Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

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Justice League (2017)

November 20, 2017

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Mamoa, Henry Cavill
Director: Zack Snyder (Man Of Steel, Watchmen, Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice)

Bottom Line: I can’t believe it. I didn’t hate it. It’s a miracle! Seriously, I really thought I would never like Justice League. Zack Snyder already disappointed me beyond belief with his abysmal Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and I really thought the trailers for this movie looked like a total mess too. I had every expectation that it was going to suck and only a very small piece of me held out hope that it could be good.

I was so pleasantly surprised to enjoy this movie. I mean… it wasn’t amazing. It’s not going to crack my top 10 of 2017 and it’s not even in my top 3 superhero films of the year. But it didn’t suck! IT DIDN’T SUCK!!! YES!

All the members of the team get their moments to shine and the many concerns I had about Cyborg and Aquaman were quickly relieved. That’s not to say I’m looking forward to a Cyborg solo film – I really think that would do poorly – but he wasn’t cringe-worthy like I was expecting and I think he added to the film quite a bit. Jason Mamoa and Ezra Miller are great additions as Aquaman and The Flash, respectively.

Wonder Woman is still the star of this team. Gal Gadot is just perfect in that role and for whatever reason the filmmakers know how to make that character awesome.

I wish I could say the same for Batman. I like Affleck in the role, but in a lot of ways, I think Batman might be the weakest link in this crew – and it’s not because he’s a human being with no powers. Or maybe it is. A superhero like Batman worked amazingly well in the realistic world that Christopher Nolan crafted for his Dark Knight trilogy, but a movie like Justice League, which features heroes that can fly and aliens from other planets, well, Batman seems a little out of place. That seems to work just fine in an animated form, but something about seeing him involved in these crazy scenarios in live action form makes you think “maybe you should sit this one out, bud.” I dunno… maybe he will grow on me over time.

Justice League still has a really gloomy and grim setting, but there is a noticeable change in tone that adds quite a bit of humor and I think most of the jokes landed the laughs they were looking for. There are some great scenes involving Superman and Flash (weird… Superman returns – what a spoiler!) and another one with Wonder Woman’s lasso that you can’t help but think Joss Whedon added in post-production after Zack Snyder left the film due to a family tragedy. A little humor and charm certainly makes the movie far more enjoyable than its predecessor, which took itself so seriously it was almost comical.

Steppenwolf is the big baddie here and I’m honestly not familiar with him at all, despite watching the entire run of Justice League Unlimited and basically every animated film DC has released. Maybe I just missed him or forgot him, but I was pretty shocked when I heard a villain I’m completely unfamiliar with was who the JL would be battling in this movie. I thought he was okay. I guess he was believable as a formidable opponent for these superheroes, but there wasn’t anything particularly special or interesting about him.

All in all, I thought Justice League was a fun, but not great film. It certainly won’t convert anyone that’s anti-superhero movie, but it gives this fan of the genre hope for the DCEU going forward and it was honestly looking pretty grim last year. I am now looking forward to the next adventure. Bring on Darkseid!

Replay Value: I think I can enjoy this movie multiple times.
Sequel Potential: There are 19 movies in the pipeline for the DCEU at the moment, but only five of them have actual release dates and who knows how many of them will ever see the light of day. Aquaman comes out next year and Shazam! and Wonder Woman 2 are due out in 2019. A Justice League sequel will surely get made, but everything else DC has hinted at has to be taken with a grain of salt at this point.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 6 (Recommended)

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Happy Death Day (2017)

November 14, 2017

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard
Director: Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones)

Bottom Line: Hip-hop legend Nas once made a song titled “No Idea’s Original” and Happy Death Day is born from that notion, essentially stealing its entire concept from the 1993 classic comedy Groundhog Day in which Bill Murray’s character keeps reliving the same day over and over. Happy Death Day is Groundhog Day with a horror twist – the protagonist keeps waking up on the same day that she is murdered by a masked killer and has to solve the mystery in order to escape the time loop.

I was so close to loving this movie. Oh so close. And then a questionable ending brought it down a notch.

Jessica Rothe does a great job as Tree, an ungrateful and selfish sorority sister that undergoes an impressive transformation as the repeated experience makes her realize what a bad person she is. It’s quite the star-making turn as Rothe is a very convincing jerk before becoming unbelievably charming. I really enjoyed watching this character’s growth and Rothe embodies the role perfectly. She reminds me of a cross between Blake Lively and Emma Roberts, but I’ve never seen either of those actresses do as fine a job as Rothe does here.

The writing in this movie was very good. Tree reacts very believably to her situation and watching her try to solve her murder and go through the different emotional phases of her plight – from confusion to scared to gung ho to exasperation – is really a delight. The script is also very funny and the humor really helps the flow of the film.

Happy Death Day isn’t very scary, but it’s definitely enjoyable, funny, and was overall satisfying, even if the ending sort of let me down a little. It was very close to being a much for horror fans, but I’ll just give it a strong recommendation instead.

Replay Value: I would happily watch this again. Knowing the answer to “who is the killer?” question would make a second viewing pretty fun.
Sequel Potential: It really doesn’t seem like there could or should be a sequel, but apparently the director has been quoted as saying he has plans for a second movie. That seems like a bad idea to me.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 6 (Recommended)

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November 2017 – Most Anticipated Movies

November 1, 2017

Before I get into my November list of movies I’m looking forward to, I feel it’s necessary to mention that I basically watched no new movies in the month of October – with the exception of non-theatrical releases Cult of Chucky and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father – so I have some catching up to do.

Top 5 October Movies I Still Need To See

Blade Runner 2049 – Only reason I haven’t seen this yet is because there’s a long wait on Netflix for the original and I really feel I need to watch the original again before seeing this sequel.

Jigsaw – I’ve always loved the original Saw and I’m a huge fan of the horror genre, but I’ve been pretty ho-hum about this franchise and I don’t even think I’ve seen the two films leading up to Jigsaw. But I was looking forward to the Saw maze more than any other maze at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights (it didn’t disappoint) and I started watching the movies from the beginning. I’m currently on Saw V, so there’s some chance I might make it to the theater before this one leaves.

Happy Death Day – Another maze at Halloween Horror Nights and another one of my favorites. I like the concept of slasher flick meets Groundhog Day meets murder mystery. I’ve seen enough PG-13 horror movies that have been enjoyable and somewhat scary lately that the rating doesn’t overly worry me… but scary movies should be rated-R.

Brawl In Cell Block 99 – This prison drama starring Vince Vaughn as an inmate has already been highly recommended to me. It’s available on Video On Demand (iTunes) and is definitely something I want to check out this month. As is the writer/director’s last film Bone Tomahawk.

The Foreigner – This looks like Jackie Chan’s Taken and actually that’s enough to pique my interest. The trailer has looked better than the reviews so far though.

Top 5 November Movies

1. Justice League (November 17th) – There is no November release that I’m just dying to see so a film that includes Batman naturally has to be my most anticipated movie of the month, right? I don’t know. I feel more nervous about Justice League than I feel excited about it. The trailers kind of worry me. It looks like it could be every bit the mess that Batman Vs. Superman was. Joss Whedon‘s late involvement and reshoots probably won’t change the tone of the film or Zack Snyder‘s vision too much. My expectations are pretty low, but my anticipation will always be pretty high for these things.

2. Murder On The Orient Express (November 10th) – A murder mystery. A Train. A great cast. An Agatha Christie adaptation. I’m sold. I’ve been looking forward to this since the first minimalist trailer.

3. Thor: Ragnarok (November 3rd) – I think the Thor movies have been my least favorite solo adventures among the core Avengers, but I have reason to believe Ragnarok could be the best one yet. First off, director Taika Waititi is responsible for the wonderful What We Do in the Shadows and should bring a solid comedic touch to the film. Secondly, Hulk is in this. Battling it out with Thor. On another world. Yes please!

4. Coco (November 22nd) – Has anyone else noticed that Pixar has kind of fallen off? I was personally underwhelmed by 2015’s Inside Out despite the rave reviews and last year’s Finding Dory is really the only Pixar movie I’ve loved since Toy Story 3 all the way back in 2010. That’s a one hot movie every seven year average! Pixar used to release an amazing movie basically every year. Well, until they decided that Cars was their most important property. With all that said, I’m ambivalent about Coco. I’ve read that it’s a return to form and that’s promising, as is the culturally diverse story. Here’s to hoping the early reviews are accurate!

5. Wonder (November 17th) – This is kind of a default pick since nothing else is really jumping out at me. The director wrote last year’s Beauty and the Beast and 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s a story about a young boy with a facial disfigurement that begins attending public school for the first time. It looks like it could be a tearjerker and it stars Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay, the same kid that was so amazing in Room. Not exactly a must see for me, but I will probably go see it.

Other Notable November Movies

A Bad Moms Christmas (November 1st)

Daddy’s Home 2 (November 10th)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (November 10th)

Mudbound (November 17th)

I Love You, Daddy (November 17th)

The Man Who Invented Christmas (November 22nd)

The Current War (November 24th)

Call me by Your Name (November 25th)

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Cult of Chucky (2017)

October 10, 2017

Starring: Fiona Dourif, Alex Vincent, Brad Dourif (voice of Chucky)
Director: Don Mancini (Curse of Chucky, Seed of Chucky)

Bottom Line: It seems unlikely that the most relevant classic horror franchise in the mid-2010s is Child’s Play, but with A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th both failing to reboot and 8 years since the last Halloween entry, Chucky’s second straight-to-video appearance in the past five years has the Don Mancini killer doll as the freshest old school slasher icon.

I’m definitely a fan of the series and I even went on to call 2013’s The Curse of Chucky possibly “the best Chucky film to date,” but having revisited that film this past year, I think I may have overrated it. I do have to give credit to director/writer – and creator of the series – Mancini for continually finding new and entertaining directions to take the franchise.

Cult of Chucky continues this trend of reinventing the series while keeping it familiar. Cult picks up where Curse left off, with paraplegic Nica taking the blame for all the murders of the previous film and finding herself in an asylum that will soon be infiltrated by Chucky. It’s a bit weird, however, because the post credit scene for Curse showed the killer doll sending himself to the home of original nemesis Andy Barclay and getting his head blown off. In this film, Andy keeps Chucky’s head in a safe, where it remains sentient and brings it out periodically to talk to it and occasionally take a blow torch to Chucky’s face. Meanwhile, patients at the asylum are dying and Nica continues to be blamed for the deaths, while insisting that “Chucky did it.” And while we can see that the doll is present, one has to wonder if Nica’s hallucinating and causing the deaths herself, or if Chucky actually can be present while his head is mounted in Andy’s safe. Hmmmmm….?

I honestly had mixed feelings about Cult of Chucky. On one hand, I appreciated Mancini’s ability to take things in a new direction all while bringing back familiar characters and delivering the gore and comedy we expect in a Chucky movie – and really, the gore in this movie was truly spectacular. The film has some of the franchise’s best kills. On the other hand, I found the asylum setting to be a little grating. Between the creepy lead therapist that doesn’t believe anything anyone says and one of the patients “mothering” and breast-feeding Chucky, I was kind of like “uhhhh.” Also, the return of Alex Vincent as Andy Barclay is a cool idea and his first appearance in this movie is fantastic, but when he becomes immersed in the main story again at the asylum, the payoff is a bit disappointing.

Brad Dourif is always great as the voice of Chucky and he gets some screen time as Charles Lee Ray here as well. Dourif’s daughter Fiona plays Nica and while her performance in the last two movies has mostly been average, she does get to steal some scenes towards the end of this film.

Cult of Chucky is obviously a must watch for fans of the series and fans of horror, but I wasn’t blown away by any means. Cult has received pretty favorable early reviews from critics and while I enjoyed it myself, much like with The Seed of Chucky, I can’t really say I get the accolades. Maybe I will learn to appreciate it more if I ever watch it again, but for now all I can say it is another solid entry in this long-running franchise that always manages to stay inventive instead of regurgitating the same old tropes every time out.

Replay Value: I wouldn’t mind revisiting all the films starting with Bride of Chucky at some point in the near future. I’d watch this again.
Sequel Potential: These things never seem to die and this film has a post credit scene that suggests another movie in the future.
Oscar Potential: none.

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable)

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The Love Witch (2016), Hush (2016), Little Evil (2017)

September 11, 2017

The Love Witch (2016) – Curse the Best Movies of 2016 list that I saw this film on! But it’s hard to blame one list – The Love Witch sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is one movie the critics and I did not agree on… not even a little bit. When the critics love a movie I could barely sit through, it makes me wonder what they were seeing that I didn’t. The Love Witch has gotten praise for its 1970s retro look and if there’s anything to like about this film it’s certainly the visual presentation. But I couldn’t get into the story at all and while Samantha Robinson gives a sultry performance in the lead role, she delivers all her dialog in a cadence that borders on parody and if this film is supposed to be a parody of something, I have to say it went over my head or I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I admittedly tuned out pretty early in the film and I almost quit it, so I have to admit this might not be the most fair review, but if a movie doesn’t grab my attention at all in the first 45 minutes, how good can it possibly be? The Love Witch is unrated and while it has a fair amount of nudity and sexual content, it’s not that sexy. This movie didn’t work for me as a parody, a comedy, or a horror film. It obviously has an audience, but I hated it and I doubt many of the people that read my reviews would like it either.

Replay Value: I’ve read reviews that say repeated viewings are worthwhile but that’s a hard pass for me.
Sequel Potential: The Love Witch grossed less than $300K so I’m going with none.
Oscar Potential: None

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)

Hush (2016) – This was a solid horror thriller about a deaf woman living by herself in the woods and fighting for her life when a Jabbawockee shows up outside her window and does a killer dance routine. Just kidding. Hush is serious horror and there is nothing funny about this movie. This is a killer reminiscent of Michael Myers in the original Halloween, before he couldn’t be killed and was just your standard psychopath that really enjoyed murdering people… with a mask on. We don’t know why this man shows up outside this window or what his motives are and, let’s be honest, there are plenty of killers like that in the real world. And that’s part of what makes Hush scary: the idea that someone can be lurking right outside your bedroom window isn’t all that farfetched. Making the main character deaf certainly raises the stakes and writer/director Mike Flanagan and writer/star Kate Siegel (a married couple in real life) come up with plenty of scenarios that bring Maddie’s handicap into play. Siegel gives such a convincing performance that I wondered if she is actually deaf (she is not). Hush is a scary and fun horror film that seems to be overlooked. If you’re a fan of the genre you should definitely check this movie out while it’s streaming on Netflix.

Replay Value: I’ll probably never see this again, but it was fun enough that I would enjoy it a second time.
Sequel Potential: Horror movies always have potential for sequels… but I would imagine this doesn’t get one.
Oscar Potential: None… but Kate Siegel got nominated for Best Actress in various genre award shows.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

Little Evil (2017) – Here’s another review that isn’t going to be very fair. My wife started watching this Netflix exclusive that started streaming earlier this month on her own and I sort of picked it up about 30 minutes or so into it. The gist is Adam Scott marries Evangeline Lilly and becomes step daddy to her kid, a child that may or may not be the spawn of Satan. My wife thought I would like it, but it was pretty stupid and it’s not funny enough to make up for how corny it is. Adam Scott does a fine job, but Lilly’s performance is hokey and could have been done by any run-of-the-mill actress. The kid isn’t anything special either. I may have missed the answer to this question, but I was wondering how Scott’s character decides to marry this woman while having such an apprehensive relationship with her kid. Also, the film seems to resolve its primary conflict because it’s time for the movie to end and not because of any natural progression between stepdad and stepson. Little Evil is a moderately interesting concept with a subpar execution. This movie is something to have on in the background while you’re doing something else and little more.

Replay Value: None.
Sequel Potential: Definitely potential for a sequel but who is going to want it?
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)

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It (2017): A Horror Masterpiece?

September 8, 2017

Starring: Bill Skarsgard, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer
Director: Andy Muschietti (Mama, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: I loved It. Seriously. During the first half I wanted to stand up and yell out how much I was enjoying the movie. That’s how deliriously giddy I was. Basically all my critiques about the novel are completely absent from this adaptation and all the things I hated about the miniseries are fixed (you can read my spoiler filled reviews of those by clicking here). It’s like director Andy Muschietti and his team of writers took a nice looking statue and chiseled away until it was perfection. Okay, It isn’t quite a perfect film but it’s about as good as you can expect a horror movie to be.

The cast in this movie is borderline unbelievable. It’s one of the film’s biggest strengths. I thought the character of loud mouth Richie Tozier was frequently annoying in the book – and maybe he was supposed to be – but Finn Wolfhard (from “Stranger Things“) absolutely crushes this role, with a solid assist from the writers with some hilarious dialogue writing. Seriously, he is going to make people laugh the entire movie. And while the spirit of the character is Stephen King’s creation, Richie Tozier is a highlight of this movie because of someone else’s writing and Finn’s fantastic delivery. Hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak is another one of the weaker characters in the book and Jack Dylan Grazer makes him quite enjoyable in this movie. I was also happy with the casting of Stuttering Bill, Beverly Marsh, and Ben Hanscom, and the kids playing Bill and Bev do a good job of carrying the film. The final two kids in The Loser’s Club, Stan Uris and Mike Hanlon, sort of get reduced roles in this movie and I was pretty indifferent about it.

Can Tim Curry’s “tour-de-force” performance in the 1990 version ever be topped? Of course it can. It was brutally campy and the construction of the Pennywise scenes were horrible. Unless you have an irrational fear of clowns there was nothing scary about Tim Curry as Pennywise. Now I’m not one that scares easily and I’m more apt to find glee in a well done horror sequence than jump out of my seat in fear, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise is scary as shit. If you’ve seen the trailers for this movie, you can probably already guess that though. Skarsgard is great and while there is some playfulness to his take on Pennywise, there’s nothing campy about it – it’s more along the lines of a child molester trying to lure a kid into his van with a piece of candy playful and he can switch to purely terrifying in a second. In addition to Skarsgard doing a wonderful job, he also looks great and Muschietti gives Pennywise’s presence the gravity that it deserves. This isn’t a deranged Ronald McDonald spouting one-liners on a bender, it’s pure evil personified and pretty much every scene involving the clown form of It are extremely well done.

I have basically no complaints about this movie. There were some things that were left out that I would have liked to have seen, like It taking the forms of the werewolf and the spider, or the scene with the leeches, but I think most of the changes that were made from the source material and the miniseries were huge improvements.

This is a movie about a group of kids squaring off against the town monster, but it’s also a great story about friendship, coming of age, and facing less supernatural terrors like bullies and abusive parents. I would have no problem with someone saying It is basically Stand By Me or The Goonies meets A Nightmare On Elm Street. That’s an apt description, but to label It an A Nightmare On Elm Street rip off would not only be a disservice, it would be misguided since Stephen King was likely writing his novel around the same time Wes Craven was writing the original Freddy Krueger movie.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. If you’re a horror fan, it’s a must watch. It might go down as a genre classic. If you enjoyed the novel or, somehow, the miniseries, I can almost guarantee this movie will make you incredibly happy. Fast-paced, totally scary, and plenty funny, It is easily one of the best times I’ve had at the movies this year.

Also, if you happen to own the 1990 miniseries, you can go ahead and toss it in the trash. There is no reason to ever watch it again now. Seriously.

Replay Value: I can’t wait to see it again. I might go again opening weekend and I will definitely add this to my movie collection.
Sequel Potential: Spoiler alert: this is Chapter One. It is a monster that reappears in Derry every 27 years and it’s no secret that these kids all come back as adults to face off again when It returns. Chapter One is a great stand alone film that pretty much wraps everything up. There is no need for a Chapter Two and the kid portion of Stephen King’s book is significantly better than the adult portion. Still, if they cast well and Andy Muschietti is involved, I will be ecstatic to see Chapter Two.
Oscar Potential: Horror movies historically get zero Oscar attention. I’m not sure It has any obvious candidates.

Grade: 8 (Must See)

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September Movie preview

September 7, 2017

A little late with this preview as I was in Hawaii for the past week.

Anticipation Meter – 5 (Very High)

It (September 8th, theaters) – It has always been one of my favorite Stephen King books and I’ve always hated the 1990 miniseries. I revisited both earlier this year in preparation for this film and you can read my review here. This is the story of a group of kids in the small town of Derry, Maine that take on an ancient evil, a shape-shifting monster that frequently takes the form of Pennywise the clown, that appears every 27 years and murders children. The book is plenty scary and the characters, particularly as kids, are a lot of fun. This film will focus on the kids and the trailers have looked fantastic. After 123 reviews, It currently has a fresh rating of 89%, which is extremely strong for a remake in the horror genre. Possibly my most anticipated film of the year – it checks all my boxes. I might even go see it tonight by myself if I have to.

Anticipation Meter – 4 (Strong)

Wind River (August, theaters) – I think this movie came out in August, but I didn’t include it in my preview, so I’ll include it here. This is a thriller set in a remote Native American Reservation, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, and written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who wrote Hell or High Water and Sicario. Wind River has a 86% fresh rating, the trailer looked great, and one of my friends already went out of his way to message me and say it’s the best film of 2017. What’s not to love?

mother! (September 15th, theaters) – This movie snuck up on me and I’m not sure how. It’s written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, the guy responsible for Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan – all of which made my top 10 films in their respective years of release. mother! also stars my current favorite actress Jennifer Lawrence and another great actor in Javier Bardem. I don’t really know what this movie is about but I don’t care too much. The trailer is perfectly chilling and minimalist, giving an idea of the film’s tone while revealing nothing. Aronofsky does weird really well and this film looks tailor made for another Jennifer Lawrence Oscar campaign. Count me in.

Anticipation Meter – 3 (Moderate)

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter Remembers Cambodia (September 15th, theaters, Netflix) – Directed by Angelina Jolie about a human rights activist trying to survive in Cambodia during an oppressive dictatorship. My wife is Cambodian and I don’t know too much about her family’s culture so I have extra interest in this film.

Battle of the Sexes (September 22nd, theaters) – Emma Stone stars as former #1 women’s tennis star Billie Jean King and Steve Carell stars as ex-men’s champ Bobby Riggs in this film about the high profile tennis match between the two players. From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine and the writer of 127 Hours and Slumdog Millionaire this movie could have some serious Oscar pedigree.

Stronger (September 22nd, theaters) – Based on a true story, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jeff Bauman, a man that lost both his legs during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Trailer is solid and looks like a very strong role for Gyllenhaal.

American Made (September 29th, theaters) – Tom Cruise plays a TWA pilot that gets recruited by the CIA to fly for one of the biggest covert CIA operations in American history, one that reaches all the way to the Medillin drug cartel and Pablo Escobar. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), this movie looks like a lot of fun.

Anticipation Meter – 2 (Low)

American Assassin (September 15th, theaters) – CIA thriller starring Dylan O’Brien and Michael Keaton. Looks decent.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (September 22nd, theaters) – The original was better than I expected it to be. Maybe this one will be too. I’ve seen the trailer about ten times already and I can’t say I really want to see the movie.

Flatliners (September 29th, theaters) – Ellen Page and Diego Luna star in this remake about five medical students trying to uncover the secrets of life after death. Honestly, the trailer doesn’t look very good.

Anticipation Meter – 1 (Nonexistent)

Home Again (September 8th, theaters) – Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy.

The Lego Ninjago Movie (September 22nd, theaters) – This would have to get pretty stellar reviews for me to go see it.