Film Reviews

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie feels like a video game speedrun.

It’s so fast, it’s only fitting to keep this review just as swift.

From the very beginning, this movie zips from location to location, first in Brooklyn and then in the Mushroom Kingdom as if these are worlds with timed levels to beat. Which sucks because it’s impossible to really take in the best part of the whole movie which is its vibrant animation.

The most notable Super Mario characters are swept up in the speedy quest to defeat Jack Black Bowser and these iconic figures are voiced by a star powered cast, led by Chris Pratt who I think actually does a decent job playing Mario. Just like the world, characters aren’t given time to really come to life either and before you know it, you’ve already finished the movie.

But at the end of the day, Nintendo got what they wanted from Illumination. This movie is a 90 minute animated advertisement for one of its most popular video game franchises disguised as a fool proof success of a kids movie and surprise surprise, it’s also a massive box office hit. Replace those question marks on those blocks with dollar signs because this bad boy is making the big bucks.

Theater chains no doubt love that, Kids unconditionally love the movie and older fans should still be able to enjoy it as well but that’s where you’ll see more of an audience divide. 

Theaters and Kids can continue to celebrate because this looks to be only the beginning of a powerhouse franchise of animated movies based on Nintendo IPs.

Film Reviews

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

So I planned on dedicating my March review to Scream 6. After last year’s entry was a fantastic surprise, 6 was easily one of my most anticipated 2023 releases. But I still haven’t seen it. I did however see two other major theatrical releases this month. I saw Creed III at the beginning of March and then I saw John Wick: Chapter 4 at the end of the month. These are two films that I might not love but both feature some phenomenal chunks of cinematic gold that I can’t help but admire.

I wrote up an off the cuff review for Creed III on letterboxd but my experience watching John Wick: Chapter 4 is something I knew I couldn’t pass up writing about.

A spur of the moment decision landed me at the Winchester Drive-in, Oklahoma City’s only operational outdoor venue. It was a beautiful Saturday in March. The temperature was a welcoming 70 degrees with a blue sky and after sunset, it was 60 degrees with a clear starry sky. Not too hot and not too cold.

The Winchester has been one of my favorite unique spots to catch a movie since I first got my drivers license over a decade ago and on this night, the Drive-In felt more alive than I can remember. It was the Winchesters opening weekend and so this particular showing was unsurprisingly packed. The atmosphere was electric and the stars above us must’ve aligned because the conditions couldn’t have been any better to see not just one of the year’s biggest releases but also one of the action genre’s most successful franchises on the big screen at the Drive-In.

John Wick: Chapter 4 kicks a gratuitous amount of ass.

It’s an action packed love letter to the movie stunt workers who put their bodies on the line to entertain the masses. Words mean so little when action can do all of the talking. It’s a Bullet Ballet and it’s incredibly fascinating to watch Chapter 4 unfold with such coherent physicality.

There are some undeniably phenomenal stretches of action, the likes we have never seen before, in any previous John Wick. You wanna see Keanu Reeves beat the ever living shit out of wave after wave of enemies in stunning location after stunning location like it’s some AAA video game? This is your movie and you’re going to love it.

Do I love it? Nah, but I can’t deny its Wick-ed brilliance. Although I have personally liked each new John Wick slightly less and less, watching the latest chapter of this battered action franchise that still has an admirable amount of fight left in it, in such perfect conditions, made for an unforgettable all-timer movie going experience and for about 3 hours, all felt right in the world.

Film Reviews

Cocaine Bear (2023)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bad B(ear) Movies are back! 

The family of Zoological Horror-Thrillers that feature a big bad bear is most notably composed of only a handful of films. There’s 1976s Grizzly, 1983s Grizzly II: Revenge, John Frankenheimer’s 1979 Prophecy, Into the Grizzly Maze a movie from 2015 that not many have seen and you could maybe include Backcountry, a horrifying movie for reasons that don’t even primarily include the bear…..that’s about it.

The latest movie to join the sleuth is none other than what may remain the craziest and maybe also the most annoying movie of 2023, Cocaine Bear!!

Sure, the alphas of the cinematic Ursidae family, Grizzly and Prophecy, feature an 18 foot Bearhemoth and a monstrously mutated Spirit Bear but never before has there been a movie where a large American Black Bear gets extremely high on an ungodly amount of white ivory and then goes wildly ballistic on humans.

The movie is very loosely based on the true story from 1985 where drug smugglers chunked a portion of their massive cocaine supply from an airplane where much of it landed in the Chattahoochee National Forest. An American Black Bear then stumbled upon some of it and ate said drug, lots and lots of the drug.

Is the premise of the movie where the intoxicated Bear then goes on an epic blood soaked-coked out forest rampage part of the true story? Of course not. 

You might think at first, logic says a creature of such size should be able to take far more of the substance than a mere human could, but no it doesn’t work this way. The real story is a sadder one that instead resulted in the quick and undoubtedly cruel death of an innocent animal. 

But does a Bear stumbling upon duffle bag after duffle bag of discarded cocaine, getting blitzed out of its mind, then going on a funny haha killing binder make for a much better movie premise? My screening, packed with a rowdy audience, dying of laughter far too often, seems to suggest it is and the positive consensus online also strengthens that idea. 

And if you also like the idea that director Elizabeth Banks and writer Jimmy Warden were nobly inspired to give the real bear a bit of cinematic revenge against those who caused its death, the movie sounds even better. Man vs Nature, especially if wronged or provoked, is one of the subgenres major themes and it’s a big part of what makes one work well. It’s a classic case of fuck around and find out.

The American Black Bear may not be the biggest species of Bear but it still has a dangerous size advantage on humans. Introduce this large wild animal with a sense of smell 7x more sensitive than a dogs to a multi million dollar supply of Chattahoochee Snow and you’ve got yourself a totally fictional movie monster star. And it’s the movie’s only star.

Because the cast of Cocaine Bear is hilariously bad. 

I have no idea how they did it but they managed to put together the most bizarre cast that features one too many familiar faces with unfamiliar names. Aside from Keri Russell and Ray Liotta and Ice Cubes son O’Shea, I couldn’t name 97% of the movie’s actors off the top of my head but we’ve all seen them in other movies or shows, typically in the very minor roles as annoying characters. 

Maybe I’m in the minority when it comes to knowing the names of these actors but my point remains. With how little basic logic Cocaine Bear possesses, there are a few too many dumb characters to deal with. Then you throw these goofballs into the mid 1980s and you’ve really got me rolling my eyes. Yeah 1985 is when the true story happened but if there’s something I’m less interested in than the 80s, it’s seeing the decade  recreated in a movie and with such goofiness.

Even though I prefer that my favorite subgenre of movies lean in a more serious direction, I do still like Cocaine Bear and for what it is. 

It takes a tiny sliver of the truth from this real event and reimagines it as this nonsensical foul mouthed 1980s drug fueled revenge tale about a killer bear. There certainly hasn’t been anything like it before and despite it being one of few overly comedic Zoological Horror Thrillers, it still fits in quite nicely with the sub-genre.

Sure it’s a story of Man vs Nature, wronged like never before and you could dissect some legit thematic weight from its coke filled body, trust me, i’ve wasted far too much time doing that already but at the end of the day, you shouldn’t ever expect much more than “A Bear did Cocaine!”, from a horror comedy called Cocaine Bear.

Film Reviews

M3GAN (2023)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It’s the first week of 2023 and we’re kicking off what should be another great year for the medium with a horror movie about a creepy as hell killer technologically advanced AI toy in the form of a child sized doll, and it’s not a Buddi Good Guy doll. Imagine that cross over for a second.

Blumhouses latest theatrical release, M3GAN (directed by Gerard Johnstone) is exactly what you’d expect from the production company that’s partnered with Universal Pictures to maintain theatrical relevancy by latching onto mainstream horror moviegoing with a firm grip.

M3GAN or Model 3 Generative Android was an abandoned project invented by Funki Toys (not to be confused with Funko) Roboticist Gemma (Played by Allison Williams) and forced into developmental hell. But when this clueless toy engineer is given sudden custody of her orphan niece (Played by Violet McGraw), it ends up being the spark she needed to once and for all finish the greatest invention since the automobile. So Gemma uses the opportunity to rework and finish the toy just enough to show some real promise. She then pairs the very first M3GAN with her little niece, doubling as a trial run and a free technological babysitter.

M3GAN is redesigned to be the best babysitter imaginable and the greatest companion a kid could ever dream of. When paired with this AI doll you gain more than just a friend. It can listen to you until the end of time, it can promote good habits, It awkwardly sits in your room when you sleep, it has a growing informational library located in its memory box, you name it, this AI can do it. M3GAN becomes more than just a toy, it becomes a member of your family. 

But from the deepest reaches of AI Developmental Hell, what’s surely a realm of infinite unknowns, rises a monster of human creation.

Turns out the parental controls for this M3GAN were foolishly not programmed thanks to an illogical time crunch and so in no time, M3GAN essentially becomes the toy equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. The doll goes rogue, becomes hilariously unhinged, violent, kills anyone or anything that tries to come between it and its paired child and does so with uncanny goofiness.

Out of nowhere M3GAN just rattles off a mini lifelessly eyed musical number, even one in the middle of the night in a dark room. It’ll crouch down on all fours and hunt you down in the forest like some wild animal. It’ll do a little TikTok worthy dance number towards you as if it’s some ritualistic act just before killing you in cold blood. M3GAN can drive, play the piano, basically there’s nothing this toy doll can’t do and do in the most absurd fashion.

There’s definitely an uncanny creepiness to M3GAN but it’s never terrifying. The horror quality of the movie is lacking, even for a Blumhouse production but the movie more than makes up for that with its campy fun. This aspect has been praised more so than anything else and it’s true, I laughed more at this horror movie than I should have. Much of the movie’s wacky antics feels unintentional but it seems like there was meant to be some satirical attention drawn to the absurdity of it all.

BH films come with either a lighter PG-13 safety net or a brutal rated R stamp of horror approval. Unlike M3GAN the doll, this horror movie comes strictly programmed with a restrictive PG-13 Rating.

I think its parental guidance rating causes the movie to feel like it’s walking a line never fully able to cross over it and into horror movie territory like whatever deranged corner of the genre a movie like Malignant crawled out of. Just imagine for a moment what a rated R M3GAN would look like and it sounds like this version does actually exist.

Though surprisingly, underneath this slightly absurd movie are some deeper thematic concerns that give the movie bizarrely capable robotic legs. Stuff like the toy industry, kids screen time, parental controls, trauma caused by the loss of parenthood and the lack of its experience. Some of these themes are taken much more seriously than others, but it creates a nice blend all together. The PG in PG-13 really seems to be nudging any parents that watch the movie to step up their own parental guidance.

Despite its admittedly deeper meanings that intrigue me, I personally won’t be placing M3GAN very high in my rankings of Universal x BH films but it actually has plenty going for it. 

The production value, a staple for all BH films, provides a strong cinematic foundation. When I step into one of these movies I know it’s going to look the part and this movie delivers. 

These are BH standards. But so should the horror aspect and it’s just overshadowed every step of the way by sheer absurdity.

But the movie has people talking and they luckily released this movie at an opportune time with an understandable rating. Its only competition at the box office is Avatar: The Way of Water, a cinematic event that is still going strong but M3GAN will still be able to snatch up those box office crumbs and lure all walks of life into its showings.

They did promise that the M3GAN doll would change the world and make some serious cash, and the same can be said about movie M3Gan. It’s made over 40 million dollars at the box office. So a sequel is already in the works and that hurts a little considering plenty of other worthy horror movies haven’t been so lucky.

It’s January. Movie theaters are only playing the previous month’s releases, stuff you’ve already seen. It’s the first of the year so you probably don’t have anything else going on. M3GAN wants to be your friend. M3GAN wants to kill your enemies. M3GAN wants to be a part of your family.

Best of the Year Lists

Favorite Films of 2022

The first full year of The Spectators Odyssey is in the books.

What a year it was. 365 days just flew on by but once Summer hit it really felt like time sped up at an uncontrollable rate. And honestly, it felt like time slipped through my fingers. From June to December I just couldn’t keep up with it all. Professional day job, that I am very much grateful to have, took up much of what little spare time I had available and so the website suffered.

But make no mistake, movies were watched and some were even reviewed and logged on Letterboxd. Those might make an appearance here some day.

I ended 2022, a year that many consider an impressive one for the medium, having seen 227 movies and it’s no hyperbole, there was plenty to love.

These are The Spectators’ Odysseys 30 Favorite films of 2022!

Film Reviews

Ambulance (2022)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Michael Bay is back and he’s here to Americanize a 2005 Danish film of the same name, in true Hollywood Action fashion.

Sure, Ambulance is a return to the straightforward heist turned getaway action thriller but its got this impenetrable cinematic bulletproof vest on, and its ready to ruthlessly fuck some shit up. 

It has a damn good cast–REAL not pretend brothers from different mothers Jake Gyllenhaal & Yahya Adbul-Mateen II desperately fleeing the scene of their bank heist gone wrong in an ambulance that just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time as is the case for one of the EMTs turned hostage Eiza Gonzalez and a badly wounded cop, closely tailing their every move is practically the entire LAPD, an organization that appears hilariously incompetent yet equally as confident during the entire pursuit. Add in a mutually acquainted LA gang and that’s all the human aspects needed to flesh out a Michael Bay action picture.  

The cutting edge camerawork is refreshingly restless both on the ground and in the air and its quite literally non stop. As the ambulance speeds through the city with the law enforcement swarming from every possible direction, Drones sway throughout the skies of the greater Los Angeles area so freely, showing off plenty of city vistas and then the hard hitting up in your face groundwork is just as animated and even more personal.

If you’ve been complaining that the genre has been in a Michael Bay-less action blockbuster slump for far too long, then look no further.

Bank robbing, stretched out getaway car chases, countless amounts of flying lead, explosions, just the right amount of humanity good and bad from just a few of the industries biggest names, some top tier camerawork, a rare, ear pleasing soundtrack, it’s all loudly and proudly here and together, it’s enough to more than enough to make Ambulance feel like an indestructible piece of action cinema.

Film Reviews

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a mind blowing multiverse spectacle.

You only thought Swiss Army Man was bonkers. Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinerts latest film is on a whole other level of total and utter chaos for better or worse.

The stars of the movie, Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis’s pull of phenomenal performances that are hilarious, heartfelt and heartbreaking all at once! Their amazing work results in some best of the year candidates for sure!

Daniels direction and Larkin Seiples cinematography work is wildly ambitious and feel flawlessly innovative but the small VFX team should especially be forever praised for their work on this movie! It’s safe to say you will be seeing this teams work again and again in the future!

It starts with the idea of the multiverses or parallel universes and theoretical versions of yourself in an infinite number of them.

In what can be referred to as our default universe, Evelyn Wang (Yeoh) and her husband Waymond (Quan) own a laundromat that’s under the attack of the IRS and their appointed accountant Diedra “Beaubeirdra” (Curtis). Facing this financial burden, a potential divorce, the arrival of her overbearing father (Hong), the return of her young adult daughter Joy (Hau) who is past her mental capacity to deal with her family, and notions of an unfulfilled life that’s left behind plenty of different, possibly more satisfying life paths are just Evelyn problems in this one universe.

Then out of nowhere, Waymond from the Alpha universe, disguised as “default” Waymond introduces “default” Evelyn to parallel universes where different versions of herself are created from every decision this version makes. Along with their creation is the ability to verse jump and connect with them to access memories abilities and perspectives, something created by Alpha Evelyn. But most importantly he informs her she must stop further destruction caused by the Everything Bagel, a manufactured black hole bagel created by her daughters Alpha Joy who seeks to all at once destroy everything everywhere because nothing truly matters. It’s a thoroughly wacky premise but it works, even when it shouldn’t sometimes.

From then on, the movie is wildly full speed ahead for better or worse. Tightly choreographed action rules over a majority of the movie and in some originally innovative ways. It’s a primary source of the film’s chaos and it gets the adrenaline flowing through your veins. It attacks your senses with a flurry of cinematic genres, multiverse jumping martial arts action and wears you down so much that you have no choice but to let your guard down and just embrace it. And then it strikes you square in the chest with bursts of raw emotion–heartfelt moments that result in the shedding of tears or instances of absolute hilarity that produce uncontrollable laughter and it continues to do so the entire movie.

This is a cinematic experience that makes you feel every possible emotion, honestly against your own will and sometimes what truly feels overwhelmingly like all at once. Even things you may not have thought you could feel are ripped out of you. The way the more spectacular moments made me feel is similar to how I feel when I watch one of this movies many homages and my all time favorite piece of cinema, 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially how I felt the first time watching this late 60s science fiction masterpiece. Watching this movie can be a life changing experience for someone and for many people this will be.

While the concept can feel a bit overwhelming, over complicated and sometimes silly, it shouldn’t necessarily be the sole takeaway. The absurdity of parallel universes, ‘verse jumping and all of the clever homages to films of the past are undeniably fun and boldly innovative but these moments are never what firmly grabs hold of me emotionally.

Even through the thick veil of chaos that engrosses the movie, it always makes sure that it return to its complexly human core themes, and when the more heartfelt moments unfold around them I think Everything Everywhere All at Once is at its very best, like maybe even best of the decade worthy best but time will tell if this sentiment holds up.

It’s a movie that has the power to reach all theoretical versions of yourself that may or may not exist in parallel universes and it possesses the ability to profoundly pluck away at all of your theoretical selves vulnerable little heartstrings in ways that not many movies truly can.

Sure there’s no definitive proof that any parallel versions of yourself exist, it’s this very version, in this reality that feels Everything Everywhere All at Once with the fullest force.

It’s just beautiful. Please please please watch this movie in theaters if/when you can because it was incredibly fun to watch in a crowded theater!

With an impressive slate of new releases still to come in the remaining 8 months of this year, Everything Everywhere All at Once may still end up being one of my favorites of 2022.

Film Reviews

Jacaranda Joe (1994)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thanks to the University of Pitt’s discovery of Jacaranda Joe in their Archive, I was able to attend their virtual event and watch this mostly unknown unfinished George A. Romero film.

While it was an incredibly choppy presentation, often times impossible to fully engage with (a zoom issue most likely), it was still amazing to see this never before seen by the public proof of concept from George A. Romero! It’s more so this than an actual short film as it was never actually completed as intended. According to those involved it was meant to be finished in 3 parts during the following Summers but Romero got incredibly busy with other work so it was never finished. But with already 17 minutes of footage completed during that lone summer, it seems like it could’ve become a feature length film!

The 17 minutes of Jacaranda Joe that actually exists consist of brief found footage centered around a totally 90s reality talk show about the existence of Bigfoot in Central Florida. Of its 17 minutes, most is padded by the charismatic talk show host and his interactions with his crowd hyping up his topic but it does lead into the found footage portion that takes place in rural Florida during a festival that then leads to the brief nocturnal hunt of the enigmatic creatures led by locals, a film crew and a random celebrity athlete. During this hunt we actually get to see one of the Bigfoots they created…..but only for maybe 5 seconds! Sure even the creature screams 90s cinema but what we see of it still looks promising and unlike any other version of this mythical creatures we’ve seen before, even to this day. At least we can only assume this behemoth is a bigfoot. It could’ve just been some unkempt hillbilly hidden away in the swamps for all we know but all we can do is wonder what it really is because that’s unfortunately where Jacaranda Joe ends, with an eternal tease of what could have been but will forever be a mystery.

Back then Found footage was a style of filmmaking and a mold of storytelling not truly seen before so it was just ahead of the times and surely inspired a select few involved or not, to explore this style of filmmaking just a few years later and the rest is history! Countless horror found footage films would be made…. some not so great but some would become cult classics enjoyed by so many. It’s a shame this was never finished because it too might’ve become not just a George A. Romero cult classic today but a found footage one as well! But if anything, it once again shows just how innovative George A. Romero was as a filmmaker.

There was a Q&A panel afterwards that included 3 individuals, I believe their names were Michael Sellars, Elizabeth Kurtz and George Rizkallah, who were on the crew all the way back in 94! Listening to these 3 who were so closely tied to the production and George was super fascinating to me and the amount of research that the Pitt affiliates have done just to bring what exists of this project back to life is just incredible work!

There was a brief mention of possibly having the film digitally available for viewing as a part of the film archives check out system in the future so if that happens I highly recommend giving it a watch just to see a sliver of film history that partially exists as part of George A. Romero’s immortal legacy.

Film Reviews

Jackass Forever (2022)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Without getting too sappy, lately I’ve found myself in a terrible life rut, uninterested in practically anything and for some reason unable to just put on a movie or show and enjoy myself and then write about my experiences. This sort of thing comes in waves and I know it’ll pass but this painfully hilarious movie jump started my soul again. Even if only temporarily, it was just so nice to laugh with and at these comedic maniacs I grew up watching. I slightly felt like a dumb teenage boy again.

2000 saw the creation of Jackass but 2002 brought the first feature length Jackass to the big screen. Its now 20 years later, 4 movies later and they’re still doing the same stupid shit on the same big screens. Once every decade at least. It’s like some decade ritual and it’s awesome.

The gang is back, older, just as hilarious as ever although none the wiser, but they are without a few of the original cast due to various unfortunate reasons. They suck but such is life.

Along with the OG jackasses are some fresh new faces ready for their unofficial torturous initiations, some included more than others. All newcomers are comedians from different corners of the entertainment industry, who have each been influenced by Jackass in various ways. Their past work blatantly reflects that influence and their inclusion in this project solidifies their commitment to the schtick.

One problem I do have now is with the amount of animal involved stunts. While all animals are cared for by professionals and respectfully treated as such by the cast and crew, I still couldn’t help but feel differently about these sort of stunts now as an adult who takes the welfare of animals way more seriously than I did as a naive teenager. This movie walks a fine line with what feels like a heavier inclusion of stunts involving wildlife.

But there’s plenty of new pranks and stunts to watch in hilarious horror, from the massive set pieces like the opening Dongzilla sequence to the All Out Vomit Warfare closing and every smaller bit in between. They revisit some classics with modern takes on them but the balance of old and new is perfect.

As the credits roll, it shows plenty of footage I wish they would’ve included in the movie as well. Hopefully they come out with another extended .5 sequel of sorts in the near future. They’ve done so with every other feature length movie so those odds are good.

It sucks what went down with Bam and the crew but the final tribute for “Ryan Dunn Forever” was the best thing to run at the end of the credits.

To make a 4th Jackass movie this long after its creation and to do so during a pandemic is just an astonishing sliver of film history.

Jackass Forever is fucking stupid indeed and I loved every second of it.

Film Reviews

The Deep House (2021)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It’s not often that movies are actually filmed in and take place primarily underwater but if done right, it feels like the perfect angle for a horror movie.

Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury’s The Deep House gives you just enough time to take in one big breath before diving head first into the cold waters of a French man made lake for the rest of its runtime.

In this particular lake is an abandoned mansion that conjures a young haunted travel vlogging couple, Ben and Tina played by James Jagger and Camille Rowe, to monetarily explore its eerie presence.

Expecting to find only the large structure left standing on the lake floor, what they find inside is much more than expected and with absolutely no means of escape. This mansion is enormous and that’s clear when the couple descend upon it and swim around its exteriors but once inside the completely boarded up place, the many creepy rooms still mostly preserved in completely surrounding watery darkness makes you feel uncomfortably claustrophobic.

The dark and sinister history of the Montegnac Mansion is awakened by the arrival of its latest guests and so this aquatic exploration quickly turns into a horrifying race against time and the terrors that still lurk within this sunken purgatory. Sanity levels deplete even faster than the supplied oxygen tanks do and it fully illustrates wave after wave of dreadful and hopeless panic.

Bustillo and Maury have collaborated on a handful of horror movies since the early 2000s. From their first and still best work on the 2007 film Inside, each movie sadly seemed to get worse from there, especially their 2017 Leatherface film. This movie is easily their 2nd best movie so far. The Deep House is a rather straightforward horror movie but with technical design that is just exceptionally incomparable to any other horror movie out there.

Check it out on Hulu or Paramount Plus.