Film Review: Nova Rex: Ain’t Easy Staying Cheesy (My Productions USA)

By: Jesse Striewski

I was first introduced to Nova Rex back in 2016 via band founder and bassist Kenny Wilkerson, when I was scheduled to interview him for a now-defunct magazine I was writing for at the time (whose name I will never utter here). Since then, I’ve come to know and deeply respect Kenny and all the endeavors I’ve watch he and the band create for themselves since.

So it was my pleasure to attend the premiere of the band’s new documentary Ain’t Easy Staying Cheesy – their follow up to 2011’s Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy – last week along with numerous friends, family, and colleagues – as well as most of the band themselves – in tow (a night to remember indeed). And it was all the more special to personally receive a small credit in the film for contributing some brief interview questions during one of its segments.

At first, the film seemed all-too familiar as it once again recounted the band’s early days as they experienced various lineup changes and tried their hands at different markets. Eventually this segued into their current incarnation and many of the things they’ve done since, such as played the Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach with fellow ’80s rockers Pretty Boy Floyd, or played the Amway Center in Orlando, not once but twice now (all events Rewind It was lucky enough to be there for).

Of course things finally cumulated with the addition of current frontman John Bisha of The Babys in place of most recent vocalist Adrian Adonis, which includes some bittersweet moments while also ending things on a high note. All in all, Ain’t Easy Staying Cheesy is a fun ride from start to finish, and should be required viewing for just about any true ’80s-era rock fan.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

From left to right; Jesse Striewski (author), Kenny Wilkerson (Nova Rex), Jacob Striewski (photographer), and Terry Harger (photographer) at the premiere of Ain’t Easy Staying Cheesy at Aloma Cinema Grill on 7/13/22 (photo by Brooke Striewski).

Film Review: Jurassic World: Dominion (Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

The latest (and final?) installment in the Jurassic World series, and overall sixth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, has received some negative backlash since its release. But in comparison to the last lackluster entry, 2018’s Fallen Kingdom, it’s world’s above in every way possible.

The story picks off exactly where the said previous film had left off, with Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) living off the grid and raising the clone we were first introduced to in Fallen Kingdom, Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) in total seclusion, in a world where mankind is now living side-by-side with dinosaurs.

But of course there’s some bad guys out there who will go to extreme measures to get her back (as well as the young velociraptor offspring of Blue’s, Beta), including the crooked CEO of Biosyn Genetics, Dr. Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). While Owen and Claire fight to get her back along with the help of some new friends they meet along the way (including a former air force pilot played by DeWanda Wise) doctors Grant (Sam Neill), Sattler (Laura Dern) and Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are also uncovering the corruption at Biosyn after a series of events reunites them all back together.

Jurassic World: Dominion is everything a nerd fan boy could want, honestly; high speed chases, loud fights between gigantic monsters, and original characters/actors thrust back together and put onscreen alongside the newcommers. Is Jurassic World: Dominion often cliche and predictable? Sure, I won’t deny it doesn’t tread into those territories from time to time – how can it not at this point?

But overall, I fond myself getting totally lost and engrossed in the material here, probably for the first time since going to see the original Jurassic Park on the big screen all the way back in 1993. Steven Spielberg truly opened our collective imaginations with that first film all those years ago, and for my money, Dominion is the closest I’ve come to having that same feeling again from any of the other films in the franchise since.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Tom Cruise returns as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and director Joseph Kosinski takes over for the late Tony Scott (whom the film is dedicated to) to deliver the long-awaited sequel to the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably already well aware of what an all out thrill ride Top Gun: Maverick truly is.

Kenny Loggins’ hit from the original film “Danger Zone” opens the film the only appropriate way possible, as we quickly find our protagonist still working as a test pilot in the U.S. Navy, purposely avoiding promotions all these years in order to continue flying. But he’s quickly whisked away back to Top Gun to train a group of elite pilots for a specialized mission that ultimately only he can pull off.

Initially, my only complaint was the actual establishments of said new pilots – who come off just a tad on the obnoxious side at first – and the quick pace we’re introduced to new characters as though we already know them (the lovely Jennifer Connelly plays a former love interest perfectly, though). But once the awkwardness passes, it’s pure escapist entertainment of the highest level, filled with plenty of action, and unexpected drama (no spoilers, but the scenes with Val Kilmer, who briefly reprises his role as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky from the first film, really got me).

In this entry, Maverick not only faces adversaries in the sky, but several on his own team, having to prove himself not only to an admiral (Jon Hamm) who doesn’t want him there, but the son (Miles Teller) of his former late RIO and best friend from the first film, Goose (Anthony Edwards).

Forget whatever negativity the anti-establishment, blue-haired “critics” out there might want to spew about this being a “recruitment” video (they’re just miserable with their lives anyway); this is a damn good film that brings back the days of when movies were actual “events,” and I felt like that kid in the ’80s again, popping his copy of the first film in the VCR to re-watch it again for the umpteenth time). Cruise is at the top of his game in Top Gun: Maverick, and you’re missing out if you don’t take flight along with him.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Paramount Pictures)


By: Jesse Striewski

Very few times can I recall actually sitting in a movie theater and thinking “This was a mistake,” but the thought did indeed cross my mind a time or two during Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (though to be completely fair, it may have had something to do with the screaming toddlers running amok through the theater the entire time).

I only saw the first film based off of the popular Sega character once, and while I don’t remember much standing out about it at all, it was harmless and even like-able enough. But for some reason, this second entry just seemed so tired and tedious, even with the addition of the Tails (Colleen O’Shaghnessey) and Knuckles (Idris Elba) characters this time around.

In a nutshell, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman (Jim Carrey) has enlisted the help of Knuckles to seek out his revenge on Sonic (Ben Schwartz), and Tails more or less comes from out of nowhere to come to Sonic’s aid. The “adventure” that ensues is anything but captivating, and the majority of the jokes fall flat (though the one Carrey manages to squeak out on Limp Bizkit was rather amusing).

To the flimmakers behind this; put more effort into the next installment’s story line. And to the parents who had to bring their brats to the theater the same night I was there; please spare the rest of us, and wait until they’re old enough to have attention spans that actually last a bit more than just a few seconds.

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Film Review: Metal Lords (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

I really wanted to like Netflix’s attempt at appealing to the metal community with this new teen comedy/drama. But while the film is harmless enough, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling there was just something missing from it the whole time.

The plot follows high school outcasts Kevin (Jaeden Martell) and Hunter (Adrian Greensmith) as they navigate through bullies, parents, and trying to find a bass player for their would-be metal band in order to play their school’s “battle of the bands” contest. They eventually find some camaraderie via an equally awkward social misfit (Isis Hainsworth), but not before some predictable “but she’s a girl!” arguments first.

While the music is spot on and the metal references are heavy, nearly everything feels driven by cliche and predictably. Not even some cameos (and some fairly bad acting) from metal greats Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Scott Ian (Anthrax), Kirk Hammett (Metallica) and, um, Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) can save things in the end.

Is Metal Gods a bad movie? No. But is it really anything we haven’t already seen before? Not really. In the end, it really is “just there,” and the world would not miss a beat with or without its existence.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (HBO)

By: Jesse Striewski

Tony Hawk was the stuff of absolute legend growing up in the ’80s, and literally everyone and anyone with a board wanted to be him (I have vivid memories of my older brother and his friends putting on full shows of tricks, jumping ramps and whatnot for the entire neighborhood). This documentary details nearly every moment of his life with total transparency and grace.

From his fast and steady rise to stardom, to his sudden fall in the ’90s during skateboarding’s decline, to his eventual comeback and peak as a pop culture phenomenon, no stone is left un-turned (except, that is, his appearances in such ’80s films as Gleaming the Cube and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol, which Hawk has since addressed more or less on his socials). Fellow contemporary pro skaters such as Lance Mountain and Duane Peters also appear to help the story along.

The drama of his experiences are very much real, and at times completely relatable (his relationship with his father and eldest child are a couple that strike some definite nerves on a personal note), making him actually seem human. Even if you’re not a huge skateboarding fan, it’s hard to not see some sort of reflection of yourself in a story as compelling as this one. Definitely worth investing the time in this rollercoaster ride.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: The Batman (Warner Bros. Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I am not a big comic book/superhero flick kind of guy. I could honestly care less about the majority of these self-indulgent, overly-complicated films and their confusing, numerous “multi-verses.” But like Spider-Man, Batman is one superhero that I’ve tried to follow since my childhood, though I gave up on the character after Ben Affleck’s portrayal of him in 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (apparently he even reprised his role in a couple more crossover films, which just goes to show how little I keep up with the over-saturated superhero film market).

And I didn’t hold out much hope for The Batman, either (adding a “The” to the title before “Batman” really didn’t seem all that original to me). But early on in the film, I suddenly understood what the hype was all about. This new interpretation of Batman (this time played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame) creates a world of pure neo noir escapist entertainment with the ability to take one away into another reality, for better or worse.

It’s definitely a commitment to sit through the entire film (which reaches nearly three hours in running time), which finds our hero (or anti-hero?) teaming up with the Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) to tackle the seedy corruption of Gotham’s underbelly, as well as play along to the sick games of The Riddler (Paul Dano), who is more sadistic than ever portrayed on screen before (and even reminiscent of Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor) this time around.

And for the majority of the film, they actually had me invested. That is, until Kravitz’s character had to utter a disgusting line about “white privileged men.” In an instant I felt both deeply alienated, and personally attacked, as these know-it-all Hollywood elitists (in this case, lead by a white man surely more “privileged” than myself, director Matt Reeves) once again managed to insult a good portion of its own audience all at once, just in order to get their own ignorant opinions across in a film.

What people like Reeves who incorporate these types of sentiments don’t seem to understand is, they’re actually doing nothing for “equality,” but causing further division and harm among our society as a whole. Hatred towards anyone (yes, even white men) should never be accepted, yet it’s becomes more normalized now than ever before in Hollywood thanks to this type of subtle brainwashing being injected into media, and is doing nothing more than taking us all backwards. Had it not been for these underlined racist tones in The Batman, I would have definitely rated it a higher score than I did.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

My interest in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise as a whole has steadily been waning for years. But this latest incarnation/wanna be direct sequel to the original (Tobe Hooper already did that in the mid-’80s, and much better at that) is almost as painful to watch as that last sorry excuse for a Halloween movie.

Never before has a franchise film felt like such a waste of time, with characters I could not care less about. The weak storyline involves a bunch of (surprise!) obnoxious influencers going to small town Texas to shoot some videos or something, and of course they unwittingly come across good ol’ Leatherface (who looks more like Wrinkles the Clown this time around), and Sally Hardesty (originally played by the late Marilyn Burns, but this time by Olwen Fouere), the lone survivor from the original film.

It’s also annoyingly obvious what audience the filmmakers are playing towards here (should have just called it The “Woke” Chainsaw Massacre), and nearly every scene is cliched and predictable. The writing is lazy, and there’s nothing of redeeming value here. What’s left of any menace from the Leatherface character at this point is long gone, too.

The problem with shameless “retcons” like this, that ask you to forget all its other sequels that came before it, is there’s absolutely no artistic value to them. The people who make this kind of trash are literally counting on you, the audience, to be stupid, and not care about the fact they’re using cheap gimmicks to appeal to your emotions (Think, “If we use an already established franchise, who cares if it’s actually any good or not, these morons will keep coming back for more, because we TELL THEM TO.”) Save yourself the time; this is one pitiful excuse for a film that should not even exist (give it a few more years and I’m sure they’ll just retcon and redo this garbage again soon, anyway).

Rating: No Stars

Film Review: Scream (Spyglass Media Group/Paramount Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

I went into the new Scream relaunch/reboot (requel?) admittedly not expecting much at all. But to my surprise, it was actually a much more enjoyable ride than I had imagined; far from a cinematic masterpiece by any means, but an improvement over its past two disastrous predecessors combined nonetheless (they couldn’t just seriously throw a “5” at the end of the title though?! Come on, stop taking yourself so seriously Hollywood).

In this round (which directly follows the events of 2011’s Scream 4), a new group of Woodsboro teens, many with their own unique connections to the original town killings, become the targets of yet another Ghostface killer (or killers?), with estranged sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) at the center of it all. When Sam and her new boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) enlist the help of former sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette), it quickly leads to more faces from the original reuniting and coming to the rescue, including Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Even Skeet Ulrich is somehow able to make a brief return as Billy Loomis, but I won’t elaborate any further to avoid spoiling anything.

Long time fans of the series should appreciate all the sly references to the original (as well as other Wes Craven films, including A Nightmare on Elm Street) thrown in, while younger generations should appreciate the more modernized take. The acting isn’t always the greatest, and the gore is at times excessively over the top and unnecessary, but again, this is far from Shakespeare here.

All in all, what directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin have assembled here is a fairly spot-on homage to Craven’s original work (“For Wes” is promptly displayed over the end credits), and at times I found myself so lost in the plot, I honestly felt like I was that kid sitting in the theater with my friends back in the ’90s all over again. This ship finally seems to be steering in the right direction again; let’s hope those calling the shots keep it that way.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios)

By: Jesse Striewski

Aside from Batman, Spider-Man has always been one of the few superhero characters that I don’t mind watching on screen. But as just a casual fan, these newer films with Tom Holland as the titular hero have been much harder to enjoy than the early 2000’s films starring Toby Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi.

I’ll try to sum up No Way Home (what’s with all of the “home” references in the title of every one of the Holland flicks, anyway?) as simplified as possible for fellow outsiders such as myself; Spider-Man/Peter Parker is basically hated by the world for the events in the last entry, Far From Home, and enlists the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to erase everyone’s memory of it. In doing so, it allows other previous foes from other dimensions into his world.

It does allow for some exciting moments, and it was interesting to see some of the actors and characters from the Raimi films appear on the big screen again, such as Maguire, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, and Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. But eventually it just became as clunky as all of the other ridiculous superhero films these days that I could care less about (like the Avengers or Wonder Woman), and the plot was far too similar to the 2018 animated feature Into the Spider-Verse. And I get there are people really into these movies, but it’s lost on me how they possibly maintain the time and energy to know all of the ins and outs of all these countless characters and storylines (I’d be exhausted if I tried).

I also made the mistake of taking my kid to see it in 3-D, which is the most absurd and shameless gimmick by Hollywood these days, and not only completely pointless for most films (such as this one), it has completely taken away any magic from the concept entirely. But look, it’s not that No Way Home is a bad film per se (it was still better than that new Matrix film, something so disappointing I elected not to even review it at all), it’s just not what someone like me is looking for from a Spider-Man movie. I think I’ll just stick to the simplicity of those old Raimi films next time I’m in the mood for one.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars