2024 Box Office Showdown

The box office rebounded in 2022 after two troubled years due to the pandemic – and then ran headlong into more trouble in 2023, as many top franchises stumbled out of the gate and superheroes proved to not be invulnerable after all. DC saw four out of four movies bomb, Marvel proved that it wasn’t unbeatable at the box office, and the 2023 box office saw three unlikely champs – an Italian plumber, a feminist doll, and a 1940s nuclear physicist! So what awaits for 2024? More turmoil.

The reason this article is coming out before the start of March is because, well, the 2024 box office race hasn’t really started yet! The leading box office title right now is the Mean Girls musical, which hasn’t topped 100M at the box office. The most notable release of the year, Madame Web, has become a massive embarrassment for Sony and another symbol of what people are calling the decline of the superhero movie market. And what’s more, due to the recent strikes, the box office slate is far from settled. Several top films, like Pixar’s Elio and the John Wick spinoff Ballerina, have decamped from the year while we saw one movie air-drop into the end of the year recently and another make a game-changing title reveal.

Even with the truncated release schedule, this year does have some heavy hitters – and some surprising misses. I’m expecting this year to continue culling franchises that have missed their moment. I’m not really seeing a sequel to Twister with a whole new cast making an impact, and the same goes for the latest Alien film. DC is taking the year off and Marvel only has one heavy hitter – and a completely insane Russell Crowe aside, I am not seeing Kraven breaking the Morbius/Madame Web pattern.

So what will top the 2024 box office? Will we have another shocking upset like Top Gun: Maverick, or will Disney reclaim its crown for the first time since 2021? Read on for my predictions!

25. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a modest revival for the franchise complete with a Stranger Things-inspired plot and the return of the original Ghostbusters (including some dodgy CGI). Can this one duplicate that success? It has the original crew back plus some surprise returns (like villain Walter Peck) but the plot featuring a mass-casualty frost wave in New York looks overly grim and I think this will be another victim of the decline in box office for revived franchises.

24. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

The last Godzilla vs. Kong movie was a welcome reprieve from Covid when it came out in 2021, and had enough headliner monsters to make it a strong box office draw. Watching these two beasties face off again will be fun, but the biggest problem this movie has is a villain one – it seems to be about a civil war in Hollow Earth as Kong goes up against another massive ape with an attitude problem. This will do fine, but I think it’s due a drop-off now that the franchise has burned through its big guns.

23. Kung Fu Panda 4

Has anyone watched the awesome Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight on Netflix? It expanded the franchise in some fascinating ways. This long-delayed sequel seems to play on some of the same themes, but without any of the characters from there. It’s dropped a lot of characters from the original franchise (likely due to budget issues), but it has one big advantage going for it – this is the first family movie to come out in AGES, and that should help it overcome any issues with the length of time between installments.

22. Bad Boys 4

I want to comment on this movie, but I’m afraid I’ll get slapped! Of course, the Will Smith factor is huge here, but I think it’ll do fine despite that as the movie’s core audience has largely gotten over that scandal and many feel Smith was treated unfairly. The last movie was an unlikely year’s box office champ in 2020, but I don’t think this one is likely to equal the surprisingly strong box office there, given its competitive summer release date. It’ll do fine, but won’t be a breakout.

21. Transformers One

One of the biggest wild cards of the year, we’ve seen nothing of this Transformers animated origin story – but it has an amazing all-star cast including two Avengers! The franchise has seen some rough box office lately, but unique animated adaptations have been having a moment. I think this can bring the Robots in Disguise back to their glory days – after all, the last animated Transformers movie is considered the high mark for the franchise.

20. Wolfs

Another wild card, this non-franchise heist thriller has two big things going for it. One, it’s directed by Jon Watts of Spider-Man fame, and it features two of the biggest stars from the Ocean’s 11 franchise – George Clooney and Brad Pitt. There seems to be a pattern of “Dad movies” overperforming once in a while, sometimes massively, and I think this one could be a great bit of counterprogramming when it releases in September.

19. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves revitalized this old-school franchise with a trilogy of wildly acclaimed films in the late 2010s, but Reeves is off to Gotham City now and his lead Caesar is gone as well. The trailer for this looks solid, continuing the evolution of this world of ape warriors, but director Wes Ball doesn’t have Reeves’ pedigree. I think the buzz of the franchise will keep this strong for a while, but it’ll have to deliver in order to kick-start the franchise again.

18. IF

This oddball fantasy adventure about a cynical man and a young girl who attempt to help a collection of forgotten imaginary friends got an enormous amount of buzz when it debuted, and I put that down to one thing – John Krasinski, whose past franchise was a massive hit (more on that in a little bit). The trailer was just the right kind of offbeat and creative, and I think it could be a big crossover hit for families.

17. Beetlejuice Beetlejuice

Another long, long awaited sequel, we haven’t seen anything of this Tim Burton horror-comedy that brings back Michael Keaton’s twisted spirit. But I think the reason this is guaranteed to be a pretty solid hit has more to do with his young co-star – Jenna Ortega, whose rising star turned into a comet with her role on Netflix’s Wednesday.

16. Untitled Jordan Peele Christmas Film

We know nothing about this one! Not even the name! But it’s really hard to argue with the stunning level of success that Peele has had since he dropped on the scene as a horror director. Three movies, three massive hits, and this one is landing in the middle of one of the busiest possible moviegoing seasons. He’ll go four for four.

15. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Hooooooo boy. I haven’t seen a trailer get this kind of response in a very long time. George Miller, who has largely shepherded this franchise since day one, is back for his first prequel and the stunts look as incredible as ever. Anna Taylor Joy is an inspired choice to replace Charlize Theron, and the cast is all new besides that. Will no Mad Max himself hurt this? I don’t think so, but I do think the R-rating likely means this has a cap at the box office.

14. The Fall Guy

We’ve seen for a while that the audience responds well to original crowd-pleasers lately, and the trailer for this raucous Hollywood action-comedy (based on a cult-favorite 1980s show starring Lee Majors, but not playing up that connection in the trailers) made it look like a throwback to the 1990s in the best way. The story of a stuntman who has to track down a missing actor looks hilarious, and the director of Bullet Train will likely deliver great action scenes. It should be a great summer kick-off in the absence of a Marvel movie in that spot.

13. Mufasa: The Lion King

Disney has had a rough year, and there are a few movies that I think will turn this around. I do not expect this to be one of them. This is basically the definition of “Why did they make this” – a CGI prequel focusing on Simba’s dad’s secret origin story and his rivalry with Scar. Director Barry Jenkins has quite the resume, but “marketable” is not one of the things on it. Disney is angling on this being their big winter release, but I expect it to get overshadowed quite a bit.

12. Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim

Another massive, massive wild card this year, we have seen nothing of this huge-scale animated movie based on JRR Tolkien’s works. But despite that, all six previous movies in the franchise were massive hits despite some grumbling over the pace of The Hobbit trilogy. A prequel to the original series, it’s likely to have magnificent visuals – but everything else is up in the air, as we don’t know much about the characters.

11. A Quiet Place: Day One

I’ve got this easily taking the title of the top horror movie of the year, despite the fact that it doesn’t feature the original characters. In fact, I think it could be the biggest hit of the franchise – and that’s almost entirely due to one man, Joseph Quinn. The Stranger Things star and future Johnny Storm is one of the biggest superstars among young fans right now, and watching him on the big screen in a starring role for the first time will be a big draw.

10. Moana 2

Oh, wow, where to begin with this – Disney threw the box office race for a loop when they announced this movie out of nowhere a few weeks back. But there is a caveat – this reportedly began life as a TV series sequel and was changed into a movie when Disney pivoted away from Disney Plus. This has some people worried that it could be a “cheapquel” a la early 2000s releases, but I seriously doubt it. Bob Iger doesn’t do shovelware, and almost all the original cast is returning so far. I think this one will be Disney proper’s first big animated hit in a while – but not their biggest of the year.

9. Venom 3

The one bright spot in Sony’s never-ending quest to prove they don’t need Marvel Studios, this delightfully stupid franchise has coasted on the bonkers performance of Tom Hardy and his homicidal goo buddy through two mediocre movies, and I don’t think it’ll stop now. Chiwetel Ejiofor is expected to play the villain, who could be Knull the King in Black, so the odds are we’ll get more over-the-top action and ridiculous comedy.

8. The Garfield Movie

The franchise that tricked Bill Murray into a two-film deal is back! Those CGI-live action hybrid films were very poorly regarded, but this fully animated version looks like classic kids’ entertainment. The plot looks…routine, but that won’t stop another megahit this year. I’m mostly intrigued by the fact that this features Samuel L. Jackson playing Garfield’s deadbeat dad in what looks like an amusing road trip adventure.

7. Sonic the Hedgehog 3

This is a great example of a franchise that has exceeded expectations at every turn. Before the pandemic, it was one of the last big hit movies. Then, it was the first real big hit family film of the new era in 2022. This installment skips the early-year slot and instead slots itself in as the big franchise film of the holiday season – and I think that and the presence of fan-favorite antihero Shadow the Hedgehog will take our speedy blue friend to 300M faster-faster-f-f-f-faster.

6. Wicked: Part One

Big-scale broadway epic musicals can be massive hits at the box office, but it’s been a while since we had one really break out. That could easily change with this first installment of the massive reinvention of The Wizard of Oz. The little we’ve seen of it looks like a lush fantasy epic, the songs are iconic, and the presence of Broadway star Cynthia Erivo and superstar pop idol Ariana Grande will only help. Plus, Jeff Goldblum!

5. Dune: Part Two

And now, the reason why I made sure to get this article out before the start of March. We’ve been STARVED at the box office for months, and unto us like an oasis in the desert comes the second part of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic. The first part was a hit despite being a dual theaters-HBO Max release, and the reviews and trailers for this one have been phenomenal. I think this will explode out of the gate and finally kick off the 2024 box office season after a depressing drought.

4. Gladiator 2

The most unexpected sequel of the year, this Ancient Rome epic not only sees Ridley Scott return to the world of his Oscar-winning epic, but brings with him a spectacular cast including two members of the Fantastic Four and Denzel Freaking Washington. An original story of the son of Lucilla searching for the truth about Maximus and Commodus, it stars Paul Mescal in the lead role and looks to be a serious contender to follow in the footsteps of surprise hits like Oppenheimer and Top Gun: Maverick.

3. Inside Out 2

Pixar has…struggled since the pandemic, to put it lightly, releasing three movies straight to Disney Plus and two to mixed box office reception. That ends here in a big way as they drop a sequel to one of their most beloved recent movies. Adding several new emotions as Riley hits puberty, this movie looks every bit as chaotic and hilarious as the first installment, but only time will tell if it has the same emotional punch. I think audiences will be out in waves to find out.

2. Despicable Me 4

I’ll be honest, this does NOT look good to me. It’s the exact same movie, only with Will Ferrell as a new villain and a grumpy baby. Will that matter? Not at all. Illumination is the hottest brand in animation right now, seeing Minions 2 become the first animated hit of the post-pandemic era and The Super Mario Bros. nearly taking over as the top movie of all time. Plus, this has a minion get stuck in a vending machine. It’ll be huge whether we like it or not.

1. Deadpool and Wolverine

A lot of years, there are multiple contenders for which movie will win and good arguments for all of them. Not this year. With most other movies being delayed due to the strike, all eyes are on this Marvel/Fox fusion featuring Ryan Reynolds’ merc with a mouth in the first Deadpool movie to come out of the MCU. That was enough of a draw – and then word came out that Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine would be revisiting his role for one last go in what’s likely to be a multiverse-spanning, cameo-filled chaos ball of a movie. I don’t think the R rating will hurt this at all, and it’s likely to clear the rest of the field by leaps and bounds.

What do you think will take the 2024 box office crown? Feel free to comment, disagree, or argue below!

2023 Box Office Showdown

The box office came back in full during 2022, and I tried my best to predict the outcome – and largely completely muffed it! This was partially due to an unpredictable new market post-pandemic, which saw several surefire hits from Disney underperform massively. And really, did anyone see Top Gun: Maverick winning the domestic battle in what’s easily the biggest underdog victory since American Sniper?

But 2023 poses an even more challenging picture, with the glut of movies that held off during Covid finally hitting home with an overcrowded box office. After a quiet January that largely let Avatar: The Way of Water have the run of the box office, with only one original hit – the sci-fi horror movie M3gan – the race will kick off in full in February.

So how competitive is this year? In picking a top twenty, these are some of the movies that did NOT make the cut for me – superhero movies Blue Beetle and Kraven the Hunter, horror sequels The Nun 2 and Scream 6, and top franchise installments Ghostbusters: Afterlife 2 and Trolls 3. Sadly, I can’t give a spot to the meme-worthy Cocaine Bear or Renfield either. All are likely to have solid audiences – well, maybe not Kraven – but they’re up against some of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood.

And of course, not everything will wind up sticking to its planned release date – last year saw several top movies, especially DC ones, drop out of 2022. But without further ado, let’s look at the top 25 – or 26 – movies of 2023, according to my predictions.

25. Oppenheimer/Barbie

Rarely have two dueling movies sparked this much interest, and they couldn’t be more different. In one corner, we’ve got Christopher Nolan’s intense historical drama about the birth of the atom bomb. In the other, we have Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s meta comedy about the iconic doll. One of them will outperform the other, I’m not sure which, but I don’t think either one will be a mainstream hit – even if they’re likely to have far longer legs than many other films. No, that’s not a Barbie joke.

24. John Wick: Chapter 4

This is a good example of a franchise that keeps on building, with the box office going from 43M to 92M to 171M. The four-year gap may have blunted the momentum a little, but Keanu Reeves is still one of the most beloved actors around, and this pulpy franchise should get many action fans back to the theater.

23. Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

One of the biggest gaming franchises of all time, Dungeons and Dragons has a…spotty history in movies and TV. Maybe because it’s meant to be played, not watched. But this jokey, meta comedy starring Chris Pine has gotten good marks for its trailer, and it could very easily tap into a wide cross-generational audience that could help break the streak – even amid some controversy for its parent property’s new management.

22. Shazam: Fury of the Gods

One of three major DC sequels/franchises this year, this has a number of things working against it. It’s basically a vestigal tail now as the DCU is being revamped, its spin-off Black Adam disappointed at the box office, and its lead actor has decided this is the time to make some controversial political statements. However, it does have a trio of iconic actresses as its villainesses, and the trailers have overall gotten good reception. I’m expecting a modest hit but not much more as this version of the characters wraps up. No Mister Mind, alas.

21. 65

It’s hard out here for a non-franchise picture! I’ve only got a few on this list, and the first is this over-the-top Adam Driver thriller about a futuristic pilot stranded on Earth during the age of the dinosaurs. Much like last year’s Free Guy, it’s an engaging concept featuring a bankable star with great special effects. I think it’ll be an enjoyable antidote to the franchise glut and that will help it break out from the competition.

20. Creed III

This sports franchise has been a hit from the start, but it’s never been a massive breakout. I’m expecting this Michael B. Jordan directed edition – sans Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky – to maintain that pattern. Introducing Jonathan Majors – who will star in another film much further down the list – as the new villain, its trailer features a level of intensity not yet seen in the franchise, and these movies will likely continue to do well with their core audience.

19. Elemental

Pixar and Disney have had a rough streak at the box office since they returned to the theater, with Lightyear being the most notable bomb of 2022. This elemental-city romantic comedy will be their second theatrical release – and I don’t expect the down streak to end here. The environment looks visually inventive, but the fire-meets-water love story looks uninspired. It’s like what would happen if they created a Pixar movie in a lab, and I don’t think this will be the movie to get Disney animation back on top.

18. Dune: Part 2

The best-picture-nominated kickoff to the big-budget adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic was a modest hit at the box office at a time when they were few and far between, and I’m expecting the sequel to improve on the original. But as this franchise gets into more challenging territory, I’m not sure what it will look like at its peak – this was never the most mainstream of franchises, and director Denis Villeneuve has never aimed for mass audiences.

17. Migration

The biggest x-factor of the year, this is the only movie I’m putting on the list without a trailer or even image to go off. An animated comedy about a family of ducks trying to convince their overprotective father to take them on vacation, it’s going on this list for one reason – it’s Illumination. The studio behind Minions has very rarely had a misfire, and this is slated for the Christmas season – perfectly aimed for families. But it won’t be the top animated film of the year by a long shot.

16. The Flash

I know a lot of people are expecting this Ezra Miller-starring multiversal adventure to bomb or maybe even not be released – given its trainwreck of a star and its strange place in flux in DC’s lineup. But there’s just too much riding on this. Featuring the return of Michael Keaton as Batman, this is likely to be a last hurrah to the previous version of the DC cinematic universe – and that should get enough eyes in theaters for the curiosity factor. Of course, Miller could easily get arrested for something horrible and the movie gets shelved entirely.

15. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

The Transformers franchise was rarely critically acclaimed but always successful – although it ran into rough box office waters with the last two installments. This new volume brings in some of the most popular characters from recent animated incarnations, and seems to have a simpler concept than the last few – giant robots vs. giant animal robots! I think that should be enough to bring some momentum back to the franchise, along with hopefully a shorter run time than the Bay installments.

14. Wonka

Another major wild card this year, this musical prequel to the famous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film features Timothee Chalamet in the title role and an all-star cast including Keegan Michael-Key, Olivia Colman, and Rowan Atkinson. The holiday season has proven to be rich territory for epic musicals, and this could be a promising way to update the franchise for the modern day. It could be a bizarre bomb, but the creative pedigree – including the director of Paddington – makes me think this will be an out-of-the-box hit.

13. Fast X

The penultimate installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, this series is always bankable for big box office. The last installment was one of the first blockbusters of the post-Covid era, but the franchise has lost some key pieces – including star Dwayne Johnson, who couldn’t get along with franchise lead Vin Diesel. The series has gotten increasingly absurd over the last few, but it’ll always have its audience. I think this one might open a bit lower, but the grand finale will be a megahit.

12. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

The final and most successful of this year’s DC franchises, it also has the element that this is probably the last one before this franchise gets rebooted. I don’t think this will reach the heights of the original or even close, given the heavier competition. However, the original was entertainingly nuts – featuring three different villains and at one point Julie Andrews as a tentacle monster. I think the sequel can benefit from that and send the DCEU out on a high note.

11. Haunted Mansion

Another big wild card with no trailer yet, this is the second attempt at a movie franchise for one of Disney’s most iconic rides. Featuring an all-star cast including Jared Leto, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis, LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, and Danny DeVito, and an acclaimed director in Justin Simien, it feels like Disney is putting everything they have into this. It could easily break into the top ten if everything goes right, but I feel like there are too many movies with guaranteed success ahead of it.

10. The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Hunger Games franchise was a massive hit – at least for its first three installments, but the finale ran into some surprisingly rough waters. Bringing it back for a prequel focusing on the origins of the villain is a risky move, but the book was a megahit and the franchise has been gone long enough that I think there will be a lot of curiosity. Of all the megabucks YA franchises of the early 2000s, this was the one that seems to have survived with its reputation mostly intact.

9. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

The previous installments in this looooooong-running franchise have all been hits, but never massive, and part ones tend to be the lowest-grossing of the franchise. So why am I predicting this so high? Simple – Top Gun: Maverick. It might not be the same audience, exactly, but I think a large audience will want to see Tom Cruise’s next gravity-defying stunts at almost sixty years old. If the second part is the finale, as seems likely, look for that to do even better.

8. Wish

An animated Disney musical about the origin of the Wishing Star, this Thanksgiving feature got some snickering when it was announced – but I think it’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. This is the first traditional Disney Princess fairy tale since Frozen 2 back in 2019, and it features the acting and singing voice of Oscar winner Ariana De Bose in the lead role. While other Disney and Pixar movies didn’t play to the franchise’s strengths, this is the one that I think will put the studio back on top in animation – at least, relatively, in one of the strongest years for animation ever.

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

The first two Ant-Man movies were modest hits, some of the lowest-grossing in the MCU – and that was fine for the small-scale adventures Scott Lang got up to. But I think the franchise is about to take a quantum leap – pun intended. Featuring the time-traveling villain Kang, this dimension-hopping adventure looks like the biggest movie in the franchise by a mile, and also feels like the official kick-off to the first big cosmic threat of the post-Endgame MCU. I could easily see this doubling the box office of the earlier installments, but there are some bigger movies out there – including two more MCU films.

6. The Little Mermaid

Disney’s live-action remakes have always gotten mixed receptions – but they’ve almost always been massive hits despite the grumbling. There was a huge social media controversy when the trailer for this one debuted, featuring Disney’s first Black Ariel – but online noise isn’t always reality. Halle Bailey is likely to deliver a bravura vocal performance in the lead role, the water effects look stunning, and the backlash is likely to make the Black audience even more likely to show up in support. I don’t think it’ll be as big a box office hit as Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King were, because those movies have held up even better over the years, but it should be a huge success.

5. The Marvels

Much like the movie above it, Captain Marvel got a huge backlash when it came out – and then was still a smash box office hit. I suspect the sequel will do the same, but it does have one wild card. This is a spin-off not just of that movie, but of two characters who first appeared in Disney Plus series, Monica Rambeau and Kamala Khan. Both have big fanbases, but this movie will also be a test of just how Marvel’s new strategy is working out. It might be the most inside-baseball MCU movie yet, and that may keep it from taking the top Marvel spot.

4. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Part One

The Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is widely considered one of the best superhero movies of all time, featuring some wildly popular characters and stunning animation. But despite that…at the box office, it was the lowest-grossing Spider-man movie, even lower than the reviled The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Maybe it was just the “animation ghetto” – but after the trailer for this sequel, that won’t be repeating itself. It’ll be one of the top movies of the year – the only question is how big it can get. I think it can easily double the box office of the original, but it probably needs to triple it to have a shot at the crown – and that might be a bridge too far.

3. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

This might be the biggest wild-card of the year. If everything goes right, this could be an iconic four-quadrant blockbuster a la Top Gun: Maverick. On the other hand, if Harrison Ford shows his age and the Crystal Skull legacy drags the franchise down, it could disappoint. I’m splitting the difference and assuming that the good reception for the climatic-looking trailer means that Harrison Ford will take Indy out on top. We only have a short teaser trailer so far, but this looks like a true event movie.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3

Speaking of finales, this loooooooong-awaited James Gunn conclusion has been a long time coming, with the director being fired and rehired after a cast revolt. That likely means this is the finale for the entire cast of characters, and I’m expecting anticipation to be high. A recent Disney Plus special put the cast back in the focus, and the trailers have gotten a wildly positive response. This is definitely going to be the year’s champion among MCU movies, and most people have it as the odds-on favorite to win the year. I think it has a good chance, but I also think it has a likely ceiling one movie doesn’t.

1. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

If you want to talk about pent-up demand, look no further than this Illumination movie. Video game adaptations are only starting to get their moment in the sun, with two kid-friendly Sonic movies, an Uncharted adaptation that was a well-regarded pulp adventure, and an HBO adaptation for The Last of Us that treats the source material with deathly seriousness. But none of them have embraced the video game roots more than this all-ages adventure, which – some quibbles about Chris Pratt’s voice aside – has been met with overwhelming applause. I’m expecting it to hit equally hard with kids who love the colorful animation and humor, and their dads who grew up with Mario, Luigi, and Bowser. The box office will be massive, and I would be surprised if we didn’t a host of Nintendoverse announcements from Illumination immediately. The next big franchise is here, and I think it’ll start on top.

What do you think will dominate the year? Feel free to give your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter.

Big Brother 24 – The Jury Phase

It’s been an interesting season of Big Brother to put it lightly, with many people ready to give up on the season after the first two weeks. They were, to put it lightly, a trainwreck. The first week was dominated by the irksome Paloma, an egomaniac who talked a big game and then walked right out of the house in a quit. The second week saw the straight-out-of-central casting Joe “Pooch” Poocharelli ask to be nominated as a pawn, and then be voted out unanimously.

But that wasn’t the dominant force of the first few weeks of Big Brother 24 – that was the cast’s bizarre obsession with pageant veteran Taylor Hale, who somehow became the most hated person in the house among 75% of the cast. The determined, likable Black woman seemed like she couldn’t do anything right – earning scorn and sniping from many of the women in the house, and intense hatred from a few like Daniel, Nicole, and Terrence.

The season seemed to be headed down a bad path, maybe as an overcorrection to last season’s dominant Cookout alliance. Then everything changed with the introduction of the horribly-named “Festie Besties” twist, forcing the contestants to play in pairs – being nominated together, competing for veto together, and winning safety if your partner won a challenge. This also saw the laid-back thrift-store owner Turner take power – and he managed to cobble together an oddball alliance of the house’s outsiders, called the Leftovers. Despite being out of the main alliance, most of the power players were in this group – and they successfully took out the other side’s three biggest threats, challenge threat Ameerah and the villainous Nicole and Daniel.

The “Besties” twist is over as we get to the jury twist, and the season is looking up – the popular Leftovers completely dominate now, not having given up power since then. Taylor won Head of Household in a tough endurance competition, to the applause of her many fans, but one more twist was revealed – after this eviction, the Big Brother house will be split in two, with two groups of five each playing an individual game of Big Brother for a week and each evicting someone. Depending on the way the groups are divided, this could either mean taking out some fodder – or sniping a major threat while they still can.

The game of Big Brother shifts fast and furious, but below Ray and Steve are going to look at who’s in pole position going into the jury phase – and who has one foot in the jury house.

Below, the jury phase power rankings for the jury phase of Big Brother 24, from least likely to win to most likely.

11. Terrence – Someone’s gotta be last, and “DJ Showtime” has done basically nothing to justify his slot in the game. He’s surly, picks the wrong alliance almost every time, and has offended contestants several times with his comments. As the one vote to keep Daniel, he’s out of the loop, and it’s just a question of when they decide to pick him off.

Terrence clearly overstates his prowess in the house and understanding of the game. Just when he thinks he has a nominee right where he wants them, his hopes are dashed and he’s right back at the bottom. He is on an island and likely to be out of the house tout suite.

10. Jasmine – After Paloma’s departure, this southern belle had a moment as the leader of the “Girl’s Girls” alliance despite her sprained ankle keeping her out of many challenges. Since then, it’s all been downhill. She’s mostly seen as a joke now, with everyone snarking about her behind her back and plotting when it’s time to pick her off – much like she did to Taylor.

Jasmine is likely to go shortly, but could last a little longer, possibly going after Indy and Alyssa, simply because she isn’t a threat at all. She is clearly not a physical threat and hasn’t shown to be mental challenge either. She could float due to this.

9. Indy – Does Indy even know what game she’s playing? There may be a bit of a language barrier, but she mostly seems to wait around to be pulled into alliances. While she’s better at challenges than the two people ahead of her, she may be even more out of the loop. Much like the rest of the non-Leftovers, it’s largely just a question of when she’s the target.

Exactly Ray. I almost feel sorry for her. The annoying thing about Indy is that she seems put out anytime she is mentioned as a pawn, even though she hasn’t earned anything in the game.

8. Alyssa – Unlike the rest of the outsiders, Alyssa has a close alliance – Kyle, who wants to protect her and may even choose her over the Leftovers. But despite her athleticism, she hasn’t proven to be a challenge threat and the two of them can’t even seem to figure out how serious they are. She could go deep if the Leftovers fragment, but I doubt she has the momentum to make a run at the crown.

Not only is she not a threat, Ray, but I’m not sure her showmance is much of a help. The rest of the leftovers are aware of the couple and not completely sold on Kyle’s allegiance to the over her. She will likely have to win something to make it much further.

7. Kyle – It can be challenging to wait things out until it’s time for an alliance to turn on itself like the Cookout did, but Kyle has taken paranoia and impatience to a new level. Between his transparent showmance with Alyssa and his suggestions of an all-white alliance to prevent another Cookout – which wasn’t happening – Kyle has lost most of his goodwill and could be an easy first boot for the Leftovers.

I most definitely think he will be the first targeted, if they don’t target him early given the chance. He is in a weird spot not knowing exactly what to do with Alyssa and making his alliance wonder about him. If he doesn’t make a sneaky deal, he is done.

6. Taylor – Taylor’s early-game struggles made her a popular underdog, and she has a lot of goodwill with most of her fellow contestants. That being said, they know she has the biggest underdog story in Big Brother history, and they’re likely to make sure she doesn’t get to plead her case. She has to go up against a trio of powerhouses to get to the end, and I see her underdog story ending before finale night. Her messy early HOH run hasn’t helped her case.

I have been a big fan of Taylor’s since her early struggles with the house. I think she has also endeared herself to America and could very well win America’s Choice. However, she has seemed clueless since winning HOH. It seems as if she doesn’t really understand how it works. Hopefully it’s just a hick-up.

5. Brittany – Has any contestant ever outperformed their bio more than Brittany? The psychic who boasted of wanting to eliminate all the smart and strong people has turned out to have a surprisingly savvy social game and an F2 deal with the game’s best challenge threat. That being said, her resume isn’t where it needs to be yet to win this game – her best hope is an extremely bitter jury.

The best thing Brittany has done in this game is align herself with Michael. His unbelievable prowess in competitions has kept her safe to this point. She has done well socially, but will need more than Michael once the Leftovers turn on each other.

4. Joseph – The young lawyer has played a key role in the forming of the Leftovers, but he’s overall maintained a more laid-back vibe than the other ringleaders. This could benefit him – if he gets there. But he hasn’t shown much challenge skill yet, and Big Brother becomes incredibly comps-based in the engame.

Yeah, Joseph has done well connecting with the house, but you are right, Ray, he will need to win something to make it far. At this point, he hasn’t battled very well and looks like he is riding coat tails.

3. Michael – Targeted right out of the gate for being a nerdy superfan, Michael answered the challenge – and is on his way to becoming one of the biggest challenge threats in Big Brother history. That also means his target gets bigger and bigger every week, and it’s likely his own side will try to snipe him at some point. That being said, could he win one challenge every week? It no longer looks that unrealistic – and if he gets to the end, no one could stop him.

If a player wants to make a big move and add to their resume, making a plan to backdoor Michael and get him out of the game would go a long way. Waiting too long could spell doom for the others.

2. Monte – There’s a type that does really well on Big Brother – Derrick, Cody, Xavier – and Monte fits that model to a T. Charming, physically dominant, good social game, and at the center of a key alliance. Monte is considered a threat and has been floated as a backdoor target multiple times, but as long as Michael is in the house he’ll never be the biggest target. And by the time they get to him, it might be too late.

Monte’s run could end early if Michael takes control again. He knows that Monte is a huge threat; making the move too early could have been a mistake. Not that jury has started a big move would make sense. If he can avoid Michael, he could find himself in final two.

#1. Turner – Speaking of outperforming the bio! This shaggy hipster looked like the season’s comic relief at first – and his deadpan reads of Jasmine and Kyle have been a season highlight. But he had the most defining Head of Household of the season – and no one seems to remember he’s a threat, despite him being a contender in almost every challenge. His short stature hides his strength, he’s a savvy student of the game, and he’s completely underestimated. As Michael, Monte, and Kyle go to war, he’s in the perfect position to emerge from the flaming wreckage of the Leftovers and win Big Brother 24.

You are right on, Ray. And might I add that he is one heckuva guy. He was the one to stand up for Taylor when she needed it most. Kudos to him! He is certainly clever and is liked by everyone. Even with a lesser resume, he could compete in the finals.

America’s Got Talent 2022 – Qualifiers Week One

America’s Got Talent is one of the biggest events of each summer along with Big Brother, but this season brought some major changes to the varied talent show. The judging panel of Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara is back and intact, but the format of the show has changed a lot. For one thing, this season will have fifty-five finalists instead of thirty-three. Additionally, each will perform only once in a qualifier before the finals – with only two getting through each week.

This does away with two major America’s Got Talent mainstays. The Dunkin’ Save is gone (good), but so is the judges’ pick, which does away with one of the most dramatic moments of the results show each week. The margin of error is tighter than ever, so who’s most likely to survive this first week of competition?

Below, I’ll look at the eleven America’s Got Talent week one qualifiers and make my prediction of who’s most likely to move on.

  1. Amoukanama – This Guinean circus act is like many of the large-scale acrobatic acts in the show’s history. They have impressive talent, but it’s hard to see how they can elevate it to a level that could win the show. They’re likely to get lost in the shuffle today. 8/10
  2. Amazing Veranica and Her Incredible Friends – We’ve seen quite a few kid-and-dog acts over the years. This was far from the most polished, but maybe the most unique. While most of the tricks were just guiding the dogs to move around in funny ways, there were elements that resembled a doggy quick-change act. It was a bit of a…shaggy dog of an act, but it was highly entertaining. 8/10
  3. Ava Swiss – The young school shooting survivor has a powerful voice and an inspiring story, and her rendition of Lauren Daigle’s “Remember” didn’t disappoint. There was a lot of emotion packed into this performance, but she’s up against some powerhouse singers. I don’t know if she’ll be memorable enough to move on. 8.5/10
  4. Ben Lapidus – I didn’t know what to expect from the guy who sang “I Always Want More Parmesan”, but I knew it would be bizarre. He started with a boring soft rock performance that he seemed to interrupt midway through, followed by ripping his shirt off and delivering a hard-rock version of his viral song. Was it fun? Yes. Was it worthy of moving on? Probably not, although I kind of want to see the opera version of the same song next. 7/10
  5. Lace Larrabee – It’s probably easier for comedians to bomb on this stage than any other talent. If the audience isn’t feeling your material, it’s over. That’s what happened to the thirty-something comedian Larrabee, whose material about friend groups when everyone starts getting married felt like it was imported from 1995. Simon didn’t feel it and neither did I. 6/10
  6. Drake Milligan – Drake became the biggest star of the season when his first original song became a hit on the charts, and he returned for another original with “Kiss Goodbye All Night”. Sweet, soulful, and powerful, it felt like a great old-school country song. He’s already a star, and he just might win America’s Got Talent too. 9.5/10
  7. Oleksandr Yenivatov – The Ukrainian acrobat and contortionist was definitely the night’s strangest act, with his performance veering between a talent act and a variety act. There were some bizarre moments, but his powerful presence on this show is an act of resistance in itself. Still, people with his talent always struggle on this show. 8/10
  8. Players Choir – A musical choir made up entirely of former and current NFL players, this was one of the most surprising acts of the season. They delivered a rendition of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” that was the ultimate good-time act. Under the old rules, this would have been a shoo-in to advance – but will it be enough this time? 8.5/10
  9. Stefanny and Yeeremy – This Colombian dance team was competent, but unexciting, leading Simon to buzz them. That’s the problem with just about every solo/duo dance act on this show – it is really hard to pull off any moves safely that would put you on the level of the bigger acts. 7.5/10
  10. Don McMillan – The #1 corporate comedian in America, this scientist-turned comedian was a surprising hit as he used visual aids to parody the kind of presentation he used to give. McMillan had great comic timing, winning over even Simon, and it was probably the most original comic performance we’ve seen on the show this season. 9/10
  11. Avery Dixon – This young saxophone player had an inspiring story of overcoming bullying that led Terry Crews to give him his golden buzzer, and tonight he showed off his talent once again. He really does seem like he’s possessed by the spirit of a Jazzman from the golden age in New Orleans. It’s hard to electrify an audience with a solo instrument, but he pulled it off. 9.5/10

Should Advance – Drake Milligan and Avery Dixon

Will Advance – Drake Milligan and Avery Dixon

Big Brother 24 Week One Recap and Power Rankings

Ohhh boy. We look forward to a new season of Big Brother every year, and then almost every year we wind up disappointed by poor gameplay, problematic houseguests, and an overly long season that usually winds up being predictable. Last season’s domination by the Cookout was refreshing in some ways, but also fell into a pattern of predictable winners. Last week, we analyzed this season’s new cast and found it promising.

But a lot can change in a week in Big Brother.

To start with, the first episode of this season was a complete mess. Twists are a constant companion, but this live move-in episode may just be the worst episode of Big Brother in 24 seasons. Ninety minutes without more than three minutes of house interaction. The entire episode was a series of move-ins and videos, followed by a random draw to determine which of three carnival-themed preliminary challenges contestants would compete in for the chance to win Head of Household.

Oh, but that wasn’t all! One of the sixteen wouldn’t be chosen, and would instead become something called the “Backstage Boss”, the power of which would be teased all episode. Ultimately, Monte won a quiz-based competition set in a series of porta-potties, Daniel won an endurance challenge that involved hanging off a giant shirt, and Turner won a bizarre competition involving putting twenty pieces of clip-on jewelry on your face at the same time. Then, in a puzzle competition, Daniel beat out the others to become the first Head of Household.

As for “Pooch”, who won the Backstage Boss pass, he was revealed to be immune for the week but essentially out of the action – he wouldn’t play veto or vote. However, the twist then took a particularly dumb twist when he had to pick three other people to join him “Backstage”, which meant they would be out of the action as well – but somehow not safe from eviction. He even commented he had no clue who any of these people were, but chose three people who finished last in their competitions – Paloma, Brittany, and Alyssa.

The feeling that none of these people actually knew how to play Big Brother continued throughout the week. There seemed to be barely any discussion of strategy the first week, besides Brittany and Paloma forming a six-girl alliance that seemed to have little strength or strategy behind it. Daniel, ostensibly the man in charge, barely seemed to put any thought into his nominations, picking two misfit guys – gawky superfan Michael, and laid-back bus driver Terrence, with Michael as the target.

But really, this week wasn’t about any of them. It was about two women.

The first was former pageant girl Taylor, who came into the house with some of the most strategic direction of any of the girls. She seemed ambitious and passionate about the game – and the girls took a dislike to her almost immediately. I would say it seemed racially motivated, as happens so often in this game, but it’s hard to tell because some of the loudest haters were Jasmine, Ameerah, and Palmoa, none of whom are white. It soon escalated, with just about the entire house turning on her.

The veto competition was the highlight of the first week, a jousting-themed competition done in heats where contestants rode horses and tried to pick up rings with a surprisingly floppy foam lance. After several heats, it came down to Michael and Ameerah, with the superfan saving himself and throwing the whole game wide open. There wasn’t much suspense about who the replacement would be – Daniel had been talked into targeting Taylor by the rest of the house, with only Michael putting up any meek opposition, and it seemed the twist was going to be Taylor’s only hope.

Except that Big Brother is always unpredictable, and that unpredictability came in the form of Paloma. The chaotic young woman had spend the whole week “Backstage”, throwing Taylor under the bus, but as the week went on she started to come off as genuinely unstable. First she started ranting about how she had already won the game because she had “manifested it”, even making offers of what she would buy people with her prize money. Then she seemed to become increasingly moody and frantic. There were rumors that she had to go off her medication to come onto the show, but we don’t have proof. What we do know is that at some point, she either quit or was asked to leave by the producers.

And that left us on Thursday with an incredibly awkward episode where Julie Chen explained how the Backstage twist would have worked, only to announce that it had been called off and so had the eviction altogether, making the entire first week a waste of time. Making it worse, Daniel was not allowed to compete in the next HOH, meaning he had essentially gained power for no reason and was now a bigger target.

With half an hour to go, everyone competed in randomly drawn heats in an obstacle course challenge that was probably meant to be the competition between Taylor and whoever was selected for possible elimination out of the Backstage crew. It would then cut the field down by half before the actual HOH competition and went predictably – except for Jasmine hurting her ankle after winning her round – and possibly not even winning her round, as many eagle-eyed viewers saw her foot touch the ground without her being sent back to the start. So the show went to dark before we had a new HOH, or even knew if a second contestant was about to be evacuated.

But we found out via the feeds later in the night.

Spoilers for Sunday’s episode of Big Brother 24 below –









Big Brother 24 Week Two Head of Household – JASMINE

Well, this couldn’t have possibly went any worse for Big Brother. Not only is Jasmine a leading member of the anti-Taylor brigades, but her entire reign will be under a cloud of doubt due to her potential fall on the field. But the show seems to be pretending the controversy isn’t happening, So it’s likely she’ll get to evict someone.

Below, the power rankings for week two of Big Brother 24.

  1. Ameerah – Jasmine’s closest ally the most strategic of the women, she’ll likely be pulling the strings this week to some degree.
  2. Terrence – The two of them seem to have formed a bond due to being married, and it’s unlikely Jasmine has any interest in targeting him.
  3. Indy – Completely under the radar right now and part of Jasmine’s alliance.
  4. Alyssa – Same as Indy, not on anyone’s radar.
  5. Michael – After a rough first week, he seems to have become everyone’s confidant.
  6. Joseph – Is he really doing much beyond working out and smiling at the girls? He seems safe for now.
  7. Kyle – Similar to Michael and Joseph, he’s carefully avoiding making waves.
  8. Nicole – She wasn’t included in the original girls’ alliance, but seems to have formed tighter bonds with Ameerah since.
  9. Daniel – While he’s a big threat, he completely avoided making any enemies his first week save Michael.
  10. Turner – Similar to Daniel, they all know he’s a threat – but he doesn’t seem to be the top threat right now.
  11. Monte – He’s playing aggressively and got into a lot of drama with Taylor last week. He’ll need to lay low to make sure he doesn’t wind up on anyone’s radar.
  12. Brittany – She was the first person to break from the “girls’ girls” alliance and is seen as untrustworthy now, but there may be bigger fish to fry.
  13. Pooch – His weird position last week didn’t let him really play the game, and if Ameerah convinces Jasmine to go for a strong guy he’s in the most danger.
  14. Taylor – Of course it’s Taylor. Even if she’s not the initial target, these mean girls will likely talk their way into it eventually. After all, she’s never apologized for her role in downing the Hindenburg or something.

Movie Review – Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and ThunderDirected by Taika Waititi. Written by Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Jaimie Alexander, Russel Crowe, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Vin Diesel, Pom Klementieff, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, Kieron L. Dyer, and a few surprises

***1/2 out of ****

The Thor franchise was always a troubled one for Marvel, with all three installments having a radically different identity. The first installment brought gravitas from its cast and director, but had a weak plot and most of its characters felt like beta versions. The sequel let Tom Hiddleston cut loose as Loki, but was bogged down by a terrible villain. Then came Thor: Ragnarok, which unleashed the madness of indie director Taika Waititi on the franchise and gave us a technicolor fantasy that truly captured what the franchise could be – but was rather divisive due to its jokey nature. It’s one of my favorite Marvel movies, but many people were hoping he would rein it in for the sequel.

He did not. In fact, you might say he went Full Taika, because Thor: Love and Thunder is probably the most distinct vision a creator has ever gotten to put on a Marvel movie. Unlike Eternals, its big cosmic concepts don’t feel like they’re too big for the movie. However, this is one of the shortest Marvel movies at only two hours, and it doesn’t let that restrain its ambition at all. It takes on some of the weightiest stories the character of Thor has ever had, drawn from the epic run by Jason Aaron. While it does many of those stories justice, it’s also easy to see where things had to be cut.

We pick up with Thor after the events of the last Avengers movie, where he lost many of his friends to Thanos’ attack. He’s now essentially a cosmic version of a beach bum, getting back into shape by fighting monsters on alien planets and getting dating advice from Star-Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a hilarious opening, but Waititi doesn’t shy away from the fact that Thor is seriously depressed. This isn’t played for laughs like it arguably was in Avengers: Endgame, and that helps to drive home that Waititi always respects his source material.

The same goes for the movie’s second lead, Natalie Portman as scientist and former Thor love interest Jane Foster. She went on with her life after she and Thor’s relationship ended, and she went on to be a world-renowned astrophysicist – but now she’s battling stage four cancer, with little hope of survival. After science doesn’t provide any answers, she seeks out another type of hope in the shattered remains of Mjolnir in the small settlement of New Asgard – and the hammer answers back. There is a pretty major twist on why the hammer answers to her now. It feels very in-character for everyone involved, but I can also see it ruffling some feathers. Portman never made much of an impression in her first two outings, but here she comes off as a full-fledged superhero in a way she hasn’t since her star turn in V for Vendetta.

And this movie will need two Thors, because it has maybe the most fearsome villain in the franchise in Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher. In a harrowing prequel, he’s introduced as a lonely pilgrim seeking water and refuge in a drought on an alien planet, desperately trying to protect his young daughter and ultimately burying her, and all the while maintaining faith in his God. And when he finally meets him, the God mocks him and rejects him. Through a series of comic book contrivances, he winds up in possession of the deadly, corrupting Necrosword, which allows him to launch a genocide against anything that could be considered a God. Bale pushes his performance right up to the point of absurdity, coming off as deeply unsettling without ever truly being comical. Gorr is a ghastly mass murderer with one of the biggest-scale plans so far in the MCU outside of Thanos, but he never stops feeling human.

The main plot kicks off when Gorr invades New Asgard with a horde of shadow demons straight out of The Mist. After losing an initial bout to Thor and Thor, he absconds with all of New Asgard’s children – including Heimdall’s son Axl, played by an engaging Kieron L. Dwyer. The two Thors head off for space along with Waititi’s hilarious rock-man Korg and Tessa Thompson’s always-entertaining Valkyrie to build an army of Gods – which doesn’t work particularly well. A set piece inside a massive planet of the Gods, overseen by a hilariously sloppy Russell Crowe as Zeus, is maybe the one scene that leans a little too much into parody, but never so much that it takes you out of the movie.

At the heart of this movie is the connection between Thor and Jane Foster, and in that Waititi has his work cut out for him. He positions them as the true loves of each others’ weird, spectacular lives, which is a hard sell because their original romance in. the first two Thor movies was so perfunctory and forgettable. It’s clear that Waititi brings out the best in both actors, because the scenes they share together are packed with emotion. The story of Jane’s cancer plays out very differently here, for the simple reason that it’s playing out over a two-hour movie rather than a two-year comic book storyline. Portman gives it her all, but I can’t say the same for the makeup artist – she looks rather haggard at times, but the film never quite sells that she’s a stage-four cancer patient on the verge of death.

With the MCU, a lot of things go on behind the scenes and determine the plot, and the ending makes pretty clear who in this film is our Thor going forward. It takes some wild left-turns plot-wise, sets up a bold new status quo for the survivors of Asgard, and introduces a major new player in the stinger. It’s too jokey in points for its deathly serious subject matter, but it comes together into the kind of boldly enjoyable stew Waititi is best at. That being said, I’m assuming he’s giving us a Thor 5 as well – because if not, he’s leaving a LOT to clean up.

Big Brother 24 Cast Preview and First Impressions

It’s time for another season of Big Brother. After a surprisingly long wait for this season’s cast of new houseguests, we finally have sixteen fresh faces. After last season’s history-making performance by the Cookout, the cast this season is no less diverse but seemed more balanced. We saw how well a diverse cast can turn out when everyone is here to play on this season of Survivor. Now we have a full summer of action ahead of us, and sixteen contestants looking to prove this new era of Big Brother will be a trade-up from the dark ages that ended with BB All-Stars.

Below, Steve and Ray break down the sixteen new contestants and make our preliminary winner picks!

Alyssa Snider, 24, Marketing Rep from Sarasota, Florida

Ray: Blonde, bubbly, and looking to meet people and make friends, she doesn’t seem like much of a player. She hates obnoxious players and says she’s likely to go with the house. That should get her far, but it’s not a winning strategy and she’s more likely to come out of this with a boyfriend than a check.

Steve: You hate to stereotype, but she practically begs for it. She won’t be a target early because she is nice and pretty. She will float for a while and then be picked off.

Ameerah Jones, 31, Content Designer from Westminster, Maryland

Ray: She talks about valuing loyalty and not wanting to work with floaters or two-timers, but she does seem to be keyed into the game and knows she’s playing an individual game. She describes herself as “authentic”, which could come across as a bit brash, but I get a good overall first impression off her.

Steve: I get good vibes from her early. I love that she, without hesitation, said she would take the easy win, not the loyalty. Of course, that could change as the game goes, but moving into the game, she has her mind in the right place.

Brittany Hoopes, 32, Hypnotherapist from Austin, Texas

Ray: Ohhhhhhhh boy. Her entire bio is talking about big plans for fooling everyone in the house, and then she says she wants to get out everyone who is strong and smart…and work with who, exactly? She plans to play the “Wacky quirky girl” early on, but I see her getting caught in lies quickly and ushered right out the door to watch the season from home.

Steve: Yeah, this plan is definitely concerning. Being silly and quirky is a great game plan early, but her ideas of getting out smart and strong will put her at odds with the best players in the game. I see an end to her game somewhere around weeks four or five.

Daniel Durston, 35, Vegas Performer from Las Vegas, Nevada

Ray: An eccentric theater actor with a big personality and muscles to match, Daniel might be a target right out of the gate. However, he actually seems to be a superfan – citing Big Brother Canada winners as his game idols. He seems to have a good sense of humor, but he might be too big a personality early on. If he can rein in his game early on, there’s a good chance people will think he’s just a goofball jock and pull him into their alliance – and he just may surprise them.

Steve: I think Daniel is smart. Most of the players have only seen recent game play, season 16 seems to be the starting point for most. Daniel cited Dan as one of his favorites and Dan is one of the GOATs. He has a great personality and seemingly good knowledge; he will go far.

Indy Santos, 31, Corporate Flight Attendant from Los Angeles, California

Ray: It’s rare to see immigrants on Big Brother, and this Brazilian-born flight attendant only gives short answers. She seems to be religious, dislikes lazy people, and wants to work with the house. It’s hard to gauge given how little she shared, but I’m not sure she understands the game very well. That might keep her in the game as a vote early on, but I don’t have high hopes for her strategic prowess.

Steve: If religion comes into the equation during conversations in the house, she could be in trouble. When it comes to social topics, religion is a dirty word- it could put her at odds with the other players. I agree with Ray, her strategic prowess will be lacking.

Jasmine Davis, 29, Entrepreneur from Atlanta, Georgia

Ray: Like Brittany, she talks about wanting to get out the strong and partner with the underdogs. Unlike her, though she seems to be a savvier player. Her answers are fairly short, but I can see her being better able to lay low and surprise everyone when she wins a mental HOH later in the game.

Steve: Partnering with underdogs usually leads to being a bunch of fish in a barrel as the strong players pick off the weak. Brittany will need to be careful not to draw a line too deep. She certainly doesn’t give me strong comp beast vibes.

Joe “Pooch” Pucciarelli, 24, Assistant Football Coach from Boca Raton, Florida (by way of Staten Island)

Ray: There’s really no middle ground here – “The Pooch” is either going to flame out early or be an absolute gift to Big Brother. His answers are surprisingly savvy, and it sounds like he intends to play up the “friendly Guido” character type to put people at ease. If he can avoid being targeted as a young jock the first few weeks, I could see him getting into a solid guys’ alliance and taking it all the way to the end.

Steve: The Pooch is “Meow Meow 2.0.” I do like his chances as a player the others will gravitate to. If his personality doesn’t become “too much,” he should do well. He’s an early favorite for me. I was a football coach as well, so I’m pulling for the Pooch.

Kyle Capener, 29, Unemployed from Bountiful, Utah

Ray: Kyle seems smooth – a little too smooth by half. He apparently has a bit of a controversial social media personality, and I could see him clashing with some of the more diverse and progressive houseguests. His best bet is to lay back, play the charming blond guy early, and wait for an opportunity – but I don’t know if his personality would let him. He claims to not like conflict, but it may find him.

Steve: Kyle is apparently a hard-core Trumper. Of course, ideological conflicts could arise during the game, but if he plays it cool, no one in the house will know. We will see how close he can keep those cards to his vest. If he can, his personality will win a lot of guests over and he will do well. However, we all know there will be a verbal altercation at some point and I can’t wait.

Joseph Abdin, 24, Attorney from Lake Worth, Florida

Ray: This dude was literally air-dropped in after Marvin was dropped from the cast due to contract issues with America’s Got Talent, so my first impression of him is…I know nothing about him! He seems athletic and should be a hit with the ladies, but does he have any game skills? We’ll see.

Steve: What Ray said.

Matt Turner, 23, Thrift Store Owner from New Bedford, Massachusetts

Ray: An offbeat small businessman who claims to be a challenge beast but seems to be going for more of an eccentric vibe, he sounds a lot like past wild-card players like Zach or even Dr. Will. Does that mean success? Not necessarily – it’s very easy to get caught in a lie and see your game spiral. But he’s one of the players who most seems to be coming into this with a strategy, and if he can avoid early pitfalls, he’ll be a contender.

Steve: Matt had me at mullet! Seriously, that things is sweet. He has a self-proclaimed comp game, an initial plan and a great personality. He should do well and make it past the half way point for sure.

Michael Bruner, 28, Attorney from Rochester, Minnesota
Ray: Michael has the bad luck of playing this game right after the all-timer performance from Kevin in the last season of Big Brother Canada – meaning any nerdy, unassuming guys will likely be target #1 right away. He seems plugged into the game and could easily be a key member of an alliance – if he gets the chance. He probably needs to win an HOH early, play it very well, and use the week to build an alliance to have a shot.

Steve: Yes, Ray, he needs to be the “anti Frenchie.” Play reserved and build alliances early. Don’t raise eyebrows running around the game trying to connect with everyone. If he can tone it down, he will be fine.

Monte Taylor, 27, Personal Trainer from Bear, Delaware

Ray: After seeing how thoroughly Kyland and Xavier dominated last season’s challenges, I think being an African-American male in good shape in this game will likely make you draft pick #1 in any alliances. Monte isn’t quite as big as Marvin, seems to have a charming and unassuming personality, and wants to stay positive and build an alliance. He seems to have the most well-rounded profile of everyone here in an alliance.

Steve: While I agree with Ray about his well-rounded game, I get some serious reservations about his ability to remain consistent. He waffled about who he would take to the finals if he were in that position. If a player is already wishy-washy before entering the game, that’s a bad sign.

Nicole Layog, 41, Private Chef from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Ray: Being one of the older contestants in the game is always tricky, and the best way to avoid being a target early is to be a number. Nicole…is not the type to lay low. She boasts she’s a fierce competitor, wants to get out all the floaters, and doesn’t know anything people would dislike about her. I can see her getting into conflict early and being one of the first out the door.

Steve: Nicole seems to have a strong, personality and a lot of confidence. In real life, this is affirming, but in the house can be seen as a threat. I think she will rub folks the wrong way early. She isn’t going to tell anyone she was a police officer, but her actions may tell them all they need to know. I hope she can reign it in for her sake and embrace her inner Derrick.

Paloma Aguilar, 22, Interior Designer from San Marcos, California

Ray: As one of the youngest contestants this season, Paloma could easily fall into the “ditzy girl” stereotype, but she actually seems really self-aware of both her strengths and weaknesses. I think she’ll lay low early, flirt if she needs to, and get into alliances as needed before possibly turning it on later in the game. She could be a dark horse if the chips fall her way.

Steve: Paloma seems like female player who connects to the strong jocks early. It’s actually smart because those players usually go far and then have to make moves late. She seems really bright, so who knows.

Taylor Hale, 27, Personal Stylist from West Bloomfield, Michigan

Ray: As someone who comes from the pageant world, Taylor knows how to put on a show. She gives probably the most detailed and strategic answers of anyone in the game, and knows what kind of Big Brother player she wants to be. She reminds me a lot of Tiffany from last season – and I think she has the same pitfalls. She’s probably going to make it far if she builds her alliance well, but unless she can win out she might get sniped towards the end.

Steve: I really like her answers. She is very thoughtful and was very clear that she is taking “no risks.” She should be solid and consistent, making good choices for her game.

Terrence Higgins, 47, Bus Operator from Chicago, Illinois

Ray: Like I said, being 40-plus in this game paints a big target on your back. You need to play flawlessly those first few weeks to avoid being a marked man. Fortunately, Terrence seems like the type of guy who would be everyone’s friend while not being seen as a threat. He seems more Cliff Hogg than Steve Arienta, and if he makes it to jury, he’s likely to go deep.

Steve: As an old guy, I don’t like that the show typically puts one old guy in the show every year. Typically, they get picked off early. Evil Dick was just simply too cool:) I like Terence and think he could play the game well. However, he will likely struggle in the comps and always be at risk. Early to mid exit for Terrance.

Early Picks:

Ray – Monte Taylor, Paloma Aguilar

Steve- Daniel Durston, the Pooch

Survivor 42 Week 11 Recap and Finale Power Rankings

After a long, chaotic season of Survivor, we’re finally here. This season was definitely an overall improvement over Survivor 41, with a few little twists that made the game seem more organic. However, it was still a very flawed game compared to the Survivor of olden days, which let the game play out naturally. This version often felt like it was playing the castaways.

With six contestants left following Drea’s epic elimination, this felt from the start like it was going to be the deciding episode of the season. Omar had engineered several of the best blindsides of the season, and the unassuming veterinarian seemed like he was on cruise control to the finale. With three idols still in play, any tribal council was likely to be a high-wire game, and it made the stakes much higher for every challenge.

That began right away, with a reward challenge involving spinning out of a rope trap and assembling a puzzle while incredibly dizzy. Omar pulled off the upset and got to make a choice – take two people to join him for a meal of chicken and vegetables, or three for a rich dessert meal. He chose dessert and left Jonathan and Lindsay out in the cold – never a good sign when you’re already the two biggest threats in the game.

Mike was the initial target of the two alpha players, but that was thrown for a loop once Mike and Maryanne shared the information about Lindsay’s amulet idol. This started a rift between the two women left in the game, and set up a tense battle for immunity right before the finale.

As opposed to the last few balance challenges, this was a challenge worthy of survivor – a race to assemble a puzzle staircase, followed by steering two balls into targets on a table maze. While Jonathan led much of the way, in the end it was Lindsay who sank her balls first and claimed her latest victory as she quickly became the biggest challenge beast in the game.

And so, it once again was Jonathan as the chopping block. While he looks imposing, he hasn’t really backed it up in strong gameplay OR challenge wins, and he was once again vulnerable with no idol to protect him. But Mike remains tight with him, and he aimed to protect him by shifting the target onto Romeo – who had no real allies and no real strong points in the game. It looked likely to be an easy vote against one of the two.

And then Maryanne came out of nowhere in one of the most dramatic tribal councils to hit Survivor in years. She had lost her trust in Omar, had an extra vote in her pocket, and tried to convince Mike to get on board with the blindside. Mike was resistant, seeing it as well past time to take out Romeo, but Maryanne eventually won out, convincing them to do a split vote. It was one of the best moves in a long time, and the look on Omar’s face when the vote came out 3-2-2 against him was priceless. Even more amazing – all three idols stayed in their pocket, with Lindsay not playing her amulet on Omar despite it being the last time she could. That may have been a game-ending move for her.

And here we are – at the finale of Survivor 42. Five contestants are still in the game, and all five have taken unique paths to get here. Below, I’ll make my picks on who’s most likely to win Survivor 42 looking at their games overall and the paths they have to the endgame.

Below, the final power rankings for Survivor 42.

5. Romeo – Yeah…this one doesn’t take a rocket scientist. With virtually no allies or game moves to his record, he’s drawing dead in the jury from the start. The only question is whether he makes it to the end as a goat or gets picked off before the end.

4. Jonathan – Jonathan is what I like to call a “stealth goat”. On the surface, he seems like a powerhouse. But much like Xander, Albert, Mick, and several others over the course of the game, he’s completely fallen down on the job of convincing the jury why they should vote for him. He only has a few allies, most of whom are tired of him, and is likely to face a hostile jury if he makes it to the end due to his surly attitude.

3. Lindsay – If she makes it to the end, Lindsay has a very good chance at victory. She’s been the dominant challenge player of the game, she’s been involved in several key blindsides, and she’s well-liked. The problem is…everyone knows this. She lost her top ally due to a boneheaded move this week, and now she likely needs to win out to make it to the end.

2. Maryanne – Has any contestant ever seen their stock shoot up post-merge like Maryanne? From a cartoonish character who was next in line for the boot on her tribe to a savvy underdog player, she’s pulled off some of the game’s biggest moves while still not registering as a threat? If she gets taken to the end, I see the jury loving her grit and quirky attitude and wanting to reward her. The problem is…will anyone take her to the end? Does she have the fire-making skills needed to win her way there? (Because immunity probably isn’t happening). The only thing keeping her from the #1 spot is that she might have peaked at the exact wrong time to sneak to the end.

#1. Mike – Mike’s had a rough few weeks, having to betray some of his best allies and winding up on the outside of several big moves. But despite that, he’s still in the best position in the game. All that needs to happen is for Lindsay not to win out, and people to realize Maryanne is a jury threat. At which point, he’ll take his lumps from the jury, but I think he’s almost guaranteed to get a nod of respect from the jurors as they make him the oldest winner of Survivor over Romeo and Jonathan.

Survivor 42 Week 10 Recap and Power Rankings

It’s amazing just how much energy one twist can take out of a great show. Survivor 42 has been a fantastic season, and last week’s blindside of Hai Giang was one of the season’s best episodes. The problem is, ever since it returned from hiatus, Survivor has been dominated by overpowered twists – few more overpowered than this week’s.

As the game shifted to the final seven, it seemed like powerful alliances were ready to turn on each other. Omar had firmly taken control of the game, and had convinced Mike to flip on his close ally Hai. But now he was feeling like Mike might be a threat to his game. At the same time, many people were worried about Drea’s pile of advantages – and they didn’t even know how many she had. Meanwhile, both Jonathan and Romeo were getting on people’s nerves – Jonathan for his temper, Romeo for his laziness and food-hoarding.

The problem is, all of this might have been for nothing, because this week was the week of the infamous Do or Die twist. While not the worst twist in Survivor history, Do or Die takes the fate of the contestants out of their own hands and puts it in the hands of a random game of chance. The person who comes in last in the immunity challenge is essentially forced to play a game of chance for their life.

This week’s immunity challenge was a painful balancing challenge, and the contestants were briefed on the twist and given the chance to sit out. And when it was time to reveal their rocks – five chose to sit out and the only ones competing were Jonathan and Lindsay. After a tense and agonizing challenge where both struggled to hold on, Jonathan came out on top and Lindsay’s fate in the game would be in the hands of random chance.

Not even knowing if there would be a tribal council that night didn’t stop the contestants from playing Survivor as hard as we’ve seen all season. Omar quickly got Drea on board with the plan to blindside Mike, and Drea let him in on the existence of probably the most powerful advantage in Survivor history – the Knowledge is Power advantage. They planned to use this to steal Mike’s idol and vote him out – but Omar quickly started wondering if Drea was now the bigger threat and he should clue Mike in. That would allow them to pull off the same flashy idol-switch that Xander and Tiffany did last season.

As tribal council began, everything was in flux and it felt like everyone was chomping at the bit to get to voting. But first, Lindsay had to play Do or Die for her life. And another reason why this is one of the worst twists in Survivor history is because it’s incredibly easy to predict. As soon as Lindsay’s fate was revealed with ten minutes to go, it was clear she would survive. And for the second season in a row, this twist did not claim anyone. Good. And with that, it was time for the fireworks.

Sure enough, Drea used her advantage to demand to know if Mike had an idol – and the answer was no, as Mike had passed it on to Omar for the night. Drea had burned her advantage and was now incredibly vulnerable. She pulled her extra vote and voted for Mike, but she and the perpetually out-of-the-loop Romeo weren’t enough and she was sent home 5-3. Her dramatic exit where she gave her assessment of all the players in the game, exposed Omar, and asked to snuff her own torch was one for the Survivor ages.

And so we’re on to the final six, with only one episode to go before the finale. Below, the power rankings for week 11 of Survivor 42.

  1. Lindsay – With an idol in her pocket thanks to the amulet and not really being on anyone’s radar, she’s as safe as can be.
  2. Maryanne – Maryanne’s threat level has decreased massively, she seems to be getting better at the social game, and no one knows she has an idol. She’s almost a shoo-in for the finale.
  3. Mike – Assuming he gets his idol back from Omar, he seems to have a solid block in his corner.
  4. Omar – Now that everyone knows about his double-dealing, he could go from an underdog to a strategic powerhouse – which isn’t good for staying under the radar.
  5. Romeo – He’s obviously a goat at this point, which means he could either be dragged along to the end or become an easy pick-off.
  6. Jonathan – As it gets closer to the end, it’s probably win or go home for the season’s challenge beast.

Survivor 42 Week Nine Recap and Power Rankings

One of the best things about Survivor is that when you strip away all the twists and advantages, sometimes the best drama creates itself. The castaways are here for the game of a lifetime, and it’s always entertaining to see just how far they’ll go. In the aftermath of a chaotic double boot episode, things were up in the air. The blindside of Rocksroy and the complex elimination of Tori had left the tribe fractured and taken two idols out of the game.

So in the great Survivor tradition, an idol hunt began. Lindsay went looking first, but it was Maryanne who covertly sneaked off to the woods and pocketed her second idol of the game. And this time, she was not telling anyone. We were soon off to a reward challenge, where the contestants had to balance a sandbag on a pedestal and toss it onto a small platform. Lindsay edged out Jonathan, and got to take two contestants to a sanctuary for a meal. She chose Omar and Mike, mostly because neither had gotten big rewards before.

The overnight stay turned out to be more than it seemed, as it also doubled as a family visit – with the three contestants getting videos from their family and friends back home. It created a strong bond between the trio, especially with Jonathan getting on Lindsay’s nerves in the previous episode and possibly fracturing the Taku Four. But that bond would soon be exploited – in one of the dirtiest moves pulled in Survivor in a long time.

Omar has long been the game’s most aggressive player, being behind several key blindsides this season without anyone really knowing. It was all fair play – but his move to target Hai this episode may have crossed a line with at least one player. Hai has been Omar’s chief rival in terms of scheming, and the two seemed to be closely aligned. But Hai had ruffled some feathers when he engineered the Rocksroy boot and convinced Mike to break his word to him, and Omar exploited those fractures by convincing Mike that Hai had mocked him behind his back and was planning to blindside him.

Mike quickly got angry and was on board with blindsiding Hai – but the problem was, it was 100% a fiction. Mike has been an emotional player since the start of the game, both for good and bad, and Omar essentially weaponized that. Once Mike was on board, he was able to loop in Jonathan and Lindsay, with the former looking for any opportunity to take the heat off himself. From there, the wild cards like Maryanne and Drea were on board as well.

At the immunity challenge, a fast-paced balance challenge involving a balance beam and keeping a ball from rolling off a wooden bow, Lindsay edged out Jonathan after a tense face-off. And with that, the battle between the two biggest targets in Survivor 42 was on.

From there, the scramble was one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. As the targets settled on Hai and Jonathan, Hai pulled a Hail Mary and tried to convince Jonathan he had an idol – one he would play on Jonathan. Jonathan didn’t buy it, sending the information right back to Omar. And at tribal council, only Omar was left out of the loop as the entire tribe voted to send Hai to the jury. His response – essentially applauding the tribe for being able to blindside him – went down as one of the all-time best Survivor exits alongside Chicken.

And so the game shifts again, as Drea and Lindsay’s amulets transform into steal-a-votes and the game gets closer to the ending. Below, the power rankings for week ten of Survivor 42.

  1. Lindsay – After two strong episodes in a row, she’s quietly under the radar but steering many of the game’s key decisions.
  2. Omar – Definitely the guy pulling the strings the most at the moment, but he might be flying a bit too close to the sun.
  3. Mike – He’s in a great social position at the moment, but he’s letting his game be led far too easily. He needs to have some moves to call his own soon.
  4. Maryanne – Her early-game social struggles have mostly been forgotten, but it’s not clear if she’ll be able to make the moves she needs in the endgame yet.
  5. Drea – She doesn’t have any tight alliances, but she’s so loaded down with idols and advantages that she should be fine unless something crazy happens.
  6. Jonathan – He’s all alone as the top target in the game right now, and it’s not clear if his alliance will stick by him.
  7. Romeo – He’s so firmly out of the loop that the only question is if he’s irrelevant enough to squeak by for another round.

Movie Review – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Michael Waldron. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg, and an insane array of spoiler-filled cameos.


It’s been only four months since the last MCU movie gave us an wild-and-crazy adventure as multiple universes crashed into each other and threatened all reality. Now, the next installment…gives us a wild-and-crazy adventure as multiple universes crash into each other and threaten all reality. In some ways, this makes sense. After all, the Avengers faced off the biggest threat in the entire universe already in Avengers: Endgame. What’s the next step? The biggest threat in more than one universe.

The first installment in the Doctor Strange series isn’t considered one of Marvel’s best, although it’s far from the worst. It had a strong lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, a fun supporting cast, and some spectacular visuals. However, it suffered from a weak villain, a forgettable love interest in McAdams’ Christine Palmer (who, interestingly, Strange did not wind up with in the end), and some questionable casting for The Ancient One. Most MCU films far preferred Strange’s appearances as the deadpan guardian of the mystic arts in Avengers and Spider-man movies to his solo feature.

With Sam Raimi stepping in for Scott Derrickson on this installment, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness makes some smart course-corrections right out of the gate. Strange is much more human here than he was in his first movie, as he still deals with the fallout of being “Blipped” for five years. That’s a ridiculous plot thread that never quite works 100%, but the scenes where he attends Christine’s wedding and grapples with whether he’s truly happy are very compelling.

There are a lot of spoilers in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, some which should stay a secret, so I’ll stay coy about the plot. I will say that Cumberbatch here gives one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie. As the title gives away, there are going to be multiversal counterparts here, and Cumberbatch winds up playing multiple versions of himself and even playing off himself at certain points. It’s a tour de force, and the use of Strange’s magic is also far better than it’s been before. One particular scene, involving a battle of musical notes, is one of the most visually stunning scenes I’ve ever seen in a Marvel movie.

Benedict Wong’s Wong, who became Sorcerer Supreme in Strange’s absence, continues to be the secret weapon of the franchise. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic banter with Strange reminds me of what would happen if Alfred actually got to be a superhero in his own right. Although the plot separates him from Strange for much of it, his segments are never anything but compelling. What happens with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo, though, is a little trickier. This is one of the pitfalls of the MCU – with installments years apart, we often miss key story elements just because so much time has passed. A multiversal Mordo does appear in this film, but we’re left to find out the backstory there through dialogue.

The plot is kicked off by the arrival of America Chavez, a multiversal refugee played by Xochitl Gomez. After barely escaping death in another universe and pursued by a grotesque demon, she gets rescued from certain death by Strange and Wong. In possession of incredible multiverse-traveling powers but not able to fully control them, she’s a massive target for people who want her abilities. Her initial role as a macguffin and kid who needs rescuing led to some comparisons to the character called Cassandra Cain in the Birds of Prey film, but unlike that film, this movie does right by the character. America is really this film’s secondary lead, coming into her own as a superhero and dealing with long-simmering trauma. Her interaction with Strange is thorny, but gives both of them an amazing character arc. I’m very excited to see where they take this character next.

And then there’s Wanda Maximoff, whose involvement in this film is probably the most anticipated part of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Coming off WandaVision, a lot of people were wondering if this movie would be her return to heroic form – or her descent into madness. I can’t talk about this movie without getting into some mild spoilers, so be warned here.

Major Spoilers Below












The Wanda we meet here is a very disturbed woman, and one who wants to use the Multiverse for her own ends. Corrupted by the Darkhold, she definitely takes on an antagonistic role for much of the film, but one of the strengths of the movie is that it keeps you guessing throughout. Her mission is a dangerous and twisted one, but one driven by a mother’s love taken too far. It’s impossible not to have hope for her, even as we’re horrified by the paths she goes down. Elizabeth Olsen also gives a great performance here, but it’s a less subtle one than she gave in the heartbreaking TV series. Many of her fans are not pleased with some of the choices made here, and I can understand that.

Also taking me by surprise is just how much of the legendary director there is in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. This is an MCU movie, to be sure, but it’s also a horror movie with some of the darkest and most disturbing visuals ever in a superhero movie. Some scenes are darkly funny, others provide some of the best jump scares I’ve seen in a while. The creatures here are genuinely like something out of Lovecraft, and the movie is never anything but thrilling and engaging.

And that’s even without getting into the massive parade of cameos, some of which basically leaked in the trailers and others which took even me by surprise. They shouldn’t be spoiled, but expect the biggest options and you’ll still be surprised. But for all the hype over them, most of them felt like they were just there to be cool easter eggs that didn’t have too much impact on the plot. One in particular will create a massive casting debate in the coming months. They almost felt apart from the movie in some ways.

And that plays into the biggest problem with Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. This is a movie that’s often at war with itself. It wants to be both a Doctor Strange movie, and the next continuity-spanning megablockbuster. It largely works – but only if you’re a die-hard MCU follower like me. Some MCU movies require some prerequisites to fully get, but in this one you’re going to be completely lost if you’ve not watched not just the last Doctor Strange movie but Wandavision – and Loki and What If hold some key context clues as well. It has some phenomenal moments, but tries to do so much that it often breezes past them.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness basically lifts a mountain on its back – trying to undo some of the mistakes of the original (such as a surprisingly involved role for Christine), do justice by its main characters, and introduce new players. It largely succeeds, but in trying to live up to the massive legacy of previous MCU megablockbusters, it often struggles to maintain a consistent tone.

It’s the age of the megablockbuster and everyone else is just living in it – even the title character.

Survivor 42 Week Eight Recap and Power Rankings

I’m generally not a fan of Survivor’s over-reliance on twists in the new era. Not only does it often take the game out of the hands of the players, but it’s led to some of the worst twists in Survivor history. But after last week’s elimination of Chanelle in a tense tribal council, we got to one of the best twists in this new era of the game.

That would be the split tribal and double tribal council, which in both seasons resulted in some of the best gameplay of the whole Survivor season. It was a packed episode, so we only had time for a brief lead-in as Rocksroy attempted to push most of the guys in the cast into an alliance. While Mike and Jonathan were initially enthusiastic, Hai and Omar were less so due to their close alliances with women in the game. The alliance left Romeo out, and it quickly seemed like the snarky pageant coach was the odd man out.

But then the contestants arrived at the challenge set, and everything changed. They were divided into two tribes of five by random draw, and the tribes were bizarre. The five men of color – Mike, Rocksroy, Omar, Romeo, Hai – were one tribe. On the other, Jonathan was alone with Lindsay, Maryanne, Drea, and Tori. The two tribes were then set against each other in an endurance challenge involving balancing on buoys, with a winner on each challenge getting immunity. Additionally, the overall winner would win kebabs for their whole tribe.

Hai quickly won immunity in his side, and Jonathan and Lindsay faced off in an extended battle for the other tribe. Ultimately, Jonathan won both his tribe’s heat and the overall contest, and that meant his group would go to tribal council second. One of the things that this episode showed is how the butterfly effect can turn this entire game on its head, and that would be the defining theme of this episode.

The guys’ tribe seemed to have a simple vote – Romeo would be leaving unanimously. But Omar was quickly getting tired of Rocksroy, and didn’t have too hard a time looping Hai in. They had the votes, but Mike was dead-set on getting rid of Romeo and honoring his word to Rocksroy. It emphasized Mike’s commitment to his alliance, but also the older Jersey guy’s occasional inflexibility when it came to the game.

On the other tribe, it was also a question of one guy trying to lead the tribe down his chosen path. Three of Jonathan’s Taku alliance controlled the tribe and Tori seemed to be the obvious boot. But with Drea having multiple advantages and idols, Jonathan saw an opportunity to blindside her. He was convinced this was the best move, with Maryanne as the backup – and he would not be dissuaded by Lindsay’s or Maryanne’s doubts.

At the first tribal council, Mike decided he valued tribal unity more than his word and wrote down Rocksroy’s name along with the rest of the tribe, sending him to the jury – but it wasn’t clear if he told Rocksroy beforehand. That set into motion a chain of events that led to one of the most memorable Survivor Tribal councils in recent memory.

As soon as Drea walked in, her demeanor changed. She saw Chanelle and Rocksroy on the jury, and immediately knew she needed to play her idol. There can be a lot of conversation about whether there was any racial motivation in the two previous boots – given the heavy booting of white contestants early in the season and the fact that Rocksroy’s tribe was entirely POC, it’s hard to say so – but it didn’t matter. Her instincts told her to save herself, and they were right. Jonathan’s brittle response didn’t help, and that may have pushed Maryanne to decide she needed to play her idol as well.

With the two of them deciding to play their idols in a mutual display of solidarity that clearly impressed the jury, it created a unique situation. Only Tori and Lindsay were now eligible for the vote, and in a bizarre turn, the tribe decided to have a vote conversation out in the open instead of voting traditionally. Tori was quickly voted out unanimously, decided to play her Shot in the Dark, and came up empty, bringing a bizarre ending to an episode filled with some fantastic TV.

It’s easily the best episode so far of Survivor 42, and it largely resets the game going forward. Below, the power rankings for week nine of Survivor 42.

  1. Mike – He lost a close ally this week, but he still has connections with just about everyone in the game and the only idol at this point.
  2. Maryanne – This week’s impressive display likely made her a lot of new friends, and she’s not considered a major threat.
  3. Lindsay – Her threat level is low, she’s well-liked and has lots of allies, and has kept her cards close to her chest.
  4. Omar – After engineering the Rocksroy boot, more people may be on to his game. But he has two tight allies and more tricks up his sleeve.
  5. Jonathan – I think he burned a lot of bridges this episode, but his allies may be hesitant to get rid of him this early.
  6. Drea – She still has several more advantages to work with, but her threat level has risen massively.
  7. Hai – Based on the preview, he’s alienated Mike. That’s his closest alliance and puts him squarely in the danger zone.
  8. Romeo – Yeah, it’s not looking good. He has no allies, and the only question is if he can survive long enough to become a goat.

Survivor 42 Week Seven Recap and Power Rankings

After all the craziness of the infamous fake merge episode, it was time for Survivor 42 to get down to business. With eleven castaways left and the jury about to start, the three tribes officially became one and it didn’t take long for the scheming to start. However, unlike many past seasons, this season seemed to have several clear outcasts among the tribe.

The three tribes seemed more willing than the usual Survivor contestants to compare notes, and it didn’t take long for the outcasts to emerge. Chanelle was on the chopping block because of her general scheming and alliance with Daniel. Tori was an outcast because of her shadiness and general attitude problems. Maryanne’s loopiness and lack of filter made her the Taku outcast, but it didn’t seem like there was as much momentum to get rid of her as the others.

And then there was Romeo, who emerged as a major player the previous episode and didn’t look to be going away any time soon. While he wasn’t really in the loop, he also wasn’t really seen as a target – until he started worrying about who the target was, and started making himself more of a threat. It’s a pretty clear-cut example of how sometimes, the worst thing you can do in Survivor is get paranoid before you have to.

While most of the pre-merge Survivor 42 episodes didn’t have any, I was glad to see reward challenges make their return post-merge. Much like Survivor 41, this challenge had ten spots and one enforced sit-out where someone wouldn’t get to compete for the impressive reward of…PB&J. Maryanne drew the unlucky rock, but Drea immediately jumped up to volunteer since she doesn’t like the reward. It seemed suspicious, and sure enough she immediately started searching the sit-out bench and found the Knowledge is Power Advantage, which gives her the right to potentially steal an idol. Combined with her amulet, extra vote, and idol, this might just make Drea the most powerful player in Survivor history – if she knows when to use it.

Amid all this scheming and advantage-hunting, there were some chances for genuinely affecting moments, like Mike and Omar’s friendship as the older Jersey guy took advantage of the opportunity to learn about Islam. It’s a great example of how casting more diverse contestants can really create great TV. Of course, it helped that the entire tribe had pretty much agreed Tori had to go, so there was relatively little drama.

And then came immunity, a balancing competition involving balancing a buoy on two rods while on a balance beam. The tribe negotiated for rice with Jeff, resulting in four contestants – Drea, Lindsay, Maryanne, and Omar – sitting out. In the end, it came down to Tori and Jonathan with Tori winning for the second time and sending the entire tribe spiraling into chaos.

From there, it was a classic Survivor scheming frenzy. Romeo’s paranoia increased, as he reacted very strongly to Chanelle being told his name as a decoy. He was convinced this meant he was actually a target, demanding a split vote to protect him. The result was Omar starting to worry if he was too much of a wild card to keep around. While Omar pushed for switching the vote to Romeo, Mike was convinced Chanelle needed to go – mostly for personal reasons, as he was still nursing a grudge over her trying to blindside him during Daniel’s elimination. It was a messy buildup to the vote, but in the end there was one clear target – and while Romeo got votes from Maryanne, Omar, and Chanelle, and Romeo randomly voted for Hai, it was Chanelle who became the first member of the jury.

Chanelle’s boot was a good example of how trust is a fragile currency in this game. Her alliance with Daniel and her decision to risk her vote still loomed large in people’s minds, and they decided to get rid of her even over a larger threat and bigger wild card.

With ten left in the game, who’s on the chopping block next week? Based on the commercials, it’s going to be a double boot and possibly a split tribal, so who knows what the divisions will be? Below, the power rankings for week eight of Survivor 42 – as best as I can figure them out.

  1. Mike – With his biggest arch-enemy gone, Mike seems to have good relations with just about everyone in the cast. He should have no problem surviving a split tribal.
  2. Drea – Split tribals are chaotic – which means if she smells even the slightest whiff of danger, she’ll pull her idol.
  3. Hai – He’s been on the right side of both votes so far and seems to be part of the dominant alliance, so he should be able to talk his way out of any danger.
  4. Omar – Similar to Hai, he’s in a strategist position and has lot of allies. The odds are good he’ll have two people who want to protect him in any split tribal.
  5. Lindsay – Her connections aren’t quite as strong as Omar, but her threat level is moderate and she’s in a tight alliance.
  6. Jonathan – He’s a bigger target than his fellow alliance-mates, sure, but he’ll have a bigger chance to win immunity here and his alliance should have a majority at the vote.
  7. Maryanne – Of all the “outcasts”, she’s the most well-liked, but a split tribal means there could be relatively little place to hide.
  8. Rocksroy – I don’t know what to make of this guy’s game yet. He’s very isolated, and while he’s not a threat, he could easily wind up on the wrong side of the numbers.
  9. Romeo – His paranoia is bad enough in a group of ten – imagine it in a group of five.
  10. Tori – Third verse, same as the first. As soon as she loses immunity, she’s gone.

Survivor 42 Week Six Recap and Power Rankings

How do you analyze the gameplay in a week of Survivor where the game doesn’t really matter? That was the problem with Survivor 42’s pseudo-merge episode, coming on the week of the dramatic elimination of Daniel Strunk. Once again, the remaining twelve castaways would be gathered for an unusual challenge – one where the winners could wind up being the losers. That’s right, it’s time for a repeat of the worst twist in Survivor history – the fake merge.

Survivor has had a lot of twists over the years. Some were good and some were bad. Some were fair and some were unfair. However, none ever quite undermined the game so much as the merge twist last season, which apparently created a full revolt among the players. But none of these players knew about it or could prepare, because the two seasons were played back-to-back. So these twelve contestants lined up, were split into two teams, and had two people – Lindsay and Rocksroy – left out.

This season did improve the twist in a few minor ways, such as giving the team some warning that the person sent to Exile – which would ultimately be Rocksroy – would gain a mysterious power. They also gave the winning team the chance to switch someone from their own team out for the power. However, these were both minor patches to a gaping wound, and one factor made it even worse. That would be Jonathan, the modern Hercules who may be the best physical player in Survivor since Mike Holloway. Whichever team got him was essentially guaranteed victory – which meant failure.

Sure enough, Jonathan’s team of Hai, Maryanne, Lydia, and Tori won the challenge with ease, sending Mike Drea, Chanelle, Omar, and Romeo to tribal council – or so it seemed. However, at the exile summit, Rocksroy went into zen mode, shared a little about his past, and made comments about being glad his wife wasn’t there to nag him before inevitably smashing the hourglass and giving himself safety.

The combination of both these episodes into one double-length episode improved the quality quite a bit, instead of ending the episode on a cliffhanger where everyone knew the ending. However, it didn’t improve the fact that this is a wildly unfair excuse for a twist and turned the best physical player in the game into its biggest target through no fault of his own.

Sure enough, the target shifted to Jonathan quickly. The powerful athlete bonded with Mike, the other strong provider in the game, and the two shared a powerful moment at the beach. However, this led Romeo to go on an elaborate rant about how he’s tired of the big guys dominating the game, and soon it seemed like Vati and Ika might team up against the Taku ringleader. But the target was also on Tori, who was seen as untrustworthy along with Chanelle, and on Maryanne, who had her own tribe ready to sacrifice her.

At immunity, a tense stacking competition where one wrong move could send the entire pile of letters crashing down, Tori claimed immunity and it seemed Jonathan’s fate was likely sealed. However, his closest ally wasn’t willing to let him go down without a fight, and Omar quickly started rallying votes for another target – Lydia, who had mostly slipped under the radar before now. By this point, there was very little time left in the episode for scheming, so Tribal Council came as a bit of a surprise. The vote was split, with all of Jonathan, Maryanne, Lindsay getting votes – and Lydia getting seven to become the final pre-juror, including her close allies Hai and Mike.

Was this a better merge episode than Survivor 41’s? Yes. Was it still a complete disaster of a Survivor episode? Yes. This twist need to go away and never come back, end of story. But the game marches on.

Below, the power rankings for week seven of Survivor 41.

  1. Mike – With an idol in his pocket and a big shield in front of him in Jonathan, he’s likely in pole position right now.
  2. Omar – Clearly the best manipulator in the game at the moment, his social game likely makes him the safest Taku.
  3. Lindsay – Like Omar, she’s playing well but residing well under the radar at the moment.
  4. Hai – While he’s playing a good game at the moment, he did just jettison his closest ally without much explanation.
  5. Drea – She’s fairly well-known to be a manipulator, but her many advantages give her a good chance at surviving for now.
  6. Maryanne – While she was in danger this week and her personality can be challenging, her low threat level and idol will likely keep her safe for a few rounds.
  7. Jonathan – His alliance won out, but he needs to start winning challenges or some of them might see an opportunity to snipe him while they still can.
  8. Romeo – Putting himself in the middle of a major vote dispute and targeting the biggest player in the game is a great way to increase your own target size.
  9. Rocksroy – Completely out of the loop, as his Lindsay vote showed. That puts him behind the curve as they look for new targets.
  10. Chanelle – She’s burned most of her allies and has no real support system. The only thing keeping her from the bottom is that someone else has done worse.
  11. Tori – Yeah, she’s only in this until she loses a challenge, then it’s likely a unanimous vote right out the door.

Survivor 42 Week Five Recap And Power Rankings

All it takes is one week for your Survivor game to go down the tubes, as Swati Goel found out in week four of Survivor 42. In the aftermath of her chaotic elimination, all of the tribes had tricky dynamics as the merge grew closer.

On Ika, Rocksroy was clearly the odd man out – but his work ethic and challenge strength were hard to eliminate. On Taku, they had been consistently successful in challenges, but Omar had lost his vote and Jonathan and Maryanne were increasingly at each others’ throats. An extended segment where Jonathan went fishing to avoid Maryanne and Lindsay’s chatterbox later and later riled Maryanne up by chopping wood too close to where she was standing was mostly played for laughs.

And then there was Vati, where the fallout from the tense tribal council that saw Jenny Kim eliminated was still brewing. Both Daniel and Chanelle had lost the tribe’s trust, and Mike had formed a tight threesome with Hai and Lydia. But Mike – much like Maryanne – was still lacking his vote due to the Beware Advantage.

That all came to a head this week, as Drea found the Ika tribe idol and it was time to activate them. But with likely only one week left to the merge, Mike had a tricky choice. He wanted to keep his idol secret – and if he could play out the string a little longer, it would be activated anyway without him having to announce his phrase. In the end, at the immunity challenge gathering, he decided to say it and everyone got their idol and their votes. In light of what was to come next, it was likely for the best.

The main character of Survivor 42 this week was definitely Daniel, as his injured shoulder became a subject of concern – despite it allowing him to fish effectively, he kept sitting out challenges insisting he had nothing to offer physically. That repeated itself in this week’s reward-immunity challenge, which saw tribes racing over a net, untangling a braided rope attached to a slide puzzle, and then using a slingshot to shoot sandbags at targets. Ika surprisingly had a very smooth go of it, taking first place while Taku had a horrible time on the rope. But Omar managed to figure it out, handing the sandbags over to Jonathan – who delivered two perfect shots, ending the challenge and leaving Vati as the odd tribe out.

With a tight three-person bloc and two tribe members on the outs, this didn’t seem like the recipe for a dramatic Survivor tribal council. But never count out Daniel and Chanelle. As the two continued to scheme – mostly to throw the other one under the bus – paranoia about the shot in the dark increased. The three planned to split their vote to ensure their safety, but at tribal council there was a twist. It came out two votes Daniel, two votes Chanelle, one vote Mike – the second tie in only five episodes of Survivor 42. This was likely a gambit by Chanelle to ensure she was protected if Daniel played his shot in the dark, similar to the Survivor 35 move that eliminated Mike Zahalsky, but on the revote it gave the three a clear shot – and Daniel was voted out unanimously.

What is there to say about Daniel? It’s been a while since someone burned his game down so effectively, but it was hard not to root for the twitchy superfan. Like Jacob Derwin before him, it’s not always the best players who love the game the most. It’s so easy to get caught up in the game and play too hard.

Of course, sometimes the game plays you. Because coming up is the dreaded hourglass twist, maybe the worst twist in reality TV history. With two random tribes, a reversal of fortune, and an immunity challenge, it’s almost impossible to predict who’ll go next week. So for this week’s power rankings, I’m treating these twelve as one tribe and ranking them based on their threat level, the advantages they hold, and their overall connections in the game. Really, anyone could go because all four tribes have people who could easily flip on their former tribesmates.

Below, the power rankings for week six of Survivor 42 and its double-length episode.

  1. Mike
  2. Hai
  3. Maryanne
  4. Lindsay
  5. Drea
  6. Jonathan
  7. Omar
  8. Romeo
  9. Lydia
  10. Rocksroy
  11. Tori
  12. Chanelle

Survivor 42 Week 4 Recap and Power Rankings

One of the best things about Survivor 42 is just how in-flux all three tribes are. The third episode saw one of the all-time great Survivor tribal councils, as voting gave way to a heated debate that sent Jenny Kim out the door. In the aftermath, one tribe was split and the others weren’t all that much better. The opening segment on Vati let us know we were in for a good one, as it was clear emotions were still raw and Daniel Strunk had done permanent damage to his relationships with both Mike and Chanelle.

Into that vibe stepped the savvy Hai Giang, who had perfectly played the role of the cold-blooded heel at the last tribal council. Hai is a Survivor rarity, in that he can play incredibly ruthlessly when needed, but also seems to be a genuinely nice guy. He wasted no time bonding with the shell-shocked Mike, and the two formed a powerful new bloc with Lydia – one that pointedly left the feuding Daniel and Chanelle out in the cold.

Things weren’t much smoother over on Ika, where the tribe had been at odds since they first went to tribal council in the premiere of Survivor 42. This is an interesting tribe because it’s hard to see who we’re supposed to be rooting for. Drea is probably the best player on the tribe, but is mostly a snarky gamebot. Rocksroy works hard for the tribe, but can come off as standoffish and domineering. Romeo mostly sits in the back and waits for people to come to him with plans. And then there’s Tori, the officious “therapist” who likes to armchair-diagnose people and scheme relentlessly. The closest thing to a tribal “hero” was probably Swati, the young college student who was playing a smart and subtle game – until this episode, when she quickly formed a pact with Tori to blindside Drea, and discovered just how badly things could go when you make the wrong ally.

As for Taku, things were actually going well, and they dominated a reward challenge race where they untangled themselves from ropes, pulled a heavy sled, and tossed balls into a vertical cage. They made the challenge look easy, mostly through Jonathan’s brute strength – but he then put his foot in his mouth a bit by describing them as a tight four. That obviously made them look like even more of a target, but Maryanne losing her temper over it at camp later seemed like an overreaction. He didn’t tell the other tribes anything they didn’t know, and it seemed like Jonathan was still in firm control of the tribe – especially with him and Lindsay being the only ones with votes at the moment.

All three tribes had their fractures, and in true Survivor fashion, it would come down to the immunity challenge. This one seemed to favor strength, as it opened with contestants having to tow the other tribe members through the water on boats. No surprise that Jonathan led Taku to an early lead, and they kept it after they collected their puzzle pieces and assembled a hanging fish puzzle. Mike and Hai, with one being older and one not exactly being muscular, struggled for Vati but pulled it off – at which point their puzzle team managed to blaze past Ika and clinch the second victory, sending Ika to tribal council.

From there, Ika proceeded to completely self-destruct in a way we rarely see on Survivor – at least since last week. Tori was the immediate target, seen by Rocksroy as untrustworthy. As people talked, though, it became clear that Swati had ties with just about everyone in the game – and had even told them all they were her number one target. The rest of the episode basically turned into Swati and Tori throwing each other under the bus as harshly as possible, ending in a brutal argument at tribal council. To illustrate just how chaotic Survivor 42 is, Swati chose to play her Shot in the Dark – the third time in four episodes someone has done so. It came up snake eyes just like the other two, but this time the vote was 3-1 with Rocksroy sticking by Swati.

So how did Swati’s game go south so quickly? Simple – overplaying. She was definitely the smartest player on the tribe besides Drea, with the others only loosely seeming to understand the game she was playing. But she didn’t know how to minimize her threat level or hold her powder. She’s probably the only contestant who left so far this season who I can actually pinpoint what they did wrong.

With only one episode to go until the merge if last season is an indication, here are the power rankings for the final pre-merge week of Survivor 42.


  1. Drea – I saw nothing this week to indicate she’s not still firmly in control of this tribe, with just about everyone dismissing the chance to snipe her.
  2. Tori – She seems set to be one of the season’s big villains, and Drea seems very loyal to her – likely as an easy person to beat.
  3. Romeo – He slipped neatly into this three-person alliance without making many waves.
  4. Rocksroy – He’s trying hard and is the tribe’s strongest player – but with the merge coming, that may not be enough.


  1. Lindsay – She’s basically in the perfect position right now, trusted by everyone and not a big enough threat to snipe.
  2. Jonathan – The tribe needs him, but we’re just around the time when that becomes a liability. Still, having his vote means the worst that can happen to him is a tie.
  3. Omar – No vote means possible danger, but he’s still in a tight three and trusted by everyone.
  4. Maryanne – Nothing’s changed here – she’s still four out of four, and her anger at Jonathan didn’t help. But if her tribe survives the pre-merge, look for her to shoot up the list.


  1. Mike – What a turnaround for Mike. After losing his #1 ally, he’s now in a tight three-person alliance and likely needed by both blocs.
  2. Hai – As Mike’s new closest ally and the de facto tribe leader, he’s just shy of completely safe.
  3. Lydia – She’s in a good position right now, but it’s possible Mike could flip if her challenge performance becomes an issue.
  4. Chanelle – She’s blown most of her goodwill, but likely has one shield in front of her right now.
  5. Daniel – Lol, yeah, nothing’s changed here. No allies, no real path out, and the injury certainly doesn’t help.

Movie Review – Morbius

Morbius – Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Starring Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson


It’s not a surprise Sony’s Spider-man franchise is feeling its oats right about now. Not only did they just have one of the top-grossing films of all time, but they just managed to make a deeply stupid franchise into an oddly beloved hit. They’ve long been talking about mining the archives for spin-offs, with movies in development for some odd names including Kraven the Hunter, Madame Web, and Silver Sable.

First out of the gate is Morbius, and on the surface it doesn’t look like the worst choice. The character of Michael Morbius, a scientist who accidentally transformed himself into a vampire-like creature, added some horror edge to classic Spider-man comics. The trailers made it look like a generic if entertaining superhero thriller, and the presence of acclaimed-but-controversial actor Jared Leto as the lead gave it a bit of gravitas. No one was expecting too much, but the evidence was that Morbius could at least be an entertaining throwback.

It’s not an entertaining throwback. In fact, Morbius is on a short list for the worst superhero movie of the modern era.

So how did this all go so very, very wrong? We’ve got to start with the lead. Leto is a talented actor, but he’s known for method acting in a way that mostly seems to torment his co-stars. I’m not sure what he did here, but he mostly seems to sleepwalk through the first part of the movie before going completely, utterly insane. As Michael Morbius, he’s a sickly genius born with a mysterious blood disorder. This is the kind of blood disorder that is slowly killing him, but at an indeterminate timeframe. It also forces him to hobble around on crutches, despite there being no mention of why what sounds like a clotting disorder would do this. It must be one of those diseases in the Hollywooditis subgenus. Not only is there no internal logic, but it’s another example of actors cosplaying disability.

One thing that surprised me is how empty this movie feels. Aside from Morbius himself, there are relatively few supporting characters. Jared Harris is around as Dr. Nicholas, a kindly doctor who treated Morbius’ condition and first recognized his genius. His role is mostly to stand around and seem concerned. Then there’s Adria Arjona as Dr. Martine Bancroft, Morbius’ coworker and love interest, whose role is mostly to…stand around and seem concerned. As things go sideways, Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal show up as a pair of FBI agents who don’t seem likely to have ever solved a case in their life. They add a few amusing lines, but it’s mostly about just how bad they are at their jobs.

And then there’s by far the biggest problem in Morbius – Matt Smith’s Lucien. Or is it Milo? Michael’s best friend from childhood when they both lived in some sort of sanitarium for boys with Mysterious Diseases, he was left behind when Michael was discovered to be a genius and was sent abroad to school. Twenty-five years later, he’s an arrogant tech-bro who feels his own clock ticking down, and he and Michael still obsessively work towards a cure. Which of course, leads to the main plot of the movie.

This is the type of movie where one character says “The experiment will have to take place in international waters”, and then the next scene has a caption reading “International waters”. It’s not subtle, and it’s also not smart. Michael wants to splice his DNA together with a vampire bat’s to gain their unique coagulating abilities, which at one point involves standing in the middle of a Central American cave filled with bats and later involves injecting himself with a serum while on a ship guarded by shady mercenaries in the middle of the ocean.

Naturally, it works, and Michael becomes Morbius the living vampire. The problem is, this movie doesn’t really know what a vampire is. Yes, Morbius likes blood, but it does an incredibly poor job of explaining exactly what he can do. One minute he’ll be talking about how he has advanced strength and senses, and then the next he’ll be teleporting across the city and tearing down brick walls with his bare hands. He feels more like some sort of combination of Hulk, Flash, and a werewolf than an actual vampire. Add in a bizarre subplot about artificial blood created by Michael that he tries – and fails – to subsist on, and every time this movie tries to explain itself it becomes a snore.

But the big problem comes back to Lucien, who is just an unlikable character no matter how much the movie tries to make us care about his childhood trauma. As soon as he asks Morbius to share the cure with him and Morbius refuses because “I’m a monsterrrrrrr”, it becomes clear how this is going to go. Lucien becomes a vampire too, bodies start showing up, and Michael is blamed. This isn’t a spoiler because I could predict every single turn of this movie from a mile away. Smith’s mugging for the camera as a villain is out of control, and the vampire transformations in particular look like they’re taken right out of a 1990s sub-par Buffy rip-off.

Without spoiling the post-credit sequence, I can safely say it’s the worst one I’ve ever seen. It brings in a popular character from another movie, in a way that has no logical consistency, and then proceeds to have the character make choices that are completely at odds with how they acted in their last appearance. I’ve never seen a movie more clearly go “Okay, we have to get the characters to this potential franchise – just half-ass it”.

But then, that’s what Morbius is all about – half-assing it. They had some hits and assumed that fans would just eat up anything they were dishing out. Is it the worst superhero movie of all time? Probably not. But it’s insultingly bad and I’m hopeful the fans won’t take the bait – because the last thing we need is studios cranking out low-budget superhero cash grabs again.

Survivor 42 Week Three Recap and Power Rankings

After a chaotic premiere episode, week two of Survivor 42 was almost laid back. Fewer powers-related twists, not all that much tribe conflict (aside from Mike finding and losing an idol), and an almost laid-back tribal council where Taku sorrowfully voted off tribe mom Marya. Was this a kinder, gentler Survivor?

Not a chance, because week three of Survivor 42 was one of the craziest episodes the show has seen in many years.

From the start, it was clear this episode was going to be all about Vati. Last week, Mike had found an idol and proceeded to share it with Daniel. Of course, he spent several minutes looking for where he hid it, which sent Daniel’s paranoia into overdrive. He shared all Mike had told him with his ally Chanelle, and the two quickly started scheming to neutralize Mike and his idol. This week, one one of the most bizarrely funny Survivor segments since Tony’s spy shack, things got crazier.

Daniel became increasingly paranoid about the bylaws of the idol (remember when idols didn’t need an instruction manual?) and demanded to read the parchment for himself. He then somehow managed to lose part of the idol, stuff another part in his pants, and thoroughly confuse and anger Mike only minutes into the episode. With Vati firmly divided between three pairs, it was clear anything that happened on this tribe was going to be chaotic.

Taku, meanwhile, seemed to be unified by last week’s tribal council. They all get along, and even their idol hunt was sort of a collective effort. Maryanne was the one who ultimately found it and got to happily freak out – followed by an unhappy freak-out as soon as she realized she wouldn’t be able to vote until all three were activated. But overall, there seemed to be very few rifts in this tribe.

As for Ika…well, it’s hard to say. They got virtually no screentime this episode, in a Survivor rarity. They were almost completely ignored, which largely gave away the game that they would not be going to tribal council.

It was clear something was up when the immunity challenge began just over ten minutes into the episode – and we were not disappointed. It was a tough water challenge followed by a sandbag-tossing game, but once the challenge began it was obvious the biggest challenge would be the elements. Powerful riptides kept sweeping teams away as they tried to climb on a ladder to retrieve bags. Taku, thanks to Jonathan’s long legs and massive reach, breezed through the challenge and secured the win for them while the other two were still floundering in the water. And then, in a Survivor first, Jeff Probst called off the water challenge and sent both tribes to shore. With both incapable of completing the challenge, they would face off in the sandbag leg for second place. And ultimately, by a hair, it was Ika that pulled it off, sending Vati to their first tribal council.

And from there, all hell broke loose. The tribe was split between Mike/Jenny, Daniel/Chanelle, and Hai/Lydia. But after the challenge, Chanelle and Omar wound up being sent to a summit where they had to choose whether to risk or protect their vote. After much talk about playing it safe, Chanelle risked her vote – and so did Omar, meaning they both lost their votes. Vati’s voting pool was down to four.

What followed was one of the best Survivor tribal councils in history, as the vote came out two-two between Jenny and Lydia, leading a very confused Hai to wonder where the hell the votes were. A revote narrowed it down to one-one, with only Hai and Daniel voting. The only chance to avoid going to rocks was a negotiation, and with Mike and Chanelle unable to vote in the tiebreaker, it turned into a battle of wills between Hai and Daniel – one that ended decisively. Daniel made clear early he was not willing to go to rocks, putting all the leverage in Hai’s hands. While Hai turned into a master, ruthless negotiator (even if the context of his deep loyalty to Lydia is mostly unexplained), Daniel proceeded to fumble around, throw Chanelle under the bus, anger Mike further, and burn all his bridges on the way to voting out Jenny and making her the next person voted out.

What’s odd is that out of Zach, Marya, and Jenny, it’s hard to pinpoint anything any of them did wrong. They were either on the wrong tribe, blamed for things they didn’t do, or used as pawns in a larger scheme. Sometimes, that’s just how Survivor goes.

But the game marches on, as we approach the merge. Below, the power rankings for week four of Survivor 42.


  1. Jonathan – This is his tribe now. He’s the best challenge powerhouse in years and is in no danger until the merge.
  2. Lindsday – She’s quietly playing well, and as the only other player with a vote, she’s in a power position.
  3. Omar – He loses a spot just due to losing his vote this week – that makes him more vulnerable.
  4. Maryanne – Bless her, but that three-person alliance isn’t breaking and she’s vote-less for now.


  1. Drea – She’s still basically in the middle of every alliance and has too many advantages to get blindsided easily right now.
  2. Tori – For some reason, Drea seems to like and trust her, which gives her a major leg up.
  3. Swati – She’s right in the middle at the moment, but seems to be a strong challenge performer and hasn’t made any waves.
  4. Romeo – Has he made any real connections since Zach left? I’m not sure.
  5. Rocksroy – Yes, he is the tribe’s main challenge performer, but he seems to have few allies and this trainwreck gang may just decide they don’t care.


  1. Hai – This tribe was rather rudderless at the start, but Hai’s savvy gameplay puts him in the catbird seat. He’s in no danger.
  2. Mike – With his idol largely public knowledge and the tribe needing his strength, I think he’s likely to survive the next vote.
  3. Chanelle – Her stock has dropped a lot, but she has her vote back and is a major swing vote for Mike.
  4. Lydia – She survived this week due to twist craziness, but she’s outnumbered if she becomes a challenge liability.
  5. Daniel – Lol. At this point I’m not sure the tribe doesn’t throw the challenge this week to get rid of him.

Survivor 42 Week Two Recap and Power Rankings

Survivor 42 seems to be getting a better reception from the fans than the offbeat 41 did, at least so far. The jam-packed first episode saw the evacuation of Jackson Fox and the odd unanimous ouster of Zach Wurtenberger, so what’s to come? Overall, the second episode was a calmer affair while still regularly reminding us that we’re in a new era and chaos is usually around every corner.

Over at Ika, which had just attended tribal council, the fractures were most obvious. While the tribe was united, Romeo now felt isolated and Tori was paranoid. This led Tori and Swati to propose an all-women alliance with Drea, leaving Romeo and Rocksroy out in the cold. The problem is, this lasted about five minutes as Drea’s previous alliance with the older guys gave her pause and the two younger women immediately started talking about whether Drea should go. With Drea having two advantages already and seeming to be the most active gamer in Survivor 42 at this point, she seems poised to be a main character of the season.

And speaking of main characters, Vati didn’t really disappoint for drama either. First, Vietnamese immigrant and vegan Hai faced a critical test of faith – with no rice for the tribe, he had to decide whether to eat crab or potentially sacrifice his game. It was a more nuanced take on the vegan castaway than we’ve previously seen, with clownshows like Kimmi or Wendy having breakdowns over the tribe winning meat-based rewards.

And then there was retired firefighter Mike, who seemed to have the best edit last week. This week, maybe not so much. He found a Beware idol – with the same rules as last season – opened it, and proceeded to tell Daniel about it to try to cement their trust. The problem was, he briefly misplaced it and had to scrounge around for it while a confused Daniel followed him. He did eventually locate it, but Daniel wasted no time telling Chanelle about it and scheming for how to keep Mike without a vote and a sitting duck. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think badly of Mike, Daniel, or both, but this messiness isn’t unusual for potential winners on Survivor – just look at Tony.

If any tribe seemed to be calm this week, it was Taku. After Jackson’s historic Survivor medivac on day two, the five remaining castaways had bonded. Omar opened up to his tribe about his Muslim faith, which led to a genuine – and hilarious – conversation about religion with Christian Jonathan and Jewish Lindsay. While these three seemed to be a firm trio, the two outsiders seemed to be well liked by the tribe. However, Marya was struggling to feel like she was contributing enough to tribe and Maryanne’s hyperactive nature was wearing a bit thin on people.

The challenge was an old favorite, as one tribe member blindfolded the rest of the tribe to collect puzzle bags and avoid obstacles, followed by solving a puzzle. Vati struggled during the whole first part – and then proceeded to tear through the puzzle challenge, winning a fishing kit and immunity while the other two battled to survive. In the end, it was Ika who eked out a win by a hair, sending Taku to tribal council.

With no idols in play and a firm three-person alliance in control, this episode of Survivor 42 became a battle between two contestants to survive. Maryanne’s frantic gameplay ramped up as she clumsily searched for an idol, while Marya opened up about losing her nurse brother to Covid-19 in 2020. It was clear we were being given a reason to invest in her emotionally – and it also pretty clearly set her up to go, now that we knew her motivation after a UTR first episode.

And sure enough, after another failed Shot in the Dark play, she became the second contestant to leave the game on a 5-0 vote. She deserved better, but Jackson’s evacuation really limited the options for players on Taku once the three more athletic players got together.

So looking ahead, the tribe dynamics are more complicated than ever. Who’s on top heading into week three of Survivor 42?


  1. Jonathan – It’s hard to differentiate the top three right now, but he’s definitely taking on the leader role.
  2. Omar – His bond with Jonathan seems closer than anyone else’s, so he’s likely to be the safer of the three.
  3. Lindsay – I don’t see any reason she should be in danger right now, unless something wild happens with idols.
  4. Maryanne – Look, everyone loves her, but unless she pulls a miracle she’s a goner if her tribe loses again.


  1. Drea – Between the advantages in her pocket and her alliance with everyone in the tribe, I doubt she’s going anywhere right now.
  2. Rocksroy – He may have alienated people a little week one, but it does feel like his strength is needed right now.
  3. Tori – I kind of think she’s too non-threatening to go right now? She’s a useful informant for anyone aligned with her.
  4. Swati – If Drea turns on the girls’ alliance, she could easily just get caught in the crossfire.
  5. Romeo – With no clear allies besides Rocksroy, he could easily become a consensus boot.


  1. Hai – This young, athletic contestant has an advantage in his pocket and seems to be well-liked by everyone. I see him as being key to whatever the ultimate decision at tribal council is.
  2. Chanelle – Daniel’s closest ally, she’s in on all his schemes – and that gives her a key opportunity to hit eject if he overplays.
  3. Mike – He’s fallen a bit from last week by giving away too much information, but he seems to be well-liked and I think the tribe needs his strength and leadership.
  4. Lydia – She seems to be likable, but doesn’t bring too much to the tribe in challenges or survival skills. If schemes fall through and they need a default boot, she could fit the bill.
  5. Jenny – She’s been quiet so far, but she’s shown some real puzzle skills. But as Mike’s closest ally, she could easily be collateral damage in Daniel’s schemes.
  6. Daniel – The most likely collateral damage, though, is likely to be Daniel himself. The superfan has been overeager and overplaying, and he could find himself joining Zach soon enough.

Survivor 42 Week One Recap and Power Rankings

Survivor returned after an 18-month hiatus with a new season last fall – and no small amount of controversy. The new Survivor had a lot more twists, a strong focus on diversity, and an odd new editing style that largely hid the show’s first female winner in four years. It was frustrating, but also fascinating. In some ways it was the best of Survivor – giving us new stars like Shantel, Ricard, and Tiffany. In others, it felt like a completely different show and one where the game played the contestants – with two twists, the ridiculous hourglass twist and the do-or-die roulette, being among the game’s lowest moments in twenty years.

Now, coming on the heels of a controversial Celebrity Big Brother season, we’re doing it again. Survivor 42 was filmed back-to-back with 41, so there have been a few adjustments on production’s side but the contestants don’t know any more than last season’s. The cast seems a little more balanced than 41’s while still having the same sense of diversity, and the game as a whole feels fresh. I didn’t do a cast preview this year because a little too much was out in the spoilerverse, but I’ll give my first impressions on this season’s cast in the power rankings after recapping the premiere.

And speaking of which, it was a packed one. After the requisite intros, we got down to the marooning challenge as the three new tribes competed to win supplies and flint. But there was a twist – the first of many in this game – as the contestants chosen for the second leg had the chance to win an advantage. Drea, Hai, and Lindsey got the lucky draw, and if they delayed long enough to complete a task together, they would win amulets that each gave them power. The twist was, the amulets gained power when there were fewer in the game – three amulets gave everyone an extra vote, two changed it to a steal-a-vote, and one transformed it into an idol. That put these three in a prisoner’s dilemma, as they now knew a secret about the others – but were incentivized to vote each other out.

Ultimately, Ika won the challenge and left the other tribes to try to win the flint in a secondary challenge back at camp – and the news got worse for Vati, as nerdy cancer survivor Daniel managed to dislocate his shoulder in a fall. It was popped back in by the on-site medic and he stayed in the game, but it cast a pall over the first challenge. It would not be the only time an uncomfortable realness settled over the game, either, but more on that later in this article.

This was a two-hour Survivor premiere, which meant we got a lot of tribe dynamics – at least on most of the tribes. Vati had an interesting start, as they had to figure out whether to do the physical challenge or the puzzle challenge to earn flint. This time it would only be one person filling out the jug of water, and retired firefighter Mike – the oldest contestant in the cast – quickly realized he’d be singled out for it and miss valuable bonding time. He successfully convinced the tribe to do the puzzle challenge, which they solved with the help of his ally Jenny, and the tribe seemed to be off to a strong start.

The same went for Taku, which was led by strongman and reality TV professional Jonathan. While he didn’t have as strong a hand in leading his tribe, they made the right decision – and while they bumbled a little in the process, they also came to the right conclusion. Overall, this tribe was sort of out of focus, with the exception of hilariously over-the-top divinity student Maryanne – who may be the most excited contestant in Survivor history – and Jackson. The 48-year-old southern man is the first out trans contestant to ever play Survivor, and he explained his past in a heartbreaking spotlight segment that was one of the most raw and honest moments still on the show.

Which made it hurt all the more the next day when Probst rolled up on Taku beach. The show tried to be transparent, but it still felt a bit sketchy – apparently there had been an issue with Jackson’s medication that either he hadn’t fully disclosed or the show didn’t account for. Withdrawal from it was causing him to dehydrate rapidly, and the medical team didn’t think it was safe to have him on the show. So he was pulled after a tear-jerking farewell and became the first person to leave Survivor 42. A lot of people have questioned how the show handled it, and I for one am hoping he gets a second shot if it’s safe down the line.

Then there was Ika, who looked like they had it together in the first challenge – and proceeded to completely fall apart immediately after. The amount of scheming they did in this first episode was hilarious, with the tribe first splitting down age lines – with nerdy Zach, flighty Tori, and young veteran Swati bonding, while no-nonsense Rocksroy, pageant coach Romeo, and scheming Drea all seemed to bond over the “kids” not being willing to work around camp. However, it wasn’t long before Rocksroy’s leadership tactics got him in trouble, and Tori was seen as suspicious for looking for an idol.

The first summit of the game gave three contestants the chance to win an extra vote, and the tribes sent Drea, Maryanne, and Jenny. While Jenny and Maryanne played it safe, Drea claimed her second advantage in the same episode and quickly proved herself a force to be reckoned with.

But given how badly her tribe was doing at cohesion, it wasn’t a surprise when the first challenge – with the contestants participating in an obstacle course to get puzzle pieces, and then assembling a circular puzzle – didn’t go well for them. Vati and Taku dominated for much of the challenge, and by the time Zach and Swati got to the puzzle, they were way behind and unable to catch up. They were heading to tribal council, and Tori wasted zero time trying to blame Zach for costing them the challenge.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a tribal council get this chaotic in week one of a Survivor season. There were no less than three targets, with Drea wanting to flip and get Rocksroy out for being too bossy, while Tori and Zach targeted each other. Romeo and Zach seemed to be aligned, but the vote kept flipping and that made everyone involved deeply paranoid. It all culminated in a nasty face-off at tribal council as Tori and Zach accused each other of lying, Zach played his Shot in the Dark – and made history as he became the first person voted off unanimously, since he couldn’t vote. Zach was likely partially a victim of the success of fellow Survivor nerds Cochran and Adam, but his awkwardness likely led him to become a scapegoat early.

And so we’re off! With sixteen contestants left, I’ll try to break down their places in the tribe and their overall chances to win the game below.


  1. Jonathan – The strongman was quiet in week one, but he basically carried the tribe on his back in both challenges. While that doesn’t always make you safe in this game, he’s this tribe’s only powerhouse at the moment and can likely coast to the merge.
  2. Lindsay – With an advantage in her pocket and easily the tribe’s strongest woman, she’d need to screw up in a big way to become the tribe’s first target.
  3. Omar – This eccentric veteriniarian came off as savvy in the first episode and didn’t seem like a a liability, but he’ll need to find the right alliance. He comes off as a gamer, and that could make him a target – but the preview shows him bonding with Jonathan.
  4. Maryanne – This is a very high four, because the tribe seems to absolutely like her. But she’s exciteable and very emotional, and she’ll have to get some more chill if she wants to contend in this game long-term.
  5. Marya – I don’t think anyone’s made themselves a target on this tribe yet, but she’s the oldest woman in the game and showed some weakness in the first challenge. She seems insecure, and that could lead the tribe to make her a consensus boot if they smell weakness.


  1. Drea – This tribe is a mess, but whatever they do next, she’s likely to be at the center of it. She’s a hardcore player with two idols in her pocket, and she’s very likely to be able to guide the tribe in her direction.
  2. Swati – She doesn’t really have any weaknesses or firm alliances yet, and I think she could easily find herself a solid alliance.
  3. Rocksroy – While he seems to rub people the wrong way, he is the tribe’s biggest bruiser, and I think they’ll need some strength for a while.
  4. Romeo – As Zach’s closest ally, he’s sort of floundering right now and will need to find himself a new ally quickly. His best bet is to try to work with Drea and Swati.
  5. Tori – She survived this week despite coming off as a suspicious trainwreck. The only way she’ll do it again is if she’s very useful to Drea’s plans.


  1. Mike – The trailer is trying to make us think this 57-year-old ex-firefighter from Jersey is in trouble. I don’t buy it. This episode showed him firmly in control of the tribe and leading them to a win. Plus, he’s one of the strongest people in the game and showed great survival skills. If there’s a clear long-gamer in this show, it’s him.
  2. Hai – The charming Vietnamese immigrant got off to a good start with winning an amulet, and he seems to be fitting in well on the tribe. We didn’t see as much of him, so it’s hard to talk about his long-term prospects yet, but there’s no reason to think he won’t succeed.
  3. Jenny – As the oldest woman on the tribe, she might be a target – but she’s already shown to have bonded with Mike, and her puzzle skills are strong. I don’t think she’s in immediate danger.
  4. Chanelle – Sort of out of focus during the first episode, we don’t know much about her yet. She seems like she’ll have a decent social game, but she could be one challenge misstep away from trouble.
  5. Lydia – This eccentric young artist sticks out like a sore thumb on the game-minded Vati. I could easily see a scenario where she annoys the practical Mike and becomes a consensus boot, but she’s been playing decently so far.
  6. Daniel – Oy. Everyone loves the guy, sure, but that doesn’t make his game any stronger. He’s injured, high-strung, and the preview shows him taking offense to something Mike does and immediately barging around the tribe demanding people vote him off. Maybe he and Zach can bond in Ponderosa.

Movie Review – The Batman

The Batman – Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig. Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Peter Sarsgaard

**1/2 out of ****

I don’t know if any hero gets rebooted more often than Batman. Sure, there have been four different Spider-man movie franchises, but even more Batman actors have played the role in the same time – and he’s had two different animated movies! The most recent Ben Affleck version was met with mixed responses – even from the actor himself – so DC is moving on again. Michael Keaton will be returning in a supporting role, but we’re also getting a new stand-alone Batman played by indie favorite Robert Pattinson (he also appeared in some other movies, I hear).

The Batman is directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, the man who took the infamously silly Planet of the Apes franchise and turned it into one of the most compelling sci-fi trilogies in a generation. When he takes something over, he’ll bring a more serious touch to it – something he definitely does here. The problem is, Batman is already a pretty serious property and The Batman dials it up to eleven. While the Christopher Nolan movies had a distinct noir edge, they still had a pulpy vibe that seemed to take their energy from the craziest action movies of the 90s. This outing is a crime movie, through and through – much more LA Confidential than Heat.

That could presage a brilliant movie, but what works well on paper doesn’t always deliver in practice. The Batman clocks in at just under three hours, and unfortunately it feels it. This is a deliberately slow movie, often lingering on single shots and letting characters talk at length uninterrupted. It wants to immerse us in every sight and sound of its Gotham City – and its Gotham City is a deeply unpleasant place. So corrupt that it’s basically a way of life, it’s a world where suffering is a given, where the most powerful people are pawns of the actual masters, and where one man tries to make a difference – and really doesn’t do a great job of it.

The best thing The Batman has going for it is a great cast. Robert Pattinson got quite a bit of controversy when he was first cast, and some of his performance does feel overly similar to Christian Bale in Batman Begins. But that’s just a surface-level comparison. Pattinson gives us the first Batman who feels genuinely young and half-formed. He’s clumsily stumbling through a mission that he’s only half-thought out, and his pain and isolation come off him in waves. You can see the genesis of a Batman who will save Gotham, but he’s not there yet.

That makes his allies all the more important. Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon is essentially a strong second lead, as Gotham’s one honest cop who is repeatedly blindsided by how corrupt his city actually is. He’s a more active participant in the story than Gary Oldman or JK Simmons was, and I think it’s a good sign that the character’s been racebent and the movie calls absolutely no attention to it. Andy Serkis as Alfred is a bit more of a mixed bag due to his limited screen-time. He’s maybe a bit too hulking to fit physically in the role, but there are scenes where some genuine warmth comes through.

Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman is a revelation, and probably the best thing The Batman has going for it. Pfeifer was too eccentric and given a bizarre supernatural origin, Hathaway never really had any sense of danger to her, and the less said about Berry the better. Kravitz perfectly captures the character’s chaotic energy, but also gives her a strong motivation – searching for a young woman (who may or may not be her girlfriend) who disappeared after getting a little too close to some of Gotham’s secrets. This is the first version of Catwoman who seems set up as a fellow Gotham hero, and it’s about time – the character’s mostly been on the side of the angels for thirty years now.

And speaking of devils, we come to The Batman‘s biggest problem – its villains. Gotham is known for its circus of freaks, and most of these movies are judged by how colorful and memorable their rogues are. Who could forget Nicholson or Ledger’s Jokers, De Vito’s Penguin, Murphy’s Scarecrow, or Hardy’s Bane? Unfortunately, this movie plays things way closer to Earth, splitting its villains into two groups. The first is the collection of rogues populating the Iceberg Lounge, Gotham’s mob hangout. John Turturro gives a strong performance as Carmine Falcone, probably the best of the villains. However, his story veers a little too far into soap opera territory at times.

Colin Farrel is completely unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepot, here Falcone’s heavy and second-in-command. He’s wearing a fat suit and some scar makeup, but otherwise he seems to have more in common with the mooks from any Scorcese mob thriller than he does with the famous bat-villain. Don’t expect to see any birds or trick umbrellas here, and Farrel plays the role so broadly that it often feels like he came in from another movie. There’s some chaotic energy to these scenes, but they feel like a record-scratch.

And then there’s the movie’s biggest problem – an utterly bizarre take on The Riddler, played by Paul Dano. The story kicks off with the murder of Gotham’s Mayor, and soon afterwards other prominent citizens are killed in increasingly elaborate death traps. Soon, the city starts getting messages from a leather-clad maniac who seems to have a grudge against Gotham’s powerful. Unfortunately, this character falls into a common problem – starting a villain with some reasonable grievances, but making them more and more extreme as the film goes on until they become a monster. While it works with some characters, like Killmonger, here it just made Riddler increasingly annoying. He came across like an 8Chan-addicted version of Jigsaw in a gimp mask.

The pacing of The Batman also leaves a good deal to be desired. It’s so leisurely with how it parcels out the bits and pieces of its mystery that the last forty-five minutes are almost whiplash-inducing. Reveals are made, characters die, and then the movie takes an insane detour into a high-octane action/disaster movie after spending the previous two hours being a leisurely-paced noir with occasional car chases. The status quo changes it makes by the final reel are so extreme that I honestly struggle to figure out what they’re going to do next.

In all, The Batman is a fascinating experiment that maybe wants to be too many things for too many people. It’s the first Batman film that feels like it was designed to be an indie noir – something that some fans have been clamoring for. Response has been mixed, and while I find it to be a very flawed movie, it’s still one that’s worth seeing for yourself.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Seven Recap and Finale Preview

Well, here we are – the final three of Celebrity Big Brother. I would say it’s been fun getting here, but has it really? All three seasons of this spinoff have been plagued by ugly fights and overly spiteful gameplay, but I don’t think any has had a sheer oppressive presence like this season’s duo of the dominant Meisha Tate and the irksome Todrick Hall. After they finally managed to evict Carson Kressley with the help of Todd Bridges, it was back to business as Todrick finally claimed the Head of Household crown in a complex art-forgery-themed competition.

Sure enough, they stuck to form and immediately turned on their strongest ally, seeking to put Todd up and out as soon as they had power back. After an incredibly obnoxious nomination ceremony involving Todrick’s alter ego, Todd and Lamar were on the block. This seemed to light a fire under Todd’s butt – but it did the opposite for Lamar, seeming to only enhance his laid-back attitude. Todd knew it was do or die, and in a strange luge-themed competition that involved timing your slide, he managed to beat both Todrick and Meisha.

Cynthia was placed on the block, and there was about as much suspense as there usually is in this season of Celebrity Big Brother. Todrick and Meisha controlled the vote, and Todd had the power to force a tie. He did, and Todrick once again proved himself the most classless person in Celebrity Big Brother history by giving a bizarre fake-out speech before evicting Lamar. But there was one more surprise in store for the houseguests – it was double eviction night, and the whole cycle would begin again.

This entire season of Celebrity Big Brother has largely been like Lucy pulling away the football, and that continued with the Head of Household competition. A fun game based around identifying fake movie posters from clues started with Todd up 2-0-0 over Meisha and Cynthia, and ended with Meisha winning 3-2-2. Todd and Cynthia wound up on the block, and Meisha then won another competition – a veto based around rolling a ball and landing it in the right spot based on questions about days. This completed her insanely dominant streak, and allowed Toddrick to evict Todd and put an end to his impressive underdog run.

So here we are. One challenge left to go, three celebrities left, and $250,000 on the line. Below, I’ll break down who’s in pole position to win Celebrity Big Brother season three.

  1. Meisha Tate – This really doesn’t need much explanation. She’s won almost as many competitions as the other ten contestants behind. She’s had a role in steering almost every single eviction. She’s made a lot of enemies, but if she makes it to the end – and she’s only one competition away – I doubt it’ll matter.
  2. Cynthia Bailey – As much as she’s completely undeserving of winning this game, she still has a decent chance of it. She’s made very few enemies, and the people who might take her will make all the enemies. Whether she could beat Meisha depends on how bitter the jury is, but I doubt they’ll be up against each other.
  3. Todrick Hall – Let me be clear – in the entire history of Big Brother and Survivor, I don’t know if anyone has ever made themselves a bigger goat than Todrick. He’s played aggressively, but there’s a difference between that and playing well. Virtually every contestant who has come out of the house has immediately started talking about how they can’t wait to vote against Todrick. The question isn’t if he loses to Meisha or Cynthia, it’s if he’s able to get a single vote.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Six Recap and Power Rankings

If the last round of Celebrity Big Brother was pain, this one was really more just resignation. The previous week saw Carson Kressley finally take power after being on the block for most of the game – only for everything to go wrong. After being gaslighted for the whole week by the entire house, he agreed to put his close ally Shanna Moakler up and out. He wasted his week and he and Cynthia were right back where they started.

The one bright spot was that the two of them cut a deal with Toddrick and Meisha – which the latter two had no real intention of honoring. Still, it might have protected them for one week, but it wasn’t to be. At a hilarious HOH competition focused on identifying the ingredients in bizarre cocktail concoctions, Todd Bridges proved himself to be a taste savant and swept the rounds, winning his first Celebrity Big Brother competition. Carson had no deal with him, and was firmly back at the bottom of the pecking order.

It was no surprise that Carson was target #1, but he did get a ray of hope when Todd decided to nominate a pawn instead of Cynthia. This gave Carson hope that Cynthia could win veto and keep both of them safe. Lamar, chosen to go up against Carson, barely seemed to notice and continued his streak of being hilariously zen and out of it for most of the game. In this mess of a Celebrity Big Brother season, he may be the most likable player.

There was only one problem – Cynthia has never won a competition, and that didn’t change this week. The veto was one of the toughest competitions in Celebrity Big Brother history, an intense memory challenge involving a digital version of Three-Card Monte. While Cynthia put up a good fight, it was Meisha who won yet another challenge and took veto. It was pretty clear she wouldn’t use the veto, so Carson shifted his strategy.

The plot centered on convincing Meisha and Toddrick that it was time to break up Todd and Lamar, and they actually made a good case. But it was really never much in doubt – they wouldn’t not take the opportunity to get out their biggest competition, and Carson became the fifth person voting out of Celebrity Big Brother. Unlike Carson, Meisha and Toddrick didn’t miss their shot.

And with that, we enter the last few days of Celebrity Big Brother. There was a recap episode on Saturday, but the action resumes on Sunday with a new HOH.












Celebrity Big Brother Round Seven Head of Household – Toddrick Hall

So almost at the very end of the game, this season’s villain finally takes power. Who will he put up and out? Below, the penultimate power rankings for Celebrity Big Brother S3.

HOH – Toddrick

  1. Meisha – I think Toddrick will still want to keep her safe this week – although rumors of a Celebrity Cookout abound.
  2. Lamar – He’s not seen as a threat and is so laid back he can probably coast to the end.
  3. Todd – He’s becoming a bigger threat, and Toddrick may just take this oppportunity to break up him and Lamar.
  4. Cynthia – Yeah, the odds aren’t good she’ll last much longer than her BFF.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Five Recap and Power Rankings

At its worst, Big Brother is pain. Celebrity Big Brother, at its worst, can achieve a level of pain the main show never can. That’s what happened this week, as the season looked to be entering a new period of hope – only to pull the rug out from under us in one of the worst cycles in the show’s history. After the eviction of Chris Kirkpatrick in a dramatic backdoor, a pivotal endurance competition would determine the balance of power. Hope came to the house when Carson Kressley finally dethroned Toddrick and Meisha’s alliance – but it wasn’t to be.

The trouble started early, when Carson made clear he intended to hold to the deal he made on the wall to keep Toddrick safe. Letting one half of the power alliance stay off the block is always a bad idea, because they can win veto and pull the other half off the block – making the entire week a waste. But Toddrick’s power over this season of Celebrity Big Brother went much deeper than that.

Carson soon nominated Todd and Meisha for eviction, but the nominations were largely a minor subplot to this week’s biggest drama – as Toddrick and Meisha set out to gaslight the opposition. They worked on Cynthia first, trying to convince her that Shanna Moakler had been double-dealing the whole time and scheming against them. This, despite the fact that Shanna had put her own alliance on the line to save Carson last week, actually seemed to work. Cynthia then went to work on Carson, giving him the hard sell that Shanna was untrustworthy. Soon, she was essentially the whole house’s target in yet another weird case of mobbing on Celebrity Big Brother.

I don’t know exactly what went on, but it was one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve seen on any reality show since Amanda essentially bullied the entire house into evicting Judd on Big Brother 15. At its best, Celebrity Big Brother is trashy fun. This was just unpleasant, watching Shanna begging for her game life and explaining the facts while Cynthia just repeated the lies she was told and Carson meekly nodded. It’s hard to blame Carson given that the entire house spent days gaslighting him, but it was a wildly depressing turn to his strong game.

It all came down to veto – as things went from bad to worse. Shanna was the only person not picked to play in veto, sitting on the sidelines as Toddrick won a live fast-paced puzzle competition. Surprisingly, he took Todd off the block and Shanna was put next to Meisha. Aside from a bizarre aside where Lamar – who spent most of this week whining about his ex-wife – became distracted in the voting booth and spent over a minute chewing his nails in front of a very confused Julie before voting, it was a done deal. Shanna was voted out 4-0 and couldn’t be out of the house fast enough, boasting that she would make sure the jury voted against Toddrick. The past two seasons of Celebrity Big Brother have been awkward, but there has never been one that got quite this ugly.

Many fans said they were done with the show, but the game marches on, and a new Head of Household was crowned later that night.

Spoilers Below for Wednesday’s Episode of Celebrity Big Brother:









Round Six Celebrity Big Brother Head of Household – Todd Bridges

Okay, I’ll bite – how the heck did this happen? Todd winning HOH before Toddrick does amuse me, but we’ll see how it plays out on Wednesday. Below, the power rankings for this round of Celebrity Big Brother.

HOH: Todd

  1. Toddrick – At this point I’m pretty sure everyone is taking him to the F2.
  2. Meisha – She’s basically running the house, and there are very few scenarios where she even winds up on the block.
  3. Lamar – I don’t think there’s any chance he gets voted out – unless he asks to be, which isn’t impossible.
  4. Cynthia – She’s likely a pawn this week, but could easily be voted out if Carson wins veto.
  5. Carson – Yep. Back to where we started. Win or go home.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Four Recap and Power Rankings

The Celebrity Big Brother game moves faster than any other on TV, playing out in only three weeks. With this crew, it seems to go even faster, because the game can change on one bout of paranoia. When Meisha Tate won her second HOH of the game, it seemed like a done deal that Carson Kressley would be her target – and sure enough, she put him and his ally Cynthia on the block.

But many twists and turns awaited the Celebrity Big Brother houseguests this week, starting with the unexpected exit of eccentric fan-favorite Chris Kattan. The twitchy comedian had been struggling with physical and mental health issues the entire game, and simply chose to quit through the diary room one day. It’s probably for the best – he didn’t seem able to fully connect to the game and he seems to be doing better outside of it.

Toddrick Hall wanted to prove himself and be the one to personally end the game of his frenemy Carson, and he would get his chance in a tough veto competition. A popular challenge, the contestants had to rock a mechanical reindeer twenty times to reset the clock, then try to stack snowflakes. Several people surprisingly lost track of their clock and timed out, starting with Meisha, and that allowed Shanna to win her second veto in a row.

That’s where things went completely crazy, as the duo of Chris Kirkpatrick and Shanna decided they wanted to shake things up and keep Toddrick and Meisha from winning the game without opposition. They talked to Meisha and tried to get her to agree to put Todd up if they used the veto on Cynthia, hoping they could then rally the votes to take her out. But they surprised everyone by pulling Carson off instead, and Meisha surprised them right back by putting Chris on the block in his place.

From there, things got weird. The episode played out live and there was very little time for scheming, so there wasn’t much context to understand when Chris was voted out 5-0, with even his closest allies voting for him. Much like Mirai’s eviction, there were a lot of strange things around this vote. Chris had major conflicts with Mirai previously and Toddrick this week, with both getting into some very personal territory. I’m wondering if the guarded Kirkpatrick even particularly wanted to stay in the game. And so we’re down from two Chris Ks to zero in one episode.

But the game marches on, and a new Head of Household competition began. This was a Celebrity Big Brother twist on the classic wall endurance challenge, with the contestants being bombarded with items from their “Glam Squad” and both Carson and Toddrick fighting for their lives.

Spoilers for Sunday’s episode of Celebrity Big Brother Below









Celebrity Big Brother Round Five Head of Household – Carson Kressley

So the game’s biggest underdog pulled off a miracle! This week’s decisions will likely determine the outcome of the game.

Below, the power rankings for the next cycle of Celebrity Big Brother.

  1. Cynthia – No matter what nonsense goes on, she’s Carson’s ride-or-die and is making it to the F6.
  2. Lamar – The only person in the game who seems to be at the center of no drama at all.
  3. Shanna – She’s caused a lot of chaos and is on everyone’s radar as a threat, but I’d be shocked if she actually went this week.
  4. Toddrick – As much trouble as he’s caused Carson, they are friends outside of the show. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s not even nominated.
  5. Todd – He’s an easy nomination, and a clear possible target if someone wins veto – especially after his bizarre fight with Cynthia.
  6. Meisha – She’s made herself a huge target, and now she likely has to win or go home.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Three Recap and Power Rankings

Things move fast in the Celebrity Big Brother house, and after we saw Teddi Mellencamp become the first person evicted, it was time for the power to shift. Chris Kirkpatrick took control of the game in a potato-themed throwing competition, and quickly set his sights on one target.

Something went on behind the scenes in the first week of Celebrity Big Brother, and everyone involved has been rather tight-lipped about it. We know that Chris Kirkpatrick nearly left the game abruptly, and we know he has an intense dislike for skater Mirai Nagasu. When he took power, he was part of an alliance with Todrick Hall and previous HOH Meisha Tate, but it soon became clear they didn’t exactly align anymore. Todrick and Meisha were pushing – a little too hard – for him to target Carson Kressley and his alliance. But Chris only wanted one person out

It wasn’t a big surprise when Mirai wound up on the block. It was a bit of a surprise when eccentric cake-gobbler Chris Kattan wound up next to her, with Chris’ gambit being that he was both an unlikely person to be voted out but an easy vote should Mirai win veto. As the veto drew nearer, neither nominee seemed to have much fight in them, and the veto brought that most dreaded of Celebrity Big Brother tropes – product placement.

The veto competition was surprisingly a quiz game, but it was also a memory competition themed after the upcoming romantic comedy Marry Me. The contestants had to pick the right sign out of a crowd on screen, with Toddrick hoping to force Chris to make a change to the nominations. In the end, Toddrick and Shanna tied, Shanna won the tie-breaker, and decided not to make any changes to the nominations.

And that’s when things got even weirder. At the eviction ceremony, Mirai begged to stay in the game, the perpetually exhausted Kattan said he was ready to leave – and then the house voted 7-0 to evict Mirai. Her awkward speech where she called everyone in the house so much older than her didn’t help, but there are an odd edge to the house’s interaction with her that I can’t quite figure out. Hopefully Celebrity Big Brother can take on a lighter tone now that this odd subplot is over with.

But if the house was hoping for a power shift, they would have to keep waiting. The feeds have been off for most of the week, but this Wednesday’s episode saw a hilarious competition that had the contestants speed-stripping out of ski outfits while trying keep three buttons pressed. Several were completely incompetent at it, but Carson Kressley gave it a game effort. However, he was outstripped by the younger, athletic Toddrick and Meisha – the latter of whom won her second Head of Household.

And with that, the power rankings for the fourth round of Celebrity Big Brother.

  1. Todrick – It doesn’t take much to see that he’s essentially co-HOH this week and the two of them are in simpatico.
  2. Lamar – They seem to want to keep the athletes together, and while he isn’t as strong in challenges, it’s unlikely he’ll be a target.
  3. Shanna – The only person perfectly playing the middle of the house right now.
  4. Todd – He’s not really making an impact at the moment and should sail through for a few more weeks.
  5. Chris Kirkpatrick – He and Todrick clashed a lot, and he’s seen as a big threat. If things break the wrong way, he could be a target.
  6. Cynthia – While she’s Carson’s closest ally, I also don’t think she’s the seen as the biggest threat at the moment.
  7. Chris Kattan – While he’s chaotic fun, he also seems to want to quit. If Carson is safe, he might just become a consensus boot.
  8. Carson – It’s likely win – or have an ally win – or go home for the Queer Eye dynamo this week.

Celebrity Big Brother Round Two Recap and Power Rankings

If there’s one thing we learned from the first cycle of Celebrity Big Brother 3, it’s that these celebrities are here to play just as hard as the regular houseguests. Well, most of them. After a chaotic first episode that saw Meisha
Tate being crowned the first Head of Household, we knew things were going to get crazy – but we didn’t know how crazy.

The first week of Celebrity Big Brother was defined by shifting alliances and targets, in a way we haven’t seen since the madness of Big Brother 19. Teddi Mellencamp was the early target, having tried and failed to secure safety for herself before dropping out of the challenge. Two core alliances formed quickly – Formation, which was led by Carson, Cynthia, Toddrick, and Shanna and later expanded to include Teddi and Mirai. But at the same time, Meisha was forming her own alliance of more athletic contestants – including Toddrick and Mirai, who were quickly double-dealing.

And that was one of the key things that set things in motion this week – people gaming too hard, too fast. After Mirai was caught shuffling information back and forth between the two sides and got caught by Toddrick, Meisha shifted the target from Teddi to her – and needed a pawn. That was chosen to be Carson, who everyone thought was too likable to be voted out. Except that Toddrick knew that, and was quickly talking to people about whether it might be an opportunity to snipe him early.

But it wouldn’t be Celebrity Big Brother – or any Big Brother – without a twist throwing the game for a loop. It turned out to be the bizarre hat/purse that Todd “won” by sitting out the HOH competition, and it led to a safety-chain competition where one by one the contestants passed the hat to each other. The last person to receive the hat would win safety for the week – and it turned out to be Cynthia, who was in no danger anyway. But the houseguests were warned that there would be a second, darker twist to the hat later in the week.

The veto gave me good vibes for this season, as it was a challenging puzzle involving solving a text puzzle around scheduling and placing flags in the right order. While Lamar timed out and Toddrick and Mirai struggled, Carson ran away with the challenge, winning it in less than half Meisha’s time. He was safe for this week – but had become the biggest target in the house.

With things in flux, Meisha cut a deal with Mirai and shifted the target back to Teddi, who wound up on the block and campaigned hard to stay. But it was all going to be irrelevant shortly, as the contestants were told live that they had to play another safety chain game with the hat – this time, with the last person to receive the hat being put on the block automatically and having to remove one of the two nominees. This is a ridiculous twist and puts a lot of the game out of the hands of the HOH – but it certainly was entertaining to watch.

It was Todd who wound up on the block, capping a week where he voluntarily gave up the chance at power, and he barely seemed to be even campaigning to stay. But in the end, the alliance lines were set and Teddi was sent home in a 5-3 vote, seemingly firmly putting Meisha’s block in control of the game.

But it would all depend on who took control of the game next.

Spoilers for Sunday’s Episode of Celebrity Big Brother 3 Below

Celebrity Big Brother Round Two Head of Household – Chris Kirkpatrick

So the N’Sync veteran has taken control of the game, and Meisha’s group maintains control. Who’s in danger this week?

Below, the Celebrity Big Brother 3 round two power rankings.

  1. Meisha – Not only is she safe this week, but Chris will likely be heavily relying on her to help determine his moves.
  2. Lamar – He’s a messy player, but as one of the game’s athletes, there’s no reason for Chris to target her now.
  3. Shanna – She flipped towards the athletes in the vote, despite not really being in their alliance. I don’t think anyone sees her as a threat right now.
  4. Todd – After having the week from hell last time, I expect he’ll slip under the radar.
  5. Toddrick – Toddrick played harder than anyone else last week, and is still juggling two alliances. He should be safe – if he can keep it together.
  6. Cynthia – As a member of the alliance on the outs, she could easily be on the block – but I think there are bigger fish to fry.
  7. Carson – Hands down the biggest target in the game, but I don’t think Chris K wants him out as much as his alliance-mates do.
  8. Chris Kattan – He continues to play under the radar and doesn’t seem to have any alliances. He makes for an inviting pawn, and pawns can go home very easily.
  9. Mirai – I’m not sure exactly what happened here, but apparently she and Kirkpatrick had an ugly fight early in the game that nearly made him quit the show. While she briefly had an alliance with Meisha, I don’t think it’ll be enough to save her from being target #1 this week.

Celebrity Big Brother Week One Power Rankings

Celebrity Big Brother is here, with the entire crazy season playing out in less than a month. And with only a one-hour premiere tonight, we didn’t get too much information to prove if our first impressions were right or wrong. Much of the first hour was just introducing the eleven celebrities, mostly narrated by Queer Eye veteran and regular reality TV mainstay Carson Kressley, who was first in the house.


So what do we know? Each of these eleven contestants seems here to play – mostly. A surprising number seem to be Big Brother superfans who take the Celebrity Big Brother game seriously. We had some reality TV mainstays, some athletes, and some people whose stardom days are well behind them. But the episode was half over by the time everyone was in the house and had gotten their required introduction segment, which meant there wasn’t much gaming tonight.

So what was there? Carson and Toddrick wasted no time forming an alliance with former Real Housewife Cynthia Bailey and model/tabloid mainstay Shanna Moakler. The two strongest women in the house, MMA fighter Miesha Tate and figure skater Mirai Nagasu, seemed like immediate outsiders as the only two contestants to not be familiar to the reality TV Community. Todd Bridges, as the oldest contestant, just seemed to be there to have a good time, as did NBA superstar Lamar Odom. Both men have had near-death experiences, which might give them a different perspective. On the other hand, former SNL comedian Chris Kattan seemed to be struggling to find his social footing.

It seemed like a fun cast, but for most of the first episode it really just seemed more like Celebrity Family Reunion than Celebrity Big Brother, with some even commenting that everyone was getting along too well. So it was naturally time for a challenge and time to crown the first Head of Household – but first there was an odd twist. Someone had to sit out the endurance challenge, playing master of ceremonies while everyone else battled it out in a tough test of balance. Todd, having no chance at winning, chose to sit out, but it’s still a weird twist that kneecapped someone’s game immediately for no purpose. But a post-challenge twist may offer some redemption with a hidden power – it wouldn’t be Celebrity Big Brother or any other BB without some weird twists.

The challenge played out in less than half an hour, but still delivered some serious drama. As the ropes pulled the contestants in all directions, some fell quickly – Chris Kattan fell in less than two minutes. The challenge was mostly dominated by two women, Miesha and Mirai, but when Mirai unexpectedly fell in fourth place, Miesha was left to negotiate with Toddrick and Teddi. She quickly promised the viral superstar safety – but was a little more hesitant with Teddi, who nonetheless fell shortly and left the MMA fighter as the first Head of Household.

So what does this mean? We don’t know much about how Miesha will play Celebrity Big Brother yet. She seems to be highly competitive, be sizing her fellow women up as threats, and doesn’t have many alliances yet. With no feeds yet, the first power rankings will be a guessing game more than anything.

But that never stopped us before! Below, the power rankings for cycle one of Celebrity Big Brother Season Three.

Head of Household – Miesha Tate

  1. Toddrick – As the only clear ally Miesha has, he’ll not only be safe, he’ll likely have some impact in steering the week.
  2. Cynthia – A close ally of Toddrick’s, she’ll have his protection. Plus, I doubt Miesha will want to start her game by targeting the only Black woman.
  3. Shanna – Unless she gets into some serious drama early, I don’t think she’ll be seen as a big threat and is in Toddrick’s alliance.
  4. Carson – Probably the most vulnerable of Toddrick’s alliance simply because he’s playing hard, but I think he’s smart enough to pull focus away from himself.
  5. Todd – I don’t know if he’s got much game sense yet, but he earned some goodwill by sitting out the challenge. He’s not likely to be a target, but he could be a pawn.
  6. Lamar – As probably the biggest name in the house and a huge physical threat, I could see him being an inviting target, but Miesha may respect him as a fellow athlete.
  7. Chris Kirkpatrick – The better off of the house’s two Chris K’s, he’s laying low as a charming bro-type right now. But as one of the only strong-looking guys in the game, it could be inviting for Miesha to take a big shot immediately.
  8. Mirai – She went toe-to-toe with Miesha in the challenge and doesn’t have too many ties to the other celebrities. While she’s a big target, she’s also fairly likable and that may save her if she’s a target.
  9. Teddi – She has a bit of a bad reputation in Hollywood, and Miesha seemed to be cagey with targeting her right away. If she gets paranoid this week, she could become an easy consensus boot.
  10. Chris Kattan – He’s a funny guy, but his troubled past and physical issues make him a wild card. Of the whole group, he’s the one I’m not sure has it physically and emotionally in him to go the distance.

Steve: Ray is spot on here. I originally picked Meisha to win the whole thing, but I’m not sure dominating the first competition and alienating one of the cast members already was a good move to her long game. At this point, there is only one true alliance in the house. Meisha will likely not be their target early since she is saving Toddrick this week. However, she will need to form a good alliance moving forward or she will be an easy target as a strong competitor. The Thursday and Friday shows should help identify the power rankings going forward.

Celebrity Big Brother 3 Preview and Cast Analysis

After a several-year absence and a disastrous second season, Celebrity Big Brother is back for another go-around – and will likely bring us just as much drama as the main game. The celebrity game is different from the main Big Brother in some key ways. For one thing, it’s a lot shorter – playing out in only a month with a smaller cast and several evictions per week. For another, it’s usually run on a lower budget (Don’t look for Zingbot to be running around this Big Brother House), although that could change. And unlike the main game, every one of these contestants will be on the jury and return to vote for the winner.

But one thing never really changes about Celebrity Big Brother – they use the word “celebrity” pretty loosely.

This season’s cast of eleven celebrities is an odd one. The six guys are mostly has-beens and tabloid fodder, but most people should remember them from somewhere. The five women, on the other hand, are all mostly famous for being famous and have no real name recognition unless you watched some specific reality shows. It’s an odd mix and makes me wonder if the show is trying to break the streak of women dominating the past two seasons of Celebrity Big Brother.

But we’ve now got eleven new contestants vying for the 250K grand prize. In this article, your intrepid Big Brother superfans Steve and Ray will break down the cast and make our preliminary winner predictions.

Celebrity Big Brother 3 Cast:

Carson Kressley, 52, Reality TV Personality and Fashion Designer

Carson has been in the reality TV game for two decades, first becoming famous as one of the original hosts of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Openly gay, he’s a big personality and should be fun to have around – but is also one of the smartest people in the house and knows how to manipulate drama for his own benefit. The biggest danger is if he gets pegged as a big threat too often, but otherwise he’s one of the biggest threats in the game.

Chris Kattan, 51, Actor and Comedian

Ray: Wake up, guys, new Tom Green just dropped! Expectations for Chris to provide entertainment will be high, as the offbeat Saturday Night Live veteran is the only comedian in the cast. He’s got a big personality, but also a troubled personal life, and I could easily see him being one of the biggest candidates to melt down in the house. My guess is he’ll be seen as a weak player and slip fairly deep into the game in social game if he can hold it together.

Steve: He will be an early favorite for me. I will forever treasure the Saturday Night Live skit with Chris ferociously eating an apple with bits flying everywhere….as Mr. Peepers, a sort of monkey boy. I agree with Ray here; he will likely meltdown or offer some manic moments. Should be a great addition to the show.

Chris Kirkpatrick, 50, Singer

Ray: A founding member of N’Sync, Chris Kirkpatrick has made a fairly successful second career as a voice actor. He’s appeared on some game shows before, but has never played competitive reality TV before and doesn’t seem like a particularly cutthroat guy. My guess is he’ll try to play the game by being everyone’s buddy, only for them to realize this makes him a threat and send the closest thing the game has to an alpha bro packing.

Steve: Chris will be an excellent contestant. He is used to working with a team and is also used to being second banana, so his ego will be in check. He will have a strong social game and go far. Look for him to compete for the title on this one.

Cynthia Bailey, 54, Model and Reality TV Personality

As the oldest woman in the cast, the first of several “Real Housewives” on the show will have her work cut out for her. Older Black women have done fairly well on the show, as last season’s winner Tamar Braxton proved, but looking at the rest of the cast it seems like it might be hard for her to find an alliance. Her best chance is to avoid getting into drama early and work with some people who need an extra vote.

Lamar Odom, 42, Former NBA Player

Sports stars have a VERY mixed record in Celebrity Big Brother, with figures like Lolo Jones and Metta World Peace turning out to be complete trainwrecks. While Odom was an impressive player in his NBA career, since then he’s been a bit of a mess. His much-publicized marriage to Khloe Kardashian, his overdose and subsequent coma, and his frequent tabloid appearances make me think his stay will be short and messy.

Miesha Tate, 35, UFC Mixed Martial Artist

Ray: Miesha is one of the outliers in this season, being a fairly successful athlete with little to no reality TV history. She’s one of the most athletic contestants in the cast, but not too many challenges in Celebrity Big Brother are physical compared to the main game. That will put her at a disadvantage, making her seem like a threat without the ability to win her way out of targets. She’ll need a better social media game than Chuck Liddell or Natalie Eva Marie had.

Steve: I’m a big fan of “Cupcake” and hope she can do very well. She was certainly one of the pioneers of women in MMA and had an excellent dramatic beef with Ronda Rousey so she is no stranger to drama. She returned to MMA after a long lay off and has been fairly successful. She certainly has the will to keep it together and compete for this title. As for Ray’s comparisons, unlike them, she is very likable and will likely have a good social game.

Mirai Nagasu, 26, Figure Skater

Much like Miesha, Mirai is not a reality TV staple – only appearing as a contestant on an athletes’ season of Dancing With the Stars. She’s likely to be very fit, but as the youngest member of the cast, she’s likely to be underestimated. Neither of the past winners were powerhouses in the game, and likability and an unassuming nature can get you far. Mirai may be the unlikely candidate to do the best among the women.

Shanna Moakler, 46, Model, Actress, and TV Host

Moakler is one of the most typical contestants on this season of Celebrity Big Brother – a “star” known more for her colorful personality and her tabloid appearances than anything. Well known for her messy relationship with Blink-182 star Travis Barker and a pageant mainstay, she’s likely been cast for drama and I’m sure she’ll deliver it. While she could last a while by not being seen as a threat, I have a hard time seeing her make any big moves in the game.

Teddi Mellencamp, 40, TV Personality

Ray: The daughter of iconic folk singer John Mellencamp, Teddi has made a name for herself as a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills, as well as a popular diet and lifestyle coach. While she’s run into some controversy about how she sells her products and methods on her podcast, that might work in her favor here. This is a woman who sells things for a living, and the unassuming-looking wife and mother could easily talk her way into a powerhouse alliance.

Steve: As a Hoosier, I’m a huge fan of John Mellencamp and remember his concert at Indiana University back in the day very fondly. Hoping his daughter has a little measure of Hoosier Hospitality that will endear her to her castmates.

Todd Bridges, 56, Actor

Ray: It wouldn’t be Celebrity Big Brother without at least one washed-up sitcom star, would it? Bridges is the oldest contestant in the cast, and while he’s cleaned up his life from his tabloid days and troubled past, he still has a bit of a reputation as a trainwreck. I think he’ll struggle to get people to take him seriously, but that could keep him in the game for a while as they go after bigger targets.

Steve: I was a huge fan of Mr. Bridges when I was a kid, and I will be pulling for him. He was a child actor who was dealt a bad hand and was truly driven to bad behavior. He was molested by an adult on the set, I believe the producer. If there ever was a tragic child actor case, it would be him. Sending some good vibes his way; he deserves it.

Toddrick Hall, 36, Singer, Danger, and TV Personality

A reality TV mainstay who was recently the runner-up on The Masked Singer, Toddrick has come a long way since he debuted on American Idol and was quickly eliminated. The charismatic gay icon will likely be looking to use this show to raise his profile further, but he’s one of the most well-rounded contestants in the game. If he can avoid being an immediate target due to his success, he’ll do very well. But as one of the only current stars on the show, he may not be as determined to go all-out as others.

Ray’s Picks: Carson Kressley and Mirai Nagasu

Steve’s Picks: Meisha Tate and Chris Kirkpatrick

2022 Box Office Showdown

After taking a year off due to obvious reasons, I’m back with a look at the 2022 box office! 2020 was mostly a wash, but the movies came roaring back in the latter half of 2021. Well, at least one studio did. Five Marvel movies, four by Disney delivered strong results. We even had a rare original IP blockbuster succeed. Of course, other movies struggled – especially those for grown-ups.

Which brings us to 2022. While Omicron is still wreaking havoc around the world, it does seem like the 2022 box office will bring back a full year’s release schedule with the return of many top franchises, massive Disney releases in several franchises, and a bunch of movies that have been delayed almost two years.

But things are still unpredictable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these movies move their release date or even push back due to competition or other circumstances. So for this list, I’m going to pass on giving number predictions – they’re just too much of a crapshoot this year. In 2021, one movie will have made the same money as the next three combined. That’s a huge disparity. What I can do, though, is give predictions of placements with some confidence.

So without further ado, my predictions for the top twenty-five movies at the box office in 2022.

25. Puss in Boots – The Last Wish

Is there any heat left in the Shrek franchise? What was once the biggest animated franchise of all time has largely faded from the public eye – until this long-delayed sequel. The first installment was a hit, and I predict this one will do modest numbers as well, but just enough to sneak into this list.

24. Morbius

This odd-looking Jared Leto vampire superhero film is getting on the list for one reason and one reason only – spillover audience. Coming on the heels of a second hit Venom movie and what might wind up being the top-grossing solo superhero movie ever, the Sony Spider-universe production should get enough eyes in seats for the first week before flaming out quickly.

23. The Lost City

This seems to be the year romantic comedies try to make a comeback. I’m not sure whether the genre can recover – things like the Julia Roberts/George Clooney reunion dramedy Ticket to Paradise or the J.Lo/Owen Wilson instant-wedding farce Marry Me feel like they’ll be limited to one quadrant. The exception may be this Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum romantic comedy adventure, which seems to be trying to recapture the vibe of old pulp adventures with a romantic twist.

22. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

I know, I know, everyone thinks this will bomb due to JK Rowling’s…controversies. The thing is, I’m not sure that’ll matter. This series has suffered from massively diminishing returns after the first installment, and the combination of the firing of Johnny Depp, the poor reception for the second movie, and the absence of most of the elements people actually care about from the Harry Potter series makes me think this movie is primed to be the year’s most notable bomb. The fact is, with no Hogwarts and no original main characters, this is barely a franchise.

21. DC’s League of Super-Pets

I feel kind of silly complaining about accuracy in super-pets…but this really isn’t a super-pets movie. It’s a Krypto movie where a bunch of random other animals get superpowers. It’s The Secret Life of Pets with superheroes, and Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart doing voices. And you know what? That’ll probably be enough. The trailer makes this look like lowest-common-denominator kids entertainment, and there’ll always be a place for this. There will be much bigger animated movies this year, and much bigger superhero movies, but this will find its audience.

20. Violent Night

This one is a bit of a flyer, because we know relatively little about this December R-rated action thriller starring David Harbour. But the breakout star of Stranger Things and Black Widow is a big selling point, as is the fact that it has the John Wick team involved. Those guys know how to deliver ultraviolent popcorn entertainment that crosses over into the mainstream, and I could see this being successful counterprogramming amid a wave of family films.

19. Top Gun: Maverick

You know who likes to see movies? Dads! You know who hasn’t had a movie in a while? Dads! I was a little down on this loooooooooooong-awaited sequel when I first analyzed it in 2020’s preview, but I’ve since changed my tune. The trailers make this look like a retro, rah-rah action movie, and Tom Cruise surprisingly still has it. This won’t be his last appearance on this year’s box office countdown, but I think this one could surprise.

18. Strange World

Virtually nothing is known about the next Walt Disney Studios animated feature beyond it being a father-son adventure on an alien planet and one piece of concept art. Disney has been going in a very unusual direction with their animated features in the last few years, and this looks to continue. They struggled with sci-fi films in the early 2000s, but I think the company has built up enough goodwill that this will be a modest hit.

17. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

The first in this series was one of the last hits before the shutdown – and is considered by many to be the only good video game adaptation. It’s really more of a “funny talking animals” action movie, but the sequel looks like the same family adventure but with much more. Bringing in a more authentic Doctor Robotnik, along with Sonic’s loyal sidekick tails and frequent rival Knuckles, this should make an impact as the first big family film of the year.

16. Nope

We know less about this movie than any other on the list – literally nothing except a spooky poster implying that Jordan Peele’s third horror film will involve some sort of spooky circus. Does that matter? Not really. He’s built up such a great reputation as a horror director that the odds are he can dominate the box office no matter what he does. Much like M. Night Shyamalan in his early days, he’s a brand in himself and will easily claim the top horror movie of the year.

15. Black Adam

The first Shazam was a modest hit, but you know what it didn’t have? Dwayne Johnson launching a new franchise. While it’s a big risk as DC’s first villain-led franchise (not counting the bizarre, R-rated Joker), the first teases look spectacular and the action-packed high fantasy should be a hit. This feels like it could be DC’s first successful shared-universe launch in a while if it leads to an intersection with the conclusion of Billy’s trilogy.

14. Turning Red

Pixar’s been delving into some bizarre concepts lately – with great success – but this 2000-set coming-of-age comedy from “Bao” director Domee Shi may take the cake. The story of an awkward Chinese-Canadian teen who gets the ability to shapeshift into a giant red panda looks like the best Hulk movie ever made, and its diverse cast is more evidence of Disney broadening its horizons. Still, it may be a little too oddball and quirky to match the massive success of some Pixar movies.

13. Mission Impossible VII

James Bond may be taking a lengthy break, but Ethan Hunt is here to pick up the slack. Just like this year’s other top Tom Cruise Dad movie, this is a franchise that will skew older. It also has a very strong box office track record and will likely play as counterprogramming to the superhero movies around its release. Director Christopher McQuarrie has had a good reception on the franchise and will likely deliver another strong outing.

12. Minions: The Rise of Gru

This is one of the longest-delayed films since the pandemic, coming out a full two years after its initial scheduled release. I don’t think it’ll hurt the franchise, though – it’s basically pre-sold. You either love or hate the little yellow buggers, but this installment has a box office edge over the first – it features the return of Steve Carrel’s Gru, here a teenager looking to break into villainy. It’s going to be a powerhouse, but I think there are a few animated hits that will be even bigger.

11. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Jason Momoa’s completely insane deep-sea adventure (Julie Andrews as the voice of the Cloverfield Monster!) was a surprise 2018 smash, but I don’t know if the sequel will quite duplicate that. Novelty is often a big part of movies like this breaking out, and the superhero market has only gotten more crowded. Still, even amid a very competitive month, this is one of the DC films best suited to be a hit.

10. The Flash

Probably the year’s biggest question mark, this has gone from an Ezra Miller solo film in the Snyderverse to an insane, dimension-hopping adventure that will apparently involve both Michael Keaton’s Batman and a new Supergirl, among other possible surprises. Miller has a lot of clouds over his head regarding conduct and this movie has often seemed cursed by countless directors and false starts. Still, I think the curiosity factor should be enough to get it into the top ten.

9. Avatar 2

First up, this is one of two movies on this list that I will believe come out in 2022 when I actually see them on the screen in front of me. But I know what you’re thinking – how does the sequel to the biggest movie of all time at the time barely break the top ten? Simple – Avatar has had very little in the way of cultural impact. Sure, there’s a Disney theme park land in Animal Kingdom, but the film rode its then-groundbreaking technology and a near-empty schedule to record numbers and then faded from the public consciousness. How long has it been since the first? The only MCU film released before it was Iron Man. The first one. The sequel plot, involving the main characters’ kids on an adventure, sounds uninspiring. It will likely make a solid profit, but the movie box office has moved on without it.

8. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)

It’s always great to see a movie truly become a word-of-mouth hit, and the Oscar-winning animated multiverse adventure is considered by many to be the best Spidey film. But despite that…its box office wasn’t that impressive, especially not compared to the live-action versions. In fact, it’s the lowest-grossing Spider-man movie. This one looks bigger, better, and wilder, introducing several new Spiders. I think that’ll translate to a major increase in the box office, easily doubling the original. But to get higher than this spot, it’ll likely have to triple – and that may be a bridge too far even for Spider-ham.

7. Mario

I know, I know. Chris Pratt as Mario? The internet is enraged! But here’s the thing…it’s not about us nerds. This is an Illumination movie, and just about everything they touch turns to gold at the box office. But they’ve never had a crack at a franchise quite as large and instantly recognizable as Mario before. With a voice cast that includes Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong and Jack Black as Bowser, it looks like it could be the heir to past animated hits starring all-star voices like Shrek. Sure, there’s a chance it could be terrible and kids will hate it, but I would say parents should get ready to hear Pratt talk about plumbing a lot in the coming years.

6. The Batman

Batman is probably the most bank-able character in comic book movies besides Spider-Man, but this Robert Pattinson reboot has a few things going against it. First of all, it’s a stand-alone noir film at the same time as many people are clamoring for more Ben Affleck Batman. Second, the DC cinematic universe is in flux as a whole. Finally, and most significantly, the movie will be going on streaming a month after release – either related to Covid concerns, or a lack of faith in the film. The trailers have been met with overall good response, but not exactly wildly enthusiastic. It’s Batman and it’ll be a hit, but a lot of factors will keep it from the highest tier.

5. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Coming on the heels of the megahit Spider-Man: No Way Home, this next chapter in the Marvel multiverse adventure should be huge. It’ll introduce new character America Chavez, bring in Scarlet Witch (with rumors of Loki), and play on a much bigger scale than the previous installment. But with all that, the first Doctor Strange was big but not huge, and this movie looks to be much more “inside baseball” than other Marvel franchises. It won’t do less than double the first installment’s numbers, but I don’t expect that to be enough to contend for the year’s crown.

4. Jurassic World: Dominion

It might not get the hype of the biggest franchises, but the Jurassic World franchise shocked the world by taking the opening weekend record with its first installment, and the second was no slouch. This is not only the conclusion of the trilogy, but brings back the core trio of the very first Jurassic Park movie – Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern – and pits humans against dinosaurs in the wild. Some people will want a blockbuster that they can enjoy without ten years of lore, and this will fill that niche with a whole lot of creative dinosaur kills.

3. Thor: Love and Thunder

The Thor franchise was kind of Marvel’s ugly stepsister for a while, with the first two movies getting middling reception. That all changed with Taika Waititi’s rollicking space action-comedy Thor: Ragnarok, which was the biggest hit of the franchise. Not only is he back, directing Hemsworth (maybe the last remaining member of the original Avengers to headline a film), but he’s bringing Natalie Portman back to wield the hammer – adapting one of the best-regarded runs on the character ever. Add in Christian Bale as the terrifying Gorr, and you’ve got a recipe for a massive hit.

2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

You remember how I said there were two movies on this list I wasn’t sure would actually come out? This is the other. The first Black Panther shocked the world and became the top-grossing superhero movie of all time for over a year – and then we all know what happened. The tragic death of Chadwick Boseman shocked the world and left director Ryan Coogler with the near-impossible task of picking up the franchise and paying tribute to his friend. Rumored new star Letitia Wright has been at the center of vaccine drama and the movie has been plagued by rewrites and delays. All that said, if it makes its release date, the throng of people lining up to watch a tribute to Boseman’s legacy and the future of Wakanda will be huge.

  1. Lightyear

I’m taking a flyer on this one, but the Toy Story franchise has not given any indication of being played out. The last two installments have both crossed 400M at the domestic box office, and this new spin-off features the wildly popular Chris Evans taking over the lead role as a young Buzz Lightyear in a real space adventure. While it lifting itself over the three MCU films this year will be a challenging task, the sci-fi/adventure trailer reminds me a lot of another film – The Incredibles 2, which did a staggering 600M+ at the box office. In a superhero glut, it’s entirely possible that a stand-alone family adventure tying into one of the most beloved franchises of all time will come out the victor.

What do you think will dominate the year? Feel free to give your thoughts in the comments or on Facebook/Twitter.

Movie Review – Encanto

EncantoDirected by Jared Bush and Byron Howard. Written by Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush. Starring the voices of Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi-Cabot Conyers, Maluma, and Alan Tudyk

**1/2 out of ****

If I had a nickel for every time Disney released a wildly ambitious genre film with a sprawling cast and stunning visuals that ultimately collapsed under the weight of a mythology it didn’t fully explore in November 2021, I would have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s odd that it’s happened twice! Encanto, the latest release from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is now out on Disney Plus after a theatrical release, and a second viewing didn’t clear too much up for me. The movie has a lot going for it, including gorgeous animation and a strong musical soundtrack by the legendary Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s also one of the most authentic depictions of the beautiful side of Colombian culture ever put to screen – something audiences don’t often get to see in mainstream films with the focus on the country’s troubles in shows like Narcos.

It’s also highly unusual for animated films in that it’s an epic adventure – that never leaves home. It helps that the home in question is Casita, a living house of magic that houses the enchanted Madrigal family. Given life by a miracle-blessed candle carried to their refuge fifty years ago amid civil war in Colombia, it not only responds to the family’s every need, but it gives the members of the core family a magical gift of their own – essentially a superpower. Well, most of those family members, at least.

The core of Encanto is Mirabel, a teenager who happens to be the one non-powered core member of the Madrigal family after the house mysteriously refused to give her a gift on her fifth birthday. Her mother Julieta blesses the food she makes with healing powers, while Mirabel’s older sisters Isabela and Luisa are a beautiful plant-generator and a hard-working bruiser with super-strength. Her climate-controlling Aunt Pepa is the mother of super-hearer Dolores, shape-shifter Camilo, and pint-sized animal empath Antonio (who gets his gift as the movie begins). Julieta and Pepa’s non-powered husbands just seem happy to be there, and overseeing it all is tough-as-nails matriarch Alma, who lost her husband in the civil war and raised her triplets alone.

That’s right – triplets. We can’t forget Uncle Bruno, a mysterious seer who made dark prophecies about the family’s future and one day disappeared. His absence looms large over the film and plays a key role in its central mystery – which kicks off when Mirabel and only Mirabel starts to see cracks in Casita’s foundation. Could the miracle house be losing its magic – and her family losing their powers? While some people believe her and help her investigate, other – most notably Abuela Alma – think she’s seeking attention and trying to overcompensate for her lack of powers.

What stands out to be about Encanto is how it tries to work on multiple levels. It’s at its best when it’s exploring the complex dynamic of a multigenerational family with a lot of trauma at its core. As Mirabel explores the sprawling house – where each blessed member of the family has a room filled with magic and secrets – she finds not hidden villains but people holding their own pain and anxiety inside. Segments involving her bonding with Luisa and Isabela particularly pack a lot of punch and are maybe the best depiction of complex sibling relationships I’ve seen in a while. And while there isn’t a villain in this film per se, there is a dark and pained energy at the core of this family, one that’s been allowed to persist for a long time, and it’s not until it’s addressed that the source of the trouble can be found.

Here’s the thing, though – Encanto isn’t a movie about family dynamics on its own. It’s a movie about a complex magical mythology that it seems oddly uninterested in exploring. Strange things happen, and they’re implied to be metaphors for the family’s internal conflict. But they’re not – they’re actual magical events that have been sustaining a small village enclave for fifty years! If the magic suddenly starts going off the rails, it seems like something that would have an answer. But as the credits roll, we’re left with just as many questions as we started the film with. It seems like it wants Mirabel’s lack of a gift to be a metaphor for children who struggle to keep up with exceptional siblings, or for how people with disabilities are left behind. But like many movie metaphors, it can’t quite decide whether it’s subtext or text. I’ve read a good number of fan theories that go more into depth than the movie does.

That aside, Encanto does have a lot to recommend. Its animation is lush and stunning, especially some segments inside the larger-on-the-inside secret rooms. John Leguizamo’s Bruno, whose story is the key to much of the film’s climax, delivers a great voice performance, and Miranda’s music is some of the most catchy tunes Disney has put in years (Particularly the opening number, a fast-paced recap of the family by Beatriz). But many of its sprawling cast feel very underexplored, and after nearly two hours, much of the Madrigal mansion is still a mystery to us. It’s rare to see a Disney animated feature undone by its ambition, but points to them for continuing to think outside of the box.

Movie Review – Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home – Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tony Revolori, Benedict Wong, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, Rhys Ifans, JK Simmons, Tom Hardy, and several surprises

**** out of ****

My first reaction after coming out of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the third and most spectacular of the MCU Spider-man movies, was “How do we get to watch these movies?”. As a long-time comics fan, it’s still surreal to me that we’re not only getting multiple big-budget comic book movies a year but that they’ve grown in spectacle and story to the point where they equal the most ridiculous event comics of all time. In the wrong hands, they become bloated, overwrought collections of explosions (see the woeful Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice). But in the right hands, like director Jon Watts, they become spectacles that manage to stun with their sheer scope while never losing sight of their emotional core.

It’s impossible to talk much about this movie without spoiling some things, so I’ll give a warning before I get into this movie’s biggest surprises. But to start, this is good. Very good. It picks up right from the cliffhanger in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the last Marvel movie released before the pandemic hit, which saw Peter Parker’s secret identity exposed to the world by the sadistic Mysterio. J. Jonah Jameson, now a sinister talk radio host, has wasted no time painting Spider-man as a menace. All of Ned, MJ, Happy Hogan, and Aunt May quickly find themselves under suspicion of crimes by the authorities along with Peter, and Peter finds himself a combination of the world’s biggest celebrity and the world’s most wanted man.

He’s willing to take the heat even when it leads to him and May being chased out of their apartment, but when the controversy keeps Ned and MJ from getting into college, he realizes that this new status quo can’t be sustained. So, in classic Peter Parker style, he settles on a solution that might make things worse. He seeks out Doctor Strange, who like Peter is still sorting things out after being blipped for five years. Strange, demoted from Sorcerer Supreme and now answering to a vaguely annoyed Wong, agrees to help Peter erase his identity from the public’s mind. But as Peter asks for one exception after another for his friends and family, the spell goes awry. He’s kicked out by a very annoyed Strange – but the chaos is just beginning.

The biggest surprise in Spider-Man: No Way Home was revealed long ago in the trailers – villains from other Spidey-franchises are making their way to the MCU. The chaotic spell created a tear in the multiverse, and everyone who knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man is being pulled in – most of them right before they died fighting him. That includes Alfred Molina’s brilliant Doctor Octopus, equal parts sympathetic and terrifying, along with Rhys Ifans’ hulking Lizard (still very much into the idea of turning people into reptiles), Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman (vaguely annoyed and confused by the whole thing), and Jamie Foxx’s Electro (After a massive, massive rewrite on the character likely spurred on by Foxx himself).

And of course, it includes Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn, a ghastly cackling specter who instantly dials up the intensity of the film the second he shows up. While some of these villains were antiheroes or tragic figures when they first showed up, the Goblin was one of the few villains who was unambiguously evil. At least the Goblin is – Norman Osborn is a very different story. And while Doctor Strange sends Peter out to collect the villains and send them back to their dimensions ASAP, Aunt May has very different ideas – after encountering Norman, she believes they deserve the chance to be cured of their conditions and get a second chance.

This is a great way to set up a moral dilemma for Peter, and I was glad to see Tomei get more to do in this film after being largely sidelined from Peter’s European adventure. I have to say, while Rosemarie Harris may have been an authentic portrayal of Lee and Ditko’s Aunt May, it’s Tomei who’s portrayal will really stick with me. All of the gags about her attractiveness aside, she’s a great grounding force for Peter’s Spider-man and she has probably her best role in this film – adding an important dose of humanity amid the madness of the multiverse.

One of the most impressive parts of Spider-Man: No Way Home is how it manages to switch tones brilliantly on a moment’s notice. This is a really funny movie – Ned and MJ get many of the best lines, even if they do feel slightly sidelined for much of the film. But when it needs to get serious, it gets deadly serious. There are times the movie feels like a slow-burn horror movie, and some where it feels like a Greek tragedy. It balances an almost absurd scale with quiet, intimate moments in the way few blockbusters do. Ambition ultimately worked against Eternals, but here it works brilliantly in the film’s favor.

And that’s even without talking about the movie’s biggest surprise.

Massive Spoiler Warning – Do Not Read On Until You See The Movie











The fact that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield appear in this film is not the biggest surprise in the world. It was heavily rumored for the better part of a year. What was a surprise to me was just how significant a role they played. I expected them to be a last-act cameo, but they’re in more than an hour of the film – and in many ways are its emotional heart. For Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to see these two versions of what he could become adds so much critical context to the movie’s final act. Maguire’s older, battle-wizened Peter offers him hope for the future. Meanwhile, Garfield’s pained, haunted Peter is obviously still struggling and is determined not to let him make the same mistakes.

I stand by the belief that both of them are excellent Spider-man actors. Maguire’s series had its hiccups, but I loved him here and would be thrilled to see him come back for a Kraven’s Last Hunt film or as a supporting player in a Spider-girl series. Garfield, meanwhile, had his series end on a bitter downer note and this role lets both the actor and the character redeem themselves in dramatic fashion. It’s amazing how many little moments this movie has time for, especially scenes between the two older heroes and their former villains.

The ending is bold. Very bold. This shouldn’t be spoiled, but it upends the entire concept of the series in a way that’s massively risky – and also feels like it could have been written as either the end to Holland’s tenure as Spider-man, the end of the MCU tenure before Sony takes him back, or the launch of a new MCU era. It’s going to be controversial, especially since it calls back to a massively divisive storyline, but it also feels quintessentially Spider-man in the choice Peter makes.

Is Spider-Man: No Way Home a perfect movie? No. Is it closer to one than a movie of this scale has ever gotten? Probably. It’s the most thrilling moviegoing experience since the pandemic and probably the most spectacular event film of all time after Avengers: Endgame. It brought theaters back with a massive bang, and every single dollar of its ridiculous box office is wildly deserved.

Movie Review – Luca

Luca – Directed by Enrico Casarosa. Written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones. Starring the voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci, Marina Massironi, Sandy Martin, and Sacha Baron Cohen

**1/2 out of ****

Whenever Pixar gives us a new movie, it’s going to be worth paying attention to. Their movies tend to be more mature than the average animated fare, with the recent Soul being a surprisingly dark and poignant musing on mortality and finding purpose on life. And right before the pandemic hit and shut down theaters, those still willing to brave the theaters got to see a brilliant fantasy family saga play out on the big screen with Onward.

Luca is the second Pixar film to debut exclusively on Disney Plus, the streaming service that remains a little light on original content. While Disney movies like the excellent Raya and the Last Dragon made viewers pay $30 to watch them on streaming on release day if they didn’t want to go to the theaters, Pixar has released its last two exclusively to streaming – free of charge. That’s enough to put me in a good mood when watching Luca, and with Pixar you generally know you’re getting quality – with a few exceptions.

Ultimately, the studio’s reputation for quality is Luca‘s biggest enemy, as it doesn’t really live up to that quality while still being perfectly enjoyable. If this was a Dreamworks, Sony, or Illumination film, it would likely be received very warmly as a calm, funny slice of paradise. But with Pixar, we largely expect something profound or heartbreaking – and Luca seems more content to simply take us on vacation.

One of the film’s biggest issues is that its inspirations are on full display from the start. This is heavily inspired by Disney classic The Little Mermaid. Not to the extent of recent Netflix release Wish Dragon, which sometimes seemed like it was lifting whole scenes and character beats from the original Disney Aladdin, but the bones of the story are similar enough that it’s hard to ignore. It’s the story of a mythological sea creature who wants to live on land and has to elude their overprotective parent to make their dream come true.

This time, the teenage Ariel is replaced by Luca, a curious young boy voiced by Jacob Tremblay. Part of a family of sea monsters (reptillian scaly creatures who look totally un-fearsome). His explorations lead him to Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), a slightly older sea monster boy who has chosen to live full time on the surface – and from whom Luca learns that he can assume human form out of water, as long as he doesn’t get wet. But when Luca’s overprotective parents (Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan) find out about his journeys, they plan to banish him to the deep sea with his eccentric uncle (Sacha Baron Cohen, making the most of two scenes) – and Luca makes the decision to run away.

From there, the two boys go on an adventure to the fictional Italian fishing village of Portorosso, where they try to blend into human society and meet a small but charming collection of characters. The movie has some fun visual gags about trying to fit in, but it moves quickly. But the boys have one passion above all – getting their hands on a Vespa scooter, which they think is the coolest thing they’ve ever seen.

That leads them to try to compete in an upcoming Italian triathalon – swimming, bicycling, and…eating pasta? But to get there, they’ll have to beat – or team up with – a young girl named Giulia, who is probably the most intense contestant as she tries to avenge an embarrassing loss. She winds up becoming a surrogate family for Luca and Alberto, along with her no-nonsense dad Massimo (a one-armed fisherman who is a great example of casual disability representation with zero angst or negative tropes present).

The foundations for a very good movie are all here, but the movie makes a couple of choices that knock it down quite a few rungs. First of all, sans credits (which you should watch for some charming epilogue cartoons), the movie is only about eighty minutes and it feels like it. That means it has to rush through quite a lot of story developments, and major character beats can feel perfunctory – especially in the rift that develops between the characters.

I get that this movie wants us to have sympathy for both Luca and Alberto, as they wind up wanting very different things out of their time in Portorosso, but I don’t think this part of the movie is handled very well. Luca seems like he wants friendship, family, and knowledge, while Alberto wants…I’m not sure. A reveal about his past brings the character into a clearer light, but the problem is by then he’s made to be pretty unlikable. And the fact that he’s implied to be older than Luca and Giulia doesn’t help.

The movie’s biggest problem, by far, is its villain Ercole. A local wealthy teenager who intends to repeat as race champ, he spends most of the movie as a generic 80s sports movie villain taunting the hero. But as the events of the movie unfold, about 90% of the way through the movie he takes a very dark turn that feels out of step with the gentle tone of the movie so far. He’s not particularly compelling as a lighter villain, just annoying, and he’s not any more interesting as an attempted murderer.

The short length also doesn’t help the storyarc of Luca’s parents as they seek out their wayward son, although I do think this film explains their change of heart a little better than Triton’s in The Little Mermaid. And there is a lot of good in this movie. The ending is genuinely tearjerking in the great Pixar style. It has some good visual gags, especially involving Massimo’s pet cat Machiavelli – who smells something edible in those boys and is determined to do something about it, even if he literally bites off more than he can chew.

Luca is perfectly fun summer entertainment, with brilliant animation and a charming story with few surprises. But we’re conditioned to expect brilliance out of Pixar while the creative team here is perfectly content to give us a breezy summer getaway. You’re not going to walk away from this movie unhappy, but don’t expect it to live up to Pixar’s last two. But at least the price is definitely right.

Movie Review – Black Widow

Black Widow – Directed by Cate Shortland. Written by Eric Pearson. Starring Scarlet Johnasson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenie, Ray Winstone, William Hurt, Olga Kurylenko, Ever Anderson, Violet McGraw

***1/2 out of ****

Few movies have ever had as much resting on their shoulders as Black Widow. Not only is it the swan song for the popular Natasha Romanoff, who died in Avengers: Endgame, but it’s a long-demanded solo film for the MCU’s first solo heroine. Originally slated to come out in May 2020, it was the highest-profile film derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, as Disney was determined not to casually throw it on streaming like so many other films. And as the first A+ tier film to come out since the pandemic, it’s the biggest test yet of the box office – even bigger than franchise hits like A Quiet Place: Part 2 and F9.

And amid all of that, it still has to be a good movie. Well, the good news is, the MCU hasn’t put out a truly bad film yet in over twenty installments. It’s put out a few mediocre ones – but this certainly isn’t that. Coming on the heels of a series of movies that got increasingly cosmic and chaotic, it’s one of the most gritty and down-to-earth MCU films yet – and it’s anchored by a quartet of fantastic performances.

The film begins with one of the best prologues I can remember in an MCU film, as a preteen Natasha (Ever Anderson) lives a normal life in American suburbia with a loving mother (Rachel Weisz, barely deaged with CGI) – and a naive little sister. It’s a strangely pastoral scene, but when dad (David Harbour, completely unrecognizable with CGI) bursts through the door, it becomes clear what’s going on. They’re deep-cover spies, and the time has come to flee America. And while Red Room trainee Natasha understands what’s going on, tiny Yelena has no idea yet. This unconventional family unit may be fake, but they care for each other deeply – and that makes what comes next all the more heartbreaking.

The bulk of the movie takes place close to the present – but not in it. Instead, it takes place an eternity ago in MCU time, around the time of Captain America: Civil War. A fugitive after working against the government to help Captain America, Natasha is pursued by General Ross (William Hurt, snarling as always) and is forced to go off the grid with the help of her sarcastic fixer Mason (O-T Fagbenie, providing some early comic relief). But it’s not long before her past comes calling and she’s forced out of her hideaway and into a spy plot that feels much more James Bond than Marvel.

It’s not a surprise from the trailers that Yelena (Florence Pugh) is now a Black Widow in her own right – and part of a team of them. What is new is exactly how she was turned into a super-spy, and that unravels a plot that reveals some of the darkest material ever explored in the MCU. This is a movie about brainwashing, manipulation, torture, and the horrors that men get up to when they think women belong to them. Despite that, it never feels like it’s preaching at the audience – it lets us discover these horrors as Natasha does, and react to them in the natural way. It’s a movie about serious issues without ever being an issue movie.

Despite this, Black Widow manages to be a very funny movie without its humor being out of place. Much of its humor comes from one man – Alexei (Harbour, looking much more like himself in the present day). The former Red Guardian, he’s a boorish brawler who loves his “daughters” while seemingly being blind to many of the horrors of “mother Russia” – even after it betrayed him many times over. Self-aggrandizing, larger than life, and obsessed with a past that makes sense only to him, he’s one of the most entertaining new characters to hit the MCU in a long time. Melina (Rachel Weisz) has had a much calmer time of it since their family experiment ended, although what she’s done since leads to some brilliantly dark comic moments as well – especially an extended scene involving a pig.

What doesn’t quite work? Going back to a problem for the MCU for a long time, Black Widow has a pair of relatively weak villains. General Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the sadistic mastermind of the Red Room, is a good example of the banality of evil. A generic man in a suit, he manages to be one of the most evil villains in the MCU besides maybe Ego. But he doesn’t have much flair, instead coming off like a twisted bureaucrat. And then there’s Taskmaster, the skull-masked assassin who can mimic any fighter. One of the most popular villains in the Marvel Universe, this character is given a complete makeover in identity and origin to the point where they barely feel like the same character in any meaningful way. One might even say they got the Cassandra Cain treatment. They deliver the visual flair and action, but this character didn’t need to be Taskmaster and the movie didn’t do the legacy justice. There’s still time for the MCU to fix that given how the story ends here, though.

But this also ties into the movie’s biggest strength. Taskmaster’s fight scenes are stunning – and so is almost every single action scene in Black Widow. The fact that it’s a more down-to-earth movie doesn’t stop it from delivering some of the best action set pieces in MCU history, including a dazzling escape segment from a massive collapsing fortress in a very inhospitable environment right near the end of the movie. But amid that action is an intimate, angst-driven story that is ultimately about the bond between family – chosen, atypical, and those bonded by trauma. And of course, it’s all the more poignant because we already know how Natasha’s story ends. The epilogue sets up what could be the future of the franchise – as well as the next big project featuring one of the players. If it plays out, it’ll be the biggest test yet of the MCU’s split focus between movies and Disney Plus. But for now, let’s just enjoy the fact that Marvel movies are back – and they started with a winner.

Movie Review – Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise – Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcon, Dani Rovira, Quim Guitierrez, Andy Nyman

**1/2 out of ****

Making movies out of theme park attractions has been a long business for Disney – and one with mixed results. Before Jungle Cruise, they hit pay dirt with the Pirates of the Caribbean series – which overshadowed the long list of failures based on Country Bear Jamboree, Mission to Mars, and Haunted Mansion. This new summer release – delayed like so many others for a year – seemed to have more in common with the former, having a big budget high-adventure plot and some huge stars. It was also based on a truly beloved Disney attraction – albeit one more known for its skippers’ cheesy jokes and its dated animatronics as opposed to the ride itself.

Jungle Cruise is easily the most successful Disney ride spin-off since the Pirates set sail – although that’s an extremely low bar – but it also owes every bit of its success to that movie in more ways than one. It’s oddly similar to that series and to another – the popular Brendan Fraser-led reboot of The MummyBoth share the same free-wheeling adventure retro tone, and have several similar character archetype. Beyond that, though, the plots start to seem very similar – so much that it’s less a comforting familiarity than a sense of deja vu.

Jungle Cruise finds its lead in Emily Blunt, playing the brash Dr. Lily Houghton. A brilliant young botanist unfairly excluded from the scientific community in 1916 Britain due to her gender, she’s left to rely on her camp-gay brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) to make speeches for her while she skulks around museums looking for clues to the location of a mysterious tree that can cure any ill. After a chaotic action scene set in a secret library in which Blunt uses a ladder as a weapon, she and MacGregor are off to the Amazon – to a deep part of the jungle that is only accessible by boat.

So naturally, they’ll need a boat. Enter Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a barely competent skipper who ekes out a living giving mostly staged tours on his ramshackle tug. He’s deep in debt to Nilo (Paul Giamatti), an arrogant harbormaster who owns just about every boat on the Amazon river besides Frank’s. Nilo really isn’t doing anything wrong and Frank does owe him money he has no intention of repaying, so it’s not clear why we’re supposed to root against him besides the fact that Frank is played by Dwayne Johnson. When Lily and MacGregor enter the harbor, Frank sees some deep pockets and a way out of debt – so he’s determined to get them to hire him, no matter what cons he has to pull.

Of course, they’re not the only people in search of the tree. This film has a lot of villains, to the point of almost being overloaded with them. Nilo is just a minor annoyance, but the same can’t be said for Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a mad German aristocrat (and real historical figure) who pursues Emily and MacGregor in a surprisingly maneuverable submarine that surfaces for ridiculous action scenes. Plemons is hilariously over-the-top and adds most of this movie’s best comedy, albeit mostly unintentional. The same can’t be said for the other main villain – Aguirre, an undead Spanish conquistador cursed for his pursuit of the tree (and some minor genocide, no big) along with the rest of his men. Freed from eternal imprisonment, they return as undead monster warriors who are fused with various substances of the jungle including snakes, mud, beehives, or vines. If that sounds exactly like a combination of the ghost pirates of the first Pirates movie and the deep-sea mutant pirates of the second…that’s because it is.

The plot of this movie is functional at best, but it gets most of its enjoyment out of its lead actors. Johnson may be a bit overexposed as an action star, but it’s good to see him play a lighter, more morally ambiguous character. Frank is a very large goofball trapped in an action movie, even though the movie lays his “Rogue with a heart of gold” character traits on a little thick. Blunt is playing the character she does best – flinty, competent woman surrounded by less competent men. She and Johnson have a very similar dynamic to classic films like The African Queen, but while I liked both characters individually, I thought their romantic dynamic may have been a bit rushed.

Whitehall’s character got a lot of attention for being the first openly gay main character in a Disney film (for the seventh time, if you ask some people). I did think he was one of the funniest parts of the movie, but while it’s good to see some gay representation in a major studio release, he’s also a bit of a stereotype straight out of 1997. The effete gay man who loves the finer things in life and loses his mind when out in the wilderness is a bit of a hoary old trope, but the movie did a good job of getting him slightly out of that box. If only slightly. Minor supporting characters like Veronica Falcon’s scheming native trader add some fun, and a jaguar that makes repeated appearances will likely be a fan favorite.

Ultimately, though, Jungle Cruise fails one major test – its central conflict isn’t nearly as compelling as it wants to be. Everyone is racing towards the supposed site of the tree, and the action-packed climax channels just about every supernatural adventure movie imaginable. It has some fantastic visuals, but it also very much feels like a CGI recreation of better films. There is a massive twist midway through the movie about one of the main characters, and it’s treading on some tricky ground. It handles it well, but once it happens there was virtually no doubt in my mind about how the main plot would pan out. And I was right.

The one thing I was wrong about? As soon as Aguirre and his henchmen appeared, I was actually starting to wonder if this would turn out to be a stealth spin-off from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. That’s how similar the curse was. Alas, no Orlando Bloom cameos. But hey, Disney proved that they can make a second watchable movie out of a theme park attraction, if not much more. Onward to the Tower of Terror, I guess.

Movie Review – The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad – Directed by James Gunn. Written by James Gunn. Starring Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Jai Courtney, Peter Capadi, Michael Rooker, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Flula Borg, Taika Waititi, Sean Gunn, and the voice of Sylvester Stallone

***1/2 out of ****

Ray: Five years ago, DC gave us Suicide Squad, the first adaptation of their gritty espionage comic about conscripted supervillains fighting evil for the government…and it was a complete disaster. While it was carried by a strong performance by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, it was plagued by a weak remaining cast, a terrible and nonsensical villain, and one of the worst Joker performances in DC history by a mugging, cringe-worthy Jared Leto. It was almost enough to make you long for Society Joker. The franchise looked like it would be one and done – and then the Nazis got ahold of James Gunn’s old tweets. After the offbeat director got briefly fired by Disney, DC wasted no time and signed him up to reboot the franchise.

While all’s well that ends well at Disney, we are very lucky that the whole affair played out the way it did. The Suicide Squad couldn’t be more different than its misbegotten predecessor. Unlike the successful Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which are definitely Gunn-light, this is a movie written and drawn by the eccentric Troma creator, complete with an R-rating and the same twisted humor he brought to his earlier projects like Slither. It wastes no time showing us that, with a wild opening segment as Harley, team leader Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), and a motley crew of criminals are deployed to the Central American nation of Corto Maltese under the watchful eye of ruthless team commander Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Betrayals, carnage, and comedy ensue in a bloody battle – and the main narrative hasn’t even really started.

Will Smith’s Deadshot hasn’t returned for the sequel, so The Suicide Squad needs a new leading man, and they get it in Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. The two are actually pretty similar – a household-name black actor playing a master marksman who is humanized by his daughter – but Elba’s version is definitely the superior one. He has a grit to him, coming to the Squad off nearly assassinating Superman with a Kryptonite bullet, and has to be blackmailed into the team by Waller. The comic book original was one of the most underrated Superman villains for a while, so it was great to see him brought to life here.

As the new Suicide Squad is sent in to rescue a captured Rick Flagg, Bloodsport is paired with a suitably weird crew, including John Cena’s buff Peacemaker, a Captain America archetype gone wrong whose role in the team is always a little unclear. Fans of Falcon and the Winter Soldier will recognize some similarities with US Agent, but Cena’s take is enjoyably off-kilter. They’re joined by the young Ratcatcher II (Melchior), a quirky young woman who inherited her bond with rats from her late father; Polka-Dot Man (Dastmalchian), a neurotic nerd with bizarre powers and a sad backstory; and Nanaue (Sylvester Stallone) a hulking shark-man with the mind of a child. They don’t look like a great team – and they’re not. That’s what makes this movie work.

While there is a previous Suicide Squad movie, this film actually finds its inspiration in another franchise – Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool, where a mostly-well-meaning antihero unleashes ultraviolent chaos that’s only occasionally aimed in the right direction. As the team is unleashed on Corto Maltese, it earns its R-rating in spades, with some clever ultraviolence and crude jokes in the great Gunn tradition. Despite this, though, the movie is surprisingly able to get us to invest emotionally in its heroes, particularly the odd bond that forms between Ratcatcher and Nanaue, and a brilliant flashback to the young Ratcatcher’s bond with her father (Taika Waititi, phenomenal as always). And if Ratcatcher’s intelligent pet rat Sebastian doesn’t become a breakout star, there is no God.

Robbie’s Harley Quinn, oddly, often seems to be in a different movie. She’s missing for a big chunk of it, then resurfaces in a strange soap-opera parody subplot before rejoining the team, and while I’m not sure the scripting around her is the best, she’s always brilliant. She’s appeared in three movies so far, the first two pretty bad, and always managed to outshine them. Here she’s at her chaotic best and having the time of her live in a movie that finally deserves her. Now give her the Gotham City Sirens movie she actually deserves!

The villains were a massive weak point of the first Suicide Squad movie, and that’s thankfully not the case here. Of course, with this team, everyone’s sort of a villain – there really are no morally pure characters here, with the probable exception of Sebastian (WE THINK), but Gunn doesn’t skip out on giving us some loathsome bad guys. The Corto Maltese conspiracy is led by a hammy Peter Capaldi as The Thinker, dripping British condescension. And of course, it’s been spoiled that the evil tyrant Starro makes an appearance in this movie, and his scenes may be the best American kaiju story ever told. It’s some of the most perfectly comic-book storytelling ever, and brought to life with the perfect veneer of Gunn’s insanity.

Overall, The Suicide Squad occasionally becomes too chaotic for its own good, but makes up for it with a likable group of antiheroes and a tone that perfectly captures the series’ violent espionage roots. It’s one of the best live-action DC films of the modern era.

Movie Review – Free Guy

Free Guy – Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkkar

**** out of ****

How long has it been since the last truly original blockbuster? We’ve become so used to a world of franchises, remakes, reboots, and adaptations that it seems like a breath of fresh air. And along comes Free Guy, a whip-smart video game satire that delivers both some of the funniest scenes of the summer and a surprisingly deep takedown of the corruption within the gaming world and big tech. And at its core is Ryan Reynolds, in his best work since he last put on the Deadpool spandex.

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a guy who loves his life. He gets up every morning, drinks the same coffee, and goes to work as a security guard at the bank with his best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) – where they get robbed every single day. See, they live in Free City, a chaotic metropolis filled with explosions, car chases, and disasters caused by the mysterious “Sunglasses People”. These overpowered rogues seem to be able to do anything they want with no consequences, but Guy is unbothered. He has simple desires, like raising enough money to buy a fancy pair of sneakers (but his bank account is oddly the same every day). He also dreams of finding “the one” – who he thinks might be the mysterious Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer), a sunglasses-wearing visitor to Free City, who seems surprised when he interacts with her.

And when Guy puts on a pair of those distinctive sunglasses, everything changes. He sees the city as it really is – a never-ending series of opportunities for loot, weapons, and missions. That’s because Guy is an NPC in a video game, and he just got his first look at what the world looks like for the players running around Free City. And once he gets his first look, he never looks back and starts rewriting the rules of the game for himself. And first on his priority list? Finding Molotov Girl and teaming up with her again on a quest to find a secret locked within the archives of Free City.

But this is only half the story. The other half takes place in the real world, as indie game designer Millie Rusk (Comer, unrecognizable from her alter ego) fights a lonely battle against the powerful video game company Soonami. She designed an indie sandbox game in college, only to have it bought by the powerhouse, turned into a violent shooter, and was pushed off her own creation. Her partner, “Keys” (Joe Keery) reluctantly agreed to stay on and now works as a low-level coder on what was once his creation alongside his frenemy Mouser (a deadpan Utkarsh Ambudkar) as they take orders from the company’s mercurial CEO.

And that CEO is the secret weapon of Free Guy. Antwan, played by a completely unhinged Taika Waititi, is one of the funniest movie villains I can remember. Sometimes he’s an obstructive Michael Scott-esque bureaucrat. Sometimes he’s so eccentric and over the top that he almost feels like a Sasha Baron Cohen character who wandered in from another movie. And sometimes something else creeps in, something cruel and menacing that reveals he doesn’t care about anyone. Not the people he robbed, not the people who work for him, and not even the millions of players who made him rich as he plans to sunset the game and force them into buying a sequel.

One of the most impressive things about Free Guy is just how many genres it manages to cram into one relatively short movie. It works as a corporate espionage thriller with some genuinely surprising twists in the real world. Guy’s journey to move from NPC to hero is one of the best action-comedies I’ve seen in some time. The crossovers between the real world and the world of streamers and superfans is hilarious, especially when we see who’s under the avatars of some of Guy’s recurring enemies. It even works surprisingly well as a romance, as Comer’s cynical investigator finds herself falling for this unique NPC. And as the movie goes on, it takes on the tone of something close to an apocalyptic thriller. Because the sunset date is coming, and the entirety of Free City is at stake.

Free Guy shares a lot of common DNA with some of the best original movies in the modern era, especially in the way it satirizes the media and the fishbowl we all live in. In many ways, it’s the proper heir to The Truman Show and Pleasantville. It balances taking place in more than one world and timeline better than any movie since Inception. And its energetic, goofy superhero reminds me of such classic comedies like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Even when it takes a turn into an over-the-top disaster movie, it never stops being engaging. All video games need a great “Boss level”, and Free Guy surprises us with a genuinely ridiculous one featuring one of the best uses of CGI in recent memory.

Does Free Guy have any flaws? Well, after a brilliant final showdown taking place on two different planes and featuring one of the best chase scenes in movie history, there’s about five minutes that work a little too hard to tie everything up neatly. Despite being an out-of-the-box hit, Free Guy seems to have zero ambition to be a franchise. And in some ways, isn’t that the most unique thing about it?

Movie Review – Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Ghostbusters: Afterlife – Directed by Jason Reitman. Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman. Starring Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfharm, McKenna Grace, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Bokeem Woodbine, Tracy Letts, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Wilde, and the voice of Josh Gad

**1/2 out of ****

One of the most frustrating things about this polarized world we live in is how Ghostbusters – an amusing satire of 1980s New York filled with chaotic special effects – somehow became a political flashpoint. The divisive 2016 reboot, which was ultimately a generic Paul Feig comedy that deserved neither the ridiculous hate it got nor the energetic defenses, came and went. While I wasn’t a big fan, I think its biggest problem was that it simply wasn’t what any Ghostbusters fan wanted. Not because of the female cast, but because after thirty years, it simply turned its back on the old universe and left the fans still hanging.

Into that void comes Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which takes the exact opposite approach. MCU films look at this movie and go “Dude, dial it back a little with the callbacks to past films”. It’s firmly grounded in Ghostbusters lore and can’t go five minutes without dropping a reference. The problem is, it gives people who don’t rewatch the old ones very little reason to care. Sequels to franchises that are long-gone are becoming the hottest thing. The Incredibles returned after more than a decade off. Bad Boys brought back the original cast and won the much-abridged 2020 box office race. Some returns are less welcome, but overall nostalgia sells right now. The difference is, most of the others feel like a fresh start while Ghostbusters: Afterlife feels like a resurrection – for good and bad.

This movie feels like it’s trying to be countless things for countless people, and that’s its biggest problem. From the trailers, it was clear that the big inspiration here wasn’t Ghostbusters, it was the wildly popular Netflix drama Stranger Things. Small town full of mysteries and horror? Check. Nerdy kids getting in adventures? Check. Finn Wolfhard? Check! After a brief wordless prologue where Egon Spengler (played by the late Harold Ramis and brought to life here via body doubles and CGI) meets his end at the hands of a supernatural menace, we meet the main cast of the film. Egon’s daughter, single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) gets evicted just as she learns she’s inherited a creepy old farmhouse from her estranged dad. She packs up her kids, sullen fifteen-year-old Trevor (Wolfhard, playing the Jonathan/Steve role here) and awkward twelve-year-old Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and moves them to Summerville, a tiny town in Oklahoma right out of Footloose. Only here, instead of cranky pastors, the main threat is supernatural phenomena and mysterious earthquakes.

Wolfhard and Grace are effortlessly likable and their scenes are easily the best in the film. Carrie Coon is good as well, although the film gives her some heavy material to deal with and the script isn’t really up to the task. Ghostbusters is a lighthearted franchise at its core, something the 2016 film got right (maybe a little too well). Afterlife swings dramatically in the other direction, and its themes of parental abandonment don’t exactly mesh with visual gags like mini-Stay-Pufts and a gluttonous tardigrade-ghost named Muncher who seems designed to be a plush toy. Other cast members add to the lighter tone. Paul Rudd’s Gary Grooberson, a summer school science teacher and Ghostbusters superfan, is a fun presence but mostly seems here to deliver exposition.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the original Ghostbusters make a return – Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz was heard in the trailer – and I was glad to see all three survivors return along with supporting cast members Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver. However, don’t expect them to take over the film – it’s mostly cameos and retcons until the big finale when they show up to play heroes. I think that’s for the best – Murray in particular looks like he just shambled in from a beach vacation. It’s definitely a better tribute to the original cast than having them show up in random cameos like the 2016 movie did, and it allows the new cast to shine.

The problem is, while the cast carries much of the movie, the plot is not up to snuff. As soon as the larger mystery at the core of Summerville starts being revealed, it’s pretty clear which notorious Ghostbuster bad guy is to blame. There are some clever callbacks to past mythology, but it relies too much on a sense of recognition rather than the plot standing on its own. Rudd and Coon have surprisingly little to do in the film beyond a slow-burn romance, with both being sidelined before the final act by a supernatural twist of fate. That allows the young cast to take over as the new Ghostbusters, with Phoebe, Trevor, and Podcast being joined by Trevor’s girlfriend Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) for chaotic plasma-blasting rides through town. It’s a lot of fun watching the kids discover the Ghostbusters legacy, but this portion of the film feels the most derivative of Stranger Things.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without discussing the legacy of Harold Ramis. The brilliant writer and director died in 2014, and in many ways this movie is a tribute to him – in some ways more explicit than others. His family approved of everything that was done here, so it’s hard to question it too much. However, his presence in the movie is unsettling at points, without getting too much into spoilers. It’s both a testament to the power of CGI and a warning sign that we might be getting a little too good at this. The final act does pack a serious emotional punch and puts a solid bow on the franchise.

And that’s what brings me to my final point about Ghostbusters: Afterlife – in many ways, it is the final chapter fans have been asking for. It continues the story rather than rebooting the franchise. But many fans still seem unsatisfied, feeling that the originals play second-fiddle. Well, of course they do – they’re all old now. And that’s the movie’s biggest problem – it’s trying to be everything to all people. For many old-time fans, it’s like returning to your favorite restaurant from when you were a kid and realizing nothing tastes the same. This is always the biggest pitfall of long-term revivals. Sometimes you just can’t win, and after two relaunches with mixed results, it might be time to let the Ghostbusters rest in peace.

The Great Disney Countdown – Part Four (#10-#1)

It’s time for the fourth and final installment of The Great Disney Countdown! So far, we’ve looked at the bottom of the barrel, the muddle in the middle, and the strong second tier of Walt Disney Animation Studios theatrical releases. Now, it’s time to break down the top ten greatest films Disney has ever released. A mix of classics, Renaissance-era films, and a surprising number of modern instant classics, they all have one thing in common – they perfectly capture the imagination and magic of Disney at its best.

This list only includes the films officially produced and released by Walt Disney Animation Studios. No Pixar films and it also doesn’t include the cheaper DisneyToon films like A Goofy Movie, or the oddball Touchstone musicals like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

10. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

The most epic of Disney’s classic films, this spectacular fairy tale improves on its predecessors with a Princess and Prince with actual character development and a good amount of humor. Its cranky trio of fairies who raise Aurora are a hoot, and the animation and music is gorgeous. But what everyone remembers about this film, of course, is its villain. The imposing, petty Maleficent is the first truly iconic Disney villain, and her dragon transformation remains one of the most spectacular finales in Disney history. Its only flaw? A little slow compared to the rest of the elites.

9. Moana (2016)

This epic Polynesian adventure improves on the model created by Pixar’s Brave – a solo coming-of-age adventure for a young Princess battling her own demons as much as the environment. In many ways, Moana parallels The Little Mermaid nicely – royal daughter of an overprotective father who wants to visit other realms! Crabs! – but improves on it in almost every way. Auli’l Cravalho makes a great debut as the young hero, and Dwayne Johnson steals every scene he’s in as the scheming demigod who becomes an unlikely ally. The culturally-accurate music is one of the greatest Disney musical soundtracks as well. Its one weak spot – it lacks a strong antagonist, but that’s acceptable in a coming-of-age story. But Tamatoa did nothing wrong!

8. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

A wildly inventive expansion on many of the themes from the Toy Story film, this film wins you over immediately with its hilarious video game world and endless array of nostalgic cameos. But when you get beyond that, you find a fascinating story about stereotypes, figuring out your identity in a world where your role is preordained, and unlikely friendships and romances. With higher stakes than many Disney films – the heroes are literally facing annihilation of their world at points – its biggest winning point is possibly the most shocking surprise villain reveal in Disney history.

7. Lilo and Stitch (2000)

An unlikely winner from Disney’s post-Renaissance doldrums, this “sweet girl-and-her-alien” comedy has aged incredibly well since its debut. While the wacky dog-like alien is the big scene-stealer of the film, there’s something much more real that makes the film so great. That would be the very human story of Lilo and her sister Nani, a pair of orphans. The teenage Nani’s struggle to grow up fast and provide for her sister, as well as her awkward courtship with crush David, makes this a film with appeal for all ages and probably the best depiction of siblings ever in a Disney film. But it never gets too serious – Stitch, aliens Jumba and Pleakley, and hilariously serious social worker Cobra Bubbles are some of the most memorable supporting characters in the studio’s history.

6. Zootopia (2016)

There’s a case to be made that 2016 was the best year in Disney’s long history. Moana played its part, but to my eye the winner was this wildly creative detective comedy. Imagine the world of Richard Scarry combined with a Harlan Coben thriller. Set in a world populated entirely by sapient evolved mammals, this story of a rabbit police officer and a fox con man struggling to solve a mystery of predators gone wild in a world that treats them both with bigotry works surprisingly well as a straight mystery – but it’s also packed with dozens of hilarious sight gags a minute. Flash the Sloth may be the best bit character in Disney history, but nothing made me laugh quite as hard as the shrew mob clan. Disney’s second foray into detective movies is the perfect genre-bender.

5. Mulan (1998)

One of the most adult movies Disney has ever made but without the mood whiplash of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this China-set war thriller features one of the most fleshed-out leads in the studio’s history. Teenager Fa Mulan, who impersonates a male soldier to save her disabled father from the draft, became an icon for a reason. Eddie Murphy’s hilarious dragon sidekick manages to add some levity without ruining the stakes. While the villain, Hun general Shan-Yu, has been criticized for being one-note, I think he works as a terrifying force of nature. Of the movie’s four songs, only one really endures – but that one may be the single best song in Disney’s history.

4. Pinocchio (1940)

Released less than two years after Snow White, the rise in story quality of Disney’s second feature is stunning. It wouldn’t work nearly as well if it wasn’t grounded in the deeply poignant story of the elderly toymaker, Gepetto, who wants a son. The puppet boy’s misadventures result in one of the best dramatic arcs in Disney history, leading to cursed islands and hungry whales. A quartet of memorable villains – the scam artists Honest John and Foulfellow; the cruel puppetmaster Stromboli, and the demonic Coachman – make up a terrifying ensemble, but it all leads to a happy ending that remains one of Disney’s greatest “Happily Ever Afters”.

3. The Lion King (1994)

Still the only Disney film set in Africa, this animal-based reinvention of Hamlet is a popular pick for the greatest Disney film of all time. It’s very easy to see why – from the opening note, its soundtrack is a wildly engaging tour de force. Its murderous villain, Scar, delivers the greatest villain song in movie history, and his hyena henchmen may be scarier than the majority of main Disney villains. Simba’s hilarious surrogate parents, Timon and Pumbaa, get far more to do than most sidekicks, and the movie’s famous tearjerker moment remains the greatest punch-in-the-gut in animation history. Its one weak point? Love interest Nala is largely a blank slate, and that’s just enough to knock it out of the championship bout.

2. Tangled (2010)

Disney’s first adaptation of a classic European fairy tale in almost twenty years, this adaptation of Rapunzel went through many permutations before it found its final version. And what it found was spectacular – reinventing the original fairy tale as the story of an abused girl’s coming of age and discovering her destiny. Rapunzel’s emotional arc over the course of the film is incredibly powerful, and it’s nicely paralleled with the redemption arc of orphaned thief Flynn Ryder. The music does a great job of both serving as a classic, yearning musical soundtrack and parodying the same, and Donna Murphy’s snarling, manipulative villain is all the more terrifying based on how real she is. And that brilliant hair animation! Don’t sleep on the animated series sequel, which expands the mythology and adds a trio of great new characters.

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast is always in the conversation for the best Disney film of all time – and in this case, it’s totally warranted. Holding up just as well today as it did twenty-six years ago, it draws its strength from its compelling leads – the clever, bookish Belle who dreams of adventure; and the prickly Beast, transformed as a teenager and angry at the world. Its lush, epic animation commands your attention from the stunning stained-glass prologue. Every member of the supporting cast is memorable, from Belle’s clumsy father Maurice to the hapless, cursed castle servants. Every musical number endures as a classic. But the movie’s secret weapon is in its villain – the arrogant hunter Gaston, who begins as a smug annoyance and devolves into a murderous monster. He’s the first Disney villain to evolve over the course of the film, and without him I guarantee we wouldn’t have Hans or King Candy. There’s a reason Beauty and the Beast is the only Disney feature film ever nomination for Best Picture – it’s perfect.

The Great Disney Countdown – Part Three (#24-#11)

It’s time for the third installment of The Great Disney Countdown! So far we’ve taken a look at the bottom of the barrel, and then sorted out the many films in the solid middle that achieved success but not quite excellence. Now we’re getting into the top half, the elite list of classics that have stood the test of time.

This list only includes the films officially produced and released by Walt Disney Animation Studios. No Pixar films (although you can see my current ranking of those here) and it also doesn’t include the cheaper DisneyToon films like A Goofy Movie, or the oddball Touchstone musicals like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

24. The Sword in the Stone (1963)

This take on Arthurian legend is one of the more divisive movies in the Disney legend, with some fans loving its catchy musical numbers and likable characters and others feeling it makes too many changes to the legend to be kid-friendly. There’s some truth in the latter, but I come down firmly on the former side. There are three segments in this film that are up there with the best of Disney – Merlin’s catchy musical number as he packs his books; the anarchic shape-shifting final battle between Merlin and Madame Mim, and a sweet, mostly silent segment after Arthur is transformed into a squirrel and meets a female squirrel.

23. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Let’s get one thing straight – this is one of the most beautiful Disney films ever made. Its animation is sweeping and majestic, and its soundtrack is a marvel. Two of its numbers – the opening “Bells of Notre Dame” and the villainous “Hellfire” – are among the best Disney music of all time. But it’s also a movie with some real tonal problems. It’s shockingly dark, with a perverted and genocidal villain and a wacky sidekick who nearly executes the heroes in cold blood. Touches like that make its funny gargoyle characters feel even more out of place, and contribute to why this never achieved the success of other films of the era.

22. Hercules (1997)

A dramatic shift in tone from the previous year’s release, Disney’s first foray into the world of Greek myths is a jaunty adventure filled with action. Its gospel-inspired soundtrack has some great numbers, although none really stands out as a truly iconic Disney number. James Woods’ Hades is an equally menacing and hilarious foe, and its unconventional love interest Megara has gained a huge fanbase. But the departures from the actual myth are so drastic that it’s essentially Hercules in name only – it has much more in common with an Ancient Greece Elseworlds for Superman.

21. Bambi (1942)

A classic from Disney’s early years, Bambi is their first foray into the “talking animals” genre without major human characters. It gets off to an extremely dramatic and traumatic start with one of the most memorable moments in Disney history – the death of Bambi’s mother. But after that, Bambi’s friendship with the forest animals and his eventual rise to become the leader of his fellow deer is enjoyable – but not all that memorable.

20. Cinderella (1950)

The second of Disney’s original Princess trio, Cinderella has gotten some flack over the years for its passive heroine. That’s largely unfair, because it’s actually a pretty compelling story of a girl rising above abuse (a theme done even better in a film we’ll see much later on the list). It has some great music primarily courtesy of the Fairy Godmother, and the ongoing subplot of a trio of friendly mice battling an evil cat adds some fun slapstick without detracting. Its biggest weakness? Its Prince Charming has almost as little personality as the one-scene prince from Snow White.

19. The Jungle Book (1967)

This adventurous adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s famous story of an Indian boy raised by animals is still a fun romp today. Maybe a bit too fun – while the original book had some serious danger in it, this cartoon largely keeps it light throughout. Although villains Shere Khan and Kaa have some menace, the slapstick-y nature of the story and jazz-influenced soundtrack have made it a favorite among younger kids. “The Bare Necessities” remains one of the most enduring Disney songs, but the 2016 remake is the only one of that wave of live-action reinventions to eclipse the original.

18. The Little Mermaid (1989)

The movie that kicked off the Disney Renaissance that followed, there’s no question it stands up today as an entertaining and thrilling fairy tale. It pioneered the modern Disney formula of heroine, love interest, villain, sidekicks, and henchmen, and its soundtrack and villain remain the highlights. It drags in the middle after Ariel’s transformation, and Ariel’s father is so unlikable in the early going that it detracts for many people. Are Ariel and Eric as compelling as future Disney protagonists? No, but try listening to “Under the Sea” and not humming along.

17. Robin Hood (1973)

In the forty-five years since Disney’s take on Robin Hood was released, dozens of other adaptations of the famous property have been made. Few have come as close to the core of the story as this “funny animals” version. A lot of comedy and some over-the-top musical numbers lightly disguise a tale about class warfare and corrupt government, and its political streak makes it stand out from the other Disney films of the era. It maybe veers a bit too hard into slapstick at times, but it’s highly enjoyable throughout.

16. The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Has there ever been a Disney movie that suffered more from bad timing than The Princess and the Frog? The last 2-D animated film (until the little-seen Winnie the Pooh), it came at a time when the medium was dying and CGI was the new fancy. That led to this film being largely ignored despite having a LOT going for it. Featuring the first African-American princess, Tiana, this movie makes the most of its setting on the Louisiana Bayou. Its villain, the mad witch doctor Facilier, not only has one of the best Disney villain songs but drops multiple hints at a larger Disney multiverse in the process. Its drawbacks? A courtship that can feel too much like a Hallmark romantic comedy at times, and a little too much time for the comic relief sidekicks. But it’s a gem that gets ignored more than it deserves.

15. Bolt (2008)

Bolt is not an ambitious film, but it’s a near-perfect one. A charming, nearly villain-free tale of animals on a road trip, it follows a TV star dog who believes he actually has the superpowers of the dog he plays on TV. Teaming up with a streetwise stray cat with a tragic past and a hyperactive super-fan hamster who never leaves his exercise ball, Bolt’s attempts to “rescue” the little girl who plays his owner lead to some of the sweetest depictions of the love between pet and owner Disney has ever explored. This is another one that gets almost completely swept under the radar. It deserves better – Rhino the Hamster is one of the funniest characters Disney has ever created.

14. Fantasia (1940)

The final package film on the list, Fantasia is almost as significant as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the evolution of Disney’s film history. A combo of silent animated shorts set to iconic works of classical music, it features two of the most iconic segments in Disney animation history – the Mickey Mouse-starring The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a brilliant work of chaotic animated comedy; and the chilling Night on Bald Mountain. Featuring the demonic Chernabog, it’s one of the darkest and most haunting segments ever put to animation. There’s no question they’re works of Disney genius. But the other six animated segments have largely been forgotten, with some having deeply uncomfortable racial imagery.

13. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

The best of Disney’s “funny animals” genre, this story has become an iconic film for dog-lovers everywhere. Surprisingly, though, it’s the human characters who steal the show here. Charming musician Roger gets the film’s best scene with his trash-talking musical number about the villain, and his romance with Anita is arguably the studio’s best depiction of a courtship. Cruella De Vil arguably created the model for the charismatic-but-hateable Disney villain. It neatly balances the human and animal characters and holds up well even today, without the over-the-top slapstick that became a mainstay of the genre.

12. Aladdin (1992)

How far can one brilliant performance take a movie? That’s the question this movie poses. Robin Williams’ Genie may be the best comic-relief sidekick in Disney history, a rapid-fire blast of pop culture references and shapeshifting gags. The movie has a lot more going for it – Aladdin is a likable underdog hero, the movie has a lush and thrilling environment, and the soundtrack is top-notch. Villain Jafar is a bit of a stock character and his obsession with marrying the teenage Princess Jasmine puts Frollo to shame, but the Cave of Wonders segment may be one of the best animated scenes in the entire Disney library.

11. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

A lush and faithful adaptation of the surreal Lewis Carrol classic, this film combines elements from both the original Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Like the source material, its narrative is more a collection of bizarre adventures that a little Victorian girl encounters on her journey. But so many of those adventures are all-time classics. The Cheshire Cat’s confusing chaotic-neutral guidance makes him one of the great Disney sidekicks, and the Queen of Hearts is alternately buffoonish and menacing. It’s a bizarre, hilarious ride that never lets you get bored for a second.

The Great Disney Countdown – Part Two (#39-#25)

It’s time for the next edition of The Great Disney Countdown, ranking all 58 feature films released by Walt Disney Animation Studios over the last eighty years. In the last article, we looked at the bottom of the barrel. This time, we get into the more mixed range of Disney films with a lot going for them, but with some significant flaws that keep them from true greatness

This list only includes the films officially produced and released by Walt Disney Animation Studios. No Pixar films (although you can see my current ranking of those here) and it also doesn’t include the cheaper DisneyToon films like A Goofy Movie, or the oddball Touchstone musicals like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

39. Meet the Robinsons (2007)

The third CGI release from the main Disney studio, this was also the first with something resembling a halfway decent script. The problem is, it’s essentially two movies in one. There’s a very sweet and powerful story about a young orphan’s quest to find a family, but the time-travel antics are dense and slapstick-y. And good luck explaining the plot of this film in less than a paragraph!

38. Oliver and Company (1988)

An in-name-only adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, this story of a stray kitten who gets taken in by a gang of dog thieves and their kindly homeless owner is one of many animal-based films Disney made in the 1980s. Its cruel gangster villain, Sykes, provides some weird tonal dissonance with an otherwise very cute and fluffy story. The movie as a whole entertains, but is largely forgotten in the Renaissance that followed.

37. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

The first of Disney’s many “Pets have adventures” films, this movie is mostly known for its iconic spaghetti scene that’s spawned countless imitators plus a Disney World restaurant. It’s a romantic film, sure, but a lot of the stuff surrounding the courtship doesn’t hold up – including a weak set of villains that includes the grossly racist Si and Am cat duo. This is a movie, like Dumbo, that could benefit from its coming live-action remake treatment.

36. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

There’s a difference between an impressive achievement in film and a great, enduring film. There’s no question that the first Disney film is one of the greatest achievements in movie history and kick-started a new genre. But watching it today, its story doesn’t hold up to the ones that came after. It has a great, creepy villain and the antics of the Dwarfs hold up even today, but its lead princess is largely a cheery cipher and its prince is literally a plot device. The ones after it owe it everything, but they also dwarf it.

35. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Disney’s first modern foray into the high-adventure genre has a lot going for it, including gorgeous production design by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and a diverse crew of misfit adventurers. The plot is largely a generic “secret magical city” pastiche cobbled together from countless other sources, but its exciting final act rivals some of the all-time great Disney final battles.

34. The Aristocats (1970)

The first Disney film developed after the death of Walt Disney, this Parisian animal adventure tends to get a bad rap. I actually think it holds up a bit better than many of the other “funny animal films” Disney did. The story of a prize show cat and her three kittens abandoned in the wild by a scheming butler and helped back to civilization by a charming alley cat, it’s got one of the most underrated musical soundtracks in the Disney stable. Its jazzy “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” number has a few ugly racial stereotypes briefly peppered in, but remains one of the most memorable animated musical numbers.


33. Tarzan (1999)

Considered the final film of the 1990s Disney renaissance, Tarzan broke from the era’s most successful model in some key ways – subbing out the classic musical soundtrack for a series of well-done but largely forgettable Phil Collins background songs. Its villain, Clayton, is a copy-paste of several better villains like Gaston, but the movie’s gorgeous animation saves the day. The story isn’t the best, but the visuals alone make it worth watching.

32. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

Disney turned Oliver Twist into funny animals, why not Sherlock Holmes? Based on a classic series of children’s book about tiny rodent Detectives solving crimes deep under London, this attempt at a Disney detective movie is elevated by one major factor – Vincent Price giving an incredibly memorable performance as villain Professor Ratigan. It’s one of the most bizarre movies the studio has ever made, and one that turns out pretty enjoyable.

31. Winnie the Pooh (2011)

The more recent of two Winnie the Pooh films on this list, this recent film was a return by the studio to traditional animation and is deliberately retro. Although it was composed as a single film, it takes on the vibe of an anthology due to the many short, gentle stories taking place in the Hundred Acre Woods. It’s a trifle, an excellently animated trifle that will make a great introduction to Disney for the youngest viewers but be forgettable for the rest.

30. Big Hero 6 (2014)

A strange crossing-of-the-streams between Disney and Marvel, this animated superhero adventure is one of the studio’s more successful forays into classic boys’ adventure. A high-tech fictional city and a nicely diverse team of young heroes makes this a successful adventure, but half the team seems to get zero development and the trauma the main character experiences over the narrative feels a bit excessive. But there’s no denying that Baymax is one of the best animation creations of recent years.

29. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Disney’s first full-length attempt at adapting the works of AA Milne, this series of shorts packs some of the most iconic Winnie the Pooh stories into one classically-animated package. Like its later sequel, it’s a very slim movie composed of little stories with minimal dramatic tension. Unlike that one, it feels more timeless and gets a higher rating.

28. Peter Pan (1953)

There’s no question this is a classic Disney film. It features some of the best characters in the studio’s history, a fantastic set piece in Neverland, and the comic dynamic between the film’s three arch-enemies – Peter, Captain Hook, and the Crocodile – is comic brilliance. But my GOD, those Native American caricatures. Of all the Disney films hurt by hindsight of racism, this may be the best of them, but it’s also the one where the problems are the most front and center.

27. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

The last of the package-film era, this duo of half-hour cartoons adapts a duo of classic books. The first segment, based on The Wind in the Willows, is a slight but enjoyable tale of some very British animals and their wealthy friend with a taste for fast cars. The second story, adapted from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is the real gem here. A cleverly animated, creepy tale of the rivalry between a boorish bruiser and a scheming schoolteacher that turns supernatural, its iconic Headless Horseman chase is enough to ensure this film endures more than any other from the era.


26. Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

It’s always hard to review a film only two days past its release and figure out where it lands in an eighty-year history. It’s one of the most visually inventive films Disney has ever put out, with a barrage of hilarious meta gags and an array of guest-stars from Disney history. The extended Princess reunion is enough to make it a must-watch, but it’s a stronger climax away from being a true classic.

25. Frozen (2012)

Frozen is a phenomenon in itself, spawning a fandom that undoubtedly makes countless parents shudder at the thought of yet another screening. It also has a sequel in development for next year. So, six years after its record-breaking release, how does it stack up? It has a lot going for it, including gorgeous animation, a likable set of oddball main characters, and a great villain reveal. But aside from the omnipresent “Let It Go”, its soundtrack is not the most memorable. Its biggest flaw is that its most engaging character, the fascinating and traumatized Elsa, is rendered a supporting character in her sister’s quest.

The Great Disney Countdown – Part One (#57-#40)

Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet is one of the most anticipated movies of the fall – and not just because of the Disney Princess team-up segment that has sent the fanbase into overdrive. It’s also the 57th feature film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios, the latest in an eighty-year streak of quality – mostly.

I’ve considered myself a Disney superfan for a long time, and so this anniversary made me think the time was right to look back at this history and come up with a comprehensive ranking of their body of work. Here at Wanderings and Woolgathering, this article launches a week-long series ranking the Disney Animation Studios films from worst to first. Then come back here after the series concludes for a review of Wreck-It Ralph 2, to see where it ranks among the greats!

This list only includes the films officially produced and released by Walt Disney Animation Studios. No Pixar films (although you can see my current ranking of those here) and it also doesn’t include the cheaper DisneyToon films like A Goofy Movie, or the oddball Touchstone musicals like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Of course, every bottom-to-top list has to start at the bottom, so in this installment we’ll look at the Disney films that didn’t quite work. Only a few of these are absolute duds, while the others are ambitious experiments that fell flat due to a number of factors. Not even Disney is exempt from misfires.

Not Ranked:

57-53. Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time (1942-1948)

These World War 20-era package films were cobbled together from assorted animation shorts, a way to keep the film studio going during wartime shortages. A few of these segments have stood the test of time, like the title story from The Three Caballeros (featuring Donald Duck’s Mexican band) or Mickey’s adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk from Make Mine Music. Overall, most of these films are forgotten hodgepodges of clever animation. The same can’t be said for the studio’s other package films, which were much more cohesive films and will appear later on the list.

The List:

52. Chicken Little (2005)

This bizarre adaptation of the classic children’s fable misses the point in ways I didn’t think were possible. Transforming the cautionary tale of not listening to rumors into a sci-fi tale of a bullied nerd chicken fighting off an alien invasion, its ugly animation and juvenile humor make it feel more like a subpar Redbox animated film than a Disney classic. And that’s not getting into the twisted gender politics of the villain’s creepy fate.

51. Dinosaur (2000)

Disney’s first computer-generated film stunned everyone with its photorealistic animation in 2000, but unfortunately the movie it was made for fell completely flat. Essentially a grittier remake of The Land Before Time, it’s a story of the battle to survive in the aftermath of a meteor strike. With the villain essentially being social darwinism, it’s a movie with a lot on its mind. While it’s not as bad as the movie before it or even some of the ones after, it commits an unforgivable sin – it’s drab and boring.

50. Brother Bear (2003)

The early 2000s were not a good time for Disney’s feature film output, and this musical transformation adventure was no exception. The story of an arrogant young Native hunter who is transformed into a bear after he seeks revenge for a family tragedy, it has gorgeous animation and a few catchy songs. But the movie is cobbled together from a bunch of better films and lacks compelling characters.

49. Home on the Range (2004)

Many people consider this wild-west action-comedy the worst Disney movie ever made, and watching Roseanne, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Tilly mug as dairy cows makes a good case. It has something the three movies before it on the list don’t, though – an anarchic comic energy that never lets you get bored. It’s the closest Disney has ever made to a Looney Tunes cartoon. But a bizarre fever dream of a musical number by the yodeling cattle rustler villain aside, it’s still an overly broad dud of a film.

48. The Black Cauldron (1985)

An ambitious attempt to adapt the classic The Chronicles of Prydian fantasy series, this is one of Disney’s highest-profile failures ever. The source material is darker than Disney’s usual fare, and as such what emerged was a bowdlerized mess. The terrifying villain, The Horned King, likely scared off many kids while adults were annoyed by the antics of the gluttonous sidekick. Disney is currently exploring a live-action adaptation, which will likely be a much better fit.


47. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

The C-C-C-Combo Breaker in Disney’s Renaissance resurgence, this largely forgotten sequel is actually the only official sequel released by Walt Disney Animation Studios until next week. It’s a by-the-numbers funny-animal adventure pitting talking mice against George C. Scott’s evil poacher right out of central casting. A classic example of “They liked that? Give them more of the same!”, it’s easy to see why Disney decided to leave the sequels to a side studio for a while.


46. Fantasia 2000 (2000)

An attempt to recreate the magic of Disney’s stunning 1940 experimental anthology, it largely falls flat due to the lack of a segment as memorable as Night on Bald Mountain or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (which is repeated here). A segment based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale and one involving Donald Duck helping to load Noah’s Ark liven things up a little, but overall this mostly silent film starts to feel like a beautifully animated screensaver.


45. The Rescuers (1977)

There really isn’t much difference between this and the sequel in quality. Both feature Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor as adventurous mice rescuing a kidnapped little kid from a dastardly villain. This one gets the edge for coming first and having a slightly more memorable villain, although Madame Medusa is a pretty blatant copy-paste from Cruella De Vil.

44. Pocahontas (1995)

Not all the Disney Renaissance films aged well, and few aged worse than Pocahontas. Its Oscar-winning soundtrack endures to this day, of course, but beyond that you’re left-with a cringe-worthy relic of a less-aware time. It’s hard to get past the fact that this is a heavily doctored version of a real and tragic story, but more than that the film’s biggest problem is its wooden characters. Both the title heroine and Mel Gibson’s bland love interest are easily the weakest leads of Disney’s best era, and the mugging villain lacks any real menace.

43. The Fox and the Hound (1981)

A poignant but overall forgettable story of forbidden friendship, this is one of many 1980s Disney films that just didn’t stand the test of time. Based on a much harsher novel, its tale of a hunting dog and a young fox who befriend each other until a cruel hunter comes between them, the movie has a lot of characters reminiscent of other, better movies. Its bittersweet ending takes it up a notch, but many better Disney movies have explored similar themes.


42. Treasure Planet (2002)

Disney got very high-concept in the early 2000s, and this reinvention of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel is a good example of taking that too far. It couples stunning space adventure visuals with a decent boy’s coming of age story, but its version of Long John Silver lacks any real malice and the short runtime doesn’t have the opportunity to develop its overly elaborate world. But hey, it’s better to fail for too much ambition than too little, right?

41. Dumbo (1941)

Easily the least of Disney’s original five that launched the studio before the WW2 break, Dumbo is a sweet, slight story about a baby elephant who can fly and his quest to escape a cruel ringmaster and be reunited with his beloved mother. While “Baby Mine” remains one of the great tear-jerkers in Disney history, it’s impossible to get past the film’s cringeworthy parade of racial caricatures.


40. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Now we’re in the era of flawed-but-worthwhile movies, as Disney’s overall quality level over 80 years is shockingly high. The Emperor’s New Groove is a broadly comic tale of an arrogant Incan emperor who gets transformed into a llama by his treacherous advisor, and has to team up with a distrustful peasant father to get turned back. It’s more of a Looney Tunes cartoon than a classic Disney movie, but the subtle anti-greed message and the hilarious antics of the sorceress Yzma and her genial henchman Kronk keep things lively.

Stay tuned in the coming days for the rest of the list, as we count down to the #1 Disney movie of all time!

The Great Pixar Countdown – Part Four (#6 – #1)

It’s time for the grand finale of The Great Pixar Countdown! So far we’ve looked at the bottom of the barrel, the decent ones in the middle, and the elites that fell just short. Now it’s time to look at the best of the best, as we break down the top six and find out which tops the countdown.

Similar to the previous rankings of Disney films I did, I’ll only be counting the in-house Pixar movies – no sequels not put out by the original company, like the forgotten Planes. As obviously, things have changed in the last year, movies released on streaming will be treated the same way as theatrical releases.

What will rise to the top?

6. The Incredibles

Not only is Brad Bird’s retro superhero adventure one of the best Pixar movies, it’s one of the best superhero movies ever made. More of a proper Fantastic Four movie than the previous three attempts, it was also the first Pixar movie to focus entirely on human characters. While the art style is definitely more cartoony and stylized than future attempts, it works given the film’s comic book roots. The core family is strong with all four getting excellent storyarcs, but it’s really the supporting cast where the movie shines the most. Villain Syndrome was a perfect parody of toxic fans long before that became a widely known problem. Costume designer Edna Mode provides brilliant droll humor. And who could forget Frozone and his wife in probably the most widely quoted scene in Pixar history? It’s basically note perfect, but it lacks the emotional punch of the top five films on the list.

5. Ratatouille

Brad Bird takes up two spots in the top six thanks to this hilarious culinary satire. This was probably Pixar’s most unlikely film, focusing on a nerdy young man and a gourmet rat who team up to save a declining French restaurant. Not only did it turn off people who couldn’t get past the idea of a rat in a kitchen, but it was initially intended to be Pixar’s first non-Disney release before the company was acquired. Thankfully both companies persevered, because what emerged is one of Pixar’s most charming and inspirational films. Patton Oswalt as Remy gives a fantastic performance, and the storyarc of mercurial food critic Anton Ego is an amazing demonstration of how to tell a full story in only a few minutes (a technique Pixar would use even more famously in a few years). While the evil chef Skinner is a fairly weak villain, he’s gone from the film quickly as it goes on to deliver brilliant comic gags and emotional highs.

4. Toy Story 2

Maybe the biggest level up in original-to-sequel history? It’s up there. While the original Toy Story was a strong proof-of-concept for CGI animation, this 1999 sequel is arguably the moment when Pixar as we knew it began. A much deeper look at what it means to be a toy, this installment turns the focus on Woody and his history before he was Andy’s toy – revealing a surprisingly deep legacy that goes back decades. It features two entertaining villains, including a pitch-perfect parody of that one collector no one can stand, as well as the first Pixar twist villain – which has still not been topped, in many ways. But the absolute all-star of this film goes to Joan Cusack’s Jessie, the traumatized cowgirl whose showstopping musical number was probably the first Pixar scene to tear out our hearts and show them to us. It’s no surprise that the song won an Academy Award, and it’s not even close – this is the best sequel Pixar’s ever made, and one of the best sequels of all time.

3. Coco

After a string of sequels, many people wondered if Pixar’s best days were behind it. That was answered with a resounding no in 2017 with Lee Unkrich’s stunning visit to the land of the dead. The first Pixar film to focus on an entirely non-white cast, it’s centered around a young boy with a love of music – and a family with a strict ban on music due to the supposed betrayal of his musician great-great-grandfather. His desperation to get a family blessing leads young Miguel on a dangerous adventure that exposes some long-buried family secrets. The first Pixar musical – although not a traditional Disney musical – it features some of the studio’s most brilliant and spooky visuals, along with the darkest and most evil villains the studio has ever created. While many of these films have specific moments that pack an emotional punch, Coco builds and builds its emotional gut-punches until the last act, where the last five minutes provide a phenomenal catharsis that has made many a manly man weep in the theater. Great studios know – diversity only makes storytelling stronger.

2. Wall-E

Something amazing happened in 2007-2009, as Pixar debuted a one-two-three punch of its most unique concepts. And nothing was more unique than this post-apocalyptic robot adventure. Set in the distant future when humanity has long-since evacuated Earth, it focused on a small robot trash compactor with only rudimentary intelligence – at first. As the robot sifts through the ruins of Earth, it starts learning more and more about what makes humanity so special – something it then has to remind humanity of. The remnants of Earth, now living on a never ending space cruise ship where they’re kept pacified by a menacing AI, are portrayed in one of the most unique and subtly creepy depictions of the far future I can remember. It’s a testament to Pixar’s phenomenal skill with storytelling that they’re able to get us invested in a romance between two protocol robots that mostly communicate in beeps. I can’t imagine today’s Pixar taking a risk this big.

1. Up

If you asked people to sum up Pixar in one scene, most of them would likely come back to that emotionally devastating eight minutes at the start of Up, as we follow a couple from childhood to old age through their highs, lows, and eventual sad ending that leaves an old man sitting alone in a run-down house. But while this scene is what everyone remembers, don’t think that what comes next is any less phenomenal. An impressively anti-ageist adventure about a widower (voiced phenomenally by comic legend Ed Asner) who decides to eschew assisted living and fly his ramshackle old house to the South American waterfall he and his late wife always dreamed of visiting, it has some of the best visuals in animation history. While Carl is the star here, its supporting cast carry their own weight – including a spirited young boy scout along for the ride, and a hilarious dog with a collar that lets him talk. And then there’s the villain, played to glorious insanity by the late Christopher Plummer. It sets itself an incredibly high bar right at the start – and then, incredibly, it meets it.

And that’s the conclusion of the countdown! Where did your favorite land?

The Great Pixar Countdown – Part Three (#12 – #7)

It’s time for part three of The Great Pixar Countdown! So far, we’ve looked at the weakest Pixar films and the middle of the pack. Now it’s time to look at some of the elites that fall just short of the top tier. Most of these are considered some of the best animated movies of the modern era – but Pixar’s reputation for quality is such that they’re up against even better competition.

Similar to the previous rankings of Disney films I did, I’ll only be counting the in-house Pixar movies – no sequels not put out by the original company, like the forgotten Planes. As obviously, things have changed in the last year, movies released on streaming will be treated the same way as theatrical releases.

What titans will fall as we look at the penultimate tier?

12. Finding Nemo

This movie held the title of the top-grossing animated feature of all time for a while, a testament to how beloved it is. And it’s not hard to see why – its emotionally powerful story of a widowed father desperately searching for his disabled young son remains one of Pixar’s best central conflicts. Albert Brooks once again prove himself the best voice actor of the modern era, Ellen DeGeneres is excellent as the forgetful Dory, and supporting characters like Crush, Bruce the Shark, and the fish tank gang deliver hilarity. The ocean visuals are great, but some of the gags are a little on the nose and lack the all-ages appeal of the absolute best films from the company. It’s hard to think of a better intro film for young kids, though.

11. Toy Story

Obviously, we wouldn’t be making this list if it wasn’t for this movie. This is how it all began for Pixar, and in many ways this film still holds up perfectly – a story of sibling rivalry told through a pair of action figures battling over the affection of a young boy. Tom Hanks is already excellent as the responsible Sheriff Woody, and Tim Allen is enjoyably bonkers as the deluded Buzz Lightyear. The supporting cast is hilarious, and it contains some scenes that hold up very well today, including the hilarious throng of alien cultists and Sid’s nightmarish toys. The animation is notably not as great as future installments, especially on the human characters, but that’s easy to forgive. Harder to get past? The two lead characters are kind of unlikable for much of the movie, coming off as squabbling old men more than anything. Is it a great concept? Yes, but one that didn’t get perfected until the sequels.


10. Soul

The first Pixar movie to go directly to streaming and the first of their movies to feature a predominantly black cast, Soul was a breath of fresh air in a depressing year. It’s also the most mature movie they’ve ever made, feeling explicitly like a story for adults. This tale of a middle-aged music teacher who finally gets the chance to be a Jazz musician – only to fall down a manhole and wind up in the afterlife – is a melancholy musing on what it means to live a meaningful life. Its segments focusing on black culture, and the interplay between lead Jamie Foxx and his mother (Phylicia Rashad) are often heartbreaking. When it focuses on Tina Fey’s wayward soul who winds up entangled in Joe’s quest to return to his body, things get a little unfocused and slapstick – but its depiction of the afterlife may be one of Pixar’s great visual triumphs. It’s not their best film about mortality, but it is an out-of-the-box win.

9. Monsters Inc. 

The third original world to come out of Pixar and by far the most inventive at the time, this chaotic corporate satire turned “the monster in your closet” into a whole new world. John Goodman and Billy Crystal make a perfect duo as top scarer Sully and his loyal work partner Mike, who spend their days spooking children to collect scream energy – but god help you if a child gets back to the base. It’s a hilariously bonkers world that combines fantastic visual sight gags with some surprisingly deep commentary and an excellent last-act twist. It’ll be getting a Disney Plus spinoff shortly as we finally explore what the world looks like now, and while the animation on the human toddler doesn’t exactly hold up, the world is so colorful and the action so exciting that it remains the first great display of Pixar’s out-of-the-box thinking.

8. Toy Story 3

Pixar’s top-grossing movie when it debuted and one of only two to earn a Best Picture nomination, this return to the world of Woody and Buzz delivered some of the greatest emotional gut punches in animated history. Returning to the characters in real time, as young Andy is now preparing to go off to college and is considering what to do with his childhood toys, it was another musing on mortality that worked better than some of the more literal ones. The animation had taken a massive step up from the previous installments, and it had one of the all-time great villain performances by the late Ned Beatty as a deranged and bitter teddy bear with zero scruples. It also has the most pitch-black dark moment in Pixar history, to the point that it was met with some deeply disturbed kids in the theater. It may be a little awkward to watch given its director’s next appearance in the headlines ,but it’s one of the best conclusions to a trilogy in film history – and it probably should have stayed a trilogy.

7. Onward

In many ways the forgotten Pixar film – being released only two weeks before theaters were forced to close in 2020 – Onward gained a second life on streaming. It has one of the most inventive concepts they’ve worked with – a high fantasy world of elves and monsters that at some point just stopped bothering with magic – and its plot is heavily influenced by director Dan Scanlon’s own loss of his father when he was a baby. The story of two elf brothers (a perfectly cast Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) going on a quest to contact their father via a twenty-four hour spell of resurrection, it has a perfect combo of intense action, great laughs, and powerful emotional beats. At times it feels like we’re just scratching the surface of this fascinating world, and that’s its only real weakness.

And with that, the final six is revealed. Come back next time to see which of the Pixar greats takes the #1 crown!

The Great Pixar Countdown – Part Two (#18-#13)

It’s time for round two of the Great Pixar Countdown! Last time we looked at the six weakest Pixar films – and one franchise found themselves wiped out entirely in the first round. But by the end of that first wave, we were already into quality movies with flaws, proving Pixar’s reputation for quality.

Similar to the previous ranking of Disney films I did, I’ll only be counting the in-house Pixar movies – no sequels not put out by the original company, like the forgotten Planes. As obviously, things have changed in the last year, movies released on streaming will be treated the same way as theatrical releases.

Now, we finish out the first half as six more Pixar movies get ranked. What makes up the next tier?

18. Luca

Only a week since its release, this summer sea monster adventure didn’t win me over immediately. It’s a slight, charming story about two monster boys looking to enjoy life on the surface world, with its biggest challenges involving a bike race and a growing rift between friends. It does have a lot in its favor – gorgeous animation, three complex lead characters, some casual disability representation, and a hilarious cat. But it’s hurt by an overly short run time – only 80+ minutes before credits – and a weak villain who takes a dark turn in the last act that doesn’t feel in line with the film’s gentle tone. I like a lot of what it was going for, but it doesn’t quite land it. It does deserve points for being one of Pixar’s most vivid depictions of a foreign country, but it lacks the emotional heft it would need to climb into the top tier.

17. Finding Dory

We stay in the ocean for our next entry, the much-awaited sequel to one of Pixar’s biggest hits, Finding Nemo. It’s a common Pixar move to shift the focus in a sequel to the sidekick/co-lead, and you could do a lot worse than Ellen DeGeneres’ forgetful fish. The undersea animation is as stunning as the first, even more detailed in some places. It also has some really strong messages about parenting a disabled child and supporting them as they find their own way. The original cast is strong, but the new characters are slightly lackluster (although Ed O’Neil as a cranky septopus provides some good laughs). The action-packed conclusion drifts a little too much into Dreamworks funny-animal logic for my tastes, too.

16. Toy Story 4

The fourth – and least – of the most storied Pixar franchise, this movie was a massive hit in its 2019 debut. It’s not hard to see why – the series has some incredible coattails. But this is also a cautionary tale of why not to push a beloved franchise too far. Coming off the powerful and final-feeling previous installment, this movie is essentially a downer coda to the franchise. Woody has another great storyarc, although the question of what to do when your family no longer needs you is kind of depressing even for Pixar’s weighty topics. Bo Peep, returning from an absence is the third movie, is reinvented in a great way and new characters like Duke Caboom and Ducky & Bunny provide top-tier laughs. But Tony Hale’s Forky wears thin quickly, and many of the iconic Toy Story characters like Jessie and even Buzz Lightyear feel like afterthoughts in this finale. I think many people would have been happier if the hopeful ending of the previous installment was where we left it.

15. The Incredibles 2

The third LONG-awaited Pixar sequel in a row on this list, this follow-up to Brad Bird’s retro superhero adventure doesn’t do too much wrong – but it doesn’t do too much right either. It makes the controversial decision to pick up right where the previous movie left off – literally the next day, as the superhero family explores the new status quo. It gives Elasti-Girl the lead in this one, but in some ways that feels like a corrective that wasn’t needed – she was a co-lead in the original and had many of its best moments. In doing so, it briefly relegates Mister Incredible to the role of bumbling dad and the kids to the background. The new villain Screenslaver provides some of the scariest moments ever in a Pixar film, but the mystery surrounding their identity is pretty obvious. Really, how you feel about this film will depend on a simple question – did you just want more Incredibles? Well, this movie delivers that, but it still feels like the world is under-explored.

14. Brave

A feminist fairy tale set in a beautifully-rendered Scotland, this was Pixar’s first entry into the Disney Princess canon, as well as their first attempt to see if they could play new owner Disney’s epic fantasy game. The answer is…yes, but with some caveats. The Princess Merida, the eldest daughter of a small Scottish kingdom, makes for an engaging and feisty lead, but that can tread on the line into unlikable at times. It’s not often a Disney Princess kicks off the entire movie by accidentally cursing her mother. She’s selfish and brash – and in many ways that’s what makes the movie work. Neither her nor her mother Ellinor are perfect, and they reflect the creator’s struggles with finding the right balance in parenting. A terrifying cursed bear adds some menace to the main plot, and most of the men are there simply to add some comic relief in different ways. It’s something very different for Pixar, and it mostly works due to a strong pair of lead characters and some stunning Scottish music. But hey, it’s guaranteed to be the best movie about bear transformations out of Disney.

13. Inside Out

What if feelings had feelings? That’s the question Pixar wants us to ponder in their most meta film yet. Turning a little girl’s mind into a control console populated by anthropomorphized emotions, it shows the chaos life upheavals can exact on kids. Set in two worlds, it strands Joy and Sadness in a collapsing mindscape as Riley tries to adjust to tweenhood and a sudden move across the country. This is as emotionally devastating as any of Pixar’s elites, but it often seems self-aware, as if it’s pressing a button to make us cry. This is nowhere clearer than in the subplot of long-forgotten imaginary friend Bing-Bong. It does have some good messages for parents about showing empathy for the small dramas of kids, and the world it creates inside Riley’s head is wildly imaginative. But its on-the-nose nature, plus the fact that four other sentient emotions are given barely anything to do, is just enough to keep it out of the top half of Pixar movies.

Stay tuned next time, as we enter the top half and find out which films fall just short of the elite tier!

The Great Pixar Countdown – Part One (#24-#19)

Since 1995, Pixar has released some of the most acclaimed animated movies of all time. The now-Disney-owned studio has dominated the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars, winning over half the time since the category was introduced. They’ve put out brilliant originals, high-quality sequels – and a few that don’t live up to the company’s brand. They’re also notorious for ripping out our hearts and showing them to us.

So naturally, there’s only one thing left to do – rank them all. Similar to the previous ranking of Disney films I did, I’ll only be counting the in-house Pixar movies – no sequels not put out by the original company, like the forgotten Planes. As obviously, things have changed in the last year, movies released on streaming will be treated the same way as theatrical releases.

What will rise to the top? To find out, we have to start at the bottom. In this first installment, we’ll look at the six movies that make up Pixar’s back of the pack.

24. The Good Dinosaur

This was by far the most troubled Pixar production, being massively delayed and going through multiple story revisions. Based on the final result, it really should have stayed on the drawing board. The concept isn’t bad – it’s set in a world where the meteor never struck and dinosaurs continued to exist, evolving into intelligent beings who are still around sixty million years later at the dawn of human existence. The problem is, it does absolutely nothing interesting with this concept. Its dinosaurs simply resemble your standard talking anthropomorphic cartoon dinosaurs from movies like The Land Before Time. All movies take inspiration from somewhere, but it’s rarely been as obvious – every bit of this movie’s trite coming-of-age plot is taken from The Land Before Time, The Lion King, Brother Bear, and other movies without any real originality. It does have a few clever bits, but they’re all in the supporting cast – bit characters like a family of T-Rex ranchers hint at a more interesting movie that we never got. It’s the one Pixar movie that’s an unmitigated failure.

23. Cars 2

Let’s be honest, you all knew this was coming. The Cars franchise has always been the ugly stepsister of Pixar – a critically derided cash cow that keeps getting sequels because they sell mass numbers of toys. I think the franchise as a whole gets a slightly bad rap – but the same can’t be said for the middle installment, the only Pixar movie to be an outright critical dud. Completely eschewing the studio’s trademark emotionally-driven stories, it’s an over-the-top spy thriller filled with stereotypes and explosions that focuses on the franchise’s most irksome character – Mater the Tow Truck. Larry the Cable Guy’s dim-witted sidekick might be a decent supporting player, but as a lead he wears thin very quickly and the movie feels like a bizarre pastiche of James Bond with talking cars. The only thing saving it from the bottom spot? Its colorful animation and fast-paced action make its run time breeze by.

22. A Bug’s Life

The second Pixar film ever released, this movie was done while the company was still in its growing pains – and oh, boy does it show. The animation on Toy Story worked because A) it was a new technology and everything looked amazing, and B) its characters were mostly made out of plastic and didn’t have to be photorealistic. This underdog bug adventure worked with living characters and didn’t quite have the finesse to pull them off yet. The passable animation wouldn’t have been an issue if the story was strong – but it’s mostly a generic tale of plucky underdogs against a snarling villain loosely adapted from the classic fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper. The buffoonish band of circus bugs who team up with an ant seeking to prove himself are amusing enough, but the movie is overall forgettable. The one bright spot? An over-the-top performance by the late Dennis Hopper as the evil grasshopper Hopper, giving the movie a bit of dark energy.

21. Monsters University

The original Monsters Inc. was an inventive and chaotic comedy – the first attempt by Pixar to create a fully original fantasy world. It was a roaring success – which made this much-later prequel such a big disappointment. The original cast returned and John Goodman and Billy Crystal were funny as ever as Mike and Sully, but the plot surrounding them let the cast down. Telling the origin of their friendship as they attended college to learn how to be scarers, it was bogged down in every trope of mediocre 80s college comedies. It lacked any sort of interesting antagonist, spent far too much time breaking down its leads, and ended with an odd downer note. The world is still one of Pixar’s most unique and the animation has taken a nice step up, but it’s an odd choice for Pixar to tell a story with the apparent moral of “Sometimes, you’ll just never be good enough”.

20. Cars

The movie that launched a million toys, it might be the most derided installment in the Pixar canon. Does it deserve it? Not 100%, but there are a lot of problems here. Unlike the Monsters universe, this alternate universe really requires you to take leave of your logic center or come up with bizarre theories about the post-apocalypse. The story is essentially a copy-paste of the 1980s comedy Doc Hollywood , about an arrogant rich man who winds up stranded in a small town to do community service and winds up being won over by a slower way of life. That being said, the animation – at least the backgrounds – are often stunning, and it features exactly one brilliant Pixar segment set to the tear-jerking “Our Town” by James Taylor. I just wish the rest of the movie lived up to it, and it rarely does – instead feeling like a generic inspirational movie.

19. Cars 3

Let’s be honest, we all knew the Cars franchise was not going to escape this bottom tier. It was close, though – because I think Cars 3 is the first genuinely good movie on this list. It’s the first in the franchise to get into the heavier themes that Pixar excels at, essentially being a rather mature story about an aging athlete grappling with retirement and finding a new purpose. The addition of young racer Cruz Ramirez as a foil to Lightning McQueen adds an intriguing new dynamic, and the road-trip adventure they go on has some great set pieces (including a living-car demolition derby, probably the best action scene in the entire franchise). The villains, a corrupt corporate executive voiced by Nathan Fillion and an arrogant young race car voiced by an actor we won’t speak of, don’t make much of an impression. The bigger problem is that while this franchise finally gave us a storyarc worth caring about, it hadn’t done the work in the previous installments to get us invested in the characters or world.

Stay tuned next time when we find out what makes up the #18-#13 slots!

Movie Review – Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Venom: Let There Be Carnage – Directed by Andy Serkis. Written by Kelly Marcel. Starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris, Reid Scott, Stephen Graham, Peggy Lu

** out of ****

Let’s get it out of the way – Venom: Let There Be Carnage is an aggressively stupid movie. The first installment in this bonkers alien buddy comedy series at least seemed to take itself seriously at times, although the parts where it did were consistently the movie’s worst. But while the first movie wasn’t very good, it picked up a huge audience and was a surprise box office hit, mostly for the oddball banter between hangdog antihero Eddie Brock and the perpetually hungry goo monster hitching a ride in his body. Tom Hardy giving the performance his method-acting all, right down to clambering inside a lobster tank for some fresh seafood, definitely helps.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage embraces the insanity, letting Hardy (who also voices Venom) cut completely loose. Everything surrounding them is even better than the first – and everything not directly involving them is worse. While the first Venom movie had a thoroughly forgettable villain played by Riz Ahmed as a generic corporate villain with a generic symbiote, this one brings in Venom’s most iconic villain – the serial killer symbiote Carnage, already teased in the post-credits sequence of the first and played by Woody Harrelson in a completely ridiculous wig.

The wig might be gone, but this movie commits an unforgivable sin right out of the gate – it tries to make us care about Carnage. An interminable prequel has a young Cletus Kasady in a mental institution for troubled kids. His one companion is Frances, a young girl with a secret – she has a sonic scream power. How she has this power is not explained – she is the only meta-powered character who doesn’t have a symbiote in this series, and the movie is completely uninterested in how or why. It’s just referred to as “her condition” and used to explain why she’s packed off to the secure Ravencroft facility and separated from Cletus.

In the present day, Frances (Naomie Harris) is locked away in a research lab, Cletus is a notorious serial killer awaiting execution, and Eddie and Venom are still the most dysfunctional couple in comic book movies. Eddie is trying to jump-start his journalism career with interviews with Cletus, Venom just wants to eat some brains, and a mercurial police officer (Stephen Graham) is trying to use Eddie to get information on Cletus’ missing victims. A meeting with his ex Annie (Michelle Williams) where she breaks some big news sends Eddie spiraling, he and Venom “break up” in one of the most ridiculous scenes in the movie, and the symbiote goes searching for greener pastures.

Of course, Venom isn’t the only symbiote in this movie – it’s already spoiled in the trailer that Cletus will bite Eddie, getting ahold of some symbiote blood and turning into the iconic Spider-villain. The duo of Carnage and Shriek is definitely more visually interesting than the last movie’s villain Riot, who seemed to only be there for the contractually obligated symbiote vs. symbiote battle. But that’s not to say they’re good villains. Shriek is completely irrelevant to the plot, only serving to motivate Cletus and eventually drive a rift between him and the Carnage symbiote. Carnage looks fantastic, all spines and oozing nightmares, but Woody Harrelson largely plays Cletus as some oddball hybrid of Hannibal Lecter and Forrest Gump.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage has two critical problems. First, it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes it plays itself as a straight-up horror movie, and while it’s briefly successful in a few moments, even the darkest pieces are usually too jokey. Other times, it embraces its completely insane nature and absolutely nails it. An extended segment where Venom is body-hopping and winds up visiting a nightclub is easily the most bonkers thing I’ve seen in a superhero movie in ages, and has already spawned a million memes. It has the same chaotic energy of Tom Hardy in a lobster tank, and the audience loved it. And then we’re back to subpar superhero action from 2005.

The other problem is that this movie is a very bare ninety minutes or so. Some superhero movies have gotten overly long, and I can see this being a bit of a response. But the pacing is all off here. There’s only time for one fight between Venom and Carnage, and it’s over relatively quickly and doesn’t have any particularly memorable moments. Making Carnage a dark mirror to Venom, right down to the fractious relationship with the symbiote, is interesting, but there’s no time to explore it, turning Shriek into too much of a living plot device. Likewise, Michelle Williams and Reid Scott as her new love interest are around, but they don’t have much to do. Williams in particular only seems here to repeat one scene from the first movie. A lot of context is missing from the movie, partially due to the length and partially due to the fact that this movie exists separately from the Spider-man mythology and a lot of history is missing.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is not a good movie. It’s a complete mess, but one with some of the funniest moments I’ve seen in any movie this year. If anything, it’s at its weakest when it’s trying to be a good traditional superhero movie. When it embraces the nuttiness, right down to a completely random post-credits sequence that sets up the future of the franchise and left everyone – including its lead actor – seeming completely confused, it works exactly as it’s intended to. Despite the questionable quality, the Venom franchise once again tore the doors off the box office this past weekend, making it likely we’ll get more. Bring on Nicholas Cage as Knull the King in Black in two years, I say. Let’s see just how crazy this franchise can get.

Check out more reviews at Wanderings and Woolgathering.

Movie Review – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Written by Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham. Starring Simi Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michaelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley

***1/2 out of ****

When it rains it pours. It was almost two years between Marvel movies, but now they’re coming out in a deluge. First was the compelling spy thriller Black Widow. Now, Marvel once again shows its willingness to break the mold and go into new genres with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the studio’s first foray into true high fantasy. It’s also the first Marvel movie and one of the few big-budget Hollywood blockbusters to center on an entirely Asian cast, and it avoids many of the pitfalls of past Asian-centric fantasy.

But it’s not Shang-Chi we meet first. It’s our villain, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung). A centuries-old conquering overlord holding ten enchanted artifacts that give him eternal life and incredible power, he becomes obsessed with a legendary city of magic. Seeking it through a cursed forest, he instead finds a beautiful and powerful guardian (Fala Chen) who deals him his first defeat in centuries. He learns what it’s like to respect a competitor, and that respect turns into love. They raise two children together, until her untimely death – at which point his grief takes him back to his own way and he raises his son as a warrior and assassin to follow in his footsteps. He sends the boy out on his first hit as a teenager – but the boy never returns, leaving both his twisted father and his beloved little sister behind.

Twelve years later, the young warrior Shang-Chi is now Shaun (Simi Liu), a San Francisco slacker who works as a valet driver with his chaotic best friend Katy (Awkwafina, just the right level of hyper without being annoying). He lives off the hospitality of her loving family and basically coasts through life with her, not achieving much of anything. That is, until a standard commute to works turns into the most violent bus ride since Speed when a collection of assassins led by the hulking Razorfist (Florian Munteanu) attack him while seeking the mysterious pendant he wears around his neck.

After a hurried explanation, Shaun and Katy are off on a red-eye to Macau in search of his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang in her debut role), now an embittered, morally ambiguous crime lord who also broke from their father. She runs a fight club filled with bizarre battles including some surprising cameos, and is none too happy to see her brother. The lingering pain between them is really the emotional core of the movie, and it’s a testament to how good it is that the creative team manages to get you invested in only a few minutes – right before an insane action segment involving dozens of ninjas battling on a skyscraper’s scaffolding.

From there, it’s on to a reunion with dear old dad, and that’s where Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings really sets itself apart. We’ve seen evil dads before, and Xu Wenwu could easily have been just another Fire Lord Ozai – an abusive monster with no redeeming qualities. He’s anything but that. He’s twisted and abused his children, yes, but flashbacks show how genuine his love for the family he built was. His reversion back to his old ways is heartbreaking, as is his obsession with the idea that his wife is still alive, trapped within the magical city she once protected.

While the first third of the movie is a pretty straight-forward martial arts epic, as soon as the city of Ta Lo is introduced, it takes a sharp left turn into full-on fantasy, and a lesser movie would have fallen flat. But Shang-Chi is anchoring anything but a lesser movie. Its surprising ace in the hole and MacGuffin to Ta Lo is Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the faux-Mandarin from Iron Man 3. Locked up in the real deal’s castle, he knows how to get to Ta Lo thanks to an absolutely ridiculous creature he’s adopted from the magic city. When I say absolutely ridiculous, take my word for this. Nothing will do it justice. Slattery also delivers most of the funniest lines of the movie, particularly a bizarre monologue about how he was inspired to become an actor.

After a genuinely wild race to Ta Lo through a deathtrap of a living forest, the movie shifts again and the magic city becomes a refuge for our heroes. Shang-Chi finally finds the place where he can hone his potential, Xialing finds peace, and Katy finds her inner hero. One of the movie’s secret weapons is Ying Nan, Shang-Chi and Xialin’s aunt who becomes a mentor to them and is essentially playing the role Tilda Swinton wanted to in Doctor Strange. Of course, the outside world and the forces of evil are coming for it, and a massive battle is brewing. This is one of the largest-scale battles Marvel has done, but the crowds never feel overwhelming or distract from the emotional stakes of the film.

If I have one complaint about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it’s that it falls prey to the thing virtually all Marvel movies do – a huge CGI-heavy third act. The film never shies away from special effects, but the introduction of a second antagonist that leads to ten minutes of green-screen combat doesn’t feel like it’s playing to the movie’s strengths. Especially since that second villain never gets the development needed to be a tenth as compelling as Tony Leung’s main big bad.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings might fall just a hair short of the Marvel top tier, but that’s a tough hill to climb. It takes a hero that was fairly obscure even to most Marvel fans and puts him at the center of an epic adventure unlike anything we’ve seen before. It celebrates both Asian mythology and Asian-American culture in a way a big-budget blockbuster has never done. It gives us complex, morally ambiguous heroes and villains that I can’t wait to see more of. Even more than with their official return in July, it feels like Marvel is truly back now. Bring on the rest of phase four.

Check out Pop Culture at Wanderings and Woolgathering for more movie reviews.

Movie Review – Eternals

Eternals – Directed by Chloe Zhao. Written by Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, and the voices of Bill Skarsgard and David Kaye

**1/2 out of ****

When Eternals was announced as the next film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was one question on everyone’s mind – what the heck is an Eternal? The franchise has worked with some pretty obscure characters before, but Shang-Chi, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy had easy-to-explain concepts and easy POV characters for audiences to grab on to. Eternals has neither, being based on a later Jack Kirby mythology that veered away from relatable superheroes and towards hard sci-fi cosmic storytelling. And for a challenging property, Marvel chose an equally challenging director – Chloe Zhao, the Oscar-winning director of Nomadland known for her character-driven scripts and her sweeping outdoor shots. So how does this wildly ambitious film turn out?

Eternals is both one of the most creative and unique films the MCU has ever put out – and unfortunately, one of the weakest.

The first thing to know is that this is a movie with a lot of characters and a lot of narratives competing for attention. It centers on the Eternals, a group of ancient immortals sent to Earth at the dawn of man by the Celestials, an even more ancient group of immortals (although while the Celestials look like kaiju-sized space robots, the Eternals look like…attractive humans). They’re on Earth to battle the deviants, a group of vicious shape-shifting dinosaur-like beasts that seem to want to eat anything in sight. But when the Eternals save the first civilization at Mesopotamia, they wind up being greeted by humanity and ping-pong through the biggest civilizations with pit stops at Babylon and the Aztec empire – all the way to the present day, where they’ve scattered after supposedly defeating the last Deviants.

The best way to describe the cast of Eternals is “sprawling”. You can’t look away for a minute without a new character being introduced. Their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek) is a wise and regal warrior woman and healer. Her right hand, Ikaris, is a superman-like titan with the durability of marble and the same emotional range. Sprite (Lia McHugh) is a master illusionist permanently trapped at the age of a middle schooler. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) tosses fireballs and has used that to become a Bollywood superstar in the present day. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is the Eternals’ technology master. Druig (Barry Keoghan) is a grim telepath who can control minds, and his only soft spot seems to be Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), a rogueish deaf speedster. Thena (Angelina Jolie) can summon weapons out of energy and may be their best warrior, but is haunted by a strange plague of madness and is looked after by gentle bruiser Gilgamesh (Don Lee). Unfortunately, with all of these new players, few of them get a satisfying storyarc.

And in the center of all this is Sersi (Gemma Chan), the closest thing this film has to a lead. Now working as a researcher and living with Sprite in London, the matter-transmuter is in a relationship with Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington), a mild-mannered professor with a name with a big destiny. He’s not in this movie much, just the opening segment, a few phone calls, and a post-credit segment, but he’s around long enough for a Deviant to show up and terrorize the trio. They’re saved by the arrival of Ikaris, but not before the Deviant shows some abilities it shouldn’t have and makes clear that it’s time to get the band back together.

And that’s where this movie’s biggest problem comes in. Eternals doesn’t have a format even close to any other MCU movie, and that’s its biggest problem. Most of the cast isn’t even together for 75% of the movie. We follow Sersi and Sprite as they track down the others one by one, combining reunions with exposition-heavy flashbacks that reveal the stunning visuals of the Eternals’ master, Arishem. It looks amazing, but it drags – a lot in places. Some of the segments are a lot of fun, particularly Kingo’s Bollywood dance number and our introduction to his excitable valet Karun (Harish Patel), who is in some ways the only relatable character in this movie. Others, like everything involving Jolie’s Thena and her ill-defined madness that makes her attack her friends, are just dull. And other characters like Phastos and Makkari just get introduced more than 2/3rds of the way through the movie.

One area where Eternals gets things very right is in the realm of representation.  This is definitely the most diverse MCU movie, and while some characters like Sersi and Gilgamesh don’t really get a chance to explore any of their identity, others are surprising. While Makkari is distinctly underused in the film, it’s great to see consistent use of subtitled sign language in a major Disney motion picture. Likewise, the decision to make Phastos a gay man who is happily married with a (I assume adopted) son doesn’t actually influence the plot in any way, which is why it’s surprising Disney made it so clear. It’s a central portrayal of a happy, functioning same-sex family complete with a kiss between husbands. Much like the decision to make a Disney Channel lead bisexual, it’s a major sign that Disney has realized diversity offers more opportunity than risk at the box office.

Like many Chloe Zhao movies, Eternals can feel almost leisurely at points – which is why the massive tone shift it takes in the back half is all the more jarring. With a cast this large, it’s not surprising that this isn’t a movie where everyone makes it out intact. Who doesn’t survive may surprise some people, though – including one major name who dies fairly early on. What’s at the root of this film is a massive secret and a terrible lie that upends the entire concept of these characters. There is also a completely random change to what the Eternals actually are that comes out of nowhere and adds many unanswered questions. What starts as a family reunion turns into a literal battle for the fate of the world by the end, with spectacular visuals and a surreal tone that’s really never been seen in the MCU.

The problem is, I still had a really hard time caring. Gemma Chan’s Sersi is a decent character, but she suffers from what I call “protagonist syndrome”. She doesn’t get to be as colorful or unique as many of the characters surround her because she has to be the hero, and I feel like we know less about her than many of the characters with less screen time. Certain elements, like the mental toll Druig’s powers take on him or the desperation Sprite feels to grow up, lead to dramatic moments and little follow-up. The film also lacks a strong antagonist, with the Deviants mostly being physical threats and some shocking betrayals towards the end of the film not holding the emotional context they should.

Ultimately, Eternals looks great and has some fascinating ideas, but it doesn’t feel like an MCU film. It feels like a strange sci-fi film like Jupiter Ascending or Dark City that exists in its own little world. It has a lot of interesting ideas, but the MCU format seems to hold them back rather than support them. It’s hard to see how these characters fit into the MCU, and the two post-credit scenes feel so disconnected from the film before them that I honestly doubt they were directed by Zhao. I think the cameo in the first one is going to be what most people remember from the movie. Eternals was a hit at the box office, but it doesn’t feel like a new franchise. It feels like an experiment in how different an MCU film can be. It doesn’t always land, but maybe it’ll lead to more projects that stick the landing.