Writer/Director/Producer James Wan has provided the raw material for many successful horror movies over the past few years (“Saw”, “Insidious”, “The Conjuring”), and needless to say, he has done a great job at revamping a genre that was slowly suffocating. Even when he wasn’t calling the shots (see “Lights Out”), you could still feel his touch in every spine-tingling sequence. Wan doesn’t direct “The Curse of La Llorona” either, but he gave Michael Chavez the go-ahead to bring the legend of La Llorona to life, the Mexican woman who drowned her children and vowed to curse anyone who approached her. And the curse reaches a family in 1970’s Los Angeles, when a social worker (Linda Cardellini) and her two children find themselves haunted by the ghost of La Llorona. And she does a fine job at raising hell. The film doesn’t dig deep into the legend itself (and that’s a shame), but Chavez knows exactly how to make things go bump in the night, especially in the final third when it matters the most. And Cardellini makes a sympathetic character out of a mother who would stop at nothing to protect her children. Is the final result as memorable as “The Conjuring” films? I wouldn’t say so. But La Llorona will still find a way to follow you home and into your nightmares.
Iron Man 2 
Following the huge success of 2008’s “Iron Man” (which also kicked-off the Marvel Cinematic Universe), I personally had high expectations for this sequel. To say that I was disappointed would truly be an understatement. With half-baked ideas and a villain that didn’t really bring anything new to the table (Mickey Rourke was sadly wasted), “Iron Man 2” remains my least favorite movie in the MCU.
Thor: The Dark World 
Easily the weakest movie in the “Thor” trilogy, “The Dark World” forces the audience to run an obstacle before the fun kicks in. The end result is an enjoyable but easily forgettable ride, because the story never really takes hold. That being said, the movie has its virtues. Credits go to Loki, again performed by the amazing Tom Hiddleston, who steals every scene he appears in. Thor may be dealing with a brand new villain here, but the core of this sequel is the relationship between him and his brother Loki. They both turn “The Dark World” into everything you wished for: a superhero film with a heart. Too bad it takes the movie so damn long to get there.
The Incredible Hulk 
Quite often, I forget that this movie is part of the MCU, and understandably so. Edward Norton was later on replaced by Mark Ruffalo and “The Incredible Hulk” basically faded into obscurity. It’s not a bad movie by any means (in fact, I remember having a lot of fun with it), but it just isn’t up to par with many of the films that came after it, hence the low ranking on this list.
Ant-Man and the Wasp  He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but Ant-Man (extremely well-played by Paul Rudd) has been on my superhero radar ever since his first movie hit theaters back in 2015. The sequel wasn’t innovative in any way, especially after a series of great Marvel films, but it’s a light and constantly funny adventure that truly fit the summer formula.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
I may be hanged for this, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the second “Guardians” film. I know it must have been hard for writer/director James Gunn to cook-up a sequel to the hugely entertaining first film, but I think that he hasn’t fully succeeded with Vol. 2. On the surface, it is exactly the same; non-stop action sequences with the same loopy humor that made the first one so successful. And do I have to mention how awesome the soundtrack is? But at 140 minutes, my mind started to wander. Instead of being pulled into this world I felt myself drifting away from it. That’s not to say that the movie doesn’t have some kick-ass moments, mainly involving Kurt Russell, who gets all the best moments in this lengthy Volume. That, along with some eye-popping visual effects and action scenes may have been enough for fans of the series. For me, the finished product lacked originality and simply didn’t know when to quit. I still admire James Gunn’s vision and wish him nothing but good luck for Vol. 3, but his light touch from the first film was sorely missed here. More isn’t always better and this movie is proof of that.
Thor’s first solo adventure was highly praised by me at the time of its release, and there’s no denying that the movie is tons of fun. But 8 years later, I don’t think it belongs higher on this list. It’s still a dazzling example of a superhero movie done right, and I don’t think anybody could have pulled it off better than Chris Hemsworth in the lead, but I’ve seen better films since then.
Avengers: Age of Ultron  Easily the weakest of the”Avengers” film, “Age of Ultron” felt like the middle child, stuck between the first one and the terrific “Infinity War”. It’s still spectacular and incredibly entertaining, but 4 years later, I don’t think I care for it that much anymore.
Iron Man 3 
“Iron Man 3″, total blast that it is, wasn’t as good as the first film, but it did surpass the forgettable sequel in every way. It’s a roller coaster ride that threatens to go off the rails, and does at some point. But director Shane Black knew exactly how to keep the action going. And at that point, it was the second superhero movie (“The Avengers” being the first) I can think of that made me laugh out loud, repeatedly. I still have fond memories of “Iron Man 3”, even many years later.
Smart, funny and highly enjoyable, “Ant-Man” completely caught me off guard with its intriguing premise about a small time crook (Paul Rudd), who is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, as good as always), a scientist whose particle research has resulted in a suit that can reduce a man to ant size. And the rest is history as they say. I don’t think “Ant-Man” gets the credit he deserves, but his first solo adventure was truly a good time at the movies.
Captain Marvel 
By now, you probably know that “Captain Marvel” will play a major role in the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame”. So it’s only natural that Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers got a standalone film at this stage in the Marvel cinematic universe. And you couldn’t ask for a better movie to make your mouth water before the highly anticipated final showdown with Thanos. I wouldn’t call the story original, but it’s still an exciting one, with endless references to 90’s pop culture and enough humor for two movies. I had a blast watching it.
Captain America: The First Avenger 
Probably the most “old-fashioned” superhero film in the MCU, “Captain America” remains an underrated entry in the series in my humble opinion. Chris Evans not only embodied the physical character required, but also gave him charm and emotions, which is always crucial in superhero films. That’s not to say that the movie was flawless, but as a first solo adventure, it was quite refreshing, as it gave us a taste of what’s to come in future Marvel movies.
Spider-Man: Homecoming 
Ever since Tom Holland’s Spider-Man made a brief (but memorable) appearance in “Captain America: Civil War”, Marvel fans were eager to see if this reboot could finally win them over again. I personally didn’t hate Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, but his movies were far from memorable. Which is why “Homecoming” could well be the best “Spider-Man” movie since 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”. There’s only one reason why this reboot works so well, and his name is Tom Holland. This friendly, funny neighborhood guy gets the last laugh on the internet buzz that deemed him too “boyish” to play the role. Holland reinvigorates a tired franchise and he does it with an actor’s skill that puts you on notice that Spidey is really back in business. And the thought of him joining the “Avengers” made us all drool.
You can see it coming a mile away. Naive young college girl (Josephine Langford) meets and falls in love with a bad boy (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). They embark on a somehow “impossible” relationship (I believe the word I’m really looking for is “toxic” but who am I to judge?). Then something draws them apart. You know how these stories go. Novelist Nicholas Sparks has provided material for many similar stories over the past few years, and they all follow the same formula. “After” was adapted from a novel by Anna Todd (who originally wrote the story on a fanfiction site dedicated to Harry Styles, but you probably couldn’t care less about that), and quite frankly I couldn’t tell the difference. To say that this film is predictable from the word go would be a spoiler only for people who have never been to the movies. Worst of all, I don’t really know who the target audience is. It can’t be for young adults, as it somehow glorifies a toxic relationship. It’s not for adults either, as it will probably bore them to tears. So who is it for really? Probably no one, and that’s probably for the best.
I may have tweeted about my hate for Noah Centineo’s Netflix movies (he really is the same character in every film), but if you’re looking for a guilty pleasure that you’ll probably end up forgetting the next day, “The Perfect Date” may well be that movie for you. It’s corny and predictable, and you’ve probably seen that same formula so many times before. Centineo plays a high school boy who dreams of attending Yale. But he needs the money. So he decides to make some extra cash one night by posing as a boyfriend for a cynical girl named Celia (Laura Marano). Will they eventually end up falling in love? Obviously. But because this is a Netflix comedy, one might not be too demanding, so it really is about the journey and not the destination. And there are some funny moments here and there. Usually I’d go on to say that all these elements are still not enough to make it worth the price of admission. But because it’s on Netflix, I’m going to give “The Perfect Date” a free pass. It’s far from being memorable, and I’ll probably forget this as soon as this review is posted, but I guess I had an OK time watching it. So what if I hate myself a little bit?
If you’d told me last year that I would be reviewing a “Hellboy” movie in 2019, I would have wanted it to be a sequel directed by Guillermo Del Toro. His two films were nothing short of entertaining, and Ron Perlman fully embodied the character of Hellboy (to a point where I failed to see anyone else playing it). Instead, we got a completely unnecessary reboot that adds nothing new to the table. It’s a damn shame if you ask me, because David Harbour (“Stranger Things”) is actually likable as Hellboy, the half-demon superhero who must save the world from an ancient sorceress (played by Mila Jovovich, of all people) who was once defeated by King Arthur himself. It’s a convoluted plot (think “Underworld”), and instead of focusing on an origin story that gives this reboot a reason to exist, director Neil Marshall (best known for the horror film “The Descent”) lets the movie sink in CGI shit. It could have been worse, of course, and there are some memorable sequences here and there, but I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that was so forgettable. People still talk about the Del Toro films, more than a decade after “The Golden Army”. I don’t think anyone will remember this new version by next week. It’s long, loud, and a total mess.
To say that this version of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” surpasses the 1989 original would be an understatement. The old one was a product of its time and never truly rose above the routine. The new one doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s well-made, perfectly cast, and it left me shattered. For that, credit director Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer for staging some of the best horror sequences I’ve seen in a Stephen King movie. Jason Clarke leads a great cast as Dr. Louis Creed, a family man who leaves the city with his wife and two children to settle in the quiet rural Maine. But is it as peaceful as it appears to be? Soon they’ll discover a mysterious burial ground hidden behind their home…and this is my cue to shut up. The less you know about the story the better (just in case you’re not familiar with the book or the old film). Part of the movie’s impact is our ability to root for this family (something that was missing from the first version). God knows we’ve seen so many horror movies about a family who experiences unnatural things. But there’s something about this version of “Pet Sematary” that creeps at you, and refuses to let go. Kudos to Kolsch and Widmyer for creating a tension-filled atmosphere that has the ability to fry your nerves and scare the living day out of you. It truly is the stuff of nightmares.
In a DC universe already crammed with so many superheroes, “Shazam!” emerges as something fresh and unique. What’s more, Zachary Levi is fully up to the task (incidentally, he also starred in one of Marvel’s funniest films, “Thor: Ragnarok”). Armed with superpowers and a smart-ass attitude, Levi has a blast playing 14 year old Billy Batson’s alter ego, a superhero who only comes out by shouting out one word: Shazam! This sets the stage for a wild and often hilarious adventure that doesn’t look or sound like any DC movie I’ve seen so far. Needless to say, I had a blast with it. There is a colorful gallery of characters to add to the fun: Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie from “It”) ignites the screen as Billy’s bff, a superhero geek who also wants a piece of the action. And look out for Djimon Hounsou as the wizard who gives our hero his unique superpowers. Then there’s Mark Strong as the film’s baddie, who steals every scene he appears in. Director David F. Sanberg, who usually tackles horror films (“Annabelle: Creation” and “Lights Out”) seems like an unlikely candidate for a movie like “Shazam!”. And yet, he keeps the action coming with a dose of humor that made me (and the audience around me) laugh out loud, repeatedly. That’s what sets this movie apart from other films in this constantly evolving DC universe. It has a personality all its own and Levi may just have found the role that makes his career. He’s damn near irresistible. So is the movie. It’s easily one of DC’s best films so far.
Alright, let’s take care of the elephant in the room right away (I’m giggling all alone here but I swear no pun was intended): this live-action version of “Dumbo” was never going to replace the beloved 1941 classic. The old one means so much to me to let any version ruin it. And there’s no denying that Tim Burton’s film is overlong and too reliant on spectacular visual effects at times. That being said, it’s still as sweet as sugarcane. Burton is right at home here, and he has crafted a visually extravagant film and cast it well enough. Danny DeVito is terrific as a circus owner who enlists Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his two kids to take care of a newborn elephant with giant ears (that would be Dumbo, just in case). All the ingredients that made the old film so good are here, and Burton adds his signature touch to it, without ruining the overall result. Only the action climax felt stretched to me, but then, no one in 2019 would dare release a major feature film running 64 minutes as Disney did in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. This is “Dumbo” for a new generation that never pretends to surpass the original. Add to it Arcade Fire’s mesmerizing lullaby “Baby Mine” and you’re in for something truly special. I suspect kids and their parents will have a great time watching it. I know I did. It’s not my favorite Disney live-action remake so far (that would be “The Jungle Book”), but it left me with a huge smile on my face. In these troubled times, that’s a gift.
Writer-director Jordan Peele follows up 2017’s surprise hit “Get Out” (which landed him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) with yet another ambitious horror movie. I say that with full confidence because “Us” has all the ingredients that made “Get Out” so successful. So why did it not fully satisfy me? It can’t be the actors. Lupita Nyong’o is well cast as a mother who is still haunted by an unresolved trauma from her childhood. Now on vacation with her family, she is about to relive the same trauma all over again when a group of people who look exactly like them begins to terrorize them one night. How is that even possible? Peele wants to squeeze us (no pun intended) until the explanation comes. This creates a palpable sense of unease, and the first half of the movie is truly terrifying. My problem is in the final third, when they try to explain everything. I admire Peele’s dedication to his projects and the way he crafts his horror films, but it just didn’t leave an impact this time around. I say that with disappointment because I really wanted to love “Us”. It’s not easy to talk about my problems with it without entering spoiler territory, so I’ll just leave it at that. Suffices to say that up until that crazy final third, “Us” kept me on the edge of my seat. I may have mixed feelings about the overall result, but it’s still well worth seeing and I can’t wait to see where Jordan Peele goes next.
Movies based on horrific real events tend to be hit and miss, but it didn’t take “Hotel Mumbai” more than 5 minutes to pull me in and keep me on the edge of my seat. Writer-director Anthony Maras isn’t content in telling things as they were. He wants us to be spectators to the horrors that unfolded in November of 2008, when a group of terrorists attacked a fancy hotel in Mumbai and murdered many people in cold blood. And we’re right there with the guests and hotel staff, as they find a way to survive while the outside world watches. It’s a hell of a subject, and luckily for us, Maras has just the right actors to carry it through, from Dev Patel to Armie Hammer. I suppose no movie based on real events can be 100% accurate, but the movie never feels exploitative in any way. It might be difficult to watch at times, but the effect is inspiring and thought provoking. Beneath the horrors that took place on that day is a story of survival and heroism. That, and a dose of star power, make “Hotel Mumbai” a must-see.