Devotion (2022): A Compelling, Soaring Journey with Fine Chemistry Between Glen Powell and Jonathan Majors

“Devotion” is directed by J.D. Dillard (Sleight, Sweetheart) and stars Jonathan Majors (Loki, Lovecraft Country), Glen Powell (The Dark Knight Rises, Hidden Figures), Christina Jackson (The Good Fight, Swaggers), Joe Jonas (Camp Rock, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom, Life in Pieces), and Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Village). This film is based on a book by Adam Makos, and simultaneously inspired by true events during the Korean War. The story mainly centers around the bond between two naval pilots, Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, as they navigate themselves through various periods during said war.

As a reviewer, it is hard not to compare one film to another. This is especially true considering how most of the movies I review are those that come out within the year of release, therefore I will sometimes say “x” film is similar to “y” flick, because “x” and “y” are at the movies at the same time or at similar times. It is a repetitive habit, but one I do not see myself quitting anytime soon because they involve movies that continue to be on people’s minds, including my own. “Devotion” is no exception to this rule because it released about a half a year after one of the most successful films in a long time, “Top Gun: Maverick.” I am not saying that “Devotion” is a carbon copy of “Top Gun: Maverick.” In fact, it is far from it. For one thing, “Devotion” is based on a true story whereas “Top Gun: Maverick” is a fictionalized sequel. “Devotion” is also comparatively dramatic to “Top Gun: Maverick” despite the latter having glimmers of emotion.

This leads me to my first positive of “Devotion,” which is that the narrative kept me compelled from start to finish. Due to my country’s supposedly mediocre educational system, I maybe do not think about U.S. history as much as I should. I was thrilled with the story of “Devotion” to the point where I felt somewhat sorry for myself that I did not think about these pilots all that much earlier. What really helps this movie is not just having a story as solid as this, but having a duo of actors who are clearly meant to be together. Glen Powell and Jonathan Majors are two fine actors on their own, but if you put them together in a movie like this, the formula is bound to deliver something special. While there are better lead and supporting performances I have seen this year, I cannot think of many acting duos that are as memorable or likable as this one.

And no, this does not mean that this film fails to do what a lot of other war-set films like “Dunkirk” and “1917” manage to do effectively, which is immerse me into the environment of the war itself. Now, unlike those films, this is more of a story where we get to know the characters themselves and less of a run to the finish line for survival. I would not call this a bad thing, but if you are looking for a certain type of film, now you know which one you are in for.

I would say when it comes to the immersion factor though, I would say “Dunkirk” and “1917” did it better because those films felt like technical experiments or feats whereas “Devotion,” again, is an extended tale perhaps putting story and characterization in the forefront. However, the sound mixing is quite good and the aerial shots are occasionally nice to see in action. The film does not appear reinvent the wheel with its technical aspects, but is also pretty looking enough to be worth checking out in whatever theater it is playing in near you. I should note, that this film has been out for a month and it is not playing in a ton of locations near me, but it was worth the 20 minute trek to a nearby town.

Speaking of immersion, I was also kind of impressed with some of the production design. Part of the movie takes place in a French casino and it was all sandy yet rugged. The interior of Brown’s home is also a standout. Many of the locations in this film are impressive to say the least.

My favorite aspect of the narrative behind “Devotion” is probably not even anything having to do with war itself, which is prominently featured in the film. However my favorite parts of the film simply come through the training, all the preparation that went into the events that followed. To be specific, there are scenes where we see the pilots trying to land their plane. Usually when it comes to these war stories and films, the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to the protagonist is how they deal with being on the battlefield. I love how effectively “Devotion” has not only brought stakes in terms of the fight itself, but all the work that leads up to it. We see Jesse Brown nervous not because he anticipates he is going to get killed by the opposition, but because he fears he cannot land his own plane. Going back to “Top Gun: Maverick,” much of that movie, like its predecessor, is about training to fight an enemy and less about fighting the enemy itself. What makes “Devotion” work is how effectively the training, which reminded me of “Top Gun: Maverick” at times but with a more serious vibe, was executed in terms of the story and how that made everything in terms of the actual conflict that lied ahead more exciting.

There are not many major problems I have with “Devotion,” although I do think a few of the supporting characters are somewhat unmemorable. The real highlights of the character lineup in “Devotion” are the two leads. Although I must also say Christina Jackson shines as Daisy Brown. Although on the military side, unless I went to IMDb to find out, I could not tell you anybody’s name or real descriptive aspects of their personality. Then again, the story is not about them, so this is somewhat forgivable. Although “Devotion” is a thrilling, entertaining story nevertheless, and it is one that if given the opportunity, you should check out.

In the end, when it comes to movies about the navy, “Devotion” is no “Top Gun: Maverick,” but if you are looking for a more serious take on the subject matter, this is a a story that is worth your time. I did not know what to expect with “Devotion,” but I left the film having had a fine experience. Glen Powell is solid, Jonathan Majors is excellent, and the story is one that kept me interested to the very last second. I am going to give “Devotion” a 7/10.

“Devotion” is now playing in theaters. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Within a matter of days, I will be going to see one of my most anticipated movies in history. For the record, when I did my most anticipated movies of 2021 list, this made the #2 spot. Did I say 2021? Yes I did. It was supposed to come out then, but it got delayed to the following year. That film my friends, is “Babylon.” I know the film is not making a lot of money right now, but it is the kind of film that can get me in the door. I just have to find the right day to enter that door.

Also, I want to remind everyone that the end of the year is almost here, and pretty soon I will be counting down my best and worst films of 2022! I want to give a little housekeeping in advance and note that this year’s set of lists is going to be a little different, and it is inspired by a tactic from one of my favorite YouTube personalities, John Campea. This year, instead of doing my top 10 best list first, which I have always done in the past, I am going to start with the worst list. The reason for that is because I often share my best list first, leave it up for a day, and then the next, I am onto the worst, which has sometimes left me a break in regard to posting new material. Within that break, I have the worst list linked to my Instagram (realscenebefore) because Instagram hates links for some reason, and that means my Instagram followers might end up seeing my worst list for a longer period of time than my best. And on Scene Before I want people to remember me for what I love and not what I hate. I love doing the worst lists, and I will still do them, but I do not want to be a monster. That said, if you want to see these lists and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Devotion?” What did you think about it? Or, what is an acting duo from a movie this year that you enjoyed seeing? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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The Whale (2022): A Win for Acting, But a Loss For My Sanity

“The Whale” is directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Mother!) and stars Brendan Fraser (The Mummy, Crash), Sadie Sink (Stranger Things, The Glass Castle), Hong Chau (Downsizing, The Menu), Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3, Jurassic World), and Samantha Morton (John Carter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). “The Whale” is based on a play by Samuel D. Hunter, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. This adaptation is about Charlie, an educator who teaches college courses online. As a result of losing his boyfriend, he has become reclusive and unhealthy to a point of great concern. Meanwhile, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter. Said daughter happens to be an individual he has not seen in person in years.

If I have seen a trailer for the “The Whale,” I would confirm it. But unless I missed it at a screening or I saw it once and could not retain it, I have yet to watch any marketing for “The Whale.” All I have heard about “The Whale” is that Brendan Fraser is great and he should be in the conversation for an Oscar. I may not be adding anything fresh by saying this, but he absolutely should be in said conversation.

That said, it should come as no surprise that my first positive with “The Whale” is that Branden Fraser’s performance is fantastic. I believed just about every second of what Fraser did on screen. In fact, if you want me to be frank, all the performances in the film are great. There are not many characters in this film, therefore everyone in the cast gets a chance to shine. Everyone from Brendan Fraser as Charlie to Sadie Sink as Ellie, Charlie’s daughter who had lived alone with her mom for years. Hong Chau is also great as Liz, a nurse who is the closest thing Charlie has to a friend. Every performance either floored me, compelled me, or at times, made my skin crawl.

Sadly, that last part of my statement, which in this case, is used as a positive, is something I would also use as a negative. This film emits a particular level of discomfort to the point where I do not see myself watching it a second time. The actors all do a great job in this film, and I mean everyone. Even a backseat character like Dan the Pizza Man, played by Sathya Sridharan, had my attention. The problem is the screenplay. The dialogue at times is cheesy, almost anger-inducing. The story itself has its ups and downs, but if there was not a part that felt oddly unhinged, there was one that came off as surprisingly predictable. Some of the characters themselves, despite being performed well, are not likable.

Despite what I said about Sadie Sink being a highlight of the film in terms of her performance, her character, Ellie, felt mean-spirited to the point of resembling a cartoon. If she gave off any particular vibe, she reminded me of Lil (Ariel Winter) from “The Last Movie Star,” another A24 movie I cannot recommend. From the first scene, Ellie starts off as an emotional wreck and this barely changes. There is a moment in this film where Charlie is struggling to move and Ellie just storms out the door. Sure, if you watch the scene, it is an early moment in the film where the two characters are not on the best terms, but regardless of how one feels about another personally, I do not see how Ellie could just leave. In this moment, Ellie just stands at the door, watching her father struggling to get off the couch, all the while knocking down a table. I am sorry, you lost me. What did she think, her father was putting on an act or something? Either way, in regard to Ellie, it gave me a terrible first impression.

Hong Chau gives a multi-dimensional performance as Liz. At one moment, she is frustrated at Charlie for refusing to go to the hospital, but in a split-second, her mood, believably, changes to that of someone with a warm heart. Chau’s sudden transitions feel seamless and do not interrupt the flow of the film whatsoever. Unlike Ellie, Liz is a somewhat respectable character and I felt attached to her, partially because she was a properly utilized voice of reason. Although if you want me to be real with you, if you want another Hong Chau film from this year to watch that is ten times better, do yourself a favor and skip “The Whale” and go watch “The Menu.” You will thank me later.

I do not mind depressing movies. Films like “Manchester by the Sea” stands out for how effectively its cast encapsulates a sense of unease throughout most of the runtime. “The Whale,” much like “Manchester by the Sea,” has a fantastic cast who play their characters to the best of their abilities. But in “Manchester by the Sea,” there are better characters and glimmers of entertainment that make the movie worth watching. “The Whale” is a film that tries to come off as depressing, but from my perspective, I see it as more frustrating than depressing. Because while the characters are depressed in “Manchester by the Sea,” I found myself enthused with the context of various scenes. As sadistic as this may sound, I enjoyed watching these characters going through their pain. I did not think it was a perfect movie, but it is certainly a watchable one. Unlike “The Whale,” I could see myself watching “Manchester by the Sea” another time. I have not done so since theaters, but even so, I could see myself putting it on the television in the future.

I have not seen the play which this film bases itself upon, but I could honestly imagine that is probably the better format for a story like this. Again, the performances carry the film, and I imagine that in a play version, they could be just as riveting. In addition, it is also set in one location, with most of it being set in Charlie’s living room. Sure, there are some moments that take place outside, but they are nevertheless within the confines of Charlie’s apartment. It is not like movies have not done the “one location” thing before, but even so, it provides an intimacy that would probably work best on a stage. Besides, you would might not have to change stuff around from one scene to another. Although I do like how the film was set in a 4:3 aspect ratio, as that adds to an intimate vibe in which the movie will occasionally nail.

In the end, “The Whale” is a lackluster story with annoying characters that feels somewhat surface level in regards to how it handles its serious subject matter. I could definitely see this film being a subject in acting classes, but that is one of the few notable things I can say about it. If it were not for Brendan Fraser and others in front of the camera carrying this film, it would probably not even be worth talking about. The acting is easily the best thing about “The Whale.” But just because you have great performances does not always mean you have a great narrative. My least favorite film of 2021, by a long shot, “Music,” has a pretty solid performance by Kate Hudson. But it is also a film that I would also consider terrible in addition to being downright offensive. While I would not consider “The Whale” to be as horrible as “Music,” it is not as good enough to give a second watch anytime soon. I should have left the theater crying out of sympathy for Charlie, but instead I left angry over the film’s final moments and how the writing nearly gave me a headache. I am going to give “The Whale” a 4/10.

“The Whale” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! To be frank, I do not know how many people are going to see “The Whale” by the end of the year. Although I am aware of another movie that has already earned a couple hundred million buck at the box office that a lot of people did see instead. And yes, I saw it too. For those who want to check it out, I have linked my review for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which coincidentally is another “whale” movie. If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Whale?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Brendan Fraser movie? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022): Animated Purr-fection

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is directed by Joel Crawford and co-directed by Januel Mercado. This film stars Antonio Banderas (The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Uncharted), Salma Hayek (Grown Ups, Eternals), Harvey GuillĂ©n (What We Do in the Shadows, The Magicians), Florence Pugh (Black Widow, Don’t Worry Darling), Olivia Colman (The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Empire of Light), Ray Winstone (Point Break, Beowulf), Samson Kayo (Our Flag Means Death, Famalam), John Mulaney (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers), Wagner Moura (Brazil, Narcos), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Selfie, People of Earth), and Anthony Mendez (Jane the Virgin, Foodtastic). In this sequel to the 2011 spinoff film “Puss in Boots,” the title character is down to his ninth and last life. Carrying his hopes to recover his past lives, Puss sets out on a journey to find a Wishing Star.

2011’s “Puss in Boots” is a surprisingly good movie. I think it is a bit rushed, but it has its pros. The characters are likable. The voice performances are solid. The music is catchy as well. I did not think it was as memorable as say “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” the latter of which introduced Puss to the iconic DreamWorks franchise. Nevertheless, the movie was solid despite being a quick ride. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a follow-up part of me never thought we would get. The spinoff seemed like a one-off. But, someone, somewhere wanted to make this sequel. After all, in an age where “Star Wars” is still relevant, it is evident that nostalgia sells. The last major “Shrek”-related project to release in theaters was in fact the 2011 “Puss in Boots” movie. As to whether this would be a great sequel or a cheap nostalgia bomb was a mystery. The trailers looked good, but so did the trailers to “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which did not mean much when I saw the movie.

Ladies and gentlemen, if there is any indication that you should see this movie, here are some bold statements. First off, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is better than the original. Not bold enough? Okay, let me take it a step further. Not only is it better than its 11-year-old predecessor, I would say it is superior to all of the “Shrek” installments. This includes the original, and my personal favorite, “Shrek 2.” Is this a case of recency bias? Possibly. It has been awhile since I have seen the “Shrek” films. But it does not change the fact that I was smiling the entire time this movie was playing. And when I was not smiling, I was either laughing or dropping my jaw.

The first ten minutes of this movie is some of the most bonkers, ridiculous, unhinged stuff I have witnessed on a screen this year. There is a moment where Puss is taking down a beast and goes towards it by catapulting himself into the air via a stringed instrument. How cool is that?! Meanwhile he has time to sing a song and brag about himself. This is not only a fitting introduction to this movie and the character, it is some of the most fun I had at the movies this year. I have not felt this giddy at the start of an animation since maybe “The LEGO Batman Movie.”

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” blends 2D and 3D animation elements to make a movie that is wonderfully stylized and perfectly realized. Few movies released in 2022 look as visually striking as this one. At times, this movie has the tone of previous material featuring the Puss character, including the “Shrek” installments, while also inserting a style that reminded me of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Select scenes felt like a graphic novel coming to life. To say I was struck with awe might be an understatement. And when I say awe, I am not just talking about big eyes. Although those do, coincidentally, make an appearance in the movie.

Puss in Boots is a role Antonio Banderas is practically born to play. His voice is absolutely perfect as the iconic feline and I was somewhat worried after all these years it might not be the same. Nope, he still has the goods! There is a certain hyperactivity Banderas commits to with the role that I think few actors would be able to encapsulate. There is a saying that actors are replaceable, and I would agree with this philosophy. However, I think if somebody else were to play the Puss in Boots role in the future, they have massive shoes, or boots in this case, to fill.

The film has multiple threats including Goldi and the Three Bears, Jack Horner, and a wolf bounty hunter. Having seen a couple “Spider-Man” films butcher themselves by poorly utilizing multiple threats at once, it might as well be easy to worry that this movie could lose control. Thankfully, it does not. Each antagonist has a purpose and place in the story. In addition to all of these antagonists opposing themselves to Puss and his crew, some want to use the Wishing Star to fulfill their own desires. This adds threats not only to Puss’s life, but his past lives as well. Without giving much away, one of these mentioned antagonists might be the creepiest DreamWorks animation villain ever put to screen. Both in terms of looks and motivation. If I were a young child watching this movie, I would quiver upon first sight of this fiend.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a quickly paced, action-packed thrill ride of a film that while I will say is okay for children to watch, impressed me because of its tendency to go full throttle with certain action elements. This movie even has blood in it, which I do not often see in PG films. The action sequences in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” are my favorite DreamWorks action scenes since “Kung Fu Panda 3.” There is little shortage of color, wacky effects, and pizazz. Again, it was like watching a graphic novel come to life. It almost felt like a flashy video game. I would go see this movie a second time for the action alone. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has action that reminds me of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which this movie nearly rivals in terms of flashiness. Another movie the action reminds me of is “Bullet Train,” which has a series of creative sequences and fights with impressive choreography. Simply put, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” contains my favorite action sequences from any movie released this year.

If I had any flaws with “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” they would be hard to come by. Although if I had to come up with one it would be that while the humor is solid for the most part, there are one or two jokes that fall flat, including one that was probably just inserted to get a laugh out of the younger audiences. This may be a personal thing, but for those who remember the 2011 “Puss in Boots,” there is an oohing cat that is constantly used as a gag during the film. I did not find it funny the first time, nor did I find it funny the third or fourth time. But for some reason the cat finds his way back to this sequel. Thankfully it was only in one scene, but still.

In the end, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is a great spinoff, a stellar sequel, and a smile-inducing time at the movies. This movie was so good that I am surprised to say that I want a third installment. This movie is up there with “Turning Red” and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” as one of the best animations of 2022. Packed with ridiculously enthralling action sequences, unbelievably eye-popping animation, and a shockingly emotional ending, this film is perfect for all audiences. Take it from someone who is not much of a cat person. Or even a pet person in general. I loved “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” and I am going to give it a 9/10.

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” releases in theaters everywhere Wednesday, December 21st. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have more coming soon! The 2022 reviews are likely coming to an end, but I do plan to see another movie this week. My next review is likely going to either be for “Babylon” or “The Whale.” I have not decided yet. That said, if you want to see more animated movie reviews, check out my thoughts on “Strange World,” “DC League of Super-Pets,” and “Luck!” If you want to see more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish?” What did you think about it? Or, now that we have four “Shrek” movies and a couple of “Puss in Boots” spinoff titles, which movie in the “Shrek” universe would you say is the best one? Honestly, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” might take the cake. Let me know your picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022): Is the Movie Event of 2022 Worth the 13 Year Wait?

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is directed by James Cameron (The Terminator, True Lies) and stars Sam Worthington (Sabotage, Clash of the Titans), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Adam Project), Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, Alien), Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe, Tombstone), Kate Winslet (Titanic, Divergent), Cliff Curtis (Training Day, Three Kings), and Joel David Moore (Dodgeball, Bones). This film is the long-awaited sequel to the 2009 film “Avatar,” also directed by James Cameron. This time around, Jake and Neytiri, along with their children, move from the forest and adapt to life by the sea. Meanwhile, humanity strikes once again to kill Jake Sully.

I have not seen every film James Cameron has done. I still have not seen “Aliens.” I still have not seen “The Abyss.” That said, he can direct a movie. I loved “The Terminator.” Its follow-up, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” belongs amongst my favorite films of all time. “Titanic” is a massive spectacle with a thrilling climax. “True Lies” is a hilarious, fun action movie. Cameron also recently produced “Alita: Battle Angel,” directed by Robert Rodriguez. It has some of my favorite visual effects and action sequences in recent cinema. The man knows how to entertain.

The first “Avatar” is not my favorite movie James Cameron made. Kind of like “Titanic,” the beauty of the film does not always lie in its screenplay, and more so its looks. However, the film made over $2 billion and is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Naturally, whether Cameron wanted to or not, a sequel definitely had to be made. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the result of thirteen years of Cameron’s transition from one movie to the next. Even I, someone who barely cares about the original “Avatar,” was curious about this film. The trailers looked decent, and whatever visuals they revealed looked stunning. I had a couple chances to see the trailers in 3D, and I was marveled by a couple sequences in said format.

This leads me to my biggest positive with “Avatar: The Way of Water.” This film is the single-greatest use of 3D I have ever seen. For the record, I got to see the original film in 3D last September, and this film surpasses it. It surpasses some other 3D standouts for me like “Gravity,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and “The Hobbit” trilogy. As far as blockbuster filmmaking goes, there is no movie I can think of that has done 3D this well to the point where it felt like more than a cheap gimmick. Speaking of unusual technical specifications, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was shot in 48 frames per second. This is an aspect which “The Hobbit” trilogy also utilized both in filming and during select screenings. For the most part, it works. At times, I felt like I was watching a series of video game cutscenes, which sounds like a detractor, but I kind of intend it as a compliment.

However, the unfortunate thing is that since these are my biggest positives, I imagine there are people out there who might never get to experience said positives if they watch this movie. For one thing, 3D at home is not as big of a thing as it may have been over a decade ago. And I am not sure what Disney/James Cameron plans to do in regards to the frame rate for this film’s home release. Although one positive that can be experienced regardless of the setup is the visual effects.

If I have to be honest, if there is any other film that is going to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects this year, I might start trying to defy gravity because nothing would make sense any more. Similar to what I said about the 3D, the visual effects were great in the original “Avatar,” but they are a step up in “The Way of Water.” The water sequences in this film are some of the best-looking of the year. For the most part, the visuals in this sequel are as perfect as can be. It really felt like everyone took their time with minute details to allow for the perfect color and polish. Some of the cinematography, done by previous Cameron collaborator Russell Carpenter, accompanies said visuals well. There is one shot of a sunset where my eyes lit up. The aesthetic of “Avatar: The Way of Water” does not disappoint.

What does disappoint instead is the story and characterization. You know, the essential things that make movies worth watching.

While I liked the trailers for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” what these trailers always lacked is depth into what the story is about. The film thankfully provides a story, but not a good one. It is less by the numbers than the first movie, but somehow it feels more boring. The visuals are pretty enough to distract me from that, but the characters are uninteresting. In one of my most recent reviews, specifically for “Strange World,” I said the movie is “like a first date with the most attractive woman alive, only to find out she has zero personality whatsoever.” “Avatar: The Way of Water” is kind of like “Strange World” in the sense that the environment feels more important than the characters, but to the point where the characters lack a certain prominence they would otherwise have in most halfway decent movies.

There have been movies where the characters do not stand out that nevertheless find a way to stick the landing. But not every movie can be “Dunkirk.”

“Avatar: The Way of Water” presents a fascinating concept. Specifically, now that Jake and Neytiri have offspring, how does this affect their behavior compared to the first film? In general, I dug the family dynamic, and there were moments in this film that felt relatable based on said dynamic. Although the characters themselves lack dimension and personality. I admire Sigourney Weaver for trying her best at playing an animated teenage girl, but I would not say it is my favorite performance of hers.

In fact, the family dynamic is not the only concept of fascination. The whole water land itself comes with some halfway decent ideas. Similar to the first movie where a particular tree plays a prominent role in societal beliefs and customs, the equivalent to that in this film is a group of whales. Although as fascinating as it is to see the bond between the bunches of blue characters with whales in this film, this leads to yet another story critique where this film feels like another version of the original, only less watchable.

This movie reintroduces familiar characters like Jake, Neytiri, and Quaritch. It also brings in new faces. Some of these include Jake and Neytiri’s kids: Kiri, Lo’ak, Neteyam, and Tuk. I bet some time after writing this review, I will not remember some of these names. At a point in the movie, the story revolves more about the children than it does their parents. I am not against this. In fact, despite my lack of interest with the story itself, some aspects of this were handled with competency. The film’s new characters have their moments. However, if I have to name a least favorite of the characters, it would be this one person named Spider.

Unlike Jake and the rest of the Sullys, who are half human, half Na’Vi, Spider, who Jake also raised, is entirely human. Although he tends to behave like one of the Na’Vi. While I am optimistic about Jack Champion’s future as an actor and wish him nothing but the best, his character was awfully written. At first sight, the character is presented with an intriguing backstory, but as the movie went on, he felt increasingly out of place, and by the end, I questioned his actions. There are few words that I could come up with to describe Spider as a character. “Conflicting” would certainly be one of them.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” takes a lot of what works in the original. Such things include the visuals, the exploration, the flying sequences. Ultimately, this sequel improves those things. At the same time, a lot of I found to be imperfect with the first film such as the story, the dialogue, and its lack of getting me to care for certain characters, make a return here as well. If you want me to be real with you, the climax of this film, at times, is more entertaining than the climax in the original “Avatar.” Should you pay to see this film in theatres, the climax alone makes the film worth the price of admission. I am clearly not a huge fan of the film, therefore I would not pay to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. That said, I imagine plenty of people will. I think if there is a reason to see this film, the climax would make for a compelling argument.

The theater experience for “Avatar: The Way of Water” rivals “Top Gun: Maverick” in terms of immersion, but if I had to choose a film between the two to watch again, I think “Maverick” is the superior option because despite the film occasionally coming off as another version of the original “Star Wars,” the characters are likable and serve the story. Do the characters serve the story in “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Sure. But I would say they do so with less charisma and personality than those in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

I have not ridden the “Avatar” theme park ride at Disney World. Maybe if I take a trip there in the future I would give it a whirl, but I just never had the opportunity to ride it. Although I must say that “Avatar: The Way of Water,” much like a ride at Disney World, is wildly immersive, but almost to the point of being a pretty gimmick. The 3D definitely stands out, and while I said earlier the 3D does not feel like a gimmick, it belongs in a film that nearly comes off as a gimmick itself. When I left the film, I thought more about how it took me into Pandora, which may sound like a compliment, until I thought about how little it took me into the lives of its characters. While last year’s big movie event, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” had some imperfections, I would rather watch that again to see the characters go through their individual journeys. Although one imperfection “No Way Home” has, like “The Way of Water,” was that I found the ending to be somewhat poor. Although the journey to get to the ending for “No Way Home” invested me emotionally while getting me to care for the core characters. I will give credit to “Avatar: The Way of Water” for having a more appealing visual aesthetic to it, but as the old saying goes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is yet another example of style over substance.

I would even say that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has narration that at times that is either as tacked on or as bad as the original “Blade Runner.” When I say the original “Blade Runner,” I am talking the original. As in, the one where Harrison Ford sounds like he is half asleep when voicing what he learned about Roy. The one that I imagine a lot of young people experiencing the film for the first time will not even get to hear. I am sorry, but for a movie that carries itself so much on visuals, I am somewhat surprised in regard to how much narration this film has.

Through the ages, there have been several movies that have been able to tell a great story while also delivering eye candy. “Star Wars” took me to another galaxy while also presenting the relatable Luke Skywalker. “The Matrix” presents a fun tale of good vs. evil while also showcasing a one of a kind digital landscape. The Academy Award Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water,” is a beautiful-looking film with an unusual, but still captivating romance. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finds itself choosing to focus a lot on the film’s background and surroundings to the point where I do not care one bit about the characters in the foreground. Yeah, I know what happens in the movie. But I would flock to a multitude of other movies before this one again because they presented their stories more admirably. I would imagine there are people who are going to leave this movie, much like the original, who would claim they want to live in Pandora. I on the other hand, would not. I would rather live in Middle Earth, where the visuals are just as stunning, but the stories are ten times as interesting.

In the end, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is possibly the biggest disappointment of 2022. Not only because it is James Cameron, not only because the film looks amazing, but because this is a film that was thirteen years in the making. I cannot believe I am living in a year where I have gone back to the cinema to watch “Top Gun: Maverick,” which is a sequel I frankly think was not all that necessary until seeing footage. Meanwhile, I do not think I want to go back to watch “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. This is crazy because I have thought about seeing an “Avatar” sequel maybe since I was ten years old. I thought the potential was there. Sadly, the execution was lackluster. But who cares? Sequels are already scheduled, and there is a solid chance that this is going to make a billion, possibly a couple billion bucks at the box office. While the original “Avatar” is similar to titles like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully,” when it came out, it felt like a distinctive title. “Avatar: The Way of Water” not only feels like a slight retread of the original, but somehow comes off as more boring. Does it look pretty? Yes, but so did “Elvis.” If you read my review for that movie, you would know that movies should sometimes do more than just look shiny. That said, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is undoubtedly a technical beast. I applaud Cameron and crew for delivering a solid-looking film. I just wish I could say the same for the story. I am going to give “Avatar: The Way of Water” a 5/10.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing in theatres everywhere, including formats such as Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be sharing my thoughts on the brand new DreamWorks Animation “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” I am attending a press screening of the film this Monday, so I will share my thoughts on the film as soon as possible. Hopefully it has more substance than “Avatar: The Way of Water.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Avatar: The Way of Water?” What did you think about it? Or, which film do you think is better? “Avatar” or “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Mean One (2022): A Not So Jolly Green Giant Pile of Boredom

“The Mean One” is directed by Steven LaMorte and stars David Howard Thornton, Krystle Martin, Chase Mullins, John Bigham, Erik Baker, Flip Kobler, and Amy Schumacher in a violent, bloody adaptation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.” Cindy, who had her Christmas stolen by the Mean One during her childhood, attempts to stop the monster once and for all, even if it makes her look crazy.

If you put Dr. Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “The Mean One” side by side, if the latter were not clearly a parody, a copyright lawsuit would come as quick as a blue hedgehog. But if you look at the titular green monster on the film’s poster, tell me he does not look almost exactly like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch. Gosh golly! While a number of things have changed between one story to the next, the Grinch design is about as faithful as can be. But while there may be faithfulness, I can assure you the original story did not have anywhere near as much goriness. Sure, in some ways it might be less happy go lucky compared to other Christmas classics, but it is something that younger audiences can watch and enjoy. Between “The Mean One” and “Violent Night,” which I recently reviewed, if you wanted more dark, unhinged Christmas movies, then 2022 is your year.

Unfortunately, “The Mean One” is no “Violent Night.” Whereas “Violent Night,” despite some supposed originality, pays tribute to other films like “Die Hard” and “Home Alone,” “The Mean One” not only looks like an eyesore, it is written like an ear infection. Despite having numerous moments of satire or attempts at humor, the comedy in “The Mean One” is not funny. Whether it was trying to do a Seuss-style rhyme, or whether the mayor was promoting herself all the time. I did not like the comedy in any way, not yesterday, not tomorrow, and definitely not today.

Although to be fair, “The Mean One” is not primarily a comedy. It is above all, a horror movie. It makes sense after all given the levels of blood and violence this movie racks up by the end of it. Unfortunately, it is not scary. Not one bit. I watched this film in a movie theater and I barely recall jumping or even shuddering. I have said that horror is by far kicking every other genre’s butt this year with movies like “Smile” and “Barbarian.” I cannot say the same for “The Mean One,” where the greenest thing about this movie is its titular character, and definitely not the amount of money they spent on making it.

I want to be fair to “The Mean One” because the film does look like something made for a media production class with some last minute finishing details that were not quite up to par. While I have not found the budget for “The Mean One,” it definitely seems to be lower than say Illumination Entertainment’s recent adaptation, “The Grinch.” That film was made for $75 million whereas “The Mean One” was probably made for the combined cost of the frozen food items found in a single Dollar Tree. With that in mind, “The Mean One” nevertheless looks inexcusably bad. The color grading is the worst I have seen this year. There are moments of this film that are so blue that I thought the Smurfs were going to show up at some point. It is one thing if this film looked greener than the Matrix, that actually would have looked fine, or at the very least, had a “so bad it is good” effect to it. There are scenes that are so blue that it turned my movie theater recliner into a bed and made me want to fall asleep.

Despite labeling itself as a parody, it is difficult to confirm that this film actually is one. Because the film is a parody when taking the titular green monster into perspective. Anytime David Howard Thornton plays this creature, he delivers a whiff of goofiness while doing so. Few, if any of the other performances match David Howard Thornton’s intentions to blast the campiness of the film up to an 11. The good news is that I can say David Howard Thornton may be the best part of this movie, the bad news is that none of the other actors, as much as they try, match up to his caliber. Part of it may be the directing. Steven LaMorte may have told David Howard Thornton to be the fool and everyone else is comparatively down to earth. In “Star Wars” terminology, The Mean One is Jar Jar Binks and everyone else is probably living somewhere on Tatooine. Although this time around I actually had fun watching Jar Jar Binks…

In regards to other performances, The narration, which is not terribly written, sounds great. Christopher Sanders does a great job with the material given to him as the narrator. His voice is spooky and menacing, just the way I would want it to sound. The script for “The Mean One” is not going to be in the hall of fame, but what Sanders did here makes the narration at the least feel competent.

Once again, I know this film did not cost as much as a Marvel movie, but when you decide to release a film theatrically, I then decide to treat it like a film getting such a release. With that in mind, “The Mean One” looks like it belongs on basic cable. At times I would say that “Sharknado” almost looks better than this movie. Although I will give “The Mean One” credit, despite what I said about the comedy, I believe I laughed more while watching “The Mean One” than I did watching “Sharknado.” I cannot pinpoint the specifics as to why I laughed. This movie is as forgettable as expired coupons in a glovebox. However, despite this movie being a disaster in more ways than one, there were some shining glimmers within the filthy mess.

There are other positives in regards to “The Mean One.” The costumes and makeup do not look half-bad. Some of the sets are decent. But there are not many others that come to mind. As little fun as I had watching Illumination’s adaptation of “The Grinch” a few years ago, I will give credit to the film’s polish and tendency to look like it was at least going to entertain younger audiences. I think that film tries way too hard to entertain younger people while ignoring the parents and guardians who are going to be dragged in front of the screen. Sadly, as an adult, a demographic which “The Mean One” seems to cater to a lot more, I am not entertained. “The Grinch” may be fun for children, whereas “The Mean One” seems to be fun neither for children or adults. I do not drink, so I do not know if this film is going to be fun to watch while having a few beers with friends, but if a friend invites me over to watch this movie with them, I would politely decline.

In the end, “The Mean One” fails on a number of levels. Not only is it not funny, but it is not scary. Nothing is worse when you have a comedy that is not funny or a horror movie that is not scary. Except for when you combine comedy and horror together and it does neither aspect well. If you want a great movie to watch from this year that does both aspects brilliantly, go watch “The Menu.” It has better acting, better directing, better writing, and more pleasing production value. If you like campy horror, “The Mean One” might be serviceable, but I did not enjoy it myself so who knows if someone else reading this will. I am going to give “The Mean One” a 2/10.

“The Mean One” stole my holiday. I am in such a state of disarray. I do not want to see it in bed. I do not want to see it when I am dead. This movie is such a disappointment. I might need to make a doctor’s appointment. I do not want to watch this in an auditorium. It might cause me break out into pandemonium. This movie made me mad. Still talking about it makes me sad. I do not want to find this on streaming. I will end up shutting off the TV screaming. This is one of my least favorite movies of the year. When the end credits ultimately showed up I wanted to cheer. Those are my thoughts on “The Mean One.” Thank goodness, this review is finally done!

“The Mean One” is now playing in select theatres, supposedly for a limited time. If you really want a ticket to this movie, may the odds be ever in your favor.

Thanks for reading this review! If you want me to be serious, it is kind of sad to review movies like this because I imagine like a lot of movies, some serious passion was put into it. But if I had to be real, this makes even Illumination’s “The Grinch” look like “Home Alone,” a movie I adore on every level. I could never watch “The Mean One” again.

Stay tuned later this week because I will be sharing my thoughts on the brand new blockbuster sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water!” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Mean One?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a Christmas or holiday movie that you truly despise? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Empire of Light (2022): A Cinematic Projection of Why Community and Connections Matter

“Empire of Light” is directed by Sam Mendes (1917, Spectre) and stars Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Crown), Michael Ward (The A List, The Old Guard), Monica Dolan (A Very English Scandal, Appropriate Adult), Tom Brooke (Preacher, Game of Thrones), Tanya Moodie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, A Discovery of Witches), Hannah Onslow (This Is Going to Hurt, Ridley Road), Crystal Clarke (Sanditon, Ordeal by Innocence), Toby Jones (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Hunger Games), and Colin Firth (1917, Kingsman: The Secret Service). This film is about a group of people living in 1980s England who work together at a cinema. Two of these people, specifically Hilary, the manager, and Stephen, a recent hire, develop a bond and take their connection to the point of a committed relationship.

There is a saying that Hollywood loves itself. Movies like “La La Land” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” highlight such a point. But while those movies are their calendar year’s shining example of “movie about movies” storytelling, 2022 is not short on these kinds of stories. “The Fabelmans,” which is based on Steven Spielberg’s youth, highlights the power of making movies. “Clerks III” doubles as a homage to Kevin Smith’s previous creations while also paying tribute to people want to create a film. I think it also shows how difficult such a process can be, both in front of and behind the camera. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which stars Nicholas Cage as himself, pays tribute to various movies he made (and some he did not) while also poking fun at the way certain cinematic stories are told. “See How They Run” features a storyline where people want to turn a play into a motion picture. Later this month, “Babylon,” which is set in old Hollywood, will hit theatres. Some may call it self-indulgent, self-absorbed, or self-obsessed. Based on how I liked all these movies, minus “Babylon,” which I have yet to see, I would call it “writing what you know.” One thing is for sure, Hollywood knows movies.

While “Empire of Light” does not entirely highlight people making movies, it does highlight another important aspect of the filmmaking process, selling the movies. Most of this film takes place at a movie theatre. Not a modern day multiplex like AMC or Regal, but a small venue with a couple screens. The building itself looked beautiful. Similar to how “The Fabelmans” emits a certain magical feeling in regard to filmmaking itself, the cinema here emits an alike feeling to the point where just being inside it feels like an escape from your problems.

Despite being in a digital age where everything is at our fingertips, I am glad we still have movie theaters. In fact, I had the chance to watch “Empire of Light” at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which if you are not from the Boston area, is a cinema in Brookline, Massachusetts that has some killer Art Deco vibes and a lot of history. It is a great place to see a movie. Watching a movie like this in a theater of that nature, the kind where they open and close the curtains before and after the movie, felt beautifully trippy. The best movies are those that take you to another world, and despite being in an older movie auditorium, I felt like I escaped into another auditorium somewhere else.

Joined by other casting standouts like Michael Ward, Toby Jones, and Colin Firth, “Empire of Light” is led by Olivia Colman, a talented actress who can do no wrong here. Unsurprisingly, she breaks both of her legs in this movie and maybe even a shoulder. I would not be surprised if she receives some chatter this awards season. She portrays Hilary, a cinema manager. From a written perspective, I would say Hilary is a kind of manager I would love to work for. She is competent, occasionally tough, but also fair. In short, she appears to want the best for everyone. Above all, she seems to be in her mojo whenever she happens to be at the cinema. I am kind of jealous of everyone who got to work at the cinema before the 21st century, partially because of what they seemed to provide. Cinemas nowadays still provide a wonderful experience. Also, large formats like Dolby Cinema and IMAX are great ways to enhance blockbuster presentations for example. But there is something about the cinema now, as magical as it is, and yet it seems that some of the magic might have been more evident in a time before Nicole Kidman tried to tell me that heartbreak feels good in a place like this. If I could transport myself to the cinema in this film, I would take the opportunity if it were presented to me.

This leads me to my next ounce of praise, the locations and overall look of the film. Again, the movie theater itself is lovely. It felt massive and at the same time, intimate. The rooftop, especially at night, is ingrained in my memory. There are also some beach scenes that looked crispy. Why should I be surprised? This is from the same director/cinematographer duo who also worked on “1917,” which looked gorgeous in its own right. Now, comparing the two films on a technical level seems unfair as “1917” was designed to look like most of it was done in a single take. But I would say “Empire of Light” is a solid follow-up.

Before I address my problems with the film, another compliment I must give to “Empire of Light” is the sound mix. Following what I said about the magic of the movies, the sound in this movie, is best heard in a theater. The levels could not be better or more immersive. That said, there is one sound I found particularly annoying. Partially because I heard it so many times in other content, but it makes at least seven appearances in this one movie. Do not take my word for it, but gosh does it feel like seven… I do not mind hearing seagulls, but hearing the same seagull sound effect after the fifth time took me out of the film, which is unfortunate considering how immersive the rest of the movie is. I will also address the story. It is not a bad story by any means, but it feels like all sparkle with very little shine. The performances are great, but the writing to support said performances lacks flair at times. I cared for the characters, but I cannot say I was as invested in them as other movies I saw recently.

I often make the assessment that every movie, even unforgivable garbage such as “Morbius,” will always be better in a theater. I will also note there are moments, like certain portions of the score, or one particular repeated sound effect during a scene three quarters of the way through the runtime, that are marvelously hard on the ears and build tension just by becoming the elephant in the room. This film is not as complicated as “Top Gun: Maverick,” but whoever did the sound mixing should be happy with how it came out. If you look at the box office nowadays, you may notice that films that partially rely on spectacle like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” are usually the box office kings. Films that are of a tinier caliber like “Vengeance” or “The Fabelmans,” even though they might have have notable people in front of or behind the camera, do not do as well. I am part of the audience who goes to see spectacle fare like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” because the odds are that the big screen experience will be the ultimate way to experience those movies. If you are thinking of waiting to watch “Empire of Light” at home, there is no one stopping you. However, few movies have sounded or looked as good this year given the scale for which this movie aims. There is a reason why Roger Deakins, this film’s director of photography, has 15 Academy Award nominations attached to his name. I would not be surprised, depending on how well this movie does, if he gets nomination 16.

In the end, “Empire of Light” is not my favorite tribute to movies this year, but it is one of the more palatable ones. This has a look to it as attractive as “The Fabelmans,” and as weird as this may be to clarify, not as heartwarming or emotionally charging as “Clerks III.” Despite my slight negatives, I recommend this film. If you have a chance to see “Empire of Light” this weekend, take it. Go out and support this film. Sam Mendes gets a thumbs up from me on his first film after “1917.” I am going to give “Empire of Light” a very high 7/10.

“Empire of Light” is now playing in select theaters. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Stay tuned for the upcoming week, because “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finally hits theaters after 13 years of waiting. I already have my tickets for Thursday and I will share my thoughts on the film as soon as possible. These are words part of me never thought I’d say, but here we are. Here is hoping the film is worth the wait, and that it actually has a decent, memorable script this time around. Speaking of “films…” My next review is going to be for a film called “The Mean One.” For those who are not in the know, this is basically a gorier version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.” Is this film going to pack in all tons of Christmas spirit? Or did it make me green and icky? Find out in the next review! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Empire of Light?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your movie theater of choice? I am an AMC A-List member, so there are a few AMC locations I usually go to, but one of my favorite places to see a movie is the Sunbrella IMAX at Jordan’s Furniture in Reading, Massachusetts. It is THE place for a big-budget film, and it is also where I will be watching “Avatar: The Way of Water” this Thursday. Let me know your picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Violent Night (2022): A Movie So Naughty It Deserves to be On This Season’s Nice List

“Violent Night” is directed by Tommy Wirkola (What Happened to Monday, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) and stars David Harbour (Black Widow, Hellboy), John Leguizamo (Ice Age, The Menu), Alex Hassell (The Boys, Cowboy Bebop), Alexis Louder (Copshop, The Tomorrow War), Edi Patterson (Plan B, Vice Principals), Cam Gigandet (The O.C., Reckless), Leah Brady (The Umbrella Academy, Erin’s Guide to Kissing Girls), and Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation, American History X). This film is set during Christmastime, and when a family gets together at a large house to celebrate the holiday, a group of mercenaries attempt to infiltrate the property. With the family in trouble, it is up to Santa Claus to save this family from harm by stopping the infiltrators in their tracks.

Ah… The holidays… The most wonderful time of the year. Full of joy, happiness, and all the pretty things. Plus, you know, materialism. It is the that time of the year to beat up some bad guys!!! In this season where everyone is inevitably going to be rewatching a bunch of comforting holiday classics like “Elf” or “The Polar Express,” “Violent Night” presents itself as an antithesis to the familiar “Christmas movie.” Yes, it is Christmastime. Yes, there is Santa Claus. Yes, there are Christmas songs playing in the background. But instead of watching the next “Fred Claus,” there is a chance that with “Violent Night,” I have just tuned into the next “Die Hard.”

For those of you who have seen “Die Hard” and defend it as part of the many Christmas movies out there, you might say that it is not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza. Similarly, I think Christmas came early this year when Santa bashed a bunch of mercenaries and put them in their place. Now am I going to put “Violent Night” on in front of my family while opening Christmas presents? Maybe not. However, once all the unwrapping is done and I find some privacy, I might put it on because this film is beautifully gory and as the name suggests, violent. It knows how to have fun from scene one to the climax.

David Harbour is excellent as Santa Claus, and part of it is because of the script. When I usually think of Santa I usually think of a jolly old man who can do no wrong. This film showcases a Santa who has grown tired of his job, he is sick of delivering the same trendy gifts to children, but he also seems to have a soft spot for the children that stand out on his nice list. Now, if I had one minor complaint, it is that the film occasionally resorts to kids’ animation humor where Santa calls out one of his reindeer for taking a dump on a roof, but that would be a small script flaw in an otherwise entertaining flick. Harbour carries this film as Santa Claus and I would not mind seeing more of him as the character.

Although speaking of the script, it is not the most verisimilitude-filled story of the year. Although to be fair, when you have a Santa Claus that beats up bad guys Deadpool style, that does not exactly call for the most realistic story of all time. In fact, there are certain conveniences and happenings in the movie that occur and the excuse that gets brought up in those moments is that it is “Christmas magic.” As someone who has seen and reviewed a ton of movies, it has become notoriously difficult to “turn off my brain.” But sometimes, the best thing to do in a movie like this is to follow this saying uttered by Barbara from “Tenet,” specifically… “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”

And I can tell you how I felt after watching this movie. In a word, incredible.

I also like the scenes when the family happen to all be together. For the record, this movie takes place in an extravagant household and the people inside are all wealthy or notable. A couple standouts include Alex Hassell as Jason Lightstone, the favorite son. Gertrude Lightstone, who leads the family corporation. Also, Alexander Elliot as Bert, a young man who will do anything to get attention on social media. For the most part, the main group sounds like a bunch of entitled people. And in some ways, that is as accurate of a description as I could give them. But much like “The Menu,” which I reviewed last month, it was difficult for me to find any of these privileged individuals annoying or obnoxious. Credit where credit is due.

Although when it comes to the mercenaries, they are equally as entertaining. Most notably, John Leguizamo as “Scrooge.” (center) While I think there are more memorable antagonists in other movies, few have made me go through such an immediate transition to make me literally despise them (in a good way) like the one in this flick did. There is a moment where the stakes transition from the fates of one household to every kid on earth, and it is because of this guy. Leguizamo sells the part like hotcakes and I certainly bought it.

Before going into “Violent Night,” I heard this movie is similar to “Die Hard” and “Home Alone” and in some ways, that is an accurate description of what this film is in essence. There are unused elements brought to the table. For instance a deadly Santa Claus, and the idea of Christmas itself being saved, but if you like “Home Alone” and “Die Hard,” there is a good chance you might enjoy “Violent Night.” This is likely a coincidence, and also not the most cinematic example, but I would say there is a pinch of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” sprinkled here too because the bad guys all have code names that are Christmassy.

As I have said, this film is violent, brutal, and not the most happy go lucky depiction of the holidays. It is cute, but not cuddly. But one thing this film gets right is that it does not simply resort to being a full-fledged slaughterhouse of a time and instead balances its brutality with some earned heart. Santa Claus and Trudy’s connection powers the film into the night sky and blasts it away full throttle. Seeing a somewhat broken Santa enjoy a conversation with a girl who evidently fulfills many qualifications on the nice list is heartwarming. “Violent Night” does for Christmas movies what “The Suicide Squad” did for comic book movies. It gave a satisfying journey that perfectly balances rambunctiousness with sweetness. It is not all rainbows and unicorns, but the rainbows and unicorns that do exist are not out of place.

“Violent Night” brings on the true meaning of Christmas. Watching Santa Claus give some old jolly saint nicks, red noses, and 12 days of pain. Watch it if you have a chance.

In the end, “Violent Night” does not sell itself short, it is beautifully naughty but to the point where it feels nice watching it. If you are looking for action, look no further. If you are looking for gore, look no further. You might not be looking for comfort and joy, but you may be delighted to find it here. David Harbour plays a great Santa Claus and I would not mind seeing another movie where he returns to play the character. Whether it means he deals with a different family or group of people like Benoit Blanc in “Knives Out” or we return to see another adventure with him and the Lightstones. I want more of this character, give it to me now. I am going to give “Violent Night” a 7/10.

“Violent Night” is now playing in theatres everywhere, including large formats like Dolby Cinema and Cinemark XD. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have another one coming soon! Tonight I will be seeing “Empire of Light,” directed by Sam Mendes. The film hits select theaters starting tomorrow night so I hope to have a review up by the middle of next week. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Violent Night?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite on-screen Santa Claus? I’ll even count the fake ones like the department store Santa from “A Christmas Story.” List your picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Strange World (2022): No Awe, No Wonder, Just Boredom.

“Strange World” is directed by Don Hall and co-directed by Qui Nguyen. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Spider-Man: Far from Home), Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story), Jaboukie Young-White (The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Only Murders in the Building), Gabrielle Union (America’s Got Talent, Think Like a Man), and Lucy Liu (Charlie’s Angels, Kung Fu Panda). This film follows the Clades, a family who must overcome each other’s differences in order to successfully navigate themselves in a space off the map.

Thus far, animation has not been perfect this year. The only real highlight in regard to 2022 animation for me would have to be “Turning Red,” which I watched back in March and enjoyed immensely. In fact, my favorite animation I watched that came out this year is one that technically came out last year, specifically “Belle,” as it released in Japan in July 2021. That movie was so nice that I had to post about it twice. Therefore, I was hoping that “Strange World” could join the ranks of “Turning Red,” or surpass it, and give the genre a boost. “The Bad Guys” was okay. “Lightyear” was fun but it is no “Toy Story.” “Luck” was not perfect. Let’s not even talk about “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” I wanted something that could potentially be a medium-defining movie. We had a couple of those last year with “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” the recently mentioned “Belle,” and Disney’s own “Raya and the Last Dragon.” The good news for those movies, depending on how you slice it, is if they wanted to remain superior, then this is a good day for them. “Strange World” is a movie that should have dazzled me. Unfortunately, I was bored.

Now let me be clear, for the people who ask why I do not like this movie, please note that this has nothing to do with a certain character having feelings for another specific character. If you are looking for another review where the writer disses on the movie because it is “woke,” go someplace else, arrogant scumbags. Scene Before is not the place for that. That said, it is time to talk about why “Strange World” is one of the most underwhelming and snore-inducing animations of the decade.

However, before we get there, I do want to drop some positives. Because the movie does have its moments. The first act, while not flawless, introduces the characters at a quick pace and provides some fascinating setup for what is to come. There is a particular event towards the end of the movie that caught me off guard, but in a good way. The opening song, while short, is kind of a banger. Oddly enough, this does not go for that traditional Disney movie soundtrack extravaganza where every other scene becomes a musical all of a sudden. There is no equivalent to Let It Go in “Strange World.” If you are seeking a musical, look elsewhere. If you are instead seeking a mediocre adventure in unfamiliar territory, look no further.

When your movie is called “Strange World,” that should be code to make a world that looked kooky and fun. However, I had my arms crossed for a good portion of the runtime. “Strange World” had scenes that looked like an escape from reality, but it is not just a matter of how the movie looks, but how it feels. Despite being taken on an adventure to somewhere unfamiliar, I never felt immersed into this world. Part of the reason is because this movie feels like it spends more time building its vast environments as opposed to the characters who are surrounded by said environments. Sure, we get moments where we get to know the characters, but it sometimes comes off as the bare minimum. In addition, the characters themselves are annoying.

Now the characters, for the most part, are well voiced. Dennis Quaid and Lucy Liu are particular standouts as Jaeger Clade (top right) and Callisto Mal (top left) respectively. The voice performances serve their purpose and are in no way problematic. However, I was annoyed by a character that should have been a lovable sidekick, Splat.

I found out that nobody voices Splat (right), so the voice actors are safe in this instance. However, the sounds that Splat makes, while somewhat appropriate, are honestly more headache-inducing than trying to find a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday. I can say this is based on true events. Both as someone who just wanted cheap Blu-rays the other day, and as someone who wanted to have a good time watching “Strange World,” but failed miserably.

Like most animated fare, there is a lesson intertwined that the crew perhaps aspire to deliver towards the children watching the movie. As an adult, I took away a particular lesson that sounded halfway decent. But at the same time, the lesson made for an atrocious story. It is predictable, dull, and worst of all, the three main characters all made me roll my eyes. Whether it was cheap dialogue, selfish motives, or overembellishing what could easily be shown instead of told. There are scenes where the main characters argue, and it had dialogue that should have been compelling, it should have gotten me invested in the scene and where things could go from here. All it did was made me put my hand on my head, begging for the movie to move along.

I watched “Strange World” in a theater that had some people. It was nowhere near its total capacity, but there were some families and kids. Despite the various attempts at comedy in “Strange World,” no one uttered a sound. I could barely hear children chuckling. For all I knew, the children at this screening had a good time. But when your family movie fails to get the family to emote, that is a problem. Although when the movie was over, people did clap. So there is that.

Watching and/or reviewing a Disney movie sometimes has its complexities. Because Disney is not just movies. That is just a small aspect of how they entertain the masses. What goes into their movies often factors into their merchandising, their parks, and so on. While “Strange World” is not a good movie, it was the kind of movie that despite its failed attempts to immerse me, made me think there could be a chance that this would make for a decent theme park ride. I can imagine this universe as a motion simulator in Disney World because it is so otherworldly. Kind of like some of Disney’s other rides such as Star Tours or Pirates of the Caribbean, it feels like going somewhere else. It does not feel like Florida. It does not feel like California. You’re either in space or some vast environment far from home. Unfortunately, I am not reviewing a theme park ride. I am reviewing a story. And despite one or two okay scenes, there was not enough to make me root for the characters or care about what was going on. As a story, this is dull. This is forgettable. This is uninteresting. I wanted it to end. Thankfully the movie not that long, but despite time flying by, I was not having fun.

In the end, “Strange World” is a bit of a letdown. I did not think this movie looked like the next big thing, but it also looked fun. Disney movies, even ones that are lower tier, seem to have glimmers of fun on a consistent basis. When I fail to walk out of a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, with a smile on my face, that is not a good sign. Let me just put it this way. I had more fun with another Disney film, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and that is despite the film saying goodbye to a major character (in addition to the actor who plays him) and having a few downer scenes. “Strange World” occasionally made me angry because it looked fun, but it did not feel fun. There is a difference between designing something pretty, and doing something with it that is interesting. This movie felt like a first date with the most attractive woman alive, only to find out she has zero personality whatsoever. “Strange World” is a waste of time and I am going to give it a 3/10.

“Strange World” is now playing in theatres everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! If you liked this review, check out some of my other ones! If you want to see more animated movie reviews, check out the review I did for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.” If you want to see more family movie reviews, check out my thoughts on the brand new Netflix film, “Slumberland.” I am planning on seeing a movie this weekend, I am not sure which one specifically, so as to whether “Violent Night” or “Spoiler Alert” is going to be my next review is a total mystery. You will have to find out for yourselves. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Strange World?” What did you think about it? Or, what is an animation that you saw recently that disappointed you? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!