Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Nickelodeon Movies/Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

In the late ’80s, I was totally that kid running around pretending to be their “favorite” Ninja Turtle with the rest of the neighborhood kids on the street and at birthday parties. And when the first theatrical film was released in 1990, I was instantly in line to see it on the big screen (and wish I still had the promotional poster that was handed out at the theater at the time!), as well as for The Secret of the Ooze a year later in 1991.

Years later in 2014 I would take my family to see the reboot, my son by then familiar with them thanks to various updated shows and toylines that had come along since the “good old days.” So it seemed only appropriate to once again take my kid – who at the time of this writing is indeed a teenager himself – to the latest feature film featuring the “Heroes in a Halfshell,” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.

Despite having Seth Rogen’s (who I have not found humorous in the least bit since his days of Freaks and Geeks) name attached to the project as screenwriter, I went in with as open a mind as possible. The result this time around lands somewhere in between part homage to the source material and it’s original time frame (watch for nods to both Vanilla Ice and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off), and part over-the-top goofyness in an effort to appeal to younger audiences.

The pros; the Turtles themselves are likeable enough (and actually voiced by all teens, most noticeably Brady Noon of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Mighty Ducks fame), albeit their characters are not given much individual identities this time around. John Cena, Ice Cube, and Paul Rudd are among many of the actors that lend their voice talents here as well.

The cons; the numerous liberties taken by the filmmakers are abundant here. Aside from the most obvious drastic changes to characters like Splinter and of course April O’Neil (voiced by Jackie Chan and Ayo Edebiri, respectively), there’s also quite a few updates to the origins of the Turtles that purists may find in poor taste. And speaking of poor taste, some of the jokes come off as just plain crude and/or cringe-worthy (watch for the “Puke Girl” scene – it’s even less funny than it sounds).

All in all, I suppose it wasn’t a total waste of time; as a modern action flick, it does come close in comparison with the latest animated Spider-Man films. But the next time I feel the need for some Ninja Turtles action, I’ll likely turn to one the now-classic entries in the series instead.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

By: Jesse Striewski

For as long as I’ve been around, the Indiana Jones franchise has been there throughout my formative years (we were both established in 1981, so I’ve always felt a connection there of sorts). I can recall Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Temple of Doom being an occasion each and every time they were shown on TV, and even remember going to rent The Last Crusade at the video store when it was the “new” release at the time.

And of course, who can forget 2008’s The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a sequel so laughable it no doubt has gone down in history as the worst entry in the series, and of course had to be the first time I ever went to see Harrison Ford portray Dr. Jones on the big screen myself. Thankfully the days of “nuking the fridge” are long gone and simply a memory in The Dial of Destiny.

In his fifth and final outing as Jones, Ford pulls out all the stops instantly, beginning the non-stop action abroad a Nazi train in Europe circa 1944, where Jones and fellow colleague Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) are attempting to retrieve the Lance of Longinus, but instead end up finding Archimedes Dial, an astronomical calculator with the power to lead to time travel.

Fast forward over twenty years to the late ’60s, where we find Dr. Jones on the verge of retirement from teaching college when Shaw’s daughter (and Indy’s Goddaughter) and archaeologist Helena Shaw (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) suddenly appears and catapults him back into action when they retrieve the Dial, and quickly find out the hard way there’s numerous sources also after it, including Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Nazi turned NASA expert hell-bent on retrieving the Dial for his own personal gain.

I’ve seen some negative reactions to The Dial of Destiny so far (predictably), but for my money, it’s a relentless action-adventure that never lets up (I found myself really wanting to go horse back riding again after Indy’s trot through the New York subways on one), and serves as a fitting swan song for a beloved character with over four decades worth of history (brief appearances from series regulars Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies was a nice touch, too). If this truly is to be Indy’s last journey, I’m glad I took the trip with him.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Film Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (Universal Pictures/Illumination/Nintendo)

By: Jesse Striewski

Remember the original 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, where the late Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo first played the plumber brothers Mario and Luigi in a live action, heaping mess? It was the first ever film of its kind based off of a video game, and the makers of it painfully missed the mark, leaving audiences severely unimpressed. After all these years, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is what (most) fans have surely been waiting for.

This version is your standard search-and-rescue type of set up when brothers Mario (played by the very non-Italian Chris Pratt – but hey, it’s all about the selective outrage though, am I right?!) and Luigi (portrayed perfectly by Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame) are whisked away and separated into an unknown underworld while attempting to save their home city Brooklyn from a plumbing emergency. They also just happen to land while the evil King of the Koopas, Bowser (another spot-on casting move with Jack Black) is plotting on taking over Mushroom Kingdom and marrying Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). But through the help of Peach, Mario learns just how “super” he can become as he sets off to save both his brother, and the innocent kingdom from peril.

Everything that was left out of the ’93 version makes its way into the story here seamlessly and without feeling forced, as the brothers each encounter strange new lands and befriend new characters along the way. And there’s nearly a reference to every Mario Bros.-related game that’s come since the titular hero’s very first appearance in Donkey Kong all the way back in 1981, with everything from Mario Kart to Luigi’s Mansion. Sure, it’s essentially just a large advertisement for Nintendo, but it never crosses any lines that don’t make any sense to the plot.

All in all The Super Mario Bros. Movie is harmless family entertainment without being too overly cute, and focused solely on its story rather than getting in any unnecessary political agendas or jabs. The humor never stoops to low-brow levels, yet still manages to incorporate jokes aimed at adults. And there are plenty of throwbacks for nostalgia hounds to gush over (even the music, which stays very- ’80s throughout, is always well-placed). The film is a rare labor of love that’s beyond easy to find yourself fully escaping into it’s realms, and quite frankly, probably the best video game-related film produced thus far (sorry, Sonic!).

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Scream VI (Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

My first thought upon hearing about Scream VI was “Why give this one an actual number, yet just give last years “requel” the same exact name as the 1996 original (and wouldn’t that technically make this one just Scream 2 all over again?!)?” Yet that personal pet peeve of mine was really nothing in comparison to how low this franchise has actually sunk. Like many others, I had hoped the New York setting might help reinvigorate some life into this tired franchise; boy was that nothing more than wishful thinking though.

This outing finds sisters Sam and Tara Carpenter (Melissa Berrera and Jenna Ortega, respectively) from last year’s outing replanted and studying in the Big Apple, only to find (Uh-oh!) there’s another killer after them. Everything that unfolds from there is either cliche or predictable, made all the more worse by having to endure this mess with obnoxious supporting characters played by some of the most unlikable actors in the series to date. Neve Campbell was wise to step away from this mess, and Courteney Cox and Skeet Ulrich – the only two faces to return from the original – don’t do much to add to this mess.

The only bright spots are few and far between; the “intro kill” with a blind date setting features some inventiveness (and one very easy-on-the-eyes appearance from Samara Weaving), and the subway scene actually offers some intense moments before being yet just another let down (like the film itself).

Overall, the acting and dialogue are both atrocious, and everything meant to come as a “surprise” is merely eye-roll inducing. The far-fetched, preposterous ending is the final icing on the cake, so beyond believable it’s an insult to any reasonable intelligence. One of the characters actually sums it up best themselves after being stabbed when she utters, “Fuck this franchise.” I couldn’t agree more; after this entry, I’m officially done with the Scream films, too.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Film Review: Violent Night (Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

For years now I haven’t been able to get behind what’s become of the action film genre, not impressed by the over-the-top fast pacing, seemingly dumbed-down a little more each year. I was really hoping Violent Night could’ve been the film that got me back into them, but alas, I found very little to like here.

It starts out promising enough; we’re instantly introduced to David Harbour of Stranger Things fame as a jaded, drunken Santa. Seems like a decent enough concept. But things quickly take a turn for the worse when the film becomes a blatant ripoff of Die Hard, finding him the lone wolf inside of a terrorist takeover (lead by John Legumizo) at one of the mansions his deliveries brought him to. What unfolds is some of the most (literal) painful screen time I’ve witnessed in a long time.

I know most people my age group and below are likely to disagree with me, but I found no redeeming qualities with this film whatsoever. The action scenes are unbearable, the jokes beyond lowbrow, and the characters some of the most unlikable in screen history (I especially despised seeing Beverly D’Angelo playing a heartless heiress). It then somehow manages to even parody Home Alone (which in hindsight maybe the film would have benefited from had it taken a more lighthearted tone throughout).

I went in really hoping to like Violent Night, but unfortunately that was far from the case. This movie was not “fun” in anyway to me at all, just utter garbage that I’d much rather permanently remove from my memory bank. In fact, the only thing keeping me from giving this a zero star rating is the inclusion of the Slade track “Merry Christmas Everybody” during the ending credits. Other than that, I’ll be fine if I never see this film again as long as I live.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Film Review: Dio: Dreamers Never Die (BMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this a time or two before, but one of the biggest personal regrets I have is not catching the late, great Ronnie James Dio in concert before his death in 2010 (the closest I ever came was a 2019 Dio Returns show, where several former members of the Dio band paid tribute to their former singer while using live backing tracks of Ronnie behind them, along with a hologram of him). The recent documentary Dio: Dreamers Never Die certainly helps confirm this regret.

Spanning his entire life and career, the film covers every aspect of his time in rock music. From Elf to Rainbow, to Black Sabbath to Dio, there’s no shortage of story to tell. And featuring interviews and insight from fellow personalities and rockers like Rob Halford, Eddie Trunk, Lita Ford, and Jack Black, as well as former wife Wendy Dio, and a host of many of Ronnie’s former bandmates.

“The Man on the Silver Mountain,” “Heaven and Hell,” “We Rock,” “Holy Diver,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “The Last in Line,” and “Rock and Roll Children” are just a few of the titles Dio gifted us during his time on this Earth, and remain unmistakable classics to this day. The origins to many of these tracks are meticulously covered in great detail, among many others.

But of course, there’s only one way Dio’s life story can possibly end…with his unfortunate death. The results are some of the most tear-jerking moments compiled on film in recent memory (no doubt enough to make a grown man such as myself shed a tear or two). But that just stands to reason the true testament of Ronnie James Dio; every bit of praise is not only accurate, but deserved. He left behind a legacy that most artists today could only dream of ever having, and those of us who knew his music, understood his deep impact and worth.

Shot from the Dio Returns show Rewind It Magazine covered at The Plaza Live on 6/2/19. Photo by Brooke Striewski.

(Shot from the Dio Returns show Rewind It Magazine covered at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 6/2/19. Photo by Brooke Striewski).

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Film Review: Falling For Christmas (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

Hailed as Lindsay Lohan’s “comeback” film (it’s been nearly a decade since her last major starring role), Falling For Christmas at best is a bag of mixed emotions that can’t decide if it’s a straight romantic comedy, or a parody of every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made.

Lohan plays the spoiled diva daughter of an Aspen business tycoon who suffers amnesia immediately after her uppity boyfriend (George Young) proposes to her on a mountain top. But she’s of course taken in by a local lodge owner (Chord Overstreet) who happens to be a single father. Of course, sparks eventually fly, and without giving away too much, the two realize their respective destinies (despite seemingly not the best real life “match”).

The material isn’t always concise, but Lohan is undenibly likeable here, especially in the many the fish-out-of-water scenarios her character is thrown into. Nothing life-changing here, but a harmless film and Lohan vehicle no doubt.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Hocus Pocus 2 (Walt Disney Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

The original Hocus Pocus from 1993 was an innocent enough family film from Disney; while not a “hit” at the time, over the years it has since grown to cult status thanks to repeated showings during the Halloween season and seeping its way into pop culture via costumes and various other merchandise and yearly decorations.

Nearly three full decades later, Disney finally had enough foresight to realize the time was right to reunite Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson sisters from the first film for another round of Halloween mischief. If you’ve already seen the original film, then it should come as no surprise just how the three witches appear in Salem again. And just like the first film, they’re put in plenty of familiar fish-out-of-water scenarios with amusing results (the Walgreens scene is fairly ingenious, albeit a shameless cross-promotion all the same) with a group of all new protagonists played by Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, and Lilia Buckingham, respectively.

Gone though are the rest of the old cast and characters (aside from Doug Jones, who also returns as the zombie Billy), an unfortunate missed opportunity, as well as director Kenny Ortega’s presence. The effects this time around are also noticeably lazier, and of course, you can’t make a Disney film in 2022 without at least some sort of underlying message of “equality” (though thankfully not overly in-your-face as some others). Overall though, the young newcommers are definitely admirable with what material they have to work with here.

All in all, Hocus Pocus 2 is a fairly harmless adventure, sure to please all the little ghouls and goblins in your haunted house this Halloween.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Halloween Ends (Miramax/Blumhouse/Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

So, Halloween finally ends, huh? For me, it was over twenty years ago when Michael Myers offed Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in 2002’s Resurrection, but that’s just me. Last year’s atrocious Halloween Kills had to be my least favorite of all the films in the franchise (next to only the Rob Zombie entries), but what can really be said about this latest installment that hasn’t already been said, and without giving away too much?

On the surface, it could just be considered an experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong. But there’s much to unpack here. And in the five days since its release, audiences have almost universally panned the film for the direction it takes. It starts out a basic origin story, highlighting the torment and eventual descent into madness of the bullied Corey Cunnigham (Rohan Campbell). The problem that exists – other than the fact that this takes away from the Michael vs. Laurie showdown that everyone was hoping for – is who is this character, and why in the hell should we even care about him?

The ensuing love story aspect between Cunnigham and Laurie’s adorable granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) actually works in its own weird way, but feels better suited for another film entirely. But that aside, the rest of what is left is a heaping pile of metaphorical mess, clumped together by Director David Gordon Green’s would-be unique vision. Even the “kills” feel forced and largely unnecessary, if one can actually believe that.

Speaking of unnecessary, this entire newer trilogy that began in 2018 could have honestly just never happened and the world would not have missed a single beat. In fact, the best thing to even comes out of these films in my opinion has simply been the well-crafted John and Cody Carpenter (and Daniel Davies) composed music score, which was indeed the highlight of Ends (throwing in the Dead Kennedys’ “Halloween” during a party scene was a nice touch as well).

But you know where the music and storylines were even better? The original films. I’d much rather go back and re-watch Halloween III: Season of the Witch (my personal favorite, and yes that’s right, the one without Michael Myers) any day of the week. With that being said, keep an eye out for an upcoming 40th anniversary piece on the latter, dropping at the end of the week on Rewind It Magazine!

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Spirit Halloween: The Movie (Strikeback Studios/Hideout Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

On the surface, Spirit Halloween: The Movie appears to be not much more than one long promo ad for the annual store in which it takes its name from. But despite its obvious flaws and cheesy-ness, it actually works as family entertainment in the same vein as the Goosebumps films, with a nostalgic touch similar to Stranger Things thrown in for good measure as well.

The plot is far from groundbreaking; a trio of adolescent friends (played by newcommers Donavan Colan, Jaiden J. Smith, and Dylan Frankel) faced with the pressures of growing up and the societal norms that come along with it, decide to spend Halloween night in said novelty store. But of course the ghost of a crabby old landlord (Christopher Lloyd) cursed by a witch before his demise in the 1940’s, is haunting the joint and looking for a permanent new body to possess before it’s too late.

Former ’90s babe Rachel Leigh Cook co-stars as the mother of one of the young boys, and Marla Gibbs (best known from such ’70s and ’80s staples as The Jeffersons and 227) plays the strange but wise old grandmother of one of the other children, each bringing just a tad more talent to the mostly unknown cast.

Spirit Halloween (the store) has become a pop culture staple, and an annual tradition as common as the haunted house for many. All in all, the film is harmless (perhaps even a bit shameless, depending on your viewpoint) fun, and perfect fodder for the spooky season.

Rating: 3/5 Stars