Gustafson (Miles Barrow, then Key) has other ideas. Feeling underappreciated, the apprentice steals the talking toy and Jeronicus’ book of inventions.

The change in fortune devastates Jeronicus and his family. But Christmas brings Jeronicus a second chance when his similarly brilliant granddaughter, Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills), comes into his life. With Journey’s help, the inventor must learn to believe in Christmas again to create a toy that can save his livelihood – and his family.

Under the helm of writer-director David E. Talbert, “Jingle Jangle” boasts a stunning production design and special effects that lift it high above other Netflix Christmas films. The colorful 19th century clothing, cobblestone streets and storefronts feature a steampunk vibe. In addition to the live action, the film also integrates stop-motion animation, which portrays the characters as wooden dolls. The film’s most fun sequences – such as a snowball fight with some spectacular throws, and a rollicking tunnel escape – include some cool CGI effects.

“Jingle Jangle” spotlights Black people during the Victorian era, a progressive move for the holiday genre. The film delves into generational talent and the lingering effects of tragedy as it affects a Black family. Forest Whitaker is quirky but sympathetic as Jeronicus, tapping into the toymaker’s pain and loneliness. His relationship with Journey is the heart of the film. The effervescent Mills stands out as the kind and curious granddaughter with an eager mind for calculations and gears. Phylicia Rashad, the beloved mother from “The Cosby Show,” lends a calming presence as the story’s mysterious narrator.

Jeronicus, his daughter Jessica and granddaughter Journey share a vivid imagination and mechanical smarts. “Jingle Jangle” lauds their interest in science and math, and the film encourages being different. In the inspiring song “Square Root of Possible,” Mills generates chills in the tune that celebrates Journey’s individuality. “Jingle Jangle” also shows that like broken toys, families can be put back together. All of these are good messages to convey to its young audience.

The musical’s boisterous tunes reflect African American cultural influences. The songs, written by a group that includes John Legend, infuse R&B and soul with Broadway. The well-choreographed group numbers exude elements of a stage show while also feeling cinematic in scope. With its breathless optimism, opening number “This Day” kicks off the film in a jolly manner. “Make It Work” acknowledges the characters’ despair and finding the determination to overcome it.

This brings us to the film’s weaknesses. At two hours, the slow-moving film feels its length. At 40 minutes in, I checked my watch and realized not much had happened in way of the plot. While the group numbers are infectiously watchable, the solo songs often felt like they brought the film to a screeching halt rather than advance the story. The long length may be difficult for younger viewers to sit through.

In addition to the family drama, “Jingle Jangle” juggles several storylines, and it doesn’t always divvy up its time wisely between them. This includes Journey’s attempt to help Jeronicus defeat his creative drought. One of Jeronicus’s creations is a wide-eyed, adorable robot named Buddy (who looks a lot like WALL-E). When the toy takes flight, the joyful sequence will bring a smile to your face. But then Buddy has very little screen time for the rest of the movie, a misfire on the film’s part.

The film criminally underuses Key, who’s supposed to be a formidable rival for Jeronicus. Everytime the funnyman appears onscreen as Gustafson, the movie roars to life. Key even demonstrates his singing and dancing talents during the exuberant and boastful “Magic Man G.” But the problem is, Key barely appears in the movie. It’s hard to see Gustafson as a true threat when he’s not around much.

Martin is entertaining as the manipulative doll Don Juan Diego, but his screen time is also too short. Instead, more time is given to an uninteresting romantic subplot between Jeronicus and annoying widow Ms. Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip).

With its original story and soundtrack, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” marks a breakthrough for diversity in holiday movies. The heart-felt, eye-popping film brings together a talented Black cast, high production value and heart-pumping musical numbers. But the holiday flick can be a journey to get through as the story moves slowly, dividing its time unevenly between its cast and various subplots. Despite its flaws, the destination is worth the journey as “Jingle Jangle” rings the bell on a new Christmas classic.

3 out of 5 stars

Madalen Mills stars in “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Story.”

Joe’s Take

After reviewing the adult romantic comedy “Holidate,” we decided to watch another Christmas offering from Netflix, the family musical “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.” For the second straight week, I was happy with what I saw.

“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” gave us some great performances from familiar faces and a breakout role for another. Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker shines as co-lead Jeronicus. I really enjoyed his mumbling curmudgeon approach to the role. It made me laugh quite a bit. It was a coming out party for his co-star Madalen Mills (Journey) who gave the film the energy and childlike wonder that it needed. The young actress also has a powerful voice. I always think it’s incredible when a child actor can go toe-to-toe with a veteran award winner. Mills does just that.

Phylicia Rashad (older Journey) is great in everything and this film uses her in the same way “The Princess Bride” uses Peter Falk. Rashad reads a story to her grandkids, which is the story we see. A limited role for Rashad, but she brought a warm elderly presence that helped the film.

We’re going to stay with the acting here as I really enjoyed the dynamics among the star players and the supporting crew. Lisa Davina Phillip (Ms. Johnston) builds a great dynamic with Whitaker. She plays a widow who falls in love with Jeronicus. Phillip had me laughing every time she was on screen with her attempts to woo Jeronicus with the help of a few random backup dancers and drive her mail truck without hurting anyone. She’s the character I enjoyed most. I also got a kick out of the young Kieron L. Dyer (Edison) who played off Mills very well, adding a few laughs of his own along the way.

The choice that bothered me was the use of Anika Noni Rose (Jessica). She’s a Tony Award Winner and Jeronicus’ daughter, yet she sings one, maybe two songs? Rose was easily the best singer in the film, so why she was kept out of the movie for so long baffles me. Know your talent and use your talent.

The music was solid, as I enjoyed the joyful offerings more. While it didn’t bother me, this film that advertises magic and wonder doesn’t have a ton of magic and wonder. If I were a kid, I might be upset about the lack of energy and color for a good chunk of the film. “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” opens with a strong number with great energy and good choreography (I’m still trying to figure out how a dancer did a 360 spin from one ladder to another). Then Jeronicus’ life plummets to rock bottom. As a result, the bright colors and energy from the opening is replaced with dull lighting and sadness. It’s important to the film for this to happen and adults would understand that. Kids may not.

The special effects are off and on. Most scenes look great, while a couple sequences don’t look real. It was a little strange, like the budget ran out and they needed to do some creative editing. Maybe that’s why a lot of scenes take place in a dreary pawn shop.

A kids movie needs a message that resonates with the young audience and this film provides It. I like the way the movie attacked the theme, too, as the kids aren’t the people who have to learn. It’s the adults who have to recapture the imagination of their childhood.

Looking at “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” through the eyes of a 30-year-old, I think the movie is very strong. For a kid, a two-hour runtime with a character trying to cut off the fun for a good chunk of the movie is a lot to ask a young audience to sit through. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film for families to enjoy, but if it found a better balance between the adult themes and the childhood wonder it could have been even better.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: “Holidate”

Review: “Holidate”

Rebecca’s Take

As we get closer to Christmas, some things are inevitable. Holiday cups at Starbucks. Merry music on the radio. And dozens – and I mean dozens – of Christmas movies on TV.

Between Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix, I drink up these cookie-cutter movies as much as I guzzle down peppermint mochas from Starbucks. So imagine my surprise when I put on “Holidate,” the new holiday offering from Netflix, and got something extra in my stocking.

Instead of a traditional, sanitized Christmas rom com, “Holidate” unwraps a raunchy, laugh-out-loud outing. The hilarious and refreshing entry bucks the conventions of its genre, differentiating itself in a crowded field.

But while the film goes out of its way to proclaim it’s not your typical Christmas rom com, “Holidate” becomes exactly that as it falls into the same trappings of the genre’s standard fare.

The flick follows the eternally single Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey), who are tired of enduring the holidays without a plus-one. They decide to be each other’s platonic dates for the holidays spanning the rest of the year, starting with New Year’s Eve. The arrangement works out well as Sloane and Jackson party it up on each successive holiday, from Valentine’s Day through Halloween. But as they spend more time together, a hitch emerges in the plan: the two start developing feelings for one another.

I’ve seen enough Christmas rom coms to know how saccharine they are, and I don’t mind the toothache I get from them because I expect it. Typically, the romantic leads are perfect people, and the budding relationships are completely wholesome.

However, “Holidate” takes that well-worn formula and crushes it, gifting a Christmas movie for people who like crude humor. While most Christmas movies steer clear of the bedroom, “Holidate” draws laughs from sexual innuendo and hi-jinks, pushing the boundaries of the genre. This is not a family-friendly film, nor is it trying to be.

Sloane and Jackson are the opposite of innocent and naive. The jaded, foul-mouthed pair trade insults as frequently as they throw back beers on St. Patrick’s Day and shots on Cinco de Mayo. But both also reveal their vulnerabilities as they face their fears of relationships. Roberts and Bracey have a natural back-and-forth banter that makes their characters’ attraction believable. Like any Christmas movie, it’s easy to root for them to end up together.

The two also demonstrate a flair for physical comedy as Sloane and Jackson find themselves in some embarrassing situations, including a fireworks accident on the Fourth of July and an accidental ingestion of a laxative on Halloween. The ensuing antics are cringeworthy yet funny, something you’d never see in a Hallmark movie.

As a holiday flick, “Holidate” expands its horizons by featuring other celebratory days besides Thanksgiving and Christmas. The film embraces the yearlong holiday calendar, including a cookout on Memorial Day and a wedding on Labor Day. For Easter, I burst laughing at an egg hunt that featured children running out to a Ludacris song.

As eager as “Holidate” is to turn Christmas rom coms on their head, it inevitably morphs into a traditional entry. The self-aware film makes a point to call out the genre on certain tropes before succumbing to those very things itself. It can be a bit much as “Holidate” hits viewers over the head with its meta-ness. However, the film also knows its audience and what they want. Unlike the rest of the film, its ending isn’t especially creative. But it’s enough to leave fans of the genre satisfied.

While “Holidate” puts the focus squarely on Sloane and Jackson, the film introduces subplots that it barely hashes out. Two characters share a kiss that threatens to cause a scandal, until it doesn’t. Sloane’s brother gets engaged despite the fact he and his fiancée don’t seem to know each other that well. These storylines end up being wrapped up as part of the film’s predictable ending with little resolution.

The film often requires its viewers to suspend disbelief. Jackson, who is a golf pro, must deal with a possibly debilitating injury that doesn’t seem to affect his job. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be watching a film called “Holidate” if you expected it to adhere to real-life logic.

The rom com includes some big names in its cast. Kristin Chenoweth shines as Sloane’s flashy and free-spirited aunt, Susan. Chenoweth adds depth to the side character, whose story parallels Sloane’s. Frances Fisher is fun as Sloane’s mom, scolding her daughter for wearing pajamas for her remote job. Jessica Capshaw scores quite a few laughs as Sloane’s sister, Abby, who misses having a life outside of being a mother.

“Holidate” tries to have its fruitcake and eat it too – and for the most part, it succeeds. The bawdy Christmas rom com spends most of its runtime fighting against the conventions of its genre before eventually giving into them. But it’s enough to separate itself from the rest of the Christmas films begging for your attention this season. For someone who’s seen hundreds of these films, “Holidate” was a welcome surprise under the tree for me. And it’s a gift I’m willing to drink up again, peppermint mocha in hand.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey star in “Holidate.” (Steve Dietl/Netflix via AP)

Joe’s Take

It’s the beginning of November, so we’ve all been in Christmas mode for at least a week as we try not to forget Thanksgiving is right around the corner. With the Christmas holiday comes the Christmas movie, and Netflix’s “Holidate” is already waiting for you at home. It hit the streaming service Oct. 28. A little early? Originally I thought so, but “Holidate” doesn’t just cover Dec. 25. The film spans a year and all the holidays that come with it. Can that separate it from the cascade of Christmas movies that already exist? Yes and no. While “Holidate” tries to break free from the typical holiday romantic comedy formula, it struggles to rid itself of the tropes.

This kind of film needs likable or at least watchable leads. Emma Roberts (Sloane) and Luke Bracey (Jackson) fit that bill. The duo has instant chemistry and from the moment they meet, you’re rooting for them. Both struggle to find a good date for the holidays, so when they run into each other at the mall they decide to serve as each other’s date for every holiday. Oddly, I haven’t seen Roberts act much. The movie I’m most familiar with her in is 2016’s “Nerve.” I never thought I’d talk about the enjoyable “Nerve” again after I saw it, but it has now come up in two of my reviews in the past few months. She jells with another actor I wasn’t too familiar with in Bracey. I liked him in 2016’s “Hacksaw Ridge,” but this was the first time I saw him act with his natural Australian accent. It’s no surprise that he comes off more naturally. He brings an energy and charming personality, which the film needs.

The film also has plenty of notable and capable actors that it ends up not doing much with. The movie centers on Sloane and Jackson’s relationship, but it also builds toward revealing flaws with Sloane’s family members. It all seems to be building toward a great climax, but nothing comes of it. It almost seemed that there was a scene or two missing.

As I mentioned earlier, Sloane and Jackson get together for every holiday — not just the big ones. This includes St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Labor Day. The idea of putting them in so many holiday scenarios works beautifully as it keeps the film fresh for most of the runtime. It also adds to the humor, as this movie had me laughing quite a bit. While you shouldn’t watch it with your kids, the laughs really land. Kristin Chenoweth (Aunt Susan), Andrew Bachelor aka King Bach (Neil) and Jessica Capshaw (Abby) have great comedic moments.

“Holidate” proves self-aware, which helps it to a certain degree. However, the film dips into that well too often. The characters often say they don’t like when something happens in a movie, but then they do the thing they said they hate. “22 Jump Street” did a more effective job of the self-referential humor. That 2014 comedy sequel would often have characters say, “Do the same thing,” when anyone tried to deviate from the formula that made “21 Jump Street” so successful. The film flows better when it leans into the self-referential humor like the “Jump Street” franchise did. Instead, characters in “Holidate” spent the whole time saying they weren’t going to follow the conventions, but then fell back into the conventions. This movie goes exactly how you think it will go. That’s where it loses steam toward the end as it reverts back to a typical romance we’ve seen so many times.

While “Holidate” doesn’t separate itself enough from the typical, the cast is fun to watch, even though it’s not always given enough to do. I laughed quite a bit, and I wouldn’t mind watching it again.

3 out of 5 stars

Review: “Rebecca”

Review: “Rebecca”

Joe’s Take

I have a very short history with “Rebecca,” which is completely my fault. About 13 years ago, the Daphne du Maurier novel was on my high school summer reading list along with Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Let me tell you, those first name titles do a lot to pull you in. Needless to say, I did what I always did at that age. I got the book, turned to the back page and saw it was 600 PAGES LONG! (I could be exaggerating. I just remember it was too many pages. But since I can’t find a straight answer in a Google search, I’m going to stick with 600 pages for the duration of this review). I’ll give teenage me credit, though. I started to read it. However, I got about 100 pages in and had enough. I planned to get the CliffNotes, but our class was bailed out on the first day of school. Turned out we wouldn’t be tested on the books we were supposed to read during the summer. I put “Rebecca” aside and expected never to pick it up again. I was right … sort of.

Thirteen years later, Netflix released a “Rebecca” remake. While I didn’t know I would have an interest in movie reviewing back then, here we are. I would finally find out what “Rebecca” actually is. After watching the remake with no knowledge of the plot because my teenage brain apparently didn’t take much in, I realized I made a terrible mistake. Not because the remake was anything spectacular. I just know it was done better before. The story is incredibly intriguing, but the execution proves poor. I should have read the book or watched the Alfred Hitchcock-directed 1940 original, which earned two Oscar wins, including best picture, and 11 nominations … Oops.

I will say the first 30 minutes of the film bored me. This is where teenage Joe gets a little credit. Does 30 minutes of a 2-hour movie equate to 100 pages of a 600-page book? It’s a little off percentage-wise, but I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the 17-year-old. It was boring. The soon-to-be Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) builds a quick chemistry with the mysterious Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). That’s the first 30 minutes of the movie. That’s it. I didn’t know what it was building toward, so to me it was just a random relationship where the two have some chemistry. I will say the scenery is gorgeous during those 30 minutes, the only redeeming quality of the first act. The beautiful colors also work for later in the film as they clash against the dark, dreary Manderley estate. When the newly wed couple returns to Manderley, the film picks up. That is to say it finally found the plot.

Mystery lies around Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca. I’m as nosey as they come and I can’t keep a secret, so living with Maxim would drive me insane. He doesn’t tell Mrs. de Winter anything about Rebecca (Side note: Lily James’ character is Mrs. de Winter as she is given no other name in the film until she marries Maxim). It really made me hate Maxim and feel bad for Mrs. de Winter. I’m sure this is what’s supposed to happen, but to me it comes out of nowhere. Therein lies the biggest problem of the film. The great source material was there. The filmmakers just didn’t execute.

I like James and Hammer a lot. I’ve seen both do great things. They were misdirected in this film. What I will give the first 30 minutes is that James and Hammer built a natural chemistry. It made sense they were together. When they got back to Manderley, it was as if a switch flipped. They were not on the same page. Hammer acted way out of character from what we saw earlier. James tried, but there was only so much she could do with the filmmakers’ poor vision. This movie claimed to be different, but then went through the motions. The Oscar-nominated Kristin Scott Thomas also ended up in a one-note, over-the-top role as Mrs. Danvers. This film had the talent, but it didn’t execute.

It’s also frustrating that throughout the film certain things are hinted at, which is cool … until they outright say what was only hinted at earlier in the movie. We don’t need to be treated like idiots. We get it.

The plot held my interest because I had no idea what was going on. However, there was no real thrill to it. It was just a mystery that needed to be solved. Once it was, I only had more questions for the filmmakers. I shouldn’t be questioning what happened earlier in the film mid-movie. After knowing the basic plot, I can’t imagine revisiting this adaptation again. I’d be bored and I imagine the people who adore the book or the original film hated this movie.

Ultimately, this just feels like a live-action Disney remake. What is the point when you’re going to do mostly the same thing? And the stuff that’s added tends to be a detriment to the film. From research, I know the remake extended the ending and there’s no reason to. I realize studios love remakes and franchises, but if we need to keep seeing these movies at least reimagine them. Tell the story in a new light.

I’m only realizing now that I didn’t like much about “Rebecca” except the scenery and the colors. It took actors I like and relegated them to run-of-the-mill work. It took interesting source material and turned it bland. A coach can create a great gameplan, but the players have to execute. There was no point during the film where I saw anything other than a bunch of people running through the motions. I’d like to watch the Hitchcock film, but I wish I went into it fresh. Now, I know the plot. And if I could talk to 17-year-old Joe today, I’d tell him to suck it up.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Kristin Scott Thomas, left, and Lily James star in “Rebecca.”

Rebecca’s Take

I have a long history with “Rebecca,” which starts with sharing the name of the 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel and 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation. My mother is a fan of classic movies, and I grew up watching them with her, including Hitchcock’s many films. (I wasn’t named after this movie, however; that distinction goes to the 1938 Shirley Temple flick “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”)

Since my teens, the Master of Suspense has been my favorite director, and “Rebecca” is among my top 5 favorites of his films. The movie also stars Joan Fontaine, one of my favorite actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Era. A film-loving friend even gave me a copy of the book in high school, but unfortunately, I still haven’t read it. (My copy is 380 pages, so Teen Joe exaggerates). The lavish Gothic mystery won best picture, Hitchcock’s only film to claim the Oscars’ top honor.

Valuing Hitchcock’s original as much as I do, I was excited to learn a new adaptation of “Rebecca” was coming to Netflix. I also knew it would be impossible for me to review the new version without comparing it to the 1940 masterpiece. Much like how the shadow of the titular character looms over the story, Hitchcock’s superior version hangs over this hollow retread. Despite an engaging first act and its masterful use of color, the dull “Rebecca” barely justifies its existence. The watchable but disappointing remake lacks the suspense of the original, stranding its talented cast in a middling effort.

Set in the early 1940s, “Rebecca” follows a nameless narrator (Lily James), an unsophisticated ladies’ companion who falls in love with wealthy and brooding widower Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer). After the two marry, Maxim brings his young wife back to his luscious English estate, Manderley.

But it’s not a happy homecoming. The new Mrs. de Winter encounters constant comparisons to Maxim’s deceased wife, Rebecca, and judgmental looks from the wait staff. This includes steely housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is fiercely devoted to the late Mrs. de Winter. As Maxim grows more distant, his new wife finds herself haunted by Rebecca’s ever-present memory and threatened by a mansion full of secrets.

The new “Rebecca” starts out strong as it develops the love story between its lead couple. Compared to the 1940 version, director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation deepens the level of conversation between Maxim and his future wife as they go for long drives and secret rendezvous. While Hitchcock’s film was handcuffed by the era’s restrictive morality codes, the new version adds steamy scenes between Hammer and James, showing the progression of their relationship. The first act flew by as I got to know the familiar couple in a new light.

Following in the footsteps of the distinguished Laurence Olivier and the mousy Fontaine, the elegant Hammer and James are well-matched, sharing a lovely chemistry that makes their whirlwind romance believable. The two characters are closer in age here, which eliminates some uncomfortable references to Fontaine’s character’s younger age in the 1940 version. The new adaptation also gives James’s initially timid narrator more agency, updating the character for a modern audience. As the audience’s conduit, James is sympathetic as the nameless narrator becomes Mrs. de Winter and forges her own identity.

When the couple arrive at Manderley, “Rebecca” shifts gears to the mystery part of the story, and that’s where the film loses momentum. The fascinating premise of “Rebecca” lies in that its titular character is dead before the story starts, yet her presence is keenly felt. In the 1940 film, Hitchcock justified his nickname by creating an atmosphere dripping with suspense. The confined and suffocating environment sees the walls closing in on Fontaine as she tries to figure out if she’s dealing with not just Rebecca’s memory, but a supernatural entity. In Wheatley’s version, “Rebecca” fails to wind up the tension as its mystery unfolds. The second act is where the film should pick up, but instead the story slows down, becoming boring.

The character dynamics are devoid of the spark that drives the intrigue in the original. Hammer’s Maxim is less volatile than Olivier’s interpretation, which makes the character more staid and less interesting. This Maxim is actually too nice, which causes his outbursts to feel inconsistent and not a character trait. Scenes between Mrs. de Winter and Mrs. Danvers that were pivotal to the 1940 film – including the infamous tour of Rebecca’s bedroom – are bland and subdued here. The polite dynamic between James and Thomas doesn’t convey the unease that constantly simmers under the surface between Fontaine and the stoic Judith Anderson in the original.

When the mystery is finally revealed, the third act turns scattered and messy. The anticlimactic finale is unnecessarily prolonged. While the ending of the 1940 film may feel abrupt to some, the story doesn’t overstay its welcome. The new “Rebecca” tries to tie up its loose ends, but doing so adds very little to the overall story.

What “Rebecca” does have going for it is its lush scenery. While the 1940 film was shot in black and white, the new version pops in glorious color. The beginning, set at the relaxing resorts and beaches of Monte Carlo, features bright pastel shades, including yellow, orange and pink. This makes for a greater contrast when the location shifts to the gloomy Manderley, bathed in grays and muted tones. But the film’s color capabilities are still on full display. In one gorgeous scene, James’ solitary figure stands in a green sweater amid the growing grass of the estate as the camera pans out. A spectacular sequence after a costume ball lights up with reds and blues.

Despite having my name, “Rebecca” let me down. The remake is all style and little substance, lacking the tension that defined the Oscar-winning adaptation and cemented Hitchcock’s legacy. The original played an important role in my life as I developed my taste in cinema. There’s a reason that film has stuck with me, and there’s a reason this one won’t. “Rebecca” may bring some new aspects of the classic story to the table, but the mediocre remake won’t overtake the memory of the haunting original.

2 out of 5 stars

Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Joe’s Take

Fourteen years ago, “Borat” hit theaters and a cultural phenomenon was born. So much so that people started talking like “Borat.” I was one of those people and … I’m still one of those people, but at least it’s relevant with the release of the sequel “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

The gap was a little strange. I was 16 when the first film was released in 2006 and I loved it. When I heard a second movie was coming out Friday, I was very excited. But then I thought … should I be? I adored the first film, but I hadn’t seen it in years. Again, I was a junior in high school. I was a different person.
Well the return to this … franchise? proved perfect as “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” picked up right where the first one left off. It’s completely inappropriate … and hilarious.

In some ways, the sequel improved upon the original. While “Borat” will always have the shock value on its side, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is more of a focused film with a cohesive story, good acting and surprising plot twists. Borat returns to the US & A to give vice president Mike Pence a gift. When he returns to America, people on the street recognize him, talk to him and ask for his autograph. It’s a clever meta sequence I really enjoyed. Because of his recognition, he’s forced to disguise himself in a number of costumes.

The fall (autumn) of Sacha Baron Cohen continues as he stars in back-to-back films (“The Trial of the Chicago 7” last week). He’s phenomenal in both films. As Borat, he returns to his wheelhouse and doesn’t miss a beat. He perfects the comedy and carries the heart necessary to his character and the film. This was no surprise.

Maria Bakalova had the breakout performance of the film. She plays Borat’s daughter Tutar, and her role is vital. Bakalova serves as the heart of the movie. She tackles hilarious comedic sequences, while balancing her innocence and evolution throughout the film. It’s a performance I didn’t expect, or a character I expected to have such an impact. However, she proves much more vital to the film than Borat’s traveling companion in the first film Azamat (Ken Davitian).

This could be perceived as a problem, but it really depends what side of the fence you fall on. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” has an agenda and it’s clear Cohen wants Donald Trump out of the White House. So much so that as soon as the movie ends, “NOW VOTE” flashes on the screen. It even puts Rudy Giuliani in a compromising position.

This film is incredibly in the moment. It was shot during the coronavirus pandemic, so I have no idea how they turned this movie around so quickly. While the pandemic isn’t the focus of the film, it is a big part of the plot.

I went into this movie looking to laugh and I came out with a heartfelt father-daughter story that dives into female equality. There were also plenty of laughs along the way.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” brings the same laughs from the first film, but somehow keeps the humor fresh 14 years later. While it was impossible for the sequel to have the same shocks as the first film, it has a more cohesive story with more of a heart. Cohen and Bakalova give outstanding performances and build a great chemistry. Like the first film, this movie is not for everybody. It’s inappropriate and targeted toward liberals. It’s also of the moment, which may hurt it down the road. However, it proved an incredible achievement to recapture the magic of a cultural phenomenon that is 14 years old.

4.5 out of 5 stars

This image released by Amazon Studios shows Sacha Baron Cohen in a scene from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” (Amazon Studios via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

The first “Borat” film launched a cultural phenomenon when it bowed in 2006, but it wasn’t one I was on board with. I hated the first movie. Its inappropriate, gross-out humor turned me off completely. The film thrived largely on shock value, and I suffered through it.

I had no desire to revisit the character until I learned the sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” would be hitting Amazon Prime. Why would Sacha Baron Cohen bring back his sexist and anti-Semitic Kazakh journalist now, after a 14-year gap? The more I learned about the film, the more I realized that Joe and I had to review it.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is still offensive, but it’s also rip-roaring hilarious, incredibly relevant and surprisingly heartfelt. The sequel is a far better film than its predecessor, perhaps more relevant than the first film was for its time. “Borat 2” provides the laughs we need right now amid a polarizing election season and an ongoing pandemic.

The sequel is more focused and streamlined than the scattered original. In 2006’s “Borat,” the notorious journalist, played by Cohen, travels across the United States to learn about the country’s culture to bring back to his glorious nation of Kazakhstan. The road trip plays like a bunch of skits, with Cohen pranking real-life people. In the follow-up, Borat returns to present a gift to Vice President Mike Pence and boost Kazakhstan’s standing with our nation’s leadership. This time around, “Borat 2” flows better, with a constant through line, developed characters and shocking turns.

About 20 minutes in, I was worried “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” would end up a retread of the first film when it spit out the same crude humor and upsetting jokes about women and ethnic groups. But the film starts trending upward when Cohen, who is repeatedly recognized by people on the street as Borat, must resort to a series of disguises. It’s an ingenious intersection of real life and fiction.

I didn’t get Cohen’s shtick of disguising himself and catching people off guard with his outlandish behavior until this film. Cohen’s most daring stunt involves infiltrating a Pence appearance at a Conservative Political Action Conference event earlier this year. The actor arrives fully dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit – and no one stops him. And Cohen ups the ante from there. The “Borat” mastermind effectively blends humor and disbelief, drawing plenty of laughs and jaw drops.

The savvy Cohen has his finger on society’s pulse as the biting satire takes on the divisive political climate. Make no mistake: the liberally minded “Borat 2” is critical of President “McDonald” Trump and his administration, from his interactions with women to the downplaying of the coronavirus pandemic. I was surprised the film was shot so recently amid the pandemic, which speaks to what its audience is experiencing right now. Reminiscent of the first film’s rodeo scene, Borat sings an appalling song at a rally amid the virus lockdown, and the camera captures the unfiltered reactions of those in attendance. The film also catches Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in an embarrassing position, and the movie leaves it up to the viewer to interpret. “Borat 2” shines an unbecoming light on our country’s current standing on the world stage as it encourages its audience to vote in the next election.

In the follow-up, Borat teams up with his daughter, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), and their tender relationship forms the core of the film. In a standout performance, the newcomer keeps up handily with Cohen. Bakalova nails the awkward jokes and physical comedy that accompany the role. After I watched the movie with my friend, she pointed out the film excels at creating humor from second-hand embarrassment. Bakalova demonstrates this perfectly at a debutante ball that goes horribly awry. During the sequence, I found myself cringing for her character, yet I couldn’t stop laughing.

The father-daughter dynamic between Borat and Tutar fixes a problem I had with the first film. In “Borat,” the lead character jokes about outdated female stereotypes, but the film did little to challenge them, especially with how it treated Pamela Anderson. However, “Borat 2” promotes female empowerment as Tutar matures and becomes her own person. The actress balances the Kazakh teen’s naivete with her burgeoning awareness of women’s rights. Bakalova and Cohen share a lovely chemistry as Tutar opens Borat’s eyes to gender equality.

“Borat 2” turns uplifting as the film shows people can evolve. Borat not only grows as a person because of his daughter, but the anti-Semitic character is capable of changing his world view. In a poignant scene, Borat meets in a synagogue with real-life Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans. The movie is dedicated to Evans, who died this summer. Evans’ family is suing Amazon and the film’s producers over her appearance, but according to published reports, Cohen broke character and explained the scene’s purpose to Evans. The moving scene added unexpected depth to the film and has since stuck with me.

If Borat can open his mind, so can I. I went into “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” dreading it, and instead I came out enjoying it. “Borat 2” is the funniest film I’ve seen so far this year. The gut-busting yet heartwarming sequel improves upon the original in almost every way, making the most of its timely setting. The politically slanted film isn’t for everyone, and its low-brow humor can still be off-putting. But as our nation finds itself in the grips of turmoil, “Borat” allows us to laugh during a stressful time.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Review: “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Joe’s Take

Aaron Sorkin is my favorite screenwriter, but he is far from my favorite director. That’s not to say he’s bad at it. His directorial debut came with 2017’s “Molly’s Game.” The first time I saw “Molly’s Game” I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Its strengths? Sorkin’s writing and the acting. The weakness? Sorkin’s directing. The transitions from past to present in “Molly’s Game” didn’t flow well. It felt as though a new movie was starting every time the movie juggled time periods. That’s how I felt in 2017.

After numerous watches, I now love “Molly’s Game.” Mostly I adore the writing and acting, especially in scenes where Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba share the screen. The directing still doesn’t elevate the film, but I was a little too harsh in my first go-around.

I hold Sorkin to an extremely high standard when it comes to his writing, because he always delivers. “A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network” are two of my favorite movies and “The West Wing” is one of my favorite TV shows. What makes me shy away from Sorkin directing his own films is that he usually teams with amazing directors, such as David Fincher (“The Social Network”), Rob Reiner (“A Few Good Men” and “The American President”), Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”), Mike Nichols (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) and Danny Boyle (“Steve Jobs”). These great directors get the most out of Sorkin’s scripts. Fincher helped boost “The Social Network” script all the way to an Oscar. Despite that, writing AND directing seems to be Sorkin’s present focus.

Enter “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Sorkin returns to the courtroom for a story based on true events. The Netflix film is his second time pulling double duty as the writer and director. When it comes to directing, Sorkin is a quick learner. Sorkin kept the pace fluid, which matched his usual rapid dialogue. He cuts from the present to the past, but he often interweaves the scenes so the film doesn’t come to a halt like in “Molly’s Game.” He also incorporates real footage nicely. The only problem I have is a choice near the end of the film. The movie fades to black in the middle of a scene and then jumps to the end of the film. I didn’t understand the purpose of that. It felt so disjointed and very unlike Sorkin. I expect a cross examination to build toward, “You can’t handle the truth!” not cut off in the middle.

Other than that, Sorkin really stepped it up in the director’s chair. From there, it’s smooth sailing. Sorkin’s script is again incredible and the ensemble cast is awesome. His ability to create a verbal action sequence is on full display again. He’s also able to perfectly balance humor and entertainment with the seriousness of the plot. This is no surprise, but he needs the actors who are up to the challenge. They were.

This cast is deep. Eddie Redmayne (Tom Hayden) usually takes on a flashy role, unless he’s in a “Fantastic Beasts” movie. He’s excellent in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything” and “The Danish Girl,” but it was nice to see him in more of a contained role in the “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” The film is a true ensemble and he nails his role.

The standouts are Sacha Baron Cohen (Abbie Hoffman) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Bobby Seale). Cohen had the flashiest role where he really had to show his range, which he has. He could turn on the comedic timing and shut it down for some dramatic sequences. While this movie has no one star, Cohen separates himself and may receive some Oscar attention, assuming there is an Academy Awards in April.

I don’t know Abdul-Mateen from much, but he got on my radar and everybody else’s for his Emmy winning performance in HBO’s “Watchmen.” He took it up another level in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Abdul-Mateen has a tough role as Seale. His verbal scenes are great, but his physical sequences and presence he brings to the film are just as important. Phenomenal job.

Every actor has his moment so I’ll do my best Sorkin impression and try to make this quick. (Inhales) Mark Rylance (William Kunstler) is great in everything and this film just builds on his outstanding legacy, Jeremy Strong (Jerry Rubin) may be underrated at this point as he has played strong roles in Oscar quality movies, John Carroll Lynch (David Dellinger) can do it all, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Richard Schultz) does a beautiful job balancing his beliefs and his duty without having to speak in order for the audience to know his feelings and Frank Langella (Judge Julius Hoffman) is incredible at playing a hateable character (exhales).

There’s also a surprise cameo that’s pretty great.

I’m confident Sorkin can make anything sound interesting, but the story is engaging and very timely. I knew nothing about the Chicago 7 so I was on the edge of my couch watching the film. It takes you through a lot of emotions in about two hours. It’ll make you laugh and tear up. It’ll also shock you.

This is such a hard score for me to give out, because I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The writing and acting are phenomenal and Sorkin’s directing is improved. I’ll watch it many more times. It absolutely deserves a high score so that’s what it will get. However, take into account that I adore Sorkin’s work and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is not among the best. It’s no “A Few Good Men.” It’s no “The Social Network.” It’s no “Moneyball.” It’s no “The West Wing.” It’s no “Molly’s Game.” However, his work gets better upon repeat viewings so who knows where it will stand in my eyes years from now.

And I won’t let Sorkin’s amazing work of the past take away from this film’s greatness.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Sacha Baron Cohen, left, and Jeremy Strong in “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

Rebecca’s Take

To say we live in turbulent times is an understatement. Our country faces a polarizing presidential election against the backdrop of a raging pandemic and a national reckoning over racial injustice. In 1968, our country also faced a defining presidential election amid an unpopular war and the fight for civil rights.

The powerful “The Trial of the Chicago 7” speaks to us now, looking at our nation’s present through the lens of the past. Based on historical events, the gripping Netflix drama about the aftermath of the violent riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention is one of the most important films of the year, stirring disbelief and outrage.

Much like this summer’s “Da 5 Bloods,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7” comes out at a relevant time, even covering some of the same ground. While “Da 5 Bloods” traveled to the battlefield of the Vietnam War, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” mostly sticks to the courtroom, delving into the stateside reaction to the divisive conflict from the point of view of anti-war protesters.

The film chronicles the trial of the seven men accused of inciting the Chicago uprising that injured hundreds. The defendants include anti-Vietnam war activists Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and counterculture icons Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong). Representing the men are attorneys William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) and Leonard Weinglass (Ben Shenkman), who must mediate the dissention between their clients, face off against determined prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and challenge the questionable rulings of combative Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella).

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” looks at citizens’ right to protest and how such protests can escalate into violence, recalling recent demonstrations in the Black Lives Matter movement. As the trial goes on, the film points out the defendants aren’t the only ones under scrutiny; so are the police and the federal government. As history repeats itself, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” highlights the parallels, holding a mirror between the past and present.

The story also reaches out into the modern day in an eerie way. The most dramatic scene concerns Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the Black Panthers leader who was initially included as the eighth defendant in the trial. Throughout the film, Seale – the only Black defendant – is repeatedly subject to dehumanizing treatment from the judge. The upsetting resolution will remind viewers of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of police has galvanized protests across the country.

In his second time in the directing chair, writer/director Aaron Sorkin skillfully weaves thrilling courtroom theatrics with rousing flashbacks. The smart, insightful script showcases “The West Wing” scribe’s mastery of verbal gymnastics. The dialogue-heavy film often shows characters talking, whether through courtroom exchanges, office meetings or protest planning sessions. These scenes can be hard to make interesting, but not under Sorkin’s hand. The conversational jousting between characters makes them sing.

Sorkin has also grown as a director. In his strong directorial debut “Molly’s Game” (2017), he showed a flair for the camera but struggled to integrate flashbacks explaining the main character’s backstory. In “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Sorkin finds the right balance, seamlessly blending in flashbacks of the riots and the events leading up to them among the trial arguments. The heated exchanges in the courtroom are amplified by the cuts to the jaw-dropping action from the protests, provoking viewers’ emotions.

The excellent performances of its star-studded ensemble cast bring “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to life. As the film’s standout, Cohen deftly juggles comedy and drama as the sarcastic Hoffman. The “Borat” actor knows when to turn up the laughs, but also when to tone it down and lean into the seriousness of a scene. The actor deserves Oscar consideration for his performance. Known for his breakout role in HBO’s “Watchmen,” Abdul-Mateen capably carries the weight of the film’s most emotional scenes, making the most of his short screen time. Strong also delivers as the likable and sensitive Rubin.

Did I mention there’s two Oscar winners in the cast? Redmayne shines as the cool and calm Hayden, gradually peeling away the activist’s vulnerabilities. And the fantastic Rylance alternates between collected and outraged, reaching his limits with Langella’s possibly incompetent judge. On the government’s side, Gordon-Levitt is great as the down-to-earth prosecutor trying to do his job. And there’s a cameo performance that will knock your socks off.

In today’s current times, “Da 5 Bloods” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” make a fitting double feature, connecting two contentious eras. Both use the context of the Vietnam War as a magnifying glass to view society. Also like “Da 5 Bloods,” the introspective drama is one of the best films of the year. With its pressing social commentary, sharp script and outstanding performances, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” asks viewers to become jurors themselves by taking the lessons of the past and applying them to our present.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Review: “Hubie Halloween”

Review: “Hubie Halloween”

Joe’s Take

I don’t understand Adam Sandler.

I still think a lot of his early work is very funny. 1996’s “Happy Gilmore” is my favorite film of his. His run started to slow in the early 2000s, but he still had some decent films. His films’ quality fell off a cliff with 2011’s “Jack and Jill” and 2012’s “That’s My Boy.” He was irrelevant in my movie-going life for years (although he found success with the “Hotel Transylvania” franchise) until 2019’s “Uncut Gems” came out of nowhere. Sandler was praised and many thought he was snubbed as a best actor nominee. He started as a beloved comedy actor before making mostly garbage films. Then, he found new life with an Oscar caliber performance. Now, it appears we’re back to trash films, or in this case “Hubie Halloween.”

Movies have been hard to come by this year because of the pandemic and we’ve seen a few clunkers. This one might be the worst.

It’s a comedy that didn’t make me laugh. Now that has happened plenty of times, but in the case of “Hubie Halloween” I struggle to understand who the film is for. It’s a PG-13 comedy that for the most part is pretty childish. It has references to Sandler’s older films such as “Happy Gilmore” and “Billy Madison,” which were there to please fans of his mid-90s work like me I guess? Somehow after all of these years, Sandler is still doing a weird voice that is absolutely unnecessary in the film. He should have evolved past that kind of comedy by now as he’s been doing that same schtick for more than 25 years.

It also bothered me that this movie wasn’t realistic. The film appears to be set in the real world, but then supernatural things start happening. Also, Sandler’s character, Hubie Dubois, carried a thermos that makes Batman’s tool belt jealous. Every situation he finds himself in, Hubie gets out of because the thermos turns into a grappling hook or a flashlight or a megaphone or mace. There’s a character who turns into a werewolf who the film eventually established escaped from an insane asylum. But … he really appears to be turning into a werewolf. The reveal of the mysterious lurker of the film makes no sense. “But, Joe, it’s a dumb Adam Sandler movie. Does it have to be realistic?” No. But it has to be cohesive. Don’t establish a real-world scenario and throw in the unrealistic just because you feel like it.

To add on to the lack of realism is the film’s mean spirit. Everyone in the town makes fun of and plays pranks on Hubie simply because he’s different and has no friends. I understand what the film is going for as it’s trying to send a message that Hubie is the strongest person because he doesn’t allow the town’s bullying to affect his life. However, this is not the way to go about it. All of the adults in the town also make fun of him and have an absolute blast doing it. It’s so juvenile and quickly turned me off to the film, especially when they took actors who I love and transformed them into jerks. That takes me to my next point.

No matter how bad the movie, Sandler always has a slew of actors and celebrities who will be in that terrible film beside him at the drop of a hat. A lot of them are very talented people. In “Hubie Halloween,” we’ve got Kevin James, Julie Bowen, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Rob Schneider, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Michael Chiklis, Ben Stiller, Noah Schnapp, Kenan Thompson and Shaquille O’Neal. A lot of their characters are just terrible people who act like a bunch of grade-schoolers. Kevin James has the right idea. He spent this entire film in sunglasses and a mullet wig. You know who he is, but at least he’s trying to hide himself. I tried to like Bowen’s character, Violet Valentine. She is the only person who actually likes Hubie for the good person that he is, but that’s really all we have to go on. That’s apparently enough for Violet to be madly in love with him. There’s no flashback scene. There’s nothing to establish why she loves him. In turn, the one-note character was the most likable by default. She was the best of a bad situation.

“Hubie Halloween” is terrible. It reduces quality actors to juvenile humor. It’s mean-spirited for the sake of being mean-spirited. Just when I thought Sandler might enter a new phase of his career (a better one at that), he fell right back into the rut he’s been stuck in for way too many years. Sandler seems like a nice guy and who am I to tell him what he can and cannot do? But if he keeps making movies like “Hubie Halloween,” I’ll just ghost him.

1 out of 5 stars

The set of “Hubie Halloween” during filming in July 2019 in Salem, Massachusetts. (Courtesy of Jill Karichner)

Rebecca’s Take

I first heard of “Hubie Halloween” from a friend who was vacationing in Salem, Massachusetts, last summer. The Adam Sandler holiday-themed movie was shooting across from her hotel, and she took a few photos of the set. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for the film. Over a year and a half later, “Hubie Halloween” has debuted on Netflix, just in time for the spooky holiday.

The film comes after Sandler’s career-best performance earlier this year in the tense drama “Uncut Gems,” which indicated a welcome turn from the low-brow comedies the comedian has made over the last decade. Though I haven’t seen any of the films he’s churned out for Netflix until now, I suffered through 2013’s “Grown Ups 2.” The incoherent mess is among the worst movies I’ve ever seen.

Featuring an actual storyline and structured plot, “Hubie Halloween” is a step up from “Grown Ups 2,” which isn’t saying much. The crude, mostly unfunny Halloween flick is mercilessly mean-spirited, turning a cast of Sandler’s well-known Hollywood friends into big bullies. With its infantile humor, out-of-touch jokes and references to better Sandler films, the film feels more like a relic from the ’90s that’ll make you wish you were watching “Billy Madison” or Happy Gilmore” instead.

Sandler plays the dim but kind-hearted Hubie Dubois, who considers himself the protector of Salem. Despite always looking out for its townspeople, the well-meaning deli worker is relentlessly made fun of by kids and adults alike. When Halloween arrives, the ever-vigilant Hubie – armed with his versatile thermos – gets his chance to save the town on his favorite holiday as residents start mysteriously disappearing.

“Hubie Halloween” satisfies the quota of bodily function jokes that Sandler fans expect from his movies. About two and a half minutes in, the first vomiting gag occurs. There’s also plenty of urination and farting. While kids may laugh at the underage humor, adults like me may have to grit their teeth to get through it. What did make me laugh – one of the only things – was a running gag that sees Hubie’s mother, played by the saucy June Squibb, wearing a series of T-shirts with inappropriate sayings that she doesn’t understand.

The cringeworthy flick constantly picks on its main character, which makes the film hard to watch. Characters often throw objects at Hubie, whether he’s riding his bike through town or speaking about Halloween safety to kids. The running gag is meant to be funny, especially as the size and quirkiness of the objects escalate. But instead, it just comes off as terribly mean.

Even the adults take repeated shots at Hubie when all he’s trying to do is protect the town. Ray Liotta hurls childish nicknames at him, mulleted cop Kevin James bats away his concerns, and cruel couple Tim Meadows and Maya Rudolph play awful pranks on him. The whole film is one bully after another ganging up on Hubie. Yes, the film ends with a message about why bullying is wrong, but it unnecessarily beats up its protagonist along the way.

The abuse Sandler’s character takes shows why the humor in “Hubie Halloween” feels dated. At the very least, Hubie is socially awkward, with Sandler donning a weird voice to play him. But at most, the stunted Hubie may have a learning disability. Yet instead of showing concern, most of the townspeople are making fun of a character who may be mentally challenged. It’s an uncomfortable undertone in a film that is geared toward families to watch together. The movie would have worked better if Sandler dropped the voice and played Hubie as a naïve, wannabe do-gooder. There’s also a farming couple, played by Lavell Crawford and Kym Whitley, whose threats of domestic violence against each other are played for laughs. The insensitive banter goes against modern sensibilities.

The film’s conflicted tone becomes more problematic with the addition of characters who ultimately go nowhere. Sandler movie mainstay Steve Buscemi shows up as a character who appears to turn into a werewolf. Buscemi does a great job with the frightful transformation, adding a sense of urgency. But then the movie casually throws away the plotline. There’s also an escaped mental patient, which allows the film to pay homage to “Halloween.” But then the light-hearted film remembers it’s supposed to be light-hearted, and discards that thread, too.

Amid various callbacks to “Happy Gilmore,” “Hubie Halloween” reunites Sandler with leading lady Julie Bowen. While I liked their romance in “Happy Gilmore,” their attraction feels forced here. As working single mother Violet, the likable Bowen is one of the only people in town who’s nice to Hubie. But the character is thinly sketched out. The only reason she seems to like Hubie is because he’s nice, too. The film seems to prize Violet’s status as the prettiest girl in high school and does little else to cement a connection between the two characters.

With its mean nature and dated humor, the scarily bad “Hubie Halloween” is full of more tricks than treats. As it checks off the boxes for juvenile jokes and familiar gags, the holiday film may be enough to satisfy Sandler fans, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good film. If the movie was dropped into my trick-or-treat bag, I’d give it back.

1 out of 5 stars

Review: “Ava”

Review: “Ava”

Rebecca’s Take

From drama to science fiction to horror, the incredibly talented Jessica Chastain has proven her versatility across several genres. The game actress seemed like a good fit for “Ava,” an action flick centered around a female assassin with a conscience.

While “Ava” desperately wants to be “John Wick” crossed with “Killing Eve,” the disappointing crime drama doesn’t succeed at being either. The bland entry features some of the worst-shot action I’ve seen in a film in a long time, with a story that becomes too soapy for its own good. The film fails its more than capable leading woman.

Efficient hitwoman Ava (Chastain) is a lethal chameleon, changing looks as easily as she racks up kills. But the assassin has started questioning her targets before offing them, wondering what they did wrong to deserve their deadly fates.

As her behavior concerns the mysterious organization she works for, Ava takes some time off (hey, assassins get vacation time, too) to go home to her family, whom she hasn’t seen for eight years. (Don’t worry – if you forget how long the gap is, the characters will constantly remind you). The conflicted killer reunites with her ill mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis), and distrusting sister, Judy (Jess Weixler). To make things more awkward, Judy is now seeing Ava’s ex-lover, Michael (Common, who looks bored here).

The organization, led by the steely Simon (Colin Farrell), decides the best way to contain its ambivalent assassin is by marking her for death. With her loved ones in danger, Ava must fight to save herself and her family.

The brutal and violent “Ava” strives to be a sleek actioner in the vein of the relentless “John Wick,” but instead, the film falls flat on its face. The aspiring thriller reunites Chastain with “The Help” director Tate Taylor, and the result is far less than thrilling.

Taylor, who directed the just-OK mystery “The Girl on the Train” and the could-have-been-better horror flick “Ma,” is in over his head here trying to shoot action. The action scenes are very choppy and shaky, marred by multiple cuts. The fight sequences are often framed in close-up from the waist up, which makes it hard to decipher the choreography of each brawl. There’s a club scene that initially invokes the club massacre in the first “John Wick,” but then the action peters out before it even begins. The film squanders its action potential.

The crime drama tries to get into the head of its titular assassin, much like the clever TV series “Killing Eve.” Like the show’s cold-blooded psychopath Villanelle, Ava also likes to taunt her victims and questions her role as contract killer for a shady employer. She shares a father-daughter-like bond with her mentor, the devoted Duke (John Malkovich), who is reminiscent of Villanelle’s handler, Konstantin. But the film doesn’t go as deep as it could into Ava’s psyche, abandoning its initial quest for a character study and choosing to go full soap opera.

“Ava” introduces several subplots that kick up the melodrama but are never fully fleshed out. In a head-scratching move, the film tells us Ava’s backstory during the opening credits. The former drug addict is also dealing with mommy issues, daddy issues and a love triangle to boot. Did I mention she’s also on the run for her life? The film’s tone is wildly inconsistent, turning from fatal fisticuffs to soapy scene on a dime.

What “Ava” does have is a promising action heroine in Chastain. The nuanced actress shows she can take on an action-heavy franchise. Chastain appears fierce onscreen, able to handle the grueling physical requirements of the role. She makes Ava’s internal conflict believable as the assassin struggles to perform her duty while healing old family wounds. What the actress needs is a better film surrounding her.

In the supporting cast, Malkovich and Farrell are mostly one-note in their roles. An unusually subdued Malkovich at least shows concern for Ava, but Farrell is just flat as the organization’s boss. However, unlike most of the action in the film, their one-on-one fight has an emotional undercurrent that makes viewers care about the outcome.

Apart from Chastain, Davis impressed me the most. The veteran actress gives a soulful performance as Ava’s regretful mother. The movie’s best scene features Davis and Chastain simply talking at a kitchen table. If “Ava” had more scenes like this, this would be a much different review.

But alas, here we are talking about a generic actioner that doesn’t measure up to the assassin thrillers it’s trying to pull from. Despite a great performance from Chastain, “Ava” fails to hit its mark. The action is terrible. Moreover, other entries in the genre tackle the idea of a hired killer with a morality crisis much better. The film costs $7 to rent on demand, but you’re better off spending your money elsewhere.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Jessica Chastain stars in “Ava.”

Joe’s Take

Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Colin Farrell.

How could a film with such top-tier talent be so poorly received by critics?

You’d have to see “Ava” to believe it.

The movie starts with an assassin, Ava (Chastain), in the middle of a mission and it establishes she is a little off. She asks her target what he did wrong to make somebody want to kill him. It sets up that our main character is struggling morally with her profession. It’s a tactic that has been used in many assassin movies before it, but that doesn’t mean it would be bad.

However, the film that threw us right into the action takes us out of it just as fast. It quickly turns into a soap opera, where the audience is slowly learning pieces of Ava’s past. The family drama is so generic that the audience already knows what all of it is. There’s also no depth to the plot. Ava was an alcoholic and a junkie because … the movie felt it needed her to be. She had a tough life growing up because … the movie needed a well-acted scene between Chastain and Davis (Ava’s mom). Nothing in the film has much purpose.

I know what the movie was trying to go for. It tried to create a story where the protagonist has a moral center. However, at the end, she discovers she’s a monster just like everyone else. The problem is the audience knows so little about her, as per the setup. Even though the film gives some of the pieces of Ava’s life to us, it doesn’t show us anything. It’s all exposition. Movie-making 101, and you can say it with me, SHOW DON’T TELL.

And seriously, I cannot emphasize enough that this movie is a soap opera masked as an action film. It is meaningless family drama with random fight scenes thrown into it. I spent most of the time wondering why anything that happened mattered. The truth is … it doesn’t.

The worst part of “Ava” is that the movie failed the actors. The actors do everything they can to elevate a weak script. If there were memberships to the Chastain fan club, I’d pay the monthly fee and have a card. I will see anything that she’s in after watching 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” She’s great in this and she can clearly handle an action franchise. From what I can see in the film, Chastain thrives in the physicality of the role. That makes it all the more disappointing as the action was shot so poorly. The sequences have a lot of cuts and some of the shots had no cohesiveness.

Let’s talk Malkovich. He plays Duke, Ava’s mentor. Malkovich succeeds with over-the-top performances. See “Con Air” and “Rounders.” That’s why we love him. In this film, it seems like they gave him a Xanax before every day of shooting. Farrell (Simon) was also incredibly bland as was Common (Michael). These are talented actors.

I really enjoy Geena Davis. She was able to somehow break through the poor script to give the film some enjoyment. Chastain and Davis were the only two to accomplish that feat. I was actually most engaged when the two had scenes together. They gave the audience the best scene in the film, but again the emotional moment really comes out of nowhere. The setup is just poor. Even Chastain looks shocked that the scene is happening at that point of the movie. Also, they gave Davis a random trait as well. She has OCD. Why? I don’t know, so I can tell all of you?

I went into “Ava” with low expectations and the film met those low expectations. As puzzling as it is that the filmmakers screwed this up, that’s exactly what happened. It’s hard to believe unless you see it for yourself, but I strongly urge you to not waste your time or money.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Review: “Enola Holmes”

Review: “Enola Holmes”

Rebecca’s Take

When I first learned about the Netflix film “Enola Holmes,” I was excited about a female-centric offshoot of the Sherlock Holmes mythology. I enjoy all the movies and TV shows related to the brilliant detective, including the modern-day BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, the Guy Ritchie-directed movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and the CBS drama series “Elementary” fronted by Jonny Lee Miller.

Led by superstar-in-the-making Millie Bobby Brown, the delightful “Enola Holmes” uncovers a new take on the famed family of sleuths. With its disarming heroine, feminist viewpoint and likable cast, the charming family-friendly adventure is fun to watch. Brown ushers in a new generation of teen detective that lives up to the Holmes name in a star vehicle and a potential franchise starter.

In 19th century England, wild child Enola Holmes (Brown), the sister of in-demand detective Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and government official Mycroft (Sam Claflin), is turning 16 years old. Unlike her well-known brothers, the clever and fiery Enola has been raised by their free-thinking mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), to fend for herself. Like Sherlock, Enola has a talent for deduction.

When Eudoria disappears, Enola must put on her sleuthing cap to find her mother while keeping her disapproving brothers at bay. Along the way, Enola crosses paths with a runaway royal, Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge). Chased by a determined assailant (Burn Gorman), the young man’s life is in mortal danger. Enola decides to help the inexperienced lord-to-be while also trying to track down Eudoria, drawing her into a two-fold mystery that will test her detective skills.

Much like its titular heroine, “Enola Holmes” is bright and breezy, a welcome spin on the darker Sherlock stories. The film is based on a series of young adult novels by Nancy Springer, which I haven’t read. But I know Sherlock. “Enola Holmes” applies the traits associated with the master sleuth to his teenage sister in believable ways. Like her big brother, the intelligent Enola is well-read, trained in the martial arts, has an affinity for word games and demonstrates a penchant for disguise. The fast-past, well-edited film does a good job in showing how Enola and Sherlock arrive at their deductions, allowing viewers to get in on the mystery-solving.

The terrific Brown carries the film on her sturdy young shoulders. I’m probably the only person who hasn’t seen “Stranger Things,” which made Brown a household name. But after “Enola Holmes,” I’m now a big fan of the actress. The film requires a lot from Brown, who succeeds at every turn. As the strong-willed Enola, Brown is funny and witty, serious and vulnerable. She can be street-smart one minute, then naïve the next as the sleuth-in-training. Brown often breaks the fourth wall, letting us in on her thoughts with just a smile or a sarcastic look. The effective technique makes viewers feel they are always in step with the character, rooting her on along the way. Brown also learned the art of jiu-jitsu and performs her own stunts – in a corset, no less! The actress shows herself game for anything, and her star will only rise from here.

Millie Bobby Brown stars in “Enola Holmes.” (Netflix via AP)

The female-empowered “Enola Holmes” showcases a forward-thinking heroine who will appeal to young teens. Enola wasn’t taught to embroider; she was taught to defend herself with her words and actions. The film’s modern message works within the restrictions that women faced during the Victorian era, showing a desire for change that would eventually lead to the women’s suffrage movement. Bonham Carter’s visionary Eudoria stands at the forefront of the charge, looking ahead to what could be her daughter’s future. “Enola Holmes” beautifully delves into their mother-daughter relationship. Ideally, mothers teach their daughters what they need to know to make their own way in life. Through flashbacks, Enola recounts her mother’s life lessons, shaping her into a young woman ready to take on the world. Bonham Carter knocks it out of the park as the supportive Eudoria, whose presence looms large.

Brown shares a great chemistry with the rest of the cast. Cavill shines as the master detective himself, Sherlock Holmes. The DC Extended Universe’s Superman is down to earth here, playing a more human iteration of the popular Holmes. Cavill’s sleuth genuinely cares about his sister, wanting to take the up-and-coming gumshoe under his wing. As Enola, Brown is the only one who can challenge Sherlock and get away with it. Cavill’s warm and sympathetic performance separates itself from the aloof, arrogant and eccentric versions inhabited by Cumberbatch, Downey and Miller. I’d be willing to watch a Sherlock-centered standalone starring Cavill.

Satisfying the teen romance component, Partridge distinguishes himself as the sensitive Tewkesbury as he shares a cute camaraderie with Brown. Both Tewkesbury and Enola are educated, but their knowledge lies in different areas. Where the viscount knows about plants, government process and social decorum, Enola knows about ciphers, going undercover in boy clothes and fighting off would-be assassins. Each saves the other, demonstrating the equality in their relationship. I really enjoyed Partridge and Brown’s playful back-and-forth banter, which reminded me of the screwball romantic comedies from the 1930s and ’40s.

As engaging as “Enola Holmes” is, the film is not without its flaws. At two hours and four minutes, the film runs long, and starts to feel it before the mystery kicks up in the final act. Its last action sequence takes a frightening and violent turn. The jarring move feels disconnected from the rest of the light-hearted flick.

The movie also takes leeway with its depiction of Mycroft Holmes. In other versions of Sherlock, his brother has the same wits and deduction abilities as the master sleuth. But in “Enola Holmes,” Claflin’s version appears clueless, with his siblings and others able to run circles around him. The character may have been dumbed down to bolster Enola’s abilities. Claflin makes the most of the role, but this Mycroft is a flat antagonist.

Is this the last we’ve seen of “Enola Holmes”? I certainly hope not. With Brown’s tremendous performance and an enjoyable supporting cast, the fun mystery-adventure paves the way for future franchise outings. The game is afoot as Brown’s strong, feminist heroine updates the Sherlock Holmes mythology for a new generation of fans.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: “The Devil All the Time”

Review: “The Devil All the Time”

Rebecca’s Take

At Take 2 Blog, we’re still scouring the offerings of streaming services as movies slowly make their way back into theaters amid the coronavirus pandemic. As society continues to cope with the virus, racial strife and the deaths of prominent figures in 2020, the transfixing Netflix epic “The Devil All the Time” transports viewers back to the 1950s and early ’60s – and a whole different set of problems.

This time period is often portrayed as a simpler, happier time. But the bleak Southern Gothic drama exposes its dark underbelly in an engrossing examination of muddled morality. Unrelenting at times, “The Devil All the Time” tackles generational violence, organized religion and abuse of power. The star-studded ensemble is brimming with excellent performances, giving much of its talented cast a chance to expand their range.

The sweeping drama takes place across two generations and two towns – Coal Creek, West Virginia, and Knockemstiff, Ohio – amid three interweaving storylines. World War II soldier Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) is haunted by post-traumatic stress from his battlefield experience. Forming a unique set of religious convictions, he raises his son, Arvin (Tom Holland), instilling in him the need to protect his loved ones through violence. When Arvin enters his teens, he becomes wary of his church’s new preacher, the ostentatious Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson). Meanwhile, a sadistic couple – photographer Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Sandy (Riley Keough) – embark on a serial killing spree through the region. As the sins add up, a day of reckoning awaits the many denizens of Coal Creek and Knockemstiff.

Brutal and unflinching, “The Devil All the Time” is not a feel-good movie. But it’s not supposed to be. The violent drama divides its cast into predators and prey as viewers witness misguided convictions, betrayal of trust and sinister intentions play out. This makes the intriguing film hard to watch as nefarious acts and tragedies befall the characters at a steady pace.

Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, the dense drama covers a lot of ground, needing every minute of its over two-hour runtime. The screenplay, written by director Antonio Campos and his brother, Paulo, skillfully navigates the plot’s intricacies as characters cross paths and pivotal moments receive time to breathe. The film does a great job of keeping track of its many characters before bringing them together in its explosive finale. With a voiceover from Pollock himself, the accompanying narration offers useful insights into the characters’ heads and connects the dots for the audience.

The hard-hitting film questions strict adherence to faith when some religious leaders take advantage of that devotion, hurting the very members of the flock they’re supposed to protect. The issue is still relevant in the wake of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. “The Devil All the Time” also looks at how trauma and violence can be passed down from one generation to another. A father’s sins are not so easily forgiven when a son bears the weight of them.

With a stacked cast that features around 10 key characters, “The Devil All the Time” gives each star their time to shine. For me, the standouts were Holland, Pattinson, Skarsgard and Eliza Scanlen. In addition to Clarke and Keough, the ensemble is balanced out by strong supporting work from Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska and Harry Melling.

Best known for swinging around as Spider-Man/Peter Parker from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Holland graduates from light-hearted superhero to conflicted antihero. As the tough yet sensitive Arvin, the actor flexes his dramatic muscles as he goes from playing an Avenger to becoming an avenging angel. Holland wears the strain of Arvin’s tragic life on his face while biding his time and meting out punishment.

Following up his affable performance in “Tenet,” Pattinson is growing into the kind of actor who steals every scene he’s in. The “Twilight” actor is pompous and over-the-top as slimy preacher Roy, preying upon the naivete of Arvin’s adopted sister Lenora (Scanlen). The actor relishes donning a Southern accent as he delivers a fire-and-brimstone homily about delusions. In a tense showdown, he goes toe-to-toe with Holland’s Arvin in one of the film’s best scenes.

After impressive performances in “Sharp Objects” and “Little Women,” Scanlen adds another one to her resume. As Lenora, the sympathetic Scanlen bears the burden of a family tragedy as a teen who is bullied for her fervent faith. She is religious but human, manipulated into trusting the wrong person. For the first 45 minutes of the film, Skarsgard carries it on his capable shoulders, shedding his Pennywise persona from the “It” films. As Willard, he peels back the turmoil of a man scarred by guilt who goes to extreme measures to try and keep his family together.

With so many characters, “The Devil All the Time” doesn’t adequately flesh out some of them. The story anoints more sinners than saints. Most characters are wholly bad, while just a few are solely good. Its most complex characters are those who demonstrate both good and bad behaviors, and these are in short supply.

On the sinners’ side, Clarke and Keough’s husband-and-wife killers spice up the narrative. Both actors are unnerving in their roles. But the screenplay offers little in the way of the couple’s motivation for their murderous spree.

“The Devil All the Time” offers a raw look at two generations and their sins during a time that wasn’t as innocent as it seemed. The grim and heartbreaking drama effectively piles on the tragedy, but its penchant for violence and gloom may not be for everyone. The engaging epic offers a fantastic showcase for its ensemble cast, showing that Holland, Pattinson and more are ready for the next step of their careers.

4 out of 5 stars

Robert Pattinson stars in “The Devil All the Time.”

Joe’s Take

Looking at the cast for “The Devil All the Time,” it was clear I needed to see this movie. The talent is immense and specifically for a few of my friends and I the film is comprised with some of our favorites. A lineup of Robert Pattinson, Haley Bennett, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen, Sebastian Stan and Jason Clarke is just insane.

Watching the trailer, though, I wondered what this movie was about. It seemed like a movie that I would not watch. It looked too dark and sinister with the possibility of supernatural demons. The last part could have been just me, but with a title of “The Devil All the Time” it seemed plausible.

As the film started, I was on my toes, expecting things to pop out from behind trees or loud bangs that would cause jump scares. That was my expectation. That is not what this movie is. There are no supernatural beings. There are no demons. There are just evil people. “The Devil All the Time” hits the audience with a sense of dread. It works for a time, but eventually I became restless. When I first paused the Netflix film, I thought I made it at least half way. Well, I was only 52 minutes in with an 1 hour and 26 minutes remaining. I eventually got an hour and a half in and I was still waiting for the point. That is the film’s biggest problem. It needs too much time to set up its last 45 minutes as it has to balance so many storylines. Even with all that time, characters are underrepresented.

The main character in “The Devil All the Time” is Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) and the battle within himself gives the audience something to relate to. We see his early life and as he grows up the purity of his mother Charlotte (Haley Bennett) clashes with his father Willard’s (Bill Skarsgard) rage, brutality and sense of duty. The problem is the film spends a lot of time fleshing out Willard and Arvin’s relationship while Bennett has about 10 minutes of screentime tops.

Then there’s the Sandy (Riley Keough) and Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) subplot, where Sandy could have been a more interesting character. However, her motivations and stance on her relationship with Carl fluctuate with no explanation as to why. The film does time hop, but she seems on board with their relationship in the beginning, even though their “business” is kind of horrifying.

Finally, Lenora Laferty (Eliza Scanlen) has a similar experience to Arvin’s childhood, yet we don’t get a lot from her perspective. I was talking with my friend before writing this review and she brought up a really good point. There could have been some solid female characters in this film and instead they were just there. With the number of characters and the amount of necessary setup, the final 45 minutes needed a great payoff.

The final third of the movie does kick into gear and for the first time I was invested in the film. Holland and Robert Pattinson (Preston Teagardin) have a great one-on-one scene, my favorite of the film. Also, the stories finally start to intersect and the momentum really picks up. The movie does thrive at the end with Holland at its heart. It almost saves the film … almost.

The film also deserves credit for establishing a tone and sticking to it. The movie is dark and uncomfortable with a constant dread. Also, the acting was excellent. I may be biased because I love most of the people in this film, but to me they were all fantastic. Holland shined brightest in a departure from his Spider-Man franchise. I’m now convinced he could take on any role.

While the acting is solid and the final third of the film comes together beautifully, the first hour and a half is tough to sit through. A lot of sad and disturbing events happen with little understanding for where the film is going. While there is an hour and a half of setup, characters are still underrepresented, especially the females. Despite a strong finish, I can’t forget what I had to go through to get there and I’ll never watch this movie again.

2.5 out of 5 stars

 

Trailer Talk: Pattinson dons the famed cowl in “The Batman”

With pop culture conventions going virtual this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, DC Comics’ own online event, DC Fandome, unveiled three new trailers Saturday that had the internet abuzz. “The Batman,” “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” and “Wonder Woman 1984” highlighted DC’s future film offerings.

As movie theaters begin to reopen, superhero flick fans are hungry for the films they’ve been missing. Judging by these new trailers, DC is ready to deliver.

Let’s dig in!

“The Batman”

Robert Pattinson makes his debut as the Caped Crusader in director Matt Reeves’ anticipated new film. The moody and gritty trailer, set to the strings of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” reveals a darker version of Gotham City compared to previous films.

Brutally taking down his enemies, Pattinson’s Dark Knight is an angry protector, willfully declaring, “I’m vengeance.” The trailer shows Pattinson in the familiar cowl as Batman and as a slicked-back Bruce Wayne. Pattinson has the “Batman” voice down in the few lines we hear him utter.

The trailer shows glimpses of classic Batman foes Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). But the main villain is the Riddler (Paul Dano), who is playing a deadly game with the World’s Greatest Detective. We also see esteemed actor Jeffrey Wright as police Commissioner James Gordon.

What’s especially impressive about “The Batman” trailer is that only 25% of the movie has been shot, due to the coronavirus pandemic halting production. If the trailer looks THIS GOOD based on only a quarter of the film, it certainly raises expectations for “The Batman” as a whole.

“The Batman” is set to fly into theaters Oct. 1, 2021. Though that date could change due to the pandemic, the trailer assures viewers the film will be shown “only in theaters.”

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League”

“Justice League” fans saw their first glimpse of original director Zack Snyder’s vision for the 2017 superhero teamup in this new trailer. The retooled version, which will discard Josh Whedon’s changes and reshoots, will air next year on HBO Max in four one-hour episodes, with an option to watch the four-hour opus as a complete film.

The teaser shows a darker “Justice League,” with more emphasis placed on Cyborg’s (Ray Fisher) and the Flash’s (Ezra Miller) backstories. We see Cyborg in a cemetery and his father (Joe Morton) in danger, and a whole new sequence with the Flash saving a woman. There’s also new scenes with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) interacting with a little girl, and Superman (Henry Cavill) wearing the Man of Steel’s fan-favorite black suit. Finally, we see Darkseid, whom Snyder has said will be the villain in the new “Justice League.”

Snyder fans may get a kick that the trailer is set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The song was ridiculed for its use in Snyder’s 2009 superhero film “Watchmen” during an absurd love scene.

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” will land on HBO Max in 2021.

“Wonder Woman 1984”

The sequel to 2017’s hit “Wonder Woman” has been pushed back multiple times due to the pandemic. Originally set to bow this summer, the film reunites Gadot’s Wonder Woman with her true love, World War I pilot Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine) during the decadent 1980s. This new trailer helps to whet fan’s appetite by showing new footage of Kristen Wiig’s villain, Barbara Ann Minerva, better known as Cheetah.

Cheetah evolves from Diana Prince’s friend to enemy. Along the way, she dons cheetah-printed clothing before transforming into the creature herself, able to swing from Diana’s lasso of truth. These are the first images of Cheetah’s CGI-rendered form to be released.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is set to lasso theaters Oct. 2, 2020.