Film Review: Onward (Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Disney/Pixar’s Onward was unfortunately overshadowed by the pandemic when it was released to theaters earlier this year. But despite the brief appearance in actual cinemas, it quickly found a new life on home video and streaming services.

The story centers around brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barely (Chris Pratt), two elves who embark on a road trip to bring back their deceased father via a magical artifact. It might sound a little far-fetched on paper, but in terms of computer-animated films set in fantasy worlds, it really is at the top of the line. Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer round out the main voice cast, while veteran voice actors like John Ratzenberger and Wimer Valderrama also lend their talents along the way.

Safe for the whole family, yet still appealing enough to hold adult attention as well, it’s a fun, welcomed piece of escapist entertainment despite it’s somewhat standard storybook plot. Ultimately it’s a trip worth taking for those raised on Toy Story and the like. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars


Film Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Walt Disney Studios)

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By: Jesse Striewski

Star Wars has been interwoven in our culture for more than four decades now, and after nine films in the Skywalker saga, the series’ inevitable conclusion has finally arrived. The film has already received its fair share of negative feedback, with some critics citing it as too predictable or even pandering to die hard fans. But here’s the thing; so was Return of the Jedi, and today that film is now regarded as a classic.

Sure, The Rise of Skywalker might not be flawless, but it does bring back that same sense of excitement I felt when watching the original trilogy as a kid. Director J.J. Abrams has done wonders redeeming the entire series with this sequel trilogy that began with The Force Awakens in 2015.

In this chapter (without giving too much away), we learn that the evil emperor Palpatine, again played by Ian McDiarmid, is back (no doubt a bit of a hokey concept) and planning on a destructive up rising of the entire galaxy. Of course Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the rebel alliance must overcome obstacles (and inner demons) to stop this from happening in the most good vs. evil sort of way.

For all the logic it might ask you to put aside, it makes up for with heart tenfold. I was completely brought back to when watching the “new” Star Wars movie was an event with the entire family in my household growing up. And I’m not ashamed to admit I was fully in tears by the end of Skywalker. If you’re able to just put aside that “I’m too cool for this” mentality adopted by all the negative keyboard warriors out there, you might be able to enjoy this for what it actually is; an overall pretty great film.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (CBS Films/Lionsgate)


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By: Jesse Striewski

Although I already took my son to see this adaption of the popular book by Alvin Schwartz while it was still in the theater, I missed the chance to review it the first time around. In light of its recent DVD/home media release earlier this month, I figured it was better late than never to review it.

Set in a small Pennsylvania town in 1968, the story follows a group of teenagers who unwittingly unlock an ancient evil after taking a mysterious book they find while sneaking into the local haunted house on Halloween night. Things quickly get out of hand as one by one the teens (and their tormentors) become victims of unspeakable horrors written on the book’s pages.

The talented young cast is headed by Zoe Colletti and Michael Garza, while veteran actors such as Dean Norris and Gil Bellows round out the supporting cast.

The eerie atmosphere is both well done, and a throwback to midnight movies everywhere. Although riddled with a somewhat typical/predictable ending, the film is still the perfect late night creepy scare fest flick. So turn down the lights, and settle in for one hell of a bumpy ride!

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Film Review: Doctor Sleep (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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By: Jesse Striewski

(Warning: may contain spoilers!)

It’s been thirty-nine years since the original Shining hit theaters, and over four decades since Stephen King’s novel it was based on was released. Now King’s 2013 follow up novel finally gets the Hollywood treatment, and couldn’t be more spot on.

Doctor Sleep is one of those rare films that engrosses viewers so deeply, they get completely lost in the world that’s being presented. It’s escapism at it’s absolute best. And unlike the slower pace of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 original, this follow up feels equivalent to that of a rollercoaster ride (yet without ever dumbing things down too much, which is far too often the case these days), even with a run time of over two and a half hours long.

The story follows a grown Dan Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor), now a recovering alcoholic who is propelled into helping another young prodigy that “shines” by the name of Abra Stone (played by Kyleigh Curran), who is being hunted down by a pack of half-human monsters who feed on children with her unique gift.

And like the original book/film, there are some noticeable differences present in this adaptation as well, some for better, some for worse. Aside from the obvious character changes made (Abra and Billy perhaps the most noticeable of all), there’s some characters that are drastically reduced (Dr. Dalton, played by Bruce Greenwood in the film, plays a much smaller role than in the book), or barely touched upon at all (Abra’s grandmother “Momo” played a significant role in the book, but is only mentioned and never actually seen on screen). And, without giving away too much, there’s also a key revelation at the end of the novel that unfortunately gets left out completely here.

Still, nearly every portrayal on screen is exactly what is pictured while reading the novel. McGregor is brilliant as a grown up Dan Torrance, newcomer Curran does an outstanding job as the young Abra Stone, and Rebecca Ferguson is both playfully menacing and sexy in her take on Rose the Hat. We also get glimpses of several other characters from the original film; Alex Essose as Wendy Torrance, Carl Lumbly as Dick Hallorann, and Henry Thomas (yes, the one from E.T.) as Jack Torrance, all do impeccable renditions of their respective counterparts. There’s even a brief cameo by Danny Llyod, who played Dan Torrance in the original film.

You could go see whatever mindless drivel that’s currently being churned out at your local theater, or see something with some actual substance (even those who haven’t read the book, but are fans of horror, should be entertained). Doctor Sleep is a film that both pays homage to an absolute American classic, and stands alone on its own all together. It should be viewed on the big screen while the chance to do so is still available.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Show Review: Stranger Things Season 3 Recap (Netflix)


By: Jesse Striewski

Every once in awhile, a cultural phenomenon will come along that changes the landscape of things as we know it. Since 2016, the Netflix series Stranger Things has been doing just that. With the show’s third season having been out now for just under a month, it’s due time to analyze the series’ latest outing (and with as few spoilers as possible, of course).

The skeptics out there may find it a stretch for yet more freaky events to find their way to the same basic group of kids in the same small Indiana town (circa 1985), yet it still works. The writing is still witty, the main cast still (mostly) stellar, and the atmosphere is still as spot on as ever.

David Harbor and Winona Ryder again lead the way as Jim Hopper and Joyce Byers, while Millie Bobby Brown and Gaten Matarazzo continue to stick out above the younger cast as Eleven and Dustin, respectively. Newcomer Maya Hawke (daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) is a welcomed edition to the cast as well.

Without revealing too much about the story, this time around there’s multiple sub-plots that involve everything from the usual hideous creatures, to Russian conspiracy. Eventually the puzzles are all put into place before everything is interconnected at the Starcourt Mall, and all hell truly breaks loose.

There’s definitely no shortage of options to choose from when it comes to shows to watch these days. But it’s rare for one to be as well thought-out, put together, and engaging as this show has consistently been.  Every nail-biting episode leaves you hanging on for the next, and each new episode delivers. Instead of relying on dumbed-down sex and gore like so many other movies and shows, Stranger Things has managed to focus on the human side of things perfectly.

Watching this series with my family for the past three years has reminded me of being a kid in the ’80s, watching eventful shows like V in complete wonder. I’ll take that feeling again any day.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars



Film Review: The Dirt (Netflix)

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By: Jesse Striewski

After years of false starts in development, the long-awaited film adaptation of Motley Crue’s 2001 book The Dirt finally saw the light of day on Netflix this past Friday, March 22…and what a ride it was!

I’ve made no secrets about being a die hard Crue head ever since the day my brother-in-law gave me his old copy of Shout at the Devil (on cassette!) when I was 13 or 14. While the cover confused me at first (I honestly couldn’t tell if they were guys or girls!), the music instantly blew me away, and Nikki Sixx quickly became one of my bass heroes (I had just gotten my first bass guitar, and the intro to the title track was one of the very first riffs I ever learned to play). During their run, I was even lucky enough to catch the band live a couple of times, and their music continued to stay with me, even when it wasn’t considered “cool” to like anything from their era.

Having already read the book, I had a pretty good idea what to expect from the film version of The Dirt. While some critics are giving the film a bad rap for not really adding anything new (how can you really?), I found it completely mesmerizing reliving the band’s saga via this format. Sure, there are a few moments that were indeed over the top, but that was Motley! And hearing early tracks like “On with the Show,” “Take Me to the Top,” and Merry Go Round” was a welcomed trip down memory lane (and it’s good to see these songs are actually being introduced to a new generation).

Granted there are some noticeable inconsistencies here; for example, Vince Neil’s daughter Skylar -who unfortunately passed away at just 4 years old – is shown more than once in scenes that take place during the ’80s, when she in fact wasn’t even born until 1991. But everything from Sixx’s 1987 overdose, to Neil’s 1984 DUI/vehicular manslaughter charge that included the death of Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingely, are all covered with total effectiveness (I was even glad to see that brief/underrated singer John Corabi was given some screen time and not just skipped over). The actors portraying the band all pull off admirable jobs as well – especially Douglas Booth and Colson Baker, who seem as though they were born to play Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, respectively.

In a time full of uber-PC thought police (supposedly fighting “against” fascism, yet ultimately creating more of it themselves without even realizing it) where we’re constantly being updated on what is and isn’t considered “accepted” these days, it’s refreshing to see something that doesn’t hold back just to please everyone. And it definitely is not for everyone, but it does capture a moment in rock n’ roll history that was unlike any other, and likely never will be again.

Rating: 4/5 Stars