Air (2023): Dribbles of Nostalgia Meets Cheer-Worthy Excitement

“Air” is directed by Ben Affleck (Live by Night, The Town), who also appears as one of the films stars. Alongside him in this studded cast are names including Matt Damon (The Last Duel, The Martian), Jason Bateman (Game Night, Horrible Bosses), Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie, The Wayans Bros.) Chris Messina (Devil, Argo), Chris Tucker (Rush Hour, The Fifth Element), and Viola Davis (Suicide Squad, Fences). This film is about Sonny Vaccaro’s mission to put Nike on the map and track down rookie Michael Jordan to make the greatest shoe of all time.

I am not a sports nut. Granted, I live near Boston, so I have admittedly had some history of going to a Sox game or searching up certain highlights on YouTube or reluctantly watching the Super Bowl because my grandma’s favorite team, the New England Patriots are in it. While I am not a sports person, I am a movie person. And I have come to learn some sports are like movies. There are so many compelling tales to be told whether they are historic rivalries like Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird, the legacy of Tiger Woods, or the miracle on ice during the 1980 Olympics. But those stories are about the players, which we have seen on screen before. What has not been shown on screen as often are the success stories of those who are supplementing sports and their respective athletes. Despite having an athlete like Michael Jordan in the movie, “Air” is not about an individual athlete or group of athletes accomplishing something bigger than themselves. Instead, it is about a company who is trying to reinvent the wheel. Only with a shoe.

For those of you who know your film history, you would know Michael Jordan himself has appeared in movies before. He was the star of the 1990s time capsule, “Space Jam,” which I unfortunately had the displeasure of watching. The sequel starring LeBron James is not much better. If you want any filmmaking advice, here is my suggestion. If you are going to make a movie featuring Michael Jordan, whether he is in it, or somebody plays him, leave Bugs Bunny out of it. And that is one reason why “Air” is a really good movie. As for other reasons why this is a really good movie, the screenplay may be the best I have witnessed so far this year. Not only is it based on a compelling true story, not only does it have great dialogue, but it is funny, dramatic, and on top of that, the characters are well-crafted and executed with care. Alex Convery should be proud of himself. This is not only a great screenplay, but this has brought him his first credits. Ever. According to IMDb, this is his first writing credit, in addition to being his first producing credit. As far as I am concerned, he started his career off with a bang.

Sonny Vaccaro is an admirable protagonist. He may look like an everyday dude, but he has a drive to him that I cannot help but respect. He has a goal in mind, he knows it is difficult to accomplish, but he will do just about anything to achieve it, even if others call him crazy. There have been many protagonists throughout history who aspire to conquer larger than life obstacles. All this guy wants in life is to sell people a shoe that can do it all. And this movie does a great job at making that obstacle feel bigger than it should be. Damon’s performance is a perfect balance between nuanced and heightened. It hits the Goldilocks Zone. Damon is perfectly cast as Vaccaro and I almost cannot imagine anyone else playing this character.

Although if I had to note another performance that perhaps stands out more, it would be Viola Davis’s efforts as Deloris Jordan, Michael Jordan’s mom. There is a certain flair to her performance that only she can provide. Davis is already an incredible actress by herself, but having a character as compelling as this one makes for a winning combo. While Damon is a fantastic lead, Davis, almost unfairly, steals every scene she is in.

Speaking of the Jordan family, this movie made an interesting choice regarding the Michael Jordan character. A Michael Jordan character does appear in the movie, but Jordan does not play himself. Michael Jordan is played by Damian Delano Young, which given his limited resume, this movie should end up being his big break. Throughout the select moments and scenes where Jordan can be seen in frame, we never see his face. His dialogue is also kept to a minimum. Granted, this is not Michael Jordan’s story per se. He is a supporting character, he is a crucial part of the story, but at the end of the day, it is Sonny Vaccaro’s story. It reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” where Richard Nixon, a crucial fixture of the film’s idea and setting, only makes an appearance in one scene with bare visibility. Michael Jordan is used sparingly and mostly towards the end of the movie. Do I think it is a tad odd we never see Jordan’s face? Maybe a little. I would like to see a reality where someone plays the character and shows his face, but I think the version we got allowed the character to feel special despite not doing much at all.

There is something about “Air” that left me… Well, up in the air. This movie is set in the 1980s and it is shoehorned with reference after reference after reference. On a positive note, I felt that when it comes to encapsulating the time period, the movie did an excellent job at capturing that magic. I think if you grew up during the 1980s, you might be taken back. If you admire culture based in the 1980s, you might be in for a treat. That said, I think the constant references and deep cuts become distracting after awhile. I only need to be reminded that we are in a certain time period so many times. Although if I had to note one deep cut that blew my mind once it came up, it is the use of Tangerine Dream’s score from “Risky Business.”

There are movies that I know are based on true stories, but I do not know all the ins and outs of what happens, therefore making the narrative more satisfying. “Air” is a movie containing events I could sometimes see coming, but they nevertheless have a gigantic oomph when they happen. However, giving my lack of knowledge on sports and shoes, it made the movie’s final moments all the more satisfying. When I left “Air,” I had a smile on my face. I am glad a story like this was told. It made me happy.

If I have any other comments to make on the film, it would be that the looks of the film are pristine. And I am not necessarily talking about the camerawork or cinematography, although that is not bad either. I am referring to the costumes, the makeup, and outlooks of all the characters. The costumes are not as intricate as say a period piece set centuries ago, but going back to what I said about this film’s nostalgia factor, these costumes feel like they belong in a time like the 1980s. “Air” is well written, well paced, and maybe I will watch it again sometime.

In the end, how could I not enjoy “Air?” In today’s society where we still have COVID-19, we still have division, we still have chaos, I always happen to be looking for stories that make me feel good, and “Air” is one of those stories. I think this movie is going to do very well with audiences over time. I do not know how much of a presence it will have at the next awards season given how early it has come out. But if Amazon Studios gives “Air” a big enough push, it can do some magic. With its already successful theatrical run, I hope it also does well when it drops on Prime Video. “Air” is not my favorite film I have seen so far this year, but it is one that I am going to think about on a consistent basis. Also, between “The Way Back” and now “Air,” Ben Affleck is the new king of basketball movies. I am going to give “Air” a very high 7/10.

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

Thanks for reading this review! Pretty soon I am going to have reviews for “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” and “Sisu,” both movies just recently came out, and I saw both of them. I will have my thoughts sometime soon. Also, I have my ticket to go see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” this week, so you can also expect a review for that movie coming soon as well. Stay tuned! 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 “Air?” What did you think about it? Or, who is your favorite athlete? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!


Cocaine Bear (2023): Bearly Passable

“Cocaine Bear” is directed by Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2, Charlie’s Angels) and stars Keri Russell (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Mission: Impossible III), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Long Shot, Straight Outta Compton), Christian Convery (Sweet Tooth, Playing with Fire), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Hail, Caesar!), Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project, Home Before Dark), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Good Cop, The Wire), Margo Martindale (August: Osage County, The Americans), and Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Field of Dreams). In this film, people of various identities must survive against a bear jacked up on cocaine.

If I had the authority to make a textbook definition for the utterance “truth is stranger than fiction,” I would just insert “Cocaine Bear” and move on. “Cocaine Bear” sounds like a campy creature feature from the title alone. And in some ways it is. Although despite being a horror comedy that should not be taken too seriously, it must be noted that “Cocaine Bear” is based on true events.

You heard me right. A bear did cocaine. And they made a movie, specifically one that takes tons of liberties, about it. Best idea ever.

I have been excited for this movie ever since they announced the project in the middle of 2021. While I did not know how the actual movie would turn out, I even put it in my top 10 most anticipated movies of 2023 because I could not stop thinking about it on a frequent basis. What also helped it is the excellently produced trailer that perfectly showcased the over the top comedic nature this film was aiming for. Also, it was directed by Elizabeth Banks, one of my favorite actresses and possibly the best game show host on television right now. Although it must be noted that her directing career has not intrigued me as much. I did not enjoy the first “Pitch Perfect,” therefore I never got around to watching the second after all these years. Her next feature, 2019’s “Charlie’s Angels” had some okay action here and there, but it was lacking in flair. It felt rather pedestrian and suffered from an average marketing campaign.

But “Cocaine Bear” looked like a completely different ballgame. It looked funny, occasionally scary, and seemed to have just the right amount of dumb to avoid feeling overwhelming.

Now that I finally got to see this movie, sorry, no, once in a lifetime cinematic event… What did I think of it?

It was okay.

This is the kind of movie that would go over really well at a pitch meeting. In fact, part of what made me go see “Cocaine Bear” is the idea behind it. Who does not want to see a bear go haywire after ingesting an illegal drug? It is the same way I felt about “Moonfall” before that movie came out. I did not know if it would be good or bad, but that idea is anything but ugly. It would be cool to see what would happen if that became a feature. While “Cocaine Bear” is better than “Moonfall,” this does not suggest I was not a tad a underwhelmed with this creature feature that honestly does the bare minimum to be watchable.

Unlike Elizabeth Banks’s past features, she did not write “Cocaine Bear.” That honor belongs to Jimmy Warden, who only has one previous screenplay credit. He was one of the writers behind “The Babysitter: Killer Queen,” a straight to Netflix film. This makes “Cocaine Bear” Warden’s first theatrical written effort. While I found “Cocaine Bear” to have its comedic moments, it could have been funnier. Most of the funnier moments in the movie are already in the trailer. When I come out of a good comedy, I usually end up quoting one or two lines from it either with a friend, family member, or in cases like this one where I go to the movies alone, amongst myself. I am having a difficult time remembering any specific line from this movie that I did not already see in the marketing that stood out. Except for the one that specifies the gender of the bear, which honestly would have been funnier if I did not already know what it was thanks to social media.

I do not hate any of the characters in the film, but this is not a film that I would sit down and watch again because the characters stand out. That said, I think the two young kids, Henry and Dee Dee, played by Christian Convery and Brooklynn Prince play well off each other. They are two of the more admirable cogs that mesh this movie together. I bought into their chemistry, I liked the reason behind why they were going into the forest. I mean, almost every kid would dare to skip school every once in a while. I also like how this movie was set in the 1980s, which is when the story that inspired this movie took place, because if it were set today, Keri Russell’s character, who has to search for these two, would just call Dee Dee’s cell phone if she can be trusted with one. This makes it a bit harder for the Keri Russell to track the two down since they cannot simply be geolocated. The other thing I liked about the two kids is the way they were used for comedic purposes. Not just in terms of their dialogue, but their actions. This movie is not afraid to push the boundaries. Without giving too much away, there is a moment where the kids dare each other to try cocaine. I will let you see the rest for yourselves.

I should also note that this is one of the last projects to ever feature Ray Liotta, who recently passed away. He does a a good job with the material given to him as this kingpin who is after the cocaine that ends up lost in the woods. Liotta’s character is one of the standout personalities on screen and had much of my attention throughout the runtime. Knowing that this film is one of Liotta’s last is unfortunate, but it if there is any bright side, “Cocaine Bear” is a halfway decent film, and he is also likable in it. That said, the situation is still sad. Ray Liotta will be missed. May he rest in peace.

From start to finish, the bear has a commanding presence. Every scene featuring the bear is a hoot. The chase sequences, the kills, the rampages, the blood, all of it! Even the one scene where a bunch of people watching it snort cocaine is a thing of beauty. Seeing the bear do its thing in that moment is one of the more laughable scenes in the film. The movie is called “Cocaine Bear,” and it certainly lives up to its name.

I think the biggest problem with “Cocaine Bear” is that the film’s cast probably would have been better have they shaved one or two names off. I understand that the movie needs enough people to tell a story. And the plots and subplots for the most part do their job. But at times, it feels a little overwhelming when the movie is about the tales of a coke-fueled furry creature. I have no real digs to give other than the fact that the movie feels a tad overstuffed in its 95 minute runtime. Would I recommend “Cocaine Bear?” Well, I think some of you might find it to be an inevitable watch the moment you see the title. As bad as I think “Sharknado” is, a reason why that movie appears watchable at first is because of the title. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but with a title like “COCAINE BEAR,” it is undoubtedly going to get attention. But in regards to it being a movie, I think there are better options out there. Then again, this film manages to be… somewhat bearable.

In the end, “Cocaine Bear” is neither bad or good. It is not that powerful of a drug. It finds itself somewhere in the middle. I love Elizabeth Banks in a lot of projects like “The LEGO Movie,” “Slither,” “Zack and Miri,” “Brightburn,” “The Hunger Games,” and I even thought she was great in the “Power Rangers” movie. That said, if she continues to direct movies, I hope we get something better out of her than this. She is not a terrible director. But not only does the writing fail to supplement her efforts, but I do not know if she has a flair to her work yet that would make her stand out. She is not a bad. She gets the job done. I just hope whatever she does next is a step up from this. The acting is okay, the bear is admirable, and the movie might be good to watch at least one time to see what all the hoopla is about. But it is not the next Best Picture by any means. I am going to give “Cocaine Bear” a 6/10.

“Cocaine Bear” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and Peacock.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the brand new movie “Air.” I just saw the film days ago and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on it with you all. Also, I will soon be reviewing “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” which is available in select theaters now. Additionally, I will be talking about the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” movie. I want to talk about it sooner than later, but I just have not found the perfect time to sit down and write about it. However, that review should be on its way when the time is right. 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 “Cocaine Bear?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite movie based on a true story? Or, what is a movie that you like that is based on a story so strange that it just so happens to be true? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Suzume (2022): Makoto Shinkai Goes Full Pixar with His Latest Anime

“Suzume,” otherwise known as “Suzume no Tojimari,” is directed by Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, Weathering with You) and stars Nanoka Hara, Hokuto Matsumura, Eri Fukatsu, Shota Sometani, Sairi Ito, Kotone Hanase, Kana Hanazawa, and Matsumoto Hakuō II. This film is about a teenage girl who finds out she must save Japan from various threats by locking a set of doors.

If there is one door that has opened for me in 2022, it is the one that unveils the vast world of anime. When the year started, I did my first anime review, “Belle,” which has now become one of my favorite films of all time regardless of the genre or medium. Since then I have watched other titles such as those from the Studio Ghibli collection, “Akira,” “In This Corner of the World,” and “Inu-Oh,” the last of which I have reviewed. I have not touched much in the television realm, such as the “Dragon Ball” franchise, but that is partially because I am usually more committed to film than television regardless of the genre. Anime has also introduced me to some notable filmmakers such as Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda, and the one of focus in this review, Makoto Shinkai.

In just a short amount of time, a couple of anime titles have risen to the top of my all time favorite films list. The recently mentioned “Belle” is an example, but when it comes to Makoto Shinkai, “Your Name” is another. The chemistry between the two main characters, which is unlike many other films in history, is executed with utter brilliance. It is beautifully animated, fantastically written, and ends on the perfect note. It shows the power of animation at its finest. It is easy to see why the film has become one of the most successful anime titles of all time, making $382 million worldwide. “Suzume” is having similar success. The film has raked in $221 million worldwide and has already passed his last film, “Weathering with You,” even this early into the official U.S. release.

But just because something is successful, does not always make it great. Look at “Jurassic World: Dominion” for example. Is “Suzume” for starters, worth the hype? And also, worth showering with tons of box office revenue?

To answer both of those questions, that is a paramount certainty.

After seeing “John Wick: Chapter 4” and now “Suzume,” I can declare spring 2023 is a great time to go the movies.

“Suzume” is just about everything I wanted and more. It is a beautifully animated triumph of a picture that does everything a movie is supposed to do. The last movie I reviewed, also an animation, specifically “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” could arguably have placed itself in the same boat. But when I say that, I mean it did the bare minimum to “not suck.” If this were a classroom, “Suzume” is the one student that studies hard, earns extra credit, always raises their hand, and dresses exquisitely as a bonus.

Now that we are in 2023, good animation has basically become a requirement. Thankfully, “Suzume” has unbelievably superb animation. Much like Shinkai’s other films, “Suzume” has this gloss to it that I can only find in one of his features. The colors are out of this world and the palette is both lifelike and imaginative at the same time. This is a film that having seen it, I could never see working in live-action without a couple significant changes.

“Suzume” reminds me of some of the better Pixar movies, because Pixar has a tendency to make films, many of which are phenomenal, where it begs to ask what would happen if certain objects or concepts had emotions. Sure, giving emotions to or personifying things in animation is not unusual. But when it comes to Pixar, it stands out because of the way they go about it. They gave toys emotions. They gave cars emotions. They gave preexisting souls emotions. They gave robots emotions. They gave literal emotions emotions. And this idea has worked every time. I am amazed on how Pixar was able to make a movie centering around a couple of robots and give them more emotional attachment than many films putting PEOPLE in the spotlight that have come out during the past decade. Similarly, the power of “Suzume” was unveiled as soon as I found out how much I cared about a chair. Granted, the chair is also human, but still. The movie made me care about a chair and got me attached to a cat who happens to be a statue. Despite the chair being human, it begs the question. What if chairs had emotions? This movie is the result.

As for the characters, I liked all of them. Sota, who becomes the chair, served well as a prominent sidekick. Daijin, the cat, is utilized perfectly. His lack of dimension, which is usually a deterrent for many characters, actually serves as a benefit with how his lines are delivered. Every moment he was on screen stood out to me. Suzume’s aunt, Tamaki, is perfectly written and executed. I believed every line out of this woman.

As for Suzume herself, I thought she was a great centerpiece to the story. When it comes to her as a main protagonist, she definitely served her purpose. I have no real complaints about the character that had to do with her charm or screen presence. If anything, I loved her ability to stay motivated throughout the film’s progression. Overall, I thought she was a joy to watch. But if I have anything negative to say, it would be this. Despite Suzume’s backstory being fleshed out, my one complaint is that I do not know a ton about her interests or what she does. Yes, she goes to school and has friends, but there is not much about her that separates her in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to Suzume’s depth, we get perhaps somewhere above the bare minimum. Although the movie managed to make a compelling aspect within the story out of the notion that she lost her mom and is raised by her aunt. Therefore, given the film’s significant fleshing out of that aspect, I can forgive the slight lack of personality even though it is an issue the more I think about it.

Despite what I said about Suzume not being fleshed out, one thing I thought was finely detailed throughout the film was Sota and his job, if you will, of being a closer. This film is about closing doors to prevent disasters. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Sota calls himself a “closer.” It does not pay the bills, but the movie implies it is important. I like how they gave the occupation of sorts a backstory, it brought some intriguing depth to the table.

When I say I can forgive this movie for its flaws, I mean it. It is perfectly paced. The film clocks in just over 2 hours and not once was I bored. I was smiling the whole time. The first ten minutes of this movie are some of the best I have seen in animation. While this film may not be as good as “Your Name,” the titles rival each other from a technical perspective. The animation style is almost comes off as a lifelike video game. The sound design is hypnotizing. The score is outstanding. Kazuma Jinnouchi and RADWIMPS did such a banger job with all of the music. I can personally claim I have listened to some of it during the making of this review. This movie is such a technical behemoth that the minor story flaws honestly take a bit of a backseat. “Suzume” is a must see for Shinkai loyalists and newcomers alike.

In the end, Makoto Shinkai continues his hot streak. Between “Your Name,” “Weathering with You,” and now this banger of a film, “Suzume” is every bit as awe-inspiring and excellent as I hoped it would be. With this film now in the can, this affirms Shinkai’s status as one of my favorite directors working today. I cannot wait to see what he does next. “Suzume” is beautiful, original, and occasionally jaw-dropping. The characters are great. The animation is some of the best in recent memory alongside “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” If it is playing in theaters near you, see it on the biggest screen you can. I saw it in IMAX and it was worth it. I left “Suzume” feeling satisfied. That is how I would want to feel after every movie I end up seeing. Again, it is no “Your Name,” but it comes close. Therefore, I would have to give “Suzume” a 9/10.

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

Thanks for reading this review! This week I will be watching the brand new movie “Air,” starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Also stay tuned for my review for “Super Mario Bros.,” the 1993 film, coming sometime soon. 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 “Suzume?” What did you think about it? Or, did you watch any of Makoto Shinkai’s other films? If you have a favorite, list it! I already mentioned this film, “Your Name,” “Weathering with You,” but if I must throw something out, I also saw “The Place Promised in Our Early Days,” which I would recommend. Check it out. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023): Illumination’s Shiny, Polished, Cliché-Riddled Take on the Mushroom Kingdom

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is directed by Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic, both of whom have worked on Cartoon Network’s “Teen Titans GO!”. This film stars Chris Pratt (The LEGO Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy), Anya Taylor-Joy (Emma., Last Night in Soho), Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fist Fight), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Keegan-Michael Key (Let’s Be Cops, Keanu), Seth Rogen (Neighbors, Sausage Party), Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live, Final Space), Sebastian Maniscalco (Green Book, The Irishman), Charles Martinet, and Kevin Michael Richardson (Like Family, Lilo & Stitch). In this adaptation inspired by the popular video game franchise, Brooklyn-based plumber Mario must save his brother, Luigi, from the wrath of Bowser, a fiendish Koopa who has his sights set on ruling the world.

Few things in my life have had more nostalgic attachment than “Mario.” It is one of the few standout things from my childhood that I have taken with me into my adulthood. I still enjoy playing the “Super Mario Bros.” games, “Mario Kart,” “Super Smash Bros.,” and many of the other “Mario” spinoff titles that have come to fruition. So it might surprise you to know that when I heard Illumination would be developing a movie based on the popular IP, I had reservations, despite being curious about the film. I was worried that a studio like Illumination would make the film overly immature and resort to fart jokes every other second. And having seen some of Illumination’s work myself before and after said announcement, my excitement for the film did not grow. These are the same guys who made “The Grinch,” they have also made another one of my least favorite animated films, “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which follows up an average first film. The only films from this studio I ended up caring about, which still scream lowest common denominator, are the “Sing” movies.

At the same time though, I also think one of the biggest offenses to cinema is the 1993 flick “Super Mario Bros.,” starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the main duo. Part of me also thought, if movies can be that bad, the IP can only go up. Having seen this new animated take on the “Super Mario Bros.” property, I would say it did. But even that is not saying a lot, because it is not Shakespeare. That said, if there is one thing that distinguishes this “Super Mario Bros.” outing compared to the 1993 predecessor, it is the film’s tendency to actually feel like it belongs in the same realm as the games.

The biggest compliment I can give “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is that even though it makes room, rightfully so, for adaptation, it is extremely faithful to its source material. Granted, it has an advantage that a lot of other material does not, it has plenty to pick from. Nevertheless, I think if you are a fan of the video games, or have played them at least once in your life, this movie could bring back memories. This movie’s animation style, while still being a product of its own nature, is reminiscent of the games themselves. It is colorful, bright, and full of life. The characters themselves even have a distinguished sparkle and shine that many other properties do not possess. Even Bowser, who is this movie’s epitome of evil, has some gloss to him. Illumination has clearly taken all the money they and Universal have earned on selling Minions merch and thrown it straight to the wall.

Some might say that the style of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is too safe. If this refers to the design of the film, I do not see the problem. It looks beautiful and unlike the 1993 film, a great counterpart to the games. There are some far-fetched elements in this film, sure, but as an audience member I can suspend my disbelief to a certain point. There is one point two-thirds in, which looked cool, that kind of ruined said suspension, but the sequence itself was still kind of fun nevertheless.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the voice acting. One of the most controversial aspects of this film for the past couple years were the voices of these characters. The burning question that has to be answered is this… How is Chris Pratt? To my surprise, he is fine. I am not going to say he stands out significantly, but he has developed a Mario that works for the universe at hand. Do I think they should have cast someone else? Maybe, but this could have been worse having seen the result. In my mind, I would prefer that maybe they found someone of Italian heritage to do the voice, but that is just me. But I think Pratt surprisingly fits as the Brooklyn plumber. Although Charlie Day is excellent as Luigi. I would say it is near perfect casting. It also makes sense because I have often imagined Charlie Day as a bit of a scrawny, timid type. While it is not the best movie, if you have ever seen “Fist Fight,” it is easy to see why Day could fit in as Luigi. I think when it comes to these two brothers, they have good chemistry, which is not only great because they are in the title, but much of the movie’s objective revolves around their bond.

I also like what they did with Peach in this film. I think Anya Taylor-Joy, who is an incredible actress, is a solid casting choice for the character. In real life, she has this aura to her, and I can say that having been to a Q&A where she was onstage. As for said aura, it is presented in this film from start to finish. Her voice is a perfect match for a highly respected princess. I like this film’s take on the character, also from a story perspective.

However the real standout of “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in terms of voice casting is the one character I have been excited to witness ever since the first trailer, Jack Black as Bowser. Unlike Chris Pratt at times, who, again, does not do a bad job in this movie, it was difficult for me to see Jack Black through this rugged monster. Maybe part of it is because I am accustomed to seeing Jack Black in certain roles, to the point where it was difficult to picture him as a bad guy. While it may not be his best performance, after all “Jumanji” has proven how challenging it must have been for someone like Black to play someone who is technically a teenage girl, his work here stands out significantly. They say a movie is only as good as its villain, and while “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not a masterpiece, Bowser’s presence makes the film worth the price of admission. He is intimidating, ruthless, and funny. While he is evil, I almost wanted to root for him at times because Black makes the character as compelling as he can with his performance.

As mentioned, this film is not a masterpiece, and part of it is because of the writing. I will give credit to Illumination for possibly creating one of their more mature scripts in their library so far. There was less toilet humor than I thought there would be in a “Mario” movie made by Illumination. That said, while I have sometimes complained about some movies being too slow, this movie is special because it is actually too fast. Sure, it is simple to understand. Nothing major flew over my head. But when it comes to the film’s scenes, some of them went by too quickly. In a movie that is about a journey, much of that journey feels trimmed. I have complained about certain movies like “Wonder Woman 1984” or even movies I enjoyed such as “The Irishman” for being, or feeling, longer than they should be. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” not only clocks in around 92 minutes, which is not the shortest runtime I have come across, but still. The movie also happens to gloss over moments that would make other events that happen in said movie feel more rewarding or satisfying. However, there are some humorous lines, the characters have finely tuned arcs, and for the most part, the voice actors execute these lines to the best of their ability.

If I have another critique, and this is something that is about as personal as it could get, it is the soundtrack. And I am not talking about Brian Tyler’s score. The score is quite good, there are some great songs, in addition to adaptations of prior material from the games. I am talking about the use of other songs like “Holding Out for Hero” or “Take On Me.” These are not bad songs, but not only are they overplayed in media, but when it comes to “Mario,” lyric-based songs like those are not the first things that come to mind. There is one song in the movie, specifically “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” that fits in its scene, but that is it. I think the problem I have with the soundtrack is that the movie spends time in the Mushroom Kingdom, which establishes itself as this fantastical environment. It is somewhat disconnected from our reality. With that in mind, I have never once thought in my life, playing “Mario” titles, that I should play 1980s pop songs whilst hitting question blocks. I always say there is room for adaptation, but this did not work. I would prefer if for the whole time, the music would just be score-based. Maybe insert another original or something. I do not know, this is a personal preference. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is very much a fantasy title, and when it comes to fantasy, I wish less of our stuff were placed into it. Granted, the people of the Mushroom Kingdom do not know these songs, but I rest my case.

I would say this is a fine “Mario” movie that would give a large group of “Mario” fans what they want. As established, it is faithful to the source material, it looks like the games with some slight differences, the music choices for the most part are like the games, and the sound design does not spark any major differences. That said, whether it is going to win over someone who has never played the games is another story. Would this make people want to play the “Mario” games for the first time? Well, obviously if they like the movie, it is always a possibility. But I feel like if you are not tuned into the “Mario” universe through the games, the same might be true through this movie. But if you like the “Mario” games, I would recommend this movie. I am not endorsing the film as a must-see cinematic event, but if you can find a cheap matinee show or if you want to wait for streaming, be my guest. But even with this statement in mind, I give this recommendation with a certain looseness. There are better movies out right now. If you have played the “Mario” games and they are not your thing, it would be harder to recommend this title. Although if you have children, this could be a decent time at the movies with family. It is not going to significantly insult anyone’s intelligence, but it is definitely not going to help it either. It is a perfectly acceptable, but not great, “Mario” adaptation. Did I want more out of this movie? Sure, but on the bright side, it is brilliant compared to the 1993 disaster.

One last thing, before you leave the movie, there are two scenes during the credits. One in the middle and one at the very end. If post-credits material is your thing, then do not get up when the movie ends. Consider this your public service announcement.

In the end, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a bit misleading. Because despite the title, it is not that super. If anything, it is super average. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” does a lot of things in an okay manner. It is a little fun. It is a little humorous. But it is also a little paint by numbers. Is it cringe-inducing? No. But is it smile-inducing? Not necessarily. It is a middle of the road movie that takes one of the most popular IPs of all time and executes an ordinary script in its skin. Yes, many of the games are as simple as rescuing a princess from a monster. That said, these are not the games. I have fun playing various “Mario” titles because of how the gameplay is laid out. The main objective of the crew behind “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is not to make the gameplay fun. In something like this, there is not, nor should there be gameplay. When you take the gameplay away, you have to enhance something else. I am not bringing my Switch Pro Controller into the theater to control these characters, I am watching the characters themselves. Therefore, I wish the characters, in addition to the story surrounding them, were enhanced. But both of those aspects feel thin. They could have gone deeper. Everything feels rushed. The most notable standouts of the movie are some of song choices, Jack Black as Bowser, and the animation. Everything else for the most part is a far cry. I am going to give “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” a 6/10.

“The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is now playing in theaters everywhere, including formats like 3D, IMAX, and Dolby Cinema. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Speaking of “Super Mario Bros.,” pretty soon I will be reviewing the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” movie, which I have already watched. I will be writing my thoughts on it soon. I do not have an official date as to when the review will be dropping, but you can expect a review very soon.

Also, if you have been following Scene Before or have known me in real life, you would know that I have started watching particular anime titles in the past and have been trying to make the medium a part of my ongoing content. One of my next reviews, supposedly the very next, is going to be for “Suzume,” which hits U.S. theaters this weekend. I am very excited for this film, as it is directed by Makoto Shinkai, who has previously directed “Weathering with You,” in addition one to of my new favorite movies ever, “Your Name.” I am curious to see what he does here, and I hope the movie ends up being great. I will have my thoughts soon! 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 Super Mario Bros. Movie?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite “Mario” game? For me, I would say “Super Mario Galaxy.” I love the levels, the music, the style, everything. Plus, it is scientifically proven that the inclusion of outer space makes everything better. Let me know your picks down below! And I will include spinoff titles! “Paper Mario” is fair game. “Mario Party,” “Mario Kart,” “Luigi’s Mansion,” you name it! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023): A Solid Roll of the D20

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Game Night, Vacation) and stars Chris Pine (Wonder Woman, Star Trek), Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Widows), Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton, The Gray Man), Justice Smith (Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), Sophia Lillis (It, Gretel & Hansel), and Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary). This is film is inspired by the popular role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons and follows four individuals who join forces and embark on a quest to find a lost relic.

I have never played Dungeons & Dragons. I know relatives who have previously partaken in the game in their youth, I have friends who enjoy the game, and I am well aware of certain aspects of it in our current culture. That said, I have never sat down to play it. Despite this notion, I nevertheless had some excitement for “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” Chris Pine is a charming actor, the trailers looked promising, and I thought this could be an enjoyable, lighthearted time. Now that I have seen the movie, I can confirm that is exactly what I got. No more, no less.

This movie does not reinvent the cinematic wheel, nor does it flatten any cinematic tires. It is just a plain good time that feels reminiscent of a modern Marvel movie if it had a baby with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “Game Night.” This comparison should not surprise me, nor some other people for that matter. After all, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who in addition to directing this movie, also wrote the screenplay. If you seen “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” you have these two to partially thank. After all, they wrote that screenplay too, which had its fair share of wit and charm. Like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” this film is a quickly-paced quest through outlandish, attractive environments with four main cast members. As for the “Game Night” comparison, this film, albeit in a much different manner, revolves around a game played amongst friends. For “Game Night” it is a murder mystery, while “Dungeons & Dragons” takes inspiration from source material of the same name. Additionally, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein directed both films.

This movie is led by Chris Pine (center left), who in addition to having an advantage as to being one of the chosen few talented, hunky, lightly-colored-haired dudes named Chris in Hollywood, is exactly the kind of star a movie like this needed. Sure, on the surface, there is the name recognition, but beyond that, Pine masterfully executes some of the movie’s standout humor. He has a presence to him, much like Chris Hemsworth, where he simply induces charm just by letting himself be in front of the camera and utter a few magic words. If “Wonder Woman” has shown anything, Chris Pine can be funny. If “Dungeons & Dragons” has shown anything, Chris Pine can be very funny. There are some great lines out of Pine in this film. One of my particular favorite moments involving his character is, believe it or not, in the trailer. He is talking about one of his strengths, specifically making plans. And if the plan fails, he comes up with a new one, and the same thing would happen there if that backup plan does not work out. Therefore, Doric (Sophia Lillis), a tiefling druid, pipes in and says, “So you make plans that fail?”. Nothing like savagery to lighten the mood.

My favorite scene in “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” takes place about a third of the way in, where we have already established our main cast, and they have started their quest. One of their stops is a cemetery. Courtesy of wizard Simon Aumar (Justice Smith), the ensemble takes the moments they have to speak to the dead to help them find out what they need to know. Not only is it an effective way to deliver exposition, but some of the lines are hilarious. Every inkling of this scene is gold. I found myself occasionally laughing like a maniac during this portion of the film.

That said, this film, as mentioned before, is not the most revolutionary addition to the halls of cinematic history. Although given the track record of adapting D&D, this is actually a pleasant surprise of a win given how the IP was adapted before in 2000 and that movie currently has a 9% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Although despite this film being a victory for those who made it and the audience, it is probably not going to be nominated for any Oscars. The look of the film is passable, but I have seen better. There are also some predictable moments, but at the same time, the script, based on what was brought to screen, never had any real significant flaws that stood out, so I can forgive some predictability here and there.

Although what I did not predict is for some of the camerawork to stand out as much as it does. This should not have been a huge surprise given this is the duo who did “Game Night,” but there are one or two, extended takes that took my breath away. Much like “Game Night’s” egg-throwing extended take, there is a scene early on where we see Doric’s abilities in the spotlight that had my attention. If I were to watch some behind the scenes on the movie, that is one of the things I would like to see how they did.

This is the best compliment I can give to “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.” As cool of a concept as I find Dungeons & Dragons to be, I have never played the game because I do not know what time I have, who to play with, and where to start. After seeing this movie, those concerns have not been resolved. That said, I was not expecting them to be. Although having never played the game, I found this movie quite entertaining. I never felt lost. And as a movie, it was worth my time. It is one thing for someone to say that they are a D&D aficionado and say they love this movie. This might not always be the case, but there is some potential predisposal in play. If you can take a D&D know-it-nothing and give them a great cinematic experience, that’s another thing. That is what this movie did. I recommend this movie for those who enjoy playing D&D and even those who have shied away from the game. D&D fans may be attracted by the preexisiting IP, but they might as well stay for the lighthearted and thumbs up-worthy adventure.

In the end, “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is a magical, finely realized blast of an adventure. I had a great time with it, and I would definitely recommend seeing this by yourself or with friends and family. As I have said, there is a hint of a “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”-like flair in this film, so if you like that film or its sequel, “The Next Level,” this could be another fun film to add to your watchlist. The characters are likable. The story is simple but effective. The humor stands out. And as someone who has never played D&D, I never felt alienated. I had a great time with “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” and I have a feeling some of you reading this will do the same. I am going to give “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” a 7/10.

“Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! As much as I recommend “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” it is extremely likely going to get blue shelled at the box office this weekend by possibly the most prominent video game-based project in cinematic history, “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” By the way, that is going to be my next review! Stay tuned! Speaking of “Super Mario Bros.,” I will also soon be reviewing the 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” film, which is probably going to be more fun for you guys than it is for me… 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 “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves?” What did you think about it? Or, have you played D&D? What did you do while playing the game? Or, if you are playing it, what are you doing now? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023): The Most Action-Packed, Exciting John Wick Yet

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is directed by Chad Stahelski, who has directorial credits on all of the previous installments in the franchise. This film stars Keanu Reeves (The Matrix, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Ip Man), Bill Skarsgård (It, Barbarian), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix, Ant-Man and the Wasp), Hiroyuki Sanada (Mortal Kombat, Bullet Train), Shamier Anderson (Goliath, Invasion), Lance Reddick (The Wire, Bosch), Rina Sawayama, Scott Adkins (Criminal, American Assassin), and Ian McShane (Kung Fu Panda, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). This film centers around John Wick as he tries to get revenge against the High Table and take down anyone who stands in his way.

I love the “John Wick” franchise. One thing that stands out about this franchise that separates itself from several others is that not only is the first movie good, but every sequel that comes out is a step up from its predecessor. I enjoyed “John Wick: Chapter 2” more than the original, and I found “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” more entertaining than “John Wick: Chapter 2.” The objective of a Hollywood sequel is to, perhaps stereotypically, go bigger, but it does not always mean it is better than what came before. “John Wick” has gone bigger in its two sequels to extremely pleasing results. From one film to the next, the action sequences are incredible, the cinematography is amazing, and the lore is fascinating. And it happens to be all the more so with each go. That said, after two successful sequels, I wondered if the franchise ran out of steam. I thought “John Wick: Chapter 4” was just going to be a cash grab that would make most of its money from name recognition. I wondered how they could possibly top the other films.

Now that I saw the film, I can confirm “John Wick: Chapter 4” not only tops its predecessors. It stabs them, shoots them, and sends them tumbling off a cliff. It makes those films inferior and asserts its dominance. “John Wick: Chapter 4” is easily my favorite film in the franchise, and I did not think I would come to that conclusion a year or two ago.

This film is the fourth installment of an ongoing franchise that has made a decent chunk of change. It stars a well-known actor who has continued to maintain his relevancy in an extended career. Some may say that making this film implies Lionsgate would be, understandably, playing things safe. I understand why they made it, but I was not sure if I wanted it, that is until I watched it. I thought when they were making this film, it was a sign that “Hollywood” happened to be running out of ideas. After seeing this masterpiece, and I mean that in every sense of the word, I can confirm that Hollywood is not running out of ideas. Because this movie came up with a buttload of fresh new ways to kill people.

This movie has a great list of characters between all of the returning faces like Keanu Reeves as John Wick, Laurence Fishburne as Bowery King, Ian McShane as Winston, and Lance Reddick as Charon (RIP). But the newcomers manage to steal some of the spotlight for themselves. Donnie Yen, who may be at risk for being typecast as a visually impaired, skilled fighter, is brilliant in this film. I loved every minute he was on screen. Scott Adkins does a great job with his limited screentime as Killa, who is only enhanced by some excellent makeup and costume design. Did I mention assassin dogs?! Bring on the assassin dogs!

Over the past few years, we have practically been in a Keanussance with the previous “John Wick” installments amongst other projects like “Toy Story 4,” “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” “The Matrix Resurrections,” and even the “Cyberpunk 2077” video game. Of all of the projects Keanu Reeves has done in recent years, this is the best one. It is up there with “Point Break” and the original “Matrix” installment as one of the greatest Keanu Reeves projects of all time. But if I have to be real, I should not solely rely on encouraging my readers to take a shot every time I gloriously say the name Keanu Reeves, because the real stars of the show are the people behind the camera. From director Chad Stahelski, who has consistently delivered one good time after the next with this franchise. To writers Shay Hatten and Michael Finch, who have conceived my favorite screenplay in the “John Wick” franchise since the simple but effective original. To cinematographer Dan Laustsen, who has distributed some of the most palatable shots in an action movie to date. To production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, who has built a multitude of sets that do not deserve to look as good as they do in a movie where tons of people get killed by a guy who has successfully utilized a pencil as a weapon.

This is one of the most thrilling action flicks ever put to screen, and it is not only because Keanu Reeves takes names in corners that you did not know existed, but because so much care was put into each frame. If anything, the progression of the “John Wick” movies reminds me of “Mission: Impossible” in recent years. From the third movie and onward, each one felt like a step up from its predecessor. For “John Wick,” each movie feels like a step up from the original, which is already a decent time.

I have said that this is my favorite “John Wick” script since the original. Part of it is because, like all the other installments, it maintains a sense of atmosphere that makes a series like this something of its own. But also because it is the closest the franchise has come to making me relate to or feel strong emotions for the characters. While the first “John Wick” is my least favorite in the franchise, I will not deny what made that first movie work is its ability to make me root for “John Wick” over his loss. It is all the more significant when considering that I am probably the furthest thing from a dog person. The sequels are great, but I remember them more for what the characters did as opposed to why they did it. What makes the fourth movie the best one is that it takes the substance of the first movie and the style that has improved from one installment to the next and showcases what the full potential of what this franchise could be. This is the ultimate “John Wick” experience from scene one to the final frame.

If I had anything else of note to say, I would recommend maybe watching the other movies before this one. For starters, they’re good movies. But I also bring this up because there may be some lore to pick up on before this fourth film. If I had any problems… They are not coming to me. I was worried about the runtime. However, this movie flew by, because I was having fun. That is ultimately what “John Wick” is. And between Keanu Reeves’s trademarks, his dynamite chemistry with Laurence Fishburne, all of the action, this is the epitome of fun. These types of movies are not for everyone. My mom would not like this film. But if you are an action junkie and refuse to watch “John Wick: Chapter 4,” you are missing out on the pinnacle of what this genre is capable of. From a technical perspective, this movie checks every box and receives extra credit. The sound design might end up being the best of the year depending on what comes out after this. Every frame looks like a painting. Some of the music is quite good too. The lighting is balls out and spectacular. At times, the stunts made me wince. I have enjoyed all of the “John Wick” installments, but as far as this movie goes, I am bending over for it like it is my lord and savior.

In the end, “John Wick: Chapter 4” is a thing of beauty, a thing of splendor. It is something I will be thinking about for a long time. The track record for “John Wick” over the years has reminded me of the track record for “Mission: Impossible” over the years. It gets better every time. Keanu Reeves has personally earned a seat at my High Table. When it comes to movies, few things beat a surprise. Few things surpass the time when a movie comes out of nowhere, I am not looking forward to it, but I see it anyway, and it ends up being one of the best things I have watched in recent memory. I was technically looking forward to “John Wick: Chapter 4,” but not on the level that I was going into “Chapter 3.” That said, this is better than chapters 1, 2, 3, all of them. Everything has led to this, the ultimate “John Wick” experience. I do not know if “John Wick: Chapter 4” will be this year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” or “Avatar: The Way of Water” as a select big budget, popular film that shoehorns its way into the Best Picture slate at the Oscars, but we shall see. I am thinking this franchise is not only back, but better than ever! I am going to give “John Wick: Chapter 4” a 10/10!

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now!

Thanks for reading this review! I have a couple more reviews coming up very soon including one for “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” which I plan to see tonight. Also coming soon, I will be sharing my thoughts on “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which hits theaters next week. Speaking of which, I figured with the brand new “Mario” film coming out, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to go back and review 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.,” which I have to remind myself, unfortunately exists. I just rewatched the film earlier this week and I will be sharing my thoughts on it soon. 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 “John Wick: Chapter 4?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite of the “John Wick” movies? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!